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Author Topic: EP564: Trusted Messenger  (Read 806 times)
eytanz
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« on: February 27, 2017, 09:52:28 AM »

EP564: Trusted Messenger

AUTHOR: Kevin Wabaunsee
NARRATOR: Phillip Lanos
HOST: Norm Sherman

---

Dr. Thaddeus Begay had been expecting a dying child in the exam room, but no one had said anything about a woman half-dead from starvation. He stepped inside and muscled the door shut – like the rest of the clinic, it was made from metal reclaimed from the original dropship, and like everything else in the colony, it didn’t quite fit right.

“Good morning,” Thad said.

“Hello there,” the woman said. Her tone was probably meant to be cheerful, but to Thad, it sounded like it took significant effort.

Thad frowned. His nurse must have made a mistake. A woman had burst into the clinic without an appointment, the nurse had said, demanding help for her sick child.

But the woman sitting on the examination table with her child was thin to the point of starvation. Cheeks deeply sunken; the outline of her ribs and collarbone sharp through her tank top. Her hair, like her shirt, was thin and plastered against her flesh with sweat. On her lap sat a little boy of about a year and a half, had jet-black hair and deep brown eyes, and cheeks that were flushed with a painful crimson rash. Still, he looked healthier than his mother.

Thad dragged a stool over to her. It squealed across the faint outlines of the struts and tie-downs and internal dividing walls that had once honeycombed the massive storage container that now served as the colony’s clinic.

He glanced back at the chart – her name was Suzanne Buenaventura. He glanced at her vitals, and nearly gagged when he saw her records from the colony ship. She’d been more than 215 pounds when the dropships had landed. Sitting on the exam table, she didn’t look like she’d top 110. “And what seems to be the problem this morning, Mrs. Buenaventura?”


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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ToooooMuchCoffeeMan
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« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2017, 06:29:17 AM »

It's unfortunate that this week's reader just wasn't up to the task. He mispronounced words throughout, and each time it yanked me right out of what was an otherwise absorbing story. His reading cadence was distractingly Shatneresque while at the same time being rather flat and affectless. It's a shame; he's got a nice voice. Perhaps he just didn't prepare or rehearse well enough before making the actual recording?
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Scuba Man
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« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2017, 09:45:30 AM »

Now, THIS, is a different story that fired up my ecology-science-teacher-brain.  I've always wondered if groups of people, fed up with being stepped on (by other Earth societies), would pack up and head off to another planet.  I never considered First Nations peoples doing that too.  And the legacy of slavery Indians had to live through in North America (when my ancestors came a' calling).  Oppression.  Slavery.  Parasitism (-/+). That would explain the mother's revulsion at the symbiot.  The author captured the alien-ness of the symbiot (sea-stars still look downright bizarre to me, whenever I go marine-scuba-diving)... aliens who are at best is a mutual-symbiot (+/+), or at worst a commensal-symbiot (+/0).
Another thought: when Europeans invaded (?)  North America, did the first nations peoples see them as parasites?

And there's the matter of consent (timestamp 30:16) -- did the mother have the right to decide her son's fate?  And, yeeesh, did the doctor have the right to apply IT to the mom.  I don't know...

A mighty fine story -- it's being saved for future re-listening!
« Last Edit: February 28, 2017, 10:45:32 AM by Scuba Man » Logged

"What can do that to a man?  Lightning... napalm? No, some people just explode [sic]. Natural causes".  Source: Repo Man.
Scuba Man
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« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2017, 09:48:04 AM »

It's unfortunate that this week's reader just wasn't up to the task. He mispronounced words throughout, and each time it yanked me right out of what was an otherwise absorbing story. His reading cadence was distractingly Shatneresque while at the same time being rather flat and affectless. It's a shame; he's got a nice voice. Perhaps he just didn't prepare or rehearse well enough before making the actual recording?

