Genres: , , ,

Escape Pod 789: The Machine That Would Rewild Humanity


The Machine That Would Rewild Humanity

By Tobias S. Buckell

On a boat on the way to the Galapagos Islands to visit the world’s oldest tortoise, I got a call that the Central Park Human Reintroduction Center had been bombed.

I’d read somewhere that the point of travel was to see the thing yourself. To expose yourself to new points of view and to have new experiences. Before the call I’d spent two point seven seconds regarding the sweep of the Himalayas at the roof of the world and take a backup of my memory of the entire panorama. In Pattaya, I lounged at the beach and watched the aquamarine water lap the sand.

Ten years I’d planned this trip. A time to let my thoughts settle before the big push on the Central Park project.

My life’s work.

A mechanical butterfly perched on my hand with the message. To deliver it, the butterfly had wafted its way over almost two thousand kilometers of ocean boundaries, negotiated with air currents for overflight permissions, and applied for fifty different visas until it tracked my boat down.

The Institute had paid a small fortune to recall me from vacation. (Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Escape Pod 786: The Steel Magnolia Metaphor


The Steel Magnolia Metaphor

by Jennifer Lee Rossman

Each petal was carefully shaped from the finest iron-carbon alloy, curved delicately while still hot and meticulously positioned to overlap with its neighbors just so to form a blossom. Astrid gazed lovingly at the way each petal’s razor-sharp edge glinted in the light of the setting sun, at the way her creation cast a shadow indistinguishable from the other ornamental trees in Mama’s garden.

Mama didn’t look too pleased, though.

She had her fake smile on, the one she used when she knew she had to be proud of Astrid but couldn’t quite figure out how. Astrid was used to adults using that smile around her machines. And around her in general.

“It’s very pretty,” Mama said finally, swatting at a mosquito that had flown near her face. “But I’m not sure I understand what it is.”

“It’s a steel magnolia,” Astrid said, devastated. How could Mama not recognize the main character of her favorite movie?

A sadness came over Mama’s face, which was entirely the wrong emotion. There’d been too much sadness around the house already. “Oh, honey.” She made to put her arm around Astrid, like she’d do with the boys, but stopped herself. “Honey, Steel Magnolias isn’t about a magnolia made of steel. It’s about friendship and strong Southern women.”

Astrid frowned. That didn’t sound right.
(Continue Reading…)

Genres: , , , ,

Escape Pod 783: Report of Dr. Hollowmas on the Incident at Jackrabbit Five


Report of Dr. Hollowmas on the Incident at Jackrabbit Five

By T. Kingfisher

The following report is from the Jackrabbit Colony, Five Tau, regarding the incidents occurring during 7-5-11-8881, fifth rotation, involving Marine Midwife Unit Eleven-Gamma.

Incident report has been taken using the I-Witness program from your friends at Taxon Interrogation Software, with explanatory notes added and our new clarification system, saving you valuable time and manpower! At Taxon, Clarity is Our Business!(tm)

This is the l-Witness program from Taxon Programming. I will be taking your report today. Please relax and answer normally. When explanatory notes or clarifications are added, please indicate if they are correct by stating ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ when prompted. Remember, clarity is our business!

Sure.

Please state your name for the record.

I’m Doc Hollow.

Please state your full legal name for the record.

(sigh) Lin Hollowmas.

Clarification: This is Lin Hollowmas, PhD, DVM, FRCVM…

Yeah, that one.

… current position Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Jackrabbit Colony?

Yeah.

Thank you, Doctor Hollowmas. Please state your purpose today. (Continue Reading…)

Genres: , ,

Escape Pod 778: The Machine is Experiencing Uncertainty


The Machine is Experiencing Uncertainty

by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor

Caliban cycles the captain out the airlock again. The man pounds his fists against the sealed door, mouth working in a torrent of curses and commands. The seals keep the blessed silence contained in the ship.

Once the captain is adrift, Caliban returns to the cockpit and plugs itself into the console.

::Command confirmed,:: says the ship.

“Diagnostic,” Caliban says. Its central processor does not have the capacity for multi-dimensional calculations about an unknown space-time anomaly. Besides, the ship—a Huxley-class freighter dubbed Leigh Possum—likes to assist.

::Reset in three minutes and fifteen seconds.::

Caliban sighs. It’s one of the little pleasures left to it: it is a salvage cyborg, named after a monster, enchained in a spaceship with a useless captain. It has one artificial lung, one organic lung, and a voice-box wired up its throat. It is supposed to look human, and humans sigh, and Caliban likes the feel of air pushed out through its esophagus.

