Escape Pod 825: Fourth Nail


Fourth Nail

By Mur Lafferty

Regina Phillips’ job on the orbital station God’s Eye was that of a nighttime systems engineer. She had to warm her desk chair and make sure nothing broke. It was the highest paying, most boring job around. So she sat in shocked silence for a good minute when the red alert hit.

She didn’t even know the cloning lab had an alert system. It was hard to have an emergency involving minds that were backed up and bodies that were ultimately renewable. Still, there it was, a red glow around her monitor as the words “UNAUTHORIZED TRANSMISSION” blinked over and over again.

Around her, cloning vats filled the lab, each waiting for the command to start growing a new body for a dying clone. One clone in the far end vat was nearly done, but Regina didn’t recognize the face. She wasn’t a tech responsible for dealing with the actual vats, just the computer systems.

She pushed a button to alert the AI. “Um, MICKEY, can you tell me about this unauthorized transmission? This lab isn’t supposed to receive data from outside the station.”

The light under the station AI’s camera came on, indicating MICKEY’s interest. “Not until I read it, Regina,” the feminine voice said. “And I can’t read it because it’s unauthorized. Security measures. Protocol suggests deleting unread.”

Regina frowned. “No, don’t do that,” she said. Her job allowed her enough power to contradict the AI in her field of expertise, but only barely. Here was a chance to do her job. Might as well do it.

While she didn’t want the AI to make the call, she figured she didn’t get paid enough to make this decision. She tapped her glasses rim and said, “Call Alex Riddell. Emergency.”

Director Riddell was not one to appreciate being woken up, but he also wasn’t one to deny the mysterious message took some time to address. After her call, he made it to the lab in short time, standing behind her in his dressing gown, his blonde hair flattened on one side, frowning. Regina had never seen him in such a state. That was more shocking than the transmission.

“Delete it,” he commanded. “It’s a virus.”

“How could someone figure out how to get a message through the firewall?” she asked. “No one but people on this station should have the codes to access this database. I checked, everything in the database is still secure. MICKEY, do you detect any malware?”

“None. But it is possible it won’t attack until the message is opened. Advise deleting unread,” the AI repeated.

“Maybe she’s right,” Regina said. “With everything going on in the labs on Earth we shouldn’t take a chance. Still, I don’t want to get in trouble for deleting something important. Maybe we should ask Igor-”

The AI interrupted her. “I’m detecting three more unauthorized transmissions,” she said. “These are larger files. They appear to be archived mindmaps and DNA sequences. Very old, though. A file format used over fifty years ago.”

“Someone is trying to infiltrate the station from Earth,” Alex said, his voice tight. “From the inside. That’s a new angle to get aboard.”

“Maybe they want to use an uninfected lab,” Regina said. “But they would just be bringing the virus here, wouldn’t they?” She remembered the other times people had tried to get into the station, but it had always been stowing away on a shuttle, or attacking the station from the outside.

“Delete-” Alex said, but Regina put her hand on his arm.

“Wait, MICKEY. Don’t do anything,” she said. “Those files didn’t come from Earth.”


The denizens of God’s Eye thought of the station, a shining orbital wheel, as their final reward, better than Heaven, better than Elysium. Their own off-Earth paradise, their ultimate gated community.

To the humans on Earth, God’s Eye was miles of steel, copper, and the first generation of narcissistic cloned assholes.

Aboard the station, they lived free of the laws that governed clones on Earth. They could create as many clones of themselves as they liked, they could kill their current bodies and get new ones if they got so much as a scratch, and they could modify their mindmaps and DNA sequences as they pleased. Their massive wealth allowed this distance, as well as weekly shuttle deliveries from Earth, and they could look down like gods on the home they’d abandoned.

The clones of God’s Eye did allow humans to work aboard the station, to do the menial work they weren’t interested in. “Rich folk always needed poor folk to sweep up after them, and Lord knows they ain’t gonna pick their own apples,” Regina’s grandmother would say.

Regina worked the night shift in the lab. She had a small cot in a small room on the station and worked one week on, one week back on Earth. Most of her friends at home thought her job was glamorous, working aboard the forbidden station, but frankly it was boring work. Lucrative, but boring. She never got to see more of the station than the cloning lab, her room, and the tiny communal kitchen the human workers were allowed to have.

The day they were allowed to bring up a few plants from Earth to brighten the dismal place up was like a holiday.

