Escape Pod 859: Pen Pal (Part 2 of 2)

(Continued from Part 1)

Pen Pal

By Grant Canterbury


August 8, 2005

Meliari Thulissia

General Delivery

Tharsis Station


Dear Thu,


Well I officially graduated from high school! And I have been itching to get out into the world for a long time but right now honestly I am not liking the look of it. We had been planning to go to Disneyworld after graduation but we did Disneyland again instead. That was fine actually. Mom and Dad decided Florida was not such a great idea because gulguthroi. And I had to agree with them. It has gotten really bad. They have chameleon skin and they hide in shallow water which is everywhere down there, and they are basically eating up all of the wildlife in the Everglades. And also people. And especially folks who used to own skipperjacks, it seems. Apparently the deep soulful looks that made them popular at pet stores were more like, um, imprinting on future prey. And their big raspy tentacles also work okay at opening doors in the middle of the night. There are like thousands of people who have disappeared. Oh yeah, they made it illegal to own skipperjacks, of course. And so a bunch of pet stores, crooked or dumb, went and dumped theirs in the nearest creek. Christ.

Robb is freaking out about it because that one skipperjack stared at him when he was a kid and now he is having nightmares about it coming back and grabbing him out of bed. Logically we are pretty safe here because although lord knows Oregon gets its share of rain, it is really too cold for Venus critters in the winter and too dry in the summer.  But I am a little freaked too to tell the truth.

And everyone is all Alien Invasion and then there is this Mars pox insanity, which I am so upset – Right, just tell it. In Hawaii Mr. Renard got sicker and sicker, and no one could figure it out, and then about the same time there started showing up more cases various places around the world, some in places where Trapindi had travelled, and the doctors eventually found a new virus that they all had in common. And they made Trapindi get tested for it and he was not sick but the virus was in him also. And the talk shows and the newspapers called it Mars pox and then he was just another Typhoid Mary and it was War of the Worlds in reverse and we have to quarantine the Martians and anyone who ever met one and the whole damn planet needs to be nuked just in case. I am sorry but people are being crazy down here and I guess you had best know about it. Mr. Renard died, people are still dying, no one has been cured yet. And they were trying to bring Trapindi into medical isolation and he was not even feeling sick and he just wanted to stay up on Mauna Loa and grieve in some place that looked a little like home, and someone got through with a gun into the hospital and Trapindi was killed. I cried all night when I heard about it. Just, we are not all like that. I don’t think we are. Just, no one seems like they are able to wait to find out the God damned facts before jumping to conclusions. And the whole Mars pox thing was stupid because it is not even from Mars and the pox is not a pox, it’s Kaposi’s sarcoma, and now they are finding varieties of the virus in great apes in Africa and human cases going back forty years in the Congo that no one recognized because who gives a damn about medical care in Africa, and probably Trapindi and Mr. Renard picked it up in Haiti, and it is sexually transmitted and then there was all the oh My God the faggot alien, as if it was a big surprise that Trapindi and Mr. Renard were gay, I mean even I knew that and I was right in the top ten clueless eighth-graders. But half the people you meet still think it’s the freaking plague from Mars and you can’t tell them anything. And don’t get me started on that Buchanan guy. There are what, maybe five or six Martians on the planet, so it is just super easy to gang up on them.


This has not been a good year.

On the plus side, Kevin and I have been dating for about eight months now and I think things are going pretty well. We started going out after he broke up with Tina… actually not quite that clean, a little bit before also… I admit it kind of put the ice on that friendship. I did get an earful from Tina about how much of a sneak and a spoiled bitch I was. But I believe I gave as good as I got. She was not that big a loss, trust me. Kevin has really been sweet, which is nice since this has been a tough year as see above.

Next month I am going to Minnesota for college. But I will still come home every few months and I will get my mail forwarded, plus I am not sure if I will be keeping the same address two years from now, so you might as well still write to the Oregon address. I hope I will be a happier correspondent next time!


