5410 words, short story
Left to Die
They had left her to die. Binu had realized that too late. At the time she thought she was only being pragmatic, and perhaps a bit noble. “Leave me, I’ll be all right,” she had rasped, gritting her teeth against the pain, looking into Niko’s eyes as he bent over her. Her mouth had tasted the salt of blood. Niko had gotten up, shaking his head at her. As the wave of pain subsided, she had seen them look at each other, Niko and Sheela, the loves of her life; it was a look that said volumes, and all at once she had known. They looked at her again, and in the light from her headlamp, their eyes behind the visors of their cheloplasteen suits were the eyes of strangers. Sheela bent down and tucked the sheet over her carefully. She wants to cover my face, Binu thought wildly.
“We’ll come back for you, soon as we can,” Niko said, his voice thick, and she knew he regretted leaving her to die, but not enough, and that he was ashamed of lying. The glow in the sky that indicated the arrival of the emergency lander over to the west gave them excuse enough to hurry. But she knew that they did not intend to return for her until she was dead.
A desperate cry sounded from her throat—it startled her to hear in her voice the sound of a wounded animal. But they were already gone, and there would be no chance for explanations, for pleading, for asking “why have you abandoned me?” The ugly word “murder” she pushed out of her mind. Lying on the uneven ground; she shifted a little and gasped with pain. The pain subsided, and she breathed more easily. The malfunctioning cheloplasteen suit had partially sealed the long cut in her back but it still hurt every time she moved. They had put the sheet under her when she refused the shelter of the tent, which they had collapsed and laid to one side; she was slightly claustrophobic at the best of times. At this moment a small stone or twig was pushing into her back, and for some reason, this was becoming a source of extreme annoyance. Death should be either very quick or reasonably comfortable, she thought. Breathe, breathe. How many breaths left? A part of her mind started counting—she shut it up, and instead looked at the great mother planet Laalmukh, striped red and orange, hanging from the night sky like an enormous, pregnant belly.
Through the crack in her visor, she was breathing the unfiltered air of the alien moon. The air smelled like rotting, oversweet fruit, punctuated with tendrils of unfamiliar aromas for which her body had no measure. The tree-like creatures around her were sessile animals, reportedly harmless; hard for an Earthling not to think of them as trees. The orange glow from the planet and the flickering phosphorescence of the tree trunks created a phantasmagoric light show, and all around her, the alien forest whispered, muttered, cackled, and hummed.
She was in a dream, except this dream was real . . . who would have thought that she, Binu, mining engineer and explorer of habitable worlds, was to die on an alien moon circling a gas giant seventeen light years from home? The electromagnetic disturbances created by the two large storms on the mother planet were roughly periodic, and they had taken every precaution that seven years of training for Zebos Galactic had drilled into them. The orbiting ship had its emergency rescue lander on standby, the exploration crew had landed during the EM minimum, and there were emergency flares if communication failed. And yet, communication had failed—the magnetosphere had extended a long finger toward them, frying Binu’s suit, and severely damaging those of the other two. That had been . . . when? Three days, according to standard Earth measures, or a lifetime ago, when she had been another person, confident, experienced, laughing Binu with her two lovers striding beside her, eager to explore Laalmukh’s largest moon for a prospective mining station.
For three days they had been stranded in the forest clearing, without any way to communicate with the ship until it rose over the horizon. Today the orbiting ship would have edged into range for contact. The next EM maximum was expected to occur in sixteen days or so, but there was a narrow window for rescue because Binu’s injuries meant that her suit’s life-support capabilities were strained to the utmost—once the suit died, she, too, would die without emergency help. The air was breathable, but the EM pulse had messed with her implants despite their vaunted defenses, and three vital organs were limping along on their own. She would be lucky to last an hour after the suit died. Since the comm breakdown, they were unable to speak to each other through their suits unless they pressed their helmets together and raised their voices, except for Binu, whose visor had cracked. Staying in the clearing for three days had tried them; the forest was filled with apparitions, ghostly murmurings, and flutterings at the edge of hearing and sight. It was well known that rapidly changing magnetic fields could, in certain frequency ranges, produce hallucinations; so could the brain when death was nigh. So Binu tried to keep at bay the images that intruded on her field of vision as she passed from wakefulness to sleep to a semi-comatose stupor.
