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Escape Pod 402: The Tale of the Golden Eagle

Show Notes

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The Tale of the Golden Eagle

by David D. Levine

This is a story about a bird. A bird, a ship, a machine, a woman—she was all these things, and none, but first and fundamentally a bird.

It is also a story about a man—a gambler, a liar, and a cheat, but only for the best of reasons.

No doubt you know the famous Portrait of Denali Eu, also called The Third Decision, whose eyes have been described as “two pools of sadness iced over with determination.” This is the story behind that painting.

It is a love story. It is a sad story. And it is true.

The story begins in a time before shiftspace, before Conner and Hua, even before the caster people. The beginning of the story lies in the time of the bird ships.

Before the bird ships, just to go from one star to another, people either had to give up their whole lives and hope their children’s children would remember why they had come, or freeze themselves and hope they could be thawed at the other end. Then the man called Doctor Jay made a great and horrible discovery: he learned that a living mind could change the shape of space. He found a way to weld a human brain to the keel of a starship, in such a way that the ship could travel from star to star in months instead of years.

After the execution of Doctor Jay, people learned that the part of the brain called the visual cortex was the key to changing the shape of space. And so they found a creature whose brain was almost all visual cortex, the Aquila chrysaetos, or as it was known in those days the golden eagle. This was a bird that has been lost to us; it had wings broader than a tall man is tall, golden brown feathers long and light as a lover’s touch, and eyes black and sharp as a clear winter night. But to the people of this time it was just another animal, and they did not appreciate it while they had it.

They took the egg of a golden eagle, and they hatched it in a warm box, and they let it fly and learn and grow, and then they killed it. And they took its brain and they placed it at the top of a cunning construction of plastic and silicon which gave it the intelligence of a human, and this they welded to the keel of the starship.

It may seem to you that it is as cruel to give a bird the intelligence of a human, only to enslave its brain, as it is to take the brain of a human and enslave that. And so it is. But the people of this time drew a rigid distinction between born-people and made-people, and to them this seemed only just and right.

Now it happens that one golden eagle brain, which was called Nerissa Zeebnen-Fearsig, was installed into a ship of surpassing beauty. It was a great broad shining arrowhead of silver metal, this ship, filigreed and inlaid with gold, and filled with clever and intricate mechanisms of subtle pleasure.

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Escape Pod 400: Rescue Party

Show Notes

All sound effects used in this episode were found at FreeSound.org on the pages of the following users: hdesboisswiftoidjobroSyphon64doubletriggercognito perceptuFreqManReadeOnlycsengeri

Performed by Graeme Dunlop as Alveron; Steve Eley as Rugon; Nathaniel Lee as Orostron; Mur Lafferty as Hansur; Paul Haring as Klarten; Alasdair Stewart as Alarkane; Dave Thompson as The Paladorian; Ben Philips as T’sinadree; Jeremiah Tolbert as Tork-a-lee


Rescue Party

by Arthur C. Clarke

Who was to blame? For three days Alveron’s thoughts had come back to that question, and still he had found no answer. A creature of a less civilized or a less sensitive race would never have let it torture his mind, and would have satisfied himself with the assurance that no one could be responsible for the working of fate. But Alveron and his kind had been lords of the Universe since the dawn of history, since that far distant age when the Time Barrier  had been folded round the cosmos by the unknown powers that lay beyond the Beginning. To them had been given all knowledge–and with infinite knowledge went infinite responsibility. If there were mistakes and errors in the administration of the galaxy, the fault lay on the heads of Alveron and his people. And this was no mere mistake: it was one of the greatest tragedies in history.

The crew still knew nothing. Even Rugon, his closest friend and the ship’s deputy captain, had been told only part of the truth. But now the doomed worlds lay less than a billion miles ahead. In a few hours, they would be landing on the third planet.

Once again Alveron read the message from Base; then, with a flick of a tentacle that no human eye could have followed, he pressed the “General Attention” button. Throughout the mile-long cylinder that was the Galactic Survey Ship S9000, creatures of many races laid down their work to listen to the words of their captain.

“I know you have all been wondering,” began Alveron, “why we were ordered to abandon our survey and to proceed at such an acceleration to this region of space. Some of you may realize what this acceleration means. Our ship is on its last voyage: the generators have already been running for sixty hours at Ultimate Overload. We will be very lucky if we return to Base under our own power.

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Escape Pod 392: Aftermaths


Aftermaths

by Lois McMaster Bujold

[EDITOR: We don’t have the rights to post the text of this story.]

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Escape Pod 390: Cerbo un Vitra ujo


Cerbo un Vitra ujo

by Mary Robinette Kowal

Grete snipped a diseased branch off her Sunset-Glory rosebush like she was a body harvester looking for the perfect part. Behind the drone of the garden’s humidifiers, she caught a woosh-snick as the airlock door opened. Her boyfriend barreled around Mom’s prize Emperor artichoke.

Something was wrong.

The whites showed around Kaj’s remarkable eyes, a blue-green so iridescent they seemed to dull all the plants around them. “Mom and Dad got me a Pass to a down-planet school!”

The blood congealed in her veins. Kaj would leave her. Grete forced a smile. “That’s the outer limit!”

“I didn’t even know they’d applied. Fairview Academy—game design.” His perfect teeth flashed like sunshine against the ink of space. “It’s wacking crazed. Should’ve been you, you’re a better hack than me.”