Your friend,




Mary Havens

13356 Paradise Alley Road

Silverton, Oregon


Dear Mary,

I hear of your troubles with sorrow. I have also noted some unease among the Earthmen at the America station here, and your letter aids me to comprehend this and to guard. Those who have lived long among us on Mars have begun to learn our ways, but there are also some who act under fear. As for Venus I consider it a very undesirable world and I regret that its creatures are causing you difficulty.

And I also regret to hear of Trapindi’s fate. Far from Mars, but at least I judge he followed the path as he wished to find Earth and Jean Renard for a time. And I find what I can write to be inadequate to your true need at this moment but do know I wish you well.

I will tell of a recent incident. My father and I were patrolling the bounds of our holding when my pindi came to us across the crest of a dune and she sang “The fire you built dies low/The coals flicker/Between gray and red,” which I could not quite interpret but made me uneasy. And following her we soon came to a man sprawled in the sand at a dune’s base, marking the end of a line of footprints that was being quickly erased by the wind. He was of Earth but in clothing I did not recognize, and I could not read the words upon his coat. We spoke to him, and put water to his mouth, but his eyes moved over us without seeing, and he only muttered words we did not comprehend.

We were about to bring him to the America station when we heard heavy padded footfalls and a rider came around the height of the dune upon a trymia. These are like palondi but taller, swift-striding, and possessed of a hooked beak and fierce temperament. And the rider was cloaked in red and his lance was lowered toward us as he reined up and observed us from the height. “I have tracked this man for two days.”

My father said, “And who is he that you track him?”

“No one to you.”

“No one yet. And who are you?”

He was silent but the trymia began picking its way down the dune slope toward us, one large taloned foot after another. Behind me my pindi burrowed backward into the slip-face of a dune with rapidity and hid all but her eyes. “That cloak is from Tan Talan. Do your people make quarrel with the Earth folk?”

“On the contrary. They sent me to fetch this one. He is one of their thralls that has fled.”

“He is ill of exposure.”

“I am paid the same whether I bring him alive or dead.”

“No. This is a matter to be adjudicated, not settled in the dunes.”

In consideration of the burden upon you I hold detail of the events that followed in discretion. Later my father was much annoyed at the damage to his leathers which he cares for greatly. The man regained consciousness and though he was lucid he did not have much Martian or English but he gave his name as Sergei Pavlovich. He is an engineer and he was treated poorly by the Soviets so he chose to attempt escape, which was perhaps unwise because he did not have map or sand gear, but he felt strongly to do so. On further consideration we have chosen not to bring him to the America station though it is closer, but rather to the Japanese, for we did not wish to cause further difficulty under the state of feud between America and Soviet.

We have heard nothing more from the region of Tan Talan, which is unusual.

I am reminded to say that I am also well and uninjured. I hope that you have been well this year. And I wish you all joy that you and Kevin may find together, for you are deserving of it.


Your friend,




September 29, 2007

Meliari Thulissia

General Delivery

Tharsis Station


Dear Thu,

School is getting tough again so I am taking a break and writing to you. It has not been so great here. I had a good summer with Kevin back home, but he was not able to transfer schools like he was hoping to and he is back in California for another semester, and I miss him. And after I wrote to you last they made the rest of the Martians who were on Earth get on a rocket for Mars and they are all gone now.

I can tell you about last spring I guess. It is a good thing I did not write about it then because I was ready to spit nails at the time. I am still pretty damn mad.

I really hate to say this but I do not have your pindi feather anymore.

