Escape Pod 813: A Consideration of Trees


A Consideration of Trees

By Beth Cato

As a xenoarbitrator, I was accustomed to working with concepts and situations deemed peculiar by most of humanity. Often, though, my own species confounded me most of all.

“I fear you misunderstood my advertisement.” I stood in Mari Kane’s miniscule parlor on Bradbury Orbital Station. My felizard partner, Petey, twitched in his nest atop my silvering crown braids. “I usually mediate between different species. You need a private investigator to look into a suspicious death–”

“Rainbow Charm Corporation owns the local investigators. Madam Alameda, you’re from off station. I couldn’t find any corporate affiliations in your history. You’re the independent investigator I want to hire.” A pleading note crept into her voice.

“I appreciate your confidence in me, but–”

“Bradbury Orbital is property of Rainbow Charm.” Petey spoke directly into my mind via our neural bond, his four-inch-long body flexing as he hummed in thought. “That’s a Thrassi-owned firm. This could be a cultural misunderstanding.”

“–this still isn’t my purview,” I finished, speaking aloud to both of them at once. “I study stories, new and old, and use them to bridge misunderstandings between different kinds of lifeforms. If you had a Murkle as your neighbor, for instance, who began screaming nonstop if rain lasted for more than a day, I could explain why and advise the Murkle on more appropriate responses.”

Honestly, I would have preferred to work with a screaming Murkle about then. Humans had been decisively immoral in every one of my recent jobs–cruel to fellow humans, and other kinds of life, too. Jaded as I felt, I had to wonder what crime her husband had committed to end up dead.

“Listen, madam, please.” Mari took a deep breath. “Cameron was found dead yesterday. I don’t know how or where. He wasn’t on duty. A station exec delivered the news. His guards handed me Cameron’s remains.” Her voice cracked as she motioned to a small box. “The exec deposited ten-thou credits into my account, saying they’d appreciate my silence or–”

“What?” I broke in. Mega-corporations snared citizens in litigation that extended beyond victims’ lifespans. They did not hand out payoffs. “Was the exec human or Thrassi?”

“Thrassi.”

Petey spoke via our link, “Thrassi are usually cautious about how they handle human dead because of their own beliefs in the afterlife.” He sounded genuinely puzzled. “This case’d make for an interesting paycheck, Alameda.”

Yeah, money, food, and decent beds were nice and all, but this was another human case, and one with a dead–possibly criminal–man and grieving widow. That meant messy family emotions. Ugh. My own family–well, far as I was concerned, my blood relations could wallow in a radioactive fallout zone.

I paced along a wall with animated photographs. Cameron and Mari looked at each other with genuine love. I averted my gaze, finding a shelf of small carved wooden animals. Beautiful work, unusual for a working class home on an orbital above Earth.

I shouldn’t take this case, I thought. I’d just end up feeling even more disillusioned about my own kind, and yet…

We finalized the contract. I headed back through the station with Petey.

“This case is fishier than a barrel of fish,” I said to him.

“I took the liberty of pinging Aamir since you hoped to meet up, anyway,” he said.

“Thanks, Petey.” I couldn’t ask for a better partner.

Felizards didn’t usually brain-bond with humans. We’re too aggro, the bullies of the universe, as my recent cases had reaffirmed. I often teased Petey that he just liked to lounge on my head all day. He resembled a cat melded with a gecko, slickly furred in blue, and favored laziness in warm places.

“Aamir will be baffled by this bizarrely philanthropic behavior, too,” I said.

“I can guess the corporation’s motivation already. Money. A lot more than ten-thou.”

“Well, obviously. The question is, how much more?”


The likely answer: 1.3 mill credits.

“If this Refuge Bio Park isn’t somehow connected to Cameron’s mysterious death, I’ll eat a h’dar egg,” I said to Petey.

Neither of us had to do a big data dive to find that number. Upon entering Bradbury’s central hub, advertisements and newsfeed marquees bombarded my visual overlay. Buzz focused on the station’s massive and very expensive new park with salvaged terrain from the warming planet below.

