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Author Topic: EP312: Night Bird Soaring  (Read 5802 times)
Talia
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« on: September 30, 2011, 09:29:02 PM »

EP312: Night Bird Soaring

By T. L. Morganfield

Read by Mat Weller

First appeared in Greatest Uncommon Denominator #3

---

On his sixth birthday, Totyoalli’s parents took him to the holy city to see the Emperor Cuauhtemoc, but the plane ride proved the most exciting part. He kept his nose to the window, taking in the vast lands of the One World, from the snow-capped mountains of his home in the northern provinces to the open plains of Teotihuacan. He marveled at the miniature cities and cars passing below. All his life he’d dreamt of flying, ever since the first time he’d seen a bird gliding through the air.

From the airport, they took a cab to the royal palace on Lake Texcoco. Tenochtitlan, the single largest city in the world, sprawled around it for miles. The cab buzzed across one of the royal causeways, the water blue and shimmering in the hot sun. Inside the walled royal complex stood the Great Temple, meticulously maintained by a crew of thousands, its sacred Sun Stone keeping watch over the visiting crowds.

At the palace, two genetically-engineered royal jaguar knights escorted Totyoalli’s family to the Emperor’s gardens. Totyoalli watched their tails swish behind them, fascinated. Their heads looked so soft he wished to pat them between the ears, but when he tried to talk to them, they bared their fangs and gripped their spears a little tighter.


Rated appropriate for 15 and older due to language.

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #1 on: October 03, 2011, 08:37:24 AM »

This was really interesting and fun.  I have come across a few stories that predict what would happen if the Aztec empire hadn't gone away, (especially the "Strange Tale of" stories over on Dunesteef).  It's still a novel enough idea to me that I am excited just based on that.  But this one took it one step further, advancing this civilization to the space age.  I think I can honestly say this is the first time I've ever read a story where someone's career aspirations to become an astronaut were thwarted because he was scheduled to be a human sacrifice before his mission was over.  I liked the reveal that the Empire had survived because of extraterrestrial AI intervention.  Good stuff, and I like that in his case his fate was unavoided.

To me, though, it would've been better without the final sentence or two that showed the god watching.  I was enjoying the delicious ambiguity, where I could contemplate whether this was fated by the gods or just a really crappy coincidence.  I wish the ending had just kept it ambiguous.  But other than that, I really enjoyed it.
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Thomas
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« Reply #2 on: October 03, 2011, 04:36:21 PM »

overall, i enjoyed this one.
a bit dissatisfied with the ending, stretched a bit too far into fantasy at the end (it felt like the author wanted to save the main character, Deus ex Machina), but overall, most enjoyable..
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Thomas
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« Reply #3 on: October 03, 2011, 04:41:53 PM »

OK!! now i know whatr was bothering about this story...


TIME TRAVEL!!


don't care for it, especially when it messes with the known timeline in which future events are changed. now explain to me how this can exist when the person sent back was never born?

paradoxes make good stry, i know, but.... grrrrr....

i am a mathematician by trade and these types of stories grate on my soul.....

i did enjoy it, but after the emperor explained his existence, it started gnawing at me. I didn't know why until i explain the story to my daughter.
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Dem
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« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2011, 08:28:12 AM »

I hope the narrator got a double fee for that one. He must have spent days getting his mouth round those names to be as consistent as he was, and that matters. Where's the kudos button ..?
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2011, 09:09:59 AM »

OK!! now i know whatr was bothering about this story...


TIME TRAVEL!!


don't care for it, especially when it messes with the known timeline in which future events are changed. now explain to me how this can exist when the person sent back was never born?

paradoxes make good stry, i know, but.... grrrrr....

i am a mathematician by trade and these types of stories grate on my soul.....

i did enjoy it, but after the emperor explained his existence, it started gnawing at me. I didn't know why until i explain the story to my daughter.

