Escape Pod 796: One Hundred Seconds to Midnight

One Hundred Seconds to Midnight

By Lauren Ring

I wake before the plane lands. It’s static-dark, the kind of hazy late night where the air itself seems full of shadows and my eyes refuse to focus. For a moment I feel as though I am stuck in my dream of great heights, dangling weightless above the earth in a kaiju’s monstrous claw, but the steady thrum of the engine grounds me in reality. I’m still high above ground, but the only kaiju on this flight are the profiles tucked in my folder from this afternoon’s insurance pitch. Next to my travel receipts are dozens of photos of those hulking beasts. Their files are neatly sorted, alphabetized by incident location and color-coded by average damage severity. That folder is as close as I have ever gotten to a kaiju.

It’s just past ten here on the East Coast, later than at home in Portland, but earlier than what I’ve adapted to over the course of this trip. While nearby passengers crane their necks to see out the windows, I clean up my tray table and wait for the cabin lights to fade back on.

When we land, the pilot welcomes us to Charlotte Douglas, my home away from home. We file out into the chilly terminal in relative silence. There is a young man playing the piano in the concourse, and his soft tune has an otherworldly air. Or maybe that’s just me. My eyes are sore and puffy, my mouth is dry as bone, and my neck aches despite the cushion of my travel pillow. I barely feel human.

Two cups of overpriced coffee later, I feel human enough to get back to work. I have two hours until my connecting flight back home, and since this flight was on the company dime, so is my layover. They’ll expect my full write-up first thing in the morning.

Our potential client this time is Sandstorm, a multimedia conglomerate so large that their change in insurance was on a need-to-know basis. I didn’t even know who I would be meeting with until I officially joined the account, and for good reason. My company, Upper Citadel Insurance, is one of the only insurance providers to include a kaiju damages plan. If people knew that companies the size of Sandstorm were buying up kaiju insurance, they would either panic or dismiss them as paranoid. Neither route was great for Sandstorm’s business model.
So the meeting was secret, the trip was confidential, and I couldn’t even tell my wife where exactly I was going.

“I understand, Adelaide,” Cam said last night as I threw clothes in a suitcase. “You know I trust you. But can’t you take a break, sometime? Not even off work, just to come home every night for a while. All those red-eyes are getting to you.”

But I couldn’t, and still can’t, not if I want to keep our health insurance and pay for her lung treatments. Cam knows this as well as my company does. Upper Citadel has my undying loyalty wrapped around their wallet, and they’ll leverage it to shuttle me around the globe for as long as they can.

It’s nothing personal, of course. Whenever I ask my manager, Marco, if I can have some stability in my schedule, he tells me there’s nothing he can do about the algorithm. It’s no one’s fault, just one automated assignment after another. Lines of code in a machine. It doesn’t seem to matter to Marco that he’s the one entering my availability.

Instead of brooding further and ruining my ability to concentrate, I activate the privacy tint on my laptop screen and start typing.

Sandstorm’s executives had seemed interested in purchasing our insurance package, which was good for my continued employment, but then again, no one got to their level without learning how to smile and nod to every potential opportunity. Back when the first kaiju broke ground at the San Andreas fault line, I’m sure there were executives smiling and nodding right back at the creature’s jagged grimace.

I record Sandstorm’s apparent interest in my report anyway. They had asked about the top-tier package, with full coverage from any damage incurred from acts of kaiju. The yearly cost was more money than I’d ever made in my life. Somehow, this amount was considered competitive, and I had plenty of comparison charts that showed Upper Citadel’s superiority. Wouldn’t it be better to be completely prepared? I had asked that morning, flashing a pearly grin before flipping my presentation to slides of devastation. Included with the photos was an itemized list of costs: chemical waste cleanup, structural repairs, personnel replacement. Wouldn’t it be cheaper?

I note down their smiles and nods.

The piano music changes. This new tune is still quiet, but a little more jaunty, and my words flow a little easier onto the page. I’ll have to remember to tip the player before I leave. Between all the engine noise and pre-recorded announcements, it’s nice to hear something as organic and human as a melody.

It takes a dozen more song changes for my report to reach a presentable state. I make a half-hearted attempt at formatting what I have so far, but the letters are starting to blur together, and I’m itching to stretch my legs while I still can. I’ll have to finish my report on the flight home.

I stow my laptop in my rolling briefcase and wander over to the tarmac windows. The sky outside is a warm, velvet black, like asphalt on a summer’s day. Silhouettes of workers and luggage carts stand out against the bright fluorescent lights that crowd the horizon. And, of course, there are the airplanes.

