Archive for 13 and Up

EP382: They Go Bump


By David Barr Kirtley
Read by Alasdair Stuart

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They Go Bump
By David Barr Kirtley

     Ball placed his feet carefully. Walking on rough terrain was treacherous when you couldn’t see your feet — or your legs, for that matter, or any part of yourself. All he could see was the uneven ground, the shady stones outlined with sharp sunlight, drifting eerily beneath him. His boot caught and twisted, and he pitched forward, falling and smacking his elbows rough against the ground.

From somewhere up on the hilltop, Cataldo’s voice laughed. That voice — smooth and measured, with just a hint of sharpness. Ball had never paid much attention to voices before, but now voices were all he had.

Cataldo’s shouted, “Was that you, Ball? Again?”

Ball groped on the ground for his rifle. He felt it, grasped it, and slung it over his shoulder. He clambered to his feet, and wavered there a few moments, unsteady.

Cataldo’s voice again: “How many times is that now? Twelve?”

“Eleven.” Ball groaned, stretched, and looked around. “Where are you?” (Continue Reading…)

EP380: Punk Voyager


By Shaenon Garrity
Read by Nathaniel Lee

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For a list of all Escape Pod stories by this author or narrator, visit our sortable Wikipedia page

Rated 13+ for rebellious vulgarity


Punk Voyager
By Shaenon K. Garrity

Punk Voyager was built by punks.  They made it from beer cans, razors, safety pins, and a surfboard some D-bag had left on the beach. Also plutonium.  Where did they get plutonium?  Around.  f*** you.

The punks who built Punk Voyager were Johnny Bonesaw, Johnny Razor, Mexican Johnny D-bag, Red Viscera, and some other guys.  No, asshole, nobody remembers what other guys.  They were f***ing wasted, these punks.  They’d been drinking on the San Diego beach all day and night, talking about making a run to Tijuana and then forgetting and punching each other.  They’d built a fire on the beach, and all night the fire went up and went down while the punks threw beer cans at the seagulls.

Forget the s*** I just said, it wasn’t the punks who did it.  They were f***ing punks.  The hell they know about astro-engineering? Truth is that Punk Voyager was the strung-out masterpiece of Mexican Johnny D-bag’s girlfriend, Lacuna, who had a doctorate in structural engineering.  Before she burned out and ran for the coast, Lacuna was named Alice McGuire and built secret nuclear submarines for a government contractor in Ohio.  It sucked.  But that was where she got the skills to construct an unmanned deep-space probe.  Same principle, right?  Keep the radiation in and the water out.  Or the vacuum of space, whatever, it’s all the same s*** to an engineer.

f*** that, it wasn’t really Lacuna’s baby.  It wasn’t her idea.  The idea was Red’s.

“f***ing space,” he said that fateful night.  He was lying on his back looking up at space, is why he said it.

“Hell yeah,” said Johnny Bonesaw.

“s*** ain’t nothing but rocks and UFOs.”

“Ain’t no such thing as a UFO.”

“Like hell there ain’t,” said Red.  “CIA knows all about it.  Them and the astronauts.”

Red was always saying that s***, though.  Everything was the CIA and the saucer people with that burnout. (Continue Reading…)

EP379: Concussion


By David Glen Larson
Read by Mat Weller

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For a list of all Escape Pod stories by this author or narrator, visit our sortable Wikipedia page

Rated 13+ for mild language

Special thanks to users costaipsa, iankath, mario1298 and DJ Chronos at FreeSound.org who created and/or recorded the sound effects used in this episode!

Concussion
By David Glen Larson

He scrambled from the fire that was snaking through the corridor when another explosion jolted the ship, and just like that he was dead again. A moment later he was someone else, gazing down with another’s eyes at the mangled green body he’d left behind.

Never before had Tyler experienced such terror. Sure, he’d been afraid—afraid his knee would give out again, sidelining him for the big game; afraid he’d let down his teammates and make a fool of himself—but he’d never been terrified of being incinerated in an alien system countless light-years from the home world he was forced to flee. Not until now.

Staring up at the night sky, the stars were dim under the glare of the stadium lights. Which star was theirs? He caught himself and shook his aching head. It was only a dream, after all. The frog people weren’t real.

The doctor shined a penlight into each pupil. “Any headache, nausea, or dizziness?”

“What do you think? I was just hit by a freight train.” Good old Number 32—the biggest, meanest linebacker in the NFL.

“You may have a concussion.”

Coach Landis spit tobacco juice on the grass only inches from Tyler’s head. “We’re down 22-27 in the fourth quarter with under a minute to go. Montoya’s out, Casper’s out, and now you’re saying I’m out my third string too? Uh-uh, Doc. I need Harden in the game.”

“If he takes another hit—”

“A few aches and pains go with the territory,” said the coach.

“Forget aches and pains. I’m talking stroke or death. Those go with the territory?”

“Ordinarily no, but this is the Super Bowl and I’m out of quarterbacks.”

