Category: Podcasts

EP483: Boris’s Bar

by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali
read by Kaitie Radel

author Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

author Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

about the author…

I was raised in New Haven, Con­necti­cut.  I attended the Uni­ver­sity of Con­necti­cut for a cou­ple of years but left to marry my hus­band of more than twenty years.  I have three beau­ti­ful chil­dren, who like most chil­dren these days, far out­strip their par­ents in intel­li­gence and cre­ativ­ity.
My days, my con­crete life, are spent car­ing for breast oncol­ogy patients as a reg­is­tered nurse.  I love work­ing as an oncol­ogy nurse.  It keeps me grounded and forces me to remem­ber the tran­sient beauty of life, and the impor­tance of doing what one loves while one can.  It also keeps God fore­most in my mind as I jour­ney through this brief life, that my choices might be accord­ing to His will.
My less ordered life (Don’t we all live mul­ti­ple sep­a­rate lives?) is spent mostly in my head.  I am always attempt­ing to order the mul­ti­tude of ideas that rise unbid­den in my mind when I least expect them.  To some peo­ple this makes me look deeply spir­i­tual and wise, to oth­ers I look angry.  I assure, I am nei­ther.  Some­times the voices of half-formed char­ac­ters speak to me, beg­ging to be recorded for pos­ter­ity, that we might learn from them, or them from us.  Some­times the voice I hear is my own, remind­ing me of my oblig­a­tion to this life.  Unfor­tu­nately, I rarely have time for any of the voices cre­at­ing the chaotic din in my head.
narrator Kaitie Radel

narrator Kaitie Radel

about the narrator…

Kaitie Radel is a music education student and aspiring voice actress, has been voice acting as a hobby for two years.  In addition to this project, she has participated as both a VA and administrator in several fan projects such as The Homestuck Musical Project and Ava’s Melodies.  She can be contacted at kaitlynradel@mail.usf.edu.

 

Boris’s Bar
by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

 

“Orani, tell Boris what is wrong.”    

I told Boris about Enoch and our shared dreams, about how he abandoned me.

“He said I was frigid,” I confided, my head on Boris’s shoulder, his hand stroking my back.

Boris nodded, “What else?”

“He said that for all the credits in the system, I would never learn how to love.”

I’d been drowning in loneliness when I contracted Boris to help me recover from losing Enoch. After two years of long distance communication, Enoch had traveled from Earth to be with me, only to later decide it was a mistake. “You’re not the human being I thought you were,” he said, which was rich because he wasn’t a human being at all.

When I was spent of energy and tears, Boris lifted me into his arms, like steel support beams, and carried me to the bathroom. He undressed and washed me. He kissed my tearful eyes. He rubbed my skin with oil. With Boris I finally felt warm and safe.

“Orani, you are worthy and lovable. I want you to know this,” he murmured to me as he carried me back to bed. “I want you to feel like a little baby.”

“I don’t remember what that’s like,” I told him.

#

EP484: That Tear Problem

by Natalia Thodoridou
read by Hugo Jackson
guest host Rachel Jones

author Natalia Theodoridou

author Natalia Theodoridou

about the author…

Natalia Theodoridou is a media & theatre scholar based in the UK. Her writing has appeared in Clarkesworld, Crossed Genres, Strange Horizons, and elsewhere. Find out more at www.natalia-theodoridou.com, or just say hi @natalia_theodor on Twitter.

 

about the narrator…

Hugo Jackson is an author with Inspired Quill; his first fantasy novel, ‘Legacy’ is available from Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble. He has acted and performed stage combat for years, having appeared in various film, theatre and TV productions, including The Young Victoria, Diamond Swords at Warwick Castle, Cyrano de Bergerac (Chichester Festival Theatre, 2009)  Romeo and Juliet (Arundel Festival, 2005), The Worst Jobs In History, and Ancient Megastructures: Chartres Cathedral. See him at www.hugorjackson.com

narrator Hugo Jackson

narrator Hugo Jackson

 

That Tear Problem
by Natalia Theodoridou

“Now flex your arm,” the controller said. Her voice sounded dry and mechanical through the speakers.

“The real one or the other one?” I asked and immediately received a neuro-ping: You are real.

“Both your arms are real, soldier,” she said.

I always thought of her as a woman, but really it was just a voice. There was no way to tell gender.

Focus.

“Right. Which one do you want me to flex?”

“The left one.”

I flexed my left arm. It’s one of the limbs they rebuilt after the accident. The Neuropage pinged me again, just in case: You are real. All this is real. I wondered if they figured out I had found the glitch. Was that what prompted this ping? But it couldn’t be; the pager was supposed to be entirely incorporated into the nervous system. No outside access available.

Unless that was a lie, too.

“Now the other one,” the voice said.

“How much longer is this going to take?” I asked, flexing my right arm. I could feel my legs getting fidgety. They always did that when I was strapped down for long chunks of time. Ever since the accident. Fidget fidget fidget. Even while I slept, the legs fidgeted. I would much rather sleep floating around, but that set off the security alarm. I had found that out the hard way, on my second day at the space station.

“The muscle-tone examination is complete,” the controller said. “Now on to the neural routine.”

“The neural routine. Of course.”

If she caught the irony in my voice, she didn’t show it.

“Attach the red electrode to your left arm. Good. Now let me know if you experience any pain.”

A moment passed, but nothing happened. “I don’t feel anything,” I said.

“OK. How about now?”

I waited. My eyes started to tear up. I felt the moisture form into little beads around my eyeballs.

“I don’t feel anything in my arm, but my eyes sting like hell. It’s that tear problem again,” I said.

Tears, apparently, don’t flow in microgravity. The little fuckers just stick to your eyes like liquid balls, refusing to let go before they get to be the size of small nuts. Bottom line is, you can’t cry in space. They always get that one wrong in the movies. Who would have known?

“You are reacting to an imaginary stimulus,” the voice said. “Your brain thinks you should be hurting, so your eyes tear up. Hold still. You can wipe them in a minute.”

Maybe the controller was a man, after all. Maybe it wasn’t a person at all at the other end, just a machine.

I waited for a ping, but got nothing.