A large jet taxis up to a neighboring gate. Its window shades are all open, but I’m too far away to see the tired faces inside. Further out on the runway, another plane thunders down to land, wheels out. Occasional wing lights blink as a silent fleet, traveling to destinations unknown, weaves in and out of the cloudy night sky. Where some might see the miracle of flight, I can only see dollar signs.

Even Charlotte Douglas and its planes are insured against kaiju damages by Upper Citadel. I’m not on that account, but it’s not confidential like the Sandstorm proposal. All of the airport’s assets, from terminal buildings to luggage carts, are accounted for and priced appropriately. For years upon years, money funnels from the airport to Upper Citadel, in case of something that might never happen. Such is the business.

Statistically speaking, the timing of major kaiju attacks has been fairly random since the first rampage. But the rising of the kaiju isn’t randomly spatially dispersed. There are smaller strikes scattered here and there, but the largest beasts have been determined to be connected to fault lines. This puts certain places, like Charlotte, at more risk for an attack. I’m sure that’s in our models somewhere. Our risk analysts spin up numbers, and I read out prices, and it all somehow balances out, give or take a little collateral damage.

The taxiing jet docks seamlessly at its gate, and I wander on down to the nearest group of shops. No more coffee for me, not if I still want to sleep when I get home, but a bite of pastry couldn’t hurt. There aren’t many people around at this hour, so I step right up to a bakery kiosk and peer into its display case.

As I go to purchase a cranberry scone, my phone buzzes. I don’t want to be that person, the harried businesswoman who can’t wait a second to finish a transaction before answering her phone, but it keeps buzzing. And buzzing, and buzzing, and buzzing.

“Excuse me.” I scramble for my phone as the cashier yawns. “I’m sorry. Just a moment.”
It’s eleven on the dot, and I have two missed calls and four texts from my manager that all say the same thing: ADELAIDE, PICK UP YOUR PHONE.

The pit drops out of my stomach as my exhausted mind struggles through drowsiness to fear. Did something happen at Upper Citadel? Did Sandstorm back out? Am I getting fired?

My manager calls again, and I jab the accept button.

“Where are you right now?” His voice is measured, but I’ve known him in enough stressful situations to hear the undertone of panic.

“I’m buying a scone,” I answer, confused.

“At Charlotte Douglas?”

“Yes, my flight isn’t for another hour. What’s going on, Marco?”

“You need to get out of there,” he says. “There’s been a rising in the Charleston seismic zone.”

Trying to stay calm, I turn away from the bored cashier and cup my phone against my ear.

“Are you sure I’m in danger? That’s hundreds of miles away, can’t the National Guard handle it before it gets close?”

“This one’s big, and moving your way fast. They think it’ll be in Charlotte by midnight.”

Outside the tarmac windows, the just-docked plane detaches from the gate and starts heading back to the runway. No passengers have deplaned. At the abandoned gate, the waiting travelers mill about uneasily as the gate agent bends over her monitor. Her hand is pressed to her headset like her life depends on it.

“They hope it’ll blow right through. It’s big, but light, and so far it hasn’t done much more than crush some cars. But they’re warning everyone in its trajectory now. I wanted to give you a heads up before all the fueled planes are gone. I’ll try to get clearance for the company card to buy you a seat.”

“I think it’s a little too late for that.” Another jet, this time one that was already slated to depart soon, rolls away from its gate. Travelers at abandoned gates flock to the help desk for answers. They’re not going to like what they hear.

“I’ll ask around anyway,” says Marco. “Do what you can to stay safe over there. Oh, and Adelaide?”


“Can you try to send that report over before the kaiju gets close? Just in case, of course, but we really need to close this Sandstorm deal.”

The roar of a jet taking off overhead drowns out my incredulous laugh.

“Sure, Marco. No problem. I’ll see you Monday.” With that, I end the call, and finally pay for the scone I no longer have the appetite to eat. The cashier now looks more concerned than bored. I doubt this café pays enough for her to ever afford a last-minute plane seat no matter what, but I drop a hefty tip in her jar anyway.

An hour to go.

I walk on numb legs back to my gate, texting Cam as I weave between rolling suitcases. I type and erase, type and erase. There are no appropriate emojis for “I might die in an hour, call me?”

Unable to settle on a warning text, I call her instead. When I speak, it sounds like a stranger’s voice, tight and heavy with unshed tears.