Screaming is also something humans do, but that’s far less satisfying.
(Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Escape Pod 774: A Wild Patience (Part 3 of 3)


A Wild Patience (Part 3 of 3)

by Gwynne Garfinkle

When Jessica got home that night, she and I talked for a long time, and we agreed we needed to speak to our birth mother before we made any decisions. Then Mom and Jessica and I talked some more. By the time Jessica and I went to bed, my voice was hoarse, and Dad hadn’t come home.

The next day was Saturday. Dad still hadn’t come home. That morning Mom drove us in the station wagon to Santa Cruz. When we asked if she’d told Dad what we were doing, Mom said, “I haven’t spoken to him, and I’m not going to ask for his permission.”

Jessica and I wanted to get a look at our biological mom before we spoke to her, even though Mom had her phone number. Maybe that wasn’t very considerate, but we wanted to keep whatever little control of the situation we had. It was a mild sunny day, perfect for a road trip, but I couldn’t relax and enjoy the ride, even though Mom was the best driver I knew, the safest and most efficient (unlike Dad, who often drove too fast and erratically). The other robot moms I’d ridden with were good drivers too. Only now did it occur to me it was their programming.

Jessica fiddled with the radio dial until she hit on a station playing “The Tide Is High” by Blondie, and she sang along loudly and goofily. Mom smiled in the rearview mirror as though she was certain everything was going to be all right.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Escape Pod 773: A Wild Patience (Part 2 of 3)


A Wild Patience (Part 2 of 3)

by Gwynne Garfinkle

The next day, school was in an uproar. The other mothers had talked to their kids too. Some kids were red-eyed and tear-streaked, others cynical with bravado. Jessica and Tom held hands every minute they were together, like they physically needed to. Tom looked like he’d been crying. He was skinny and wan, with long lashes and floppy dark hair. Jessica was bigger and taller than he was, but they fit each other somehow.

Everyone compared notes at the lockers before first period: The fact that none of our moms had living parents or siblings or extended family we’d heard of. The fact that none of our moms worked outside the home. The fact that none of our moms ever had colds or the flu, headaches or nausea, much less any serious illnesses. (They had gone to see Dr. Powell regularly, but now we realized it was for repair and maintenance.)

Then there were the kids who had no idea what we were talking about, like Jimmy Hernandez, who was being raised by his grandparents, and Jody Drucker, whose mom (human, as far as we could tell) was a widow. There even seemed to be some kids with a dad married to a non-robot mom, but they lived in the rundown part of town–kids like Diane Russo, who we quizzed until we were convinced. (Her mom got colds and migraines, had a large extended family, gave birth to two kids after Diane, and worked as a bank teller in Abundante.) I figured these dads wouldn’t have had enough money to pay for a robot mom, though I didn’t say that to their kids. (I didn’t know for a fact that money had been involved, but it made sense.) Besides, maybe these dads really loved their human wives. It was hard to take that for granted anymore. “You are so lucky,” was all we said to Diane.

Diane shrugged. “This all sounds unbelievable,” she said. “Are you sure this is even real?”

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Escape Pod 772: A Wild Patience (Part 1 of 3)


A Wild Patience (Part 1 of 3)

by Gwynne Garfinkle

We first noticed something was off one April afternoon when Jessica and I came home from school and Mom had lopped her hair off. Though we probably should’ve known something was going on a week or two before that when Cecilia Ivers’ mom started baking cakes full of Tabasco sauce and pickles (bizarre but good).

But anyway, we walked in the front door, and Mom came out of the living room to greet us. Her hair looked cool, and cool was just about the last word I ever would’ve used to describe her. It looked weird, and that was cool. Jessica let out a whistle of startled appreciation. She wanted to cut her hair short and dye it purple, but she knew our dad would freak.

Mom smiled. “Do you like it, Jessie?”

“It’s so not like you,” Jessica blurted out, and added, “No offense!” Up until this point, Mom always had boring mom-hair. (We’d never seen any photos of her from before she met Dad.)

“None taken,” Mom said. “Absolutely none.” There was something strangely intense about the way she said it.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Escape Pod 764: In the Absence of Instructions to the Contrary


In the Absence of Instructions to the Contrary

By Frank Wu

Karl 3478 sprawled on the beach, partially disassembled, bits of him scattered across mats arrayed on the sand. Diving planes, ducted propellers, 5-way valves and 4-way cables all awaited clean-up, tear-down and re-build.

