Feb 082007
 

Detail from Wilson’s excellent SpinSo I’ve recently been really inspired by a couple of hard SF writers in Toronto, Peter Watts and Robert Charles Wilson. “Hard” SF is grounded in real science, often plot-driven, and I usually find it lacking on the character and prose-style front. Not so in the case of Watts and Wilson, who are great stylists and whose characters are nuanced and believable — plus the science extrapolation is mind-bending. So while I’ve always been an unapologetically character-driven storyteller, seeing them pull off traditional, “big idea” SF in this manner has made me want to play too.

This dovetails nicely with my recent enjoyment of Nature’s weekly podcast. Nature is the science journal — it’s where DNA pioneers Watson and Crick published the double helix model — and I find their approach feeds my appetite perfectly. I don’t tend to like stuff explained to me by a professional explainer: it’s digested and mediated, where the Nature podcast is mostly interviews with scientists on their recent discoveries. You get their jargon, their excitement, their accents, all first hand and for the most part comprehensible even to a science ignoramus like me.

So each week for a while I’m going to write a SF story that riffs off of something I heard on this week’s podcast and post it in the comments. I’m only going to take an hour to write it, so it’ll be pretty rough, and I’ll add the mental steps that I took to get there in notes at the end in case you care. Add your links to the comments if you have creative riffs of your own off the podcast. Dance remixes, for instance. It’s dying for a dance remix for the science geek parties.

  14 Responses to “This week in science… Next week in science-fiction”

  1. (Inspired by Nature Podcast Feb. 8 2007)

    It’s embarrassing, the way we met. The way we really met. The story we told everyone was that he lived with my cousin and we met at a party of his. Which is literally true. We were at a party and someone had handed me a plate and said it was buffet style and somehow I ended up in the kitchen instead of the dining room. With him.

    I’d just followed my nose. It was a familiar smell and, damn, I was hungry. He was facing away and I sort of looked around his shoulder because I assumed – I don’t know – there’d be a casserole or something he was getting a piece of. But he wasn’t. The smell was coming from him. A rich, delicious, as I said, familiar smell.

    “Oh!” I said. Held the plate to my chest, a small white shield that, it turned out, was unsuccessful at deflecting cupid’s arrows.

    I guess I should have been grossed out. Who smells of something that strongly? Who likes someone who smells that strongly? But then he smiled, and when he smiled I didn’t care any more.

    “So, I see you’ve met…” my cousin Theo had said, coming in. He had a leer on I didn’t care for. Theo put a proprietary hand on his roommate’s head that I liked even less. “Such soulful eyes, eh?” he said.

    “He smells,” I said, and instantly regretted it. “Like food.”

    “Have you been into the trash?” Theo said to his roommate mock-crossly. “Get off the counter.”

    His roommate jumped down. I couldn’t meet his eyes as he marched out of the kitchen.

    “He bites holes in the garbage bags anytime we leave it out,” Theo said to me.

    His roommate whipped around. “Well, if you’d take it to the curb – like you’re supposed to –” his teeth bared as he stared down my cousin. Lovely, even teeth.

    “Oh yeah, it’s my fault you can’t control yourself!” Theo spat back.

    “Why did you even agree to the chore wheel if you didn’t –” he growled and stomped out of the room.

    “Chore wheel. Max is so fucking uptight,” Theo muttered to me when he was out of earshot. “Seriously, if I wanted a chore wheel I would have got a cat for a roommate.”

    I commiserated, traitor that I was. Three hours later, when I left the party with Max, I heard Theo call out. “Ooooh hoooo, looks like someone picked up a case of jungle fever!”

    When we were a couple blocks away he turned those eyes up at me and said, “Seriously, I know he’s your cousin and everything, but has he always been such an ass?”

    I remember the first time I’d heard of a cross-species love affair. Of course, I was disgusted. It was just something you never thought about back then. But I remember the way my dad would get when he cooked steaks: the moans he would make with each bite, right under Mom’s nose. And sure, now we know that that’s subliminated bovine-lust, but if I’d suggested that to him back then he would have slapped the freckles off my face. They’re still old fashioned. If Max and I get through Thanksgiving dinner without any “Rover” jokes, we’ll be lucky.

    ~~~

    Notes:
    -women penguins seeking out diverse genetic mates unlike themselves
    -how kids do the opposite of their parents: grow up in the suburbs, move to the city; grow up in the city, move to to suburbs
    -the way we move towards a multi-ethnic future: perhaps a multi-specist future beyond that?

