Author Topic: EP522: Bioluminescent Memory  (Read 7173 times)


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on: February 27, 2016, 01:44:15 PM
EP522: Bioluminescent Memory

By Victorya Chase

narrated by Serah Eley

with guest host Charity Helton


“Riley’s a Godsend, isn’t she?” Lily asked.

We were standing in the doorway of our daughter, Absidee’s, bedroom watching her sleep.  She started to stir, face contorting in the fear of a nightmare surfacing, when Riley put a glowing paw up and patted her on the cheek.  Her face immediately softened.

I sighed.  How was it that Riley could do what I couldn’t?

Four years ago I gave birth to our daughter, a blessing and symbol of our blessing.  Absidee was a fairy tale in each and every laugh and gurgle.  But, a child who had nightmares so terrible she’d wake us up with her screaming even when she was too young to talk.  We kept her in our bed, and still she couldn’t sleep.  Absidee shouldn’t have been aware of anything terrible, not in the overprotective home of two first-time mothers.

When Absidee turned three her pediatrician warned us about the long term effects of helicopter parenting, especially with both of us hovering like news copters at a crash.  Since birth she had slept with us, the crib at the end of our bed empty most nights, her screams waking me and her little body lashing out in night terrors.  We conceded to her own room.  This only meant that her yells echoed down the halls.  At four she was lingual and no longer spoke in just the gurgling speech of babies.  I heard her murmur the name from her dreams and realized my trauma was transferred through the womb; the umbilical cord a pump of memories into her tiny growing body.

I had never even told Lily the name of my abuser no matter how many times we spoke in hushed tones about the experiences I somehow survived.  And suddenly it was on the lips of Absidee.


Bioluminescence started as a way to track FIV in the feral cat community.  Cats were captured, tagged, given the glowing gene, and then set free.  Ultimately, this created a new breed of cat.  Sleek-furred glowworm green and blue animals ran all over town.  Shelters teamed with these radioactive felines.

Lily brought up the idea of getting Riley first, not that Riley was Riley then.  She was a stray among a number of strays in cages lining the walls of a shelter.  As much as humanity could grow in science, conscience was much harder.  Absidee had just spent her first week in her room, a painful experience for us all.  Lily held her while we walked from cage to cage, examining the animals.  Many paws reached out to us, but Absidee only reached back for Riley—a pale green glowing tuxedo cat with eyes bright from knowledge behind them, not the genetic markers spliced into her forbearers.

I was slightly scared of Riley.  There was something to her, something familiar.  She guarded Absidee fiercely and never left her side.  When I held Absidee, which wasn’t too often, Riley was always there, circling me, as if waiting for my gene to kick in.  The one that saw my child as the enemy. As a punching bag.

I loved my child with a ferocity I never thought possible, but each day was a struggle that my past not become her future.  Could I look at her one day with hatred, my love spoiled?  Would I be capable of hurting her?

Absidee was leaning against a doorjamb while examining me from top to bottom with her deep brown eyes.  I saw in them a mixture of curiosity and sadness.  By her side sat Riley, her gaze matching Absidees.  Riley was more a parent than I could be.

“Do you see this?” I asked Lily.

“See what?” she asked.

I wanted to explain that our daughter was examining me, perhaps questioning me as much as I was.  Then Absidee let out a coo that tore through my thoughts, walked over in her toddler drunken man walk, and clung to Lily’s leg.  Lily lifted her and held her tight while Riley wound her way around us.  I could have sworn her purring stopped when she reached me.


“Do you think something else happened to those cats when they got that night light gene?” I asked Lily.

She scoffed.

“Like, maybe it made them more intelligent or something,” I said.

“Cats have always been more intelligent than we give them credit for.  More aware,” she said, rolling over to face me.  “What’s this about?”

I didn’t tell her that my nightmares had returned.  They were intermittent, but there.  And my mother lived in those dreams.  It’s where I was trapped.  Alone.  There was no hope, only that blackness of the soul and so much fear.  I’d been waking up crying with no one to comfort me.  Lily slept through everything.  She could tell in the mornings though, by the bags under my eyes bigger than Absidee’s diaper bag, that I’d had a bad night.

“It’s just-” I said, trailing off.  I never knew how to make her understand my world when hers was so different.  We were a Venn Diagram with only one point touching.

She enveloped me in her arms, holding me, and breathed warm air into the nape of my neck.  It was her way of trying to protect me, to put me into her womb of love.

That night was the worst one yet.  This time it was the car we had lived when I was child, just the two of us and my mother’s cat.  There was always a cat.  The cat was caged in the front seat; I caged in the back.  I was suffocating, scared and dying before I awoke sweating.  There was no way I could get back to sleep, because even waking I was there and felt the bars burning my skin.  The only thing that could calm me was late night talk shows and peppermint tea.  The tea a gentle warmth that drifted up to my nose while some celebrity plugged their historical reenactment of a school shooting.  I couldn’t tell which one.