“I’m already entitled to school.” Grete winced as the words left her mouth. Like he didn’t know that. He was the middle of five children, way past the Banwith Station family allowance. She picked up the pruning sheers to hide the shake in her hands. How would she live without Kaj? “So, I guess you got packing to do and stuff.”

“They provide uniforms. All I’m taking is my pod with music and books. Zero else.” Kaj slid his arm around her waist and laced his long, delicate fingers through hers. “And I want to spend every moment till launch with you.”

She loved him so much, it hurt. Grete leaned her head against him, burning the feel of his body into her memory. She breathed in the musky smell of his sweat and kissed his neck, sampling the salt on his skin.

After a moment, Kaj hung a chain around her neck. The metal tags hanging from it were still warm from his body.

“What?”

“Dogtags, like they used in the oldwars. I put all my bios on there so you’d remember me.”

“Kaj Lorensen, don’t think I could forget you.”

But if he was away at school, he might forget her. She studied her rosebush and freed the most perfect rose with her sheers. She held it out to him, suddenly shy.

He kissed the rose and then her palm. Grete sank into his gaze, lost in the blue-green of his eyes. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 385: The Very Pulse of the Machine

Show Notes

Special thanks to user ERH at FreeSound.org who created and/or recorded the sound effect used in this episode!


The Very Pulse of the Machine

by Michael Swanwick

Click.

The radio came on.

“Hell.”

Martha kept her eyes forward, concentrated on walking. Jupiter to one shoulder, Daedalus’s plume to the other. Nothing to it. Just trudge, drag, trudge, drag. Piece of cake.

“Oh.”

She chinned the radio off.

Click.

“Hell. Oh. Kiv. El. Sen.”

“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” Martha gave the rope an angry jerk, making the sledge carrying Burton’s body jump and bounce on the sulfur hardpan. “You’re dead, Burton, I’ve checked, there’s a hole in your faceplate big enough to stick a fist through, and I really don’t want to crack up. I’m in kind of a tight spot here and I can’t afford it, okay? So be nice and just shut the f*** up.”

“Not. Bur. Ton.”

“Do it anyway.”

She chinned the radio off again.

Jupiter loomed low on the western horizon, big and bright and beautiful and, after two weeks on Io, easy to ignore. To her left, Daedalus was spewing sulfur and sulfur dioxide in a fan two hundred kilometers high. The plume caught the chill light from an unseen sun and her visor rendered it a pale and lovely blue. Most spectacular view in the universe, and she was in no mood to enjoy it.

Click.

Before the voice could speak again, Martha said, “I am not going crazy, you’re just the voice of my subconscious, I don’t have the time to waste trying to figure out what unresolved psychological conflicts gave rise to all this, and I am not going to listen to anything you have to say.”

Silence.

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Escape Pod 381: Elias Smith and Jones

Show Notes

Special thanks to user Tomlija at FreeSound.org who created and/or recorded the sound effect used in this episode!


Elias Smith and Jones

by Mark English

Every space in the four thousand seat lecture theatre was taken. Additional folk had snuck in to sit on the dark steps at the back. With everyone whispering discretely, the noise was deafening to the grizzled old-timer who stood leaning on the lecturn at the front—or it would have been except for the myPod player earbuds delivering their tinny frantic bluegrass tunes into his head. He chuckled to himself as he looked up at the wall of people in front of him. Political leaders, military leaders, space systems engineers; all desperate to hear the words of an aged ship’s monkey from the Frontier. All because he and his co-conspirators had blackmailed the solar system.

Elias chuckled to himself again. Who would have figured things would have turned out so? He plucked the ear buds out. Instant silence. The university had scored a coup in convincing one of the Sundance gang to tell their tale since any spaceway robbers were generally executed. However the Sundance gang had a thirty year old secret, one that everyone wanted. With the removal of the first earbud old Elias had indicated he was ready to start; all the spectators held their breath.

Elias turned his face up to the watchers, felt the bright lights warming his face, and smiled a toothy grin. “Howdy folks, I’m good an’ pleased to be here today, to see so many notables amongst you. Some I have met before.” A five star general shuffled uncomfortably in his seat as if the warm smile made him sweat—which it did. Elias continued in his soft southern-states patois. “We are gathered here today to hear a story, so let’s go back thirty years, back to when I was even more good lookin’. My partners and I had just obtained a large cargo of rare earth metals from an asteroid cargo waggon, and this had been mistak’n for a robbery. I guess after these years I gotta ‘fess up and say that it sure as hell was a robbery!” Elias leaned forward and grinned at the Sheriff-Admiral in the front row like he was about to lay a golden egg—which as history showed he had (in a manner of speaking). The Sheriff-Admiral returned a tight grimace filled with thirty years of difficult restraint.

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Escape Pod 238: Wind From a Dying Star


Wind From a Dying Star

By David D. Levine

After a time she found a small patch of zeren. She spread across it, taking a little solace from its sparkling sweetness. “Zero-point energy” was what Old John called it, but to Gunai and the rest of her tribe it was zeren, delicious and rare. Gunai recalled a time when zeren was something you could almost ignore — a constant crackling thrum beneath the surface of perception — but now there were just a few thin patches here and there.

These days the tribe subsisted mostly on a thin diet of starlight, and even that was growing cold. Soon they would be forced to move on again. Yeoshi had told her the foraging was better in the direction of the galactic core, but it was so far…