  2. It’s nice to see some new Munroe scifi writing. I picked up a copy of the magazine Futurist the other day, a magazine I’d never seen before. I was thinking it would be great inspiration for a science-based scifi writer. There’s an article in it (it was an old issue from the library) about how humans will soon communicate with animals by speaking their language (instead of ours).

    tiny edit:
    first time I’d heard of an cross-species love affair
    to
    first time I’d heard of a cross-species love affair

  3. Thanks Sean! I’ll keep an eye out for out Futurist, but I suspect I prefer straight science magazines — I like to do the futurism myself! Sounds a bit like buying a crossword puzzle magazines with all the answers filled in.

  4. I only read Pastist.

  5. (Inspired by Nature Podcast Feb. 15 2007)

    Chris looked at the pills. They were packaged in the little plastic bubbles legitimate medicine came in.

    Hera had her slippered feet up on the coffee table, looking at her little stick — looked the same as the original test that had told her she was pregnant. She seemed calm. She liked what she saw on the stick, and held out her hand.

    Chris pushed out the pink one and handed it over to Hera. She took it with a glass of water. He dryswallowed his blue pill but Hera passed the glass over.

    “Says you should be well hydrated,” she said. He dutifully took a sip.

    “Any other tips?” Chris asked, squeezing his knees.

    “Didn’t you read the forward?” She clucked, pulled it up on her Pad and passed it over to him.

    Chris pointed his eyes at it but didn’t get beyond “Tips for an Enjoyable BabyPhase.” To be honest, he hadn’t thought Hera would go through with it. He was usually the one to buy drugs in their relationship.

    “There was also a package it came with but it just said the same stuff as it did online so I got rid of it,” she said. “Made me nervous to carry around a box of clearly marked contraband.”

    Chris cracked a grin at this, set down her Pad. “And how was the pickup?”

    “Easy. Tons of people in and out.”

    Even ordinary people used the dropboxes to shop these days. Better than risking some spaminator showing up at your address.

    Not that there was no risk — the news was always showing pregnant women, eyes streaming, being escorted by officers to and from courtrooms. For PR, they made sure they were women cops, but the Police Chief had been vocal about being tough on the Phase trade.

    “You’ll tell me if it hits you first, right?” Hera said. “You won’t just start grinning like you do when we get stoned.”

    Chris laughed. “Well, that’s how I tell you.” Was he feeling something, a little lighter around the stomach? But if he was linking with her wouldn’t his belly be heavier?

    “Mr. Secret Grins,” she said. “Come sit beside me.”

    He did, settling into a cuddle as natural as breathing. He tucked Hera’s hair behind her ear. She put her hand on her belly.

    Inside, their child was approaching a pivotal eighteen hours of development. Chris only understood the most basic of biology, but knew it had something to do with proteins and bonding and avoiding cleft plate. Luckily, Hera had explained that he didn’t need to understand what his body already knew at a molecular level. My communing with their child they would give her an edge —

    Her? Chris said, surprised at himself.

    “Do you hear music?” said Hera, distantly, her hand on her body moving with her breath.

    Chris thought he did. He heard something, and was so focused on in he didn’t realize his eyes had closed and that it had begun.

  6. (Inspired by Nature Podcast Feb. 22 2007)

    At first, we did it to make the human translators look stupid.

    “This excrement is particularly tasty,” said Gerry, an Australian visiting Osaka on behalf of his company.

    One of his hosts blinked. “Excrement?”

    The human translator smiled smugly. “This shit is tasty,” he said. “The program doesn’t parse colloquialisms.”

    That pissed us off. They were supposed to be there for backup, but we were pretty sure they didn’t know English at all. If they had, they would have noticed we transposed “squid” for “excrement”.

    Gerry held up another tentacle in his chopsticks. “I wish our excrement tasted as good.”

    “Slang,” whispered the translator.

    We translated the whisper into something that called into question Gerry’s sexual orientation, and he went white. His nose started to twitch in a clear indication that he was about to get violent (body language was one of our specialties), but that would have given the game away. So we translated Mr. San’s next lines accurately.

    “Well, the fuel cells we provide are the highest quality, as you know.” Mr. San said, oblivious to the tension crackling in the hulking man across from him. “But we want to keep doing business with your company, and we understand it’s a changing economy… so we will give you a three percent reduction.”