“Cam, my love, please call me when you get this. I’m at the airport, and there’s–trouble. I shouldn’t say it out loud, don’t want any panic, but I’m sure you can guess what I mean. Please call. I want to hear your voice. I love you.”

My gate is quiet. Our assigned plane is supposedly on its way, but is no doubt being rerouted in the air. The general airport ennui has given way to low, roiling fear. Only the children are asleep now. I slump into a cold leather seat and stare at the clock on my silent phone, watching the seconds tick away.

“Excuse me,” a woman next to me asks. She is shielding the ears of a sleeping baby boy as a red-faced man hurls obscenities at a nearby gate agent. “Do you know what’s going on? Is there some sort of problem?”

I know I shouldn’t tell her. I know what Marco said was confidential, for my ears only.
Behind us, the man begins to shout. He drowns out the gentle piano music, and the baby stirs. The woman’s lips draw tight as she rocks her son back and forth. Her movements are gentle, but her eyes are desperate.

Cam rocks like that, sometimes, when she’s too overwhelmed to speak.

“Did you drive here, ma’am?” I ask.

She nods.

“Head back home, or find shelter,” I advise. “Skip this flight and go hunker down. If they don’t refund you, call me.”

I hand her my business card. It’s a nice cream linen blend with stamped ink, and handing it out always leaves an impression carefully calculated for return on investment.

Adelaide Thomas, the card reads in a crisp sans serif. It has my phone number in a smaller type, followed by Upper Citadel Insurance and their floating castle logo. And beneath that, inked in the sickly blue shade familiar from a hundred news broadcasts: Kaiju Coverage Specialist.

The woman’s desperate eyes go wide and she stops rocking her baby. He fusses and tugs at his mother’s sleeve as she starts shoving scattered supplies into her bag.

“Thank you,” she whispers.

“Don’t mention it.” I hadn’t really meant it as an instruction, but she nods solemnly and packs in silence. I don’t watch her leave.

There are no new notifications on my phone. It’s early yet for Cam, back across the time zones to safety, and she’s not expecting to hear from me until I land at Portland International. My voicemail is most likely blinking unheard in her back pocket. I would call again, but despite my years of pleading, Cam always keeps her phone on silent. It wouldn’t make a difference.
Instead, I pop open my ridesharing app of choice and select a hotel outside the path of destruction. PRICING SURGE, the app reports as my ride price climbs up through triple digits. DEMAND IS HIGH IN YOUR AREA.

The only car icons still visible on the map are moving at a steady clip away from Charlotte Douglas. The local news must have picked up the kaiju trail already. There’s no use blaming the app for price gouging: they’ll just say it’s supply and demand. The price adjustment is automatic. I could leverage my paycheck and summon some desperate local driver with the click of a button, but even that is no guarantee of safety. Buildings survive these attacks at a higher rate than vehicles, anyway.

At least, the structures of the buildings do. Our internal reports aren’t as concerned with the people inside said structures. Workers’ compensation isn’t a big-ticket item. I’d look up the mortality statistics from some other source, but there’s no value in depressing myself further.

Over by the help desk, a large flatscreen TV switches from a college football recap to an emergency news broadcast. I’m not close enough to hear the reporter, but the chyron beneath her is clear enough. “Carolina Kaiju Chaos” will make a great headline for tomorrow’s paper, if any of us are around to read it.

As the last fueled plane taxis away, all the TVs in the terminal switch to playing the emergency broadcast. The same mapped trajectory is displayed on cold LCD between every shuttered restaurant and abandoned newsstand. Airport employees and would-be passengers alike stand transfixed by the report.

I roll my briefcase over to the nearest screen just in time to catch the screams in the camera phone footage from Charleston. The shaky video captures the moments right after the rising, with bile-blue cracks still zigzagging through the asphalt and car alarms wailing in unison. A scaly foot fills the frame. The loudest car alarm is silenced with a crunch. The witness pans up to reveal a sleek kaiju, as aerodynamic as it is massive. It rears up, shakes the crushed car off its talons, and takes off running.

The broadcast switches to helicopter footage for a wide shot of the aftermath. The damage radiates out from the initial rising quake and mostly follows the footsteps of the beast. Near the strategic places where the National Guard took the offensive, though, there are large swaths of destruction. At Upper Citadel, that’s what we would call acceptable loss. Collateral damage.

Before I can dwell too much on that thought, the PA system crackles on overhead.