“Let’s assume Cameron is an innocent in all of this, for now,” I said. “See if he worked on the park or if co-workers have come down ill. His death spooked the execs for some reason.”

“Mmm. Could be a slow-acting neurotoxin like that incident at Rawn Station.”

“Thanks for going to the worst case scenario, Petey.”

“That’s why I’m here,” he said in a chirpy tone.

Text bloomed on my overlay. “You’re back!”

Good. A fast reply from Aamir. I promptly responded: “For a few days. Need some help on a case. Meet us?”

“All work no play, huh?”

I ignored my twist of yearning. “Hoped to meet you anyway. Brought you brioche from that bakery on Herriot.”

I could imagine their whoop of delight. “Meet in fifteen? The usual spot?”


“Hey, you two.” Aamir established a private channel for the three of us to chat. The soft clink of dishware provided background noise. Most everyone in the cofftea shop spoke via mental links. “I took the liberty of ordering horchata for you, Alameda. New on the menu. Hope you find it decent.”

I took a sip. Definitely not like the rice milk of my youth–better, actually. Everything from my childhood tasted sour in hindsight. “And here you are.” I set the opaque bread bag before Aamir. They caressed it as if calming a scared bird.

“Who do I need to kill?” they asked.

“A dead body is the dilemma here,” I said, and filled them in.

I studied Aamir as I spoke. They were the rare sort who became a cop because they wanted to help people, and had wearily accepted that sometimes breaking the law was the morally right thing to do. That took its toll. They looked more haggard each time we met. But then, I probably looked the same.

“Yeah. That pay-off, timed with the big opening of the park–something’s up. Gimme a few to probe the station database. Searches go slow for us peons without a felizard.” Aamir shot me a fond smile then gazed off into space with a muffled yawn.

“You two should meet up later,” Petey murmured. “No work involved.”

I confirmed our private channel before I replied. “We need more jobs while we’re here. We’re barely–”

“Yeah, funds are tight, but a day–or night–to relax won’t break us. I say that as your accountant.”

“You say that because you’re a meddlesome–”

“Huh.” Aamir was surprised enough to say that aloud, then switched to our channel. “Cameron was found in Northumberland Forest in the new park, dead of natural causes.”

I motioned impatience. “Natural, meaning…?”

“In archaic terms, ‘dead of old age.’ Complete organ failure, and his appearance…”

The image that flashed onto my overlay made me gape. The man was recognizable as Cameron–same dark skin, thick brows, side-parted hair–but aged a hundred years rather than thirty.

Dead of old age, indeed.


Our discussion bounced back and forth. Could this be an experimental rejuv gone wrong? No, such an extreme didn’t even make sense.

“Found in the woods. This sounds so Rip Van Winkle,” I muttered.

“What?” asked Aamir, covering another yawn. “Is that one of your sorts of stories?”

By my ‘sorts,’ they meant tales mystical or supernatural. They didn’t know the personal reason why such tales attracted me so–or why I shunned my family back on Earth. Or that the two things were linked.

“Well, yes. It’s an old Earth story. A man played a game with spirits in the woods, then fell asleep. When he awakened, two decades had passed. He was an old man.”

“But here, virtually no time passed, yet Cameron aged decades. Is Rip Van Winkle based on reality?” Petey phrased the question lightly, but he asked for a reason. He knew my full past.

Rip Van Winkle was written as fiction, far as I know.” Unlike other tales I’d researched over the years.

“Could the trees be contaminated somehow?” Aamir asked, then immediately shook their head. “Sorry, stupid question. Fouled-up as Earth is, everything gets scanned in detail.”

“This reminds me of another story.” I paused. “Yes, go ahead and groan both of you. Another fiction piece, but from the cusp of the 20th century, called War of the Worlds.”

“What, did the trees rise up and attack?” Aamir’s expression was of fond amusement.

“No, this featured a Martian invasion that almost destroyed humanity. The aliens abruptly die. Turned out they weren’t immune to earthly pathogens. And you really need to get to sleep, Aamir.” I frowned. “You should’ve told me I caught you right after a shift.”