“All done. You can unstrap yourself, soldier,” the voice said. “Same time tomorrow. Do not be late.”

“The Neuropage will make sure of that,” I muttered, but she had already signed off. She, it, whatever.

The first thing I did was dry my eyes. Then I freed my legs and stretched.

Time to eat, the Neuropage said. One of the scheduled pings. I ignored it and propelled myself towards my compartment. It would ping me again every few minutes. I knew it would get on my nerves–a pun? really?–and I’d have to eat, eventually, but it felt good to ignore it for a while. It was my small fuck you very much to the system. Harry would have tut-tutted at my attempt to play the rebel, he always did, but I think he secretly liked it.

Harry. Right.

I had to do this. I had to test the glitch.

#

I floated to the main compartment of the Philoctetes and switched on the communications monitor. I called Harry and waited for the connection to get approved. The Neuropage pinged me again. Time to eat. Dutiful little prick. I ignored it, busy mulling over what I had to say. I wondered whether I would be able to actually say the words. On purpose this time. I already had, of course, in a way, but the first time didn’t really count, it was just a mistake. “Are you deaf, Harry?” I had wanted to ask, but my tongue slipped and said that other word, the one I dreaded so much to utter now. And then the glitch happened.

Why did my tongue slip? Maybe I already knew, on some level. Maybe the Neuropage already knew. Can it put words in my mouth?

Is there an “it” at all?

Blue skies, the Neuropage said in response. A problem ping. I had to note these so they could fix them in the upgrade, but I thought it was a shame. Who doesn’t want a little insanity installed in their brains?

The connection went through and the monitor doused me in its Earth-originating light.

“Hey, buddy,” Harry’s face said, his features known to me better than my own, his smile familiar, perfect as if rehearsed. Just as I remembered him. Too much as I remembered him, in fact. Like we had never even had the accident.

Harry, the unchanging man.

“Hi, Harry,” I said. I suddenly felt as if I hadn’t slept for days. Drained. I rubbed my eyes. Focus. “I missed talking to you these last few days. Sorry I didn’t call. How are you?”

“You know, same old same old,” he said. Then he smiled again and waited.

Familiar Harry, pulled out of my memories intact. Harry, the man whom time can’t touch. Maybe that should have been a clue.

“That’s all? Same old same old?”

“Yeah. What could be new? I mean, it’s a hospital, buddy. Life’s not exactly teeming with excitement here.”

“I’m calling from freaking space, man. You never tell me anything new. Tell me something new. Please.”

“What do you mean? You’re not making sense, Steve. What’s the matter?” The worry lines on his forehead grew deeper.

I wanted to see through his reactions. They were all generic replies, platitudes. Like a set of master keys, fit for any and all conversations. Where was the person I used to know so well I would–and did–trust him with my life on any given day?

Let me be wrong. Please, let me be wrong.

“I really need to talk to you, Harry. I mean, really talk to you, the way we used to, you know?” It was the truest thing I could say without actually saying what I needed to say. Do you remember? Do you remember everything we went through, Harry? Are you, you? Am I?

“Okay. I’m listening,” he said. And waited. Like standing by for his turn to speak.

“If you knew this was the last time we talked, that we would never ever talk again, what would you say to me?” I asked the face in the monitor.

“What? What are you talking about? Steve. You are not thinking about doing anything stupid, are you?”

Textbook. Textbook answers and half-thought clichés.

Blue skies, the Neuropage insisted, and I almost responded: blue like the color, or the mood? The image of a body being blown up flickered before my eyes. Torn limb for limb. I’d always thought that body was mine, that I had somehow dissociated and experienced the whole thing from the outside. But maybe it wasn’t mine. Maybe it was his, Harry’s, all along.

Love your country, the Neuropage tried again. Was that a problem ping or not?

The moisture threatened to drown my eyesight. I wiped my eyes before the liquid had a chance to form into the nasty little balls. Now was the time. Please, let me be wrong.

“I know you’re dead, Harry.” I said it. Dead. Dread. I said it.

Harry’s eyes widened a bit, and then the image froze, like last time. A glitch. They hadn’t planned for this. There was no response for this.

Had I known already? Maybe deep down I knew, and that’s why my tongue slipped. You are not you after all, right, Harry? That leaves only me.

I floated away from the monitor but did not turn it off. Harry’s face was still there looking at me, frozen in time.

The tears wouldn’t flow.

#

Wake up.

Time to wake up.

I woke up with the sense that I had fallen asleep in the middle of a sentence. I could still feel its bitter, unspoken residue in my mouth. I found my reclaimed body strapped down and secured inside the sleeping bag in my compartment, as it should be, but I couldn’t remember going through the process of getting ready for sleep at all. I had probably gone into autopilot for a while after my conversation with Harry–“Harry” rather–and allowed the Neuropage to take over. Because the rest of my mind was numb and terrified–and busy. Why would they go to such lengths as to devise a fake Harry for me? Why not tell me he was dead to begin with? Did they think I’d flip?

Unless he’s not. Unless I’m wrong.

Harry–dead. How am I doing? Am I flipping?

And if they could make up a person like that, what else could they have fabricated?

But it is all so real, the Neuropage protested. Yes. It’s all so real.

Did it sound doubtful this time? Had it done that before? Maybe it was a pseudo-ping. That, or I couldn’t tell the difference anymore.

I tried to unstrap myself from the bed with jerky, unsteady hands. This new flesh didn’t handle stress well. The limbs revolted, the muscles demanded my attention, as if to declare they were now more than mere instruments of my will. It took some effort, but I finally managed to free myself and propelled my body towards the main shaft of the station. I moved as fast as I could, grasping at handles and cords I shouldn’t be messing with. But I had to get to the Cupola.

The shutters were open. The Philoctetes was cruising peacefully on its invariable course; slow and silent and alone. The Earth’s familiar blue exaggerated the nothingness that divided us. All this darkness around the space station, marking the distance between myself and the old discarded flesh, threatening to invade whenever I lost sight of this blue beacon that I called home. Home. Silly concept. Where is home? When is home? It was where Harry used to be, once.