Wait, what?  I'm confused.  What time travel?  Did I completely misunderstand what was happening in the story??  I didn't catch a whiff of time travel.  I thought it was a straight up alternate history, a timeline that separated from ours when the alien AI crash lands and kicks Cortez's butt.
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slag
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« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2011, 11:36:25 AM »

I liked the ending actually. I really wasn't expecting it at all since the "god" warrior was revealed to be
some nanobot hybrid, and everything seemed to be going the science-good religion-bad way.
That and it was a sci-fi story.
But I think what I like about it is that it layers the world the same way that the "god"warrior's (I can't
even start to spell his name) reveal about himself does. We first see it as this kind of alternate history
where the Aztec empire survived and became supreme, only to find out it was actually through means of
some superior technology that it was possible. And if the reader has a problem with the Black Dog God appearing
at the end, if you're REALLY opposed to magic making a cameo in your science fiction, all you have to do is
remember the old "magic is just science we don't understand yet" addage. So the Black Dog god is some
kind of extra dimensional manifestation or some crap.
Either way, it just adds another layer to this world where, in the end, we see that we are our own beings,
and sometimes we don't agree with what destiny, decided or determinative, has planned out for us.
Fate on top of fate on top of fate on top pof fate ya know.
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Ocicat
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« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2011, 11:42:57 AM »

It wasn't an alien AI.  It was an AI (and nanobots) sent from the future to save the Aztecs.  It's really just addressed at one point - blink and you'll miss it:

Quote
"Artificial intelligence," the Emperor corrected. "At least that's what they called it where I came from."

"And where's that?"

"Somewhere that doesn't exist anymore," Cuauhtemoc replied. "They sent me into the past, in the body of a snake, and I bit one of the nephews of then-Emperor Motecuhzoma the Younger, which transferred my nanites into this body."

Speaking as someone who normally hates time travel, I really wasn't bothered by this use of it to set up an alternate history.  He says straight up that his (our?) future doesn't exist anymore.  If you go to the past, you'll change it.  Works for me.

I really liked this story, both for the world building and the wonderful friendship between the main character and the Emperor destined to cut his heart out.  Great stuff!
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matweller
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« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2011, 01:00:50 PM »

I hope the narrator got a double fee for that one. He must have spent days getting his mouth round those names to be as consistent as he was, and that matters. Where's the kudos button ..?
Thanks! It did require a call to the author to make sure I pronounced things (mostly) the way she wanted them. As I told her, I've read some Myan calendar prophesy and studied a decent amount of Aztec/Myan/Inca related things over the years so that I've read a lot of these words many times, but I've never had to pronounce most of them out loud.

To add to what Ocicat said, I've always felt itchy about time travel stories that involve going back and forth because to me it seems the mere act of going back would fracture existence so that you couldn't possibly go forth in the same reality, but only in the new one you've created which [butterfly effect] stands a good chance of never having had that you in it. This one didn't bother me that way because there was no return attempt, therefore no need to worry about that whole mess.
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Thomas
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« Reply #9 on: October 04, 2011, 03:27:42 PM »

time travel issue

so, if the nanobots went back in time to change the time line, then the reason for sending the nanobots back no longer exists and they were never sent, so the time line never got changed.... that's the time paradox these stories never address adequately or at all.

i do not care for time travel stories for this reason.

i will still read/listen to them, but they grate on me for this reason.

the terminator series dealt with it well, the overall history didn't change, just some of the details. and they people sent back, their timeline did not get altered too much, they still got sent back. history played out as if the change of events were there to begin with.

all that being said, i still enjoyed the story. check out podiobook story borrowed time, it is nothing but a time travel story and from what i remember it deals with this issue. also the book singularity by bill desmet. you can get both books on podiobooks.com for free.
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Dem
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« Reply #10 on: October 04, 2011, 04:16:27 PM »

I hope the narrator got a double fee for that one. He must have spent days getting his mouth round those names to be as consistent as he was, and that matters. Where's the kudos button ..?
Thanks! It did require a call to the author to make sure I pronounced things (mostly) the way she wanted them. As I told her, I've read some Myan calendar prophesy and studied a decent amount of Aztec/Myan/Inca related things over the years so that I've read a lot of these words many times, but I've never had to pronounce most of them out loud.

That takes bottle. You can get away with a lot if your head pronounces something Squishpottletwick and there's only you to think you might have pronounced it Squashpittletwock two pages back!
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #11 on: October 05, 2011, 08:37:13 AM »

Speaking as someone who normally hates time travel, I really wasn't bothered by this use of it to set up an alternate history.  He says straight up that his (our?) future doesn't exist anymore.  If you go to the past, you'll change it.  Works for me.

I really liked this story, both for the world building and the wonderful friendship between the main character and the Emperor destined to cut his heart out.  Great stuff!