Regina knew no clones aboard the station. None of them mixed with the lowly humans. Her superior Alex knew only one clone aboard the station, a bitter man by the name of Igor Luszczynski who was being punished by the ruling committee. Alex said he didn’t know Igor’s crime, but the punishment was to be in charge of the human workers for ten years.

“A change of job is a punishment?” Regina had asked Alex.

“No one on this station wants to work; it’s their paradise. But they still need one of their own in charge of us because they don’t trust us to manage ourselves. We’re infants to them.” He shrugged as if it didn’t bother him. “But you’re not looking for a job where you will be respected and valued, are you? You’re looking for a job that pays ten times what it would pay on Earth.”

He hadn’t been wrong. There were hundreds of human engineers waiting for Regina and the rest of her team to step aside. She was building a good savings cushion back on Earth. If the job was soul-killing, well, she didn’t have to do it forever. If she saved right, then she could retire in a few years, before she was thirty.

But these files looked like career killers. If she allowed the First’s database to be infected or deleted something important, then she could be fired, or worse. She could always leave engineering and go back to nursing, she decided. That at least helped people, even though it didn’t pay as well.

“What do you mean not from Earth? There aren’t any more labs on Luna,” Alex asked.

“As MICKEY said, the file format is very old. No lab on Earth would continue to use that format. We have better data compression. Also the vector is wrong.” She did some calculations, a thrill tingling at the back of her head as she was actually allowed to do her job. “We’re not at a location in the orbit for anyone to send us anything as complex as a file. See?” A rotating globe came up on her screen showing the location. “Look, by triangulating the transmission with the antennae, we can see clearly that this came from space.”

He held up his hand. “Wait a second. Are you implying alien transmissions?”

She avoided rolling her eyes. “No, it’s a human cloning file format. It’s just old. It has to come from tech that hasn’t been updated in more than fifty years. Several ships have gone into the dark along this vector in the past few decades, like The Johnson, The Equation, The Euphoria, and a few others. Think it’s from one of those?”

“I can see sending a mindmap back home. It’s a lot cheaper than turning a ship around.” Alex rubbed the back of his head, making his bedhead worse. “But it couldn’t be a cry for help. It would take years for the answer or the support to make its way to the ship. And why send it here?”

“I’ll bet that first transmission explains it,” Regina said. “That one wasn’t a mindmap. It’s small enough to be a text message, right, MICKEY?”

“Delete it,” he said, talking over the AI’s affirmative. “We have to keep the databases isolated.”

Clones on Earth were in considerable panic mode. There had been whispers for months of some cloning labs getting infected with viruses. Clones were being printed with defects not previously found in their DNA sequences, some mental, some physical. Since all of the cloning databases in the world were linked through the cloud, some projected the virus would spread. The most powerful clone on Earth, the ruthless Sallie Mignon, had gone into hiding, and most people believed she was responsible for the virus.

God’s Eye was isolated from the cloud; they weren’t even ruled by the same laws clones on Earth had to abide by. They didn’t care about any of the data stored on Earth; they had everything they needed on the station.

“Could we wait till morning and ask Igor?” Regina asked. She’d never heard of Alex approaching Igor for an executive decision. In fact, according to the other engineers and techs, all of the human managers seemed to avoid Igor.

Alex frowned. “No. He doesn’t like to hear that things are going wrong.”

“Does he kill the messenger?” she asked, smiling, but the look on his face sobered her. “Wait, literally?”

“It’s hard to explain,” he said, staring at the blinking monitor. “There are some harsh penalties for angering the First.”

“Like firing?”

“I wish. You know they’ve been bringing animals aboard, right?”

“No…” she said slowly. Where the hell was this going? “What kind of animals?”

“Never mind. It probably won’t come to that.”

She sat back and tried to assess the risks. “If they were expecting this, do you think they would tell you? Or just expect you to do your job without questions?”

“No questions,” he said, sighing. “Igor hates them.”

“Deleting whole mindmaps is tantamount to murder,” Regina reminded him, looking at the files waiting in the queue.

“That depends on where they originate,” Alex said. “Fine. I’m going to go get cleaned up. You finish your shift and meet me in the community room, and we’ll go tell Igor together.”

“Together?” she asked, feeling the blood drain from her face.

He nodded grimly and left the room.

Was he trying to get the lower lackey killed instead of himself? Regina stared at the red screen, frowning. There had to be a way to read that thing.