I might have been able to ignore the clues, if I’d tried really hard. But the synapse had been made, and it couldn’t be unmade. Maybe that was a mark of our new version of evolution. Natural evolution worked on a good-enough principle. We work on a perfecting principle. I couldn’t just let it go. I had to find out. It could be a coincidence. Or it wasn’t.

I felt my brain leap forward. Actually felt it. I think that’s how paradigm shifts happen and insane ideas start making sense. What if this was never a test for my upcycled body? If the Neuropage was all that was being tested? Perhaps it was really just my mind that got blown up that day. Had they put me back together at all?

I pondered whether I should just step out and see what happened. If it was all a mind-test, that would be the way to solve it.

The Neuropage was silent, but there was that distinct sense of desperation; it filled my brain for a moment, then it was gone. I wondered if it could ping feelings now. If it could replace my thoughts and my feelings and I could no longer tell the difference, what would be left of me?

I looked at Earth, so far away, so long ago. Was it real? I recalled the Neuropage’s insistence. All this is real, it had said. Blue skies. Another clue, maybe. The thought seemed plausible. Granted, solo-manning a station has been common for decades, but who would send an ex-paraplegic alone to the fucking geostationary orbit? They wanted to test the new body under the actual stress levels associated with living in an one-man station like the Philoctetes. But why fake Harry, if not to test my mind’s ability to solve this riddle? I hadn’t really talked to an actual person since I got here; just the controller, and “Harry.” A self-contained simulation. I could try contacting someone else. But who would I call? There was no-one else. There was Harry, once. Not anymore, though. Harry was dead in the ground somewhere. Where was home now?

I floated to the door that led to the airlock. I peeked inside the main compartment on the way, hoping Harry’s face was still on the monitor. To get that final glimpse.

The monitor was dark, the room empty. I moved on.

I was about to unlock the inside door when the Neuropage finally decided to intervene.

What if you are wrong, Steve?

It’d never asked questions before. Nor had it ever called me by my name. Was it getting desperate? Was I?

I am not wrong, I replied. It will all disappear as soon as I open the outside door. They will have to stop the test. If I cannot untie the knot, I can bloody well cut through it. Either way, I will have won.

But what if you’re wrong?

Then I guess I will have majorly fucked up a very expensive project.

At least put on your gear.

Why?

Put on your gear. You’ll die.

Did I believe it? I’m not sure, but I wore the space suit anyway. Yeah.

#

I locked the inside door and pumped the air out. Then I unlocked the external hatch and stepped out of the Philoctetes and into the vast, dark emptiness; certain that it–it, I, this whole thing–would disappear any moment now, hoping that it would, scared out of my mind that it wouldn’t. The Neuropage was furiously pinging me.

Go back, it said.

Go back. There is still time.

You were wrong. You are killing yourself. Go back. Go back.

I let go of the craft and propelled myself with a slight push. There was nothing connecting me to the space station anymore. I had enough oxygen for about six hours. Or eight. Maybe eight hours.

I let myself drift away. Nothing happened.

The view was spectacular, though.

Love your country, the Neuropage said. Love Earth.

Love yourself, blue skies.

That was the last ping I got.

In/sanity restored.

#

I’ve spent the past several minutes racking my brain for answers, about truth, about coincidence. Had I somehow caused the glitch myself? Was it just randomness, a defect in the fabric of the universe? Was someone listening in, messing with my brain, experimenting, what?

Are you watching me from afar, busting your ass to get to me in time?

The Neuropage remains stubbornly silent.

#

I wait until the Philoctetes becomes a distant speck. The only familiar sight is now the blueness of Earth in the background. The old flesh longs for it. It longs for it so hard it hurts. The new flesh doesn’t care; it’s calm, mute. Can I really tell the difference, or am I just making things up? Who knows. Who cares. The emptiness envelops me. It pushes against the suit, counting the moments to take over, to reclaim this body that has been mine for the briefest of times. I flex my arms. My real arms.

The moisture starts forming into little beads against my eyes. They sting. No way to wipe them away now.

The Neuropage is still silent. Gave up too, I guess. My vision is getting so blurred I can no longer see anything but blue–the color, the mood, same difference. And all I have been able to think about this whole time is this: we can put people’s bodies back together from scratch. Discard the unwanted, recycle the rest, make it better, stronger. Perfect, even. We can fix folks’ brains and arms and legs and hearts and send them to space, even if only to break them all over again. And we still haven’t solved that bloody tear problem? I mean, come on, man.

EP482: Chimeras

author Julie Steinbacher

author Julie Steinbacher (image is © Folly Blaine)

by Julie Steinbacher
read by Jessica Dubish
guest host Gabrielle de Cuir

about the author…

Julie Steinbacher is fully human, whatever that means. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she is an MFA candidate at North Carolina State University. She is a graduate of the Clarion West Workshop, and her fiction appears in Terraform. You can follow her on Twitter @jofthewolves.

 

about the narrator…

Jessica Dubish is a sophomore Theatre Major at George Mason University. George Mason University; The Merchant (Gypsy Busker), Women and Wallace (Victoria), Slumber Party (Nancy), The Blue Room (The Girl), The Vagina Monologues (My Angry Vagina), Dido, Queen of Carthage (Cupid). Jessica is a Teaching Artist at Acting for Young People.

narrator Jessica Dubish

narrator Jessica Dubish

 

Chimeras
by Julie Steinbacher

You’ve heard going chimera is addictive. You’ve never done any hard drugs, so you’re not afraid of what this means. The “Free Consultations” sign on the clinic has drawn you in, not for the first time. It’s raining lightly in the city and droplets cling to your long hair and your nose. Bumps rise on your bare arms. You have the money for the first operation–savings you were going to put toward an apartment just for you and him–and the time: your whole life. You push open the door.

#

The waiting room is full of people. Some have only subtle modifications, pigment alteration to suggest stripes, lengthened earlobes, eyes that shine in the low lamplight. There are others who stare at you with unblinking reptilian irises, or who run sandpaper tongues across pointed canines. And then there are the other naturals like you, all huddled in one corner, stinking to some, probably, like fear and nerves. The bravado leaks out of you, but you force yourself to the desk, where you add your name to the list.

Then you find a place to sit in the center of the room and avoid eye contact with everyone, natural or not. You’re not going to lose your nerve now. You’re making a choice, going against all the promises you made to T–but then, he broke his promises to you.