Maybe I'm hyped up on too much coffee this morning... I didn't pick up your observation.  Fair enough. William Shatner?!  Heh heh.  Grin
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"What can do that to a man?  Lightning... napalm? No, some people just explode [sic]. Natural causes".  Source: Repo Man.
sixftflame
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« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2017, 09:53:05 PM »

I really don't take the time to post about the stories I listen to each week, but on this one, I felt compelled to see if anyone was getting the same read I did, from the ending. Try as I might to enjoy the story and think objectively about the ending, all I keep coming back to was that what Thad did to Suzanne was such a violation, I'm trying hard to not compare it to sexual assault. The breach of trust and obvious disrespect for her wishes, believing he knew better than she did and that she would come to accept it, perhaps even love it? This story belongs on the horror shelf to me, instead of sci-fi. I would've expect this level of emotionless mechanics from a story on Pseudopod. This one is taking me awhile to get over and I don't think I'll ever be able to shake the "ick" feelings I have for this story.
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dromeda
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« Reply #5 on: March 01, 2017, 12:08:06 AM »

I echo the deep discomfort with this story. While it initially seems like an analogy to an anti-vax mom refusing to vaccinate her kid, the complete disregard the doctor shows for anything as "trivial" as consent takes the story in a very disturbing direction. I spent the last third to a quarter of the story white-knuckle gripping my phone in horror, hoping that what I feared would not come to pass, only to be disappointed. I would honestly not recommend this story for children at all, let alone younger children who may not understand the implications of the doctor's actions.

I would love to hear the author's thoughts on this story, given his Native background and the incredibly thorny relationship European colonists have historically had with consent when dealing with indigenous people.
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Zelda
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« Reply #6 on: March 02, 2017, 05:17:40 AM »

I thought this story contained a lot of fascinating ideas. I would love to listen to a longer version which had more background about the colony's first years and the debate about using passengers. But I wouldn't like to get all of that information from Dr. Thad, his bias is pretty strong.

While Dr. Thad's decision to act without his patient's consent was appalling I didn't get a sexual assault vibe from it. To me he was a doctor who (1) sincerely believed his patient didn't understand the science that made this treatment necessary, (2) had a lot of emotional baggage about this particular medical choice, and (3) was dealing with a patient who was near death and who could not survive without this "treatment." I saw a case of "Dr. knows best" combined with a sexist belief that this woman couldn't think for herself.

I also believe Dr. Thad didn't have as much freedom of choice as he thought he did about the decision. I thought the story suggested quite strongly that Suzanne was correct in her belief that the passengers change the way their hosts think. I think Thad was to some degree being controlled by his passenger, which wanted very much for Suzanne to have a passenger. For example, the colony is only five years old. With that time frame it makes sense that Suzanne would find the sight of a combined human and passenger repulsive. But how could Thad in such a short time reach a place where he felt sickened by the sight of a human without a passenger? That strikes me as highly implausible, unless Thad's passenger is able to have a pretty strong effect on his emotions.

I felt a much stronger relationship to the issue of colonization. A group of people who come from a brutal history of oppression and colonization  travel to a new planet where they expected to be the colonizers. But are they really?

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kwabaunsee
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« Reply #7 on: March 03, 2017, 02:17:35 PM »

Hi, everyone; author here.

I just wanted to drop in and thank everyone for reading (or listening) to the story. I've been really blown away by your thoughtful commentary; you've given me a lot to think about.

I've written a post about what went into writing "Trusted Messenger" on my blog. It's probably a little long to repost here, but if you're so inclined, feel free to check it out (a link to the blog is in the first post or in my profile).

Thanks again!

Kevin Wabaunsee
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lisavilisa
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« Reply #8 on: March 03, 2017, 04:56:01 PM »

I also believe Dr. Thad didn't have as much freedom of choice as he thought he did about the decision. I thought the story suggested quite strongly that Suzanne was correct in her belief that the passengers change the way their hosts think. I think Thad was to some degree being controlled by his passenger, which wanted very much for Suzanne to have a passenger.

Me too. Also, notice how the narration pointed out that his sympathy for her faded to the back of his head as he saw her and her son walk away. To me this read as a panic response to the site of two viable hosts walking away. This seemed a big personality shift compared to the sympathy and soft-sell he was trained to display when dealing with difficult patients.


 A flush of heat and warmth spread across Thad’s back and chest as he watched Suzanne her walk away. He knew he should feel guilty, a sense of professional regret for treating her with such angry contempt, and he did, but it was a soft, muffled thought, far in the back of his head.

