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Escape Pod 704: Failsafe


Failsafe

by Tim Chawaga

When the machines finally decided to replace Liv, they broke her heart.

Her desk was tiny and wedged in between two massive automatons: The Vial Dispenser, which Liv called DJ, and the Vial Accepter, which Liv called Alvin. Above the desk were a couple of dusty posters that she had hung years ago and the big red button. The security camera that was pointed at her was broken, and she knew that it would probably not be fixed. There were no windows.

Liv had worked at Autagro for almost twenty years. She had spent countless hours crocheting little koozies to cover DJ and Alvin’s valves, which burned so hot with efficiency that they would melt the plastic parts around them. Countless mornings making up songs and raps to the rhythm of their whirs and clicks, which had become so fast that she had started doing vocal warm-ups on the bus ride in to loosen her lips.

Liv’s job consisted solely of grabbing the vials of extremely concentrated pesticide that DJ held out with its tiny arm, just inches away from Alvin, and pushing them through Alvin’s receptacle slot. The instant she removed a vial, DJ would retract its arm and shoot it out again faster than Liv could blink, holding another vial with a stillness that Liv couldn’t help but interpret as impatience. No matter how fast she moved, she would never be as fast as DJ, but she was a Failsafe. Her speed wasn’t supposed to matter.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 702: Inheritance


Inheritance

By Elise Stephens

Carmen would have expected a gold necklace or tarnished antique, maybe some money or a secret family recipe card, but she’d never dreamed her grandmother would try to immortalize herself through an inheritance like this.

The attorney was holding a velvet-covered box in his open palms as he explained, “Maria Elena had these memory grafts discreetly extracted prior to her death. She chose not to inform the family beforehand. I believe she felt her memories could safely be left to the care of the third generation, that is, the three of you.”

Carmen was relieved to see that both her siblings were likewise surprised by the news.

Mr. Hoffman tapped the box with his thumbs. “As you may know, memory grafts are a practical-application variety of memory extraction. They’re a refined amalgamation of all memories and experiences related to specific fields or areas of expertise.”

“So there’s no real estate or stocks. It’s just her memories,” Mario said, eyebrows raised.

“She was never rich to begin with,” Daniela said. “Living in that tiny place after Grandpa died. Unless she was secretly saving up, how did she afford an extraction?”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 699: A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide (Flashback Friday)


A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide

By Sarah Pinsker

Andy tattooed his left forearm with Lori’s name on a drunken night in his seventeenth year. “Lori & Andy Forever and Ever” was the full text, all in capital letters, done by his best friend Susan with her homemade tattoo rig. Susan was proud as anything of that machine. She’d made it out of nine-volt batteries and some parts pulled from an old DVD player and a ballpoint pen. The tattoo was ugly and hurt like hell, and it turned out Lori didn’t appreciate it at all. She dumped him two weeks later, just before she headed off to university.

Four years later, Andy’s other arm was the one that got mangled in the combine. The entire arm, up to and including his shoulder and right collarbone and everything attached. His parents made the decision while he was still unconscious. He woke in a hospital room in Saskatoon with a robot arm and an implant in his head.

“Brain-Computer Interface,” his mother said, as if that explained everything. She used the same voice she had used when he was five to tell him where the cattle went when they were loaded onto trucks. She stood at the side of his hospital bed, her arms crossed and her fingers tapping her strong biceps as if she were impatient to get back to the farm. The lines in her forehead and the set of her jaw told Andy she was concerned, even if her words hid it.

“They put electrodes and a chip in your motor cortex,” she continued. “You’re bionic.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 696: The Homunculi’s Guide to Resurrecting Your Loved One From Their Electronic Ghosts


The Homunculi’s Guide to Resurrecting Your Loved One From Their Electronic Ghosts

by Kara Lee

0. Confession

If you are reading this, your Loved One has died. We are sorry for your loss.

If you are reading this, then you stumbled onto an archived thread on a lost forum saying that supposedly, it is possible to bring back the dead using their electronic ghosts, and that the Homunculi, whoever they are, know how it is done. And then you searched and searched in a blur of grief and desperation and nearly killed yourself with illegal thaumaturgical network protocols before you found our servers.

And now you want to know whether you really can bring your Loved One back from the dead.

The answer is mostly yes, with one exception.

But you must know that this is not a resurrection. It is a trade. Your Loved One may return to the land of the living in exchange for your life, body, humanity, and most of your soul. In other words, you will have to condemn yourself to being one of us for the rest of eternity.

We will not lie and say that there is much to our existence.

But there is hope. We, the Homunculi, would know. Because hope is why we wrote this guide.

