Archive for 13 and Up

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Escape Pod 637: At the Village Vanguard (Ruminations on Blacktopia)


At the Village Vanguard

(Ruminations on Blacktopia)

By Maurice Broaddus

In this, the 25th anniversary of the founding of the lunar colony, First World (colloquially called Blacktopia by its residents), The Indianapolis Recorder, the nation’s oldest-surviving African-American newspaper, continues its series re-visiting key events. Their reporter interviewed (and re-interviewed) many of the principals in order to piece together a picture of the terrorist threat that nearly ended it and the heroic actions of Science Police Officer, Astra Black.

 

Jiminy Crootz (aka J-Croo, Science Police, Senior Investigator. Retired.)

When the alarms sounded for the converter station, I had no doubt she would beat me there. The gate surrounding the solar panel farm had been slit open, like someone wanted to perform a Caesarean but only had a rusted pair of clippers at their disposal. The backdoor of the converter station had been battered in. The air, heavy and re-breathed, like the filters weren’t working at full efficiency. Panels ripped open, wires everywhere. Nanobots probably skittered across the room like roaches in my aunty’s old kitchen. The farm was strictly a backup source of power for the lunar colony, so it wasn’t as heavily guarded as say the nuclear fission power station or the magnetic generators. But there was still a man down and Astra Black stood over his body.

 

Dr. Hensley Morgan (aka Dreamer, ranking Science Council member)

Astra had an elegance about her, like the waltz of a First Lady. When she walked, she stepped with purpose. Long strides, though only the balls of her feet ever seemed to touch the ground. At first glance, nothing about her stuck out as exceptional. Average height and build. Hair drawn back in Afro puffs. But she had this way about her.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 635: After Midnight at the ZapStop

Show Notes

This story references a concept called “mirror neurons,” that’s subject to some controversy in the scientific community. Escape Pod’s current Assistant Editor happens to be a neuroscientist who shared some thoughts on the topic: http://benjaminckinney.com/mirror-neurons/


After Midnight at the Zap Stop

By Matthew Claxton

When the guy with the horns came in, I knew it wouldn’t be a good shift.

He scowled when the ZapStop’s doors refused to slide open for him. Ignoring the late-hours doorbell, he pounded one meaty fist on the shatterproof polycarbonate. The young woman beside him, hands tucked into the pouch of her hoodie, shifted uncomfortably.

I considered leaving them standing in the parking lot, but much as I’d like to have the ten p.m.-to-six a.m. shifts uninterrupted by customers, they were kind of the point. I hit the door release and let them in.

Under the bright store LEDs, I could see the forehead ornaments were new. Big, curling ram’s horns, straight out of a Rocky Mountain wildlife doc, joined across his forehead to give him a perpetual frown. Faint pink lines traced the graft below his hairline and just above his eyebrows where the whole mess had been slapped into place.

Typical frat boy, in other words. At least horns were less awkward than last year’s fashion for antlers. We’d lost a few ceiling tiles to those.

“Help you with anything?” I said. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 634: On a Clear Day You Can See All the Way to Conspiracy (Flashback Friday)

Show Notes

Alasdair referenced the following in the host endcaps: Frantic Caller and Bob Lazar Interview.


On a Clear Day You can See All the Way to Conspiracy

By Desmond Warzel

You’re listening to the Mike Colavito Show on Cleveland’s home for straight talk, WCUY 1200. The opinions expressed on this program do not reflect those of WCUY, its management, or its sponsors.

Fair warning; I’m in a mood today, folks.

We’ve got a mayor whose only talent seems to be showing up at luncheons and waving at the cameras.

Eighty bucks I had to pay yesterday for not wearing my seatbelt. Show me the seatbelts on a school bus.

I saw a Cleveland athlete on national TV last night wearing a Yankees cap.

And every day I get at least a dozen calls from schmucks who think that people like me are the problem in this city.

Tell me America’s not falling apart. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 631: Heart of Ash, Heart of Steam

Show Notes

Heart of Ash, Heart of Steam is set in the same universe as Escape Pod 436: Into the Breach.


Heart of Ash, Heart of Steam

By Malon Edwards

You squeeze through the doorway past the bouncer wearing the massive Conquest Knight XV exo and make way your over to Nyanza Swift. The Soul Queen’s blackout is spacious, but minimalist. Low sightlines. No shadowy alcoves. No jacks. No data exchange. No electricity.

This is the best blackout in uncontrolled airspace.

Your twin sister is sitting in the back near the chop shops. She stands and you kiss her on both cheeks. Her quicksilver skin is cold against your lips. You frown.

” It’s not that bad,” she says.

“Fout,” you curse, and you are surprised by the anger in your voice. “Ou malad prèt pou mouri. You’re dying.”

Nyanza Swift smiles, a wan, tired one, and new crow’s feet crinkle her eyes. “Mwen fatige.”

“E fèb,” you add, trying to keep the worry out of your voice. “You look like you’re about to fall over.”

“Mwen byen. I just need an hour or two of rest and some high quality coal dust.”

You shake your head. “M ka wè li. It’s all over your face. You’ve aged twenty years since we last saw each other.”

Your sister’s smile becomes more playful. “M ap fè dan zòrèy. I’m no spring chicken anymore, am I?”

“Sispann fè jwèt,” you tell her, wiping your eyes. “It’s not funny.”

Nyanza Swift’s smile fades fast. “Ah, sè byenneme mwen, my kind-hearted little sister, pa kriye.” She moves her chair to the other side of the table and puts her arms around you. The cold quicksilver skin of her fine jaw touches your exposed cheek. “Please don’t cry.”

You shake your smooth, brown bald head hard. “M pa vle al bwachat w. I don’t want you to die, but you will. If you keep doing this, w’ap mouri.”

You have no idea what she is doing to herself, but it scares you.

Nyanza Swift kisses you on the temple. “Se pa anyen ditou,” she tells you. “It’s nothing. M pa gen anyen. Really. M’anfòm. I’m fine.”

You take a deep breath to push back down the sob bubbling up from your chest, threatening to burst out of your mouth. “You look like Manmi.” Your voice is soft. It does not waver. “Age looks good on you.”

And you mean it.      (Continue Reading…)

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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…)