“No, because then you would’ve put off meeting. You’re right, though. I do need to hit the bunk. I work again in ten.” They covered another yawn. “Promise me you won’t become an old corpse in the park.”

“I’ll ping you later to verify I’m among the living.”

They stood, cradling the bread like a baby. “I hope you get answers. If weird things keep happening in the woods, Rainbow Charm will toast that zone. Be careful.”

“You, too. A mugger might try to nab that brioche.”

“Let’em try.” They winked as they strolled out. We soon followed.

Ubiquitous directions made the park easy to find. As I crossed the threshold, a domed sky opened above me, the effect stunning in its realism. Sunlight warmed my face. Birds–real, actual birds–swooped and cawed above. Text bloomed on my overlay to identify creatures and plants within a limited range.

“Wow.” Petey’s voice was small in awe. “This is like Earth, huh?”

“Parts of it, yeah.” I took in a deep breath. This didn’t remotely resemble the high-elevation scrubby desert of my Santa Fe childhood, but it still felt and smelled like Earth. Like home.

We crossed a Northumberland moorland, forest visible ahead. A luster of obvious tourists directed bot-cameras closer to blooming heather. Two women with infants in hovers ambled by, followed by a Thrassi jogger.

A strange pall fell over me as we entered the woods, the shadows deep and mustiness real. This place embodied ancientness. Despite the well-beaten dirt path, I suddenly felt two hundred miles from civilization.

Aamir’s info had included where the body was found. A grove of particularly grandiose oaks guarded the spot amid thick vegetation. The leaves and mud looked undisturbed.

“No signs of a formal police investigation.” I shook my head. “This was a panicked cover-up from the time they found Cameron.”

“Time to find a nosey local?” Petey asked as we headed toward the periphery of the woods.

“Yes indeed.” No matter the nature of my cases, no matter the species involved, someone in the vicinity always spied on proceedings and was happy to blab about everything they’d witnessed.

A few minutes of study led me toward an older human on a bench, her feet jutted out to boldly expose a silver prosthetic leg. She eyed us with blatant curiosity.

“I’ve never seen a felizard on station before. Welcome, both of you.” She shared her ID via overlay: Loulou Okeezie. “I used to pilot a transport to Mrr. It’s a lovely place.”

“Did you?” Petey spoke aloud, voice rusty with disuse but full of delight. “Few humans visit my homeworld.”

“Good. Keeps it decent.” Loulou grunted. “Now, your kind don’t explore for no reason. What brings you here?”

“We’re curious about an incident nearby,” I said.

“Which one?” Loulou arched a silvery brow.

“There’s more than one?” Petey perked up in curiosity, claws grazing my scalp.

“Someone was hurt in the woods yesterday. I watched them get evacuated.” She clicked her teeth. “Then there’s the poor girl dragged out here every evening.”

“What girl?” I asked.

“Oh, she’s maybe seven and screams bloody murder when her nan-bot drags her by the woods. At least, she used to. She stays quiet now, but clearly hates the place. Claimed the forest stole her baby brother. Sounds downright medieval, don’t it?” She laughed.

“What?” Her words doused me like cold water.

“Of course, her brother’s in a hover right there, which makes the whole thing even sillier.”

“You said they come by in the evening. Has that happened already today?” Petey asked.

“Not yet!”

Via private channel, Petey said, “Take deep breaths, Alameda. I’ll chat our way out of here.”

He knew her words had gotten to me, bless him. I stood with a pasted-on smile as he kept talking.

At age seven, I’d been the one screaming for help after my cousin José had been dragged into a canal by La Llorona, the legendary wailing specter in white. Older kids used her as a threat to scare the younger set, and probably had for hundreds of years. “Stay out too late by the water, and that old ghost’ll drown you like she did her own kids!”

I didn’t believe in her until I saw her with my own eyes. Her plaintive song didn’t lure me, but José–he’d have tried to save flies from drowning. He wanted to help the sad lady, too.

Afterward, the police had been tactful enough to suggest I needed therapy. An aunt hinted I’d killed José for some petty reason and lied about La Llorona to cover it up. The rest of my family, they never forgave me for letting José die, which was fine. I never forgave them for years of snide remarks about my sanity, plus outright physical abuse.