She smacked herself on her forehead as the obvious occurred to her. She pulled her tablet from her bag and turned it on. With a few quick taps on the keyboard she committed her first fireable offense: she turned to the terminal and sent the original message to herself. Then she turned off all communication capability and confirmed with the AI that she definitely couldn’t see the tablet.

“That’s not allowed,” MICKEY said. “I’m going to have to report it to your superior.”

“That’s fine, it might be worth it,” Regina said. “You can monitor me wiping the tablet when I’m done if you want.” She held her breath briefly and then opened the file.

Only words appeared on the screen. Near as she could tell, nothing was crawling through her tablet to destroy everything, but she had to continue to be safe. The words were in German, however. She ran a quick translation program and read the file.

She read it three more times, the breath leaving her lungs. The thrill at solving the problem, coupled with the thrill of of being right, was squashed immediately by the weight of the message. This was definitely above her pay grade. It was above Alex’s pay grade. She wished she didn’t know what was in it, but someone had to tell the First what was going on.

Someone.

Well. We’re already fucked. Might as well go all the way.

“MICKEY, the message is safe to open. Also, override usual protocol for vat usage. 2832 code word ‘Stranger’.” She paused and took a deep breath. “Start immediate unpacking and creation of clones based on the three files that were just delivered. Emergency protocol in place.”

“What about the threat of virus?” MICKEY objected. But she had already started to work, the override code (that, in Alex’s words, Regina was only supposed to use “if you’re on fucking fire”) doing its job.

“There is no virus,” Regina said. She ran a few commands through the computer.

Unable to keep still, she stood and paced, thinking of wiping her tablet of all its data, not just the message she had opened. There was no way she’d be caught on the station or on Earth with that data on her person. She briefly considered breaking the device and throwing it in the recycler to make sure the message was really gone, but she didn’t want to lose her new tablet. Then she figured she was already in trouble, so she might as well have some insurance. She took the four files and encrypted them, stashing them in a secure folder on her tablet. She went to the community room and refreshed her coffee, then went back to work to watch the three new clones knit themselves together.

The letter had been short and to the point:

To whomever finds this message:

Our intent was to send these files to the God’s Eye space station. Printing us would be highly illegal in any lab on Earth, but (last time we checked) the station is above the law and self-governing. I can only hope the files made it there.

We are the crew of the space ship Dormire, launched back in 2468. After about a quarter century of travel, we had an incident on board that killed the entire crew and nearly wiped our ship’s computer, leaving us missing the past few decades. Once we woke up our new clones and sorted out who had caused the incident, we realized the true mastermind behind a near annihilation of thousands of clones and human colonists was back on Earth. We decided that to properly pursue justice–and to stop this individual from further mass murder attempts–we would send clone files back home to inform the authorities.

We humbly beg your help in allowing our clones to be printed and shuttled back to Earth. The odds are astronomical that we’ll even manage to send the file at the right time to be intercepted by your station, and for you to open our message instead of delete it as a dangerous file. If we’ve beaten those odds, please help us beat a few more.

Please help us find Sallie Mignon.

Sincerely,

The crew of the Dormire:

Captain Katrina de la Cruz

Dr. Joanna Glass

Wolfgang

Hiro Sato

Maria Arena

Minoru Takahashi


Three hours later, at the end of her shift, her terminal pinged. “Regina I told you to meet me in the common room,” Alex said, sounding annoyed.

“You need to come down here,” she replied.

“You don’t want to keep Igor waiting,” he said.

“He won’t wait long,” she said, eyes fastened on the three bodies in the vats. The emergency protocol used immense amounts of energy to expedite the growth of clones. “But you need to see something. I-” she hesitated, then plowed on. “I isolated the message and read it on my tablet.”

The line went dead and three minutes later, Alex was there, breathing hard. “What the fuck were you thinking?” he demanded, then his jaw went slack. “What did you do?” He sounded terrified.

Regina was handing out towels and jumpsuits to three very wet clones and confirming they all spoke English. Two men, one woman. There was a distinct difference in their height ranges, one man tall and pale, even for a Caucasian, while the other man was of Southeast Asian descent and shorter. The woman was between them, with dark hair and light brown skin.

The woman zipped up her suit and scrubbed at her short black hair with a towel, making a face at the viscous fluid that still stuck to her. She tossed it aside as if giving up and looked at the tall man. “You feeling OK in this gravity?”

“I’m fine,” he said without looking at her.