Arising into blurry wakefulness, she became conscious of someone bending over her—a woman, copper ear-rings dangling. Gradually, her features became clearer: long silver-and-black hair, mouth curved in the warm, familiar smile. Binu could see the light show from the alien tree beings through the woman’s body. A ghost, a hallucination, then. Or maybe this was death. But all attempts at rationalization were overcome by a great wave of longing. Tears flooded her eyes.
The ghost nodded. Binu let out breath in a ragged sigh. She remembered her mother’s last words, two decades ago. Never forget, love leaps every abyss, even death.
“Wake up, Binu,” her mother said. For much of Binu’s early life, the day had broken with her mother waking her up. Reluctantly Binu would rise from the bed, grumbling, while her mother laughed gently at her.
“Wake up,” said the apparition again, insistently.
“Am I dead?”
“That’s irrelevant,” the woman said urgently. “Don’t you see you have to wake up? Get out of those clothes. Quickly, you’ll be late.”
Delusion or not, Binu felt compelled to obey. She rolled onto one side and pressed two fingers along the emergency seal of the suit. With some effort she unpeeled it from her body, breaking the fine, neural fibers that threaded through her clothing to her skin, and lay gasping with the effort. She was dressed only in her light cotton body-length underwear. Her mother had vanished.
The rotten-fruit aroma was stronger, now, and mingled with other odors, some like hot metal, others subtle, indescribable: harsingar and samosas, she thought wildly. Tendrils of cool air caressed her skin. Well, if she had to die, might as well do so like a human being. Actually, it felt a little better to be out of the suit. Her rocking back and forth to get out of it had shifted her away from the stone or whatever it was that had been pressing into her back. And between waves of pain, she felt quite lucid and alert.
The suit’s life support panel stated: failure in seven minutes. By taking off her suit, she had cut short her survival time—an hour or so? by seven minutes, because her implants wouldn’t work without the integrative capabilities of the suit. In the orbiting spaceship, she had spent four months gradually diverting the implant neurals from her control belt to the suit, because the suit was supposed to function a lot better than the control belt, and was apparently indestructible as well, able to resist high-intensity EMPs. So much for that.
Less than an hour to live. Well, it had been a good life, but she had some unfinished business. There was her sister, and other people she would never see again—
She looked over to the west, the direction Sheela and Niko had gone. The pale glow that had indicated the arrival of the lander had faded but was still discernible. A question arose in her mind: if Niko had released one of the three emergency flares right here, an hour or two before leaving her, why had the lander come to earth so far away? It didn’t need much space to land, just a small clearing like this one. She was so shocked that something this obvious hadn’t even occurred to her until now that she sat up without thinking about it; pain shot through the semi-healed cut in her back.
Neither Sheela nor Niko had commented on this puzzle. Could she have missed the conversation, going in and out of consciousness? During one of her lucid moments, she remembered Sheela’s face bending over hers, saying they had released a flare, and a lander would arrive soon. And later, Niko pointed to the glow in the distance and said that the lander had arrived.
But why had it landed so far away?
She drifted in and out of a troubled sleep; some time later, she didn’t know how long, she saw the western sky lit up by a flare. She was shocked into alertness. Why would they light another flare en route to the lander? To tell the orbiting ship where they were? But why?
There was a second flare. That must be the last one of the three.
And then the sky lit up with the third flare.
Binu scrambled to her feet, not even noticing the pain in her back or the sudden pressure in her chest. They had left the collapsed tent and the decontamination unit nearby since they were going to return after sufficient time had passed. She staggered toward the decon unit, a squat, white container with a nuclear-powered mini-incinerator. Sliding up the control panel, she moved her fingers across it, tracing the symbol for the log. The letters came up at once. There were the usual things: food packaging, medicine pouches, human waste—that was it. No flare-launcher. Each flare had its own launcher, which was supposed to be put in the decon unit after use. Her headlamp revealed no debris on the ground.
Binu made herself breathe slowly and evenly. The pain in her chest eased a little. The feeling of faintness dissipated. She was aware of the alien forest around her, the tree-like creatures, their trunks aglow with waves of rippling light, the leaf-like protuberances on the branches that were antennae and light-catchers. The forest murmured sibilantly, and she felt ghostly presences flicker in and out of existence. Those damned shifting magnetic fields—ignore them, she told herself. There was no sign of her mother. She was trembling with cold, even though it was relatively warm. Tears came into her eyes. Mamma, she whispered, come back. She had never felt so alone in her life.
