Friday, March 31, 2023

MINING THE ASTEROIDS Part 6 – "Dedicated to something Greater Than Themselves" Will Be the Factor Driving Asteroid Mining

They say you have to learn to WALK before your can FLY, so before we start driving asteroids around the Solar System (and I can’t believe that Russia, China, the EU, India, Brazil, and the United States will give a happy thumbs up to that action (which just put in my mind that MOVING asteroids into Earth orbit will have to be a true, multi-national effort with multi-national crews…which, of course, will lead to incredible stress and possible conflict…)) let’s look at how we’ll start walking…

Humans have been taking pictures of asteroids, and doing flybys for twenty or more years. Recently, we’ve started landing on asteroids:

So, let’s say, “We can do it!” (Make sure you wear ruby slippers and click your heels together with your eyes closed...)

I was surprised to see “The Believers Shall Inherit the Solar System” in the May/June 2022 issue of my favorite magazine, ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact, NOT because of its conclusions, but because of the fact that I’ve been thinking about this very idea.

I’ve been writing about how Humans might effectively mine the minerals since November of 2021. After reading it, I first thought I’d totally missed the boat. After some thought, I realized that there are parallels between Raymund Eich’s solution to the challenge of feasibly mining the asteroids. (Eich has a B.A. and a Ph.D. in biochemistry, from Rice University. He currently files patent applications. In a typical day, he may talk with biochemists, electrical engineers, patent attorneys, and rocket scientists.)

I proposed tapping prisoners who had been sentenced for life-without-parole and creating a captive workforce to mine the asteroids (a timeless solution to mining dangerous ore or in dangerous conditions), but offering them freedom if they successfully reach their goals and removing their influence and “contamination” from the surface of Earth.

He suggests that “Whether in service to God, nation, or historical forces…colonist are dedicated to something greater than themselves.”

Diametrically opposed forces, “For God/Ideology vs Self Serving Egocentrism”, I’ve been wondering if they could be harnessed together and form an even more potent force.

In a note (on an envelope) I’d written to myself in November of last year, I said, “Mining asteroids might breed separatist communities; essentially hollow asteroids that might be repurposed into new worlds – places where Humanity might start to change. One of them the Confluence of Humanity (one of a pair of Human governments in direct opposition to each other in a universe with NO ALIEN SAPIENTS) who grow designer Humans to fit virtually any environment and splice ANY DNA into Human DNA, as well as creating artificial genes. Results are evaluated and any that don’t work out as planned are euthanized as per procedure. The Empire of Man is convinced of the superiority of unaltered Humans (less than 65% Human DNA (as referenced against the Human Genome Project 2022: "officially launched in 1990. It was declared complete on April 14, 2003, and included about 92% of the genome. Level "complete genome" was achieved in May 2021, with a remaining only 0.3% bases covered by potential issues. The final gapless assembly was finished in January 2022.), and is mechanically technologically advanced.

A Confluence ship, in orbit around Jupiter designs Humans to work in the Jovian atmosphere, “prospecting and mining H3”; they also mess around with organic ambulances as high tech ones are prohibitively expensive. They begin to design people low-g Humans – but they are forever unable to return to Earth. They become true citizens of space.

Eichs postulates that making money isn’t enough of a motivation to leave Earth, given the massive investments required to start an off-Earth mining colony versus the expected return. He also has to throw in a couple of imaginable-but-undeveloped technological advances that are little more than ideas and inklings right now. He firmly believes that the driving factor for the colonization of the Solar System (including mining the asteroids and the other planets) is UNCHANGED from all of Human history. He writes, “The details of their causes varied, but all these [pre-America] colonization movements have in common a cause greater than individual self-interest. Whether in service to God, nation, or historical forces, the colonists were dedicated to something greater than themselves.”

In my scenario, where prisoners form the base of forced labor, the stick is the asteroid; the carrot is not only freedom, but the possibility of turning their skills from valuable to the state, to valuable to themselves; ie, the will get paid for their work as miners once they complete a one-year orbit around the Sun.

What if I combined the two? What if the prisoners are selected on the basis of their dominant ideology? Place prisoners who tend toward Buddhist beliefs together. Capitalists can be grouped together – it might make a rather interesting story if you selected con artists serving time. Sort of like “Oceans 11” in space…but who would they be conning? Hmmm…Other combinations might work as well. I postulate that the prisoners – all of them serving life sentences – will be drawn from multiple countries, multiple prison systems. Maybe group their crimes together, but intentionally induce a sort of Babylon (NOT Babylon 5!) effect. None of them speak the same language – how do they learn to communicate. Your average asteroid would carry an extensive library (devoid of the POLITICAL SCIENCE, heavy on engineering, science, agriculture, animal husbandry, genetics, and other subjects that wouldn’t help them break out.

So, the asteroids would be particular mixes of prisoners…

Eich mentions one other thing: “A spiritual leader. [The phrase] might raise alarms…but all gurus and spiritual guides look like madmen to outsiders. And without a leader’s ability to create a ‘reality-distortion field’, who would cut ties with family and friends and go on a months-long, one-way journey, at the end of which wait years of toil to turn a lifeless planet or asteroid into a home?” My idea of using forced labor makes the “incarceration” limited – a year or so in orbit around the Sun, drop off the mined ore, and if it was a successful orbit, then the survivors are allowed to go free. Of course, I could add a “vote” – the forced labor could indicate which of their comrades deserve freedom. Lazy workers or those who only “took up space” would be locked up during the transfer, and released once the asteroid was on its way again.

There are a number of possibilities, nuances, and more importantly, STORY IDEAS here! Another one I thought of while writing this, a mystery: an asteroid mining facility returns empty. No sign of the prisoners. No sign of any life at all. And no bodies. What happened to them? Only time will tell. As Eich concludes: “…hundreds more possibilities to both entertain and make us thing as only science fiction can do.”

Extras to the article in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact:

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Tales from the Brahma • Episode 5: “Ghosts” • by Pete Wood

[skip intro]

Welcome aboard the Brahma!

Now a century out from Earth and en route to HD 133600, a remarkably Sun-like star and planetary system in the constellation of Virgo, the Brahma is the last, desperate, crowning achievement of human civilization and engineering. A massive three-hundred-kilometer long modular mega-ship, a gigantic ark in space consisting of two hundred and sixteen separate habitat pods, each the size of a small city, at launch Brahma carried two million passengers and crew, along with everything their descendants would need to build new lives on the worlds of HD 133600.

For the Brahma is a generation ship: all the original passengers and crew who left the Earth a century ago are long since dead. Everyone now on board was born on the ship; most will probably die on it. If their mission succeeds, their children or grandchildren will live to see the light of HD 133600.

Right now, the Brahma seems to be on-course and everything appears to be working as designed. The ship is cruising serenely at just slightly below c, a tribute to the engineers and craftspeople who designed and built her a century before. Many on board pray daily that the ship contains the best of humanity, and not the sorts of politicians, criminals, cultists, crazies, and dishonest leadership their ancestors thought they’d left behind…



Episode 5: “Ghosts” • by Pete Wood

Reverend Nancy Tucker stood by the hundred-year-old wooden chapel’s organ and studied her father. Dad had been dead for twenty-three years.

She didn’t believe in ghosts.

She believed in the Gospels of Jesus Christ, as interpreted by the Methodist Church at least. She believed that life in a small county in Iowa had to be better than anywhere else.

Dad sat on the front pew and picked up a hymnal. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry to leave.

“Dad?” she asked.

He shimmered and vanished.

¤     ¤     ¤

Nobody left Bremer County. Sure, the Co-op reps came down from Des Moines to pick up corn and potatoes and other vegetables, but they didn’t live here.

A week ago, Gail Jackson, a new rep, had headed down the main road to Des Moines. And then the quake hit, the first quake anyone could remember. Jackson returned with a story about a collapsed bridge. Nancy had put her up in the parsonage’s spare bedroom. Unlike Dad, Nancy had never had kids.

An earthquake. The first overnight guest in generations. And then ghosts.

