Category: EP Original

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.

narrator Caitlin Buckley

narrator Caitlin Buckley

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!

 

 

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.

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.

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?”

EP368: Springtime for Deathtraps

By Marjorie James
Read by Dr. John Cmar
Discuss on our forums.
An Escape Pod Original!
All stories by Marjorie James — including EP007– The Trouble With Death Traps and EP224– The Ghost In The Death Trap.
All stories read by John Cmar
Rated 13 and up for language

Springtime for Deathtraps
By Marjorie James

The building sat in a small clearing in the jungle, its stone walls
radiating solidity and the midday heat. Giant statues of warrior-gods
crushing skulls beneath their feet flanked the doorway. Xnab looked
from the ornately carved keyhole to his customer and back again.

“And the key is where, exactly?” he asked.

“In the treasure chamber,” the big man said in a small voice. “We had
just finished putting everything away and, well, it had been a long
day. I think I must have put the key down on the altar or something.
The problem is, the place locks automatically, and our entire fortune
is in there. We had a few locksmiths out to work on it, but they
didn’t get very far.”
Xnab nodded. He had already noticed the blood spatter around the keyhole.

“So that’s why we called you. Everyone said that if anybody could get
in there, it would be you.”

Xnab accepted that, not as a compliment, but a statement of fact. He
was a specialist the design and construction of booby traps, deadfalls
and other, largely fatal, security options. He was a small man, thin
and wiry, his shaved head still smooth and unwrinkled despite years of
working in the sun. Despite making a very good living, he wore a plain
tunic and no adornments at all. In his business, he considered it a
bad idea to have anything extra hanging around, and he was very good
at his business. In fact, anyone who knew anything considered Xnab the
best death trap designer alive.

Which typically would have been reason enough to turn down a job like
this, but in this case it was actually why he was there.

“How long have you owned the temple?” he asked the man, who had
introduced himself as Tuak.

“Just a couple of months, actually,” Tuak admitted. “It’s not really a
temple. I think the statues of the gods are just there for show. The
family who used to have it used it to store their treasures and they
spared no expense on the security.” He sighed heavily and stared up at
the tiers of stone vanishing into the jungle. “It seemed like a good
idea when we bought it.”

EP357: Connoisseurs of the Eccentric

By Jetse de Vries
Read by Nathan Lowell
Discuss on our forums.
An Escape Pod Original!
All stories by Jetse de Vries
All stories read by Nathan Lowell
Rated 15 and up for language

Connoisseurs of the Eccentric
by Jetse de Vries

Salvador Dalí took his pet ocelot to a New York restaurant, where a woman protested that wild animals were being allowed in. Dalí replied it was only a cat he’d painted in op-art style. The woman looked closer: “Now I can see it’s a cat,” she said. “At first, I thought it was an ocelot.”

Seated near the swimming pool in the artist’s retreat in Port Lligat, a BBC interviewer said that he had “heared that Dalí was unkind to animals. Was that true?”

“Dalí cruel to ze animal?” The artist exclaimed, “Nevair!” After which he picked up his pet ocelot and hurled it into the swimming pool.

—Eccentric anecdotes;

I SEE HER arriving in her private vacuum zeppelin, flying over the rewilded mountains of the Nagasaki peninsula, while I’m tending the extreme bonsai wine garden on top of my farmscraper. Expertly manoeuvering through the photovoltaic city forest, the zep berthes at the telescopic docking station. It gives me time to change from my gardening attire into something more formal.

Originally, she found me through my hyperdense pinot noir à la bonsaïe, almost two decades ago. Back then, I proudly showed her my grotto garden, but she quickly decided that she liked my ecological acumen better than my micro bonsai specimen. Today, for the second time only, she comes unnanounced.

I come prepared, but even my Icho’s ‘the power of light and shadow’ complemented with a pair of Peron & Peron’s is no match for the way Afri Kamari makes an off-the-shelf, demure business suit look like haute couture. Above ebony cheekbones: deep brown eyes that see straight through you. Under a head of long, thick, fine curls: a brain that never shifts from top gear. Inside a very conservative skirtsuit: an animated sensuality that puts any anime girl to shame.

EP355: Grandmother

By Cat Rambo
Read by The Word Whore of Air Out My Shorts
Guest Host: The Word Whore
Discuss on our forums.
An Escape Pod Original!
All stories by Cat Rambo
All stories read by The Word Whore
Rated 13 and up for language

Grandmother
by Cat Rambo

Most people called her Phoenix. Her former crew used “Captain” before that and “Sir” afterward. Ruby and Ada respectively called her “mother” and “g’ma.” Her hair was silver – not white, but genuine, metallic silver, a long fall against her pale blue skin, the color of a shadow on a piece of willow ware, that made her seems ageless despite the century and more that lay upon her, not to mention all those decades of pirating.

