Archive for 13 and Up

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Escape Pod 678: Blonde


Blonde

by Priya Sharma

“When did you go bald?”

Only Clarice would ask such a forthright question.

“Leave her alone,” Jake drains his beer. Only he would dare contradict his sister.

The clock hands have gone from late at night to early in the morning. Jake’s bar is empty of customers. The staff, who are sitting round the table, fall silent, intent on their drinks.

“It’s okay,” Rapunzel says. “I was sick and it all fell out.”

Her scalp is shiny, every follicle devoid of life. Nor does she have any eyebrows. Or hair elsewhere for that matter.

“What colour was it?”

“Blonde.”

There’s a pause, then laughter.

Jake nudges her. “You’re a joker after all.”

She knows what he thinks of her. That she’s vague and evasive and hasn’t a clue what’s going on most of the time.

“Lucky you’re beautiful enough to be bald,” he adds.

Rapunzel touches the nape of her neck where she feels most exposed and tries not to smile.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 677: Valedictorian (Flashback Friday)


Valedictorian

by N. K. Jemisin

There are three things Zinhle decides, when she is old enough to understand. The first is that she will never, ever, give less than her best to anything she tries to do. The second is that she will not live in fear. The third, which is perhaps meaningless given the first two and yet comes to define her existence most powerfully, is this: she will be herself. No matter what.

For however brief a time.


“Have you considered getting pregnant?” her mother blurts one morning, over breakfast.

Zinhle’s father drops his fork, though he recovers and picks it up again quickly. This is how Zinhle knows that what her mother has said is not a spontaneous burst of insanity. They have discussed the matter, her parents. They are in agreement. Her father was just caught off-guard by the timing. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 674: And Yet


And Yet

A. T. Greenblatt

Only idiots go back to the haunted houses of their childhood. And yet.

Here you are. Standing on the sagging, weed-strangled front porch that hasn’t changed in twenty years. Every dip in the floorboards, every peeling strip of paint is exactly as you remember it. Time seems to have ricocheted off this place.

Except not everything has stayed the same. You have your doctorate in theoretical physics now, the ink’s still fresh on the diploma. Your prospects look good. You’re going start teaching next month, your first steps on the path to tenure. You have a grant for a research project you’ve been waiting for years to start. The secrets of the universe are a locked door and you might have the key. That is, if the house doesn’t kill you first.

You’re lingering on the doorstep, not quite ready to commit. There’s an early morning hush to the neighborhood, but it’s already ungodly humid and warm. The backs of your calves stick to your leg braces, your backpack is heavy on your shoulders, and your walking cane is slick from your sweaty palm, though you’re not sure if that’s because of the heat or because being back on this porch is doing terrible things to your heart rate. Even the dragonflies are smart enough to linger at the property line.

This is a terrible idea. Your hand is clenched around the doorknob and you’re listing all the valid reasons you should walk away.

And yet. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 668: The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi


The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi

by Wole Talabi

The spindly, sleek ship hurtled forward at hyperliminal speed, blurring its own intricately patterned design in six dimensions and wrecking the fabric of space–time in its wake. Its captain adjusted the dial on the control panel, accelerating the ship three thousand lightspeed units faster in Planck time. Reality shifted.

The sphere that was chasing the ship matched their maneuver and kept the distance—if it could still be called that—between them, unchanged. The sphere suddenly added an extra-dimensional rotation to its motion and burst ahead with a surge of energy that set off a singularity event behind it. It slammed itself against the ship finally, throwing off gigantic streams of pure energy, and latched on to it with long, spiny hydra-like tendrils that branched into manifold others.

The sphere began to consume the ship in a dazzling display of fractured light and twisted gravity, tendrils reaching into it like the fingers of some monstrous creature seeking sustenance. The ship’s captain, in a panic, condensed every aspect of themself into one place for the first time since they’d first gained super-sentience. They could not let the ship be taken. If the object it carried fell into the hands of the beings that controlled the sphere, every conscious aspect of the universe could become a weapon in their hands. It was better if all was lost; destroyed forever. The object pulsed a thought in agreement with them. They resonated with resolve. This would be the final act of the Great War. It had to be done.