Gail sat on a rocking chair on the back porch. Nancy’s guest sipped whiskey and stared out at the fields of corn that flanked the town. A half empty bottle sat on the uneven floorboards.

Nancy took the second chair.

“They’re not coming,” Gail muttered. “It’s up to me.”

Her guest held up the bottle. Nancy shook her head. Gail shrugged and topped off her glass.

“A lot of strange things have happened since you arrived,” Nancy said. “An earthquake.” She paused. “Other stuff.”

“You ever think maybe you’re not in Iowa?” Gail asked.

Nancy stared at her. “What?”

Gail focused on the wind rustling through the tassels of corn. A crow squawked.

“You’re not in Iowa,” Gail said, her voice slurring.

Nancy forced a smile. “What do you mean?”

“You’re not even on Earth. You’re on a ship. Your county got detached from the main ship last Wednesday. We’re fifteen lightyears from Earth. The ship left Earth one hundred years ago. It’s going to a distant star where….”

Nancy listened as Gail rambled on about how Bremer County was really a spaceship. How much had Gail had to drink?

Gail stopped in mid-sentence. “I know you don’t believe me.”

“You’re drunk.”

Gail glared at her. “You’re living in a goddamned fantasy.” She gulped the rest of her glass.

¤     ¤     ¤

Nancy didn’t sleep that night. The Gospels said to welcome the stranger, but what if the stranger were insane?

Around two a.m., she detected a figure sitting on her bed.

Nancy sat up. “Get the hell out of my room! Keep your crazy—”

“I thought you’d be glad to see me,” Dad said.

Nancy turned on the light. “You’re not real.”

“You believe in miracles and heaven and that you turn bread and grape juice into the body and blood of Jesus, but you won’t accept what your own eyes see,” Dad said.

Nancy’s heart raced. “How can you be here? Why are you here?”

“So many questions? What about faith?”

A tear ran down Nancy’s face. “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t know why I’m here,” Dad said.

“Where were you?”

Dad smiled. “Faith, remember? You’ll find out eventually. You will not be disappointed.”

“Dad, I—”

“Nancy, don’t ignore what your eyes and ears tell you. Faith doesn’t mean to ignore evidence. Listen to your visitor. She is not lying.”

A second later, not even an indentation in the mattress remained.

¤     ¤     ¤

Gail led Nancy through the corn fields until they reach the wilds. They tramped through a few hundred yards of briars and weeds and vines for over an hour. The county had never tried to plow this over. Nobody questioned why.

They came to a wall and a door labeled NAVIGATION.

“This is going to be a shock,” Gail said. She opened the door to a room that would dwarf First Methodist’s sanctuary. Equipment and machines that Nancy did not understand.

“What is this?” Nancy asked. She tried to keep calm.

“A place I hoped I wouldn’t have to visit. I’m supposed to be undercover.” Gail smiled. “But nobody seems to be in a hurry to rescue me.”

“I don’t understand.”

“If something happens to the ship, the living pods can detach. That’s what happened last week. Each pod acts like a lifeboat. This room steers the pod. It can sustain the environment and match the speed of the ship.”

It looked like somebody had smashed the machines with a sledge hammer and pulled out wires.

“Somebody didn’t want this pod returned to the ship,” Gail continued. “I came out here yesterday and found they disabled the radio too.”

“I don’t know,” Nancy said.

“I didn’t want to do this.” Gail flipped a lever on the far wall. A screen rose.

Nancy staggered to the window. She saw blackness with pin pricks of light. She collapsed to the ground and grabbed her knees. She rocked back and forth and sobbed.

¤     ¤     ¤

Nancy didn’t know how long she sat on the floor. She looked over at Gail who fiddled with a screwdriver behind a smashed machine.

“Jesus Christ!” Gail shouted. She stood up. “They broke it real nice.”

“Why are you telling me everything?” Nancy asked.

Gail set the screwdriver on a console. “Because I don’t want to be the only goddamned person who knows the truth. We need to get back to the ship. Somebody jettisoned your pod. We just don’t know who.”

What did Gail want? Nancy said a silent prayer. Did Gail expect her to find somebody to fix the pod and fly it home? The best mechanic in the county was Carl Sullivan, but this wasn’t like getting a tractor running. She faced Gail. “This is the second impossible thing I’ve seen this week.” She exhaled. “I’m seeing ghosts,”

Gail blinked. “Ghosts?”

“My Dad. He’s been dead for twenty years. Why would he come back?”

“Maybe you imagined it.”

“I didn’t.”

“Okay. Okay.” Gail closed her eyes. “I’m no engineer. Maybe… So, interstellar ships move in sort of a hyper drive. A dimensional rift. Maybe when the pod’s engines kicked in, it caused some sort of crossover between this world and somewhere else. The pod hadn’t engaged its engines in a hundred years. They could have been compromised somehow.”

“No,” Nancy said. “I’ll believe we’re on a ship. I don’t want to, but I’ll accept it. But I refuse to believe that some machine can open a door to heaven.”

Gail frowned. “Why not?”

“Because it’s preposterous.”

“It goes against your faith?” Gail snorted.

“I’m not saying that.”

“Did you ever think that faith is God’s way of saying ‘Because I told you so’? Maybe science can explain heaven, but God just figured we couldn’t understand the explanation.”

Nancy mulled this over for a few moments. For a nonbeliever, Gail had hit on something. Maybe God hadn’t changed from the Old to the New Testament. The angry God who caused plagues and floods might be the same as the tell-me-your-problems God of Paul and the Gospels. The parent who punishes his toddler is the same as the parent who has a beer with their adult child.

Nancy sighed. “So, you’ve found a door to heaven. What now?”

“Enjoy it while you can.”

¤     ¤     ¤

“Don’t tell the county,” Nancy said to Gail as they walked through the fields of corn. “I’ll help you, but don’t destroy their world.”

“We need help if we’re going to contact the ship. Do you think their faith is that fragile?” Gail asked.

“I’m not saying that. There’s more to religion than faith and scripture. It’s also about being there for each other and following some pretty good rules about living. I’m not talking about the mumbo jumbo. Just about being decent to each other.”

“They can be decent to each other and know they’re on a ship,” Gail said.

“You just don’t get it, do you?” Nancy said. “It’s about being selfless. I guess science doesn’t teach you that.” She paused for a second and lowered her voice. “Give me a few days to deal with this. My Dad came back. I’m not in Iowa. I have to be there for my church. If I’m trying to cope with everything and you spill the beans, what kind of support can I offer?”

“Okay,” Gail said.

¤     ¤     ¤

Nancy preached about ghosts. Traditions and ideas that should be allowed to fade. But also, about ghosts that help people grieve. No ghosts stayed around forever. Loved ones reassured us and moved on.

Sarah Monroe, a widow of five years, waited until all the other parishioners had filed to the picnic tables behind the church for the congregational lunch. The aroma of slowed cooked pork wafted to the church steps.

“I saw Tim,” Sarah said. “He visited me last night.”

“What did he say?” Nancy wondered who else had been visited.

“He sat on the bed and let me know everything would be okay.”

“It will be,” Nancy said.



Pete Wood is an attorney from Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his kind and very patient wife. His first appearance in our pages was “Mission Accomplished” in the now out-of-print August 2012 issue. After publishing a lot of stories with us he graduated to becoming a regular contributor to Asimov’s, but he’s still kind enough to send us things we can publish from time to time, and we’re always happy to get them.

For the past two years Pete has been in the process of evolving into a fiction editor, God help him, first with The Pete Wood Challenge, then with Dawn of Time, then with The Odin Chronicles, and now with Tales from the Brahma, a shared world saga that will be running here on every Wednesday for the next few weeks, and that features the creative work of Roxana Arama, Gustavo Bondoni, Carol Scheina, Patricia Miller, Jason Burnham, and of course, Pete Wood. We suspect that Pete’s real love is theater, though, as evidenced by his short movie, Quantum Doughnut — which you can stream, if you follow the foregoing link.