Despite the cruelty I endured, I never doubted what I saw. That didn’t make me a sucker for every similar story that came along, though. I needed to meet this girl.

Petey wrapped up the conversation, and we retreated to another bench with a view. We idled in wait.

Finally, a nan-bot with a hover and a small child strolled up the path. I advanced to intercept them. The young human remained quiet, but by her wide eyes and twitchy movements, she looked ready to bolt if something lunged from the woods. That gave me an idea.

“Hey Petey, search for myths about Northumberland forests.”

“Like if ghosts enjoy playing ninepins there?” he quipped, referencing Rip Van Winkle.

“That, or replace infants with clones.”

“These trees need new hobbies,” he muttered.

“By the way, your cuteness will likely be helpful in the next few minutes. Just to remind you.”

His groan filled my head. “Like I need a reminder.”

Human children loved felizards. I totally understood the attraction–and also why felizards were deeply insulted by being treated as ‘pets’ when they were superior to humans in a lot of ways. Petey griped, but he didn’t mind really.

“Ah, this is a Martian nan-bot model 1980-1!” he said via channel as we drew close. “Serv bots in that range were nigh obsolete from the get-go. By default, they regard unfamiliar humans as hostile.”

“That sounds bad.”

“Only for you. Felizards, on the contrary, are deemed harmless–so long as our public ID shows we’re current on standard immunizations.” He bounded from his nest atop my head.

“In other words, its programming is so terrible, it thinks you’re a cat. What makes me think you’ve taken advantage of this lapse before?”

The nan-bot gave Petey an obvious scan as he trotted up on stubby legs. The girl gasped and held her arms wide. He accepted the invitation and leaped up to her shoulder. In contrast, I came within five feet and the bot sheltered its two charges.

“Stranger, maintain your distance from these children.” The nan-bot spoke in a perky tone.

“You’re so soft!” the girl crooned as she stroked Petey. He leaned into her touch. “I’ve only seen felizards in vids!”

“Your nan-bot’s not that smart, is it?” Petey spoke in a whisper. Indeed, it didn’t seem to register that he had spoken at all.

“It’s not,” she whispered back. “But that’s okay sometimes.”

The nan-bot’s eyes clicked as its gaze roved between us. “You should be wary of speaking to strangers.”

“I approached because your female charge appeared upset. If you examine my credentials,” I said to the bot, inviting it to download the data, “you’ll see I’m a xenoarbitrator. I wanted to make sure she was okay.” I wished I could ask the girl’s name, but that was certain to set off the bot.

“My charge has no need of your services.”

“The woods scare me,” the girl blurted, stroking Petey’s spine. She looked me in the eye, clearly relieved to have a receptive audience. “I believed that I saw things there and that they followed us home and stole my real brother away, even though cameras all around didn’t see a thing.” She knew to word things in the past tense to avoid triggering her nan-bot.

Cameras hadn’t captured La Llorona, either. That was a theme across human cultures–and alien cultures, too. Children able to see what adults, for all their presumed wisdom, cannot.

“This matter has been discussed and resolved,” chided the bot. “Human children sometimes suffer such delusions. She has adapted.”

“What’s in the hover, then?” I asked the girl.

“Feel no obligations to answer questions from a stranger,” the bot said.

“Something that looks like my brother but isn’t my brother. Not that he’s bad or anything.” To my surprise, the girl looked his way with genuine concern. “The station would be scary to someone who’d only lived in a forest.”

“Alameda.” Petey spoke over our channel. “These incidents out of the forest do match old stories from the Northumberland region.”

He fed me keywords, and I recalled stories I hadn’t read in decades, about fairies, changelings, and other-realms where a person could live out decades and return to find no time had passed–or be away for minutes and discover that decades or centuries had slipped away. Likely antecedent tales of the fictional Rip Van Winkle.

“Did you see these kidnappers from the woods?” I asked aloud.

“I thought I did.” She had a shrewd glint to her eye. I hid a smile. This girl needed help, yes, but she didn’t need to be saved. “Floating lights and shadowy things with antlers.”