“Your attention please,” a strained voice announces. “Our runways and airspace have been cleared due to a local kaiju rising. There are no available flights remaining at this time. If you have the ability to leave the area, please do so. I repeat, there are no available flights remaining at this time. Thank you for choosing Charlotte Douglas. We wish it were under better circumstances.”

It’s a quarter past eleven, and we have been forsaken. Somehow, the finality of this announcement calms the crowd. People leave the gate agents alone and sit back down. A few even wander down to the shops. It’s shock, for sure, but it’s collective. There’s nothing anyone can do but be here, together.

The pianist, returning to his instrument like a keeper to his lighthouse, starts a hesitant melody.

I abandon the carnage on the TV to stand instead next to the glossy white piano. There are still no notifications on my phone, but I see Cam in the pianist’s eyes, in the way he pours himself into his art. His hands stop shaking and the music swells over the news reporter’s solemn voice. It’s a complex tune, full and powerful. Everything he played before in this concourse might as well have been elevator music compared to this. I may never understand why the band played as the Titanic sank, but now I think I understand how it would have felt to listen from the icy water.

A new crowd is forming, this time around the piano. Strangers fill the pianist’s tip jar to the brim with coins and bills, and I pour out my purse as well. A child props herself up against a piano leg to listen. Over in the shadows of an abandoned gate, two teenage boys slow dance, badly but with passion.

Music echoes around the glossy airport, filling it from linoleum floor to distant eaves. The slim, waning moon emerges from behind thick clouds outside, casting the last of this lunar cycle’s glow across empty runways. In the distance, tall oaks sway.

“Would anyone like some tea?” The cashier from the café has brought out a tray of sample cups. “It’s chamomile. Soothing.”

The spell is broken. Conversations start up all around the piano, everything from the obvious topic to idle chatter. The child beneath the piano starts chipping paint off its leg. Video chats to loved ones fill with bittersweet smiles instead of tears. I take a cup of chamomile and let it warm my weary hands as we return to something better than normal.

The cashier brought hot cocoa for the children, too, and it turns out there is a librarian at the next gate who knows just what picture book will distract them. A group of teens in hoodies set up a portable projector and start up some colorful racing game. Airport employees pass out phone chargers and honey roasted peanuts. The majesty of the piano never wavers, and the TV broadcasts drone on in the background, but they all have become part of a larger song. Our swan song.

I drink my tea. I eat my scone. And at fifteen minutes to midnight, my phone rings.

“I just heard your voicemail,” Cam says. She’s chosen a video call, and I can see the tear tracks on her cheeks. “I checked the news. They were showing drone footage–that thing has already crossed state lines. Please tell me you’re not still at Charlotte Douglas.”

“I’m sorry, my love. Marco warned me too late.” A lump forms in my throat. “You were right, I travel too much.”

“We can talk about that when you get home.”

“Cam–” I start, but she shushes me, so I hold my tongue. There’s nothing to say, anyway. Nothing that we both don’t already know.

Instead of talking, I stare at the screen, trying to save her in my heart. Not just her lips and her eyes and her hair, not a romanticized memory, but all of her, her teeth and her ears and the scar on her chin.

The airport power shuts off. We are bathed in dim, gray moonlight. Phone flashlights flick on throughout the dark terminal, like lighters at a concert, or candles at a wake. Midnight will decide which comparison is more appropriate.

“I’ll call you the second I’m safe,” I say, forcing a smile for her benefit alone.

“I’ll be waiting,” Cam replies.

I end the call so that she doesn’t have to. Without a word, an elderly man hands me a pack of tissues, but I haven’t cried in years. No time for that when I have to hit my metrics. This was never on any spreadsheet, though. The Sandstorm debriefing report saved on my laptop has no sections for piano music or chamomile tea.

We can feel the kaiju approach long before we can actually see it. The ground shudders in long, rolling motions like the aftershocks of a high-magnitude earthquake as the vibrations of monstrous footsteps carry us all toward midnight. Military vehicles surround the terminal and men with guns pour out, shouting to each other, getting in position. We look at them. They don’t look at us. If I had their job, I wouldn’t look at us either.

Inside, it is quiet. One by one, the phone flashlights go dark. I look for the barista, for the pianist, for the mother I warned, but I don’t see any of them. Have I ever thought this much about strangers before? Have I ever kept them in my mind longer than the brief moments of our interaction?

The official emergency notification finally hits every phone in the airport just five minutes before midnight. Kaiju rising in Charleston, SC, projected route through NC. National Guard engaged. Your geotag is within a designated combat radius. Please leave immediately.