Coming next week: Episode 6 of Tales from the Brahma, “The Silver Lake,” by Jason Burnham.

See you next Wednesday!


Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Status Update • 28 March 2023

This is a photo of me, circa 45-ish years ago. For the past few weeks it’s been my cover photo on my personal Facebook page, but I had to take it down. I got tired of getting email and private messages from (mostly) women telling me how cute my butt looked in tight Levi’s. Sorry, folks. It’s been a long time since I could squeeze into size 32x34 jeans.

When I look at me in this photo, though, what I see most clearly is my wallet in my left rear pocket. Maybe that’s what writers see when they look at me, too. 

This photo actually is relevant to Stupefying Stories and what’s been going on around here lately, and I’ll get back to it in a minute, but first, I’ve had more than a few people ask what I thought of the Wired article on Brandon Sanderson. Truthfully, I haven’t read it, don’t feel highly motivated to read it, and have no opinion. I long ago consigned Wired to the same cognitive trash bin where I put Rolling Stone back when I used to care about music. It’s a notch above Tiger Beat, yes, but only a very thin notch. There’s lots of glitz, buzz, and highly emotive writing about personalities, of the sort produced by groupies who aspire to be journalists or at least to get invited back to the hotel for the concert after-party, but very little meaningful substance. Ergo, I don’t read it.

My God. Tiger Beat still exists. I had no idea. I had even less care.

For the past two-plus weeks we’ve been in condition Lawyers, Guns and Money around here as things have suddenly broken loose as regards settling Karen’s estate. Someday I’ll probably have lots of incisive satire to write about the drama of dealing with banks, courts, investment brokers and pension funds, but right now, all I can say is that when you’re in the middle of the swamp, all you can see are the—


Oops. Out of time. Spent too much time on Adobe Stock trying to find a good photo of f**king alligators. Guess I’ll have to explain the relevance of that photo of me and the pile of synthesizers in my next post. 


Saturday, March 25, 2023

“The Sighting” • by KC Grifant

The teeth marks were like none Mae had ever seen.

“Finally.” Mae kept calm though she wanted to shriek in excitement. She placed her ruler against the bark. Ralph pushed a branch out of the way to watch as she measured.

“Primate-like. And wider than human.” She snapped photos and carefully scrapped out the bark around the bite. “Hopefully we can DNA-sequence any trace of saliva. I can’t believe it.”

Mae had been fascinated by the creature—Bigfoot, Sasquatch—for as long as she could remember. Once she started training as a dentist’s assistant, she poured over Bigfoot forums and blogged her ideas. After scrutinizing photos people posted of unusual bite marks on bones, she became more convinced that the creature did indeed exist. She doubled-down on her efforts, even at the cost of friends and dates. Even her parents were exasperated with her obsession.

“Why is it so important for you?” they’d plead. “What does it matter?”

“It matters,” she said. She couldn’t explain it. Ever since she was a kid she had been ignored—for being too quiet, too odd, too smart. But now she knew she was destined for something more: to prove Bigfoot existed.

Through the forum she had found Ralph, who offered tours to Bigfoot scholars around Umpqua National Forest in Southern Oregon. She would have gone on her own but reports of missing people—Bigfoot hunters who got hopelessly lost in the vast forest after wandering away from their guide—prompted her take extra precautions. She wasn’t going to make the same mistake.

When she met Ralph at the visitor’s center that afternoon, she quizzed him. He needed a shave beneath tired eyes, and his cargo pants could use an iron, but he was sharp with his responses.

“What does Bigfoot eat?”

“Simple question, not so simple an answer.” He leaned against a wildlife display and chewed a strip of jerky he pulled from a camo backpack. “Eyewitnesses suggest it isn’t fast enough to catch a deer, or strong enough to wrestle a bear. But size-wise it would need a lot of food.”

“That’s right,” she said. “Cryptozoologists believe Bigfoot hunts large game. Some think it’s smart enough to trap animals, maybe small mammals. What about vegetarian?”

Ralph shook his head. “Accounts of bone stacking, droppings and teeth marks suggests it really likes meat.”

“Right—possibly a pure carnivore, unlike other apes and humans.” Mae nodded, satisfied that he was sufficiently well versed and wasn’t just looking to rip off a “believer” like other tour guides. She was also well aware she was a solo woman going to a campsite with a man she didn’t know, but his extensive positive Yelp reviews—and the taser in her bag—reassured her.

“So why do you do it?” Mae had asked him as they climbed into his four-wheeler. “Most people say Bigfoot hunters like us are delusional.” Or worse, she added silently, trying not to think of the sidelong glances or the muffled laughs she had gotten at school, at work, when someone found her blog.

Ralph looked sheepish. “Honestly? The money’s good, and I love these woods. But I’m also in awe of the passion this community has. And…” He gave her a mischievous grin. “Think how famous I’ll be when the first real evidence is found.”

We’ll be.” She smiled back. Don’t get distracted, she told herself. But it was rare to meet a guy who didn’t completely write her off, who understood just what a big deal this could be.

His four-wheeler had jostled over rocks as they traveled north. She had been quiet, making a pact with herself. If she didn’t find something this time, maybe it was a sign that she should give up the search for good. She couldn’t spend her life chasing an invisible monster, after all. It was now or never. They parked, donned backpacks and dove into the brilliant green to a spot she had traced as the epicenter of the last three sightings, finding the telltale marks a few hours later.

“It could be a wild boar,” Ralph mused now, touching the teeth marks.

“Nope.” Mae inhaled the scent of dirt and wet leaves, feeling more alive than she had been in a long time.  “This is almost a two-inch tooth impact mark. No other known animal could do this. Not quite what I need but close.”

“What do you mean?” Ralph asked.

“It's all in the teeth. The back teeth to be exact. I believe Bigfoot has a distinct pattern of modified carnassial molars unlike any known primate—sharp back teeth, essentially, for tearing into flesh. If I can get some clear pictures of that, it would be evidence of its existence. And it would help us understand if it’s a totally new kind of ape.”

“Most people come in with vague ideas, no idea how to track.” Ralph looked more alert, excited even. “But you actually have a good theory there.”

Mae tried not to blush as their eyes met. She couldn’t remember the last time someone complimented her in real life. Ralph cleared his throat, ran a hand through his uncombed hair and glanced down at his watch.

“Getting dark,” he said. “We should find a campsite soon. I’m starving. I’ll scope for a spot while you finish looking around.”

“Sounds good. You want to—” Mae gasped and leaned down to brush leaves to glimpse a flash of white. A pile of bones, stacked in neat crisscrosses.

Large bones.

She dropped her bags and hurried closer. “Oh my God. I need to take some pictures. Do these look like deer bones?”

Ralph peered down in the dimming light. “Wider than deer, I’d say.”

“Look at how they’re stacked. There’s real intention there.” Mae blinked back tears. All the long hours alone, all the friends she hadn't made, all of her countless hours looking…finally meant something.

“Any chance it could be a coincidence?”

“It’s way too symmetrical. The stacking indicates a ritualistic observance, almost like a burial,” she said as she steadied her trembling hands to take pictures. This, together with teeth marks and saliva samples and she’d have it: the world’s first real evidence of Bigfoot. She’d give interviews, maybe even on live TV. Possibly a book deal. Funds and teams to continue to track and understand Bigfoot. She’d be the next Jane Goodall.

“This gives weight to the theory that Bigfoot is extremely intelligent, and potentially communicative,” she continued, hushed. “Ralph, I think we’re close. Like, actually close. We have to keep going.”

A branch snapped and she looked up to see Ralph, looming and shaggy in the snatches of light, his figure seeming taller by the second. “You’re definitely on its trail. But let’s eat first,” he said and yawned.

That’s when she saw his teeth.