They said she’d been the best slideboard rider of her time, and perhaps the best battleship pilot of all time, back before her parents and sister were killed and she turned rogue.

They said she had done terrible things in her pirate days.

They said she’d been ruthless in her rise to power, moving up the chain from god knows where, an origin she’d never, ever spoken of to anyone, not even her own daughter. She’d killed some captains, slept with others, called in favors and maneuvered and betrayed and seized power with a brutal efficiency that still underlay what now seemed a calm and orderly, rules-bound government that she and Mukopadhyay had created.

They said she had killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people — sometimes at a distance, sometimes up close, with knife or fist. They said she’d killed a crew member when the shuttle she was in needed its mass reduced and the man hadn’t even argued, just nodded and stepped into the airlock, never said a word as the door closed and the lock cycled, staring in at his captain as she stared back.

They said time had mellowed her.
 They said working with Mukopadhyay, even though he was crazy as a spiral comet, had mellowed her.

They said helping colonize a whole planet, setting up its government, the rich and intricate power structure that now encompassed the whole solar system called Shiva, had mellowed her.

Not to mention motherhood, they said, a change which no pregnant woman escapes. It alters the hormones in your body. Softens you. Makes you less rash, less harsh. Takes away even the sharpest edge, not to mention the hormonal craziness, which some women never recover from, after all.

Sure, changes you in a good way, they were quick to say. 
But definitely softer.

They said she’d never do those sorts of things now.

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EP352: Food for Thought

By Laura Lee McArdle
Read by Christiana Ellis
Discuss on our forums.
An Escape Pod Original!
All stories by Laura Lee McArdle
All stories read by Christiana Ellis
Rated 15 and up for explicit language

Food for Thought
By Laura Lee McArdle

He didn’t look much like the humans I knew—their eyes squinting out of wind-burnt faces from atop the backs of their rude horses. This one had a face like butter, not a wrinkle to be seen. And he didn’t arrive on a horse, rude or otherwise, just popped out of thin air and started talking to me. Not at me. To me.

“Slow down,” I said flicking a fly off my broad backside. “Wilfred, right? You are responsible for the fence posts?”

“Yeah sure,” said Wilfred. “Now listen to me. I just need a thirty second vignette when I say ‘action’. Can you do that for me?

“Sure,” I said. I love to talk about myself.

“You heard the animal,” he shouted to no one I could see. “Food For Thought, take one. Action!”

“Uh, Bess here. Folks call me the conspiracy theorist.  And I laugh.  But honestly if you don’t spend some time speculating out here what are you going to do?  Me, I walk the fence, count the posts and calculate trigonometric functions.  And I am convinced there is a way to get my 1200 lb bulk past these 4000 odd posts and reams of barbed wire.

By the way, I’ve come pretty far with the weight issue, thank you very much. The secret is small frequent meals, so I pretty much eat a little bit all the time when I’m not counting posts.  The other trick, that I don’t think any of my sisters have clocked on to, is to just not use stomachs three and four. Sure it takes practice, even surgery for lesser minds, but if you don’t have a project out here you will simply go mad.

EP351: 113 Feet

By Josh Roseman
Read by Mur Lafferty
Discuss on our forums.
An Escape Pod Original!
All stories by Josh Roseman
All stories read by Mur Lafferty
Rated 15 and up for explicit language

113 Feet
By Josh Roseman

“This is a really bad idea, Elle,” Barry says.

“You didn’t have to come.”

“Don’t be stupid,” he snaps. “Phil would kill me if I didn’t come with you.”

Barry is fiftyish, portly and gray-haired. Seeing him take off his shirt is an experience I wish I’d never had.

“I have friends with certifications,” I say. “It’s not like I couldn’t have asked one of them.”

“How many of them have actually been down there?” It’s almost a growl, and I’m actually cowed a little. “That’s what I thought.”

I sit on the hard bench, wood planks covered in thin, all-weather carpet, and fiddle with my regulator.

“How far away do you think we are?” he asks.

“Don’t know. Ask the captain.”

Barry looks up at the bridge, where Al — the captain — stands, driving the boat. Al is even older than Barry, narrow and hard and tanned almost leathery with decades of exposure to the sun. Instead of going up to talk to him, though, Barry goes around the cabin to stand by the bow, leaving me bouncing up and down on the bench as the boat zips across the water. The light chop makes the horizon rise and fall faster than is comfortable. I can take it, though, and if I get sick enough to throw up, at least I know enough to do it over the side.

My guess is that we’re ten minutes from the dive site. Maybe fifteen.

After waiting seven years to get my answers, fifteen minutes isn’t much of a wait at all.

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