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Author Topic: EP405: Vestigial Girl  (Read 2007 times)
eytanz
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« on: July 19, 2013, 03:26:48 AM »

EP405: Vestigial Girl

by Alex Wilson

Read by Nathaniel Lee

--

The cartoon butterflies were sleeping along the pushlight nursery wallpaper as Charlene fumbled with her cradle’s locking mechanism, using fingers too large and uncoordinated for anything so practical. She blinked away the fuzziness of the low light–clearing her eyes for less than a second–and fought against the calming scent of lavender wafting up through her mattress. She flexed the monster in her throat. She didn’t love the feeling, but would miss such control over at least this one part of her body.

She heard muffled voices in the next room, beyond the transparent gate of her cradle, beyond the sleeping butterflies. Her fathers were fighting again, and they’d forgotten to activate the night muffler to hide the sounds. This was a good thing, this night. Of course they usually didn’t check on her again after nine o’clock, but it usually wasn’t so important that she hear them coming if they did.

Six months ago, Charlene had averaged three hours, forty-four minutes to open her cradlelock on any given evening; tonight it took her only forty-seven minutes. She wasn’t ready to celebrate that her physical development might finally, slowly be catching up with that of her mind. She wasn’t sure what that meant yet. She had an idea that it wasn’t entirely good news.

Again, she flexed the monster. She was four years old, and this limited mastery of her throat was still her only material proficiency.

The lock clicked. The cradle gate swung gently open. The voices in the next room became louder and clearer.

“Calm down, Gary. There’s still hope.”

“Think you’ll still say that after we’ve been changing diapers another twenty years?”

Daddy Oliver was calling Daddy Gary by his given name. That meant he was upset. When they weren’t upset, they called each other Chum or Babe, terms of affection rather than identity. She’d figured out all this on her own, from watching, from listening, from reading. She understood that degrees of isolation and socialization weren’t the only indicators of potential, and sometimes her fathers did, too. But could observation, without interaction, adequately prepare her for life? Could she defeat the monster entirely on her own?


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: July 23, 2013, 09:32:52 PM by eytanz » Logged
Kaa
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« Reply #1 on: July 19, 2013, 11:57:13 AM »

Wow. That was good. I have to admit, I have absolutely NO idea what it was she was removing from her throat (I couldn't think of anything vestigial), but listening to it was delightfully awful...

...while I was eating lunch...

...at work.

So, yeah.
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egamma
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« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2013, 12:16:49 PM »

I had to create a forum account for this episode, because Vestigial Girl affected me so much. I am completely tense and have adrenaline coursing through my veins. I'm gonna need to take a walk, and give my kids big hugs when I get home.

Here's a picture of vocal cords, I think she shot that triangular piece on top of her vocal cords, that separates her food pipe and her windpipe.

www.daviddarling.info/images/vocal_cords_diagram.jpg
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2013, 03:25:39 PM »

Is it wrong that as soon as I saw the title, I started singing in my head:

We are living in a vestigial world and I am a ... ?
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« Reply #4 on: July 19, 2013, 03:43:45 PM »

I admit- I'm a sucker for EP stories that feature positive, loving relationships between parents and children. Because I am a huge sap. So I enjoyed this story a lot.

Still, I'm going to quibble, because that's what we do on forums, right? Wouldn't her parents have taken her to an ENT about her speech delay? I say this as the parent of a bright, healthy kid who didn't start speaking until around 30 months, after a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy. Seems like tissue blocking her vocal cords would be easy for a doctor to diagnose (a toddler did, after all).

(I couldn't think of anything vestigial)

I thought the point of the title was that her body itself was vestigial, compared to her super-developed intellect. But maybe not.

Is it wrong that as soon as I saw the title, I started singing in my head:

We are living in a vestigial world and I am a ... ?

And I was hoping it was a Union Dues crossover...
« Last Edit: July 19, 2013, 03:45:40 PM by Corydon » Logged
Windup
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« Reply #5 on: July 20, 2013, 12:22:42 PM »


I liked the story, though I must admit I have NO IDEA what the thing she removed from her throat was supposed to be.  I particularly liked the interaction between the parents. For me, that emotionally potent mixture of shame, frustration, blaming, support, conflict, reconciliation and love rang precisely true. I also think the author also did an exceptionally good job of depicting the protagonist's dilemma of a brilliant brain trapped in a massively unresponsive body.  While I've never been in that situation, the author certainly helped me feel like I have been. 

I also thought Nathaniel's narration was spot-on for the needs of the story. 

I'm a little puzzled by the title.  If, as Alisdair's outro suggests, the "whistlers" are the next stage in human communication or some sort of alien incursion, "vestigial" would seem like an odd description for the thing in her throat.  I can't completely buy the idea that her whole body is meant to be vestigial, either.  Maybe the author will weigh in and clear things up.
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flintknapper
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« Reply #6 on: July 20, 2013, 01:02:49 PM »

Loved this story. Creepy. I cant help but think it wasn't anything and that she just tore out her tonsils. Pretty nasty, but great ending! Whatever it is she ripped out, they all bonded over it.

