Archive for 13 and Up

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Escape Pod 619: A Study in Symmetry, or the Chance Encounter of an Android and a Painter (Artemis Rising)

A Study in Symmetry, or the Chance Encounter of an Android and a Painter

By Jamie Lackey

HK-812 stepped out of her charging pod and gazed out the single narrow window that her 8×14 living space boasted. The brick wall outside was a whole eight inches away from the glass, and the morning sunshine gave the red-brown a cheery tone. As she watched, a single moth fluttered past, its wings white and delicate and brilliant in the light.

HK hummed a happy tune as she pulled on her regulation gray uniform. It was going to be a good day.

Lawrence stared at the empty hook by his front door. “Where are my keys?” he demanded.

“They are in the sink in your painting studio,” his house replied. “However, the car is not in the driveway. Would you like me to ping the GPS?”

Lawrence sighed. “Yeah.” He vaguely remembered getting a self-driving car home last night after he’d drunk one (or two, or seven) too many toasts to the happy couple. He didn’t really remember painting anything. He just hoped he hadn’t left the studio a complete disaster area.

“Your car is parked in the lot at 124 Lake St.”

Outside the reception hall. Which was about twenty miles from his lakefront house. And now he was supposed to pick them up and drive them to the airport for their honeymoon. His college best friend and high school sweetheart—they were sickeningly perfect together. They’d fought over whose side he’d be on in the bridal party.

They told him that they could get to the airport on their own, but he’d insisted. He was happy to do it, he wanted to see them off, he was so happy for them.

His head hurt.

It was going to be a rough day. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 618: All Profound and Logical Minds (Artemis Rising)

All Profound and Logical Minds

By Bennett North

The space station was silent in the way that a black hole is black; it was more than just an absence of noise. There was something physical to the silence, a force pulling in all sound and eating it. Hannah anchored her boots to the floor of the atrium, feeling the reassuring click as the magnets engaged. Emergency lights washed the atrium floor with a watery red light.

Taking a deep breath of her tepid suit air, Hannah unzipped her bag. An insulated thermos floated out. She left it slowly rotating next to her elbow while she rummaged around to find her keychain. It was a cheap one, made of injection-molded nickel, in the shape of a caffeine molecule. Stupid and gimmicky, yes, but she needed a symbol of her faith and as an atheist, it worked. Bethany had come up with the idea of doing the ritual as an exorcism. A real Catholic exorcism would take much longer, but the clients liked the concept, and Hannah’s abbreviated version worked.

A faint click in Hannah’s ear warned her a second before she heard her sister’s voice over the radio. “Ship to Missionary. Come in, Missionary.” Bethany’s voice was thin and staticky, more white noise than words, but it was like tasting cream after having nothing but water.

Hannah closed her eyes for a second, savoring the soft hiss, and then opened them again, shifting a glance to the heads-up display to trigger the radio to pick up her response. “This is Missionary. I’m in position in the atrium.”

“How’s it looking in there?”

Hannah looked toward the starboard side of the atrium. Six or seven bodies had collected in the awning of a cafe like a lost handful of balloons. They were dressed casually as if they’d been strolling through the park at the time that the station vented.

“Quiet,” said Hannah.

“Good.” Bethany’s voice had a laugh in it. “The longer it stays quiet, the better.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 617: A Cure for Homesickness (Artemis Rising)

A Cure for Homesickness

By S. L. Scott

Krem was dead.

Well, not exactly, yet, but he knew death when he saw it, and the scavenger holding a plasma shotgun three feet from his face sure looked like death. The Torqu might have exoskeletons strong enough to keep hardened steel from piercing, but that wouldn’t stop the ensuing explosions from ripping him apart. They’d just be nice big chunks instead of tiny pieces. Not that Krem was surprised he’d go this way. He’d signed up for glory and adventure traveling the galaxy, and what that really meant was boring travel time followed by constant near-death experiences. The former he’d learned to live with; the latter, it seemed, would be harder to ignore.

At least he’d finished his mission. They’d been hired to recover passengers from a crashed ship, but the scavengers and slavers had all gotten there at the same time. By now, the last group of survivors should be close to the final checkpoint, where the captain could get them to the safety of their ship.