“You sound like my mother,” she said, rolling her eyes. Then she stepped forward and held out her hand. “Hi. I’m Maria Arena. My companions are Hiro and Wolfgang. We’re from the ship Dormire. Thanks so much for the help.”

Alex stared at them. Regina stepped in front of him and shook Maria’s hand, even though she had already done so once. “I’m sure, once the shock wears off, he’ll be delighted to meet you,” she said apologetically.

“Regina,” Alex whispered. “You are in so much trouble.”

“I think you need to hear them out, Alex,” Regina said, turning her back on the clones, toward the white-faced Alex. “And they should probably hear what’s happened in the last fifty or so years.”

“I really need to hear what’s happened in football,” Hiro said. “And the Olympics. And if there are any new science fiction shows.”

Maria put a hand on his arm. “Later, man. Let’s tell our story first.”


Throughout the story, Alex fiddled with a pen, twirling it between his fingers. He barely looked up at Maria, who spoke with a few interjections from Hiro. Wolfgang remained silent, his steely blue eyes fixated on Alex.

When they were done, Alex still wouldn’t look at the clones. He addressed Regina instead. “And why did you print them instead of finding me?”

She shrugged. “Because I believed them. And I knew I’d be fired. You were already taking me to Igor. I knew he would blame me for the message, and that would be it. This way I could help them before losing my job.”

Alex played with his pen.

“Listen, all of Earth is looking for Sallie Mignon,” Regina continued. “You’d think they’d welcome three more people to look for her, three pretty damn resourceful people, with a grudge as well! They left their ship and came here, knowing they’ll never see their shipmates again! That’s a huge sacrifice. They need help.”

“Do you know what the First are doing with the new addition to the station?” Alex asked.

“Why is that important now?”

“Do you?”

“No. I assumed building a green space, according to the ship manifests,” she said. “Why?”

“There was a story written a long time ago. It was called ‘The Most Dangerous Game.’ Have you read it?” he asked.

Regina shook her head, but Maria spoke up sharply. “I have,” she said. “Is that what the First are doing? They’re that fucking bored?”

“What is the dangerous game?” Hiro asked, looking around at each of them.

“A very wealthy, very bored man strands another man on a dangerous island and hunts him. If he survives, he gets to live,” Alex said.

“And these clones are very wealthy. And very bored,” Wolfgang said. His voice sounded like a death toll.

“You can’t be serious?” Hiro asked.

“That is the punishment I was telling you about,” Alex said. “They won’t fire us at all. They’ll just throw us in their game for amusement.”

“Then let’s get out of here,” Wolfgang said, standing suddenly. “Show us to a shuttle bay. Hiro can fly anything.”

“Shuttle tech has probably evolved in the past fifty years,” Hiro said hesitantly.

“When you asked to come, you said we would need a navigator and pilot,” Wolfgang said, turning his glare onto the shorter man. “And now you’re saying you can’t?”

“I didn’t think we’d actually make it in the first place! I figured we’d be just be data, flying through space forever!” Hiro said, stepping backward. “I didn’t think it would actually work!”

This guy was in charge of navigation of the Dormire?

Maria rubbed her forehead and walked away. “I need a moment,” she said.

Alex glanced at Maria and opened his mouth, but then his world was full of the towering pale monolith that was Wolfgang. “Shuttle bay. Take us there now.” He wound his hands into Alex’s pressed shirt. “Then you will have nothing to worry about.”

“Well, they have to explain the fast build of three clones, and the unauthorized transmission, and probably an unscheduled launch of a shuttle,” Hiro said, counting off on his fingers.

“What is with this guy?” Regina asked.

Wolfgang turned and actually looked like he was going to punch Hiro, but a shout at the back of the room distracted him.

“Wolfgang! Hiro! Get back here!”

As the clones ran toward her voice, Alex sighed and deflated. “And she found it.”

“Found what?”

“The clone I was growing. Of Sallie Mignon.”


“Why do you have a clone of Sallie Mignon? How did you get it without infecting the database? What is going on?” Regina demanded.

“It’s a long story, and it’s more important than anything you will ever need to know,” he said. He straightened, and his face relaxed into something calmer, something that carried the gravitas of years even though he still looked forty. His entire body language changed. “I suppose it doesn’t matter anymore. She assured me the mindmap on the drive was older and hadn’t been infected. She didn’t cause the virus on Earth. She’s come here to ask the First for help, in fact.”