The captain pushed a gray dot above the main control panel and the universe stood still for the most minuscule of moments before a bright azure stream of pure plasma tore its way through the core of the ship, expanding at imperceivable speeds. In a flash, it obliterated the ship, the sphere, and everything within a five-hundred-galaxy radius before finally pausing to allow something like an explosion occur. Time and space became shrapnel. Pressure and temperature became meaningless abstractions in a bubble of broken reality. The universe trembled.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 664: The Day Girl


The Day Girl

by Rivqa Rafael

Mother never wanted me to take the meteorology job. “Those high fences and secret regulations,” she said. “There’s something shady about Rubens’ Medicines” —dear Mother’s tone was sarcastic when she wished it— “mark my words, Genevieve. Dull work, too, and why don’t they use automatons?” But it was that or go in as a governess or lady’s maid, and that would have been a bitter pill to swallow indeed.

I smile wryly at my little medicinal joke as I smooth down the page of the logbook. In any case, testimonials prove the worth of Rubens’ medicinal tonic above our competitors across Britain (to say nothing of the endorsement of Queen Victoria’s Surgeon): Worth every penny to save Da from consumption… Jarvis’ Elixir did nothing but Rubens’ saved her… The only cure, everyone knows it…

The hours are long, true, but the nursery is a pleasant place to work, with its high glass ceilings. I like seeing the tidy berry crops from my laboratory bench. Besides, it’s warm in winter, if a little stifling in summer.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 661: A Fine Night for Tea and Bludgeoning


A Fine Night for Tea and Bludgeoning

By Beth Cato

Summer 1901

Upon my arrival at the Durham’s dance, it was quickly apparent to me that their daughter’s new purebred fiancé was not the evening’s star as gossip had foretold. Instead, a dashing green-skinned gentleman had garnered a pack of giggling admirers.

I had never encountered a person of such fascinatingly verdant coloration before, and yet I immediately had an odd pressure upon me to accept this man and not question his visage.

How peculiar.

I retreated to a far wall. My brow furrowed in thought; the motion hurt. My face was caked with powder adequate to make an elephant sneeze, all to obscure the final, yellowed vestiges of what had been a black eye.

Such a blemish would have been abhorrent to the flibbertigibbets filling the room, but then, they also had the mental acumen of chocolate éclairs. They prowled these parties for husband material the way big game hunters stalked moose, each seeking to bag something brag-worthy and best kept stuffed in a parlor. This green-skinned man was fresh meat, though it seemed no one else had noticed his greenness at all. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 659: Caesura

Show Notes

Termination Shock
Termination Shock

TERMINATION SHOCK is a new roleplaying game from Greg Stolze, chronicling your adventures as an ordinary human rescued from hellish war by disorganized aliens. What will you do as a refugee in a strange cosmos? Cling to your past, or find a purpose among inscrutable aliens? Will you just get by, or will you redefine humanity in the eyes of a million extraterrestrials? The choice is yours in this new tabletop game, on Kickstarter now.


Caesura

by Hayley Stone

Priya begins by striking the words love, hate, heart, and feel from the computer’s vocabulary, and blocks the internet. It isn’t with malicious intent. She does it on a whim, as with most things: fixing herself tacos at eleven o’clock at night, taking a right instead of a left turn against the advice of her GPS, showing up to her brother’s funeral in bright pink and yellow leopard-print high-tops.

“Your shoes look like they’re wanted for the murder of a Lisa Frank poster,” Demetri said when she first bought them, after nearly shooting Pepsi through his nose.

“You’re just jealous because I look fly, and you’d get shot wearing these around the city,” Priya said.

“Fly? So you’re a little gangster now, huh?”

“More than you.”