Fairies. Ancient beings of Earth, here on Bradbury Orbital. I had solved my mysterious death case–with an answer no other human here would believe, least of all the grieving widow.

But now there was an extra complication: the changeling children. I couldn’t save Cameron. I hadn’t been able to save my cousin José. But these swapped children–maybe this could be made right. But how?

As a kid, as a disbelieved survivor, my rage had burned long and fierce. One of my big regrets was that I didn’t fight to save my cousin. That I could’ve saved him–saved my place within my family. I wasted a lot of years craving to belong with them again, even as they treated me like dirt.

I clenched my fists. I looked at the girl, at the hover with the different child, at the woods. I let my hands go slack.

The circumstances between my childhood loss and the losses on Bradbury were not the same. La Llorona was a cruel ghost repeating her sins from life. Fairies were mischievous and cruel, yes, but…but I could reason with them, couldn’t I? They were like a native-yet-alien species.

I could’ve laughed. This case was in my job’s purview after all.

The dome above softened to pink and gold as artificial sol neared its end.

“I’m going to go into the woods to talk to these creatures. My friend will stay with you,” I said to the girl.

Her eyes widened in alarm. Petey emitted a squeak of surprise.

I faced the bot, lowering my voice. “This is a therapeutic technique that’s used on Dralnar when younglings in crèches develop fears about attacks by extinct predators. Adults sign treaties with the ‘monsters’ to keep them away.”

“Dralnar.” Its processors considered this. “Yes, I see records of this method. You may commence, but know we cannot stay out after dark.”

“Alameda, you sure about this?” Petey asked via our link.

“No, but I’m…uniquely qualified to act as ambassador here and now.” That made me feel stronger. Like the loss of José–and my whole family–could directly help other families at last. “Here’s hoping I don’t end up like Cameron. We still don’t know why they killed him and no one else.”

“That we know of.”

“Always with the optimism, huh, Petey?”

The ethereal feel of the forest deepened as light faded.

Birds seemed to hush in suspense as I returned to the oak grove. I studied the shadows, every rustle increasing my unease. These woods were reminiscent of War of the Worlds. Unseen things lurked, ready to kill me.

I took a deep breath. I had to do this. I needed to do this. No kids needed to deal with trauma even remotely close to mine.

“I’m here to speak with the fairies who have long resided in these woods, newly transplanted to Bradbury Orbital.” To my left, a twig snapped; my heartbeat threatened to pound out of my chest. “According to stories, you’ve aggressively toyed with humans for centuries. You cannot continue that here. Most people…don’t believe in you anymore. Your existence doesn’t register on modern technology. This does give you some advantages–more subterfuge for certain–but it also makes you, and these woods, even more vulnerable.”

The forest became impossibly quieter. I had a strange sense that things–many things–were listening. I resolved to be blunt.

“If people continue to die here, this place will be viewed as a liability by the caretakers on Bradbury Orbital. They’ll destroy the forest. They won’t know that they’re destroying you along with it.”

Or maybe the fairies would simply be sealed in their other-realm. In any case, the loss of the woods couldn’t bode well for them.

The sound of creaking wood drew my attention to my left, to a moving branch far above my head level. The limb had to be about as thick as my arm. Only after it pushed aside smaller branches did I realize it was an arm–one twice the length of mine, garbed in pleated cloth that resembled bark. Or was it actual bark? I wasn’t about to ask. I couldn’t muster words at all as I craned my head to gawk at a brown face, smooth yet ancient. Motes of lights circled around it like satellites.

The fairy’s head tilted to one side, scrutinizing me with eyes the incredible black of deep space. I waited for it to speak. Or to kill me. To do something.

“What’s happening there?” broke in Petey. “Your anxiety levels just jumped higher than a gharkak.”

“I see one. More than one,” I corrected myself. The lights had to be tiny fairies.

I breathed deeply to center myself. I’d met plenty of other ancient beings in my travels. I couldn’t let this confrontation intimidate me simply because these extraordinary beings were from Earth–like La Llorona.

With that reminder of my past, I took care with my next words to ensure that I would have a future.