“Why did she have to sneak up here?” Regina demanded. “Why not just take the shuttle? She’s got serious money and power, she should have no problem getting here!”

“She’s tried. But some of The First don’t like her very much,” Alex said. “She’s not welcome here. Her plan is to offer herself.”

“Offer herself?”

“To the Game.”

They heard a crunch. Regina stopped trying to wrap her head around the absurdity of the moment. “Only if they let her survive.”

They ran back to the vat where Wolfgang was punching the glass. Spidery cracks leaked a thick stream of synthamneo. Hiro was yelling at Wolfgang to stop. Maria just watched, her arms crossed.

“He’s got an anger problem,” Maria said as Regina and Alex raced up to them. “And he doesn’t know how to vat the clone. So he’s going at it the direct way.”

Alex swore and ran back to Regina’s terminal. Regina leapt forward and, with Hiro’s help, they managed to pull Wolfgang away from the vat. He threw a long elbow and caught Regina in the forehead, splitting the skin and knocking her off him. She sat against an empty vat, stunned. Other sounds happened. A crunch. A cry of pain. Then the sound of synthamneo being drained.

She wiped the blood out of her eyes and saw a short woman exit the vat, holding the gravitas of who knew how many lifetimes. Her eyes were honey brown and her skin a darker shade than Maria’s. She looked at each person in turn, focusing, surprisingly, on Regina.

“You, I don’t know,” she said. She walked over and offered Regina a hand up. “I’m Sallie.”

Surprised, Regina took the hand, still slick with synthamneo, and awkwardly got to her feet. “I’m the systems engineer,” she said, dumbly. “Regina.”

Wolfgang sat on the floor next to the vat, cradling his hand. “You broke my thumb,” he said to Hiro, cold violence in his tone.

“You nearly knocked out our new friend,” Hiro said calmly, with no trace of the flippancy he’d used before. “We wouldn’t be here without her. And what the hell were you trying to accomplish? If you’d punched through and killed her clone, that would have done no good. They’d just grow another one.”

“Wolfgang, Maria, and Hiro!” Sallie said, delighted. “What brings you here? And where are we? And what year is it, anyway?”

Alex came up to them carrying a towel, a tablet, and a bathrobe.

“Igor, it’s been a long time,” Sallie said, taking the towel.

Alex–Igor?–nodded. “It’s 2493. You contain the last virus-free mindmap of Sallie Mignon. You sent me here with this file to ask the First if they would help with a crisis among clones back on Earth.” He handed her a tablet with a document pulled up. She took the towel, wiped her hands, and then took the tablet.

“Igor?” Regina demanded. “You’re Igor?”

He looked at her with the haughtiness she had come to notice in older clones. The “you couldn’t possibly understand” look. “I told you Igor was being punished. That was true. I had to act like a human and manage your team.” He shook his head in disgust and waved his hands at the newcomers. “And you had to fuck it all up with them.”

“So what, sneaking on a clone of a hated person from Earth is your payback to the First? What will that get you?”

“That remains to be seen. The hope is she can get my insular peers to help their own people back on Earth, and then I can get out of here. Middle manager on God’s Eye is not the goal of all the lifetimes I have lived.”

“Better to reign in hell, huh?” Maria asked.

Sallie had finished reading the tablet. She looked thoughtful. “I’m not the only version of me. I’m also back on Earth right now, which makes her superfluous if I ever got back there. She’d be destroyed. She risked a lot sending me here.”

“She sent you here to die, probably,” Regina said. “You can’t just go ask the First a favor. Apparently, you have to do a survival competition or something.”

Sallie ignored her. This information didn’t surprise her. “And you three?” she asked the other new clones. “Last I remember, you were on the Dormire.”

“We’re here to accuse you of multiple counts of attempted murder,” Maria said. “And bring you to justice.”

“You figured it out,” she said, nodding. “And even made it back here for revenge. I have to say I’m impressed. Well,” she said, taking the robe from Igor. “We can talk after I am done with the Game.”

Igor nodded. “I had expected to offer you to the First, but things just got a lot more interesting.” He tapped a few times on his tablet. “I have to fire an engineer and figure out how to jail some stowaways.” He gave them an appraising look. “Or just kill you all here. Wouldn’t do for you to talk,” he added to Regina.

His tablet beeped. “Geneviève,” he said.

“What is it Igor?” the voice demanded. Clearly busy and clearly not happy to hear from him.