“Del,” he whispered into his com. “Make sure they sing for at least two hours at my funeral. If I’m going to die a hero, I think I deserve it.”

Krem wanted to go out shooting and kill his own killer in one of those “showdowns” he’d seen when Max, their human crewmate, picked the entertainment. There was a certain appeal to two people facing each other over the fate of the universe. Krem was decidedly more practical though. He knew one drone like him wouldn’t matter any more than the one scavenger about to kill him. He’d done his part, and now he would come to an end for the betterment of the mission. That was how the Torqu thought of heroics, after all.

The scavenger raised his gun slightly—better to hit Krem in the neck between his more protected thorax and skull plates—and promptly exploded. A shower of sticky blue internal juices and meat splashed Krem’s entire front and dripped into his gasping mouth. The scavenger tasted rather sweet, he noted, as little else seemed to make it through his shock-addled brain. There, behind the scavenger and just as covered in corpse debris, stood Max.

“Why’d you come back?” he asked slowly and with as little understanding of the human as he ever managed. Max had taken the second group. There was no reason for her to be there.

Max, wiry as a bridge cable, wiped the blue blood from the visor protecting her eyes and spit a bit or two of scavenger from her mouth. Apparently, humans didn’t find it as appetizing. Once able to see again, she reached out a hand to hook his claw and yanked him to his feet. “We’ve got a saying back on Earth: never leave a man behind.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 615: Lonely Robot on a Rocket Ship in Space

Show Notes


Audio production note: Christopher Cornell has done an amazing and creative job of adapting the visual and formatting elements of Lonely Robot on a Rocket Ship in Space to the audio medium.

That said, there are simply some elements that do not lend themselves to a one-to-one equivalent.

I strongly encourage Escape Pod listeners, then, to not only listen, but also to see the full written story on our website.

In the text, I have changed the section breaks from a hashtag (#) to our logo icon and have taken out the paragraph indents to match our style. Otherwise, however, I have left the unique font and visual elements as A. Merc Rustad sent them to us.

Keep in mind, however, that because this is the Internet, your particular browser may interpret that formatting in myriad ways.

TL;DR: Read the text, too. Your mileage may vary.

-Adam Pracht, Escape Pod audio producer

Lonely Robot on a Rocket Ship in Space

By A. Merc Rustad

Byron scribbled crib notes on his wrist the night before he planned to come out to his dads.

He’d told all his friends he was sick so he would have an excuse to stay home Friday night. It wasn’t like he was lying. His stomach was so knotted he thought he’d puke. But he couldn’t sleep, either. The words burned like he’d used acid instead of a Sharpie.

I’m not scared or confused. It’s who I am.

In the tiniest he could write legibly, he added, Please don’t be mad. (Continue Reading…)


Escape Pod 608: Even the Queen

Even the Queen

By Connie Willis

The phone sang as I was looking over the defense’s motion to dismiss. “It’s the universal ring,” my law clerk Bysshe said, reaching for it. “It’s probably the defendant. They don’t let you use signatures from jail.”

“No, it’s not,” I said. “It’s my mother.”

(Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 603: An Equal Share of the Bone

An Equal Share of the Bone

By Karen Osborne

To kill a theriida, you need gunboats and suits, laser cutters and open-mawed cargo bays, brawn and a stout heart, and God on your side.

We, of course, had none of that.

I learned in the merchant marines to never shoot a theriida with a standard railgun. They’ll thrash and writhe and put angry holes through your hull, and eating vacuum is nobody’s idea of a good trade run. No: a theriida’s distributed brain needs a distributed solution. If you don’t have a spinal lance capable of wide-range dispersal, move on. Don’t even try. Back in the academy, before Eliot and I signed on with Garuda, we used to inflate massive plastex balloons with pressuregel and deploy them beside our training vessels, taking turns at the lance control. It wasn’t anything like the real thing.