Instead, what he felt with a painful intensity was a visceral, almost painful urge to stop her. She was walking away, and he couldn’t let her leave.
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TrishEM
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« Reply #9 on: March 05, 2017, 06:05:59 AM »

I felt a much stronger relationship to the issue of colonization. A group of people who come from a brutal history of oppression and colonization  travel to a new planet where they expected to be the colonizers. But are they really?

Ooh, nicely nasty way of putting it, implying that the "colonists" have themselves been colonized, or even re-colonized. I shudder to think of what they will be like in a couple of generations. If a trading ship of normal humans ever comes calling, I wonder if they'll be allowed to leave unscathed?

I certainly agree with the interpretation that passengers change the way their hosts think; I think a lot of signs in the story pointed that way. Dr. Thad's brushed-away remembrances of his past mentor may have been his conscience's last desperate efforts to regain control; I don't know how much free will or responsibility he really had left by the end of the story, but his violation of Suzanne's strongly stated preference for death over accepting a "passenger" was horrific.

I was interested that Dr. Thad's argument for accepting a passenger never really moved beyond "do it or you'll die." After hearing that all life on the planet was interdependent, I was expecting to hear an argument along the lines that the planet's biosphere was actually benevolent, not poisonous, and that the invader-humans were welcomed as part of the biosphere as long as they were willing to really join it and give back of themselves, rather than trying to exploit it while remaining apart from it. The fact that this argument never occurred to Dr. Thad and/or his passenger gives more weight to the suspicion that the passengers are sinister parasites rather than mutual symbionts.
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Dwango
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« Reply #10 on: March 05, 2017, 10:13:11 AM »

I also believe Dr. Thad didn't have as much freedom of choice as he thought he did about the decision. I thought the story suggested quite strongly that Suzanne was correct in her belief that the passengers change the way their hosts think.

While I think this could be likely, a worse alternative is that he is not being controlled at all.  This leads to alternatives that his actions come out of prejudice and personal decisions.  There are plenty of examples of people enforcing their beliefs on others, as a way to both control others and to validate one's own opinion.  This can be seen throughout the history of Native Americans dealing with Europeans as they used words like savages to belittle them and at the same time enforcing conversion on them. 

His change in mind is common to belief changes, where someone makes a personal choice to go against their previous beliefs.  Many times the people who come to a new belief system are the most fervent to defend those beliefs.  When Dr. Thad takes the patient out to the graves, he thinks this would impress her, which it did not.  He is angry because she doesn't see his view of the situation, which leads to his actions.

In fiction, we like to think there are forces that create evil, that we are not responsible for bad actions, but they are caused by agents of evil.  It's much harder to deal with the reality that we ourselves can be evil, for all the right reasons.  Dr. Thad justifies breaking his word to his patience in that he is saving them.  He doesn't realize that he is repeating the mistake he made when he forcibly removed the symbiote from the previous person.  He is deciding for other people what they need, not really considering the patient, as his father taught him.

It would really be interesting to hear his thoughts when he decided to remove the symbiote, as I don't doubt it would be a similar stream of thought.

Wonderful piece that can have so many interpretations, and make one think.

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dracon
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« Reply #11 on: March 05, 2017, 07:10:08 PM »

That the characters involved are First Nations (I think you folks Stateside say "Native Americans") invites interpretation relative to the assimilation of native peoples into Western/capitalist/Eurocentric/(insert your politically-correct term here ;-)  culture.

Strict adherence to traditional ways of life is largely incompatible with conventional definitions of success within the wider conventional culture.  One isn't going to be able to afford all the accoutrements of modern society by pursuing a traditional hunter/gatherer lifestyle.

But adopting the mindset that allows one to function successfully in a capitalist society can lead to behaviours that are little short of parasitic-- and which, for the culture as a whole, may ultimately prove unsustainable and have certainly proven to be environmentally destructive on  a huge scale--and, also worth noting, led to wide-spread trauma that accompanied attempts to forcibly assimilate indigenous youths in residential schools (both here in Canada and in Australia).  