Oooohhh, okay.  Apparently I missed the "to the past" part.  I remember the part about its homeworld not existing anymore, and about it being in the body of a snake and transferring from there.  But I thought that aliens did it.


so, if the nanobots went back in time to change the time line, then the reason for sending the nanobots back no longer exists and they were never sent, so the time line never got changed.... that's the time paradox these stories never address adequately or at all.

i do not care for time travel stories for this reason.

But there are multiple ways that time travel could work.  This story and many others work perfectly well if you just ascribe the same theory of time travel to them.  Most time travel stories that I've seen break down into three categories:
1. Time is a slate–anything can be can be changed! Be very careful, you might prevent your own birth. (ala Back to the Future). Paradoxes are a major problem–if you change antyhing you could prevent yourself from going back which would keep you from going back to prevent yourself from going back–and so on.
2. Time is a tree. You can change things, but all you’ll do is create an alternate timeline. That is by making a change you just force yourself down a different branch. You can’t prevent your birth, but you can send yourself down a branch where you were never born. (ala Back to the Future II, which doesn’t seem to use the same concepts as Back to the Future)
3. Time is written in stone. Whatever happens in the past has already happened, observed events are 100% unchangeable. For me to believe in this one, I feel I also need to believe in a higher power (a fate or a god or what-have-you) to make sure everything is neat and tidy. (ala 12 Monkeys)

This story works perfectly fine with Theory #2.  The AI's influence just forces it to travel down a different branch of the time tree, wherein this story takes place.

The Terminator series time travel bothers me much more, myself, because it's kind of a wishy-washy version of #3.  Time isn't written in stone, but in memory foam or something.  You can change something but it'll bounce back.  It just strikes me as less real than any of the other theories.  My main objection to #3 is that it seems to imply the existence of a higher power to regulate changes to make sure that nothing can really be changed.  In the Terminator series, it's kind of like that, except that this higher power is lazy, or at least sluggish.
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raetsel
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« Reply #12 on: October 05, 2011, 08:53:43 AM »

I enjoyed the world this story was set in and the characters but some parts didn't quite work for me.

The way the MC is let off being a blood sacrifice was a bit too easy and all just because he questioned the Reverend Speaker?

Also the ending left me a little flat. As soon as the MC was sent out to repair the window you could see what was going to happen.

I didn't have a problem with the Dog God at the end as I just took that to be metaphorical somehow.

One thing that did strike me though was if the Reverend Speaker was essentially an AI from the future why did he persist in carrying out all the blood sacrifices? Did he believe in the Gods? Or was he just using it to maintain power and control of the Empire?

I guess that is an interesting debate, if you create an AI that thinks like a human will it come to  infer and believe in the existence of gods as some humans do or will it be rational enough to decide their existence is highly improbable?

Kudos indeed to Matt for the reading, flawless and with such ease, no sense of having a run up to the tricky pronunciations.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #13 on: October 05, 2011, 11:53:49 AM »

The way the MC is let off being a blood sacrifice was a bit too easy and all just because he questioned the Reverend Speaker?

But WAS the MC let off being a blood sacrifice at all?  He met a bloody end during the appointed time, as the Reverend Speaker said he must.  The god being showed at the end suggests that this was all part of the plan.  Still, this is a happier ending for the MC than having to stew on earth.  His lifelong ambition was to become an astronaut, and the Reverend Speaker making a show of letting him off the hook allowed him to do fulfill his lifelong dream.  On earth he would've felt his life was wasted by his fate.  But a life lived is not wasted.



I guess that is an interesting debate, if you create an AI that thinks like a human will it come to  infer and believe in the existence of gods as some humans do or will it be rational enough to decide their existence is highly improbable?

OR perhaps in this world gods do exist in an observable fashion.  I don't think it was ever stated what destroyed the future, right?  We just know that the AI was sent back.  So we can speculate on why that destroyed future came to be:
The Aztecs were right, and we really DO need to give periodic sacrifices to appease the gods.  In our timeline, such practices have now been abandoned by most cultures.  By our time in the timeline, the gods are thirsty, and they are pissed that we're not feeding them anymore.  At some point in the future, that fury breaks loose and they destroy us all.  But before they completely destroy us we manage to slip the time traveling nanite AI into the past and we task it with saving the future.  Saving the future in this case means that it must ensure that human sacrifices continue.  It saves the Aztecs and leads them to become a superpower in the modern world, all the while ensuring that even in its modern incarnation the empire will still do the sacrifices.  So, if this were the case, the AI would be behaving entirely rationally by insisting the sacrifices continue.



