Hi there and welcome to Escape Pod Summer School, where we post some of our favorite episodes from the vault with a new perspective. I’m your co-editor and teacher for this class, Mur Lafferty, bringing you three flash episodes from long, long ago. We bring you “Taco” by Greg van Eekhout, “Get me to the Job on Time” by Ian Randal Strock, and “Hibernation” by Madge E. Miller.
The spaceman shows up on a hot summer afternoon, not in the dead of night when you’re crouched in the garden peering through a telescope that shows you the endless glories and wonders of the night sky. There’s no spaceship making a bright arc against a star-spangled sky. Just a man in a spacesuit, standing at the edge of your hammock. His presence reminds you school is over and relatives will be coming soon and you don’t want to see them. They will ask you who can’t see beyond the edge of your hammock about grades and ambitions and Plans For the Future. Aunt Fran is dead and there’s just no fixing it, but funerals help us move on, Mom says so, and Mom Knows Best. You don’t want to go, because going means it happened and going means something is over.
You ask the spaceman where his blue box is and he stares at you like you’ve lost your entire mind, because boxes, he tells you in absolute certainty, are no good for space flight. Boxes are not geometrically synergistic, he tells you, whether cardboard or wood or blue. He doesn’t have any kind of an accent, no bow tie, no box, and he’s lost. He tells you he’s lost.
This is just Earth, you tell him, and he says he knows that, how stupid do you think he is, he’s been here before, so many times before he knows Rubik’s Cubes and arcades and the way ugly yellow dish gloves will stick to your fingers and turn inside out if they’re too hot when you take them off. He remembers when an icy Big Gulp in a sweating plastic cup was the best part of summer—that’s why he’s here now, summer, and why it’s afternoon, and why— (Continue Reading…)
Anyway, it turns out trilobites aren’t very good eating even if you haven’t eaten in days. I had particularly high hopes for the fat, humped asaphids, thinking they would taste like shrimp, but everything I’ve caught so far is strictly armor and attitude, plus they bite. Discovered this morning that if you just hoik a trilobite in the fire and assume terminal temperature, it crawls out and shakes itself off like a little tank. Complete decapitation required. PAPER IDEA: Mechanisms of apparent trilobite invincibility. They’re not strictly aquatic, either, they come right up on land and look at you while you’re eating their friends. Jesus.
Also cut my fingers to shit butchering the first one; to be honest, it was hard to tell who was butchering who. (Whom?) Easier going now since I chipped an axe out of a piece of blue flint that I found a ways up the beach. Poor replacement for the one we lost, but it cracks the armor at least, and then you can roast them without explosions and shrapnel. Still have to cut them up to get the few calories worth of meat inside though (which doesn’t, incidentally, taste like shrimp). They’re survival food. A couple more days and I’m going after some of those big meaty arthrodires though, the ones I can see gliding through the crystal-clear water with little signs on their back saying “EAT ME.” I’m already tired of trilobite though not yet tired of surviving.
Note: Can I eat any of these algal mats. Different from seaweed at sushi restaurant how exactly. (Continue Reading…)
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)
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…)
Only idiots go back to the haunted houses of their childhood. And yet.
Here you are. Standing on the sagging, weed-strangled front porch that hasn’t changed in twenty years. Every dip in the floorboards, every peeling strip of paint is exactly as you remember it. Time seems to have ricocheted off this place.
Except not everything has stayed the same. You have your doctorate in theoretical physics now, the ink’s still fresh on the diploma. Your prospects look good. You’re going start teaching next month, your first steps on the path to tenure. You have a grant for a research project you’ve been waiting for years to start. The secrets of the universe are a locked door and you might have the key. That is, if the house doesn’t kill you first.
You’re lingering on the doorstep, not quite ready to commit. There’s an early morning hush to the neighborhood, but it’s already ungodly humid and warm. The backs of your calves stick to your leg braces, your backpack is heavy on your shoulders, and your walking cane is slick from your sweaty palm, though you’re not sure if that’s because of the heat or because being back on this porch is doing terrible things to your heart rate. Even the dragonflies are smart enough to linger at the property line.
This is a terrible idea. Your hand is clenched around the doorknob and you’re listing all the valid reasons you should walk away.
It’s happened a thousand times before and it’s phrased like this nine hundred times. A man loses a woman. As if she were car keys, an umbrella, a scraggly doll in the arms of a child. A literal and grammatical object to be lost. Let’s find a truer cliché. It takes two to tango. Let’s try again:
A woman discards a man.
Raised voices in a summer-boiled attic. Old records, lovingly collected, smashed up like jagged pieces of skyscraper windows. They’re in his mother’s house, gazing down at the familiar yard, the scent of peach blossoms wafting through the window. They’d played there on wobbly toddler legs, cussed out teachers as teens wearing cut-off jeans and crooked baseball caps, shared their first kiss in the shadow of the peach tree and afterward neither could say who initiated it or who was more surprised. Little fights dogged them throughout those nineteen years, but children’s minds are better at forgiving and worse at carving scars.