I think the story worked well to illustrate the tension, for traditional cultures, between adhering to values that may not be tenable in current global society and the price of abandoning those values for a lifestyle that may bring material success but is ultimately alienating (literally so, in the story).
« Last Edit: March 05, 2017, 07:37:53 PM by dracon » Logged
ProperPunctuation
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« Reply #12 on: March 14, 2017, 10:24:54 PM »

Thad seemed like the bad guy here to me, starting from fairly early on in the story. He had good intentions, but he was willing to incapacitate and force decisions upon multiple people over the course of the story to get there.
It was a fascinating and engaging read, but wow, it had a "squick" factor indeed
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spidervet
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« Reply #13 on: April 03, 2017, 11:34:23 AM »

I simultaneously loved and hated this story. As a vet I spend a lot of time trying to educate people into making an informed decision on behalf of an animal who is incapable of deciding their treatment for themselves.  From a medical perspective, the actions of the doctor in this story were so much against the Hippocratic oath I can't even begin to list the ways. As such, it made me feel profoundly uneasy.A great use of a clearly biased narrator.
I found this story made me analyse the language I use when dealing with clients.  It was a thought-provoking and disturbing tale, and I haven't been able to get it out of my head. So-a good story, I guess! It wasn't a nice story, but to me it raised some interesting ethical questions about the cost of living on a clearly alien planet. If I was faced with the choice to die or to parasitise myself with the aliens in order to survive, I'd go for the aliens. However, the whole point of this story is that the woman didn't get to make the choice herself. Which is, of course, a violation of her human rights. But are the colonists even human any more? How will the colony as a whole judge the doctor-right now, in fifty years, or in a hundred? Very interesting.
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Ichneumon
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« Reply #14 on: April 17, 2017, 03:19:43 PM »

The mother calls the symbionts unnatural, but it sounds like they were normal and very beneficial on that planet. The best way to lose your fear of something is to understand it, but it sounds like the colonists stopped trying to really understand the passengers after they thought everyone had one. I understand that the initial decision to accept them was one of desperation, but now that things have stabilized it seems to me that more research into the biology of the symbiosis would be a top priority. Maybe if they had more information, uninfected people wouldn't be so repulsed by them. (Or maybe they would realize everyone had made a huge mistake). Either way, better to know than hope. I saw the parallels with the ani-vaxxer movement as well. Maybe more science wouldn't have helped after all..
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Piet
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« Reply #15 on: April 29, 2017, 12:57:38 AM »

It's unfortunate that this week's reader just wasn't up to the task. He mispronounced words throughout, and each time it yanked me right out of what was an otherwise absorbing story. His reading cadence was distractingly Shatneresque while at the same time being rather flat and affectless.

Yes. Everything ToooooMuchCoffeeMan said, particularly the part about the unnatural cadence of the reading. There are long pauses where there shouldn't be, and no pauses in situations that call for them. The writing is quite sophisticated, but it takes a lot of re-interpretation of the reading to discern this. It seems like the reader lacks experience in the patterns and rhythms of the vernacular.

The story is excellent. Prior comments have effectively identified engaging features such as ethical dilemmas and issues of colonialism. The way the colonists are driven to make life-and death choices as they try to survive in an inhospitable environment gives the story primal relevance. As has been mentioned by others, Thad's passenger comes across as sinister in the way it conditions Thad's behaviour.

One odd story concept is that on a planet which is inhospitable to humans, it is still possible for humans to establish an intimate physiologically symbiotic relationship with an utterly alien species. The life forms on this planet are so alien to human physiology that they are toxic for human consumption, but somehow the passengers can biologically integrate with humans in a mutualistic manner. What is the likelihood that two lifeforms from different worlds would inadvertently have such a high degree of complementarity while all other life forms on the planet are poisonous to humans? This situation is quite different from life on Earth, where all species have much more biochemical similarity than differences. Perhaps the passengers are like the alien in the Alien films, a space-faring parasite which evolved to be carried by multiple hosts from many different worlds. Nothing in the story, however, suggests that this is the case.
« Last Edit: April 29, 2017, 01:31:53 AM by Piet » Logged

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acpracht
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« Reply #16 on: April 29, 2017, 12:47:54 PM »


Yes. Everything ToooooMuchCoffeeMan said, particularly the part about the unnatural cadence of the reading. There are long pauses where there shouldn't be, and no pauses in situations that call for them. The writing is quite sophisticated, but it takes a lot of re-interpretation of the reading to discern this. It seems like the reader lacks experience in the patterns and rhythms of the vernacular.

