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Escape Pod 709: In A Wide Sky, Hidden


In A Wide Sky, Hidden

by William Ledbetter

Warm liquid gurgled away and the kettle field winked off, leaving me naked, wet, and trembling in the soup kitchen’s receiving chamber. My traveling companion, Roger, waited with clothes. Humanoid in shape but impossibly thin, his eight-foot-tall metallic figure moved with an almost liquid grace as he stooped to help me into the robe. My new skin felt raw against the thick fabric, but, like the chills, was caused by the transfer and only temporary.

“Is she here?” I said while bending down to pull on a pair of quilted boots.

“No obvious signs,” Roger said and handed me a glass of bourbon.

I took a long sip and moaned as its burn saturated me from the inside out.

“Thank you,” I muttered.

His bulbous head nodded a slight acknowledgement. “You should really drink something else upon reconstitution,” he said. “Tea, perhaps. That really doesn’t help.”

“No obvious signs of her? What does that mean?” I said.

“Skimmer forty-eight found something interesting. I’ll be able to tell you more when its full report arrives in about five minutes.”

I looked up at his smooth, featureless face hovering two feet above mine. Even after nearly eighty years of association and friendship, my human hindbrain still expected facial expressions when I looked at him. Finally, when he offered no further information, I shrugged and took another sip.

It wasn’t real bourbon, only a molecule-by-molecule reconstruction from local materials, but unlike a human mind instantaneously transferred into a soup-kitchen body via a quantum link, no method could reinstall the soul into the body of bourbon. In other words, I had tasted real aged Kentucky bourbon on Earth and flattered myself by thinking I could tell the difference.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 708: Into the Paddock


Into the Paddock

by Nathan Susnik

I.

“We need a shitload of Bunnies®. How fast can you get me a shitload of Bunnies®?” says Schneider, walking into my office.

Sort of.

Okay, fine. I don’t have an office, and Schneider is calling on ShareSpace™ over the ol’ intercerebral implant, so she’s not walking.

I’m in The Orchard scraping gum off of my shoe and watching a bunch of kids pluck ripe apples from plastic trees. A kid throws an apple at The Barn. It goes wide. I laugh. Another one hits the side (plunk), and then (ping) Schneider just sort of appears. She hovers in the air all ghostly for a while until I pinch her down on the Dirt Path and answer the call. That’s when she says the Bunnies® thing.

Schneider has three moods:

  1. Depressive
  2. Belligerent
  3. Depressive/belligerent

She’s belligerent ninety percent of the time, so I throw on VulgaBlock™.

“What happened to the Bunnies®?” I say.

She shrugs. “They died.”

“How?”

“Do I look like a [fornicating] veterinarian?”

“It’s Friday,” I say.

She shrugs again. “So?”

“I get off in an hour. De novo Bunnies® will take at least two.”

“So?”

“I have plans.”

Schneider laughs. “Good one,” she says. “Look, we need Bunnies®. If we don’t have Bunnies®, our billable animal count decreases for the whole weekend. If our billable animal count decreases, our ticket prices drop on VacationApp™, which means that we lose money on every visit, which means you lose money on your paycheck. Also, people write angry reviews, especially people whose children have been disappointed because we don’t have any Bunnies®. Angry reviews are bad for our stats, and you know how Rick feels about our stats.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 707: Rule of Three (Part 3 of 3)


Rule of Three (Part 3 of 3)

By Lawrence M. Schoen

Late in the day Foom laced its fingers with my clone’s and I felt my consciousness pushed aside. Not entirely out, but no longer in control of my doppelganger. There wasn’t the exchange of knowledge and insight that had accompanied this gesture in the past. I followed the alien’s focus, using everything I’d learned in the last few days. I could see what it was doing, but not understand it. “Can you explain what’s happening?” I asked.

“I am crafting what you would call a retrovirus from your double’s cells. Actually, many variations of this retrovirus. If I am successful, one of them will rewrite your gonads and ultimately alter the viability of any spermatozoa they produce. He’ll still produce semen in the normal fashion, but it will be inert for reproductive purposes. No ‘Jing’.”

Foom grinned as it said that last word, lapsing from the Miao tongue into Chinese for an old word from Chinese medicine for ‘sexual energy’ that I must have picked up years ago and long since forgotten. Apparently, it had pulled more than just the one language from me.

“Shooting blanks, as the Americans would say,” I added.