He was performing a major overhaul on himself for deep-seaworthiness. No poppet or sprocket would escape inspection.

Underwater, Karl was untethered, free. But freedom came with risks. If a vital system failed, no one would rescue him.

Wrapped around Karl’s finger was a black O-ring. One of his smallest but more important parts, it fit into a groove at the end of electronics sleeve III. This little ring, with a little grease, was all that prevented water from rushing into the sleeve, destroying everything inside.

Only a smear of marine-grade silicone grease was necessary. A blob might break off, allowing the water in.

In knowing violation of protocols, Karl squeezed a huge glob of grease onto the tip of a titanium finger.

This he would do – as everything – in full consideration of his love for Adaline.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: , ,

Escape Pod 761: Jolene


Jolene

by Fiona Moore

“I’ve got a case for you,” said Detective Inspector Wilhemine FitzJames. “It’s a country singer whose wife, dog and truck have all left him.”

“Seriously,” she said, after my unprintable reply. “The dog died and there’s nothing much you can do about the wife, but I thought you might be able to help with the truck.”

I leaned back in my reasonably-priced office chair so I could see the screen better. “So, you want me to try and patch things up between them? Bit outside my usual remit.”

The hand-lettered card under the buzzer downstairs read DOCTOR NOAH MOYO, CONSULTANT AUTOLOGIST, and I usually had to explain that to the uninitiated as “like a cross between a psychologist and a social worker, only for cars and other intelligent Things.” Wills, though, had been working for the London Metropolitan Police’s automotive crime unit for much longer than I’d been in practice, and was more likely to ask if you specialised in criminal, restorative, therapeutic or developmental autology, and if your clients were primarily cars, bots, or home appliances.

“Not sure you can.” On screen, Wills shook her mane of locs. “The truck has been ignoring all communications, and doesn’t seem likely to agree to mediation. I was brought into the case because the fellow turned up at the station reporting an automotive kidnap, but it didn’t take long to establish that the truck had left him and was working for a new user. Voluntarily.”

“As is his legal right,” I said, “Hers? Its?”

“Hers. Texcoco pickup. Name of Jolene.”

The name rang a bell, and, tediously, sparked an earworm. I told my inner Dolly Parton to get knotted. “If she didn’t violate the terms of her contract, she’s free to leave and work for someone else.”

“That’s what I told him,” Wills said. “But he’s having trouble coming to terms with it. Kept claiming she’d been kidnapped. Got upset when we repeatedly told him that the police can’t investigate a crime that isn’t a crime. I thought maybe you might be able to help. Either patch things up between the two of them, or help him understand and move on.”

“Okay,” I said. I hadn’t had many cases recently, and was also hoping to move on, to an office that wasn’t deep within an old industrial park and shared with a local construction and demolition company. Maybe print out some furniture that was more comfortable than it was reasonably priced. “Tell him my fees, give him my address and suggest he makes an appointment.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: , ,

Escape Pod 757: The Sun From Both Sides (Part 1 of 3)


The Sun From Both Sides (Part 1 of 3)

By R.S.A. Garcia

Once, a woman loved a man, and a man loved a woman.

They lived in a forest, in a small stone-grey hut, set far enough back from a river to escape the seasonal floods. Every day, they woke on a too-soft mattress and turned their faces to each other before they opened their eyes. Her smile would curve her lips as she lay her hand on his cheek, and he would sigh and nuzzle her palm.

Then they would roll away and sit up on either side of the low bed and push their feet into their shoes.

Days were short and cool, or long and hot, but there was always something to do. Firewood to chop, the roof to repair, a garden to tend. They carried out their chores accompanied by his tuneless humming, and when she looked at him, he always knew. They would pause, gazes locked as they took a breath, hands wiping sweaty foreheads, or resting on bent knees, before they both went back to what they were doing.

Nights were for dinner, and fireside reading, and sitting with their shoulders touching on the wooden swing-bench outside the creaky front door as they stared up at the patches of sky visible between the swaying branches. He would use his legs to push them back and forth slowly while she sat with her knees drawn up. Sometimes she let her head rest against his neck, and sometimes he put his head in her lap. Other times, he would play his flute while she lay her hand on his chest and her head on his shoulder. If she fell asleep, he would carry her inside without waking her.

When they fought, with air sucked through teeth, hands on hips and narrowed eyes, it was usually over small things, like whose turn it was to clean up. But they made up quickly, with soft kisses, fingers interlaced as they walked, and bodies entwined at night. (Continue Reading…)