I continued, “Human ignorance has caused too many species to go extinct. I don’t want you to be among them–even if you’re bringing this danger on yourselves.” My tone harshened. “You cannot age people to death or otherwise kill them. You cannot continue to steal children, human or otherwise. If you want to survive–and thrive–you may eventually want to make yourself known to others on station. Trust me, I know humans are a pain,” I grimaced, “but making alliances–and eventually friendships–will be mutually beneficial.”

The tree-being tilted its head the other way, the impenetrable gaze never leaving mine. Behind it, the woods continued to crackle with unseen life.

“Alameda. One extra note,” Petey whispered in my mind. “You’re being very helpful, but fairies don’t like debts.”

Okay. I could work with that. “If you find my words useful, in exchange, I ask that you replace the changeling children. Please keep them unaged, unaltered.” I racked my brain but couldn’t think of anything else. “I sincerely hope you and your forest can become good neighbors here on Bradbury Orbital. Thank you for listening.”

I barely breathed as I waited for a response. After what felt like forever, it dipped its head in an unmistakable nod, then took a graceful step backward, vanishing in an instant. The motes left brief yellow contrails as they followed. Utter silence fell over the forest.

I lingered for a moment, stupefied, and then headed back through the brush. Never before had my back felt so vulnerable. Exiting the woods, I took in a deep breath as if I’d been drowning.

“I’m alive!” I sent Petey. I looked at my hands, touched my face. “I’m the same old me. Right?”

“According to the data I’m reading, yep. Did you hear any reply? Nothing registered on my end.”

I started walking. “They didn’t need to speak. They understood.”

The girl greeted me with a teary hug. Since she had initiated contact, the bot didn’t react. This thing was about as lousy a caretaker as my own parents, and that was saying something.

I pulled back to look the girl in the eye, still wary of the bot and my presumed therapeutic technique. “The creatures in the woods are called fairies. Look up old books from Earth–19th, 20th, 21st century–and you’ll find lots of stories. I asked them to bring back your brother, but–” I held up a hand in caution. “I don’t know if they will.”

“Fairies.” She tested the strange word on her tongue. “Do you think–if they take this brother back, I can still be friends with him, too?”

Her compassion left me momentarily speechless. “If the exchange happens, ask the trees later on.”

Her nod was grave. “Ask the trees. I think…I think I can do that.” She regarded the distant forest. “I don’t feel so scared now that I know what’s there. I hope I can still be friends with both of my brothers.”

“I hope so, too,” I murmured.


Mari Kane accepted my redacted report with a stifled sob. “At least Cameron died of natural causes in the forest. He loved trees.”

We spoke in her parlor again. She gazed toward the carved figurines, a ghost of a smile upon her lips.

“Did Cameron make those?” I asked.

“Oh yes, madam. Whenever we traveled to the surface, he’d bring back pieces of wood. He was so excited about the park opening here.”

“‘Bring back,'” Petey murmured in my head. “Meaning he smuggled wood past environmental inspectors.”

I replied in turn. “That means my gut instinct was right. Cameron was breaking station law by gleaning from the park and must’ve broken some kind of fairy rule, as well, for them to kill him like that.”

A few more murmured words of condolence to Mari, and we left. I knew I should advertise my availability again, but I just plain didn’t want to.

Instead, I sent a message to Aamir.

Not a minute later, they replied. “Need to eat breakfast before I go on shift. How about sharing a lovely loaf with me?”

A chortle escaped my lips.

“What?” asked Petey. “Oh. Let me guess. Aamir?”

“Would you like some time on your solar pad at the hotel?” I said to Petey. “I’ve been invited to share a loaf.”

“Oh, is that what you humans call it now?”

“Did you solve that case?” Aamir asked, utterly oblivious to Petey’s innuendo in the other channel.

“Yes,” I said, giggling to myself. “Can’t share the details, but I’m hopeful you won’t have more problems in the woods.”

Hopeful. That was a change. I’d started out the day jaded as could be, and though my worst suspicions about Cameron had been confirmed, I couldn’t despair too much.I smiled, optimistic for the future of the girl, and her brothers, and the fairies on Bradbury Orbital. A lot of lousy humans were out there, sure, but we weren’t all bad. Some of us were even willing to share their bread.