    We watched Gerry relax with a certain amount of disappointment, but we didn’t want to see Mr. San beaten up. But unless the translator said something, we couldn’t mistranslate it as something.

    “That will make my father very happy,” Gerry said. We’d hoped the translator would have pointed out that “my superior” would be a better translation, but he said nothing, sleepily poking at his teeth with an after dinner pick.

    A couple of meaningless exchanges later, Gerry excused himself. The translator waved, and, in barely decipherable English, said “Have a good trip!”

    “All those lessons were worth it,” said Mr. San.

    At first, we thought Gerry would be out of earshot before the translator could respond and we could mistranslate.

    “Hey, if it helps us rip off those big fairies, I’m glad.”

    Gerry froze, with his hand on the door.

    It was the first time we’d gotten to translate screams and pleas for mercy. It was a welcome change.

  7. (Inspired by Nature Podcast Mar. 1 2007)

    There were bars, after a while, that catered to turps. I worked in one, after I had been bounced out of the decent joints in the city.

    “Havva,” said one of my regulars, his lower lip quivering. I kept wiping down the bar.

    “Nother,” he said. I stopped. I waited. Sometimes that was it, but sometimes —

    “Bud,” he finished. I sauntered over and pulled him a draft. The tap had been fitted so it went slow — just to remind the bartenders if nothing else. It was actually kind of handy in that you never had to worry about the head being too frothy.

    Janice arrived at the end of the bar, where she’d been heading for the last ten minutes. She had her drink order in hand, didn’t like talking. Lot of turps were like that, especially women. I looked over her shoulder at the pad: B B B R+C.

    I grabbed the rum and the cola hose and looked over at her bright eyes. “How’s the rugrat?” I chatted.

    “Smarter,” she said. I grabbed some clean pint glasses.

    “Than,” she continued. I drew the beers, nodding at her.

    “Me,” she finished.

    I laughed, placing the drinks on a platter. She was smiling, defiantly, and I could see how she had been pretty. But I always found defiance pretty.

    I put the platter on her hands and she started the trip back across the room.

    Janice was one of the few staff who didn’t resent me being there. She was an old timer — the younger ones hadn’t lived through the robberies of the places run soley by turps. They were sitting ducks. It was mostly kids who’d done it, the same kind of animal who’d beat up old people for social security chips they couldn’t access anyway.

    They’d only come around once since I’d been hired. They walked around the customers, smirks on their faces, as if they weren’t heading for the same exact fate themselves. The youngest looking one hopped up on a barstool and looked at me. I decided to play along, keeping an eye on the one who was trying to work the lock get behind the bar.

    “Got” I said, in the fashion of the terps. “ID?”

    “No-I-Don’t,” he mocked me. Hussain, who’d been sitting two seats down, contorted with rage. His pint glass tipped and hit the bar with a clink. The baby-faced kid jumped up out of the way of the beer, but he needen’t had bothered. It pooled up and poured over the edge into Hussain’s lap. The baby-faced kid crowed with laughter at this, a high pitched cackle.

    “Arright,” I said walking to where the other kid had figured out how to open the cash register.

    Baby-face looked as if I was a wax statue come to life. Before he noticed, I slammed the register closed on his pal’s fingers. I held it there, popped open a channel to the cops.

    “Do something!” said the kid between his sobs. From the confines of my headlock, he watched his pal backpeddle towards the exit.

    “You know what you can do,” I said. “You can help him eat for the month of paralysis and the three years of terpitude he’ll get for attempted robbery.”

    The kid was stopped by a patron entering, slowly, slowly. I continued. “Bring him places like this. Yeah, I see you spending a lot of time in places like this. See you once you get your shots.”

    I grinned as he finally shot out the door, and locked his pal in the storage room til the cops arrived. Grabbed the mop while I was in there and did my best to clean up Hussain’s spill.

    “Scared,” said Hussain.

    I poured him another.

    “Straight?”

    The bar rippled with laughter for fifteen minutes, maybe longer.

    Notes
    -slower movements use nerves on the lower part of the spine, while fast movements use the upper part
    -maybe instead of jailing people, we’ll just inhibit or remove their ability to move quickly?

  8. (Inspired by Nature Podcast Mar. 8 2007)

    They’d been on the brink of consciousness for too long, was the consensus.

    As to what to do about it, well, that was the subject of much debate. There were those that advocated pushing them over the edge — those who had the most to gain in the short term. But they were a motivated but small minority. Joining them was another small cadre of academics who belived that sentience was not assured, and in fact had a small window of time in which to gain higher thinking faculties. And then there were the philosophers.