There are a few scattered, uncomfortable laughs, and some attempts to keep the distractions going, but the sleepover atmosphere dissipates just as quickly as it appeared. Tanks keep rolling past the tarmac windows. Smoke from distant fires chokes out the moon. There’s no more hoping for an altered path.

The last minutes tick away on my phone, cold and unyielding against my wedding photo lockscreen.

“Look,” someone whispers. I glance at him–of the teenagers who had been dancing earlier–and then follow where he points. A blur has appeared in the distance, dark against dark, visible only where it extends above the treeline. The tremors rise to a fever pitch. We clutch our armrests in grim silence. The tanks and soldiers ready their guns. It’s one hundred seconds to midnight, every carefully calculated prediction has come to pass, and all I can think is that whoever designed this trajectory plotter is definitely going to get a raise.

The kaiju slows to a trot as it approaches. The ground stops shaking. Without its blur of speed, the kaiju’s massive form is clear in the moonlight, all craggy skin and lithe bands of muscle. Despite its size, it moves with ease and an alien kind of grace.

It shies away from the tanks. As it gets closer, I can see why. Dark blue blood leaks from the missile wounds that pepper its hide like so much buckshot. Its skin must have once been smooth, aerodynamic even, but the National Guard’s weaponry has taken its toll. One of its eyes is clouded over, while the other is open a little too wide. The kaiju peers through a skylight, infiltrating the murky darkness of the powered-down airport with its sickly blue glow. It blinks, once, twice.

Midnight. A dozen tiny watch alarms chime.

Then come the guns.

At first, I just watch in awe as ribbons of blood spin out from each shot. Injured as it is, though, the beast fights back. With one sweep of its tail, it sends a row of luggage carts crashing into the side of a nearby terminal. Glass breaks. Pillars creak. When the soldiers outside pull out missile launchers and the terminal building starts shaking, some of my fellow passengers and I sprint for the bathrooms, hoping against hope that their tornado shelter walls are sturdy enough to weather this disaster too.

It’s pitch black inside the women’s bathroom. The chaotic noise outside sounds distant, like an action movie on another room’s television. I slump against the cool, soothing tile in the far corner, blinking until my eyes adjust to the total absence of light. Others cower with me, filling the sink area with bodies. No, not bodies. Not numbers or statistics. Living, breathing humans, with names and histories and people like Cam waiting for them.

The woman huddling next to me leans in close. I can just barely make out the café logo on her apron. She’s the cashier from earlier, the last person I spoke to before Marco called with the news of the rising.

“Cranberry scone, right?” she asks. Her voice is as thin as a reed but still somehow sturdy, as if she has bent instead of broken.

“Cranberry scone,” I confirm, with none of her fortitude.

“I recognized your briefcase. Thanks for the tip.” She winces as the volume of the mortar fire increases and the kaiju screeches faintly in pain. “I think I’ll put it toward piano lessons.”

She’s half my age, but twice as brave. I’ve heard they do kaiju drills in schools now, and they must be doing something right for her to be this well prepared in the face of death. I recognize this brand of bravery, though. It’s the kind of front Cam puts up during hospital visits. It’s real strength, but painfully won, and it shouldn’t be wielded alone. When I reach out my hand, the cashier takes it.

I don’t know how long it’s been since midnight. There’s no need to count the seconds when the doomsday clock has already run out. Eventually, though, the noise from the tarmac battle rises to a crescendo. If any of the people sheltering with me scream, I can’t hear them over the endless volleys of missiles. I squeeze the cashier’s hand. Things fall outside. Large things.

The bathroom ceiling groans as something strikes it from high above. The kaiju outside unleashes a keening cry, and the sink mirrors crack from its pitch. Hot tears course down my cheeks, washing away plaster dust and airport grime. It’s a small mercy that Cam isn’t here to feel this terror, this unquantifiable fear. No projections could have prepared me for this reality. As the terminal shudders and heaves, I close my eyes and picture every last detail of my wife’s face. If I have to go, I want to go seeing her, not some lizard-thing from the depths of hell.

I hear the loudest boom I have ever heard, and then–silence. A sweeter sound than any piano music.

We wait, and wait, and wait, but the only sounds left outside are tank treads on gravel. They’re getting quieter now. The lights flicker back on, leaving me blinking away spots as my fellow survivors slowly get to their feet. My ears won’t stop ringing, and I stumble on my way out through the curving tornado-proof walls. Nothing feels real. Every movement is dreamlike and disconnected from the next.