“I can play, Coach.” Tyler rolled onto his knees and wobbled to his feet with a groan. Lights flashed and popped behind his eyes, some internal wiring knocked loose, but he didn’t let on. “I’m fine.”

Tyler teetered backward, but the coach steadied him, pretending to pat him on the back.

“That a boy. See, Doc? It was just a tap.”

“All right, but I’ll need to check his cognitive function after every play.”

“Whatever you say,” said the coach.

“I’m going to ask you to remember a list of five words. If you can’t repeat them back to me, you’re a NO-GO.”

“Apple, wrench, sombrero, parrot, porcupine,” Tyler said with confidence.

“But I didn’t give you the words yet.”

“Sure you did. Last season against the Colts. It was the only time I played. Number 24 clocked me from behind on our 15.”

“Well I’m glad to see your long-term memory isn’t impaired, but it’s your short-term memory that concerns me.”

“Fine, but make it quick. I have a qweetah to win.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“I said, make it quick. I have a game to win.” (Continue Reading…)

EP375: Marley and Cratchit


By David Steffen
Read by Emma Newman
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An Escape Pod original!
All stories by David Steffen
All stories read by Emma Newman
Rated 13 and up

Marley and Cratchit
by David Steffen

STAVE 1: THE MARVELOUS MACHINE

In those days Jacob Marley was full of life and vigor. His smile shone so that anyone who saw him soon smiled widely in return. A moment in his presence would make one’s worst burdens seem lighter. His optimism and generosity brought out the best in others, catching easily as a torch in dry straw.

Those were happy, hopeful times. Ebenezer Scrooge, the pinch-faced and greedy miser, would not weigh on his mind until many years later. In those later years the two men’s appearances matched as twins, and their customers would often confuse one for the other. But in every other manner they were as different as two men could be. I will speak further of Scrooge, but not yet, for this is not his tale. In these days long gone, Jacob Marley was a portly man, neatly dressed and neatly groomed, with hair black as pitch and never a whisker on his face. Marley entered the shop on that momentous day in the manner with which he was accustomed, swinging the door wide and exclaiming “Hallo!” to his business partner in a sonorous voice that any Shakespearian actor would envy. His jowls swung with the force of his entry, and wobbled like a custard for quite some time after. His clothes were not of the finest material, but were fine enough for a man of his young age, a sign of the moderate inheritance left him by his father the year prior. The front office held two desks, one tidy and one covered with heaps of paper and mechanisms.

Behind the cluttered desk Bob Cratchit looked up with a quiet smile. Where Marley was expansive and memorable, Cratchit was small and quiet and utterly forgettable. He was a pleasant man, so pleasant that I have only ever known one man to ever speak crossly of him: Scrooge, that nasty old miser who spoke crossly of everyone, regardless of cause. Look! He has intruded again upon our story where he is not wanted. I will speak of him no more until his presence enters upon the story. (Continue Reading…)

EP374: Oubliette


By J. Kelley Anderson
Read by David Moore
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Originally appeared in Ray Gun Revival (2012)
All stories by J. Kelley Anderson
All stories read by David Moore
Rated 13 and up

Oubliette
By J. Kelley Anderson

The half-buried thing hadn’t moved once, but I didn’t have to include that in the story when I got back to base. The great, gray mass of it rose at least ten feet out of the red earth, tucked close to the sheer wall of the plateau. That part I’d tell. If there had been anything like a head, I would have shot it, but it just looked like a giant, lumpy football, oozing a viscous yellowy liquid here and there.

The non-military personnel tried to remember their instructions, looking away from the muzzle of my rifle as the metallic squeal of the charging weapon warned of an impending discharge. The moment the noise ended, a pencil-thin beam of white light leapt from the gun and bored another sizzling hole into the motionless mound of wrinkled gray flesh. There was a sound like someone cooking giant bacon in a giant skillet.

I just can’t describe how much I love photon rifles. They’re big, noisy, ugly, unapologetic things that leave your hands shaking and the entire area smelling like ozone. They were shit on stealth missions but, then, so am I—that’s just one of the many reasons I got this gig as the Army equivalent of a galactic janitor.

Sergeant Wroblewski and I made eye contact as I turned to address the science team, and I noted the silent “high-five” look on his face.

“Well?” I said smoothly to Science Officer Neely. “Doesn’t get much deader than that.” I tried to look nonchalant. (Continue Reading…)

EP373: Chandra’s Game


By Samantha Henderson
Read by Mur Lafferty
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Originally appeared in Lone Star Stories (2009)
All stories by Samantha Henderson
All stories read by Mur Lafferty
Rated 13 and up

Chandra’s Game
by Samantha Henderson

Joey Straphos, Papa Joe, told me once that Chandra’s Game is a bitch of a city, fickle but generous when the mood strikes her.  But Papa Joe was a romantic.

Chandra’s Game roots in the side of a barren asteroid moon like a tick.  Over the years we’ve burrowed deeper into rock and ice until poor Chandra is mostly Game.  We loop the twin wormholes, Gehenna and Tartarus, roundabout in a figure eight, ready to catch the freighters as they escape from hell’s dark maw.  We strip them of goods and drink their heat, load them up and send them into another hell.  It’s a profitable game, Chandra’s.