    “There’s a chance that they may even bypass our level entirely,” said one of these deep thinkers. “Their capacity for thought is growing far past what is strictly required for our level of consciousnees.”

    As a member of the sit-and-wait camp, it was the philosophers who worried me the most. Luckily for our position, the military minded folks hadn’t taken them seriously enough to consider the ramifications of this — that the people (or proto-people) we were monitoring could suddenly become a superior opponent.

    The miliary — and those that thought like the military — were never entirely convinced that these proto-people were worth paying attention to, and it was unlikely the philosophers would convince them. It was only the lure of the diversity they could offer, if they reached sufficient complexity. To the military more diversity was code for innovation that in turn led to new weaponry. The idea that our civilization was stagnating mattered not one whit to them.

    It was only us, the scientists, who’d seen the importance of this. We’d wanted it too badly, in a sense: we’d initiated communication with them immediately after discovering the planet. The silica based lifeform was so like our own, kin and kith, and perhaps this explains our enthusiasm. We assumed, like us, they used the organic material to communicate, and we quickly rearranged its genetic code to signal our existence. But they didn’t respond, and even stranger, the organic material we used became inert and unusable almost before its message could be read.

    The primitive writing materials were our first clue, but we soon became aware of many other proofs that the silica based lifeform was pre-consciousness, no more like us than the pets we kept. And naturally, union with such a proto-people is as morally and otherwise wrong as mating with our pets.

    In the end, it was a political blunder, really, because it destroyed our chances of preventing further contact. Now, as clear as we can be about the problem with inducing consciousness — primarily, that how we induce it will influence the form it will take to be more like ours and thus defeat the purpose of introducing diversity to our civilization — is met with various scoffs of “Well, it was OK when YOU did it…”

    As the only reaction we were able to get was through the organic matter, the futile communication via reordering the gene seqence continues. If you ask me, if they ever do achieve sentience, the first thing they’ll ask us is why we wasted so much paper?

    Notes
    -the “sobering” realization that cancer is more genetically diverse than once thought
    -what if we’re on the wrong track with cancer altogether?

  9. I’m just starting to read these…I read the first one and read sean’s comments and wanted to point out that there seems to be trend towards the identification of geographically distinct whale and porpoise dialect identification going on…first it was orcas and just recently Blue whales…I like how that first story functioned like a mystery as well…like a demented encyclopedia brown story – i.e. can you figure out what is going on? then at the end you get some clues and then you can read the solution at the back of the book… As I read more they all have that mysterious quality…short and strange…

    The baby talk pills were a nice nugget as well. And the idea of cancer indicating the evolution of an alternate sentience in the body is really creepy…right out of some japanese horror movie…I’m not even sure if that was part of the story…or just something that came out of the mashing of the notes and the story…also regarding silicon based life forms…I just read an article about a guy who is using the chemistry discovered while studying how sea sponges create their glass skeletons to creating silicon wafer/meshes to increase solar panel efficiency. Some sea sponges have really intricate – loofah like glass skeletons.

    I’m really enjoying these short sci fi stories! Thanks dude…

    best

    marc

  10. (Inspired by Nature Podcast Mar. 15 2007)

    Anyone who knows me knows that I have a problem with rage. My moorings come unstuck. My kneecap is the same way. I took a hit in a hockey game twenty years ago and now, knock it at the wrong angle and it’ll pop off like a piece of lego.

    Not quite as fun as lego, though. Unless mindbending pain is your idea of fun.

    Often they’ll go off together. Here’s what happened last weekend.

    I was helping a friend move. My wife’s friend, to be honest, never been that hot on the guy myself. But he was in a spot and I was her proxy.

    Last time we moved we got a moving van. At my wife’s insistance. And now, she has a few drinks with this washout and she forgets that we’re past the stage where we’re shlepping china cabinets down three story walkups.

    She made me a big breakfast that morning, kind of to make up for it. “You’ll need your strength,” she said, tonging out another piece of bacon. Usually she’s pretty stingy, for my own good, but this morning I got an extra nitrate boost.

    So we’re taking it slow, cause this guy is no spring chicken himself. He goes out of his way to take the heavier, most awkward position, and I don’t stop him. He’s backing down the stairs and in one of the stairwell turns I bump my knee.