For you see, we cling to a deep-down, bitter, shameful hope that we will one day be saved by someone who loves us. And we hope against hope that the someone will be you.

We know it is a terrible thing to hope for. We know better than anyone what awaits those who make the trade.

And so we apologize for our selfishness. But we do not ask for forgiveness. We only ask that you remember what it is to hope for something impossible.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 695: This Is As I Wish To Be Restored (Flashback Friday)


This Is As I Wish To Be Restored

By Christie Yant

Every night I come home and I drink. I trade away the hope, the guilt, the fear, even the love–I think it’s love, crazy as it seems. I trade them for oblivion, because otherwise I won’t sleep at all. I drink until there’s no life left in me, until I’m able to forget for just a little while the chrome vessel in the corner and what’s at stake. Sometimes I hope that I’ll dream of her. Sometimes I’m afraid that I will.

I have two things that belonged to her. The first is a photograph, taken at a party in what looks like a hotel. Her hair is dyed red—it doesn’t quite suit her, so you know it isn’t hers, like an unexpected note in a melody where you thought you knew where it was going and then it went sharp. She’s holding a glass of something pink and bubbly. Maybe it’s her birthday. If so, it’s probably her twenty-eighth. She’s laughing.

She was really young to be a client. Especially back then, most of the people who thought about life extension were retirees. Mortality was very much on their minds, and they’d had a lifetime to accumulate their savings—suspension was expensive. I wonder where she got the money. Her file doesn’t say. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 693: The Great Scientist Rivalry on Planet Sourdough


The Great Scientist Rivalry on Planet Sourdough

by Beth Goder

Audio Journal of Yazhu A. Borla
Sourdough Planet, Year 1, Day 1

I am definitely a genius, because I’ve discovered a way to create nanobot-integrated sourdough that will change how humanity eats bread.

Here’s the plan:
Step 1: Find a planet that no one cares about, so when I place eight fermentation silos on the surface, no one will bother me about regulations or whatever.
Step 2: Time dilation! To bypass the long window needed for sourdough starter fermentation and nanobot algorithm iterations, use a super-fast spaceship to zip around the galaxy. As a result, while two weeks pass for me on the ship, thirty years pass on the planet.
Step 3: Check on the silos, tweaking each creation until…
Step 4: I’ve created the most delicious, amazing, beneficial sourdough that humankind has ever eaten.

When I’m done, people who eat my bread will be able to do amazing things–breathe underwater, boost their immune systems, get rid of wrinkles. At least, if the experiment goes well. I’m still playing around with the algorithms.

I’ll be famous. They’ll name cities after me. Countries. Maybe even whole planets.

But, of course, the most important thing is that my creations will benefit humanity.

The plan’s only flaw is that I won’t get to see Ayla’s face when I create the most epic nanofood in the universe. What’s the point of having a nemesis if you can’t even gloat?
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 692: Lab B-15 (Part 2 of 2)


Lab B-15 (Part 2 of 2)

By Nick Wolven

“I’ve called you here, tonight, to consider a hypothesis.”

Four faces looked up from the conference table below. Arvin and Kim sat on Jerry’s right hand. Facing them were Chris Lister and Marjorie Cheong, two computer scientists who handled the hardware setup and modeling software. Jerry waited to see how they’d respond.

They didn’t. The conference room was a scene of utter silence. As Jerry had expected.

“I want to run through this together,” Jerry said. “Now, be candid. Don’t hold back. If I’m right, we might have an answer to the problems we’ve been seeing. Questions?”

Arvin raised a hand.

“I have a question, Doctor Emery. Um–what happened to you?”

Jerry was taken aback. “Pardon?”

The young man dropped his hand. “You must have gotten engaged or something, right? Or you got a dog? Something’s changed.”

Jerry hesitated. After driving to the compound, this latest time through the loop, he’d grabbed Arvin’s hand and effectively dragged him to the institute. Jerry had done the same with Kim, then gone on to collect Chris and Marjorie, the only other colleagues who were still in the office. Upon recruiting these followers, Jerry had made sure to keep them in sight. No one was going to disappear on him tonight.

Not this time.

Not while he needed them. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 691: Lab B-15 (Part 1 of 2)

Show Notes

News release and academic paper about Zelomorpha effugia – the parasitic wasp species discovered in Costa Rica and named in honor of Escape Pod in July 2019.

(Effugia – plural of effugium: 1: an escape, flight; 2: a means or way of escape)

Lateral image of Zelomorpha effugia holotype female.

Lab B-15 (Part 1 of 2)

By Nick Wolven

The young man was sitting outside the parking garage, and right away Jerry thought that was weird. This was the Arizona desert, middle of summer. People didn’t sit outside. They especially didn’t sit outside ugly parking garages, on strips of hot concrete, with no grass in sight.