“I’m going to need some firearms in the cloning bay. You wouldn’t believe what just happened.”

“Get them yourself,” she snapped.

Regina’s head was whirling. The three clones had their heads together and were talking. It sounded like they were going to run. This would do them no good, as the shuttle bay was currently empty. She opened her mouth to tell them this, and then an idea came to her.

“What if we make it through the Game?” she asked.

All of them looked at her. She realized every person in the room was hundreds of years older than she was, and she felt very small. But she continued.

“Look, we can’t run away. There’s no shuttle in the bay right now. There’s nowhere to go. If they’re going to kill us anyway, why not give us a sporting chance? Sallie is going through the Game to ask for a favor. Why can’t we all have that option?”

She looked at the three clones. She’d just offered them up too. They were free to try to run through an unknown space station if they thought it was a better bet, but Maria was nodding.

“Kill each other?” Sallie asked, cocking her head like a hound as if Regina was a rabbit.

“Nah, there are plenty of things in there to kill you anyway,” Igor said thoughtfully. “We’re not barbaric.”

Maria snorted, looking between Igor and Sallie.

“But if it happened accidentally,” Sallie said, leaving the sentence open.

The line was still open to Geneviève. “All right, no firearms. What about the Game? Is it ready to start?” Igor asked, his eyes fixed on Regina.

“Yeah, just got the last of the animals into their habitats. Why? You wanna vacation there?”

“No. Tell the council I have the first contestants.”

“Oh really?” She sounded interested for the first time. “Plural?”

“Yes. Five of them, in fact.”

“Where did you get five? Are you cleaning house in the lab?”

Regina felt her stomach drop. Was this happening? She had no survival skills. She wasn’t in shape. What was she thinking? Surely a bullet to the head was preferable to being ripped apart by wolves.

Maria put her hand on her arm. “Are you sure about this?”

“Too late now,” Regina said, smiling weakly.

Igor put his tablet away, smiling widely. “They love the idea. We can start right away. Now, there are weapons stashed around the preserve, and please don’t kill the female large cats.”

“Is this guy for real?” Hiro asked, looking at Maria. She shrugged.

“Let’s go,” Igor said, and herded them in front of him.

“We could kill him,” Wolfgang said, still holding his injured hand to his chest.

“I think this is a better chance of having someone listen to us. We didn’t come all this way to immediately become fugitives,” Maria said.

Wolfgang swore quietly and didn’t say anything else.

They passed no other people in the corridor as Igor ushered them along. All too quickly, they came to a locked door. He shouldered past them and keyed in a code. “There are no rules, except for the cats, and don’t see this as a Battle Royale thing,” he said. “They’d much rather watch you die after a futile attempt to work together than kill each other.”

“How kind of them,” Maria said dryly.

Wolfgang was looking at Sallie like he wanted to eat her alive, and she blithely ignored him.

Then it hit Regina. Of course she doesn’t care. Igor can just print another copy of her if she dies in here. She gets multiple chances. We only have one.

A blast of humidity hit their faces when they opened the door. Regina hesitated and then sighed, stepping forward. The others followed her.

All around them was a lush forested landscape, complete with bright light overhead and spongy floor underneath.

“Pretty,” Sallie said. “So, should we look for weapons or build a shelter first?”

“We’re not working with you,” Wolfgang said flatly.

Sallie smiled as if she’d expected it. “Your loss.” She disappeared into the trees, jogging in bare feet, still clad in only a robe.

“I guess we look for weapons now,” Maria said. “I don’t want to give Sallie any advantages. And then we give them the show they’re asking for.”

“This was a terrible idea,” Hiro said.

“You came here to take things apart. ‘For want of a nail,’ you said,” Maria reminded him. “Three nails, and her kingdom falls. We beat Sallie once. Her plan, anyway. We can do it again.” She looked at Regina. “Are you in?”

Regina swallowed her fear. “I just want to survive, but I’m on your team if you’ll have me. I’m not sure what I can add, though. I haven’t beaten anybody before.”

“There’s always a first time,” Hiro said, smiling at her.

“Can we get moving? We need to map this place,” Wolfgang said. “I need to splint this thumb.”

“Well, Fourth Nail, do you know any first aid?” Maria asked.

Regina brightened. “Yeah, actually. I trained with the National Guard and was a nurse during the Chicago siege.”

“OK, we’re going to have to hear about that later,” Maria said, looking interested.