With Nathan as the narrator I was thinking at first this was going to be a funny story.  I still have Punk Rock Voyager lodged in my head... when it wasn't funny, I thought it was a strange choice for a narrator. I still found myself waiting for some smart arse or zany comment throughout the story and when there wasn't one, I was a little disappointed. Wink

Just kidding! In any event, great pick for escapepod!
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adrianh
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« Reply #7 on: July 20, 2013, 03:55:23 PM »

Liked it. Thematically reminded me a lot of EP314 Movement (http://escapepod.org/2011/10/13/ep314/).
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Scattercat
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« Reply #8 on: July 20, 2013, 11:30:32 PM »

With Nathan as the narrator I was thinking at first this was going to be a funny story.  I still have Punk Rock Voyager lodged in my head... when it wasn't funny, I thought it was a strange choice for a narrator. I still found myself waiting for some smart arse or zany comment throughout the story and when there wasn't one, I was a little disappointed. Wink

She gets a couple of zingers in.  Not really a laugh riot, though, it's true.  :-)

But just 'cause I've only narrated Punk Voyager here doesn't mean I only do the funny ones.  (Though I do gravitate toward them, admittedly.)  I've done a couple of readings for the Drabblecast, too, that aren't exactly humor stories.  I

'm happy to help out when I'm needed, so don't necessarily expect that it's a funny story if you hear my overly rapid, end-consonant dropping, vowel-extending voice pattering out.  ;-)
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Frungi
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« Reply #9 on: July 21, 2013, 02:34:45 AM »

I found this story kind of hard to listen to in parts—namely, the parents’ fighting. It just felt too genuine. So, kudos to the author for making me uncomfortable with domestic tension.

I also spent a good deal of time half-convinced that the story was going to end in horrible tragedy, and there was palpable relief when everything went so right in the end.
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matweller
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« Reply #10 on: July 21, 2013, 09:13:54 AM »

I guess I assumed the title meant exactly what it said -- she was a special needs child in the hands of a couple that would have had enough societal trouble with a normal child in their family dynamic. SHE is vestigial. I thought that was screamingly obvious, so now I'm doubting myself to see so many smart people having trouble with it.

Wouldn't her parents have taken her to an ENT about her speech delay? I say this as the parent of a bright, healthy kid who didn't start speaking until around 30 months, after a tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy. Seems like tissue blocking her vocal cords would be easy for a doctor to diagnose (a toddler did, after all).

I guess I assumed that she was a delayed child overall, that the inability to speak was just added onto that pile rather than being something to be diagnosed separately. I'm sure stuff like that happens all the time. The only part I find far-fetched is that if there are so many developmentally delayed kids in the world that have this same growth/cancer/whatever that she encounters others in her town, it would be nearly impossible for something like that to go undiagnosed for too long.

Incidentally, I have something that I picture to be similar to this. Obviously I've never seen it because I lack the intelligence to build my own laser tumor remover, but in the top of my left nostril there's a place where the passage takes a bend and it feels like there is a tonsil-like growth up there that can flap back and fourth depending on which way I'm breathing. The catch is, it's not inflamed all the time, so my family doctor has never seen it, and I haven't had the money yet to go see an ENT about it. So I live with this thing that is annoying and real enough that I have considered doing self surgery on it with a long pair of tweezers, but as of yet I haven't been able to convince anybody that can do anything about it that it exists. I can imagine if you added in the extra barrier of a disability on that, how frustrating that would be.
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Mayobe
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« Reply #11 on: July 22, 2013, 06:58:00 AM »

Am I the only one that caught the part where she was genetically engineered from the DNA of her two fathers?

I assumed that the monster was a mutation of some sort that resulted from that process. What I was wondering about is whether the monster was only preventing her from speaking, or if it was also responsible for her motor control problems. Possibly there are other monsters that she hasn't discovered yet?
« Last Edit: July 22, 2013, 06:59:40 AM by Mayobe » Logged
Cutter McKay
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« Reply #12 on: July 23, 2013, 08:14:22 PM »

Imagine my surprise the other day, as I was reading the latest issue of Writers of the Future, when I came across a story called "Vestigial Girl". I thought, Wait, didn't I just listen to this on EP? Sure enough, same story, only complete with an illustration of Charlene looking at the thing that just came out of her throat. Was it mentioned in the intro that this was a WotF winner, and I just missed it?

Anyway, I enjoyed this story. It was very unique coming from the mind of an infant, and a developmentally delayed infant at that. Reminded me of the character Bean from the Ender series. As I chugged along through this tale I was giving it a "ho-hum" rating, liking the idea, but finding it a little far fetched for an infant, even a genetically engineered one. Then I hit the last line. Fan-freaking-tastic. What a great way to end this story. I loved it.

I also enjoyed the bickering parents, reminding me of spats I've had with my spouse about our own children.

In all, a well told, well narrated, and enjoyable story.
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« Reply #13 on: July 23, 2013, 08:36:07 PM »

Am I the only one that caught the part where she was genetically engineered from the DNA of her two fathers?

