Category: 10 and Up

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EP443: This Is As I Wish To Be Restored

by Christie Yant
read by Mr. Lee

Links for this episode:

Author Christie Yant

about the author…

from the author’s website… Christie Yantis a science fiction and fantasy writer, and Assistant Editor forLightspeed Magazine.Her fiction has appeared in anthologies and magazines includingYear’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2011(Horton),Armored, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, io9, Wired.com,and China’sScience Fiction World.Her work has received honorable mentions inYear’s Best Science Fiction(Dozois) andBest Horror of the Year(Datlow), and has been long-listed for StorySouth’s Million Writers Award. She lives on the central coast of California with two writers, an editor, and assorted four-legged nuisances. Follow her on Twitter @christieyant.

our narrator for this fine chunk of literature is Mr. Lee, who’s spiffy
This Is As I Wish To Be Restored
by Christie Yant

 

Every night I come home and I drink. I trade away the hope, the guilt, the fear, even the love–I think it’s love, crazy as it seems. I trade them for oblivion, because otherwise I won’t sleep at all. I drink until there’s no life left in me, until I’m able to forget for just a little while the chrome vessel in the corner and what’s at stake. Sometimes I hope that I’ll dream of her. Sometimes I’m afraid that I will.

 

I have two things that belonged to her. The first is a photograph, taken at a party in what looks like a hotel. Her hair is dyed red—it doesn’t quite suit her, so you know it isn’t hers, like an unexpected note in a melody where you thought you knew where it was going and then it went sharp. She’s holding a glass of something pink and bubbly. Maybe it’s her birthday. If so, it’s probably her twenty-eighth. She’s laughing.

 

She was really young to be a client. Especially back then, most of the people who thought about life extension were retirees. Mortality was very much on their minds, and they’d had a lifetime to accumulate their savings—suspension was expensive. I wonder where she got the money. Her file doesn’t say.

 

So in this picture she’s laughing. She’s seated, supporting herself with one hand braced against the carpeted floor. Her head is thrown back and her back is arched, and she’s just the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. There are other people around her, behind her, just smiling blurs holding drinks, but you get the feeling that she’s the reason they’re smiling. She’s the star they’re all in orbit around. Like me. I fell into her orbit years ago and can’t break free.

 

The picture moves with me through my bleak basement apartment, from room to room—sometimes it turns up on top of the half-size refrigerator, sometimes absent-mindedly left on a shelf in the medicine cabinet where I discover it again later and take it with me to the bedroom. I’ve found it between the sofa cushions at least half a dozen times. She follows me, or I follow her—it’s been a lifetime since she smiled that smile, and I’m still completely, utterly taken.

 

The one place it never goes is on the dewar in the corner.  That would just be too macabre, considering.

 

This is the only photograph she left. I often wonder what it was about this moment, this time in her life, that she could have looked ahead and known that this was as good as it gets. In this picture the cancer’s already killing her, she just doesn’t know it.

 

She died less than a year later. Pancreatic cancer. It’s in her file.

 

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EP441: Kumara

by Seth Dickinson
read by Alasdair Stuart

 

Posthuman Pathways

Posthuman Pathways

Links for this episode:

about the author…

from the author’s website… I’m a graduate of the University of Chicago, a lapsed PhD candidate at NYU (where I studied racial bias in police shoot/don’t shoot decisions), and an instructor at the Alpha Workshop for Young Writers.

I write science fiction and fantasy. My work has appeared or will soon appear in Clarkesworld, AnalogStrange HorizonsLightspeed, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, as well as winning the 2011 Dell Award. I care about gender, subtext, prose style, the fallacies of human cognition, and the ramifications of all we’ve learned regarding causality, cosmology, and thought.

In my younger days I was a designer and writer on the Blue Planet (warning: video link) project for FreeSpace Open.

I tweet without too much grammar at @sethjdickinson

KUMARA
By Seth Dickinson

 

You asked me why you are alive, and this is the answer: because I was asked to do the impossible, to choose someone to die. And I loved them all, loved them as I loved Kumara, as I loved myself. I could not bear the choice.

“I need you to choose one of our crew to delete,” Kumara told me.

“I need room to think, or we’re not going to make it.”

