Archive for 13 and Up

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Escape Pod 654: And Then There Were (N-One) (Part 3)


And Then There Were (N-One), Part 3

by Sarah Pinsker

Back in the hallway, I dug in my bag for a pen. I’d normally have taken notes while she talked, but I’d had a feeling it would have shut her up. Instead of a pen, I came up with the dinner roll I’d taken earlier. I ate it in two bites. Diving in again, my fingers settled on the key card I’d found in the nightclub. Room 517. In the tower, I guessed. Might as well check it out.

I rode the tower elevator—much faster than the one to the nightclub—with two Sarahs who were making eyes at each other in a way that made me deeply uncomfortable. I was happy to escape.

Room 517 was around the corner and down the hall. My shoes sank into plush carpeting. Pushing a luggage cart through it wouldn’t be any fun, but maybe tower people paid bellhops to do the grunt work. The halls up here had actual wallpaper, tasteful stripes, in contrast with our bare-walled wing.

I paused for a moment outside the room, trying to hear if there was anyone moving inside, preparing myself to find… I didn’t know what. I hadn’t gotten clearance to do this. Then again, nobody had told me not to, which was basically permission. I knocked, waited for an answer, knocked again.

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Escape Pod 653: And Then There Were (N-One) (Part 2)


And Then There Were (N-One), Part 2

by Sarah Pinsker

Not me, my logic brain understood, even though some tiny part of me screamed something was wrong. I’d made it through the entire afternoon talking with people who were more like me than an identical twin would be, but the body was somehow more real. The others down at dinner all had stories to remind me I was still myself, that I could still be differentiated. Absent stories and quirks, absent a person talking at me to prove we were not the same, the vacuum came rushing in. Who was she? In what ways was she me, in what ways was she not? Who would mourn her? I tried to imagine the shape of my own absence from my own world. It was an impossible exercise.

I struggled to regain control over myself. “You know I’m an insurance investigator, right? Dead bodies aren’t my area of expertise.”

“You’re the closest thing we’ve got. None of us are medical doctors, and it’s too late for one anyhow, and I figured you investigate things. I couldn’t find any of the organizers, so I thought I’d look for you.” She must have had a good memory for details, if she managed to find me in that dining hall based on one short conversation. Maybe that was a thing we all had in common.

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Escape Pod 652: And Then There Were (N-One), (Part 1)


And Then There Were (N-One)

by Sarah Pinsker

I considered declining the invitation. It was too weird, too expensive, too far, too dangerous, too weird. Way too weird. An invitation like that would never come again. I’d regret it if I
didn’t go. It lay on our kitchen table for three weeks while I argued out the pros and cons with Mabel. She listened, made suggestions; I countered her, then argued her part, then made both arguments, then reversed them again.

“How do I know it’s not a hoax?” I asked, studying the list of backing organizations for the twentieth time. “The website looks legit, but how could it not be a hoax?”

“Look at it this way,” Mabel said. “Either you’ll be part of a ground-breaking event in human history, or a groundbreaking psych experiment. Someone benefits either way. And you’ve never
been to eastern Canada, so at least you get to see someplace new even if you just end up standing in a field somewhere looking silly.”

She always had a way of making an adventure out of things that would otherwise stress me out. Four months later, I flew to Nova Scotia, took a bus to a seaside town too small for a dot on a
map, boarded a ferry to Secord Island, and stepped through the waiting portal into an alternate-reality resort hotel lobby swarming with Sarah Pinskers. At least two hundred of us by my estimation, with more straggling in.

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Escape Pod 645: The Revolution, Brought to You by Nike (Part 2)


The Revolution, Brought to You by Nike, Part 2

by Andrea Phillips

5. THE LAUNCH

Launch day came on a bright Tuesday, amid a flurry of reports that the executive office had pushed through a series of contracts requiring the president’s own hotel properties be the preferred vendor for all federal travel going forward. Another day, another straw that was somehow never the last one.

