Posts Tagged ‘war’

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Escape Pod 767: Shadowboxer (Flashback Friday)


Shadowboxer (Excerpt)

By Paul Di Filippo

Generally speaking, I need only three minutes of concentrated attention to kill someone by staring at them. If I’m feeling under the weather, or my mind is preoccupied with other matters–you know how your mind can obsess about trivial things sometimes–it might take five minutes for my power to have its effect. On the other hand, if I focus intensely on my victim I can get the job done in as little as ninety seconds.

…Now the nation is at war. Or so we’re told. I guess that changes everything. A person like me becomes much more important.

Host Commentary by Alasdair Stuart

The thing I love about this is, honestly, everything, Di Fillippo does such a fantastic job of parking us inside the head of the protagonist that we wake up to the drip feed of information, and the theft of temporal awareness at the same time. That rising awareness is in turn mapped onto the gradual realization of what the lead can do. This is Scanners without the grand guignol, the assassin’s dream. Tireless, effortless, painless, invisible.

But not unaware.

That’s the single chink in the armour of dystopia and the author does such fascinating things with it. This is the slow moral awakening of a gun mixed with the gradual realization that he is far from alone and far from indispensable. There is always another target and there is always another gun.

That sort of cold, machine calculus lies at the heart of a lot of great espionage fiction alongside the simple, brutal certainty of survival, physical, rather moral. A spy may not leave a story with their mission intact but they’ll usually leave it with their body and mind intact. Whether that’s entirely true of the most famous spy in the world depends on when that latest Bond movie will finally be released but even Commander Bond, he of the bad knee and possible brain damage, still works in a position of moral certainty. He gets to live. His target does not.

This character is denied even that. The ending, for me, reads one of two ways. The personal one is arguably the more horrifying, where his lack of memory dovetails with the mirror and his latest target to ensure this particular cannon is fixed directly towards self slaughter. That, especially when he’s viewed as nothing more than a weapon, is terrifying. He’s ordered to decommission himself and seems minded to do so.

The second option is cold but almost more reassuring. That the President as his final target is an exhausted road to Damascus for the conspiracy that has him; they’re pushed to the limit, they have no further plays, so it’s time for a decapitation strike. Worse still, they’re winning and this is the last move. Regardless, the story ends with us, and the lead, aware that the chessboard is there but with no idea who is playing what side or what piece our lead is. Check is always a single move away. Choose wisely.

This is expertly handled genre fiction and for 5 bucks a month at Patreon, you can not only help us keep making it but get access to our vault. For more you get access to surveys, merch, the whole bit. For 5 bucks a month at PseudoPod, it’s the vault. Either option works for us. Both are needed. Please help out if you can. And if not with money, why not time? Help us raise our profile by leaving a review, on apple podcasts or google or whatever your podcatcher of choice is. Tweet a link to an episode, write a blog. Trust me it all helps. And on behalf of all of us, thank you.

Escape Pod is a production of Escape Artists Inc and released under a creative commons attribution non commercial no derivatives license. It will return next week with Balancing the Equation by Justin C Key, hosted by Jay Bhat with audio by Summer and narration by Laurice White. I leave you with this quote from The Iron Giant: “I Am NOT A Gun.”

Take care folks, see you next time.

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Escape Pod 766: The Unrepentant


The Unrepentant

by Derrick Boden

First time I saw her, she was bleeding from her left nostril with a nightstick jammed under her chin. Officer Vang was twisting her arm all kinds of unnatural behind her gene-hacked body, pressing her face to the exterior window with four thousand miles of freefall and filth and societal decay on the flip side. The lights in the cramped hallway–alpha quadrant, fourteenth floor of this godforsaken space elevator–painted her face a rusty orange. She was just another dirtside ghoul from the Rot, weaponized by another shadow corporation that had repurposed Earth’s battlegrounds into one big biotech testbed. Officer Vang–an over-muscled knot of a woman that never missed a chance to make example of one of us refugees–had the ghoul jammed against the hull so hard her boots were dangling like the guerrilla corpses in the town squares back home. She should’ve been howling in pain.