KC Grifant is an award-winning author based in Southern California who writes internationally published horror, fantasy, science fiction and weird west tales. Dozens of her short stories have appeared in podcasts, anthologies and magazines, including: Spaceways Magazine, Unnerving Magazine, Cosmic Horror Monthly, Dark Matter Magazine, the British SF Association’s Fission Magazine, Tales to Terrify, the Lovecraft eZine; Musings of the Muse; Dancing in the Shadows—A Tribute to Anne Rice; Field Notes from a Nightmare; The One That Got Away; Six Guns Straight From Hell; Shadowy Natures; Beyond the Infinite-Tales from the Outer Reaches; the Stoker-nominated Chromophobia; the Stoker-nominated Fright Mare: Women Write Horror, and many others. She is also the author of the horror western novel, Melinda West: Monster Gunslinger (Brigids Gate Press, Feb 2023), described as a blend of Bonnie & Clyde meet The Witcher and Supernatural.

Learn more at or on social media at @kcgrifant.

Friday, March 24, 2023

CREATING ALIEN ALIENS: Does ANYONE Have the Right To Terraform Another World? Part #23

Using the Programme Guide of the 2022 World Science Fiction Convention, ChiCON 8, which I WOULD have attended in person if I had disposable income, but I retired two years ago, my work health insurance stopped, and I’m now living on the Social Security and Medicare…I will be using the Programme Guide to jump off, jump on, rail against, or shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. My opinions may bring glad hearts to some, or cause others to wish to stomp me into the muddy ground of Lilydale Park shortly after a long rain.

Colin Alexander: (moderator) writer, SF and F; pseudonym for Alton Kremer, physician, biochemist, medical researcher
Eva L Elasigue: writer - poetry, short story, and scripts
Kevin Wabaunsee: writer, biomedical research news editor, editor @ Escape Pod, Prairie Band Potawatomi.
Sue Burke: author, literary translator

If we terraform a planet, what happens to the living things that evolved there? Would an "Earth-like" planet have living things we could live alongside? How might Earth life integrate into an alien ecology? This panel will contemplate the ecological impacts of making another planet more Earth-like.

For ME, the first clear idea of altering a planetary environment in order for an intelligence to live there were the chtorr-a-forming alien Chtorr in David Gerrold’s novels that introduced the idea in WAR AGAINST THE CHTORR. That book is “Set in a devastated early 21st century United States with logical expected advances in current technology such as a fledgling moon base [it] describe the invasion of Earth by an alien ecology. The story is unusual in that the tactics used by the aliens eschew the usual direct attack in favor of terraforming the ecosystem.” (Like I noted above, that should be “chtorr-a-forming” our ecosystem to conform to their own.

While I didn’t see the presentation, I’m hoping that someone brought up Gerrold’s book. Lately, it seems that the Human creature has entered a time of deep, almost religious self-recrimination; consistently now bringing to light events that happened in the past and attempting to either make reparations to the descendants of those who were most harmed by the event (I live in the state where “On December 26, 1862, following the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, the federal government hanged 38 members of the Dakota tribe in Minnesota. It was the largest mass execution in United States history.” (For an in-depth discussion, follow this link:, and obsessing over details that may or may not be incidental – just as obsessively denying that either the event ever took place, or trying to put the event “into historical perspective” (Whatever that means. Usually it seems to mean, “They didn’t know what they were doing because that’s just the way things were then. I’m not responsible.”)

My question is why would we think that Humans alone would consider terraforming a planet to suit themselves?

Because we’re the only intelligent life in the known universe (– please don’t use the movie CONTACT’s argument that “Carl Sagan said, 'I'd say if it is just us ... seems like an awful waste of space.'" to somehow convert me to your POV that there JUST MUST BE ALIENS. As far as I can tell, Sagan never said this. It is “creatively expressed in the movie version of Carl Sagan’s novel, Contact…” – but thus far, there is NO evidence that there is life anywhere but HERE. A plethora of life, even more lifeforms if you consider all that have gone extinct (without Humans lifting a single, evil finger) – but anywhere else?


In fact, if you want to get into the ethics of terraforming, let’s look at the Chicxilub Event. If you’re going to insist that THERE MUST BE INTELLIGENT ALIENS, then you have no choice but to consider the possibility that Earth was terraformed by asteroid impact that finished the extinction of the dinosaurs and initiated the upward climb and Age of Mammals. Even with today’s technology, Humans altered the orbital trajectory of an asteroid: “NASA has confirmed that its DART spacecraft has altered the trajectory of the asteroid that it crashed into two weeks ago, demonstrating the potential of this tool for planetary defense. A trial run at planetary defense has proven successful. Oct 12, 2022,,this%20tool%20for%20planetary%20defense.&text=A%20trial%20run%20at%20planetary%20defense%20has%20proven%20successful.

So why do I harp on this point? Because if it’s possible, AND there is intelligent life Out There, then WE are as vulnerable as we assume other planets are.

As Earth’s “twin”, should we terraform Venus? Someone already thought of that in the 70s. Watch this. I show it to my Alien Worlds class every year. “Mind-slaughter” (1977) It STILL gives me the creeps! On the other hand, altering its atmosphere will NOT make it habitable. Venus will continue to have a day that would see (for example) the sun rise on the First Day Of Spring (March 20, 2023), and set 37 weeks later on December 4, 2023…I doubt that life As We Know It would survive after 243 days of daylight. Of course, the night would be the same if you stayed in the same place - 243 Earth-days long. The only way you could make Venus livable for Humans is to change the planet’s atmosphere, rotation...And therein lies the question implicit in any discussion of terraforming: “Who gave YOU the right to change…”

OK, what if we changed HUMANITY instead? Well, you could always change Human behavior. Create Humans with a society that would move with the incredibly slow terminator line… and therein lies the question implicit in any discussion of Humanoforming (aka, Genetic Engineering): “Who gave YOU the right to change Humanity…” For a novel that deals with this issue, try THE CHILDREN STAR (2009), by Joan Slonczewski. Fascinating read.

Do I think we just throw all caution to the wind and willy-nilly start to change planets, moon, atmospheres, and asteroids to make way for MORE Humans?

No. But I DO think we should take into consideration the possibility that if there IS Intelligent Alien Life Out There, that we may have already been the victims of terraforming – or may become the victims in the future.

So, aggression or naivete? Which one is the path to colonizing the Solar System, the Orion Arm, the Milky Way, and eventually the Universe? I leave that for an intellectual exercise of your own. I've certainly stirred myself up...

Program Guide:[GS1]

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Tales from the Brahma • Episode 4: “The e-Menace” • by Roxana Arama


[skip intro]

Welcome aboard the Brahma!

Now a century out from Earth and en route to HD 133600, a remarkably Sun-like star and planetary system in the constellation of Virgo, the Brahma is the last, desperate, crowning achievement of human civilization and engineering. A massive three-hundred-kilometer long modular mega-ship, a gigantic ark in space consisting of two hundred and sixteen separate habitat pods, each the size of a small city, at launch Brahma carried two million passengers and crew, along with everything their descendants would need to build new lives on the worlds of HD 133600.

For the Brahma is a generation ship: all the original passengers and crew who left the Earth a century ago are long since dead. Everyone now on board was born on the ship; most will probably die on it. If their mission succeeds, their children or grandchildren will live to see the light of HD 133600.

Right now, the Brahma seems to be on-course and everything appears to be working as designed. The ship is cruising serenely at just slightly below c, a tribute to the engineers and craftspeople who designed and built her a century before. Many on board pray daily that the ship contains the best of humanity, and not the sorts of politicians, criminals, cultists, crazies, and dishonest leadership their ancestors thought they’d left behind…



Episode 4: “The e-Menace” • by Roxana Arama

Ximena slipped out the back door of her ten-story building into the cool night, her heart in her throat. She kept to the darkest street corners until she spotted a parked vehicle with its lights off, just as the message on her makeshift communicator had said. It looked like an armored bug on wheels, the kind of shuttle Admin sent to inspect pods. Aadit, the officer she’d managed to contact there, had said that Admin didn’t interfere in the pods’ internal affairs unless truly necessary. But twenty-year-old Ximena had managed to convince them this was one of those times.