Magazines litter the end tables to make the room look more homey. Animal women are on their covers, or beautiful animal men. There are interviews in Fur & Scales with a handful of celebrities on their personal journeys to chimera. The season’s fashions are highlighted on a page–lacy webbed fingers, dappled rumps, prehensile tails. Your name is called and you furl the magazine and put it in your purse.

#

EP481: Temporary Friends

by Caroline M. Yoachim
read by Caitlin Buckley

author Caroline M. Yoachim

author Caroline M. Yoachim

about the author…

I’m a photographer and writer currently living in Seattle, Washington. I’ve published about two dozen fantasy and science fiction short stories, in markets that include Asimov’sLightspeed MagazineInterzone, and Daily Science Fiction. In 2011 I was nominated for a Nebula Award for my novelette “Stone Wall Truth,” which you can read online here at my website.

For a list of my publications, see my writing page.

about the narrator…

Hey – my name is Caitlin Buckley, and I’m narrating this week’s episode. I’ve been voice acting for just over a year, but talking funny for my entire life – and I think it’s just such fun. If you want to see other stuff I’ve been involved with, I keep a blog with all my work: https://caitlinva.wordpress.com/. Thanks for listening!

narrator Caitlin Buckley

narrator Caitlin Buckley

 

 

Temporary Friends
by Caroline M. Yoachim

The second week of kindergarten, Mimi came home with a rabbit. Despite numerous mentions of the Temporary Friends project in the parent newsletter, I wasn’t prepared to see my five-year-old girl cuddling a honey-colored fluffball that was genetically engineered to have fatally high cholesterol and die of a heart attack later in the school year.

“I named him Mr. Flufferbottom.” Mimi told me. I glared at Great-Grandpa John, who’d been watching her while I finished up my shift at the clinic. He shrugged. My gruff maternal grandfather wasn’t my first choice of babysitter, but he needed a place to stay and I needed someone to watch Mimi after school.

“Are you sure it’s a good idea to name him, honey?” I knelt down and put my hand on Mimi’s shoulder. “He’s a completely biological rabbit, and this kind doesn’t tend to live very long.”

“Teacher said to pick good names for our rabbits,” Mimi said. “Besides, you put new parts on people, so if Mr. Flufferbottom breaks you can fix him.”

Replacement pet parts were readily available online, and the self-installing models could be put in by anyone who could afford the hefty price tag and follow simple instructions. But replacement parts defeated the purpose of the lesson — research showed that children needed to experience death in order to achieve normal emotional development. Aside from the occasional suicide or tragic accident, there weren’t many occasions to deal with loss. Schools were required to incorporate Temporary Friends into their kindergarten curriculum in order to get government funding.

The school couldn’t control what parents did, of course, but the parent newsletter strongly discouraged tampering with the damned death pets in any way.

“Mimi, sweetie, that’s not how it works this time — I know we get a lot of extra parts for Graycat, but your Temporary Friend is only until…” I tried to remember from the newsletter how long the rabbits were engineered to live. Six months? “Only until March, and then we’ll say goodbye.”

I expected Mimi to put up a big fuss, but she didn’t. She took Mr. Flufferbottom to the cage we’d set up in her room and got him some food and water.

#

Mimi didn’t say another word about Mr. Flufferbottom until mid-October.

“Mommy,” she said in her most serious voice, “I think we should order parts for Mr. Flufferbottom now, so we’ll have them ready when he needs them.”

“We talked about this, Mimi. Mr. Flufferbottom is a Temporary Friend. Do you remember what temporary means?”

“It means only for a little while. Like ice cream is temporary because I eat it or sometimes it melts.” Mimi frowned. “But Mr. Flufferbottom has lasted a lot longer than ice cream, and I think he should have parts because he is a nice rabbit and I don’t want him to die.”

“Of course we don’t want him to die,” I began, not sure how to explain something I rarely dealt with myself, “But death is a thing that just happens sometimes.”

“Am I going to die?” Mimi asked.

“Oh honey, not for a long long long time. Great-Grandpa John is still alive, and he is much older than you.”

“But he gets parts from the clinic.” Mimi said.

“If you need them, you can have parts from the clinic too. You’re young now, so your parts are still good.”

“So Great-pa John can get parts, and I can get parts, and Graycat can get parts,” Mimi said. “Why can’t Mr. Flufferbottom have parts? Don’t you think he’s a nice rabbit, Mommy?”

Mimi was often persistent, but I wasn’t used to seeing her quite this agitated. “Did something happen, Mimi, to make you worried about Mr. Flufferbottom?”

Mimi looked down at the floor. “Lizzy and I were talking to some first graders at recess and they said our bucket bunnies are going to die and then we won’t have them anymore.”

“But you knew that already, right? We told you at the start that the rabbits don’t live very long, that’s what it means for them to be temporary.”

“I didn’t know that I wouldn’t have him anymore once he was dead.” Mimi said. “I want to have him and have him and keep him forever and ever, like Graycat.”

Mimi had never shown much interest in Graycat, who was about 55 years old, and rarely did anything but sleep curled up on top of the living room bookshelves. In his younger days, Graycat had been quite the hunter, but now, despite his extra sensors and state-of-the-art replacement legs, he hadn’t pounced on anything for at least a couple decades.

“Graycat is our pet,” I told her, for lack of a better explanation, “Mr. Flufferbottom is a lesson.”

#

“Whiskers died today.” Mimi told me, without preamble, one January afternoon when I got home from work. “Tommy’s parents didn’t get him any parts and he died and they burned him in an incinerator and he died again.”

“He only died the first time, Mimi. They burned the body.” I tried to look at this as a learning opportunity. “Was Tommy sad?”

“Tommy was angry.” Mimi said. “He had to go home early for hitting. He did a lot of hitting.”

“Well, people react to death in lots of different ways,” I said, “but it was wrong of him to hit people, even if he was angry.”

Great-pa John came in from the kitchen.

“Of course he was angry. The whole project is ridiculous, giving you kids pets and then telling you not to take care of them properly.” Great-pa had fixed himself a sandwich, but he hadn’t gotten used to his new bionic eyes yet, and instead of lettuce he’d used some of the collard greens I was going to cook for dinner.