 


Host Commentary

By Alasdair Stuart

So, I don’t know about you but I definitely did not order this dystopia, and yet, here we are. It’s very easy, sometimes I’d argue it feels compulsory, to be angry and sad and frightened and depressed all the time. We’re at the end of year two of a global pandemic, the climate is on fire when it isn’t freezing or flooding and sometimes all three at the same time and four plus years into a war on the certainty granted us by the scientific, intellectual and ethical frameworks that literal centuries of society have fought, bled and died to develop. That line from The Thing has never been far from my mind across the last 24 months. No one trusts anyone now, and we’re all very tired.

But that can’t be all there is. Because while John Lydon is right and anger IS an energy, it’s also exhausting. So instead, let’s go to the woods.

The two pillars of this story speak to two of my fundamental beliefs. The first is the remarkably pragmatic approach to the supernatural that growing up on a Viking retirement home with a Fairy Bridge you crossed every week (Seriously) gives you. Especially when that’s coupled with a lightly mixed cocktail of spiritualism, Catholicism and a LOT of Vertigo comics I was in no way old enough to read. Of course the old stories are still there. Of course. the fairies are still there. Of course we’ve built on the bones of the societies and worlds before us and on occasion, of course, those bones still have meat and life to them. If you go down to the woods today you really will be sure of a big surprise. If you go down there with an attitude it’ll be your last one too.

And then there’s this.

‘Some of us were even willing to share their bread.’

Vonnegut said it well too, and we’re closing with him today but I want to focus in on this because Cato’s done extraordinary work with this story, splicing one genre with one another and using it to lay the heart of both absolutely bare. No one gets to the final frontier alone. No one makes it to Mount Doom alone. We all need people and we all hold each together as we make our way through wherever we are this month, or week, or day, or hour. Sometimes kindness is cooking for someone or making sure they’re hydrated. Sometimes it’s a gift or a smile or a nod. Sometimes it’s just being there and sometimes it’s knowing not to be. Sometimes it’s wearing a mask. Kindness is the benevolent conspiracy we should all recruit ourselves to. Kindness isn’t everything but kindness powers everything and the way no problem is solved alone here speaks to that and speaks, directly to me. Excellent work all, thank you.

And now it’s my turn to speak directly to you.  We rely on you entirely to pay our costs. Our donors pay for stories, staff, tech, hosting, you name it and they always rise to the occasion. Thanks to Patreon and PayPal, they also get some great perks too including a gallery of donor exclusive audio. A gallery that frequently gets one or two new rooms added to it…

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Massive thanks to Beth Cato, Sandra Espinosa, the mighty Adam Pracht on audio, our intrepid editorial and associate editorial team and you. Thanks for having me aboard.

We’ll be back next week with Oddments, Pasha’s autodiary of 07 MAR 2032 by W. Noessell, read by Tatiana Grey,  hosted by Mur and audio produced by Adam. Then as now we’ll be a production of Escape Artists Incorporated and released under a creative commons attribution non-commercial no derivatives license. And I’ll be back like Arnold, just with cookies not cybernetic temporal future horror or several disappointing sequels and one last fiercely good one, for the final story of the year. We leave you with this quote from all time great, Kurt Vonnegut.

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

Until next week, folks, have fun.

About the Author

Beth Cato

Beth Cato

Nebula-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the new Blood of Earth trilogy from Harper Voyager. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cats.

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About the Narrator

Sandra Espinoza

Sandra Espinoza is a New York born and raised voice actress. Bilingual with a background in English literature and writing, she’s always been fascinated with what people were saying and the broad palette of ways to say it. After a childhood where video games were banned from the house, she’s 180’d so hard that she’s finally in them and never leaving. Some games Sandra’s voiced for include Brawl StarsHeroes of NewerthMarvel’s Avengers Academy and the critically acclaimed Wadjet Eye Games point-and-click adventure game Unavowed. Get to know her at dustyoldroses.com and follow on Twitter and Facebook @dustyoldroses.

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