She climbed into the shuttle, hoping for a quick extraction from the Elysium pod. In the dim blue-and-yellow light of the dashboard, she didn’t recognize the middle-aged woman at the controls, which was a good thing. The Doyen kept his tight commune closed to outsiders, so this driver must be from the main ship, as promised.

“Thank you… for rescuing me,” Ximena said while the automatic harness pinned her to her seat.

The shuttle started moving, and the doors locked. To keep them safe, Ximena told herself, though worry crept back in. She thought of her home electronics lab, where her newest contraption was hard at work, interfering with the comms of the Doyen’s guards stationed outside her building. Those guards were meant to show Admin that Ximena’s human rights were protected while the tribunal was being assembled.

“Where are we going?” she said.

“Where you’ll answer for your crimes,” the driver said in a low and menacing voice.

Ximena’s worst fears had come true: the shuttle wasn’t there to rescue her. Instead, it would take her to a tribunal in the middle of the night to be found guilty of the terrible things that had happened in her pod this year. The Doyen had recently conveyed a message from the Galactic Divinus: “One of us is bringing all this suffering upon the many.” It hadn’t taken long for the commune to decide that the galactic spirit only the Doyen could hear was singling out Ximena. People assumed she wanted to destroy Elysium. Why else would she try to contact the other pods, defying the Doyen?

On a lit billboard showing him in profile, gazing upward, someone had written in black graffiti, “Death to the e-Menace!” Ximena cringed at the awful nickname her people had given her.

“Believe me, I’m a good person,” Ximena said, her voice cracking.

“So was the driver of the delivery van,” the woman said. “What happened to him?”

Ximena stared at the apartment buildings outside. She didn’t want to talk, but engaging with her captor could reveal the arguments her prosecutors would soon use against her. “I was standing at the crosswalk when his brakes malfunctioned and he veered into a traffic signal pole. I didn’t do anything to make that happen.”

“But you were the only one there. You’ve been messing with forbidden electronics since you were little. Buying them on the black market, against the Doyen’s ban, trying to build unapproved comms. Easy for you to make a device that messed with the van’s controls.”

“But why would I do that? I liked John. He was a good man.” And she was a good person too. All she ever wanted was to meet the engineers who steered the Brahma through deep space. But reaching out was seen as not trusting the Doyen to represent the Elysium pod as one mind and one heart under his divine leadership.

“And the window washer?” the driver said. “Lakoff?”

“He slipped right outside my window,” Ximena said, “and his safety harness didn’t save him.”

“Easy for you to send a jamming signal to his harness, no?”

“No, of course not.” Ximena said, swallowing hard, her mouth dry.

“And Cyrus the store clerk?” the driver said as the shuttle passed the temple where the Doyen channeled the Divinus, just like his ancestor in San Francisco a hundred years ago.

“He was up on the stepladder to fill a bag with a special blend of oatmeal I like. The earthquake started. He died when his head hit the corner of the display.”

“But you were the only one on that aisle with him. In the only corner the security cameras didn’t capture. Because you messed with them, didn’t you?”

Ximena slumped in her seat, staring at the outskirts of the commune outside her window. “I won’t convince you I’m innocent. Who are you anyway?”

“I’m Yasmine,” the driver said, checking the rearview mirror. “I work for Admin.”

“And for the Doyen, apparently,” Ximena whispered. “And you’re here to take me to the tribunal. Even though I’ve just told you I had nothing to do with those people’s deaths.”

“I’m here to tell you I believe you,” Yasmine said in a changed, warm tone. “You’re no e-Menace to me.” She tapped the controls, and the lights turned on inside the compact shuttle. “I’m really sorry for the harsh interrogation.”

Ximena’s eyes hurt, and she covered them for a moment. Then she looked around.

Yasmine had short black hair and a nice smile, and she held out a bottle of something. “My favorite drink, from our diner. We call it Hazel’s Spatial Glacial.”

Ximena unscrewed the cap and tasted its contents. Cold, flavorful fruit water. As they left the commune grounds, the navigation controls showed a clear road ahead, with no one in pursuit. Maybe everything would be all right after all.

“But three deaths in a row?” Yasmine said, and Ximena’s heart jumped again. “All connected to the same person? Can’t blame them for not believing you. People don’t believe victims of bad luck. It’s easier to assume that the victim caused the problem than to accept that sometimes bad things happen to good people. But I believe you.” She pointed at the dashboard. “I’ve been monitoring your bio signals since you got in: you’ve been telling the truth.”

“So John’s van just happened to veer off?” Ximena said, able to breathe again. After months of accusations, she wondered herself if she’d somehow caused those tragedies without knowing.

“John was tired because his baby had kept him up all night. He fell asleep at the dashboard, and his elbow touched the wrong control.”

“How do you know that?”

“We tapped into the Doyen’s surveillance network. We don’t interfere much, but we like to keep an eye on things.”

“Wait, the Doyen knows I’m innocent?”

“He’ll never let a scapegoat go to waste. This way he’ll blame you for everything else that’s deficient in your pod. And silence any complaining voices.”

That made sense, sadly. “So… Lakoff’s harness?” Ximena said.

“He undid it himself to scratch an itch—”

“And the earthquake?” Ximena said, the proof of her innocence within reach.

Yasmine sighed. “That was the Iowa pod detaching from the Brahma.”

“A pod has left the ship?” Ximena said. “But the Galactic Divinus has guaranteed the integrity of the Brahma until we reach our destination.”

“That’s what the Doyen says,” Yasmine said with a complicit smile. “Do you still believe him?”

“No, not anymore.” Ximena relaxed her shoulders. Her heart stopped hurting in her chest for the first time since she’d started the comms scrambler earlier that evening. Behind the shuttle, the lights of the commune faded away, the dark road clear before them.

“Why all the harsh questions earlier?” Ximena said after a while.

“To make sure you’re really running away from the Doyen and not trying to infiltrate Admin for him.”

Yasmine parked the shuttle in front of a metallic door built into the hillside. Ximena hadn’t even noticed they had arrived there. No light in sight other than the shuttle. The place looked menacing.

“The ship airlock,” Yasmine said before Ximena could panic again. “We need your help.”

“My… help?”

“We’re trying to build a better communicator to get in touch with my partner on the Iowa. The protocol you created to evade the Doyen’s signal jammers is impressive. Your technology could help us circumvent the separatists’ blockers on the lost pod.”

“My silly gadget?”

“Your silly gadget might be the only way I’ll hear Gail’s voice again and tell her how much I miss her.” Yasmine sounded sad. “Like you, she’s a good person who’s had a few bad things happen to her. I used to blame her for that, but you taught me tonight that the obvious explanations are sometimes wrong.”

Ximena didn’t quite follow that part.

“Oh,” Yasmine said, smiling again, “we’ll need a new name for you. No longer the e-Menace, you’ll now be our Comms… Doyen. And what better way to celebrate your freedom than a slice of apple streusel pie at Hazel’s Diner in the company of our best engineers?”

Ximena nodded, exhausted beyond words but ready to see what lay beyond the door sliding open before them.


Roxana Arama is a Romanian American author with a master of fine arts in creative writing from Goddard College. She studied computer science in Bucharest, Romania and moved to the United States to work in software development. Her debut thriller, Extreme Vetting, is now available from Ooligan Press (Portland State University). She’s a member of SFWA, the Authors Guild, and Codex Writers’ Group, and her work has been published in several fiction and nonfiction magazines. She lives in Seattle, Washington with her family. More at or @RoxanaArama on Twitter.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Today's SHOWCASE story is delayed


This morning's SHOWCASE story, "On the Menu Stains of Madness" by Scott Huggins, was waylaid in a dark alley last night and mugged by a gang of leprechauns. It will go live today, but a bit later than planned.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Tales from the Brahma • Episode 3: “Nuclear Family” • by Gustavo Bondoni


[skip intro]

Welcome aboard the Brahma!