And I guess I should have seen it coming but I did not take it seriously enough. I was not there when it happened because I was at school. My brother was home on leave – he joined the Interplanetary Signal Corps – and he answered the front door and there were a few official looking plainclothes guys so he let them in to talk. And it turns out they are there to look into PAM cases. That is Possession of Alien Materials, which because there is now a bullshit law you have to now report on anything you ever got from offplanet and have it registered. It would make more sense to concentrate on keeping the gulguthroi out of Louisiana rather than going after random knickknacks on the walls of teenage girls, but we have zero tolerance now, so yeah. I had been actually debating whether to register but it did not seem that urgent. But apparently Robb says “I don’t think we have anything except this Martian feather of my sister’s” which I have (had!) in a nice little frame in my bedroom, and they up and take it away! Plastic bagged, and evidently a dead cert to be incinerated because it is from an animal, and they were all pleased that they had saved Oregon from the latest Martian zombie dragon Godzilla that it was certain to become. Also there was talk about bringing charges for failure to register, and my dad had to hire a lawyer, and it worked out okay but it was expensive and ridiculous. This was while I was in the middle of finals last spring and the call came in for me from home on the pay phone in the dorm, and Robb was saying he would make it up to me (like how he could, ever?) but also like, maybe it’s just as well, we don’t really know what the risks could be. And I started screaming at him, and the other girls in the dorm were coming over and kind of peeking in the little window in the phone booth to check on me… I basically did not speak to him the whole summer while I was home. I do still have your letters and your picture because they were here with me in Minnesota but you bet I have them hidden safe now. (By the way, if anyone else is reading my mail before it gets to Thu, let me just say, fuck off and die.) Hopefully you will still be able to write to me since I guess they are irradiating the interplanetary mail now, but who knows.

And why they showed up at the front door like that in the first place? I saw Tina Wesley over the summer and she said she was so sorry; but I remember her being sympathetic to Lisa Takahara just that way about the ink spill on her bag in seventh grade and I saw that incident myself. I know how she operates, and I am sure she made the call to report me because she is still jealous of me and Kevin, and she knew all about the pindi feather, and she was probably peeking over from her front yard when they came to our place.  Hope she’s happy. Bitch.


Later (October 2)

Something completely different. I just now got a call and my dad said, “Mary, turn on the TV.” On the screen there were big crowds of people, and some dancing in the street, and crowd sounds and singing, and I did not know what I was looking at because they had not put up any text. And one guy was limbering up with a sledgehammer and taking a swing at concrete, and then the newscaster said something about the scene in East Berlin, and I realized that was the Berlin Wall and the people were climbing on it and jumping off, and starting to bring it down.

Holy shit.

That wall has been there between NATO and the Soviets since before I was born. Actually since before my parents were born. It’s like – imagine seeing Phobos suddenly come down out of the sky. As unexpected than that! And it’s all peaceful. I’m just looking at a big party in Berlin, and there is no east and no west. I keep feeling tears come down my face and I don’t know how or why. I must have been holding inside so many.

Does a cold war just melt one day when spring finally comes?


Later (October 10)

Oh, Thu, I spoke way too soon.  You would have known better. If you see Phobos fall, the first thing to wonder is who will get hit!

The third day after the Wall started coming down a bunch of Russian tanks came in to East Berlin, and there was a big crowd of people who got shot at the Brandenburg Gate. Very horrible, some of it was on TV. Like 71 in Prague all over again but worse, everyone was in shock but really Not Surprised. And then another tank division came in and started shooting at the first one, and Berlin really was a war zone. And it has just been getting worse since then. We are not hearing a whole lot but there is street fighting going on in Warsaw, and Budapest, and Moscow(!) and just now I have heard there was a battlefield nuke used on a demonstration in Prague. We do not know who is winning or what the sides are really. There are all these NATO alerts and even here I have been seeing fighter jets patrol overhead which is really out of the normal because I don’t think there even are any Air Force bases in Minnesota.

There is still a while in the launch window but I think I had better get this sent off while we still have rockets going. Things seem very unstable, everyone is on edge, and am not sure if I am still going to be able to send this letter if I wait. I love you.


Your friend,




Transmission 3 December 2007 1342 GMT


Transmittal Encryption: Signal Officer Robert Havens, Bozeman, Montana

Receiver Decryption: Captain Carlos Jimenez, Tharsis Station, Mars





November 6, 2009

United Nations Martian Authority



Please distribute as needed for notification and general delivery to Meliari Thulissia. Last known residence in vicinity of United States Tharsis Station. Current residence unknown.


Thu –

Please just let me know if you are okay. I am fine here. Plenty is happening but I am fine. I am really worried about you!