My mother smuggled me into Chandra’s Game without patronage and compounded her error by dying without permission; I was Terra-born unless she was lying, which was likely enough.  I joined the other unregistereds down in the Warrens: ferals that lived off the Mayor’s Dole and by odd-jobs when that wasn’t enough.  Papa Joe fed us, and sometimes the tunnels were glorious with the smell of meat, and if you were smart or hungry enough you didn’t ask from what.  Where there’s humanity there are rats, and Joey wasn’t a rich man, not then.  But food is food, and he’d bunk you if he could, and if all he asked in return for the latest Warren scuttlebutt or a few sticks of ephedrine off a freighter’s load, what of it?  Saints are few and far between in Chandra’s Game.

Papa Joe always liked me: I stayed a bit feral, tomboy—nothing like his daughters.  He had them late in life, when he got rich, and they were elegant, lux level creatures.  Not like Joey, not like Mrs. Joe.  She was quiet and kind, and if she knew a nano of Joey’s business she never let on.  When Gregor Straphos died I died a little.  But Mrs. Joe died all the way.

I’d been legit for years.  I still snooped, but in an upright way.  Helped the Company Men find bits of their loads that went astray between Gehenna and Tartarus, passed on Warren talk to the prefects when some smart kid got out of hand, pointed the way to speedwell labs that weren’t circumspect about what went into their product.  Nothing that would disturb the delicate balance between the business of the Family, the Companies and the Mayor. (Continue Reading…)

EP371 A Querulous Flute of Bone


By Cat Rambo
Read by Elizabeth Musselman
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Originally appeared in TALES FROM THE FATHOMLESS ABYSS
All stories by Cat Rambo
All stories read by Elizabeth Musselman
Rated 13 and up

A Querulous Flute of Bone
by Cat Rambo

Wherever, whenever wealth accumulates enough to create the idle, one finds those who collect things.

Such collections vary. Some catalog every cast off bit of flesh or chitin they shed. Others look outside themselves for art, or titillation, or an oblivion in which they can forget everyday life.

Collections may consist of the most mundane objects: string, or chewed up paper, or broken teacups, for example. Or they can take on outré forms: dioramas made of nihlex bone (considered contraband in certain areas), or squares of cloth exposed to the Smog, prized for the oracular patterns of dirt left deposited on the fabric, or the tiny aluminum snowflakes said to have fallen into the world during an Opening over a century ago.

Aaben was such a collector. S/he was one of the geniod, whose gender varies according to mood, location, and other private considerations, and who are known, in the face of great trauma, to forget who they are and become entirely different personalities, their old selves never to be resumed or spoken of. Some races adulate them for this, while others mock them. Such excesses of reaction have driven the geniod to keep to themselves, not by law, but preference.

Aaben was an oddity in its own preferences, for it was willing to travel, to go farther than most of its race, driven by the desire to augment its collection, choosing to focus only on its quest.

The items it sought, ranging up and down the Tube in expeditions funded by two sets of indulgent grandparents and a much less indulgent set of parents, were things that could be considered metaphors for the world and the state of those in it. In this pursuit, it followed the strictures of the philosopher-king Nackle, who described the emotions that such objects evoked in the beholder in one five hundred page monograph, and the intellectual effect of such exposure in a second, even longer work, followed by a six volume set of explanatory footnotes and addendums. (Continue Reading…)

EP370 The Care and Feeding of Mammalian Bipeds, v. 2.1


By M. Darusha Wehm
Read by Christiana Ellis
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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?” (Continue Reading…)

EP369: Passengers


By Robert Silverberg
Read by Michael Spence
Discuss on our forums
All stories by Robert Silverberg
All stories read by Michael Spence
Rated 13 and over for sexual innuendo
Nominee for Hugo Award for Best Short Story (1970)

Passengers
By Robert Silverberg

There are only fragments of me left now. Chunks of memory have broken free and drifted away like calved glaciers. It is always 
like that when a Passenger leaves us. We can never be sure of all the things our borrowed bodies did. We have only the lingering traces, 
the imprints.

Like sand clinging to an ocean-tossed bottle. Like the throbbings of amputated legs.

I rise. I collect myself. My hair is rumpled; I comb it. My face is creased from too little sleep. There is sourness in my mouth. Has my Passenger been eating dung with my mouth? They do that. They do anything.

It is morning.

A gray, uncertain morning. I stare at it awhile, and then, shuddering, I opaque the window and confront instead the gray, uncertain surface of the inner panel. My room looks untidy. Did I have a woman here? There are ashes in the trays. Searching for butts, I find several with lipstick stains. Yes, a woman was here.

I touched the bedsheets. Still warm with shared warmth. Both 
pillows tousled. She has gone, though, and the Passenger is gone, and I am alone.

How long did it last, this time? (Continue Reading…)

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.” (Continue Reading…)