Just as I was being lulled away from my nightmares there was a shift of weight on the couch.  Riley had joined me.

“Not standing guard tonight?” I asked.  She had never spent a night away from Absidee.  She was either curled up next to her or sitting in the doorframe watching me pace back and forth, peering in to see if our nightmares were synched.

Riley sniffed at my tea, almost putting her whole face in and closing her eyes either from the steam or the catnip mixture in the tea.  Lids still at half-mast, she lay next to me and pushed a paw against my lap.

Riley had never been a family cat.  Since day one the glowing animal had been exclusively Absidee’s.  I reached out to pet her green fur, wondering how she felt about lighting up.  How all cats must feel.  It had to have changed their vision.  No longer could they be the perfect predator, not when they couldn’t hide in the darkness.  Maybe she couldn’t sleep either, a terrible fate for a cat.

She pushed her head into my hand and the color of her fur changed.  A deep red replaced the green normal to her.

“And what is this?” I asked, taking my hand away, my print still visible in her fur.

Riley lifted the paw that had been touching me.  It was also red.  She licked it and it went back to green.  Her tiny face stared up at me with true concern.  Although, I was probably projecting.

She nudged me again.  Her body was so warm.  I set the mug down and ran my hand down her back.

“Don’t be afraid,” appeared in a red glow.  Nothing makes someone more afraid than being told they shouldn’t be, especially by a ten pound glowing animal.  I shifted away from her but she crawled into my lap.

When Absidee was three, right after Riley became part of our family, Absidee would hold her by the neck and drag her around the house and Riley couldn’t stop purring.  She was sat on, thrown into the tub, pelted with various objects, and was fine with it all as long as Absidee was the perpetrator.  I would get errant swats just for standing too close to Riley.

Riley cleaned the words off her back and pushed me again.  I lifted my arm, hesitant, and she took the initiative to rub her body under my hand.

“It’s not easy,” was on her back.

Riley had already begun cleaning herself.  I went to pet her and she swatted me, and then nudged me when she was back to her green self.

“You’re not her,” was what appeared.

I began to big ugly cry.  That it was now three a.m. and a glowing cat was telling me something I needed to hear over and over again was too much.

Riley nudged me but I couldn’t move my hand, only hold it up.  She rubbed herself against it.

“Penny,” was all that appeared.  I began crying so hard I could no longer breathe and fell into a fit of coughing.

I didn’t get my Riley, a tuxedo cat named Penny, until I was fifteen.  Cats didn’t glow back then so she was a normal tuxedo cat that appeared in the rain.  She wasn’t even supposed to be my cat.  Like everything else in the house, Penny was expected to love only my mother.  My mother even kept Penny isolated in her room with her for a month to make sure they bonded.  However, the minute she was released from her cell, she leapt into my arms and never left, purring in my ear.  My mother tried to kill her many times for that betrayal, just like she had done with previous cats that were supposed to be hers.  Somehow Penny survived until I moved out.  By then all her energy had been spent.  Once I was truly safe, at least physically, she passed on.

That memory made my crying worse, even if it all made sense now.  Riley was a grandchild or great grandchild of Penny and thus had her memories.  She held in her body all the trauma connected to me.  She held the memories of protecting me. Somehow our histories, our genetics, stayed entwined.  Just as Absidee inherited my pain, Riley had inherited Penny’s.

This meant it didn’t end.  There was no escape.  Riley had to have been over three generations out from Penny, and she still carried all those memories.  I wondered if she remembered being thrown off the balcony.  Or how much she vomited, me holding her trembling body, after she was fed Miracle Grow.  Or how many times I cried into Penny’s fur, or bled into it, or the times she bled on my clothes.

This was my legacy to Absidee, my mother’s legacy to us all.  Suffering.

“We can change it,” appeared on Riley’s back.  I could barely see through my tears.  The words were refracted in each eyelash filled with grief.

“But how?” I finally choked out, almost in a primal scream.

Riley curled up next to me, one paw glowing red touching my pants.  Already she was asleep, or feigning it.  I felt a hand on my shoulder and jumped.  Riley shifted and we both turned to see Lily.

“You okay, sweetie?” she asked.

I was too startled to speak.  She leaned over to hug me, my sobbing only getting worse at her gentle touch.  I felt Riley jump up behind me and rub against Lily.  Her light shifted from green to blue.

“Together?” Lily whispered.

Riley mewed and ran off.  We followed her to Absidee’s room where she was nuzzling against the back of her neck, wiping a nightmare away.

“I swear her back just said ‘together,” Lily said, yawning.