Mail will still find me at:

13356 Paradise Alley Road

Silverton, Oregon


Your friend,




Monsieur le Préfet,

Je vous offre ma faveur pour la jeu. S’il vous plaît, envoyez ce message aux États-Unis. Envoyez-le à cette addresse postale:

Mary Havens

13356 Paradise Alley Road

Silverton, Oregon




Dear Mary,

I am well. I apologize that I have not written for some time for it has been a season of strange flux. Also I wonder at how many languages Earth must possess for the nearest station to me now is Base Charles de Gaulle and I must learn French as well!

Captain Jimenez provided me your radiogram message some time before your earlier letter reached me. He spoke with us about this danger, and said he had also felt this concern. He himself was giving orders to disperse the majority of his people to remote field camps, leaving in rotation only a skeleton crew at Tharsis Station. I am aware that Earth stations on Mars and Venus have functioned under Treaty of Zurich which limits weapons to those of personal defense. Thus it has been difficult for us to assess by experience the implications of the greater magnitudes although we are aware they exist. Nonetheless it is certain they alter the game.

For this reason and another my mother Meliari Nemytha asked me to travel with her to lineage moot. We spoke of what might be needed as we moved by caravan, then by canal boat, then by river barge in the canyon of Kasei, coming at last to the board pavilion in the heart of Tripsicari (that is Chryse Planitia). Of the twenty-three major lineages Meliari is one. The others arrived by foot, upon the backs of palondi, by ornithopter, perched between the long wings of cloud riders, or emerging by secret doors from the darkness of the Great Labyrinth. They took their places around the dais, and in the wings of the pavilion the representatives of the minor lineages, the affinities, the adjuncts and the scholars whispered and made their notes and drank chula wine and wrangled for favor.

In the opening statements my mother spoke of the turmoil among the Warsaw Pact and the impending violation of Treaty of Zurich, and urged preparation and unity.  This she did not immediately find, for Tuprexi lineage and its allies considered themselves secure in the worldwide windings of the Great Labyrinth, and Ombra lineage advocated withdrawal and contemplation, and Pellucin lineage considered the mere introduction of debate over issues of Terran politics to be a discredit to the purity of the game, and Xiphiana lineage as well as some others had engaged upon individual arrangements with the Soviets that they would not break. The question was placed under settlement of tanj.

The game shuttled among the fifth, sixth, and seventh modes of tanj, and as play proceeded around the circle I watched the shifts of alliance, the interplay of signs, the placement of concealed markers to signal prepared counterattack or bluff. And Meliari maintained a supple strength of position, but for round after round was unable to come to decisive control.

However I knew my mother was resolved upon a bold play. She had that look I recognized from our tanj games upon storm nights in our holding. As well as other games you will know better. Once I watched her spend all and mortgage every other property to gain her hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk; and then that night with the chaos of the dice she crushed us all one by one.

So now upon her turn she called for the game to be raised to the perilous ninth mode of tanj. And then the double strategy of her play became apparent, for over the past rounds she had quietly assembled a constellation of signs that functioned competently in the seventh mode but in the ninth mode moved like the blades of a Sethrin master. Thus came the time for the testing of the elevated mode. One by one in turn, each lineage examined the danger and chose to turn up the yellow tile that signals concession of advantage. Watching I began to smile. And then lastly, Xiphiana stood, observed my mother with narrowed eyes, and revealed the sign of the Great Stone.

And Meliari’s shining attack was halted, momentarily but completely. Pleased, Xiphiana said, “I call to return to mode six.”

I am certain that I made the false step of gasping aloud when my mother said, “No. I will pay the forfeit.” But among the many others I do not think I was heard.

As the ninth mode is the squaring of the third, so the forfeit is again a needle. But it is dipped seven times in the distilled venom of the coiling paxinti of the black sands. It gives a quick death but one not free from pain.

My mother looked back at me, deliberately turned over a last tile, and walked to the center of the dais where the paxinti needle rested among the other lesser tools of forfeit. Holding her gaze upon Xiphiana, she poised the needle and plunged it deep into the flesh of her own forearm. In a few moments she fell.

Then, stammering in the silence, the judge said “Play passes to Tuprexi.”

But looking down I saw the last tile she had turned, and I said, “Meliari has not completed play.” Face up upon the table was the sign of the Heir. “I continue as uninterrupted lead for Meliari.”

You may infer that I also play for blood.

