Archive for 13 and Up

EP355: Grandmother


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.

(Continue Reading…)

EP354: The Caretaker


The Caretaker

By Ken Liu

Motors whining, the machine squats down next to the bed, holding its arms out parallel to the ground. The metal fingers ball up into fist-shaped handholds. The robot has transformed into something like a wheelchair with treads, its lap the seat where my backside is supposed to fit.

A swiveling, flexible metal neck rises over the back of the chair, at the end of which are a pair of camera lenses with lens hood flaps on top like tilted eyebrows. There’s a speaker below the cameras, covered by metal lips. The effect is a cartoonish imitation of a face.

“It’s ugly,” I say. I try to come up with more, but that’s the only thing I can think of.

Lying on the bed with my back and neck propped up by all these pillows reminds me of long-ago Saturday mornings, when I used to sit up like this in bed, trying to catch up on grading while Peggy was still asleep next to me. Suddenly, Tom and Ellen would burst through the bedroom door without knocking and jump into the bed, landing on top of us in a heap, smelling of warm blankets and clamoring for breakfast.

Except now my left leg is a useless weight, anchoring me to the mattress. The space next to me is empty. And Tom and Ellen, standing behind the robot, have children of their own.

“It’s reliable,” Tom says. Then he seems to have run out of things to say, too. My son is like me, awkward with words when the emotions get complicated.

After a few seconds of silence, his sister steps forward and stands next to the robot. Gently, she bends down to put a hand on my shoulder. “Dad, Tom is running out of vacation days. And I can’t take any more time off either because I need to be with my husband and kids. We think this is best. It’s a lot cheaper than a live-in aide.” (Continue Reading…)

EP353: Talking to the Enemy


Talking to the Enemy

By Don Webb

We knew a little, but we knew the Free Machines knew more. We hoped our adversary, the Belatrin, knew less; but since they were such creatures of dream and nightmare even at the late parts of the War, we suspected they knew everything.

The Peace Conference hadn’t happened in the first six months of our being here. Everyone talked about it. Breakthroughs were rumored everyday. The only hard facts are that we had grown more efficient at killing Belatrin and they us.

The “peace planet” was named Mrs. Roger Fishbaum III. Roger Fishbaum had paid currency to name a star after his wife in the International Star Registry a thousand years before. The Siirians had a name for it that had too many clicks and whistles, the Free Machines a binary designation, and for all we knew the Belatrin used telepathy. The planet stank of vinegar and moldy bread. I always assumed that its atmosphere contained some needful compound for our enemies’ breathing, but maybe the Free Machines choose it to annoy us, or them.

Siirian merchants made the most of our discomfort. They sold ineffective air shields that released some herbal concoction. I was buying one when I made my ironic remark about the peace talks. The merchant polished its carapace with two of its legs and whistled out a message that my implant made into, “Honored customer, do you think you will be the chief negotiator for the peace talks?”

I set my translator for ironic mode, and said, “Most certainly. My lowly position as a Viscount of the Instrumentality qualifies me far better than the Dukes of Diplomacy.” (Continue Reading…)

EP352: Food for Thought


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. (Continue Reading…)

EP351: 113 Feet


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.


(Continue Reading…)

EP349: Origin


Origin

By Ari Goelman

This is how I find out that I’m pregnant:

I wake up to find Carter standing next to my bed. The fire escape door is open behind him, so the rising sun silhouettes his body. A human silhouette, albeit a little crisper than it should be, as his body bends the light towards him, powering up. Always powering up.

“You’re pregnant,” he says. No particular emphasis on the words, which is as per usual, his voice being run through vocal cords that are not human, formed by lips that have blown hurricanes off course. It’s not that he doesn’t feel emotion, he tells me and anyone else who’ll listen. It’s just that he doesn’t have the same biologically hardwired ways of showing it. Usually I believe him.

“What?” I rub my eyes, push up on one elbow. “That’s not possible.”