The boy was Arvin Taylor, one of the lab techs from the day shift. Not a person Jerry saw often, though technically one of his employees. He ought to be working, not lazing around outdoors.

“Arvin.” Jerry pulled up, rolled down the window. “What are you–?”

But Arvin was already hurrying toward the car.

“Doctor Emery.” All the techs addressed Jerry as “doctor.” It was something he insisted on. None of this Joe-John-Jane stuff, everyone on a first-name basis, like they were Mouseketeers or flight attendants. With the work they were doing, they couldn’t afford to be casual.

Arvin bent down, peering in the window, squinting in the sun. He was dressed professionally, but cheaply: Dockers, button shirt.

The boy must have been sitting outside for hours. His shirt was soaked with sweat. He looked woozy, sunstruck.

“I’m glad I caught you, Doctor Emery.”

“How long have you been out here, Arvin?”

“It’s really important.” The young man’s eyes slid sideways, feverish. Jerry worried he might pass out. “I have to tell you …”

And that was it. Arvin’s mouth hung open, tongue moving vaguely.

Jerry put a hand on the gearshift, a gentle reminder. He had work to do, places to be. “I’m due in the office. If I’m not mistaken, you’re supposed to be there, too. Doesn’t your shift go till six?”

Arvin wasn’t listening. His eyes had assumed a peculiar cast, half daft, half frantic, like a circuit inside him had failed to connect. “It’s about … Lab B-15.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 688: A Most Elegant Solution


A Most Elegant Solution

by M. Darusha Wehm

I always said I wanted to be one of the first to die on Mars. I never wanted to be the last. But here I am.

I can’t even tell the others apart now. I know that inside those vaguely undulating metal cocoons are the bodies of the rest of my team—Marshall, Cherie, Gem and Abdul. Which squirming ovoid contains whom—there’s no way to tell.

And I’m about to join them. The swarm has already engulfed my legs. I can’t feel anything below the knee, which is a kind of relief. Devoured by my own creations is a terrible enough way to die—at least it probably won’t hurt.

I know I should be mourning the others, or desperately trying to save myself, but I don’t feel anything like that now. Maybe this is a side effect of the paralysis, maybe it’s not just a physical but an emotional anesthesia. Because all I can think about is how I got here. How we all got to be here, lying on the floor of our brand new habitation buildings, smothered by tiny robots.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 686: Real Artists (Flashback Friday)

Show Notes

“Real Artists” has been adapted into an Emmy Award-winning short film, now available on Amazon Prime, and check out the Behind the Scenes featurettes on the film’s website

99% Invisible / The Anthropocene Reviewed
https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-anthropocene-reviewed/

“Real Artists” in TRSF
https://kenliu.name/blog/2011/09/21/real-artists-in-trsf/

Summer interviews Cameo Wood, director of short film “Real Artists”
https://www.sliceofscifi.com/2019/06/08/slice-of-scifi-894/

Alasdair talks about The Raven Tower
https://alasdairstuart.com/2019/04/03/horatio-eolo-strength-and-patience-ann-leckies-the-raven-tower/


Real Artists

by Ken Liu

“You’ve done well,” Creative Director Len Palladon said, looking over Sophia’s résumé.

Sophia squinted in the golden California sun that fell on her through the huge windows of the conference room. She wanted to pinch herself to be sure she wasn’t dreaming. She was here, really here, on the hallowed campus of Semaphore Pictures, in an interview with the legendary Palladon.

She licked her dry lips. “I’ve always wanted to make movies.” She choked back for Semaphore. She didn’t want to seem too desperate.

Palladon was in his thirties, dressed in a pair of comfortable shorts and a plain gray t-shirt whose front was covered with the drawing of a man swinging a large hammer over a railroad spike. A pioneer in computer-assisted movie making, he had been instrumental in writing the company’s earliest software and was the director of The Mesozoic, Semaphore’s first film.

He nodded and went on, “You won the Zoetrope screenwriting competition, earned excellent grades in both technology and liberal arts, and got great recommendations from your film studies professors. It couldn’t have been easy.”

To Sophia, he seemed a bit pale and tired, as though he had been spending all his time indoors, not out in the golden California sun. She imagined that Palladon and his animators must have been working overtime to meet a deadline: probably to finish the new film scheduled to be released this summer.

“I believe in working hard,” Sophia said. What she really wanted was to tell him that she knew what it meant to stay up all night in front of the editing workstation and wait for the rendering to complete, all for the chance to catch the first glimpse of a vision coming to life on the screen. She was ready.

(Continue Reading…)