The judge consented. And with my final play I cast upon Xiphiana the sign of the Sandstorm, not a pointed attack but one that hobbled her defenses from all quarters. As the other lineages took their turn, many then seized upon the vulnerability of Xiphiana and, looking at me, none dared to offer her shelter. By the time play returned to me, her assets had been largely stripped. She bowed her head and turned the yellow tile to me like the rest.

And so, I returned the game to the fifth mode before we closed, and I carried my mother to an honorable place of rest, and I then set about to spend the harvest of our painful victory.

Therefore: as winds rose at the turn of the season Patieri lineage was tasked to ignite the fragile dry grass upon the dunes of Acidalia and Vastitas Borealis which exist in precarious balance. The wind drove the fire hot before it and tore the dunes open to the sky, and the buried mountains of dust and sand rose up in vast clouds with the smoke. The storm moved and spread to cover the northern hemisphere entirely, and then the southern. I am told it was the greatest in any memory or written account.  When the Soviet rockets arrived they found Mars hidden under a deep veil of dust.

Therefore: one-fifth of the secret entrances of the Great Labyrinth were made known by the Tuprexi and Savil lineages. Word was spread to all lineages that shelter might be taken in the caverns with all feud held in abeyance.

Therefore: at the boiling front of the advancing storm, cloud riders of Zentiriel dropped in behind the fences at the Soviet depot at Elysium, while squadrons of the Philistetta came burrowing under sand and undermined the gates, riding in shelter beneath the transparent dorsal elytra of their chitinous mounts.  Pillars of fire went up among the stockpiles of food and vehicles and gasoline.

The ships waited in orbit, sending down their demands by radio to those that were able to receive, and when they were not met then indeed several nuclear weapons were dropped to detonate upon the surface of Mars. It is nearly as bad as an asteroid fall, and also there is hazard of radiation although fortunately we are somewhat accustomed to rem here. In the storm they were not targeted acutely, but even so they did greatly devastate many spires and dwellings and fields, and many of those who had not sheltered were killed or gravely burned. But the ships had come heavily laden with many people and little margin of safety in oxygen and water, and they were soon compelled to descend to the remaining bases to resupply. During their descent we activated several false radio beacons that had been fabricated with the aid of Sergei Pavlovich Tupolev, and two ships were diverted to collide with precipices. And as the rest were about to emerge from the ships that had landed, those waiting to greet them who had remained loyal found their allies among Xiphiana lineage suddenly turning upon them.

Or as you would say,

Go directly to jail.


If these actions had not seen success I would have certainly have lost position. However, the outcomes proved fortunate though not without dire loss, and since that time I estimate Meliari has kept sufficient favor to hold advantage with sixteen to twenty-one of the other major lineages. Thus our position is favorable for the next moot.

One of the nuclear detonations destroyed much of Tharsis Station, so that it has now been abandoned, and great damage came to our holding there. Fortunately few were in residence, and it is being repaired. When I visited I found many chula vines burnt, but I was happy to see my pindi emerge from her burrow and greet me with a song of welcome and reproach. For now I have removed to a different seat of Meliari at Syrtis Major. I have brought my pindi with me.

Because I now hold lead position for our lineage in tanj I do not much use the name Thulissia any more outside of family, only Meliari. But between you and I our friendship is personal and I ask that you still consider me


Your friend,




December 28, 2011


Meliari Thulissia

Maison Meliari

Terre du Sablier

c/o Poste Martienne,

Base Charles de Gaulle


Dear Thu,

I was so happy to hear from you!! Dad says, I told you that girl would land on her feet like a cat. Actually he never did, he was just as worried as I was, but anyway we are glad you are fine. More than fine, right? You are basically Princess of Mars! So three cheers for you from Oregon!

Here is a picture of me and Kevin all dressed up at our wedding last summer. We are back behind the Gordon House in this picture and I am a little distracted because acorn woodpeckers are being goofy right behind the photographer, but I think I look okay and Kevin definitely does. I took his name so my name is Mary Nguyen now but it is still the same me. I look pretty much like this photo except quite a bit more casual! Plus I am about five months pregnant now so I am basically carrying around a bowling ball on my belly all the time and I bump into things because my center of gravity is not where I think it is supposed to be. Last time I went in to the doctor I was told it was a girl. I am thinking of calling her Nemytha and I hope you think that is okay?