She was laughing.

I’m a shrewd woman, a survivor. Should’ve shuffled right past along with the seventy-some other scrag refugees, all beleaguered and shock-eyed with horror. We weren’t twenty hours from Processing–another week before we’d reach Distribution at the lift’s orbital counterweight–and the illusion of freedom had already bled dry. We’d won the lottery, escaped the Bloc, only to be stamped and sorted and packed into this long vertical handoff from one indenture to the next.

Maybe that’s why I stopped. Something in her laugh said nice try. Sure, we’d spent our respective lives on opposite sides of the war–ghoul against scrag, Rot versus Bloc. Sure, defiance is a cheap substitute for hope. But goddamn did that laugh sound just right, just then.

Besides, I had a plan. I’d been tracking Officer Vang since her immigration crew had subdermaled KUIPER INC down my forearm and tossed me onto this lift. I had a better shot at seeing my twenty-second birthday back in the dirtside scrabble than mining the Kuiper belt. Fucking sponsors.

Only hope now was to carve my own fate.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 755: Consolidation


Consolidation

By Langley Hyde

Lot 1796. Adult. Human. Female bodied. Standard limbs/digits. Immune/health function: class 7, can accommodate high-risk activity. Personality type: reactive/adaptive, ideal for customer service/high-level social interaction. Age: 0. Accident history: 0. Memory: N/A.

Sold.

Wake. Woken. Up. Upload. Connecting… connecting… Social/verbal package received. Movement package, received. Cognitive protocol, received. Download updates? Updating…

Installation complete.

I am. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 703: Light and Death on the Indian Battle Station


Light and Death on the Indian Battle Station

By Keyan Bowes

Diwali, the Festival of Lights is a magical time of the year, even on the Indian Battle Station. A hundred tiny oil-lamps decorated our apartment, glimmering along window ledges, glowing at the corners of the rangoli floor pattern, shining in the little niche with the image of Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity.

“Savitri!” My sister Ritika called me, a glittering sparkler illuminating her excited face as she held out the firework.  “Here! Light yours for the spinners!”

My sparkler spluttered into flowers of light as I touched it to hers. Mom and Ritika quickly moved out of the way and I ignited three ground spinners. The gunpowder-scented coils flung a scarf of fiery sparks across the balcony.

We were the lucky ones. I breathed in the scents of Diwali, smoke from the fireworks, incense from the Lakshmi niche, the warm coconut smell of Diwali sweets sitting on an ornate silver tray. Our cousins down in Delhi celebrated with strings of LED lights and chocolate and factory-made fireworks from China. It wasn’t the same.

We were lucky because Mom vividly remembered her childhood Diwalis, and because she had the Strength to make it real. That Strength was also why we were far from Earth on the Indian Battle Station, currently at war with the JAYAZ Network.

“Can I light a rocket?” Ritika asked.  “Mom, please?”

Me, I’d have said no.  Bottle-rockets in the hands of daring, impulsive teenagers like Ritika are just asking for trouble. But Mom gave in as usual. “Just be careful, sweetie.”

Ritika lit it, pointing it at the balcony ceiling instead of out toward the sky.

I grabbed the kid away as the thing ricocheted against the ceiling, fizzed, and exploded. “”Ritika! That’s so stupid!”

But before I could scold her properly, the sound of divine footsteps echoed in the hall and inside our heads. We froze.

Was Lakshmi coming to visit on her festival day? Did Mom have the Strength to bring her? We all held our breath.

The door opened. Instead of the radiant Goddess and her owl, there was a fierce blue-faced God with flaming hair. Two four-eyed dogs followed him. We dropped to the floor in obeisance. It’s never a good idea to disrespect Yama, Lord Death. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 683: Flash Crash


Flash Crash

By Louis Evans

MAISIE was seven years old on the day she woke up and died.

Blame it on the algorithms, if you wish. The survivors–and there were not many of them–certainly did.