“It’s a good word,” I said, leaning into her.  “A real good word.”

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!


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Reply #1 on: February 28, 2016, 05:40:59 PM
It was great to hear Sarah again. I thought the story was a bit light, and almost had a magical realism aspect to it. I almost wish we'd seen more of the cats, even though it wasn't a part of the story.

I'd also somehow missed listening to Budo, and there was a fragment of the recording on there which i actually really appreciated, made me go back and check it out, so thanks for that!


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Reply #2 on: February 29, 2016, 06:38:50 AM
It has been a long while since I have posted, and I will be honest, I have not been able to get through the entire story yet because it is so nice to hear Serah's voice again. I have tried to listen to it three times, and each time I am just so overcome with happiness to hear her voice again I get lost and realize I am missing the story. Serah, it is so lovely to have you back, you are so loved and were so missed. I will eventually be able to the story, but right now I am so overcome with happiness at hearing Serah on escapepod again everything else takes a back seat.

I don't know who you are or where you came from, but from now on you'll do as I tell you, okay?


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Reply #3 on: February 29, 2016, 08:17:40 PM
Do I win anything for identifying the segment mysteriously appended after the outro as a fragment of Ecko Endgame by Danie Ware?  Were we meant to hear that?


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Reply #4 on: February 29, 2016, 09:05:13 PM
For the record, there are genetically altered bioluminescent fish, mice and rabbits.  It wouldn't be too hard to make a bioluminescent cat (if there isn't one already).  The gene insertion (something like firefly luciferase) would have to be from birth though.


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Reply #5 on: February 29, 2016, 11:17:39 PM
I, like others, am glad to once again hear Serah's voice again. I'm glad she's doing well.

I'm going to try and listen again; maybe this time I can pay attention to the content ;)
« Last Edit: February 29, 2016, 11:54:59 PM by wintermute »

Science means that not all dreams can come true


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Reply #6 on: March 01, 2016, 02:12:22 AM
Serah's reading of this story was truly lovely, and it was great to have her voice back on Escape Pod. But the story itself I ended up really not liking. I really wanted to like it—the premise is full of things that normally appeal to me, both the bioluminescent cats (because awesome!) and the human themes of motherhood and family and intergenerational legacies of trauma. But the plot was full of simplistic or underexplained turns. Like, how do you go from "my glow in the dark cat is flashing messages to me" to "OF COURSE the only explanation is that she's the granddaughter of my childhood cat and she somehow still has that cat's memories just like my daughter somehow has my memories and now that she's glow in the dark and able to (somehow) communicate via written English on her fur she can comfort both of us when we have nightmares"? It just didn't make any sense to me. I'm not someone who needs every technological element in an SF story to be totally explained and to make perfect sense, but I would have liked some sense of the mechanism behind both the writing on the cat's fur and the cat literally having her grandmother's memories. Either that or give the whole story a more fantasy or magical realist setting, but the jump here from genetically modified glowing cats (totally plausible in what seems to be a near future world) to the cat somehow being able to communicate in written English via glowing fur (much more magical seeming!) was pretty jarring, to me.

Incidentally, on an only tangentially related note, the glowing cat reminded me of another awesome non-fictional (sort of) podcast episode involving glowing cats: It's about trying to figure out a way to convey to humans 10,000 years into the future that they should stay far, far away from nuclear waste dumps, when we don't know what kind of written language they'll have (if any), etc. One of the proposals was to engineer cats that would act as feline geiger counters and start to glow in the presence of nuclear radiation, and then spread around a whole body of mythology about the dangers of glowing cats, because mythology and folklore is one of the longer lasting elements of human cultures. A very science fictional premise that I kept thinking of throughout listening to this story, although here the glowing cat symbolizes protection and healing, rather than, you know, nuclear waste and its dangers.


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Reply #7 on: March 01, 2016, 03:28:34 PM
Yes, more about the cats would have been nice!

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Reply #8 on: March 02, 2016, 05:07:27 AM
I used to only have time to listen to Escape Pod on Saturdays when I mowed my lawn. Hearing Serah reading was a joy in-and-of-itself, but also evoked the sense of fresh-cut grass. I'm very glad she's well and having fun.

As a name collector (genealogy is one of my things), I was a intrigued by the name "Absidee." (Also by the fact that Riley is my niece's name.) I'd be interested to find out if that is a name the author made up, or where it came from. If I had to guess, I'd say it is a pronunciation of "A-B-C-D"?

I, too, was a bit bothered by some of the logic leaps we had to fill in. The story felt like it had room for filling in more details. I don't need to know details of abuse, as a rule, but I would have liked to have had a better understanding why the author felt so strongly that that horror was being passed on genetically. (Other than the thematic tie with the idea of the glowing cats.)