He did get shot. But it wasn’t over shoes.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 657: The Big So-So


The Big So-So

By Erika Satifka

We’re both sitting on the rotting front porch one muggy July day when Dorcas asks me if I want to break into Paradise with her. I lace up my sneakers and we do the old huff-and-puff up Negley Avenue to the big Cygnian compound on the hill.

It’s dark, which doesn’t mean much. Most of the compound-heads are wired up to the pleasure-juice on a more-or-less constant basis, and who needs light when you’ve got that? Still, it only takes about three minutes until we’re spotted climbing over the semi-permeable barrier that separates the Chosen Ones from the Not There Yet. And it only takes eight minutes until we’re sitting in the bare-bones holding tank, waiting for an attendant to rouse one of the compound-heads from their ecstasy.

I look over at Dorky. She looks over at me. She mouths the words “play along.”

And I mouth the word “what?” because for the life of me I can’t figure out what the hell the point of this little stunt is.

The compound-head enters in a thick bathrobe that hides just how fucking skinny they all are. It picks up its slate and starts to write. The chalk squeaks.

Colorless ideas sleep furiously still.

“We want to stay.”

Sonic results spiral within documentation.

The Cygnians say they’re preparing the compound-heads for life on their homeworld, the real Paradise. For three weeks all of us were jacked up on pleasure-juice dialed to Max Effect, while the Cygnians ran tests to decide which of us got to live in the compounds. They shepherded their lucky few into one of the many squat nanofoam villages that dot the entire globe. Then they turned off the tap.

What happened next… well, at least some of us survived. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 656: Into the Breach (Flashback Friday)


Into the Breach

By Malon Edwards

I’m off my bunk and into my jodhpurs, knee-high leather boots and flight jacket the moment the long range air attack klaxons seep into my nightly dream about Caracara.

Muscle memory and Secret Service training kick in; I’m on auto-pilot (no pun intended) and a good ways down the hall buttoning up both sides of my leather jacket to the shoulder a full thirty seconds before I’m awake.

And just so you know, the ever so slight tremble in my hands and fingers is not fear. It’s adrenaline. I’m cranked and ready to put my foot all up in it.

A door to the right opens and Pierre-Alexandre falls in on my right flank, his steps brisk like mine. Our boots echo down the long hallway as we make our way from the underground bunker at Soldier Field to the bunker at Meigs Field.

What you think we got? he asks.

My reptile mind—that wonderful, hedonistic thing of mine—notices how lovely his make-me-jump-up-and-dance-like-I-just-caught-the-Holy-Ghost-in-church dark skin looks in the red emergency scramble lighting.

And yeah, I know. I’m going to hell for that. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 655: And Then There Were (N-One) (Part 4)


And Then There Were (N-One), Part 4

by Sarah Pinsker

Back in my room, I stripped my wet clothes off and replaced them with another T-shirt and boxer shorts. The whiskey didn’t do the job I’d hoped it would, so I spent the night in imaginary conversation with Mabel. The rain battering the window filled in her side of the dialogue. I walked through the order of events, everything I’d found. I had ideas, but they weren’t cohering. The timing was important, I knew that. Murder weapon would be lovely, but I didn’t expect a forensic report any time soon. As for suspects, for all the people giving me alibis and vouching for themselves and each other, it could still have been anybody.

I drifted away from the case itself. The host said she wasn’t the Prime, wasn’t the trunk of a branching tree, but she’d labeled us all in relation to her. We were all in close proximity. Even the most distant of us were still recognizable. Tiny differences. I hadn’t run into anyone who lived in a post-water shortage America, or post-flu, or post-oil. We all knew how to flush toilets.

What would it look like if we had radiated out from me instead of the host? Or if we had all radiated out from the hotel clerk, whom the quantologist had said was one of the farther iterations? There were other realities between these, ones she hadn’t chosen. N Sarahs, in N realities, where N was unknowable and constantly changing. Why had she chosen us and not others? Was I the most interesting of a string of insurance investigators, or the only one available this weekend? I had more questions than I’d had before I arrived.

(Continue Reading…)