“The Temporary Friends lesson is supposed to teach kids about–” I started, but Great-pa John interrupted.

“I know what this is all about. Emotional development and learning about loss and yadda yadda whatever. I still have half my original brain in here.” Great-pa John tapped his head.

“But not your original eyes,” I snapped back, and instantly regretted it when his face fell. It was easy to forget what a proud man he was, and how hard it was for someone his age to adapt to so much technology. He knew death in ways that I never would. When he was young, the replacement parts weren’t that good. Sure there were limbs to help amputees walk, and pace makers and cochlear implants and dentures, but you couldn’t replace everything that broke. Back then, people died all the time. More than half of everyone Great-pa knew was dead.

“Sorry. I’ll go make you a better sandwich,” I said, taking the plate from his artificial hands. “You talk to Mimi about how things used to be. Maybe it will help her understand.”

To my surprise, I heard him start talking about Great-grandma Arlene, who had died back when the technology for replacement organs was still unreliable. I paused to listen, because I’d never heard the whole story. I’d always had the impression that Great-pa John had convinced Arlene to avoid the new technology because it was too risky.

He stopped talking when he realized I was hovering in the doorway, and I went to make his sandwich. Maybe talking to Mimi would help ease his guilt.

#

I don’t know what Great-pa said to Mimi, exactly, but it did wonders for their relationship. He got used to his new eyes, and together they built a fancy maze for Mr. Flufferbottom so he wouldn’t get bored. I questioned the wisdom of building entertainment for a rabbit who was doomed to die sometime in the next few weeks, but Mimi seemed happier to be doing something for her little fluffy companion, so I left them alone. Great-pa made no further mention of his long-departed wife, at least not when I was around, but he seemed more cheerful than I’d seen him for a long time.

Then one afternoon I came home from the clinic after a particularly rough spinal replacement surgery and found the two of them with their heads leaned over Mr. Flufferbottom. Fearing the worst, I rushed over, prepared to swoop a crying Mimi into my arms — but the bucket bunny wasn’t dead. He was hopping around the table, sniffing at the placemats.

“Great-pa helped me fix Mr. Flufferbottom,” Mimi said. “We ordered him medicines to help with his clestor-all, so he won’t have a heart attack after all.”

“Cholesterol.” I corrected her. “Go run and play while I talk to Great-pa, okay?”

“Can I take Mr. Flufferbottom?” Mimi asked.

“Sure.”

She scooped up the rabbit and skipped off to the living room.

“She’s supposed to be learning about death,” I told Great-pa John firmly. “We already have a pet that doesn’t die. We really don’t need an immortal rabbit. Besides, the drugs are just stalling the inevitable.”

“Are you raising a child or a monster? Do you really think it’s good for them to learn that they should sit and watch their rabbits die and not do a damned thing about it?” Great-pa asked. “Some lesson that would be.”

#

Mr. Flufferbottom stopped eating. I couldn’t tell if the loss of appetite was a side effect of his medication or some other health problem. Mimi shadowed me every minute I wasn’t at work, constantly peppering me with questions about what we could do for her poor rabbit. “Great-pa doesn’t know what parts to order, Mommy. You have to help us.”

“I don’t know either,” I told her honestly, “I install parts at the clinic, but I don’t do the diagnosis.” I didn’t mention that I’d had to sign up for extra shifts at the clinic to pay for the cholesterol medicine they’d gotten, which could well be what was making Mr. Flufferbottom sick.

Great-pa John banged around our apartment, starting “home improvement” projects and then abandoning them unfinished. I told him in no uncertain terms not to tinker with the central computer system, but otherwise left him to deal with his anxieties by destroying small sections of our unit.

Mimi went to confer with Great-pa for a minute, then came back. “I want to take Mr. Flufferbottom to the vet clinic that Graycat goes to.”

I thought about what Great-pa John had said, about teaching children to passively watch their pets die. I thought about Graycat, who was alive, but was he really the same cat? I even thought about Great-pa John, who by now was mostly artificial sensors and prosthetic limbs and other man-made parts.

I didn’t know the answer, and my five-year-old daughter was looking up at me, hopeful that I would save her tiny fluffy friend. Did she really need to learn about death first hand? Would I be doing her a favor or a disservice if I let her sidestep one of life’s hardest lessons?

“No,” I said, “we can’t take him to the vet.”

It broke my heart to see the hopeful smile leave her face. I almost changed my mind. But even when the tears started to well up in her eyes, I held my ground. My daughter was supposed to learn the sadness of loss. Both of us would learn from this experience, and it would make us stronger.

#

The next morning, Mimi ran into my room with tears in her eyes. “Mr. Flufferbottom is dead, he’s cold and stiff and he won’t eat his breakfast.”

“I’m so sorry, honey. I know you loved that rabbit.” The words that I had practiced in my head sounded false and empty. I hugged Mimi tight, then we went to her room together to get Mr. Flufferbottom.

Great-pa John was there, standing over the cage. He was clutching something in his hand, an artificial part, I think, although I couldn’t see it clearly. He was scowling down at the lifeless rabbit.

“Did you find the right part, Great-pa?” Mimi asked.

He held out the tiny object he was clutching, a self-installing replacement liver. “I don’t know if this would have helped, but it’s too late now. Even fancy parts won’t bring back the dead.”

“Can we try? Mr. Flufferbottom didn’t eat his breakfast. I don’t want him to die hungry.”

To my horror, Great-pa put the tiny artificial liver on top of the dead rabbit, and activated the autoinstaller. The tiny organ set to work installing itself, shaving the fur and sterilizing the skin before making an incision and burrowing into the rabbit. We’d have to sell the liver used now, and while they were technically re-usable their value decreased dramatically. More shifts at work, for a rabbit that was already dead.

The liver completed its installation, but immediately began beeping to indicate an error. A few minutes later, it reappeared and clung to the rabbit’s skin and waited for further instructions. I picked it up and set it to clean itself for repackaging.

“Sorry, kiddo,” Great-pa said. “We did everything we could, right?”

Mimi nodded. “Is he with Great-ma now?”