I assumed that the monster was a mutation of some sort that resulted from that process. What I was wondering about is whether the monster was only preventing her from speaking, or if it was also responsible for her motor control problems. Possibly there are other monsters that she hasn't discovered yet?
You weren't the only one. I thought that was neat. Particularly in how it felt like a background detail, like in this future world that's just a thing that happens. Although it didn't sound like it was terribly commonplace.

Two things that made me go hmm about this story:
- Some of the time frames seemed a bit off to me. Did she really spend days on certain tasks? How? Lots and lots of trial and error? How did her dads not notice?
- What did she actually remove‽ I realize it's part of the strength of the story that we don't find out, but I still want to know!
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Listener
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« Reply #14 on: July 24, 2013, 07:49:43 AM »

I found this to be extremely visceral and, in some places, a little too gross-out. I also didn't love how smart she was; she's four, right? Four-ish? I realize the genetic engineering probably made her MUCH smarter, but it just didn't work in some ways.

That said, I was compelled by the story, compelled to keep listening, and I rooted for Charlene throughout.

I also enjoyed the reading.
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Kaa
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« Reply #15 on: July 24, 2013, 08:19:49 AM »

I also didn't love how smart she was; she's four, right? Four-ish? I realize the genetic engineering probably made her MUCH smarter, but it just didn't work in some ways.

I got the impression she was 18 months.
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TheArchivist
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« Reply #16 on: July 25, 2013, 04:14:23 AM »

I also didn't love how smart she was; she's four, right? Four-ish? I realize the genetic engineering probably made her MUCH smarter, but it just didn't work in some ways.
I got the impression she was 18 months.
Her age was certainly implied to be around that order, but it was clear that her mental development was way ahead and her physical way behind. The story is of a near-adult trapped in a child's body, but with the twist of some mutation possibly related to genetic manipulation.
I can see Listener's point - the suspension of disbelief organs are working overtime to cope with that level of intelligence at so young an age. On the other hand, if she had been cast as teenage but physically stunted to 18 month then her parents' relative acceptance of the situation would have raised even more disbelief. So it's not that obvious how the story could be told differently.
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matweller
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« Reply #17 on: July 25, 2013, 08:45:48 AM »

She was 4-years-old with advanced intelligence but the dexterity of an infant and no ability to speak or even make significant sound.

Quote
Again, she flexed the monster. She was four years old, and this limited mastery of her throat was still her only material proficiency.

Quote
By eighteen months–mostly from whispers and entertainment screens and books her fathers left active where she could see them–Charlene had identified a few of the big ways she wasn’t like others her age. She was smarter and could better keep her outward displays of emotion in check. But, other than her relationship to the monster and a small amount of control over the power and timing of her breath exhalations, she was well behind her peers physically, as though her inner and outer development were incapable of progressing at the same time.

Quote
“Only you could look at these test scores and take it as all bad. Look at this! Factoring out reaction times and fine motor skills, her non-verbal reasoning alone could be–”

“Suddenly off the charts? Sure. And if you also factor out the Stroop test and ability to recognize her own name, she could be MENSA? God, what’s more likely? That she’s smarter than either of us, or that the doctors are as clueless as we are?..."
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PotatoKnight
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« Reply #18 on: July 25, 2013, 09:38:58 AM »

Maybe my favorite kind of science fiction story is a story that presents a totally alien situation with completely relatable, intense, emotions. (Perhaps the gold standard would be EP classic Friction). This one is a little closer to home than most of the stories that fit that description. Still, I think we can safely call the experience of a highly intelligent child with a baby's motor and communication skills and maybe some sort of superparasite "alien."  Alien or not, Charlene's experience taps a deep and intense emotional well. One chance, after so much effort, to achieve the objective of one's existence. Thinking and feeling and being unable to communicate.

The details of what's going on are sketchy and as far as I'm concerned that's great because it puts us as the listener in a pretty similar state as Charlene.  We don't know any more than she does whether anything she's doing is going to help. It doesn't matter much to me what the monster is, if anything, or what happens next. What matters to me is that moment laying in the fort needing one...more...second, all the effort possibly going to be a waste, never being able to say "da."  Shivers and goosebumps.  A very strong story.
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #19 on: July 28, 2013, 12:39:33 PM »

A bit behind on this one, sorry...

1) I seem to be the only respondent who saw the subtext of Charlene's condition as autism. Now, I'm not saying the author is drawing specific parallels, but the condition of being trapped in your own thoughts unable to communicate certainly (IMHO) has a certain resonance.

2) the "monster" might be no more than an inconvenient evolution. I think we should take it as a actual monster with a grain of salt. I'd say that given her -admittedly improbably - hyper-evolved state, the "monster" might have served two functions, firstly, to aid in whistling, and secondly, to correct the terrible design flaw we all have, namely, using the same hole we breathe, talk, and eat through. It makes doing all three at once impossible, and two at once dangerous. If she can't speak, the likelihood that she'll choke diminishes rapidly.

Now, I know this gets into misleading ideas of evolution following a plan, which is why I'm not in love with the idea - but there it is.

Otherwise, I liked the characters and the clear pacing and plotting of the story. It was good.
« Last Edit: July 28, 2013, 01:14:10 PM by InfiniteMonkey » Logged
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