Archive for 13 and Up

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Escape Pod 627: Humans Die, Stars Fade


Humans Die, Stars Fade

By Charles Payseur

They come to study. Not me. Not really. No, they come for Aerik—what he’s become. What I suppose we both will become when the slow swell of time and gravity finally draw us together wholly. After everything, all the years with only the brush of winds, then this slow draining death, it’s almost something to look forward to. Even if he’s not there anymore.

But the aliens. The humans. The UEF Intrepid. They’re here to study, ship space-worn and eager, scanning like a bird poking at a pool of water with its bill, unaware of what might lurk beneath. They don’t know the gravitational anomalies of the area, the way that Aerik sometimes surges as if reaching for me, as if he can jump back from the annihilation that claimed our planets, his life, and our love. There is little I can do for them. For anyone. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 626: Fire Rode the Cold Wind


Fire Rode the Cold Wind

By Aimee Ogden

The brown woman came to Vrau from the sky, without a name of her own.

Piarcu knew that she was nameless, even though the women of his family only whispered it when they thought no one else could hear. It was they who had cared for her when her metal cage crashed down into the ice, they who had peeled her out of her prison and stripped her out of her strange silver suit and dressed her wounds. It was they who had seen her flesh bare of fur or wool, and noted the lack of name marked there.

Not that they would have dared to read that name, if their eyes had fallen on it. They were practiced in the healing arts, and healers did not linger on their patients’ most intimate matters. They took from her empty cups of spineweed tea and used bandages, not her privacy. Piarcu’s mind lingered there, though. He found himself thinking of the stranger’s unmarked skin, more often than he should: found himself distracted at land, at sea, stripped down to his leggings in preparation for a shellstar dive and seized with the notion that he might be the one to press his needleknife to her flesh and offer her the gift of a true name.

For her part, she did not seem concerned about her lack of name. When Piarcu visited her shelter, erected with ice in the lee of her shattered cage and lined with furs and blankets offered by the generous Vrauam, she only ever laughed and said, “My name is Isro Bascardan! That’s name enough for anyone, don’t you think?” And he did not know how to make her see that a use-name was not enough to have, no more than a man could say he had a coat and so had no need of his skin. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 622: Anna and Marisol in Time and Space


Anna and Marisol in Time and Space

By Tim Pratt

The big day came, and Anna was tempted to tie up Marisol and stash her in the closet just to be safe, but instead she put on her makeup and her pale blue gown (it was prettier than she remembered) and called, “Marisol! Are you making a whole new dress from scratch in there? We gotta go!” just like last time.

Marisol emerged from the bedroom, sliding a dangly earring into place, and even with everything on her mind, Anna stopped and stared and took her partner in: those pale green eyes so striking against the darkness of her skin, her long black hair, her dress patterned with tiny flowers and ruffled at the hem, made elegant both by Marisol’s craftsmanship and because she looked good in everything, basically. How many hours had Anna spent staring at photographs of that face? “Oh my god, let me get a picture.”

Marisol rolled her eyes. “I thought you were worried about being late?”

“It’s not my fault you look this good. I didn’t account for a hotness delay.” Marisol snorted laughter, and Anna’s phone snapshot caught her at the perfect candid moment: happiness frozen forever in pixels. Anna looked at the screen. The picture wasn’t exactly the same, but it was probably okay—

Marisol tapped her on the arm. “I’m flattered, babe, but you can gaze upon my splendor later.” They grabbed the wedding gift bag and pelted down the stairs and out the lobby door to the street. Their timing was perfect, anyway: the car Anna had summoned pulled up, shiny and black, just as they reached the curb. They slid into the back, adjusting hems and getting comfortable: it was about a twenty-minute ride to the park where Del and Kelsey were getting married.

“The first of the college cohort to fall,” Marisol said. “How much do you want to bet they set off a domino chain reaction thing among the guests? We’ll probably have to go to ten weddings next summer.”

Better than ten funerals, Anna thought. Or thirty. She checked her purse for the thousandth time. She knew it was in there, and she knew it worked—she’d tested it extensively—but she couldn’t help but worry. You only got one second chance. (Continue Reading…)

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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…)

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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…)