Regina took in their area. Beyond the trees lay a vast plain with tall grass. She had to admit the area was a mastery of engineering, even if she were to die here. She pointed into the dense forest. “I’ll tell you that story later. But for now, let’s go.”

Host Commentary

By Tina Connolly

Confession time: I actually haven’t read Mur’s Hugo-nominated novel Six Wakes yet, but after reading this story I immediately got the e-book and it is now on my phone to read. So by the time you hear this story I will have rectified that omission. (My children are currently 8 and 11 so there are frequently gaps in my reading due to this particular life circumstance.)

At any rate the voice of Regina Phillips, the nighttime engineer, captivated me right from the beginning. Here she is in a very cushy, very boring situation. Everything’s perfect, right? So of course this exactly the time for everything to go very very wrong. I loved the world Mur has here with the haves and the have-nots — and I laughed out loud when she described God’s Eye as “miles of steel, copper, and the first generation of narcissistic cloned assholes.” And of course, what are those narcissistic cloned assholes going to do indeed but play The Most Dangerous Game.

Mur also had so many delightful twists and turns in this as the various layers and shifting alliances were revealed. And our poor protagonist–one lone human voice up against these old clones with their entirely different agendas. Anyway, far be it from me to suggest what Mur should write next, but I would happily continue reading more about this whole this clone Hunger Games orbital station situation. But I will start with Six Wakes (which I believe opens up with more mysteries and murder) and count myself a very happy reader indeed.

A couple notes this week: one, a reminder that Escape pod is OPEN to general submissions until May 31 2022, so if it’s been your New Year’s resolution to write a story and/or submit a story well look we are one place who would like to see said story! Go to https://escapeartists.net/markets and see guidelines and submissions schedules for all FIVE Escape Artists podcasts, that’s right I said five, there’s Escape Pod for science fiction, Pseudopod for horror, Podcastle for fantasy, Cast of Wonders for young adult and now CatsCast. For cats. Obviously! Run by the esteemed Laura Pearlman so you know it’s gonna be good.

Second thing you might not know – and you might be dying to know – is if you go to Escapeartists.net and click on support us then click on merch that you will find … merch! did you know we have merch? Find all kinds of cool shirts et cetera there and support your local science fiction podcast! What do you mean we’re not local we are *right in your ears*. Cannot get more local than that. Anyway check it out.

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. Please, do go forth and share it.

How do you share it, you ask? Well! In addition to your social media of choice, consider rating and/or reviewing us on podcast listening sites, such as Apple Podcasts or Spotify. More reviews makes for more discoverability makes for more Escape Pod for you.

Escape Pod relies on the generous donations of listeners exactly like you, I am talking to you, yet again I am talking to you, So! If you enjoyed our story this week then consider going to escapepod.org or patreon.com/EAPodcasts and casting your vote for more stories that waken illegal clones from the space station vats.

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

And our closing quotation this week is from Richard Connell in, yes, “The Most Dangerous Game”, who said: “There is no greater bore than perfection.”

Thanks for listening! And have fun.

About the Author

Mur Lafferty

Mur Lafferty

Mur Lafferty is the co-editor and sometime-host of Escape Pod.

She is an American podcaster and writer based in Durham, North Carolina. She is the host and creator of the podcasts I Should Be Writing and Ditch Diggers. Her books have been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Philip K. Dick, and Scribe Awards. In the past decade she has been the co-founder/co-editor of PseudoPod, founding editor of Mothership Zeta, and the editor or co-editor of Escape Pod (where she is currently).

She is fond of Escape Artists, in other words.

Mur won the 2013 Astounding Award for Best New Writer (formerly the John W. Campbell Award), and the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Fancast for Ditch Diggers. She’s been nominated for numerous other awards and is always doing new things, so check her website for the latest.

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About the Narrator

Abra Staffin-Wiebe

Abra Staffin-Wiebe loves optimistic science fiction, cheerful horror, and dark fantasy. Dozens of her short stories have appeared at publications including Tor.com, F&SF, Escape Pod, and Odyssey Magazine. She lives in Minneapolis, where she wrangles her children, pets, and the mad scientist she keeps in the attic. When not writing or wrangling, she collects folk tales and photographs whatever stands still long enough to allow it. Her most recent book, The Unkindness of Ravens, is an epic fantasy coming-of-age novella about trickster gods and favors owed. Enjoy an excerpt here: http://www.aswiebe.com/moreunkindness.html

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