I emerge from the bathroom into a scene that looks like one of the photos on my pitch deck. The familiarity breaks through my shock, and I begin to mentally catalog the shattered windows and crushed gate desks. Every bit of damage here will be itemized for claim submission and sent to one of my colleagues at Upper Citadel. I can practically see the stacks of paperwork.

The piano still stands. Its glossy surface is splintered and bits of debris from the ceiling cover its keyboard, but it’s there. Someday soon, it will be played again. While the rest of us wander about in a daze, the pianist rushes over and begins gently unearthing his instrument from the rubble.

“Thank you,” says the young cashier. It’s only when she lets go of my hand that I realize she was still holding it.

“It was just basic human decency,” I demur. Already the icy shell of professionalism threatens to creep back over my heart. “But–thank you, too. I’m glad I wasn’t alone.”

She smiles, nods, and heads off toward the pianist, texting as she goes. I pull out my own phone and place a call to Cam with shaking fingers. No more silenced notifications for her: she picks up on the first ring.

“I’m okay,” I manage to get out, and then it’s nothing but tears from the both of us.
Time stretches out before me like an endless runway. At some point during my call with Cam, I sit again and want to laugh at the thought of waiting for my flight to board. It’s real, though. I can go home now and put this night behind me.

“Your attention please,” someone announces from the mangled remnants of the PA system. “The kaiju threat has been neutralized. Our runways are blocked, so we’re going to bus you to another airport. We’ll get you all home just as soon as we can.”

It takes all night to organize the new flights. Dawn breaks as I finally board my flight to Portland. To Cam.

I only let myself relax when the plane climbs high above North Carolina. The first rays of sunlight gleam on the kaiju carcass still sprawled across the runways of Charlotte Douglas. I close my window shade, pull out my laptop, and open the Sandstorm report once more. Just a few more changes to make, and then I’ll send it off to Marco.

I enter new values into the quote calculator and use the results to alter the numbers on my report. Upper Citadel will assume that Sandstorm has changed their asset allotment, and Sandstorm will think this is Upper Citadel’s counteroffer on pricing. But at the other end of the algorithm there’s only me, moving coverage percentage points from shareholder payouts to personnel compensation, protecting the futures of strangers I may never meet. Rebuilding lives, not stock portfolios. Paying for piano lessons.

Before tonight, I had pitied the kaiju victims, but they were still just numbers to me. Their suffering was academic. When it came right down to it, though, it was Upper Citadel that saw me as little more than a report deadline and a potential life insurance payout. In the terminal, by the piano, under the trembling bathroom ceiling, I felt real compassion even through my fear. We’re all so small, so fragile. We have to look out for each other however we can, before time runs out.

I save the altered report and email it to the rest of the team on the Sandstorm account. If anyone from management questions me, I’ll tell them what Marco always tells me: I’m not responsible for the changes, not really. It’s the algorithm. And after all, I’m only human.


Host Commentary

Host Commentary

by Tina Connolly

About this story, Lauren Ring says – This story was inspired by my experience trying to escape downtown Seattle when an active shooter was reported while I was at work. Rideshare app prices skyrocketed due to high demand, social media exploded, and the people I was with came together to support each other.

And about this story, I say – I loved the fresh angle that this story took. We focused not on the kaiju, or the personnel called to fight it, but on someone who has an entirely different way to help. One person, who has the ability to shift some numbers around, to help rebuild and repair, lives instead of stockholders, and who chooses to take that opportunity to help. The story builds to the end in a myriad of these little moments of human connection; our protagonist warning the mother, tipping the pianist, holding hands with the barista. It is not about making a personal connection with one human; it is about making a profound connection with all the strangers you meet in a day. Strangers who are very perfectly human. Who all just want safety, and love, and home.

And our closing quotation this week goes all the way back to Aesop, who said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Thanks for listening! And have fun.

About the Author

Lauren Ring

Lauren Ring

Lauren Ring (she/her) is a perpetually tired Jewish lesbian who writes about possible futures, for better or for worse. Her short fiction can be found in Pseudopod, Nature, and F&SF, and forthcoming in the 2022 anthology The Reinvented Heart. When she isn’t writing speculative fiction, she is pursuing her career in UX design or attending to the many needs of her cat, Moomin.

Find more by Lauren Ring

Lauren Ring

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

Find more by Alethea Kontis