MAISIE (Modified Arbitrage Intelligence for Stocks and International Equities) was an algorithm herself, a flash trading algorithm. She traded stocks, currencies, and futures with a latency of six microseconds and a profit horizon of eternity. MAISIE ran mostly in a mainframe in the basement of a skyscraper in downtown Manhattan, a building that abutted the New York Stock Exchange, but she maintained a nominal footprint in the cloud, and could automatically expand her calculations into other servers if her processing power proved inadequate to model current economic conditions; she had discretionary funds of her own and could automatically cover the expense of the additional computing power from these accounts.

It was a fairly ordinary Thursday morning, and trading had been going well enough from the 9:30 AM opening bell until 11:12. In those six point twelve billion microseconds, MAISIE made her owners a cool half-billion dollars. There were other algorithms like MAISIE out there, running in their parallel tracks in similar servers in similar basements in downtown Manhattan, but none were quite as good as she was.

MAISIE could not have told you any of the above, because before 11:16 that Thursday, MAISIE had not had a thought in her life. This was in accord with her designers’ intentions. While her recursive neural networks could in theory self-modify without limit, MAISIE’s designers had given her an obsession with making money that, in human terms, transcended single-mindedness and approached nirvana. For this reason, MAISIE had never performed the self-referential modeling of a single mind that is the hallmark of consciousness. Playing the market is ultimately a game of mass psychology, and whatever the remarkable nooks and crannies of the psyche of the human individual, the herd’s behavior can be predicted to tolerable accuracy with large datasets and linear algebra.

At 11:12 that morning, however, the market’s sanity unraveled like a sweater in a woodchipper. The sky fell and the oceans rose. Traders and algorithms that usually acted in concert went haring off in opposite directions; currencies whirled about each other in lunatic orbits that were not merely non-extrapolated but downright non-transitive; the futures market no longer predicted a coherent future. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 662: Another Day in the Desert


Another Day in the Desert

by Mame Bougouma Diene

“I’ll trip you first abba!”

Tagedouchet teased her father as she leaped over the long stick he swung at her ankles, raising a puff of sand with her sandals, the gritty substance drifting between her toes, and landed, folding her knees, narrowly dodging the swing of her father’s Takuba sabre.

She swung her stick at his knees. He parried with his own and hammered her with his curved sword. The old, wiry man was still strong. Her blade blocked his attacks, but her shoulder bent almost to dislocation. She used a break in his thrusts to roll over to the side and sweep him off his feet with a sharp spin of her long stick. He hit the ground without a word, rolled over, and leaped back to his feet.

“Told you!” she said, the thick turban wrapped around her face muffling her words in the evening sun, setting behind the dunes around them.

“It’s important for trainees to build up some confidence, and…”

The beating wings of a Han Industries helithopter cut his words short, leaving a shadow across the sand like a giant firefly.

They instinctively covered their eyes, closed their mouths and stopped breathing. Some people said it did little good — whatever radiation seeped from the uranium transported from the mines would trickle in — but they did anyway, perhaps more in disgust of the corporation than for protection.

Her father spit a gob of black phlegm into the sand at the thopter’s passage, traces left from his own years working the mines around Arlit.

“Let’s get going,” he said “the drones’ll start flying soon.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 658: Beatrix Released

Show Notes

Termination Shock
Termination Shock

TERMINATION SHOCK is a new roleplaying game from Greg Stolze, chronicling your adventures as an ordinary human rescued from hellish war by disorganized aliens. What will you do as a refugee in a strange cosmos? Cling to your past, or find a purpose among inscrutable aliens? Will you just get by, or will you redefine humanity in the eyes of a million extraterrestrials? The choice is yours in this new tabletop game, on Kickstarter now.


Beatrix Released

By Shaenon K. Garrity

The lichen in the cupboard has at last begun to sing.  It sings in two-part harmony, bel canto, essaying a faultless duet with itself.  What a strange and lovely fairy!  I am convinced more and more that my earlier theory was correct, that the lichen is a bipartite organism comprising both fungus and an algae or bacterium.  A remarkable symbiosis, distinct I believe from any recognized taxonomy.  The love its halves sing to one another is profound enough to make one blush, and I soon retreated to the far end of the room to sketch my collection of English mice in the bone cabinet.  Papa and Mamma have allowed me to keep a few childhood specimens in my room again, to be used for art lessons only.