“Thus ensuring the extinction of your species without causing any physical harm to the living.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 706: Rule of Three (Part 2 of 3)


Rule of Three (Part 2 of 3)

By Lawrence M. Schoen

“I have been exploring your solar system for most of a century,” Foom said.

“Why?”

“Cataloging.” Foom led me down to the riverbank. A giant pearl sat in the water not ten meters away. “You would call me a completist. Visiting each and every one of Jupiter’s moons alone took more than a decade. Some were truly majestic. Which is not to say your own moon is not interesting, but I am still processing what I learned there. It was my penultimate destination in this system. I saved your world for last.”

We stepped into the river and were quickly engulfed above our waists. The water was cold but the current not especially swift.

“Did you find life anywhere else in our solar system?”

“Life, yes, but nothing alive that was also self-aware and sapient as you are. And I found death, too. But only on your world is there unlife. Your pardon, can you swim?”

“Excuse me?” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 705: Rule of Three (Part 1 of 3)


Rule of Three (Part 1 of 3)

By Lawrence M. Schoen

Popular culture failed to prepare me for first contact. Countless starships bristling with canon and rail gun turrets did not fill the skies. The aliens didn’t flood our television and radio bands with messages of conquest or world peace or miracle cures. They didn’t present themselves to the United Nations or to any government leaders. None of that. I was sitting in my condo in a suburb of Washington, D.C. when my mother phoned me from California. It was a Sunday afternoon. I’d just ordered a pizza and I’d planned to watch the big game on my new television. But my mother was on the phone. She’d just had a call from her own mother in her tiny mountain village back in China.

An alien had landed.

I charged the plane ticket to my credit card and was on a plane to Beijing two hours later. I didn’t watch the big game and I never got to eat my pizza. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 704: Failsafe


Failsafe

by Tim Chawaga

When the machines finally decided to replace Liv, they broke her heart.

Her desk was tiny and wedged in between two massive automatons: The Vial Dispenser, which Liv called DJ, and the Vial Accepter, which Liv called Alvin. Above the desk were a couple of dusty posters that she had hung years ago and the big red button. The security camera that was pointed at her was broken, and she knew that it would probably not be fixed. There were no windows.

Liv had worked at Autagro for almost twenty years. She had spent countless hours crocheting little koozies to cover DJ and Alvin’s valves, which burned so hot with efficiency that they would melt the plastic parts around them. Countless mornings making up songs and raps to the rhythm of their whirs and clicks, which had become so fast that she had started doing vocal warm-ups on the bus ride in to loosen her lips.

Liv’s job consisted solely of grabbing the vials of extremely concentrated pesticide that DJ held out with its tiny arm, just inches away from Alvin, and pushing them through Alvin’s receptacle slot. The instant she removed a vial, DJ would retract its arm and shoot it out again faster than Liv could blink, holding another vial with a stillness that Liv couldn’t help but interpret as impatience. No matter how fast she moved, she would never be as fast as DJ, but she was a Failsafe. Her speed wasn’t supposed to matter.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 703: Light and Death on the Indian Battle Station


Light and Death on the Indian Battle Station

By Keyan Bowes

Diwali, the Festival of Lights is a magical time of the year, even on the Indian Battle Station. A hundred tiny oil-lamps decorated our apartment, glimmering along window ledges, glowing at the corners of the rangoli floor pattern, shining in the little niche with the image of Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity.

“Savitri!” My sister Ritika called me, a glittering sparkler illuminating her excited face as she held out the firework.  “Here! Light yours for the spinners!”

My sparkler spluttered into flowers of light as I touched it to hers. Mom and Ritika quickly moved out of the way and I ignited three ground spinners. The gunpowder-scented coils flung a scarf of fiery sparks across the balcony.

We were the lucky ones. I breathed in the scents of Diwali, smoke from the fireworks, incense from the Lakshmi niche, the warm coconut smell of Diwali sweets sitting on an ornate silver tray. Our cousins down in Delhi celebrated with strings of LED lights and chocolate and factory-made fireworks from China. It wasn’t the same.

We were lucky because Mom vividly remembered her childhood Diwalis, and because she had the Strength to make it real. That Strength was also why we were far from Earth on the Indian Battle Station, currently at war with the JAYAZ Network.

“Can I light a rocket?” Ritika asked.  “Mom, please?”

Me, I’d have said no.  Bottle-rockets in the hands of daring, impulsive teenagers like Ritika are just asking for trouble. But Mom gave in as usual. “Just be careful, sweetie.”

Ritika lit it, pointing it at the balcony ceiling instead of out toward the sky.