The first part of Corazon’s campaign was the manifesto. That would take about two weeks.

They seeded a few aspirational pieces of video right away, to model the kinds of things they were expecting from legitimate users. In one of them, a gay couple hugged on camera, and the shorter one said “I’m making a world where love is love is love.” In another, a child in a wheelchair looked at the camera with determination and said, “I don’t want to die.”

They also front-loaded the Beyoncé video, a beautiful declaration of strength and defiance. They had enough of those celebrity videos to release a new one every day for the duration of the campaign. It was going to be so amazing.

The press went wild. Beyoncé, treason, Nike, the Justice Department, hope, plus something small that people could do to feel useful? The clickbait farms didn’t even have to work at the story. It was a done deal from the start.

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Escape Pod 644: The Revolution, Brought to You by Nike (Part 1)


The Revolution, Brought to You by Nike

by Andrea Phillips

1. THE BRIEF

Corazon clicked to the slide she’d been dreading: long-term trends for brand engagement. It was dire.

She focused on the smudgy mirror at the far end of the conference room, looking past her team to her own reflection. She pulled her shoulders back, like her grandmother had instructed. She tipped her head to the side, disarming but not too flirty. When she spoke, she was a breath apologetic, but not too much: “As you can see, we have our work cut out for us.”

She turned to face the projected line graph behind her. “Year on year sales are down, but we’ve been expecting that due to the current… economic climate.”

That was the euphemism to end all euphemisms. Everybody in that over-air-conditioned room knew exactly what she meant, though, because they were all living on the same rapidly sinking ocean liner. Gregoria, a junior art director, began to nervously shred the paper cup her morning latte had come in.

“The really bad part is this.” Corazon swept her hand along the line labeled Brand Perception, which had plummeted like a stone in the aftermath of the election. “And it’s not just us. The truth is, nobody gives a shit about brands right now.”

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Escape Pod 643: Disarm (Flashback Friday)


Disarm

By Vylar Kaftan

 

Excerpt

 

We kept in touch through the war, when he messaged me about marching through upstate New York. He always started the same way: “Dear Ryan, Please come kick my commanding officer in the balls.” Then he’d tell me about the latest mess–cracks in their radiation suits, or toxic waterholes that were supposed to be clear. He never got in trouble for the messages; they needed him too badly. My epilepsy disqualified me from the draft, which probably saved my life. Pretty boys like me weren’t exactly Army material. By the time things were bad enough that they needed any warm body, there wasn’t enough human government left to organize a draft.

The ruins at Binghamton were where Trey got sick. By the time I got across the country to him, he’d recovered–well, as much as possible. I remember the doctor’s face as he says Trey will live, but he’ll be in pain.

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Escape Pod 642: Oracle


Oracle

By Dominica Phetteplace

The two biggest applications for predictive software are killing people and selling things. Rita was quite successful at the latter. She founded a nail-polish-of-the-month club that used an online personality quiz to determine customer preferences. Bold cremes for basics, chunky glitters for the outrageous, and dark, sparkly metallics for edgy, forward-thinking geniuses like Rita.  Sales skyrocketed.

She used her money to start other subscription services: whisky-of-the-month, miniskirt-of-the-month.  What had started out as an online quiz morphed into something larger and more complex: a search engine that searched the customer.  It had tapped into a pent-up demand. People loved acquiring material goods but they hated making decisions.  Rita wasn’t just selling nail polish or whisky or miniskirts, she was selling freedom from choice.

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Escape Pod 638: Ulla (Flashback Friday)


Ulla

By Daniel Schwabauer

(Excerpt)

The world we now occupy is red, fourth from its sun, and extreme in its temperature. The atmosphere is lethal. Without our shelters we would die. But we will not be here long. Already the attack-cylinders, loaded with machinery and the weapons of destruction, stand ready in the firing tubes. Soon I shall be sending you thoughts from the third planet.

I have loved you.

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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.

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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…)