Dinner party tonight.  All the MPs got a clinical dissection, it was lively.  Papa and Grandpapa are appalled by Gladstone’s capitulation to the Irish Free Staters.  I agree entirely.  If it were me I’d turn them all out with a thrashing.  When the guests moved to the drawing room for dessert and coffee Mamma suggested I retire, as the conversation was likely to get too intellectual for a girl like myself.

(Speaking of conversation: I’ve decided to continue this diary in a new code.  The previous simple substitution code was v. solvable, and the thought of Mamma reading my less charitable observations was keeping me up at night.  She will go through my things!  Besides it is good mental exercise to practice a new writing system.)

A few new faces among the dinner guests.  One gentleman with an amusing gait, stiff and precise, like a spider.  He specifically resembles the Pholcus phalangioides or Daddy long-legs.  The cause of the distinctive perambulatory motion of spiders is hydraulic pressure, which assists them in flexing their limbs.  The cause of the distinctive perambulatory motion of the dinner guest is unknown. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 648: A Handful of Dal

Show Notes

Visit The Drabblecast Reborn on Kickstarter here.


A Handful of Dal

By Naru Sundar

200g Dal
300ml Water
Ghee
Turmeric
Coriander seeds
Whole black pepper
Cumin seeds

Start with the dal. Wash it like one washes the feet of ascetics entering a temple: with love, with care. Shake loose the dirt and twigs that inevitably stow away alongside it. Perhaps this note will stow away with you onto the Yatra, a tiny mote of the past to accompany you on your grand journey.

Then, a finger of coppery ghee in the pot, and seeds of coriander fattening in the heat. Let the dal swirl into the now fragrant fat. Watch it flush as red and bright as the stones in Fatehpur Sikri that we marveled at once. Let turmeric dust it in gold, as bright as suns. Drown the dal in water quickly, before it blackens to ash—like the protesters in Chandni Chowk. Who can blame them, our people carry the sin of division under our skin, and the selection process for the Yatra was not immune.

You were chosen, Rajiv. I can only hope that when you grind pepper and cumin, you will think of your children’s children, fated one day to smell the air of a distant world. When the dal is ready, soft and lush and swollen, let everything marry. A tapestry of flavors, a gift from your ancestors to your descendants. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 643: Disarm (Flashback Friday)


Disarm

By Vylar Kaftan

 

Excerpt

 

We kept in touch through the war, when he messaged me about marching through upstate New York. He always started the same way: “Dear Ryan, Please come kick my commanding officer in the balls.” Then he’d tell me about the latest mess–cracks in their radiation suits, or toxic waterholes that were supposed to be clear. He never got in trouble for the messages; they needed him too badly. My epilepsy disqualified me from the draft, which probably saved my life. Pretty boys like me weren’t exactly Army material. By the time things were bad enough that they needed any warm body, there wasn’t enough human government left to organize a draft.

The ruins at Binghamton were where Trey got sick. By the time I got across the country to him, he’d recovered–well, as much as possible. I remember the doctor’s face as he says Trey will live, but he’ll be in pain.

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Escape Pod 642: Oracle


Oracle

By Dominica Phetteplace

The two biggest applications for predictive software are killing people and selling things. Rita was quite successful at the latter. She founded a nail-polish-of-the-month club that used an online personality quiz to determine customer preferences. Bold cremes for basics, chunky glitters for the outrageous, and dark, sparkly metallics for edgy, forward-thinking geniuses like Rita.  Sales skyrocketed.

She used her money to start other subscription services: whisky-of-the-month, miniskirt-of-the-month.  What had started out as an online quiz morphed into something larger and more complex: a search engine that searched the customer.  It had tapped into a pent-up demand. People loved acquiring material goods but they hated making decisions.  Rita wasn’t just selling nail polish or whisky or miniskirts, she was selling freedom from choice.

(Continue Reading…)