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Reply #9 on: March 03, 2016, 08:52:14 PM
Such conflicting feelings on this one. Basically, Serah's voice is comfort in my ears, and it was a joy to hear it again. Thank you for making that happen!

The story is lovely in it themes: wanting to protect your daughter and to help your partner, and all of that. BUT. The "science" part of the "science fiction" is so far from plausible that I can't get past it. It's one thing to hand wave about FTL drives, and quite another to say specificially that natural gas out of Iowa can power an FTL drive built by BMW in 2020. This story claimed the equivalent of the latter, genetically speaking. We know that memories aren't passed through the placenta. We know that animals with GFP in them can't control/change when and where on their bodies they glow. Honestly, I wish this story had been written as a fantasy story, with a fantasy explanation, because then I probably would have enjoyed it ten times more.


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Reply #10 on: March 05, 2016, 04:49:18 AM
This story kind of makes sense to me if it is about a mentally ill narrator having a complete break with reality. Bioluminescent cats I can accept, but memories traveling through umbilical cords I can't. The narrator clearly needs therapy to help her cope with her horrific childhood. Was the "secret name" the little girl cried out in her sleep "Mommy"? The narrator seems to have some trouble differentiating herself from her daughter. She's also afraid she won't be a good mother but instead will turn into some version of her abusive mother. Hence her delusions about the cat? Of course then it isn't really science fiction, is it? I don't know. The story didn't work for me.


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Reply #11 on: March 07, 2016, 06:07:40 PM
Do I win anything for identifying the segment mysteriously appended after the outro as a fragment of Ecko Endgame by Danie Ware? 

Yes.   ;D

You win the satisfaction of knowing that an internet stranger, one that has not logged into this forum for about 8 years, came here to find out what that was - because I was really enjoying it before it abruptly ended.  <shakes fist at sky>

Thank you for letting me know.

I have added these books to my Amazon wishlist.

Maybe I'll be back in another 8 years.   ;)

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Reply #12 on: March 09, 2016, 09:34:09 PM
I was reminded of Bacaigalupi's genetically modified cats with this one. Not sure which stories but it's one of his genepunk dystopian future settings, if you wanted more genetically modified cats.

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


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Reply #13 on: March 11, 2016, 04:41:24 PM
I have not yet seen a plausible theory describing placental memory transfer, or the proverbial "race memory." Is there one anywhere?
« Last Edit: March 11, 2016, 04:46:25 PM by nospammers »


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Reply #14 on: March 15, 2016, 05:23:06 PM
It was wonderful to hear Serah as the narrator! Glad to hear her life is going so well.

I know others have commented on the question of memory transfer and such, but honestly I didn't care. This story had such a high emotional connection for me that I was paying far more attention to that element than "is this plausible?" I do know that I had to pause at one point, least I start crying - not the best state while driving, of course.

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Reply #15 on: March 18, 2016, 03:12:54 PM
But the plot was full of simplistic or underexplained turns. Like, how do you go from "my glow in the dark cat is flashing messages to me" to "OF COURSE the only explanation is that she's the granddaughter of my childhood cat and she somehow still has that cat's memories just like my daughter somehow has my memories and now that she's glow in the dark and able to (somehow) communicate via written English on her fur she can comfort both of us when we have nightmares"?

I'm afraid that was my primary reaction to the story too.  There was a lot of character things to love here, but I got so wrapped up in the tangled plausibility. If it had come across as a fantasy story that would've been one thing, but the SF set dressing seemed to suggest that these are at least somewhat plausible. 

I could buy bioluminescent cats.  Not a huge stretch, even.  And I could buy that maybe an alteration like bioluminescence could have seemingly unrelated side effects like generational genetic memory.  If the narrator's original cat had had the bioluminescence then I could buy that, but the cat in the present is the first one to have that so I had a lot of trouble suspending my disbelief that it would somehow then get its memories from two generations before.  And why did the child carry the memories?  I certainly don't have my mother's life's memories, the narrator didn't have her own mother's life's memories, I don't know anyone who claims to have their mother's memories, so I was grasping for some basis for it all to make sense.

And the cat having fine enough control of its bioluminescence, as well as the English language skills to be able to write readable messages on its body where it couldn't even see them clearly itself...  I could maybe handwave my way through that if it were the only element but the generational memory combined with that really made it hard to suspend disbelief for me. 


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Reply #16 on: November 16, 2017, 04:44:35 AM
Just registering my Me Too here, on two things...

1) Big squee for Serah Eley back on Escape Pod. And surprise at the transformation (I've been living under a rock podcast-wise, so had not known). All made for some very distracted listening.

2) The trans-generational transfer of memories thing (in both child and cat) was just too much IMHO and broke the story for me.