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Cast of Wonders 114: Now Cydonia (Staff Pick 2013)

Show Notes

Now Cydonia ran as Episode 71 back in March of last year. One reason I’m personally so proud of our win is the story’s author, Rick Kennett. Although I’ve never met him, he’s from my home town of Melbourne, Australia and I love that a fellow countryman writes such kick-arse stuff. I narrated one of his ghost stories for Pseudopod, the immensely creepy The Dark and What It Said which is flat-out the best evocation of how spooky and lonely the Australian bush can be. Rick is a talented writer and I’m always happy to hear his stories when they appear in the pod-o-sphere.


Now Cydonia

by Rick Kennett

Cadet Cy De Gerch bounced forward into the desert darkness, raised her arms in a defensive posture and, as best as a fourteen year could, barked, “Halt! Who goes there!”

There was no one there. There never was.

Cy jumped back, a slow leap in the low gravity, to her original position on the perimeter, her vacsuit moving easy like a second skin, to watch and wait and break the boredom as best she could until relieved. Out there was the desert she had trekked the past two years with her section of Martian Star Corps cadets. Out there was the countryside of Mars – cold and red and a billion years dead, littered with rocks, pocked with craters, filled with myths and ghost stories, most of which Cy didn’t really believe. Sergeant Kreeng – Old Get-It-Right – had known what he was doing when he’d set them perimeter guard duty consisting mostly of doing nothing. It was, she knew, a discipline of the mind.

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Cast of Wonders 113: The Malthus Alternative (Staff Pick 2013)


The Malthus Alternative

by Jamie Mason

13.

“The gantry or the gallows.” Father chuckles. “When I think of all the money wasted on this –” (he gestures through the tinted windows of the limousine at the ruined space-port beyond) “– garbage it makes me sick – sick, I tell you! Colonize space? Mankind would have done better creating space on our own world, not blasting off in search of others!”

I hold my tongue – a necessary job skill when working for Father. My childhood dreams of a career in theater or publishing have given way to the reality of a senior management position with Global Confinement Solutions, Father’s flagship concern. GCS is a place where arguing with Father is accounted (like live theater or literature or space travel) a complete waste of time. And the team at GCS should know. Because time is our business.
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Cast of Wonders 109: Nuclear Family

Show Notes

Today we present Alex Shvartsman’s story, Nuclear Family. Alex has been here several times before — welcome back Alex! Thanks for gracing us with an inventive seasonal story.


Nuclear Family

by Alex Shvartsman

Daddy said we couldn’t have a real tree this Christmas.

At first I was sad, but then Mommy said we would im-pro-vise.  I liked learning a big new word. It means use things we have in the house. Mommy and Daddy improvise all the time, ever since we couldn’t go outside anymore.

Daddy went upstairs to find some things to improvise with. I wanted to help, but Daddy said we all have to stay in the basement for a very long time, so we don’t get sick. I hate the basement. There’s nothing to do here. Mommy or Daddy go upstairs once every few days and bring things back down with them. Usually it is food and toilet paper and things, but sometimes they get a few books and toys and games from my room.  They run up and down the stairs as quickly as they can, because when they are upstairs they can get sick too.

This time Daddy was gone for almost five minutes, but he brought down a whole bunch of stuff. He put a tall coat rack in the middle of the basement to make the tree trunk and taped on some unwound wire hangers to make branches.  He gave me a green tablecloth and said to cut it into long, thin strips. Then we glued the strips on to the wire and put up a few ornaments. It didn’t really look like a tree, but Mommy said to use our imagination. I didn’t mind. Decorating the coat rack gave us something fun to do.

Then all of us had to take our radiation pills. I dropped mine and Daddy got really mad. He said that we already didn’t have enough to last us until it was safe to go outside and that we couldn’t waste any. He made me pick it up and eat it off the floor. Eww.

On Christmas Eve we moved the table next to the pretend tree and ate a holiday meal. Mommy made a big pot of spam stew and everyone was allowed to have seconds because it was such a special day. We even had sliced peaches for dessert. Mommy and Daddy didn’t eat very many, saying that it was a special treat for me. But they did try some because it was the last can and Daddy said he wasn’t sure when we would ever taste peaches again. Mommy shushed him. Then we sang every holiday song we could remember.

When I woke up in the morning Daddy was gone. Mommy said that he had to leave for a while but the way she was crying I didn’t think he was coming back. I got scared and Mommy told me to go open my presents.

There was some stuff under the pretend Christmas tree, but it was all toys from upstairs that I had from before. There was also a little box with Daddy’s share of the radiation medicine. Daddy is silly. Who wants pills for a present?

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Cast of Wonders 104: Captain Cleveland Grackle’s Galactic Cabaret vs. The Goblins of Vishnu 6

Show Notes

As you’ll hear in the outro, Jamieson’s inspiration for this story is the episode art for this week, a fair-haired young girl piloting a large mechanical fish. This arresting image was created by the exceptional artist Jasmine Becket-Griffith. You can find her work online here. Please go check it out! It’s well worth your time, and she has our thanks for allowing us to use the piece as this week’s episode art.


Captain Cleveland Grackle’s Galactic Cabaret vs. The Goblins of Vishnu 6

By Jamieson Ridenhour

Load-in is always a bitch on a gas giant gig, but the moisture off the methane sea on Vamana really played havoc with my drum heads. The city, Upendra, was a big, domed thing with old-school terra-forming and flora-powered atmos that amounted to a human-made jungle in the midst of the rocky moon. We were playing the Municipal Amphitheatre, a screamingly Corporate name that was typically boring and grandiose all at once. That we got booked at all is probably due more to the backwater status of Vishnu 6’s fifth moon than any real thought about whether we’d be a good fit—we were a hell of a lot cheaper than the big CorpMuses who played closer to Earth.

Not that any of this mattered, mind you. A gig’s a gig, and this one was if anything a little bigger than we usually pulled. I’m just saying that for the all the “professionalism” of the local staff and the “modern ease” with which the intra-dome transfer was supposed to run, we might as well have been playing a dive bar in the Pleiades. But we did get the equipment set up, ‘cause you always do, and we did get what could technically be called a sound-check before we were hustled off the stage so the other two bands on the roster could do the same.

I’m telling the story like I’m a veteran, but truth be told that gig was only my third or fourth with Cleveland Grackle’s Galactic Cabaret, even though the Neverending Tour was a full decade old by that point. This is right after they started using the mechanical fish during “Nearer to Land,” the one Kimmy would pilot out of the wings on invisible filaments when Peter began his guitar solo.
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Cast of Wonders 103: The View from Stickney Crater


The View from Stickney Crater

by Rick Kennett

Five minutes later they were in the airlock, ready to jump. Dr Ben Norsk at a hundred and three was the oldest member of Utopia Plain’s crew, while Lieutenant Cy De Gerch at seventeen was the youngest.

“How’s the headache now, Miss De Gerch?” asked Norsk, trying to sound calm over his vacsuit’s intercom.

“Gone,” she said. “Should stay that way as long as fire control remains off-target.”

Captain Brown loud in her helmet earpiece said, “Cy, do you still hear Wiltchie’s voice?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well. Go.”

They went, the doctor first, De Gerch following, swept out of the lock on a beam of gravity. At its focus up ahead lay the dead hulk of the troop transport Mariner Valley, drifting as a gigantic, jagged shadow against the sunlit side of Cue Ball. Opposing starships had swarmed around the small white moon a day before, leaving behind such wreckage. Both Norsk and De Gerch knew, as they arrowed between ships, that the battle might soon return.

De Gerch did a half somersault to watch Utopia Plain shrink into the darkness. Too late. Black on black, the frigate was already impossible to make out, save where eclipsed stars betrayed her outline.

The voice in her head said, **Cy, are you here yet?** As always it spoke with no pain, no urgency, no fear.
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Cast of Wonders 91: Open 28 Hours


Open 28 Hours

by Darin Ramsey

The seven-pointed star was pink and gold, and hung in the night over the dome like it heralded more than just a refueling stop and convenience store. The dome sat alone on a rocky, airless orb at the outer reaches of the system, so small and distant it didn’t have a name. From a ship on approach, the dome resembled a fallen globe on a tripod, with the three docking rings at the end of the airlock.

Tan was restocking Queen Shooga’s Sodium Sulfate Bars and thinking, “Thirteen more hours. Thirteen more hours.” The airlock chimed, then lensed open with a whine and hiss, and a Miradalina slid from it. She was young; none of the seven brood polyps behind her ears had hatched, and the shell on her back only spiraled three times. Probably on her first holiday without a chaperon.

“Greetings, daughter-of-the-sea!” Tan called out. “Welcome!” She glanced in his direction, waved her ears gently, and slid down the aisle of cold drinks. Tan was relieved to see that she trailed a slick salvager; Miradalin trails did a number on the mop. He set the box of sulfur candies down and heaved to his feet, tucking his sandy hair behind his ears as he walked to the Galactacard Omni-denominator register.

As he stepped behind the counter, the airlock chimed again. A meter-tall mass of scarlet centipedes half-writhed, half-rolled into the store, stopping at the counter, where several of them raised their heads to click at him. Tan glanced down at the Galactacard’s translator screen, then back up and said, “Gentlemen, you honor me by advancing the Hive here at Snak-E-Star. You’ll find the ecdysium down this hall on my right, after the relief stations for males, females, and drones.” He didn’t relish cleaning up the shell remains later. And it took days to get the smell out. He shrugged; at least the Hive tipped well.

The Miradalina slid up to the counter and extruded her selections

“Ah, excellent!” Tan tapped buttons on the omni-denominator. “One large greenleaf tea, two phytobars, and a tin of krill mints. Fourteen and four-sevenths, please.”

Three cubes fell onto the counter. Tan swept them into the omni-denominator, which spat out three flat squares. She absorbed her change, burbled a brief melody, and slid out.
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Cast of Wonders 90: The Void Test


The Void Test

by Therese Arkenberg

A girl climbed up the mountain path. In the early morning air, mist beaded on her dress and skin, and the blond hair in her braid became frizzy with moisture. She chose each step with care, and held her skirts so high that her bony ankles flashed as she walked. Every so often, she glanced ahead, then looked back down at the path. She stopped and stared when she rounded a bend and looked into a river valley. The path lead across the stream, where the space between the shore and the rise of foothills was just large enough to hold a long stone hall—the temple, her destination.

On a porch of the temple, a tall woman stood and watched the girl approach. Behind her, the bronze doors stood open, and a brazier smoked in the darkness of the sanctuary within. Wisps of smoke twined with the mist rising into the air.

The girl climbed the narrow stairs carefully, skirts hiked even higher than before. She tossed her braid over her shoulder with a shake of the head and looked up at the woman. Beneath the hem of her hiked skirts, her legs trembled.

“Who are you, girl?” the woman asked.

“Sadirin Tuoth Canar. I’ve come here for the test.”
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Cast of Wonders 89: The Carmel B Crazies


The Carmel B Crazies

by Rick Kennet

On the day she turned seventeen Cy De Gerch peered through a window into rusty red desert and saw her future squatting darkly in its launch cradle.

She’d been discharged from hospital an hour before and had made her quick way to Styx City Starport. Standing now at the window into Launch Cradle 3, her bag slung over the shoulder of her new Martian Star Corps tunic, she gazed through the glass like a kid outside a toy store. Utopia Plain, her new toy, smooth, black, ellipsoid, seemed to squat in its cradle amid a patch of the red desert of Mars. Recently repaired after a battle with Xenoid warships at Rigel, the starship’s liquid lines were unbroken but for the pressure tunnel extruded from her forward hatch. A thing of space, it seemed to sit impatient to lift into the pink-brown sky and the void beyond.

All her fears and excitements came flooding back – a feeling of elation at this new beginning aboard her first ship; a scary feeling too of coming adrift, separated from her family on Phobos and the surrogate family of her space cadet section, training days ended.

Inspecting herself in the window’s reflection, Cy adjusted her tunic sporting its new lieutenant’s bars and ran a hand through her short dark hair, wondering if she’d surprise her new captain with her age. She thought that she might. She was the first of her breed – a product of the Gartino genetics experiment – to qualify for active service. It all depended on what Captain Ralph Brown was like. Would he understand and appreciate her as a purpose-built person, trained and schooled seventeen years for this purpose? Or would there be suspicion and mistrust?
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Cast of Wonders 87: Little Wonders 1

Show Notes

Hello everyone! Surprise! Today, July 21st, is the two year anniversary of Cast of Wonders. We couldn’t be prouder, and to celebrate we’re debuting a new type of episode. You’re listening to the very first Little Wonders, a collection of flash fiction and poetry centered around a theme or genre. We’re going to start things off nice and easy with a pair of science fiction shorts.


Immersion

by Kara Hartz

Silvia stared at her Teddy, which moved laboriously into her outstretched hand.

“How did you do that?” I asked.

“Dunno,” she said, “Just thought it.”

She didn’t move objects with the grace the native beings here did, but she still moved them. Before accepting this ambassadorship I’d worried how it might affect Silvia. She got along well with the Teppim children though, and not having human playmates didn’t seem to bother her.

Moving things was natural to them, like learning to walk or talk for us.  Something picked up by being around it.

I thought about my pen putting itself away. Nothing happened.
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Cast of Wonders 77: The Long Cut


The Long Cut

by Tom Howard

“Do you want me to drive for a while?” my mother asked from the front passenger seat. It was the middle of the night but, unlike my older sister, I couldn’t sleep. The desert streaked by just out of sight of the headlights. Off in the distance I could occasionally see a cluster of lights. I often wondered if there were kids like me asleep in their beds in little houses. Kids who didn’t have crazy fathers who insisted on driving everywhere because planes and trains were too expensive and buses were too slow.

“I’m good until Tucson,” said my dad. He and Mom traded off driving since we never stopped at a hotel because Dad said he’d never pay hard-earned money just for sleeping. “I could use another cup of that coffee if there’s any left.”

Mom unscrewed the lid from a battered aluminum thermos in a ritual that I’d seen her perform a hundred times.  She’d pour the dark, steaming liquid – rarely spilling a drop – into Dad’s big travel mug. He’d complain about how bad restaurant coffee was.  I didn’t wait for Dad’s expected comment. I just looked out the window. Where the heck were we?
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Cast of Wonders 75: The Field Trip


The Field Trip

by Alex Shvartsman

The obelisk towered over the surrounding ruins, the strange signs carved into its sides gleaming in the afternoon sun. It was mysterious, majestic, and very, very annoying.

I walked over and joined the other students. The group waited in an uncomfortable silence, sizing each other up nervously and trying to guess if any of the others had better luck in figuring out Professor Quilp’s puzzle. The stakes were high. Professor Quilp, one of Milky Way’s most notable scholars of xenoarchaeology, had room for exactly one new intern in his department at the Academy.  We five were his top candidates, and this was the final audition.
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Cast of Wonders 71: Now Cydonia


Now Cydonia

by Rick Kennett

Cadet Cy De Gerch bounced forward into the desert darkness, raised her arms in a defensive posture and, as best as a fourteen year could, barked, “Halt! Who goes there!”

There was no one there. There never was.

Cy jumped back, a slow leap in the low gravity, to her original position on the perimeter, her vacsuit moving easy like a second skin, to watch and wait and break the boredom as best she could until relieved. Out there was the desert she had trekked the past two years with her section of Martian Star Corps cadets. Out there was the countryside of Mars – cold and red and a billion years dead, littered with rocks, pocked with craters, filled with myths and ghost stories, most of which Cy didn’t really believe. Sergeant Kreeng – Old Get-It-Right – had known what he was doing when he’d set them perimeter guard duty consisting mostly of doing nothing. It was, she knew, a discipline of the mind.
(Continue Reading…)