He leans over me, and touches my stomach. “I was flying by your apartment, thinking about you. I heard the heartbeat.”

“You told me that was impossible,” I say.

He frowns and asks, “I told you it was impossible for me to hear the . . .”

“Conceiving, Carter,” I say. “You told me it was impossible for us to conceive.”

“I thought it was. I was wrong.” His frown deepens. “I could take care of it for you right now if you want.”

I push Carter away from me and sit up. “For me, Carter?! You mean for us, right?”

“Right. That’s what I meant.” A pause, then. “You’re freezing the bed, Margaret.”

(Continue Reading…)

EP347: Next Time, Scales


Next Time, Scales

By John Moran

“You’re too restless,” the lizard whispered into my brain.

“And you’ve been at the reactor fuel again.”

Marla slapped her prehensile tail onto the table, cracking its surface with her paralysing stinger and rattling the chess pieces. The blow echoed through the control room.

“I hate it when you do that, Steven.”

“Do what?”

“Think you can read me.”

I smiled. “Your underarm scales are pale, which means a supercharged diet or zero-gravity. As we haven’t been off-planet, it must be the
food. Plus, your breath stinks of sulphur and your claws have white rings.”

Marla pointed one crimson eye at the table, but kept the other on me.

“Your move,” she said.

“Give me time. Why do you think I’m restless?”

“Because you’ve spent the last three weeks researching Loris, and done each patrol fully armed.”

I glanced through the window, as if by chance I might catch our thief creeping up in plain view, but all I saw were two huge moons glowering over the ruined planet, its civilisation long-dead, part-excavated and full of secrets.

I couldn’t let Marla know the site had me spooked, though. Her people had been hunters for a thousand years, and, through a quirk of fate, she believed in me.

(Continue Reading…)

EP346: Hawksbill Station


Hawksbill Station

by Robert Silverberg

Barrett was the uncrowned King of Hawksbill Station. He had been there the longest; he had suffered the most; he had the deepest inner resources of strength. Before his accident, he had been able to whip any man in the place. Now he was a cripple, but he still had that aura of power that gave him command. When there were problems at the Station, they were brought to Barrett. That was axiomatic. He was the king.

He ruled over quite a kingdom, too. In effect it was the whole world, pole to pole, meridian to meridian. For what it was worth. It wasn’t worth very much.

Now it was raining again. Barrett shrugged himself to his feet in the quick, easy gesture that cost him an infinite amount of carefully concealed agony, and shuffled to the door of his hut. Rain made him impatient:. the pounding of those great greasy drops against the corrugated tin roof was enough even to drive a Jim Barrett loony. He nudged the door open. Standing in the doorway, Barrett looked out over his kingdom.

Barren rock, nearly to the horizon. A shield of raw dolomite going on and on. Raindrops danced and bounced on that continental slab of rock. No trees. No grass. Behind Barrett’s hut lay the sea, gray and vast. The sky was gray too, even when it wasn’t raining.

He hobbled out into the rain. Manipulating his crutch was getting to be a simple matter for him now. He leaned comfortably, letting his crushed left foot dangle. A rockslide had pinned him last year during a trip to the edge of the Inland Sea. Back home, Barrett would have been fitted with prosthetics and that would have been the end of it: a new ankle, a new instep, refurbished ligaments and tendons. But home was a billion years away, and home there’s no returning. (Continue Reading…)

EP342: Certus Per Bellum


Certus per Bellum (Decided by War)

By S. Hutson Blount

“It’s quiet outside,” Nohaile said, trying to find a comfortable way to sit in his armor suit. “Are you sure it’s started?””It’ll get plenty loud,” said the girl. She was armored only in a ratty sweatshirt and a patched bib coverall. She’d entered the bunker
with a vest and some sensible-looking boots, but promptly removed them. Her bare feet made her look about twelve years old. “For right
now,” she continued after some rapid two-thumb typing on her hand console, “we got time to kill.”