We are living in Sisters out near Bend, which is not terribly far away from my parents’ place in Silverton but across the mountains and much colder and drier with cinder cones and massive black basalt cliffs from old lava flows. There are forests here too but they are all ponderosa pine. On a warm day their bark smells sweet like butterscotch in the sun. I am working for the Forest Service right now. We will see how things go after the baby comes. Honestly I am scared about it, but I guess other people raise children more or less successfully, so Courage, right?

I used to dream about going to Mars to see you but I am feeling more and more planted here on Earth.  I love this place. But it is good to know Mars exists, and that you are there. When you look out at the sand dunes and canals please do it a little bit for me.

My brother was back with us for Christmas, and I still feel guilty that he got busted out of the Signal Corps for sending an unauthorized personal message, because I was the one who made him do it and I am not sorry I did but I am sorry he had to pay the price. Right now he is living down in California around San Jose, and he is pretty excited about working with a bunch of folks who are building their own “microcomputers” that people can have in their own houses. I called him Mr. Transistor and he gave me this pitying look because transistors are apparently hopelessly old school now. He is writing operating systems for the computers or something like that, and apparently people are buying them, so I guess he is doing all right now.

Also I should let you know something sad, that North Star died last year. Basically just old age. I had not ridden him much lately, but we liked to see each other when I came home. I think he had a pretty good life. He was a good friend, and I will miss him. Ara Kinosa.

Things are settling down a little in the wider world, not that I am in any danger of mistaking it for utopia, but kind of a new normal and I think it is all for the best that the Soviets are out, even though in Eastern Europe all the quarrels that no one was allowed to fight over the past seventy years are all coming out at once and it is pretty nasty. The gulguthroi are in Texas and now Bangladesh, but they have found some Venusian parasitic wasps that look promising for keeping them down so that’s worth a try, right? Nothing can go wrong this time, knock on wood. They are letting some Martians come back to Earth and not freaking out as much over petty items of Alien Materials, so I guess at some point you could come visit although I wouldn’t recommend it until the average person learns to be less of a jerk and that may take a while.


All best wishes from your friend,




Mary Nguyen

953 South Elm Street

Sisters, Oregon


Dear Mary,

I offer my congratulations to you on your marriage and I hope your daughter was born healthy and without difficulty. I am honored to hear of her having the name Nemytha. I know that my mother would also have been pleased to have her name extended upon Aratielbra. And I am aware that my current position is due in greater measure to her skill at tanj than to my own.

I have not married. Although indeed other lineages have often made known to me eligible mates. And on several occasions I have felt distinct inclination in my heart, but at the current stage, holding open the potential for an alliance with Meliari seems of greater benefit than any one alliance in actuality. This I judge will prove better as a gambit in the mid-game.

Because you now live in a more dry climate I have considered a gift. Recently I spoke with Captain Jimenez, who is retiring from service and returning to New Mexico on Earth. Along with this letter he has agreed to convey my gift to you with all care, and with his aid and certain points of favor in tanj I have obtained the permissions of your government.  My pindi has consented to give me her last egg. Captain Jimenez will describe to you the necessary care in full. The pindi should have a cool dry sandy place that is sheltered if it rains. And it is important that you must sing to the pindi each day.

This permission was made strictly contingent on sending only one, for reasons that I well comprehend. However, in confidence between us I feel I should make you aware that parthenogenesis is not unknown.

Last evening I went out alone to a gravel wash that is not distant, and I spent some hours gathering dry branches for fuel with the peeping cries of pitori echoing from the hills all around as dusk fell. In time Phobos passed overhead, and I kindled flame, and I let the pile blaze up in memory of North Star.


Your friend,


Host Commentary

Host Commentary

By Tina Connolly

And we’re back! Again, that was the closing section of Pen Pal, by Grant Canterbury, with the part of Mary read by Kitty Sarkozy, and the part of Thu read by Rachel Lackey.