She pulled herself together. She must think, must face facts without self-pity. She wiped her tears against the sleeve of her tunic and acknowledged the truth. They left me to die. They told me they had released a flare, and then they said the lander had landed quite some distance away. There was no flare and no lander, just some random phosphorescence from this damned forest. They used that excuse to get far away to signal the lander. By the time it comes, they expect me to be dead. Didn’t have the guts to get rid of me directly . . . I saw the way they looked at each other . . . mission accomplished. How could they do this to me? When I gave them both my love and trust, signed over all I had—
That was it, of course. The one priceless thing she had, the family legacy, the petrified eye of an extinct monster her mother had found on a far planet—the three of them, in a state of advanced intoxication, had willed to the other two their most treasured thing, and really, if she thought about it, hers had been the only thing of much value. It occurred to her that Niko and Sheela had been lovers before she had met them, they went way back. They had told her they loved her, that she completed them, and she had been stupid enough to believe them.
Bitter, the taste of betrayal.
Then, slowly, she became aware of a new sensation: scrutiny—she knew with absolute certainty that she was being observed. Her skin prickled. She turned around very carefully, but there was nothing beyond the alien tree beings. She had the sense of being the subject of a great, puzzled, curious regard, but without directionality. It was not like the sensation of ghostly presences, which were localized and shifting; she was held within some kind of distributed awareness. But how was that even possible?
The forest was reaching out.
How had it sensed her? Of course, the tree-like structures communicated with light—so they must have photoreceptors. And, living with the shifting magnetosphere of the planet, perhaps they could detect the slight, delicate EM field of a human divested of her protective suit.
Well, I am not alone, then, she told herself wryly. In truth, there was some comfort in that. She didn’t feel threatened—perhaps it was as much the calmness that (she supposed) must come after accepting the imminence of death, as the sense that at least at this moment the forest intended her no harm. In the little time she had left, there was no room for terror. She felt an answering curiosity, a wonder.
And hard on that, the thought: I don’t want to die, and she knew a sudden flood of anger, of fury; she didn’t want her murderers to get away with it; she wanted to fight for her life. The thought made her heart pound. She looked up at the sky, where Laalmukh’s orange glow blotted out the stars except for the very edge of the field of view. Above the horizon, to the west, she thought she saw a pinprick of moving light. The orbiting ship? If only she could signal them! If only there was a way to tell her friend Nimmi, her tough, hard-drinking, loud-laughing friend with whom she watched crappy holodramas, that she was stranded here, left to die by her lovers! Nimmi wouldn’t spare her the I told you so lecture; her friend had never liked Niko and Sheela, but she would raise hell to get Binu to safety. But there was nothing to signal with—should she try burning her suit and using some kind of cover to flash an SOS? but that would be too dim to be visible from the ship. From the ship—
She remembered what it had been like, looking down on the alien moon from orbit—the great forest of tree beings, the waves and ripples of phosphorescence across the surface of the forested region—pale blue, green, and white, washed with the orange glow from Laalmukh. The ecologist on board had briefed them—no large predators, an ecosystem dominated by a tree-like, sedentary animal that communicated primitive imperatives via light and magnetic signals, no sentience, no danger from any life form known to the earlier expedition . . . A perfect planet for a mining colony . . .
How to signal to the ship that she was alive, she was here? That the lander should land here first?
I wish, she said to the murmuring, light-dappled alien forest, that we could communicate, that you could flash a signal for me that the ship would understand—
She eased herself back to the ground. Her legs were trembling violently. She breathed great, deliberate breaths to calm her heart.
I want to live.
She whispered to the forest—flash me a signal to my ship. Tell my friend Nimmi—and here her eyes filled with tears thinking of the no-nonsense, steadfast affection her friend had for her—tell my friend Nimmi that I am betrayed, just like Aila in our favorite holo-drama.
And it occurred to her that if she could just signal that one name—Aila—to her friend on board, Nimmi would understand the context. Aila was a foolishly trusting character in the drama who fell for every trick and was repeatedly betrayed. The geographical separation between the Aila signal and the emergency flares would tell the story. Especially because Nimmi had never taken to Niko and Sheela, which attitude Binu had blamed, laughingly, on her friend’s nasty, suspicious mind.
But how to go about it?
How do you communicate to an alien intelligence—possibly friendly, or at least neutral—that you need its help to deliver a message?
She tried speaking aloud, then thinking her plea at the forest around her, but, unsurprisingly, there was no response.
Instead, she sensed that the earlier curiosity of which she had been the subject was fading—the aliens’ attention was turned away from her. She saw also that the light in the clearing was increasing in intensity, and the fluctuations and ripples were calming down.
The blue-white glow from the tree trunks became brighter and steadier, accompanied by a low hum. She looked up, squinting, and found that the glow of Laalmukh was obliterated by the light from the trees. It must look like a beacon from space . . .
It came to her that in her journey through the forest with the other two, she had been peripherally aware of this phenomenon—this increasing intensity of light from certain regions of the forest, that steadied and lasted for a while, and then faded over time. Perhaps it was a seasonal phenomenon, since the earlier exploration team had not reported it.
It was one such event that must have provided a ready cover for the lie that Niko and Sheela had told her, that the lander had touched down . . .
Binu was aware of a prickling of the hairs on the back of her neck. Something was about to happen. The hum was increasing in pitch and volume, going up to a crescendo that was beginning to give her a headache. She felt cold all over and wished she had kept the sheet around her. But in a moment all other preoccupations were pushed aside—
One of the trees on the other side of the little clearing had an unusually swollen trunk. As she watched, a tear appeared in the trunk from about halfway up to the bottom, and widened into a crack. There was a muffled explosion, followed by a thick, bitter, smoky cloud that made her cough. When the haze cleared, she saw that a small, uneven, cylindrical object, the palest green, gleaming wet, had emerged from the swollen trunk and come into the light. The high-pitched hum faded into a low droning.
The creature, about half as tall as Binu, staggered unevenly across the clearing, falling over several times, propping itself upright by flailing limb-like projections near the top of its body. At last, it stood in the center of the clearing, shaking a little. She saw that there were stubby toe-like protuberances at the base, with which the creature tried to grip the ground. The light from the tree trunks faded slightly, and Binu could see that the youngster—what else could it be?—was apparently attempting to generate light on its body.
A newborn tree being? So they are not born sessile, she thought in wonder—if only I could tell Nimmi!
Pale waves of bluish light rippled across the youngster’s body and then dimmed. The adult tree beings around the clearing seemed to respond with a ripple pattern that she recognized was similar too—the same as?—the pattern the young one had generated. Were they teaching it words in their language? No, the young one had generated the light pattern first. As she watched, open-mouthed, she saw that the adults replicated every pattern generated by the youngster, but their version was more intense, and wider in spread. They were mirroring and amplifying its signal. From orbit, it must look like quite a display . . .
After a while, the patterns of light became too complex, and she couldn’t tell who was mirroring whom.
Eventually, the youngster staggered back—tripping and falling—toward what she had named the mother tree. It clambered into the chamber from which it had emerged, and the mother tree went dark.
But the light in the clearing, although dimmer than before, remained steady. Binu rubbed her eyes. What had she just witnessed? Perhaps the youngster would emerge again, later, and the mysterious exchange repeated? She wished she could talk to Nimmi, but she was alone here, marooned on a planet devoid of humans except for two people who wanted her dead.
Think, Binu, she told herself in her mother’s voice, and there was her mother, sitting in front of her. The apparition tucked a strand of the silver-and-black hair behind one ear; the eyes were alight, filled with animation.
“Binu! You know that there are more ways to communicate than the symbolic representation of meaning we call language. Think how you figured out that Niko and Sheela were going to let you die!”
She remembered the look that had passed between her two lovers. Glances held so much meaning. No words had been necessary. She had known.
“Older than language,” her mother said, “and greater than language, is communication through signs and gestures. And body language, facial expression, the way the muscles move, the eyes look. Semiotics, or more broadly, Ishara-gyan! Remember your briefings three years ago!”
Isharagyan, an extension of biosemiotics, the study of communication beyond language.
Research on Earth had discovered interspecies communication that was based on gestures and signaling. It was not a surprise to those who had always lived close to other animals. Banging a stick on the ground was read as a threat or a warning by multiple creatures. Gesturing with their eyes—dogs had learned to do that from humans. In forests and grasslands, wetlands and oceans, creatures communicated across species through a complex combination of gestures, sounds, and visual cues. There were broad, commonly understood signs that constituted an interspecies pidgin, and there were signs specific to certain groups of species, developed through long association in intimacy with landscape. Like wolves and humans in the steppes of Central Asia, she recalled.
But that was Earth. This was an alien moon, with alien lifeforms that were not even considered sentient. If it had been hard to bridge the gap between humans and other Earthlings, how much harder across alien species! And was there any hope that there might be common ground for communicating?
She realized suddenly how high the stakes were, not only for her but for life on this moon. Long-held prejudice ascribed sentience to species that were mobile, created, and used tools. Granting sentience to certain plant communities on Earth had taken enormous hard work, despite the evidence of sophisticated signals through mycorrhizal networks and chemical signals in the air. But sessile communities on other planets? Mining companies had declared that these were non-sentient, that there was no evidence of meaningful communication networks. The briefings on the forests of this moon had said that the light displays were not sentient communication, but instead more likely to be random responses to changing magnetic fields, or, at the most, simple signals related to reproductive readiness, stress responses, and the like. If sufficient doubt was cast on this hypothesis, Zebos Galactic would likely lose its mining license. The thought filled Binu with unexpected joy.
“How can I do what I need to do? Tell me, mamma.”
“I remember when you were born,” her mother said. “I remember holding you as a tiny baby. When you smiled, I smiled. When you puckered up your face, I mimicked you. When you said ooh, in wonder, I echoed that. Think, Binu!”
Yes. Mirroring a newborn child’s facial expressions, their emotions, their sounds, was attunement—it made the child feel real, feel validated. I exist. My joys and fears, my sense of wonder, are all real. It was this mirroring of gestures, along with holding and nurturing, that welcomed the child into the species, into the family of being. It was, in a word, love.
Was mirroring a near-universal semiotic process across visually sensitive intelligent species with long childhoods?
She could feel the aliens’ attention drawn back to her again. With growing excitement, she crawled a little way into the clearing. She used the switch on her wristband to turn her headlamp on to full power. Then, turning the switch on and off, she spelled out AILA in Universal Code, a series of long and short flashes.
The sense of curious regard, of puzzlement, deepened. But there was no response from the aliens, no answering ripples of light. The glow from the tree trunks remained steady.
She tried again, and again, and again. She wept tears of anger and frustration.
After a while she made herself go to the collapsed tent for emergency supplies of water and food. There were none. Her murderers had taken everything.
“But I am not dead yet, you filthy betrayers!” she shouted, and fell, sobbing, to her knees.
“Binu, you mustn’t cry,” her mother said sternly. “Conserve water and energy. Come on!”
Binu curled up on the ground in semi-comatose exhaustion.
Sometime later, she came to her senses. She squinted in the light of the clearing, which held steady as before. Sitting up slowly, she rubbed her eyes.
How long had she been out?
By now the lander must surely be making its way to the place from which Niko and Sheela had sent the flares.
She had failed, then.
Her wristband told her she had stayed alive outside her suit for nearly three hours. Wait a minute—three hours?
I’m supposed to be dead.
“Fuck that,” said her mother uncharacteristically. “Listen, Binu, think. Think back to what you witnessed.”
The child-tree and the adults. They recognized the child as their own, a tiny helpless being to raise, to love, to teach. But Mamma, I am alien. I am alien.
“The forest knows you are here. But the forest doesn’t know what you are. You must try to help it understand that you, too, are helpless—”
Binu rose slowly to her feet. She felt faint. The pain in her chest was a heavyweight that would not let her stay upright for long. But an idea was coming to her, a last-straw notion.
She took a step toward the center of the clearing. She fell. She got up, slowly, painfully. She staggered; her arms flailed. She got up, again, walked two steps, and fell again. She thought wryly that she didn’t really have to make up the routine, given how she was feeling.
A very strange sensation in her mind that felt like tendrils reaching out—an indescribable tickling sensation in her head.
They had photoreceptors. They could see her and were very curious now.
Her hand shook as she pressed the switch on her wristband. She spelled out AILA in Universal, slowly. She stood still, waiting,
Then, almost tentatively, the light from the trees began to fade . . . to near-darkness. Then bright again.
AILA, said the alien trees in Universal Code.
Again. The aliens mirrored her once more.
She didn’t know how long she stood there, signaling. After a while she noticed that the aliens were complicating the signals, adding little riffs and intensity shifts. The code for AILA became a theme in the visual symphony, obscured and washed over by the variations. Would her message be received and interpreted correctly? Her head began to pound in uneven synchrony with the ripples of light and dark. What were they trying to tell her?
After a while she was so exhausted she just had the strength to stagger to the edge of the clearing and lay herself down on the groundsheet.
Had the signals been sufficiently clear from space?
The light show was over. Her headache receded. Well, she had done all she could. There was a shift in the alien forest’s awareness of her that she couldn’t interpret, but she had a sense of connection, an acknowledgment of her existence.
She was filled with elation, and a feeling of peacefulness.
Beside her, the apparition of her mother appeared and faded again.
“Thanks, Mamma,” said Binu sleepily.
She lost consciousness.
She thought she dreamed—confused images, Nimmi’s face behind a visor, waves and ripples of light, and, for a very long moment, darkness . . .
Much later, or so it seemed, she woke to see Nimmi’s anxious face peering at her. Slowly she recognized the pale blue walls of the medical chamber, the soft patter of quiet feet, the hum of instruments, and the faint aroma of rosemary.
She was back on the ship, alive, and feeling much better. Suddenly anxious, she tried to sit up. Nimmi pushed her gently down.
“They are being held in their quarters,” Nimmi said grimly. “When we found you, you regained consciousness for long enough to tell us what had happened. We’ve sent a report and we’re awaiting instructions as to which station will receive them for a hearing. That was good thinking—Aila! I could have told you so—but what’s all this about sentient trees?”
Lying back, Binu smiled.
“Zebos will have to get the hell out of this mining venture,” she said. “The tree creatures are sentient. I’ll put in a report to the Astrobiology Council as soon as I can. Nimmi, I’m sick of the work we do. Going and digging up worlds for a bunch of profiteers who don’t care what they hurt. I want to put in for a research appointment on this moon. Those beings—I want to understand what they are saying—”
“All in good time,” Nimmi said. Her eyes twinkled. “The medics are all abuzz with how and why you survived out there, without your suit. Your implants seem to have figured out how to work with each other temporarily without the integration capabilities of the suit—”
“Everything talks to everything else,” Binu said, “if we only have the sense to listen. Listen, Nimmi, I’m resigning now. I can’t wait for the authorities to come through with approvals. Soon as I am able, send me back to the surface with a few months’ supply of stuff. I need to get back down there!”
Nimmi frowned. “For fuck’s sake, woman, you’ve just lived through a traumatic experience, and you can’t wait to go back? Don’t forget, these are alien creatures. Just because you had a lucky breakthrough doesn’t mean there isn’t danger, deadly danger awaiting you down there. Miscommunication. Hidden aggression—”
“I know that from my own species,” Binu said, with some bitterness, staring at her feet at the end of the bed, in their blue socks. She turned earnestly to Nimmi. “I have to figure out what they were trying to tell me. You see, they thought of me as a child, someone who needs to learn. And that’s true. But they also recognized I was different. They were trying to tell me something. I have to find out what it was. Soon as I am able, send me back.”
“But—you’ll be all alone, maybe for months!”
Binu looked at Nimmi. Nimmi was part of a stable pentad, had a large coterie of friends and relatives across the inhabited worlds. She saw herself through Nimmi’s eyes: a naïve, awkward creature who blundered through difficult relationships and always ended up alone. An Aila, in other words. It wasn’t far from the truth. She had a lot to learn.
She closed her eyes and thought of the murmuring forest, with its apparitions and mysteries. She remembered the sense of being acknowledged, the beginnings of the possibility of a relationship. How she felt when the alien tree beings mirrored and amplified her message. There could be danger, but also a chance to . . . to heal, to learn, to become more Binu than Aila? Perhaps. Besides, what relationship was without some degree of risk?
“I won’t be alone,” she said.
Vandana Singh is a writer of speculative fiction and a professor of physics and environment at Framingham State University, a small public institution near Boston. Her critically acclaimed short stories have been reprinted in numerous best-of-year anthologies and her collection, Ambiguity Machines and Other Stories (Small Beer Press and Zubaan, 2018) was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick award. Her most recent work is a short collection of essays and stories, Utopias of the Third Kind (PM Press 2022). Vandana’s academic background is in particle physics, but for over a decade she has been working on a transdisciplinary, justice-centered re-conceptualization of the climate crisis, at the intersection of science, economics, sociology, philosophy, history, and futures studies.