Great-pa smiled. “She’d have liked that, my Arlene. A cute little fuzzball to keep her company. If there’s something after this, maybe they’ll find each other.”

Amazingly, both my daughter and my grandfather found comfort in that thought. I picked up Mr. Flufferbottom and set him gently in the trash incinerator, along with his uneaten breakfast. We stood in silence while he burned to ashes, and when it had finished, Mimi went to the living room and found, of all things, Graycat.

She picked him up from the bookshelf, and petted his artificial fur. He made a mechanical purring noise. He wasn’t her temporary friend, but he was warm and soft and comforting, and he let her bury her face in his fur and cry.

EP480: To the Knife-Cold Stars

by A. Merc Rustad
read by Mat Weller

author A. Merc Rustad

author A. Merc Rustad

about the author…

Hello and welcome! My name is Merc Rustad and I’m a queer non-binary writer and filmmaker who likes dinosaurs, robots, monsters, and cookies. My fiction has appeared in nifty places like ScigentasyDaily Science Fiction, and Flash Fiction Online. (More at the Published Fiction tab at the top of the page.)

I’m mostly found on Twitter @Merc_Rustad and occasionally playing in cardboard boxes. The site is updated with publication announcements, completed short films, and occasional blog-like essays. (For more semi-regular blogging, I hang out on LJ and DW.)

narrator Mat Weller

narrator Mat Weller

about the narrator…

<<text redacted>>

Mat last Read for EP episode 466: Checkmate

 

To the Knife-Cold Stars
by A. Merc Rustad

When Grace opens his newly crafted eye, the first thing he sees is wire. Thick cords of braided wire snaking like old veins up the walls. It’s dim inside the surgical unit, but for all the black metal and mesh shelves, it _feels_ clean, even in the heat. The air still has the unfamiliar taste of crude oil. Sweat sticks the borrowed clothes to his skin. He blinks, a flicker of pain in his head as the left eyelid slides down over cool metal buried in the socket.

He’s awake and he’s alive.

The anesthetic hasn’t worn off. It’s sluggish in his blood, an unpleasant burn at the back of his throat. It blurs the edges of his thoughts like too much bad wine. But it doesn’t dull the deep-etched fear still unspooling through his gut. He survived the demon, survived his own execution. It’s a hard thing to accept, even days later. He wants to touch the new eye, this machine part of his body, the forever-reminder what happened. Doesn’t dare, yet.

“Back with us, eh?” says a raspy voice muffled by a respirator.

Grace turns his head, slow and careful. He dimly recalls the wire-tech mumbling about whiplash in his neck and the horrific bruising along his ribs and back where the welts are still healing. “Guess so.”

The tech is a small man dressed in heavy surgical leathers that are studded with metal sheeting. Old blood speckles the apron and gloves; the metal and rivets are spotless. Only the skin on his forehead is visible under thick embedded glasses and a breather covering nose and mouth. “Nearly died on us, you did. Venom went right into the blood.”

The demon’s venom. Grace doesn’t reach to touch his face where the sunspawn’s claws took out his eye and split flesh to bone. He doesn’t look down, either. A new shirt and worn jeans cover whatever scars the demon left on his belly and thighs. He shivers in the heat. He doesn’t know if he can ever look at himself again; what will Humility think–

Humility.

Grace trembles harder. Humility will never see him again.

_Don’t think._ Harder a self-command than it should be. _Don’t go back there._

“He’s tough.”

The second voice jerks Grace’s attention back to where he is. He turns his head again, wincing. He craves more anesthetic, and hates that he wants it. Numbness is just another way to hide.

Bishop stands near the narrow doorway, leaning against corded wire that bunches like supports along the wall. He’s tall, broad-shouldered, dressed in travel-worn leathers with a breather mask over the lower part of his face. His mechanical eyes gleam dull green in the surgical bay’s weak florescent glow.

EP479: The Evening, The Morning and the Night

by Octavia Butler
read by Amanda Ching

author Octavia Butler

author Octavia Butler

about the author…

from OctaviaButler.org:

Octavia Estelle Butler, often referred to as the “grand dame of science fiction,” was born in Pasadena, California on June 22, 1947.  She received an Associate of Arts degree in 1968 from Pasadena Community College, and also attended California State University in Los Angeles and the University of California, Los Angeles.  During 1969 and 1970, she studied at the Screenwriter’s Guild Open Door Program and the Clarion Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop, where she took a class with science fiction master Harlan Ellison (who later became her mentor), and which led to Butler selling her first science fiction stories.

Butler’s first story, “Crossover,” was published in the 1971 Clarion anthology.  Patternmaster, her first novel and the first title of her five-volume Patternist series, was published in 1976, followed by Mind of My Mind in 1977.  Others in the series include Survivor (1978), Wild Seed (1980), which won the James Tiptree Award, and Clay’s Ark (1984).

With the publication of Kindred in 1979, Butler was able to support herself writing full time.  She won the Hugo Award in 1984 for her short story, “Speech Sounds,” and in 1985, Butler’s novelette “Bloodchild” won a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and an award for best novelette from Science Fiction Chronicle.

Other books by Octavia E. Butler include the Xenogenesis trilogy: Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988) and Imago (1989), and a short story collection, Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995).  Parable of the Sower (1993), the first of her Earthseed series, was a finalist for the Nebula Award as well as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.  The book’s sequel, Parable of the Talents (1998), won a Nebula Award.

In 1995 Butler was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Foundation fellowship.

Awards
  • 1980, Creative Arts Award, L.A. YWCA
  • 1984, Hugo Award for Best Short Story – Speech Sounds
  • 1984, Nebula Award for Best Novelette – Bloodchild
  • 1985, Science Fiction Chronicle Award for Best Novelette – Bloodchild
  • 1985, Locus Award for Best Novelette – Bloodchild
  • 1985, Hugo Award for Best Novelette –  Bloodchild
  • 1995, MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant
  • 1999, Nebula Award for Best Novel – Parable of the Talents
  • 2000, PEN American Center lifetime achievement award in writing
  • 2010, Inductee Science Fiction Hall of Fame
  • 2012, Solstice Award, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America
narrator Amanda Ching

narrator Amanda Ching

about the narrator…

Amanda Ching is a freelance editor and writer. Her work has appeared in WordRiot, Candlemark & Gleam’s Alice: (re)Visions, and every bathroom stall on I-80 from Pittsburgh to Indianapolis. She tweets @cerebralcutlass and blogs at amandaching.wordpress.com.