Now a century out from Earth and en route to HD 133600, a remarkably Sun-like star and planetary system in the constellation of Virgo, the Brahma is the last, desperate, crowning achievement of human civilization and engineering. A massive three-hundred-kilometer long modular mega-ship, a gigantic ark in space consisting of two hundred and sixteen separate habitat pods, each the size of a small city, at launch Brahma carried two million passengers and crew, along with everything their descendants would need to build new lives on the worlds of HD 133600.

For the Brahma is a generation ship: all the original passengers and crew who left the Earth a century ago are long since dead. Everyone now on board was born on the ship; most will probably die on it. If their mission succeeds, their children or grandchildren will live to see the light of HD 133600.

Right now, the Brahma seems to be on-course and everything appears to be working as designed. The ship is cruising serenely at just slightly below c, a tribute to the engineers and craftspeople who designed and built her a century before. Many on board pray daily that the ship contains the best of humanity, and not the sorts of politicians, criminals, crazies, and dishonest leadership their ancestors thought they’d left behind…



Episode 3: “Nuclear Family” • by Gustavo Bondoni

Aadit was on dispatch at the precinct when a man with shoulder-length blond hair walked up to his desk. He wore a disheveled uniform, but wasn’t cuffed.

“Yo,” the man said. “I need protection. That rocket scientist who brought me in doesn’t seem quite able to comprehend the importance of what I’m telling him. If you have half a brain, you’ll listen, though I doubt it.”

“Are you in custody?” Aadit asked.

“Hello. Earth to genius behind the desk. Your little processes don’t matter. I need protection.”

Aadit sighed. “Just stay where you are.” He’d been trying to reach the Iowa Pod, but he’d had no luck. His shift was nearly over, and he had very little energy left for this kind of thing. And even less for his tiny, empty, habitation module.

“Like that will help me.” The man ignored him. “Can’t you people get it into your heads? They want to blow me up.”

Aadit perked up. Though the separatist situation was supposed to be classified, everyone who could read graffiti knew something was happening, something that would affect their generation ship, the Brahma. Aadit didn’t exactly know what the separatists were capable of, but they apparently had something to do with the departure of the Iowa pod. If someone started talking about explosions, you stopped everything you were doing and acted on it.

Aadit said, “Do you know about their next target?”

“Me. I’m the next target, genius.”

This guy was obviously just an annoying jerk trying to get some attention. Sometimes you got people like this: those who seemed to go through life believing they ought to be the center of the universe and got annoying when the universe ignored them.

Aadit snapped at him. “Separatists don’t go around blowing up random crew members.”

“What separatists? I’m not talking about any separatists, but someone has blown up every one of my direct male-line ancestors. My great-grandfather, he was blown to pieces by the accident in the atomic reactor core on the Manhattan Pod. That one got his wife and all his siblings, too,” the man said. “My grandfather wasn’t there, but he was blasted to smithereens a couple of decades later in an antimatter annihilation experiment in the propulsion lab. Apparently, there was an antimatter version of him waiting at his desk. They say the energy released pushed the Brahma a couple percentage points closer to the speed of light.”

“Those are just accidents­—” Aadit replied, but the man cut him off.

“And my parents—both of them—blew up when I was a kid because they ate exploding anchovies. Guts everywhere.”

“Were these anchovies they randomly got at a dispensary?”

“Someone sent a food package to my parents with them inside.” He chuckled bitterly. “The anchovies gave them gas of the rapidly expanding type.”

Aadit sighed. “Look, what did you say your name was?”

“Olaf Carnudo. My friends call me Boom. They know the story, you see… and though they pretend they don’t believe it, I notice they’re never around when I’m operating heavy machinery or when I need to take an inventory in the weapons bays.”

A couple of keystrokes brought up the guy’s file. He worked for the logistics team, which made sense. Aadit clicked on the link for family information.

His jaw dropped open. It was true. All of it. And there was also a note that Olaf’s great-great-grandfather’s death was classified secret.

Since he had a bit of clearance because of the sensitive nature of his comms work, Aadit opened that link, too. That ancestor had been on a shuttle doing outside scouting of an unidentified object when the vehicle had been lost with all hands. Though the Brahma couldn’t stop to do an investigation, trace data indicated that the shuttle had been nuked.

“So how are you Einsteins going to protect me?” Olaf said. “I have a son, but he’s not a target yet, so you should worry about me. Besides, I haven’t seen him or his mother in ages, so…” he shrugged. “Don’t tell them where I am, okay?”

Aadit was about to say that there was no need, and that the deaths were accidental, but the phrase “exploding anchovies” kept going around in his mind. Also, the incident with the antimatter version of Olaf’s grandfather raised all kinds of questions.

“Follow me,” Aadit said.

He approached Gina Ginny’s door with some trepidation. Ginny, Director of Sensitive Investigations, could be short with mere cops, like everyone from Admin. Her title implied that there were things that the police simply weren’t competent to handle, something Director Ginny believed fervently. The cops retaliated by taking all the really weird cases to her.

Her door was open, so he led Olaf into the sumptuous office.

She looked up. “Don’t tell me. Let me guess…. Smith, right?”

“Aadit, ma’am.”

“Close enough. What have you brought me? And in the name of all the gods, why?” She looked Olaf up and down like he was a communicable disease.

Olaf sneered. “I hope you’re important. I need help from someone important.”

Aadit explained the situation to the director. She checked her files and nodded.

“Good work, Smith,” she said. “These attacks make me think there’s something in this man’s genetic makeup that makes him a target for someone… but only after having a male offspring so the line continues. It can’t be a coincidence.”

Ginny turned back to them. “We’ve been looking for a break concerning a… faction… on the ship, and you may be just what we needed. We’ve got a perfect place to keep you safe. It’s a blast room outside the hull, through airlock 17D. It’s meant to keep explosions—big explosions—from affecting the ship.”

Olaf nodded. “So get me there already.”

The three of them walked down the halls, Gina in the lead, a skittish Olaf in the middle and Aadit, feeling more alert and important than he had in ages, bringing up the rear.

Olaf looked around. “Are we there yet? Why aren’t we there yet?”

He repeated this so often that Aadit wondered if it would be a huge breach of protocol to brain Olaf with a fire extinguisher. He decided against it: with the way this guy’s family worked, it would probably explode.

 Aadit consoled himself with the thought that it could be worse. Minutes earlier, he’d been nothing but an information relay, the human backup to a bunch of automated comm systems. Now, he was in the middle of the separatist investigation.

They reached the airlock leading to the bomb door.

“Hurry up,” Olaf said. “You people must be the slowest protectors in existence. If the people who wanted to blow me up were any good, we’d all be dead a dozen times over.”

They cycled the lock and moved through a narrow flexible tunnel to a thick blast door. Aadit tried not to think of the vacuum on the other side of the thin corridor.

Ginny keyed the code to the thick blast door, which beeped and disappeared into the wall above the frame and led Olaf into the room.

Aadit realized there was a sign posted on the entrance, big red blocks surrounding big black letters. “Shouldn’t we…”

Ginny held up a hand. “Don’t worry about that. It doesn’t apply to Admin directors. You need to stay outside, Smith,” she told Aadit. “You don’t have quite this much clearance.”

She moved aside to close the door, and as she did, the interior of the room was revealed. A table held a large black disc beeping ominously to itself.

“Ma’am, this notice?”

“Do I look like I care?” Ginny said. “This is too important to worry about bureaucratic b—”

Aadit never heard the rest of it because, at that moment, Ginny clicked the button and the blast door slid shut with a loud clang.

He stared at the grey door, rereading the sign stuck there with blue electrician’s tape, the staple of spaceship maintenance all over the galaxy:


He was about to knock his fists against the door to warn them, but he hesitated. Ginny’s temper was legendary.

He raised his hand to knock, and hesitated again.

Then he lost his chance: a deafening boom sounded, the corridor shook, and the door in front of Aadit bulged out like a balloon.

But it held, leaving him deafened and shocked, but alive.

Alive but in possession of a secret the separatists would surely kill for.