    At first I don’t think there’s anything wrong, but I give it a little bend and — OW OW OW and I’m whacking at it like it’s on fire

    …and I’m seeing the face of the kid who did this to me, this ruddy fat face after the game, this face mocking and suddenly slashed open by two ice cold blades, two cuts four cuts six cuts eight…

    and finally it’s knocked back in. I’m no longer a teenage murderer, I rub my face and smooth down the beard that is the beard of an old man. I’ve got better things to do with my remaining days.

    “You all right?” he calls up, in that irritating voice of his, the voice that calls and talks to my wife about bullshit gossip, I mean what the fuck is a broke fuck like him doing with a china cabinet anyway?

    “Yeah” I say, and he lifts his end of the cabinet. I rear back a bit and check the cabinet down the stairs. It slides like a bobsled over him, making so much noise I can’t hear his last sounds even though I’m listening with teeth gritted.

    I stand there for a few minutes, letting the rage leak out of me, out of my pulsing eyes and clenched fists.

    The neigbours don’t come out, but the cops come faster than i would have thought for this neighbourhood.

    It takes them about five minutes to assess the situation. They scan the area, and me.

    “It just slipped,” I said, my voice horse. I might as well be a ghost.

    The cop with the tricorder scans the top of the stairs, then the bannister where I banged my knee.

    “The emotive spatters lead…” he follows the tricorder until it points at my knee. “Straight to this fella.” He looks at me for the first time, though under his shades I can’t see his eyes. “Something you want to tell us, buddy?”

    I make my eyes big. “I don’t know–”

    His partner cuts to the chase and gives my kneecap a kick. It pops. My gurgling lunge is cut short before I can get my hands around the cop’s neck.

    The last thing I see is his billyclub flash on as he doses me unconscious.

    Notes
    -large quakes caused by large quantities of small quakes
    -resonance: butterfly flapping wings
    -how do riots start?

  11. (Inspired by Nature Podcast Mar. 22 2007)

    Bark Doesn’t Grow On Trees

    The zebras were revolting. This was one of the reasons Leo made the trip down to this side of the savanna as infrequently as he could. One of them let loose a fart and emptied his bowels immediately afterwards, much to the neighing delight of his neighbours.

    Leo crouched down and closed his eyes. He decided to wait for the moment of hilarity to end before he made his presence known. He breathed deeply and tried to erase their gum-bearing idiotic grins from his mind. He let the hot African sun lull him into a sleepy drowse. He’d just eaten, and usually he’d have a snooze now, but Marion had insisted he check up on…

    “Hey ya botthman,” said foreman zebra, slurring in the Zebra fashion. Lollop, was that his name? No matter, he’d find out soon enough. “Lollop wath just checking on the other trees when he saw you here.”

    Lollop was clearly curious but Leo had no intention of explaining himself to this creature.

    “And how are the other trees doing?” Leo said, stretching and getting to his feet. He noticed that the idle zebras had noticed him with their foreman and were getting back to work, scraping up against the trees with their hindquarters.

    Lollop was an old hand, his hindquarters still hairless and raw even though it’d been years since he’d been promoted to foreman and now spent his days checking to see if the bark had grown back. A plum job, if a bit lonely. Zebras were social animals, the experts explained, although to Leo enjoying other people’s farts was just pathological. Even now, old Lollop was looking longingly at his herd.

    “How are the trees doing?” Leo repeated, with what he felt was an almost regal patience.

    “Thorry botth, they — not tho good. Couple more of them got the sickneth.”

    Damn. Damn damn damn. Leo sighed. “Couple — like two or three?” Even as he said it he knew it wouldn’t be — the sickness never was just two or three.

    “Maybeee… half?”

    “Half?!” He wheeled to face Lollop, feeling his mane curl around him with the sudden movement. “Half of my trees?”

    Lollop whinnied and look down. “Ya botth.”

    Leo roared. It just burst out of him, a terrifying noise born of rage and misery.

    Seconds later, his whole workforce was gone.

    ***

    They were waiting at the riverbank. Leo had his head in his paws. Marion was licking his face, but it didn’t cheer him up at all.

    “You were right.”

    She sighed. “I don’t take any pleasure in it.”

    Leo looked down the river. Nothing. Raymond was running late.

    “You know I just don’t like that Lollop character on account of his wife.” She stood up and stretched. “A fusspot and a troublemaker.”

    Marion delivered the zebra foals, and was in charge of taking the even numbered ones to use as food. Lollop’s wife had kicked up a fuss about her second foal as if the whole concept was new to her.