Amanda last Read for EP episode 461: Selkie Stories are for Losers

EP478: People of the Shell

by Brian Trent
read by Jeff Ronner

 

author Brian Trent

author Brian Trent

about the author…

I am a novelist, screenwriter, producer, poet, actor, and freethinker who supports both imagination and rationalism. I am an advocate for film and the written word and possibility.

I am a recent (2013) winner in the Writers of the Future contest and have since had work accepted in Escape Pod (“The Nightmare Lights of Mars”), Daily Science Fiction, Apex (winning the 2013 Story of the Year Reader’s Poll), Clarkesworld, COSMOS, Strange Horizons, Galaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Electric Velocipede.

narrator Jeff Ronner

narrator Jeff Ronner

about the narrator…

Jeff Ronner is a voice actor, audio engineer, and sound designer. His work has appeared in radio and TV spots, non-commercial narrations, and on those annoying in-store supermarket PA systems. Cleverly disguised as a mild-mannered hospital IT manager during the day, he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Jeff last read for us in EP439: Cradle and Ume

 

People of the Shell
by Brian Trent

Egypt’s rolling ice-dunes were suddenly peppered by a new ashstorm, as if a bowl of soot had overturned in the heavens. King Cyrus held up his fist and the war drummer ceased his rhythmic pounding, the oarsmen relaxed, and the sandship ground to a halt in the slush. The ash sprinkled Cyrus’ cloak and collected in his beard. He leaned against the deck rails and stared.

“Do you see that?” Cyrus asked his daughter, lowering his facemask around his smile. “Look!”

The girl squinted. “Are those the pyramids, father?”

“As I promised you.”

Three fires danced high in the darkness. In a world of never-ending night, the Egyptians alone had devised a brilliant defiance. The Giza pyramids were like magical lighthouses, capstones removed, their vast bodies filled with pitch, and red fires lit to smolder like desperate offerings to the vanished sun.

Standing on the sandship deck alongside his king, the Magus Jamshid said, “May they welcome us warmly. We are in no condition to fight.”

“I did not need a fight to take Babylon,” Cyrus reminded him.

“That was before the Hammerstrike, my lord.”

But the king waved his hand dismissively. “I will go to them and look in their eyes, and speak to them as friends, and trust that generosity has not perished with the trees.”

The withered magus grunted derisively. He was bearded and ancient, his skin like the patina of old scrolls. Jamshid wore a dark blue turban, facemask, and a scintillating black robe the same color as his pitched eyebrows. His gaze smoked like hot iron.

The royal sandship stood at the head of the royal Persian fleet. It sounded majestic, Cyrus thought, but only four sandships – with a meager two hundred starving Persians – remained. The men resembled skeletons in their rags. Their leather armor was reduced to chewed twines that the men fisted in their hands, to nibble on in want of food. When the last of the leather was eaten, little trace would remain that animals had ever existed on the Earth.

Cyrus turned to their dirtied ranks. “I give you Egypt!” he bellowed. “It is still here, as I promised!”

Hunger, not hope, blazed in their eyes as they beheld the pyramid fires.

Jamshid touched his arm. “Sire! The runner is returning!”

Cyrus followed the magus’ gnarled brown hand. He saw only falling ash and smoky miasma curling from the ice.

A moment later, the scout emerged into the fleet’s amber lamplight. The man saw the royal sandship and dug his spiked boots into the ice to stop hard. The archers relaxed their bows.

“Sandship, my lord!” the young man cried. “Approaching dark and fast from the southeast!”

“Banner?” Cyrus asked.

“I have not set eyes on it. They run dark.”

“They have seen our lamps,” the magus guessed.

Cyrus stooped to his daughter. She was such a tiny thing, like a miniature of his wife, with an oval brown face and her hair pulled back in the royal style. “Go into the cabin, my dear.”

She nodded and bit her lip. “Are you going to kill people, father?”

“I hope not.”

“Are they going to kill us?”

“Not while I live.”

EP477: Parallel Moons

by Mario Milosevic
read by Bill Bowman

 

author Mario Milosevic

author Mario Milosevic

about the author…

I live in the Columbia River Gorge, one of the most beautiful places anywhere. My day job is at the local public library. I started writing quite young, and submitted my first story to a magazine when I was 14 years old. Nowadays I write poems, stories, novels, and a little non-fiction. I’m married to fellow writerKim Antieau. We met at a writer’s workshop quite a few moons ago and got married a year later. We’ve been deliriously happy for many years now. My advice to any would be writers: Don’t do it! It’s a crazy life. But if you absolutely must enter this nutty profession, here’s three things that just might help you out: 1. Write regularly (every day is good). 2. Read constantly. 3. Get a job. Seriously.

about the narrator…

Bill started voice acting on the Metamor City Podcast, and has wanted to do more ever since. He spends his days working at a library, where he is in charge of all things with plugs and troubleshooting the people who use them. He spends his nights with his wife, two active children, and two overly active canines and all that goes with that. Bill last read for us on EP440: Canterbury Hollow.

 

Parallel Moons
Mario Milosevic

1a
I never understood the term “new moon.” When the moon is invisible, how can it be new? “New moon” should be called “empty moon,” the opposite of full moon. I resolved to use the term when I was quite young. I figured all my friends would agree with me and we’d start a new way of talking about the moon. Only thing is, the phases of the moon don’t come up in conversation all that often, so the terminology never caught on.
Another thing I remember about the moon: I used to put my finger over it to make it disappear. Lots of kids did that There’s immense power in erasing an object big enough to have its own gravity. Kids crave that kind of power. They want to rule the world.

2a
You work at a medium-sized law firm. You get a call from some nerds. Space cadets. They want to reclassify the moon. They say it’s a planet, not a satellite. You think this has to be some kind of joke. But no. They are dead serious. They have money to pay for your legal work. Seven hundred and eighty-six dollars. And thirty-two cents. They collected it by passing a hat.
You are amused. You take the case. Why not? No point in being who you are unless you can have some fun once in a while, right? Right?