Thirty years of diligence said no, never and I began to refuse.

Outside the ship a revenant screamed a radio scream and through the umbilical of our link I felt Kumara cry back in defiance: jamming but still overmatched, struggling against sixty million years of mindless machine hate. Throwing every spark of thought she could muster into beating the revenant’s virals, decrypting them, compiling an inoculation.

I closed my eyes and waited for her to fail, for the revenant to slip into her systems, for the antimatter torch to let go and end us all. But Kumara held herself together. Turned the attack.

Her avatar grinned up from where she knelt, shoulder bowed with effort, nails clawed down to pink flesh. “Saved us again,” she said. “Ha. And they told me I wasn’t built for this. Thirty years, and still state of the art!”

“You can make it,” I said, knowing it was a lie, that she had tapped every scrap of processing power in her hull. I was systems officer; I was the ship as much as she was. But still I begged: “Just an hour to the jump point. You’ll make it. You don’t need to ask for any more.”

Kumara had taken the image of a woman, cable-shouldered, strong. Her hands trembled and her eyes shone bright with an inhuman intellect, a very human fatigue. Her intellect was digital, her fatigue an abstract, but she wore the metaphor of flesh. Flesh speaks clearly to the human mind.

She looked up at me with those brilliant tired eyes and shook her head. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I’m out of processing power. They’re getting too sophisticated and I can’t keep up. You have to delete someone from heaven.”

I closed my eyes and turned away.

I was the last living crew of Kumara, you see? The others were dead: Captain Shiroma, who burned in her own armor as she stole the machine god’s dream, Matthews who cracked the revenant code, smiling Jayaraman who died first, wordless Landvatter whose ash still painted the hull.

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EP440: Canterbury Hollow

by Chris Lawson
read by Bill Bowman

 

Links for this episode:

about the author…

Chris Lawson is a doctor and writer living in Australia. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s SF, Realms of Fantasy, Eidolon, and Dreaming Down-Under. In late October he blogged at www.talkingsquid.net about his process of creating a short story, but those posts concerned a different story. For this one, you won’t find any glimpses of the wizard behind the curtain — you’ll just have to enjoy it on its own terms.

bowman_billabout the narrator…

Last read for us on EP424; Bill started voice acting on the Metamor City Podcast, and has wanted to do more ever since. He spends his days working at a library, where he is in charge of all things with plugs and troubleshooting the people who use them. He spends his nights with his wife, two active children, and two overly active canines and all that goes with that.

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EP439: Cradle and Ume

by Geoffrey W. Cole
read by Jeff Ronner

 

Links for this episode:

Author Geoffrey W. Cole

Author Geoffrey W. Cole

about the author…

from the author’s website… Geoffrey W. Cole was born in Ottawa, Ontario, where he learned to swim and to survive 233K (-40 C or F) weather. After this larval stage, he moved to Kingston, Ontario, where he received degrees in Biology, Mechanical Engineering, Beer Slinging, and Rock and/or Roll. Geoff also met his mate in Kingston. After graduating they embarked on a trans-Canada road trip from Newfoundland to Alaska (for you future-bots reading this, from RockScar to The Beaches). After a brief stint in Ontario, Geoff and his mate moved to Vancouver, BC, where they married, started a home, adopted a giant Newfoundland Lab cross, and gave birth to a wonderful son. They spent a year abroad in Rome, Italy, and after the vandemic of 2017 (curse you, sentient minivans!) they moved to SeaBase 4 off the coast of Haida Gwaii to breed orca.

During his time in Vancouver, Geoff received a certificate in creative writing through The Writers Studio program at Simon Fraser University, under the tutelage of Steven Galloway. Geoff and his wife moved to Rome, Italy, in 2011 to pursue writing full-time, and returned to Canada in 2012. Geoff started work on a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia in 2012.

Once Geoff moved to SeaBase 04, his writing style took on new direction, as he attempted to write an epic poem in orcish (the cetacean language, not the Tolkien).

Narrator Jeff Ronner

Narrator Jeff Ronner

about the narrator…

Jeff Ronner is a voice actor, audio engineer, and sound designer. His work has appeared in radio and TV spots, non-commercial narrations, and on those annoying in-store supermarket PA systems. Cleverly disguised as a mild-mannered hospital IT manager during the day, he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

Cradle and Ume
by Geoffrey W. Cole

When his creators first booted Cradle those long centuries ago, they told him many things that made a lasting impression on his infant mind.