    “Lollop’s not like that,” Leo said for the millionth time. “But still, I should have kept better tabs on him.” He noticed the boat coming around the bend.

    “Well, the sickness,” Marion said. “It’s not like you could have done anything anyway.”

    Leo busied himself by pushing the bark into a bigger looking pile. Even this month they’d come short of quota. But maybe Raymond wouldn’t notice.

    Raymond was close enough to screech a greeting, his bigger workman looming behind him. He leapt nimbly off the raft and gave Marion a big hug and Leo a scratch on the head.

    “How are my favourite lions?” the monkey said with a grin.

    “Bad.” Leo wasn’t in the mood for small talk.

    The monkey started feeling through the bark with a expert hand. His appendages looked ridiculous but were actually very useful for his line of work. “Aw, what’s wrong, kids?”

    “The sickness has hit half my trees,” Leo said. Seeing the sudden affect this had on the unflappable Ray was very disturbing. He almost felt like crying.

    He clapped and his workman started to move the bark onto the raft.

    Raymond sat down, rubbed his eyes. He looked old. “I have to tell you, kids. I won’t have any choice. If you guys can’t handle the demand, I’ll have to go further upriver. There’s a couple of hyenas up there, got a good bark operation going…”

    “So you’d leave us to–” Marion left the last word off.

    “Look, I don’t care how you do it. Keep the production up.”

    Leo bared his teeth. “The zebras who farm the sick trees get sick themselves.”

    “The bark, though, the bark is totally fine,” Raymond said, his voice getting softer. “And I have it on a good source that the sickness doesn’t ruin the meat.”

    Leo felt his stomach turn as he realized what Raymond was implying. To keep the farming going.

    “If you’re lucky, the herd will outlive the sickness. It’s a seasonal thing.” Raymond shrugged, hopped onto his boat. “You’re re-configuring the workforce. For the new economy.”

    Marion looked at Leo with confusion and concern in her liquid eyes.

    “They’ll never do it,” Leo called after him.

    “Of course they will,” he snorted, one of the big monkeys pushing off into the current. “You’re fucking lions.”

    Notes:
    -unusually anthropomorphic episode: immigration, predators influencing diversity in bacteria both compared to human populations
    -humans prey now on the geographically instead of physically disadvantaged — corporate exploitation

  12. (Inspired by Nature Podcast Mar. 29 2007)

    Not Smart Enough

    The boys at the lab were reluctant, but the boys at the lab always are.

    But eventually, the boys did what I told them. In the end, they always did.

    In this case, it was pretty easy convincing them. It wasn’t even unethical this time. I mean, I was helping my wife remain faithful to me. Chemically enhancing the sanctity of marriage.

    If I were a more paranoid man I would wonder if they’d known what would happen all along and that’s why they were so compliant, the little shits laughing into the sleeves of their labcoats — see, that’s why I take Pacifica. Peace in a pill. It works great. Not our best seller, but steady.

    In fact, if I hadn’t been on a rage management pill I would have killed the slut the first time I’d had a whiff of what was going on. As it was, the chemicals did their magic: intellect was suddenly engaged as intensely as my baser instincts would have been: the synaptic rerouting caused by the medication turned a paryoxom of rage into a paryoxom of innovation.

    I started putting in longer hours at the office. Suited her fine, of course. I would hang up the phone at her almost gleeful response to my working late and feel my brain start to crackle with ideas.

    I’m a manager. I’m bigger picture than the dorks down at the lab, science isn’t my speciality. But even so I started doing their work for them: combing through the literature for relevant studies and bringing them to their attention.

    There was this one character, Evans was his name, who was insufferable. His stupid watery eyes, his bad breath, his fucking cowlick, for fucksake — a guy who worked at a pharma known for hair rejuvination comes into work with a cowlick. Had I known he’d existed before this project I would have had him fired.

    Which would have been a greater loss to me than the company, it turns out. Because Evans knew pheremone mapping better than anyone else in the country. But like all nerds, he was small picture. He saw it working on his flies, his mice, even his apes: he’d just nod and keep collecting data. He’d see two previously incompatible animals rutting themselves raw — and check a fucking checkbox.

    My every trip down to the fourth floor was met with a sigh and a lip curl of disgust and this one was no different.

    “What now?” he’d say.

    “Got some samples I want you to map,” I said with a grin. I plunked one down. “Target.” I held two up that were labelled “enhance attraction” and “reduce attraction”. I looked to make sure he was watching. He glowered back at me.