Gustavo Bondoni is novelist and short story writer with over three hundred stories published in fifteen countries, in seven languages.  He is a member of Codex and an Active Member of SFWA.His latest novel is a dark historic fantasy entitled The Swords of Rasna (2022). He has also published five science fiction novels, four monster books and a thriller entitled Timeless. His short fiction is collected in Pale Reflection (2020), Off the Beaten Path (2019), Tenth Orbit and Other Faraway Places (2010) and Virtuoso and Other Stories (2011).
In 2019, Gustavo was awarded second place in the Jim Baen Memorial Contest and in 2018 he received a Judges Commendation (and second place) in The James White Award. He was also a 2019 finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest.
His website is at

His most recent appearance in our virtual pages was “Warranty Claim.” Read it now!

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Coming Attractions • Status Update • Help Wanted

Just a few quick notes as to what’s going on around here. First off, Tales from the Brahma continues tomorrow with Episode 3, “Nuclear Family,” by Gustavo Bondoni, who is rapidly becoming one of our favorite contributors. Look for it to go live at 0700 CDT, tomorrow.

Following that, our Saturday SHOWCASE schedule is filling up and we’re already booking stories out into April. For this coming Saturday, award-winning author Scott Huggins returns to our virtual pages for the first time in years with “On the Menu Stains of Madness,” an eldritch tale of horror beyond the bounds of human comprehension. You may think you know the French Quarter, but do you dare to enter the most hideous seafood restaurant in all of New Orleans? Getting in the front door is the easy part. Getting out again, alive and with both your soul and your stomach intact… That’s the challenge.

Meanwhile, I’m pleased to report that our crowd-funding campaign is going better than I’d hoped. I’ve been told I should put some kind of graphic widget on the front page to show how it’s going, and as soon as I find a suitable widget I will, but until then you’ll have to live with text. It is my pleasure to report that we’re already 62% of the way to our March goal, which is to raise $500 by the end of the month, and 10% of the way to our April goal, which is to sign up 50 new subscribers by the end of the April. Unfortunately, Amazon has just announced that they’re shutting down Kindle Newsstand and pushing publishers to enroll their publications in either Prime Reading or Kindle Unlimited, so we may need to rethink this idea. Putting Stupefying Stories on Kindle Unlimited was a painful learning experience I’m not eager to repeat. 

Finally, more than a few people have suggested that we consider fund-raising through Patreon. I’d not given that option much consideration because Patreon seems to put a lot of emphasis on giving patrons restricted access to exclusive content, which seems to fly in the face of our mission to make content widely available. But if anyone here has some actual experience with Patreon that they’re willing to share, I’m always willing to listen and learn. 


Saturday, March 11, 2023

“Warehousing Gertrude” • by Hillary Lyon


“This is the most generous, most unselfish act you shall ever do, Gertie—”

“You may call me Mrs. Stroud,” the old woman interrupted. “I know how selfless and brave this decision is, as all the advertisements tell me, everyday, through every medium. I’ve read how gentle the stasis process is, how dreamy and comfortable a person feels when they’re ensconced within their posh little pod. How happy they are to be with their family again, when they’re thawed out for holidays and special occasions. How simple and painless it is to be reset in their little pods. How happy and free from worry their families are. Yes, I’ve seen the ads. And my oldest daughter, Trudie—she sings your praises every chance she gets.”

Davis—award-winning senior salesman that he was—quickly realized he’d have to either alter or altogether abandon his spiel with this client. She obviously didn’t need coercing or convincing; she’d already decided what she wanted. Now they just had to hash out the details. He understood he’d have to tread lightly around this one, careful not to stub his toe or step on a landmine. This was the part of the job he hated.

Mrs. Stroud cocked a thin, penciled eyebrow at him. “Well, are you just going to sit there with your mouth agape like some village idiot, or are you going to show me around? I want to actually see my options, not just read about them in some sappy brochure or saccharine online presentation. Now move!”

It was an old and accepted trope that most women mellowed with age—became beloved, kindly matriarchs. Not so with Mrs. Stroud. He’d already heard from her family that she’d evolved into a full blown harpy once she hit 70. Davis didn’t stand a chance; it was a good thing for him, and Elysian Fields, Inc., that she’d already made up her mind to do business with them.

“Right! Allow me, please. This way.” Davis stood and with a well-manicured hand motioned towards the door; with his other hand he casually smoothed back his golden blonde hair, an old-school motion older women found endearing, as most young men today opted for the smooth bald pate. The old birds usually responded to his classic-movie star good looks; most giggled behind tiny hands and twittered that he looked so much like a young Peter O’Toole circa his Lawrence of Arabia days. Davis didn’t mind this comparison of his looks, his manner—that’s why he was assigned to the elderly females. They reacted positively to him. It was an easy gig; that is, until he encountered a rara avis, like Mrs. Gertrude Epona Stroud.

Mrs. Stroud had been quite the successful, if cut-throat, businesswoman in her time, earning accolades with each promotion; as a mother, she was neither very successful or revered. But she didn’t care. For her, other people—especially relatives—were an inconvenience and a necessary burden to be borne with stoic, if ever-thinning, patience. But family money has a way of both assuaging hurtful childhoods and strengthening strained ties. And here she was now, on the brink of 80, still feisty and of an obviously sound mind, volunteering to be warehoused—likely to the collective relief of her family. Will wonders never cease?

Davis led Mrs. Stroud down a well-lit, spotless white corridor. They stopped before a room labeled, ‘Halcyon Spirit.’ He pressed his palm against a flat screen scanner embedded in the wall, and the door soundlessly slid open before them. Always the gentleman, he motioned for her to enter first.

“This area holds our top of the line, our crème de la crème,” he began in a soothing, almost sing-song tone. “Here, madame, is ‘Isis Ascending.’ Only the most socially well-connected, the most financially robust, are ensconced herein.” He walked over to a gleaming pink rose-colored pod, trimmed in gold gilt, with rococo flourishes. “Note the delicately frosted glass, etched with ethereal art nouveau embellishments, the Brazilian tulipwood frame, polished to a satiny sheen. This wood, I’ll have you know, was harvested from the deepest forest of the Amazon, and meticulously hand-carved to—”

Mrs. Stroud scoffed. “Looks like something they would have stuffed a dying Rudolph Valentino in before taking him on the road one last time. Surely you must have something simpler, something more modest? That is what I have in mind.”

“But of course!” Davis cleared his throat nervously. “This way, if you would.” He led her across the room to another pod, a more modernist unit. “This is our ‘Soaring Star.’ The pod itself is a tasteful creation of titanium adorned with appliques crafted from the purest grade platinum. The interior is lined with the softest white calf skin imaginable—it’s like butter. This pod’s beauty is admirably understated; it’s equally elegant and timeless. Perhaps this is more what you had in mind?”

Mrs. Stroud scrunched her bulbous nose, which had the effect of pulling in all her wrinkles to one central point in the middle of her face. Not a good look, but she got her point across without a word.

“No? Well, then, let’s move a bit further down the line to—”

“To something a bit less ostentatious. Surely you have something a little more humble? Something that says to visitors, ‘Here’s a gal from a frugal family, if ever there was one.’ Doesn’t your vast inventory include a pod that shouts ‘mediocrity’ to the very heavens above?” Mrs. Stroud turned and squinted at Davis. Her milky blue-eyed stare sent a shiver down his back. Good lord, what she must have been like in her prime! He could easily picture her with a sword and shield, leading screaming barbarians into bloody battle. She interrupted his wandering thoughts.“My daughter Trudie assures me Elysian Fields, Inc., not only has the greatest variety of pods, but also that they are all very well made. Surely she’s not wrong—Trudie’s never wrong, my dear Davis, and she’ll be the first to tell you that.”

Rather than show her more expensive pods here, Davis suggested they move to another area, where she might find something more to her taste. He turned on his heel and led her out of ‘Halcyon Spirit’ and down the hall to ‘Eternal Springs.’ If he was unhappy with such a wealthy client opting for cheap, he didn’t let it show. Perhaps her kids would talk her out of a lower-class pod, if he couldn’t. That happened sometimes, though sometimes the offspring were glad their folks went low-budget—meant more money left over for them. He smiled and palmed a new screen, opening the door.