“Miz Bamboo, do you think we can win?” Nohaile had a matching helmet to go with his armor. He felt foolish either leaving it off or putting it on, so it worried in his hands.

The girl laughed a little. It didn’t reach her eyes. “There’s no ‘miz.’ Bamboo is my handle, not my name.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No worries. And yeah, we can win. The other guy hired cheap.”

Bamboo kept looking at the display on her console, checking through her seemingly-infinite pockets and producing unidentifiable items to
inspect and disappear again. Everything she carried seemed dirty but functional.

Nohaile looked down at his shiny armor suit and was ashamed.

“So, when do I get the story?” Bamboo asked. (Continue Reading…)

EP340: Golubash (Wine-Blood-War-Story)


Golubash (Wine-Blood-War-Story)

By Catherynne M. Valente

The difficulties of transporting wine over interstellar distances are manifold. Wine is, after all, like a child. It can _bruise_. It can suffer trauma—sometimes the poor creature can recover, sometimes it must be locked up in a cellar until it learns to behave itself. Sometimes it is irredeemable. I ask that you greet the seven glasses before you tonight not as simple fermented grapes, but as the living creatures they are, well-brought up, indulged but not coddled, punished when necessary, shyly seeking your approval with clasped hands and slicked hair. After all, they have come so very far for the chance to be loved.

Welcome to the first public tasting of Domaine Zhaba. My name is Phylloxera Nanut, and it is the fruit of my family’s vines that sits before you. Please forgive our humble venue—surely we could have wished for something grander than a scorched pre-war orbital platform, but circumstances, and the constant surveillance of Chatêau Marubouzu-Debrouillard and their soldiers have driven us to extremity. Mind the loose electrical panels and pull up a reactor husk—they are inert, I assure you. Spit onto the floor—a few new stains will never be noticed. As every drop about to pass your lips is wholly, thoroughly, enthusiastically illegal, we shall not stand on ceremony. Shall we begin?

2583 Sud-Cotê-du-Golubash (New Danube)

The colonial ship _Quintessence of Dust_ first blazed across the skies of Avalokitesvara two hundred years before I was born, under the red stare of Barnard’s Star, our second solar benefactor. Her plasma sails streamed kilometers long, like sheltering wings. Simone Nanut was on that ship. She, alongside a thousand others, looked down on their new home from  that great height, the single long, unfathomably wide river that circumscribed the globe, the golden mountains prickled with cobalt alders, the deserts streaked with pink salt.

How I remember the southern coast of Golubash, I played there, and dreamed there was a girl on the invisible opposite shore, and that her family, too, made wine and cowered like us in the shadow of the Asociación.

My friends, in your university days did you not study the rolls of the first colonials, did you not memorize their weight-limited cargo, verse after verse of spinning wheels, bamboo seeds, lathes, vials of tailored bacteria, as holy writ? Then perhaps you will recall Simone Nanut and her folly, that her pitiful allotment of cargo was taken up by the clothes on her back and a tangle of ancient Maribor grapevine, its roots tenderly wrapped and watered. Mad Slovak witch they all thought her, patting those tortured, battered vines into the gritty yellow soil of the Golubash basin. Even the Hyphens were sure the poor things would fail. There were only four of them on all of Avalokitesvara, immensely tall, their watery triune faces catching the old red light of Barnard’s flares, their innumerable arms fanned out around their terribly thin torsos like peacock’s tails. Not for nothing was the planet named for a Hindu god with eleven faces and a thousand arms. The colonists called them Hyphens for their way of talking, and for the thinness of their bodies. They did not understand then what you must all know now, rolling your eyes behind your sleeves as your hostess relates ancient history, that each of the four Hyphens was a quarter of the world in a single body, that they were a mere outcropping of the vast intelligences which made up the ecology of Avalokitesvara, like one of our thumbs or a pair of lips. (Continue Reading…)