    “If you can spare some time away from making your monkey porn,” I said, looking up at the desperately horny simeons.

    He picked up the target bottle, the one with my wife’s hair, and threw it back at me. (Threw it, mind you — I could feel my IQ rising.)

    “That’s useless,” he said. “Totally, useless. We need it fresh. Otherwise the resolution just isn’t there.”

    I nodded. Walked away, a plan forming in my head. As it turned out, getting Don Juan’s sample was easier than hers. A bit of cash transfered to jason@ipunchpeopleformoney.com was all it took to get my unimpinged sample, with the bonus of a busted lip for the man fucking my wife. (Really, I should have sprung for the pictures, but that wouldn’t have made me any smarter.) With my wife, I had to orchastrate a false STD story to scare her into a blood clinic where I knew someone.

    Three days later I returned with three more bottles. At this point I had turned up enough dirt on Evans to bury him, and I was looking forward to rubbing it in his face.

    “Two days,” was all he said, not looking from the goo model he was working on. He was dejected, defeated. Even his cowlick looked less annoying.

    If only Evans had been a little more annoying that day, I might have gotten the intellect boost to follow the dominos I’d set in motion a few feet further. But I didn’t. As it was, I took the mixture he gave me and dosed two points of our romantic triangle: my rival first, so that she found herself less and less attracted to him. Then, on a night I was well dressed and groomed and feted at a glamourous party, I took the potion myself. I felt her eyes on me all night.

    And parked by the river, I watched those eyes melt and felt that she was mine again.

    It took a few weeks of her slavish devotion to salve my wounds, but then I was back on top: staying late at work again, but this time to prepare for a presentation to wow our top brass. It was a new product I had created called ReIgnite.

    It was a few days before the presentation that we had my inlaws over. My father-in-law was the uninteresting lump he always was, but my mother-in-law was having a strange day. As I put the dishes away in the kitchen I wondered if I should offer her a comp subscription to our SmootherTransition menapause drug when I felt her body behind me.

    I whipped around.

    “Always nice to see a man in the kitchen,” she purred, pinning me against the counter. Staring at me with the same liquid eyes as her daughter, her blood responding to the same chemical mapping of her DNA.

    Notes: -a particularly great ep
    -classifying drugs in a rational way: ecstasy is less damaging than tobacco
    -discovery of a pheremone male fruitflies have that causes sexual excitement in females and supresses it in males
    -edited later for better reading rythm

  13. (Inspired by Nature Podcast Apr. 5 2007)

    “Next you’ll be telling me it really was made of green cheese,” I said. Instead of deflating him, it seemed to excite him for a second.

    But then he shook his head, adjusting himself on the wooden deck chair. “Couldn’t affect a body that radically. It’s not magic.” He moved again, and I felt a twinge of guilt at his inhospitably uncomfortable chair alongside my padded lounger. But age before youth, as they say.

    “Sounds near enough to it,” I said, taking a sip of lemonade. “The magnetic fields bending to people’s will…”

    “And the man in the moon,” he muttered on, tapping his knees.

    The boy is all skin and bones, a monk of science. A beautiful summer day out of the city and all he thinks about is his work.

    “No, no,” he says, pulling back. “The attraction of unified theories, that’s what Yong is always warning us against.”

    Yong again. I try not to roll my eyes. “So, explain it to me once more. But have a cookie first, for god’s sake Matthew. You know I don’t like them.” But to be a good example I take a chocolate mint and force myself to chew.

    He takes one and nibbles. “We’ve known for years that the earth’s magnetic field is what protects it from solar winds… and that the winds are what turned bodies like the moon and mars into barren wastelands.”

    This was news to me, but I was more curious about why my nephew never thought about the bodies most young men did. Would he end up a barren wasteland like his aunt? “Mmm. So the solar winds that are hounding the Africans now…”

    “Is related to our weakening magnetic field, yeah.” He moved his chair into the shade. “So in an effort to understand what happened to the moon and mars — which is probably what we’ll end up looking like –”

    “Oh!” I couldn’t bear thinking of our belle blue marble pockmarked and scarred like the withered moon. “No doom and gloom, you promised!”

    “We’ll end up looking like… IF we don’t figure out how to reverse the process, Aunt Lucy,” he said, giving me a rare smile.

    I feel my smooth neck and cheeks and said, “With enough money and enough science, there’s always hope.” He laughed, and I wondered if he would have if he knew my face work erased all hope of an inheritance. As I looked at his serious face reestablish itself, I realized he had bigger worries. “So, you noticed some anomaly in the moon’s magnetic field…”

    He abandoned the chair and sat down in the grass. “Yeah, we’re able to chart it a lot better now and we realized that there was a spike in magnetic activity in the late 1960s.”

    “So couldn’t it have been something connected to the moon mission? I was a little girl at the time, but weren’t they doing all sorts of experiments?”

    He nods. “Yeah, but it starts with the public awareness of the program, not the physical landing. And we were able to chart smaller spikes whenever there was significant focus on the moon — and also, Mars. It wasn’t sustained enough to cause any real changes on the surface, but for a while it was fairly guarded from solar winds. It’s thought that if it was given a few thousand years of focus it may even be habitable –”

    I cackled. “And a thousand prayers of the faithful, we’ll all be able to levitate to Eden!”

    He sighed.

    I squeezed his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Matthew. But if you can’t convince me, how is the prime minister going to –”

    “Look,” he said, turning to me earnestly. “You know how quantum physics works, right? How simply being observed makes particles act differently?”

    I shook my head. “To be honest I never really understood that part. All I know is that when I turn my key the car starts.” I threw up my hands. “Frankly, I was happier when I had to put gas in it, I understood that.”

    “It’s not really turning the key that starts it — it’s your desire to get somewhere–”

    I waved my hands, “Never mind, never mind. I’ll leave that to the experts, I have a very honest quantum mechanic who I pay well so I don’t have to think about that stupid cat or those stupid boxes.”

    He gave me an infuriatingly patient smile. “OK, well, anyway, the plague in Asia resulted in a net loss of focus on the Earth. That’s what caused the solar windstorms. And now, when you have the Leave Behinders lobbying for us to leave Earth in favor of some hypothetical planet, well –”

    “We have even less focus on the Earth,” I said, finally getting it. “Causing more solar windstorms, giving the Leave Behinders more leverage — you’ve got one of those self-perpetuating thingys there,” I finished lamely.

    “Yes! Exactly.”

    “Shit,” I said.

    Notes: -joan of arc relics are mummy bones — often used for potions
    -magnetic fields protect us from solar winds: without it we’d be as barren as mars and the moon
    -what if mag fields have quantum particle behaviours?

  14. (Inspired by Nature Podcast Apr. 12 2007)

    The mole men worked at night.

    They didn’t know it, of course, being underground. But something about the time simply seemed right to them, and they would stretch their stumpy little arms — not that they knew they were stumpy, there being no basis for comparison within their Kingdom — they would stretch their arms and they would wiggle their pink noses. One of them — often one with a bristly little mustache beneath his slit eyes and pink nose, since they were thought to be more virile in that time (the Mole Kingdom was as prone to fads and trends as any sufficiently complex — and sufficiently simple minded — place). He might pluck at his symbol of virility and say to whoever he might be next to:

    “Well, think I might go and take a looksee at the plates, then.”

    And he would get up, in the slow, harumphing way of the mole men, and head towards the place. In the nature of caverns, the roof would get lower and lower and the crowds would get denser and denser and the ‘staches would get thicker and thicker until he was there, at the place where mole men were congregating at that time.

    As usual there were dozens of mole men ahead of him, at the sweetspot where the continental plate was loose. The guy who was there was doing a good job of poking it with his flippery hand, so our mole man was content to stand there and stroke his stache and chat with his fellows.

    “Mm. Looks like it’s looser than yesterday, yeah?”

    Nod. A deep contented sigh as only comes from mole men near the sweetspot. For the mole men, it’s an itch that’s good to scratch; a blister to suckle; a patch of sunburn to rub free. The sweetspot is part of their body, in some way. The pushing and the prodding is their way of mating.

    More mole men come when more mole men are needed. It is obvious from this ten deep crowd that there are too many mole men: this too takes care of itself. Our mole man feels himself getting squashed inch by inch into those in front of him. He is grateful to get closer to the sweetspot, closer than he’s ever been.

    The roof starts to slide and the heads of the mole men are forfeit; the skin and then bone is sanded off the top of their heads. But the rumble is something they feel like an orgasm, and that the quake hits down the buildings topside doesn’t bother them more than flushing a condom bothers you.

    Notes:
    -deformation seemed to be the theme: deformed mirrors, continental plates
    -I think this’ll be the final one — gotten a good bunch of bits out of it, but it’s feeling a little stale. On to business podcasts, perhaps.

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