Before he could speak, Mrs. Stroud made a beeline for a simple faux pine pod near the back of the room, one that used Plexiglas instead of glass, and plastic metallic trim intended to mimic polished brass. Davis groaned inside. This pod was the absolute bottom-of-the-barrel. His boss was going to kill him if he allowed Mrs. Stroud to choose this model.

“Oh dear, Mrs. Stroud, this model has been discontinued! I can’t imagine why it’s still out on the floor! I really should not allow you in this pod; we cannot guarantee its proper maintenance, as the techs are no longer trained to operate this model. It’s obsolete! It’s just too risky.”

Mrs. Stroud harrumphed, and examined the pod closely. She ran a bejeweled finger along the rough seam sealing the Plexiglas, and for the first time that day, smiled. “She’s named after me, you know.” Davis furrowed his sculpted brows, but before he could question or comment, Mrs. Stroud continued, “That cutesy moniker she uses, ‘Trudie,’ is short for Gertrude. My namesake. My first born know-it-all. She-who-would-be-queen-bee. She who thinks she’s going to run my business after I’m—” here Mrs. Stroud used air-quotes, “ ‘gone.’ She doesn’t appreciate that there’s still a lot of fight left in this old bird!”

For the first time in his lucrative sales career, Davis was at a loss for words. Family power struggles made him uncomfortable, even in fantasy novels and films. And as Mrs. Stroud abhorred silence in business negotiations, she refocused on the subject at hand with an appropriate question: “What’s this one called?”

It was all Davis could do to muffle his sigh of defeat. “We call this one, ‘Barn Owl.’ It was originally mass-produced and marketed to rural types; less worldly, less affluent customers who would appreciate a rustic—”

“I like it. This is the one.” Mrs. Stroud looked him in the eye, and for the second time that afternoon, smiled. “Lets get the paperwork moving, dear heart. After all, I have an opera to attend this evening.”

¤     ¤     ¤

It was not out of the ordinary for families to concoct their own, private ritual for the ensconcing of an elderly relative. ‘Ensconcing’ was the preferred industry term, as ‘warehousing’ sounded so cold and cruel, even if it was more accurate. Elysian Fields and their competitors wanted to make the experience as pleasant and nonthreatening as possible. So far, Elysian Fields set the gold standard. For the ritual ensconcing, they provided the music requested (sometimes with a live string quartet or mariachi band), catered a small banquet of delightful, favorite foods, provided elegant furnishings for comfortable seating, and banks of colorful flowers—unless the family preferred a lush display of greenery, if flowers seemed too funeral-like. Elysian Fields would provide said amenities for up to one hundred people, though the average attendance hovered around eight to twelve. Usually, families to like to keep the ensconcing ritual small and intimate, inviting immediate relations and close friends. So it was rather unusual that Mrs. Stroud only invited her eldest daughter, Trudie. But Davis had learned not to argue or insist with Mrs. Stroud.

“I prefer to keep things small, and under budget,” Mrs. Stroud stridently informed Davis. “That’s how I’ve kept my fortune,” she added, holding her head high, which served to emphasize her patrician profile. So there would be no lavish furnishings—only a couple of metal folding chairs. There would be no appetizing spread—only a card table with a small plate of saltines and a glass bowl with a handful of chilled pats of butter.. There would be no champagne fountain or nattily dressed bartender. She asked for a pitcher of unsweetened ice tea, with a couple of biodegradable paper cups. There would be no lush greenery, or floral arrangement—save for a single vase on the card table, stuffed with white carnations. She specified no music, other than what normally played softly in the background of the show rooms. Davis attempted to explain that more pleasant ritual options were available—were in fact included in the price of the pod—so she could easily—at no extra charge—invite more family, and friends even, and have a tasty spread, all for a more festive experience. Mrs. Stroud stressed that she was the paying customer, and she wanted what she wanted. The first rule in retail, she reminded him, is the customer is always right. Well, Davis rationalized, if she’s investing in the cheapest pod, at least she’s not demanding an expensive spread—which saves a tidy bit money for Elysian Fields. Maybe his boss would be happy with him, after all.

¤     ¤     ¤ 

The ensconcing day came, and Davis escorted Mrs. Stroud and her middle-aged daughter to the room christened, ‘Merlin’s Sleep,’ where Mrs. Stroud’s little party and pod awaited. The old lady insisted that Davis join them, which was unusual for a client. Davis wondered if the old gal had regrets now at not inviting more people. Or, the sad thought occurred to him, maybe she had no friends and very little family—either because by her age they’d all passed away, or moved away, or maybe they’d evolved into enemies over the long years. That happened sometimes. He graciously agreed to join them.

There was little small talk—Trudie did not hide her resentment towards Davis’ presence, or her impatience with her mother. She kept looking at the time on her phone, and sighing loudly.

“Trudie, dear, why don’t you have a cracker?” Mrs Stroud offered, suddenly appearing frail and small and needy. “Or have a seat; we’re in no hurry here, child. We have until 5 o’clock,” the old woman added quietly, placing her hand over her heart.

Trudie sighed again and threw her hands up dramatically. “Mom, I told you on the way over, I have to be at Carson’s long before then. I promised I’d help him close the Bisbee Cantina deal.”

Mrs. Stroud scoffed. “Your brother Carson’s a big boy—he can manage on his own. He’s done so before—and very well I might add. Your place is here, with me, missy,” Mrs. Stroud stood up and drifted over to her pod. She looked at Davis over her shoulder and smiled a small, cryptic smile. He wasn’t sure how to take it, but there was a part of him that was glad to see Mrs. Stroud return to her former, strong-willed self.

“Davis, please help me open this thing,” she tersely ordered. “Seems my daughter Trudie has better things to do than be here with me.” Davis deftly punched in a code on the side panel of the pod, after which, with a slight hiss, its door popped open.

“At least come over and see how it looks inside, Trudie. Come over and kiss your old mother good night,” Mrs. Stroud pleaded with tears brimming in her eyes. In response, Trudie rolled her eyes and stomped over to the pod like a petulant teenager. Davis had never witnessed such a display of immature, uncouth behavior at an ensconcing ritual. His heart bled for Mrs. Stroud.

“Okay, yeah, it looks comfortable enough, though you’ll be asleep and won’t really care.” Trudy snorted. “I’ll take good care of the business while you nap, so don’t fret, if that’s what’s wrong with you,” she added coldly. This mean old crow was out of touch and past her prime, Trudie often thought, smugly, to herself. Time to pass on the reins of power; it was all she could do to keep from smiling at the thought.

Mrs. Stroud straightened her back and turned to her daughter, her manner like a monarch addressing a traitor to the realm. “What’s wrong with me, child, is that my first born is a grasping, ungrateful, conceited viper, who doesn’t know nearly as much about the family business as she thinks she does. A business I built on my own; a business that is my legacy.”

Before Trudie could spew her pithy reply—one one she’d been saving up for years—Mrs. Stroud, now acting with surprising quickness and strength for a woman her age, shoved Trudie into the pod, slammed the door shut, and pressed the ‘set’ button the side.

“Mrs. Stroud!” Davis gasped. “Your daughter Trudie will be—she won’t wake up until—”

Exactly,” Mrs. Stroud answered curtly, like a schoolmarm impatiently tutoring a dull child. “That was the plan all along. Surely,” she continued, lifting her chin imperially,“you didn’t think I was going in there!”



With an MA in English Literature, Hillary Lyon founded and for 20 years served as senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. She is the Assistant Art Director for Black Petals, and a Rhysling Award Nominated Poet. Her horror, scifi, and crime short stories, drabbles, and poems have appeared in numerous print and online publications such as Theme of Absence, Shotgun Honey, and Tales from the Moonlit Path. She’s also an illustrator for horror/sci-fi, and pulp fiction sites. To learn more, check out: