Author Archive

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EP376: Shutdown

By Corry L. Lee
Read by MK Hobson

Discuss on our forums.
First appeared in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, Vol. 28 (winner) (2011)
All stories by MK Hobson
All stories read by Corry L. Lee
Rated 17 and up for language

Shutdown
By Corry L. Lee

The alarm blared over the forest’s metallic rustling, and my HUD’s red warning light glazed the view through my faceplate. Ten seconds until the defense scan hit my position. Ten seconds until any motion, any electrical signature would whip vines down from the iron-cored trees, wrapping me as surely as steel cables, pinning me while cutter-bugs took me apart.

My muscles clenched, and I froze. The training sims hadn’t prepared me for the terror twisting my gut, for the way my heart seemed to dance a _pas-de-bourrée_, its ballerina toes rapping against my ribs.

I didn’t have time to panic. I chinned my skinsuit’s kill switch and dropped to the forest floor. In the silence after the klaxon died, my breather hissed out one final gasp of oxygen. The red glow faded from my faceplate and the forest closed in, dark without the HUD’s gain and unnaturally silent without the suit’s audio pickups. Weak sunlight filtered through the thick canopy, yellowed by sulfur gas, enough to make out shapes but not details. In sims, they’d cut our visual enhancement, but they must have extrapolated badly because the shadows had never been this deep, the shafts of sunlight never so diseased.

I crouched on a patch of dirt, crumpling fallen leaves but avoiding the forest’s ragged undergrowth. I folded my legs beneath me, splaying my arms for balance. My hands slipped on the metal-rich berries that covered the ground as if someone had derailed a freight train of ball bearings. I swept some impatiently aside and rested my helmeted forehead on the dirt. How much time had passed? Eight seconds? No time to worry.

Gritting my teeth, I stopped my heart.

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EP375: Marley and Cratchit

By David Steffen
Read by Emma Newman
Discuss on our forums.
An Escape Pod original!
All stories by David Steffen
All stories read by Emma Newman
Rated 13 and up

Marley and Cratchit
by David Steffen

STAVE 1: THE MARVELOUS MACHINE

In those days Jacob Marley was full of life and vigor. His smile shone so that anyone who saw him soon smiled widely in return. A moment in his presence would make one’s worst burdens seem lighter. His optimism and generosity brought out the best in others, catching easily as a torch in dry straw.

Those were happy, hopeful times. Ebenezer Scrooge, the pinch-faced and greedy miser, would not weigh on his mind until many years later. In those later years the two men’s appearances matched as twins, and their customers would often confuse one for the other. But in every other manner they were as different as two men could be. I will speak further of Scrooge, but not yet, for this is not his tale. In these days long gone, Jacob Marley was a portly man, neatly dressed and neatly groomed, with hair black as pitch and never a whisker on his face. Marley entered the shop on that momentous day in the manner with which he was accustomed, swinging the door wide and exclaiming “Hallo!” to his business partner in a sonorous voice that any Shakespearian actor would envy. His jowls swung with the force of his entry, and wobbled like a custard for quite some time after. His clothes were not of the finest material, but were fine enough for a man of his young age, a sign of the moderate inheritance left him by his father the year prior. The front office held two desks, one tidy and one covered with heaps of paper and mechanisms.

Behind the cluttered desk Bob Cratchit looked up with a quiet smile. Where Marley was expansive and memorable, Cratchit was small and quiet and utterly forgettable. He was a pleasant man, so pleasant that I have only ever known one man to ever speak crossly of him: Scrooge, that nasty old miser who spoke crossly of everyone, regardless of cause. Look! He has intruded again upon our story where he is not wanted. I will speak of him no more until his presence enters upon the story.

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Announcing the new editor of Escape Pod!

If you haven’t listened to last week’s episode, this may come as news, but I’m stepping down as editor of Escape Pod. I am very sad to do so, but all of my projects are spreading me too thin, and I don’t feel as if I can give any project my best effort. I don’t want EP to suffer because of this, so I’m stepping down.

I’m delighted to announce, however, that Norm Sherman, our part-time host, has agreed to take over editor duties. I love Norm’s intros, and his sense of humor, and I know he can keep up the vision Steve Eley had of Escape Pod allowing science fiction fans to “have fun.”

I will officially step down on December 31, and Alasdair Stuart of Pseudopod fame will be taking over as interim editor for a few weeks, then Norm will take over. I’m excited to see what he does with the podcast, and assure you that you’re in excellent hands.

Happy holidays, and have a fun and mighty new year.

~Mur

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EP374: Oubliette

By J. Kelley Anderson
Read by David Moore
Discuss on our forums.
Originally appeared in Ray Gun Revival (2012)
All stories by J. Kelley Anderson
All stories read by David Moore
Rated 13 and up

Oubliette
By J. Kelley Anderson

The half-buried thing hadn’t moved once, but I didn’t have to include that in the story when I got back to base. The great, gray mass of it rose at least ten feet out of the red earth, tucked close to the sheer wall of the plateau. That part I’d tell. If there had been anything like a head, I would have shot it, but it just looked like a giant, lumpy football, oozing a viscous yellowy liquid here and there.

The non-military personnel tried to remember their instructions, looking away from the muzzle of my rifle as the metallic squeal of the charging weapon warned of an impending discharge. The moment the noise ended, a pencil-thin beam of white light leapt from the gun and bored another sizzling hole into the motionless mound of wrinkled gray flesh. There was a sound like someone cooking giant bacon in a giant skillet.

I just can’t describe how much I love photon rifles. They’re big, noisy, ugly, unapologetic things that leave your hands shaking and the entire area smelling like ozone. They were shit on stealth missions but, then, so am I—that’s just one of the many reasons I got this gig as the Army equivalent of a galactic janitor.

Sergeant Wroblewski and I made eye contact as I turned to address the science team, and I noted the silent “high-five” look on his face.

“Well?” I said smoothly to Science Officer Neely. “Doesn’t get much deader than that.” I tried to look nonchalant.

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EP373: Chandra’s Game

By Samantha Henderson
Read by Mur Lafferty
Discuss on our forums.
Originally appeared in Lone Star Stories (2009)
All stories by Samantha Henderson
All stories read by Mur Lafferty
Rated 13 and up

Chandra’s Game
by Samantha Henderson

Joey Straphos, Papa Joe, told me once that Chandra’s Game is a bitch of a city, fickle but generous when the mood strikes her.  But Papa Joe was a romantic.

Chandra’s Game roots in the side of a barren asteroid moon like a tick.  Over the years we’ve burrowed deeper into rock and ice until poor Chandra is mostly Game.  We loop the twin wormholes, Gehenna and Tartarus, roundabout in a figure eight, ready to catch the freighters as they escape from hell’s dark maw.  We strip them of goods and drink their heat, load them up and send them into another hell.  It’s a profitable game, Chandra’s.

My mother smuggled me into Chandra’s Game without patronage and compounded her error by dying without permission; I was Terra-born unless she was lying, which was likely enough.  I joined the other unregistereds down in the Warrens: ferals that lived off the Mayor’s Dole and by odd-jobs when that wasn’t enough.  Papa Joe fed us, and sometimes the tunnels were glorious with the smell of meat, and if you were smart or hungry enough you didn’t ask from what.  Where there’s humanity there are rats, and Joey wasn’t a rich man, not then.  But food is food, and he’d bunk you if he could, and if all he asked in return for the latest Warren scuttlebutt or a few sticks of ephedrine off a freighter’s load, what of it?  Saints are few and far between in Chandra’s Game.

Papa Joe always liked me: I stayed a bit feral, tomboy—nothing like his daughters.  He had them late in life, when he got rich, and they were elegant, lux level creatures.  Not like Joey, not like Mrs. Joe.  She was quiet and kind, and if she knew a nano of Joey’s business she never let on.  When Gregor Straphos died I died a little.  But Mrs. Joe died all the way.

I’d been legit for years.  I still snooped, but in an upright way.  Helped the Company Men find bits of their loads that went astray between Gehenna and Tartarus, passed on Warren talk to the prefects when some smart kid got out of hand, pointed the way to speedwell labs that weren’t circumspect about what went into their product.  Nothing that would disturb the delicate balance between the business of the Family, the Companies and the Mayor.

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EP372: Flash Collection

Awkward– Miscommunication between editor, host, and producer caused us to, within the audio, proclaim these stories as the winners of the flash contest, and they’re not, they’re stories we’ve purchased through the year. We will be showcasing the flash contest winners on their own in future episodes. I apologize for the embarrassing mistake.

Read by Mur Lafferty
Discuss on our forums.
All stories read by Mur Lafferty
Rated 10 and up

Health Tips for Traveler
by David W. Goldman

Since the short time from mutual greetings of worlds, many Earther wish to visit the lovely world of the Pooquar peoples. This explainer before so will bring yourselves a voyage most lovely.

Within The Transit

The travel via cross-continuum portal will be novel to many Earther. Hydration is a paramount for not having the small problems of liver, marrow, blood tubes, and self memory. Also good before your trip is to make fat, especially under the skin. The scrawny traveler should begin preparation many week prior.

Portal going is sudden and then done. But many Earther say after that they think the journey is very very very long and never to stop. Thus is Earther brains supposed bad attuned to one or more of the interim journey continuum. For thus, non-conscious makes for most lovely travel. Means of non-conscious both pharmacological and percussive are on offer by helpful Pooquar portal agents.

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EP371 A Querulous Flute of Bone

By Cat Rambo
Read by Elizabeth Musselman
Discuss on our forums.
Originally appeared in TALES FROM THE FATHOMLESS ABYSS
All stories by Cat Rambo
All stories read by Elizabeth Musselman
Rated 13 and up

A Querulous Flute of Bone
by Cat Rambo

Wherever, whenever wealth accumulates enough to create the idle, one finds those who collect things.

Such collections vary. Some catalog every cast off bit of flesh or chitin they shed. Others look outside themselves for art, or titillation, or an oblivion in which they can forget everyday life.

Collections may consist of the most mundane objects: string, or chewed up paper, or broken teacups, for example. Or they can take on outré forms: dioramas made of nihlex bone (considered contraband in certain areas), or squares of cloth exposed to the Smog, prized for the oracular patterns of dirt left deposited on the fabric, or the tiny aluminum snowflakes said to have fallen into the world during an Opening over a century ago.

Aaben was such a collector. S/he was one of the geniod, whose gender varies according to mood, location, and other private considerations, and who are known, in the face of great trauma, to forget who they are and become entirely different personalities, their old selves never to be resumed or spoken of. Some races adulate them for this, while others mock them. Such excesses of reaction have driven the geniod to keep to themselves, not by law, but preference.

Aaben was an oddity in its own preferences, for it was willing to travel, to go farther than most of its race, driven by the desire to augment its collection, choosing to focus only on its quest.

The items it sought, ranging up and down the Tube in expeditions funded by two sets of indulgent grandparents and a much less indulgent set of parents, were things that could be considered metaphors for the world and the state of those in it. In this pursuit, it followed the strictures of the philosopher-king Nackle, who described the emotions that such objects evoked in the beholder in one five hundred page monograph, and the intellectual effect of such exposure in a second, even longer work, followed by a six volume set of explanatory footnotes and addendums.

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EP370 The Care and Feeding of Mammalian Bipeds, v. 2.1

By M. Darusha Wehm
Read by Christiana Ellis
Discuss on our forums.
An Escape Pod Original!
All stories by M. Darusha Wehm
All stories read by Christiana Ellis
Rated 13 and up for language

The Care and Feeding of Mammalian Bipeds, v. 2.1
by M. Darusha Wehm

The first day I meet my human herd they are so well-behaved that I wonder if they really need me at all. I arrive at their dwelling, and am greeted by the largest one of their group. I access the manual with which I have been programmed and skip to Section 3: Verbal and Physical Clues for Sexing Humans. I can tell by the shape and outer garments that this human is a male, and I make a note of this data. He brings me into the main area of their living space, and as we move deeper into the dwelling, he asks me to call him Taylor, so immediately I do. He makes a noise deep in his throat, then introduces me to the rest of the herd.

He puts his forelimb around the next largest one, who he introduces as Madison. The Madison bares its teeth at me in a manner that Section 14: Advanced Non-Verbal Communication suggests is a gesture indicating happiness, approval, cheerfulness, or amusement, but which may belie insincerity, boredom or hostility. The Madison says, “Welcome to the family, Rosie.”

“Thank you, Madison,” I respond, as suggested by the manual in Section 2: Introductions: Getting To Know Your Humans. “I am looking forward to serving you and your family.” The manual indicates that human herds designate each individual with a name, and that most will bestow a similar designation on their caregiver. Section 0: A Brief Overview of Current Anthropological Theories states that the predominant view is that humans believe we are a new addition to the herd, and the best thing to do is to go along with this idea so as not to confuse them. The Taylor and the Madison appear to have chosen to refer to me by the name Rosie, and I set my monitoring routine to key on the sound of that word.

“These here are Agatha and Frederick,” the Taylor says, pushing two smaller humans toward me. I am unable to tell by looking whether or not they are male or female — they are about the same height as each other, with shoulder-length glossy fur. Their outer coverings are very similar, shapeless and dark coloured except with colourful designs in the upper section. One of them bares its teeth at me, in a manner similar to the Madison’s earlier display, but the other looks away. “Kids,” the Taylor says, his voice growing deeper, “say hi to the new robot.”

“Hi, Rosie,” the toothy one says, “I’m Frederick, and this is my sister, Aggie.” The Frederick pulls on the forelimb of the other one, who looks through its fur at me.

“This is so stupid,” it says, pulling its arm out of its sibling’s grip. “I don’t have to say hi to the dishwasher or the school bus, why do I have to pretend to be nice to this thing?”

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Support Clarkesworld!

If you’re a fan of Escape Pod, you’re probably a fan of Clarkesworld, even if you don’t know it. Many of our reprints first ran in CW, and they’ve always been very gracious about letting us run Kate Baker’s narrations for the stories nominated for the Hugo Award. It won the Hugo Award last year and has some of the best fiction and nonfiction writing in SF today.

They’re doing a subscription push right now because editor Neil Clarke has had a rather bad year (heart attack and job loss only two of the circumstances.) I wanted to spread the word not only to help Neil, but because Clarkesworld is a damn good magazine and deserves your attention. If you like EP, I’m fairly sure you’ll like CW. So subscribe already. We’ll be here when you’re done with a new story tomorrow!

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Flash Contest Winners Announced!

Congrats to the contest winners, whose stories will be purchased for a future EP flash episode!

In first place, Four Tickets, by Leslianne Wilder
In second place, Life Sentence, by Ben Hallert
In third place, The Future Is Set, by C. L. Perria

See the full announcement here.

And coming soon- the Editor’s Choice awards!