Inexperienced spacers often believe that the glimmering purple sac in a theriida’s bioluminescent belly is the animal’s brain, but that is only because we mammals forget that the universe is a multifarious, violent parade of a hundred thousand ways to be mortal. But we weren’t inexperienced. Our captain, Nate, had thousands of hours of piloting time. I was the best gunner this side of the Mercy War. Eliot could make a working engine out of spit and vomit. That’s why we believed we could handle a theriida kill.

Hubris. That’s the word. (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 602: Trash Talk

Trash Talk

By Holly Schofield

I’m not a complainer, not me. I roll with the punches. I’ll be just another dead trash collector in about ten minutes but, hey, that’s okay. My son won’t die and, here’s a bonus, my life insurance policy will pay out.

Unless they consider it suicide.

Here we are, hugging in the middle of my living room, me in my robo-assist, my fists locked behind Ricky’s head, up high, like a boxer’s. Ricky, that’s my son, he’s pinned right against my chest.

I can’t see much now, things are blurry; must be sweat that’s in my eyes. Maybe that’ll save me ’cause it’ll short out the servos sooner or later. That was a joke. I’m hanging tough. By the way, guys, before you do anything down at the cop shop with this voice record, edit out all the emotional crap Ricky and I said earlier at the beginning, like right when it started recording, okay? Kinda embarrassing. (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 601: Wet Fur

Wet Fur

By Jeremiah Tolbert

You can tell the dog owners when they board the plane; they see the black cloud hovering in the first row and their eyes widen in shock, then narrow in fear, followed by a glimmer of a smile, a hope as they glance at so many occupied seats. A hopeful smile that seems to say: “not for me. Not for mine.”

Unease settles over the plane, like a heavy, acrid scent. A few passengers throw suspicious glances at you, and one elderly woman even stops for a moment beside you, opens her mouth as if to speak. You hold your breath. She closes her mouth and shuffles toward the rear of the plane

You breathe again. You try to ignore the man seated next to you. You focus on the safety talk.

When the flight attendant buckles her fake belt, she glances at the cloud off her shoulder, then smiles apologetically at her audience. Like it’s her fault, or perhaps the airline’s? There’s nothing she can do, or anyone else.

You sniff. You smell damp fur. You frown, wondering, perhaps, how that could be? You don’t know what strange links lie between memory and nose, but we do. (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 599: What Glistens Back

What Glistens Back

By Sunny Moraine

Come back.

You hear the call as the lander breaks up around you. You’re aware of the entirely arbitrary concepts of up and down before you realize what’s happening, and then they’re a lot less arbitrary. Down is not so much a direction as a function of possibility, of what might happen to you, of what is happening now. You finally getdown as an idea.

Come back.

Look up and there it is, floating over you in stable low orbit with its backdrop of stars, long and sleek and lovely, all its modules and portholes out of which you spent so much time looking, and that voice clutches at you like it could hold onto you, and you almost start to fucking cry, and you’re panicking and taking huge gasping breaths and clawing at nothing, and you’re falling. And you can’t come back. So the universe goes away for a while, and when you blink again, that brownish pitted curve beneath you is just a little bit bigger.

“Sean, come back. Do you read? Come back?” (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 598: On the Fringes of the Fractal

On the Fringes of the Fractal

By Greg van Eekhout

I was working the squirt station on the breakfast shift at Peevs Burgers when I learned that my best friend’s life was over.

The squirt guns were connected by hoses to tanks, each tank containing a different slew formula. Orders appeared in lime-green letters on my screen, and I squirted accordingly. Two Sausage Peev Sandwiches was two squirts from the sausage slew gun. An order of Waffle Peev Sticks was three small dabs of waffle slew. The slew warmed and hardened on the congealer table, and because I’d paid attention during the twenty-minute training course and applied myself, I knew just when the slew was ready. I was a slew expert.

Sherman was the other squirter on duty that morning. The orders were coming in fast and he was already wheezing on account of his exercise-induced asthma. His raspy breaths interfered with my ability to concentrate. You really have to concentrate because after four hours of standing and squirting there’s the danger of letting your mind wander and once you do that you can lose control of the squirts and end up spraying food slew all over the kitchen like a fire hose.

“Wasted slew reflects badly on you,” said one of the inspirational posters in the employee restroom. (Continue Reading…)