Actually, the more I talk about it, the more I like this story.  I even take back my earlier comment about the god showing up at the end being a bad narrative move.  With that it suggests that the gods are real, and in combination with knowing that the AI came from the future (which I hadn't realized on the first listen), the AI's actions all make sense.  It is trying to preserve humanity, and the way to preserve humanity here is to appease the actual tangible gods. 
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Thomas
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« Reply #14 on: October 06, 2011, 09:23:03 AM »


3. Time is written in stone. Whatever happens in the past has already happened, observed events are 100% unchangeable. For me to believe in this one, I feel I also need to believe in a higher power (a fate or a god or what-have-you) to make sure everything is neat and tidy. (ala 12 Monkeys)



um, no, it dies not necessitate a belief in a higher power. It means that what has happened effects out now, so if the time line is changed we never existed. now, the concept of alternate timelines does come into play with this motive. we cannot change our time line it just splits off into another version ala new star trek. our timeline does not change, but our alternative does, one in which we may not, can not, exist.

and like capt. jayneway, all this talk of time travel and time lines hurts my head, so i am done...
except to say, i really enjoyed this story despite the time travel issue....
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« Reply #15 on: October 06, 2011, 12:02:28 PM »

um, no, it dies not necessitate a belief in a higher power. It means that what has happened effects out now, so if the time line is changed we never existed. now, the concept of alternate timelines does come into play with this motive. we cannot change our time line it just splits off into another version ala new star trek. our timeline does not change, but our alternative does, one in which we may not, can not, exist.

I disagree.  The only way that the timeline can remain unchangeable in the presence of time travel is for something to regulate that immutability.  Otherwise, any attempt to go back and change the past could have some chance of succeeding.  In stories I've seen that follow this path , any attempt at change is prevented by some coincidence (a gun backfiring, a car accident, whatever).  But such happenings are predictable and aimed toward the goal of immutability.  For a timeline to be immutable requires a higher power (whether it has a consciousness or not).

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Thomas
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« Reply #16 on: October 06, 2011, 01:42:57 PM »

i do not know what i did with the quoted text, but that was weird....

ok, unblinking, i'll concede, but only because time travel bugs me.
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bolddeceiver
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« Reply #17 on: October 06, 2011, 09:11:02 PM »

Here's the problem I have with this story -- and one I've seen in a couple of other "what if X culture were the dominant culture in an alternate present/future technological civilization" alternate history stories.  In many points in its past the cultures that became the modern dominant Western-European-derived civilization, some pretty nasty, dark, inhumane shit has been the norm.  However, when we extrapolate Aztecs or Mongols or whoever else into modern technological societies, we tend to assume they hold on to whatever "savage" traditions we remember them best for (and note that we remember the "savage" traditions largely because those are the features of those cultures that Western explorers wrote down and made the biggest deal of).  By the same logic, we should be still hanging petty thieves, burning witches, and employing trial by ordeal, even if in some snappy new high-tech way.  To argue otherwise is to make a pretty chauvinistic claim that it's some inherent superiority of the Western European culture that means we can get beyond our brutal history while nobody else can.  I tend to think that that progress of humanity is far more a side-effect of a more interdependent, organized society than of some inherent tendency of individual cultures (this video goes a pretty good way towards why I think this).

(I will allow one possible exception here, namely the existence of actual corporeal gods -- god-like beings, at least.  I still am not convinced that would make that big of a difference, particularly given that it seems like plenty of people don't necessarily believe the gods are really immortal and not just some kind of faked pagaentry.)
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #18 on: October 07, 2011, 08:53:15 AM »

ok, unblinking, i'll concede, but only because time travel bugs me.

You don't need to concede.  Plenty of people disagree with me on that point, and more power to them.  Smiley
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« Reply #19 on: October 07, 2011, 11:05:33 AM »

I liked this one.  The juxtaposition of the highly advanced scientific achievements with the sustainability of blood thirsty barbarianism of the gods blood sacrifice really struck a chord with me.
I also liked the irony that Totyoalli did not want to die for god he did not believe in because of his scientific training, yet end the end, he died for the gods anyway.
This is a well done story where science and religion live side by side yet there is no mandate that one be right while the other be wrong.  There is no indication to me that the author has a pro-science/anti-religion agenda.  Yes the religion is a harsh one, but one that turned out to be correct in the end.
And as Norm said "never pass up nanite blood, people.  Never."
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