The story is excellent. Prior comments have effectively identified engaging features such as ethical dilemmas and issues of colonialism. The way the colonists are driven to make life-and death choices as they try to survive in an inhospitable environment gives the story primal relevance. As has been mentioned by others, Thad's passenger comes across as sinister in the way it conditions Thad's behaviour.

One odd story concept is that on a planet which is inhospitable to humans, it is still possible for humans to establish an intimate physiologically symbiotic relationship with an utterly alien species. The life forms on this planet are so alien to human physiology that they are toxic for human consumption, but somehow the passengers can biologically integrate with humans in a mutualistic manner. What is the likelihood that two lifeforms from different worlds would inadvertently have such a high degree of complementarity while all other life forms on the planet are poisonous to humans? This situation is quite different from life on Earth, where all species have much more biochemical similarity than differences. Perhaps the passengers are like the alien in the Alien films, a space-faring parasite which evolved to be carried by multiple hosts from many different worlds. Nothing in the story, however, suggests that this is the case.

An interesting point, but I disagree with your characterization of the relationship between species of life on Earth. A number of species are poisonous to some but harmless to others (think about a clown fish and a sea anemone). Also some species who don't or are unable to harm us (think of a daddy longlegs) are also quite harmful to other species.
How likely it is that an alien species would be compatible with humans while the other alien species from that planet are harmful is an impossible one to answer (given that we have not yet encountered any extraterrestrial species), but given how "alien" some species are compared to our own just here on Earth, I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility.
Within the story, it didn't strike me as at all unusual.

-Adam
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Ichneumon
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« Reply #17 on: May 01, 2017, 03:24:02 PM »


Yes. Everything ToooooMuchCoffeeMan said, particularly the part about the unnatural cadence of the reading. There are long pauses where there shouldn't be, and no pauses in situations that call for them. The writing is quite sophisticated, but it takes a lot of re-interpretation of the reading to discern this. It seems like the reader lacks experience in the patterns and rhythms of the vernacular.

The story is excellent. Prior comments have effectively identified engaging features such as ethical dilemmas and issues of colonialism. The way the colonists are driven to make life-and death choices as they try to survive in an inhospitable environment gives the story primal relevance. As has been mentioned by others, Thad's passenger comes across as sinister in the way it conditions Thad's behaviour.

One odd story concept is that on a planet which is inhospitable to humans, it is still possible for humans to establish an intimate physiologically symbiotic relationship with an utterly alien species. The life forms on this planet are so alien to human physiology that they are toxic for human consumption, but somehow the passengers can biologically integrate with humans in a mutualistic manner. What is the likelihood that two lifeforms from different worlds would inadvertently have such a high degree of complementarity while all other life forms on the planet are poisonous to humans? This situation is quite different from life on Earth, where all species have much more biochemical similarity than differences. Perhaps the passengers are like the alien in the Alien films, a space-faring parasite which evolved to be carried by multiple hosts from many different worlds. Nothing in the story, however, suggests that this is the case.

An interesting point, but I disagree with your characterization of the relationship between species of life on Earth. A number of species are poisonous to some but harmless to others (think about a clown fish and a sea anemone). Also some species who don't or are unable to harm us (think of a daddy longlegs) are also quite harmful to other species.
How likely it is that an alien species would be compatible with humans while the other alien species from that planet are harmful is an impossible one to answer (given that we have not yet encountered any extraterrestrial species), but given how "alien" some species are compared to our own just here on Earth, I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility.
Within the story, it didn't strike me as at all unusual.

-Adam

I agree with Piet. All animals on earth at least share the same building blocks (DNA, basic cell structure, evolutionary history). The probability we would instantly be able to form an intimate symbiosis with a life form convergently evolved to seem animal-like but is probably not animal, is functionally 0. I'd say the example of clown fish/sea anemone actually supports this point. The fish and anemone have co-evolved for thousands/millions of years. The things in the story have only been in contact for 5? (Daddy-longlegs don't actually have any venom.) And despite being in the same species, or even having the same parents, humans can't always share organs or blood. It is very difficult to get our bodies to accept foreign entities.
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