3a
Alice Creighton knew as much about Richard Mollene as anyone who ever looked at a gossip website, which made sense, since she wrote for one of the most popular. Mollene was the richest person ever, a complete recluse, a widower, and dedicated to three things above all else: stopping global warming, halting disease, and making the moon disappear. He had already accomplished the first with his innovative solar cell technology, had made real progress on the second with his universal vaccine, and now, with the pepper mill in orbit around the moon for the past twenty years, he was well on his way to achieving the third.
Alice approved of Mollene’s first two dreams, but was not in favor of the third. A lot of people said they understood Richard Mollene and his pepper mill.
Alice Creighton did not. She asked for an interview with Mollene to get more information. To her surprise, he said yes. Alice would get face time with the man who set the pepper mill grinding and seasoning the moon from lunar orbit almost twenty years ago. A lot of people said its mission was impossible. They said fine non-reflective dust, no matter how abundant, couldn’t quench the light of the moon.
But they were wrong.

EP476: In Loco Parentis

by Andrea Phillips
read by Mur Lafferty

 

author Andrea Phillips

author Andrea Phillips

about the author…

Andrea Phillips is an award-winning transmedia writer, game designer and author. Her book, A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling, is published by McGraw-Hill and is used to teach courses at USC, Columbia, McGill, and many other universities.

Her transmedia work includes a variety of educational and commercial projects, including Floating City with Thomas Dolby, The Maester’s Path for HBO’s Game of Thrones with Campfire Media, America 2049 with human rights nonprofit Breakthrough, Diesel Reboot with Moving Image & Content, and the independent commercial ARG Perplex City. These projects have variously won the Prix Jeunesse Interactivity Prize, a Broadband Digital award, a Canadian Screen Award, a BIMA, the Origins Vanguard Innovation Award, and others.

Her independent work includes the Kickstarted ongoing serial transmedia project The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart.

Andrea has spoken at TEDx Transmedia, Future of Storytelling, SXSW, MIT Storytelling 3.0, the Power to the Pixel/IFP Cross-Media Forum, and Nordic Games Conference, and many more events.

Andrea cheats at solitaire (a victimless crime) and Words With Friends (which is less forgivable). Consider yourself warned.

 

In Loco Parentis
by Andrea Phillips

The video stutters at the eighteen-second mark. Yakova knows by heart precisely when it happens. As she watches, she mouths the words along with Autumn. “So this girl just, like, opens up her bag, right?”

And here is where it happens: Autumn elbows her and knocks her glasses off. Yakova knows she should edit it out, those few seconds of skewed and jarring footage as her glasses skitter across the lunch table. Instead, she studies each frame carefully.

Jad is there, nearly off-frame and out of focus, light gleaming off the angled planes of his cheekbones, dark hair curled over his eyes. He starts from his recline, and he looks at her (looks at her!), eyes widening. His hand reaches up, and —

She cuts it off here, before she has to hear her own brassy laugh, before she can hear herself telling Autumn to be more careful. If she doesn’t hear it, she can pretend HE didn’t hear it, either.

She bites her lip, studying Jad’s expression of… concern? It must be concern. Probably. But is it the aloof concern of a bystander, or a more significant concern, floating atop a deep ocean of unspoken feeling?

At the base of Yakova’s skull, her minder, Seraph, uncoils and stretches. “You have homework to do,” Seraph says. When she speaks, it is a warm vibration behind Yakova’s ear, all thought and no real sound. Her voice is the same as Yakova’s mother.

Yakova zooms in on Jad’s inscrutable degree of concern. “Do you think he likes me?” she asks.

The video panel winks out. “Homework,” Seraph says. If she has arrived at any conclusions regarding the boy’s feelings, she keeps them to herself.

Yakova shouldn’t have glasses at all, of course. Not anymore, not at her age. The last two years have seen her friends blossoming into adulthood — one by one peripherals have fallen away, leaving their eyes clear, their faces open and unguarded. Yakova is left behind with a goggle-eyed wall between her and her newly coltish, beautiful peers.

The Season

It’s a new year!  Celebrations and congratulations all around, as we have successfully survived, both as a species and as individuals (presuming you are reading this text from a computer and not, like, Valhalla).  That means, however, a new awards season is coming.  If you want to support Escape Pod, then please, feel free to nominate us for awards such as the Hugos, the Nebulas, or the Parsecs.  Escape Pod publishes both text and audio, so that gives some flexibility in how you nominate us.  For example, with the Hugos we are eligible for Best Fancast and Best Semi-Pro-Zine.

We’d also love to see some of the authors we publish see their own work highlighted.  The stories are, after all, the whole point of the exercise.  With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the award-eligible fiction we ran in 2014.

The following short stories were originally published in EscapePod in 2014:

That Other Sea,” by William Ledbetter

Kumara,” by Seth Dickinson

An Understanding,” by Holly Heisey

To Waste,” by Luke Pebler

Rockwork,” by R. M. Graves

The Sky is Blue, and Bright, and Full of Stars,” by Edward Ashton

Checkmate,” by Brian Trent

Trash,” by Marie Vibbert

Inseparable,” by Liz Heldmann

Shared Faces,” by Anaea Lay

The Mercy of Theseus,” by Rachael K. Jones

Soft Currency,” by Seth Gordon

The Golden Glass” by Gary Kloster

The following stories were originally published somewhere else in 2014, but reprinted in Escape Pod that same year. (If you want to nominate any of these, please do so naming the original venue, even if you heard them first with us.):

The Transdimensional Horsemaster Rabbis of Mpumalanga Province,” by Sarah Pinsker, originally published in Asimov’s

A Struggle Between Rivals Ends Surprisingly,” by Oliver Buckram, originally published in F&SF

Repo,” by Aaron Gallagher, originally published in Analog

Enjoy the Moment,” by Jack McDevitt, originally published in the anthology “The End is Nigh

This is as I Wish to Be Restored” by Christie Yant, originally published in Analog

Hat tip to datameister David Steffen of Diabolical Plots for volunteering to help put this list together!