I grabbed the kid away as the thing ricocheted against the ceiling, fizzed, and exploded. “”Ritika! That’s so stupid!”

But before I could scold her properly, the sound of divine footsteps echoed in the hall and inside our heads. We froze.

Was Lakshmi coming to visit on her festival day? Did Mom have the Strength to bring her? We all held our breath.

The door opened. Instead of the radiant Goddess and her owl, there was a fierce blue-faced God with flaming hair. Two four-eyed dogs followed him. We dropped to the floor in obeisance. It’s never a good idea to disrespect Yama, Lord Death. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 702: Inheritance


Inheritance

By Elise Stephens

Carmen would have expected a gold necklace or tarnished antique, maybe some money or a secret family recipe card, but she’d never dreamed her grandmother would try to immortalize herself through an inheritance like this.

The attorney was holding a velvet-covered box in his open palms as he explained, “Maria Elena had these memory grafts discreetly extracted prior to her death. She chose not to inform the family beforehand. I believe she felt her memories could safely be left to the care of the third generation, that is, the three of you.”

Carmen was relieved to see that both her siblings were likewise surprised by the news.

Mr. Hoffman tapped the box with his thumbs. “As you may know, memory grafts are a practical-application variety of memory extraction. They’re a refined amalgamation of all memories and experiences related to specific fields or areas of expertise.”

“So there’s no real estate or stocks. It’s just her memories,” Mario said, eyebrows raised.

“She was never rich to begin with,” Daniela said. “Living in that tiny place after Grandpa died. Unless she was secretly saving up, how did she afford an extraction?”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 701: Martian Chronicles (Part 2 of 2)


Martian Chronicles

by Cory Doctorow

I didn’t go back to the Junior Colonists’ Lounge for a whole week. Instead, I spent the time with my dad, who seemed pleasantly surprised that his son wanted to hang out with him. It made me feel bad, like I’d been neglecting him. But it also made me ask myself why my father didn’t think it was weird that I wasn’t spending any time with kids my age. Dad had always been busy on Earth, traveling half the time for work, spending his time at home with his computer over his face, barking angrily at it while his hands worked the keyboard like a mad player attacking a church-organ.

I didn’t mind, to be honest. Actually, I preferred it to those times when Dad decided to get all “dad-like” and insist on throwing a ball with me or take me to some kind of sports-match or play some game on the big living-room screen with me. It wasn’t that it wasn’t fun, but there was always a moment when we stopped talking about the game or the project and found ourselves sitting in awkward silence, trying to pretend that the reason we had nothing to say was that we were concentrating too hard on the matter at hand.

On Earth, Dad had been a hotshot statistical risk-analyst. This is not an easy thing to explain. But basically, what he did was tried to figure out how to balance investments to minimize risk. Say there’s an industry that benefits when someone finds a better way of growing wheat — the bread industry, say. And then there’s another industry that suffers when someone finds a better way of growing wheat, like, maybe, I don’t know, the corn industry? I forget how he explained this, to be honest, but this is generally the idea. So what he does is figures out how to invest some money in both industries, so that if someone finds a better wheat-growing technique, the investment in bread pays out, and if no one invents it, the investment in corn pays out. That’s the rough idea. What he did was like ten million times more complicated, though.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 700: Martian Chronicles (Part 1 of 2)


Martian Chronicles

by Cory Doctorow

They say you can’t smell anything through a launch-hood, but I still smelled the pove in the next seat as the space-attendants strapped us into our acceleration couches and shone lights in our eyes and triple-checked the medical readouts on our wristlets to make sure our hearts wouldn’t explode when the rocket boosted us into orbit for transfer to the Eagle and the long, long trip to Mars.

He was skinny, but not normal-skinny, the kind of skinny you get from playing a lot of sports and taking the metabolism pills your parents got for you so you wouldn’t get teased at school. He was kind of pot-bellied with scrawny arms and sunken cheeks and he was brown-brown, like the brown Mom used to slather on after a day at the beach covered in factor-500 sunblock. Only he was the kind of all-over-even brown that you only got by being born brown.

He gave me a holy-crap-I’m-going-to-MARS smile and a brave thumbs-up and I couldn’t bring myself to snub him because he looked so damned happy about it. So I gave him the same thumbs up, rotating my wrist in the strap that held it onto the arm-rest so that I didn’t accidentally break my nose with my own hand when we “clawed our way out of the gravity well” (this was a phrase from the briefing seminars that they liked to repeat a lot. It had a lot of macho going for it).

(Continue Reading…)