In Grant’s closing thoughts to us, he mentioned that “In writing this story I became very fond of Mary Havens and Meliari Thulissia. I hope that you will enjoy their company as well.”

I too, became very fond of the pair. I found myself getting rather teary-eyed at the end of their story. Sometimes when you’re writing, you think a story arc might need to end on some grand act of heroism to be compelling. Perhaps the death of a main character. A profound change. But this story arc ends on an exchange of small motions of kindness between the pair – an egg sent, the death of a beloved horse observed. I liked Grant’s thoughts from last week, in which he said he wanted to write about some of the ordinary people, who are affected by great events while not necessarily huge participants in it. (Although Thu certainly does become more important in her world’s politics as she got older.)

Because another thing I think made the story so compelling is that these characters were still caught up in the sweep of the world’s history. Grant used the alternate history here to great effect – you can see where their world has have avoided some of our world’s tragedies, but then they also created some of their own. I was affected by the late breaking realization that of course the Berlin wall had not fallen yet in this world – and sorry that the homophobia and xenophobia seemed to still follow Trapindi around. I believe that the anthology this story came out in, Vintage Worlds, was published in 2018 – and yet the events surrounding the “plague from Mars” had numerous echoes with our current pandemic. Anyway.

A focus on two individual characters we could care about, and a backdrop that manages to get a broader sweep of history across to us, that reflects new ways of seeing our own world. I enjoyed this novelette very much and I am glad we could bring it to you.

And our closing quotation this week is from Jo Walton, in her double alternate history My Real Children, who said: “Anyone you know might become famous. Or not. You don’t know which ones will make a difference or if any of them will. You might become famous yourself. You might change the world.”

Thanks for listening! and have fun.

About the Author

Grant Canterbury

Grant Canterbury

Grant Canterbury is a naturalist and writer who grew up exploring the wild landscapes of Alaska and the American West and reading stories about speculative worlds of science fiction and fantasy. His stories have been published in the science fiction anthologies Vintage Worlds, Merigan Tales, and After Oil 2: The Years of Crisis. He lives in the Pacific Northwest. See for irregular commentary and project updates.

Find more by Grant Canterbury

Grant Canterbury

About the Narrators

Rachel Lackey

Rachel Lackey plays Mrs. Humble and Penny in the comedy audio series Quiet & Bold and is a regular reader for Strange Studies of Strange Stories, the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast. Since you enjoy short audio fiction, make sure to check out her narration of Cool Air. Rachel is also one of the hosts of Rachel Watches Star Trek. Chris loves Star Trek. Rachel had never watched it. Until 2017, when that podcast began. They have now completed the Original Series, the Animated Series, the 1960s movies, seasons 1-3 of The Next Generation and seasons 1 of Discovery and Strange New Worlds. This is a podcast where Rachel and Chris rate each episode of Star Trek, from the original TOS pilot onwards, getting her outsider’s perspective on one of the most influential Sci-fi shows of all time.

Find more by Rachel Lackey


Kitty Sarkozy

Kitty Sarkozy is a speculative fiction writer, actor and robot girlfriend. Kitty is an alumnus of Superstars Writing Seminar , a member of the Apex Writers Group, and the Horror Writer’s Association. Several large cats allow her to live with them in Marietta, GA, and she enjoys tending the extensive gardens, where she hides the bodies. For a list of her publications, acting credits or to engage her services on your next project go to

Find more by Kitty Sarkozy


Valerie Valdes

Valerie Valdes is the co-editor and occasional host of Escape Pod.

Valerie lives in an elaborate meme palace with her husband and kids, where she writes, edits and moonlights as a muse. She enjoys crafting bespoke artisanal curses, playing with swords, and admiring the outdoors from the safety of her living room. Her short fiction and poetry have been featured in Uncanny Magazine, Time Travel Short Stories and Nightmare Magazine. Her debut novel Chilling Effect was shortlisted for the 2021 Arthur C. Clarke Award, and was also named one of Library Journal’s best SF/fantasy novels of 2019.  Join her in opining about books, video games and parenting on Twitter @valerievaldes or find out more at

Find more by Valerie Valdes