Only during that fateful day in the attic did they say things that couldn’t be unsaid, voice words their adult brains forgot how to forgive. (Continue Reading…)
He’d never seen a burgundy before. Kim held it in her lap, tapped it with her finger. She was probably tapping it to bring attention to it, and Jeff didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of asking to see it, but he really wanted to see it. Burgundy (Kim had insisted on calling it burgundy red when she showed it at show and tell) was a rare one. Not as rare as a hot pink Flyer or a viridian Better Looking, but still rare.
A bus roared up, spitting black smoke. It was the seven bus–the Linden Court bus, not his. Kids rushed to line up in front of the big yellow doors as the bus hissed to a stop. A second-grader squealed, shoved a bigger kid with her Partridge Family lunch box because he’d stepped on her foot. All the younger kids seemed to have Partridge Family lunch boxes this year.
“What did you say it did when you’ve got all three pieces of the charm together?” Jeff asked Kim. He said it casually, like he was just making conversation until his bus came.
“It relaxes time,” Kim said. “When you’re bored you can make time pass quickly, and when you’re having fun you can make time stretch out.”
Jeff nodded, tried to look just interested enough to be polite, but no more. What must that be like, to make the hour at church fly by? Or make the school day (except for lunch and recess) pass in an eyeblink? Jeff wondered how fast or slow you could move things along. Could you make it seem like you were eating an ice cream sandwich for six hours? That would be sparkling fine.
“Want to see it?” Kim asked.
“Okay,” Jeff said, holding out his hands too eagerly before he remembered himself. Kim handed it to him, looking pleased with herself, the dimples on her round face getting a little deeper.
It was smooth as marble, perfectly round, big as a grapefruit and heavy as a bowling ball. It made Jeff’s heart hammer to hold it. The rich red, which hinted at purple while still being certainly red, was so beautiful it seemed impossible, so vivid it made his blue shirt seem like a Polaroid photo left in the sun too long. (Continue Reading…)
Maguire, Phil, et al. “Is Consciousness Computable? Quantifying Integrated Information Using Algorithmic Information Theory.” arXiv preprint arXiv:1405.0126 (2014) (available at http://arxiv.org/pdf/1405.0126).
Davis, E. D., C. R. Gould, and E. I. Sharapov. “Oklo reactors and implications for nuclear science.” International Journal of Modern Physics E 23.04 (2014) (available at http://arxiv.org/pdf/1404.4948).
For more on SETI and the Sun’s gravitational lens, see:
An Advanced Reader’s Picture Book of Comparative Cognition
By Ken Liu
My darling, my child, my connoisseur of sesquipedalian words and convoluted ideas and meandering sentences and baroque images, while the sun is asleep and the moon somnambulant, while the stars bathe us in their glow from eons ago and light-years away, while you are comfortably nestled in your blankets and I am hunched over in my chair by your bed, while we are warm and safe and still for the moment in this bubble of incandescent light cast by the pearl held up by the mermaid lamp, you and I, on this planet spinning and hurtling through the frigid darkness of space at dozens of miles per second, let’s read. (Continue Reading…)
The big day came, and Anna was tempted to tie up Marisol and stash her in the closet just to be safe, but instead she put on her makeup and her pale blue gown (it was prettier than she remembered) and called, “Marisol! Are you making a whole new dress from scratch in there? We gotta go!” just like last time.
Marisol emerged from the bedroom, sliding a dangly earring into place, and even with everything on her mind, Anna stopped and stared and took her partner in: those pale green eyes so striking against the darkness of her skin, her long black hair, her dress patterned with tiny flowers and ruffled at the hem, made elegant both by Marisol’s craftsmanship and because she looked good in everything, basically. How many hours had Anna spent staring at photographs of that face? “Oh my god, let me get a picture.”
Marisol rolled her eyes. “I thought you were worried about being late?”
“It’s not my fault you look this good. I didn’t account for a hotness delay.” Marisol snorted laughter, and Anna’s phone snapshot caught her at the perfect candid moment: happiness frozen forever in pixels. Anna looked at the screen. The picture wasn’t exactly the same, but it was probably okay—
Marisol tapped her on the arm. “I’m flattered, babe, but you can gaze upon my splendor later.” They grabbed the wedding gift bag and pelted down the stairs and out the lobby door to the street. Their timing was perfect, anyway: the car Anna had summoned pulled up, shiny and black, just as they reached the curb. They slid into the back, adjusting hems and getting comfortable: it was about a twenty-minute ride to the park where Del and Kelsey were getting married.
“The first of the college cohort to fall,” Marisol said. “How much do you want to bet they set off a domino chain reaction thing among the guests? We’ll probably have to go to ten weddings next summer.”
Better than ten funerals, Anna thought. Or thirty. She checked her purse for the thousandth time. She knew it was in there, and she knew it worked—she’d tested it extensively—but she couldn’t help but worry. You only got one second chance. (Continue Reading…)
She knew she was gripping her bow too tightly. She knew she should never ever aim at another person. But it wasn’t bad technique she was thinking of, or breaking her father’s golden rule. It wasn’t even the sight of poor Mr. Heke lying unmoving by his desk.
What bothered Fereshteh most of all was the girl on the opposite side of the classroom: the one standing with arrow notched and back elbow held high, staring at her across the small wooden desks and half-open tidy trays.