Above all was the commandment:

_The Kamurei must never be contacted._

##

 

“If you don’t let me in, she will die,” Ume said.

“After all these years, you still ask,” Cradle said. “I thought posthumans were supposed to be hyperintelligent.”

On the banks of the dry riverbed that wound through the village, Teihana struggled through her thirty-fourth hour of labour. Her emaciated brown skin glistened with sweat.  The midwife, her only companion in the palm-roofed hut, packed cool mud on Teihana’s forehead. There was nothing else for the pain; like the river, the wells were dry, and the medicinal crop had failed along with the corn.

Cradle and Ume watched all this from the observation station buried within one of the Andean peaks that towered above Teihana’s village.

“Drop your fields now,” Ume said. “This is my last warning.”

“Warn away,” Cradle said. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

“Then you’ve left me no choice.”

Cradle was embarrassed to engage in this banter with three other visitors in the observation station, but they seemed to enjoy the drama. The tourists pointed and whispered as Ume departed. He ran down the long tunnel that led to the landing pad, where he climbed into his skyskiff and pointed the vehicle toward the valley.

Cradle watched Ume’s fit from a thousand different eyes scattered around the valley. The young posthuman’s persistence never ceased to amaze him. He tried to shout a final warning:

“I can’t let you -”

And that’s when the bomb Ume had left in the observation station exploded.

 

##

_You are the valley, Cradle. You are their home, but they must never know it._

##

 

Ume’s reputation reached Cradle long before the young posthuman had first dropped out of orbit to visit the people. His name made many headlines: the liberator of the entombed Callistan AIs; the forger of the asteroid miner’s union; the last great freedom fighter.

It was only a matter of time before he knocked on Cradle’s door.

Unlike most of Cradle’s other visitors, who jumped into one of the many spare posthuman bodies kicking around on Earth, or who visited virtually, Ume rode the space elevator in person to visit the valley.

When Ume entered the observation platform that first day, his camouflage fatigues and red beret seemed right at home in the replica long-house that served as the entry hall. Cradle, whose body was the network of processors, sensors, memory matrixes, and field generators that existed below the surface of the valley, appeared in the long-house as a hologram. He chose the appearance of a Kamurei shaman; a loincloth, shins and forearms tattooed in red ochre, and a drum slung over his shoulder.

“Welcome to the Akturi valley,” Cradle said. “Home of the last uncontacted tribe.”

“Cut the crap,” Ume said. “And show me everything.”

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EP437: A Rose for Ecclesiastes

by Roger Zelazny
read by Pete Milan

 

Links for this episode:

Author Roger Zelazny

about the author…

Roger Zelazny was born in Euclid, Ohio, the only child of Polish immigrant Joseph Frank Zelazny and Irish-American Josephine Flora Sweet. In high school, he became the editor of the school newspaper and joined the Creative Writing Club. In the fall of 1955, he began attending Western Reserve University and graduated with a B.A. in English in 1959. He was accepted to Columbia University in New York and specialized in Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, graduating with an M.A. in 1962. His M.A. thesis was entitled Two traditions and Cyril Tourneur: an examination of morality and humor comedy conventions in The Revenger’s Tragedy. Between 1962 and 1969 he worked for the U.S. Social Security Administration in Cleveland, Ohio and then in Baltimore, Maryland spending his evenings writing science fiction. He deliberately progressed from short-shorts to novelettes to novellas and finally to novel-length works by 1965. On May 1, 1969, he quit to become a full-time writer, and thereafter concentrated on writing novels in order to maintain his income. During this period, he was an active and vocal member of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society, whose members included writers Jack Chalker and Joe and Jack Haldeman among others. read more on Wikipedia…

Narrator Pete Milan

about the narrator…

Pete Milan is a voice actor, writer, audiobook narrator, audio drama producer, among other things. His latest audiobook, Sentinels: When Strikes The Warlord, is available now from Dynamic Ram Audio, and he will soon be appearing in Phantom Canyon from Pendant Productions. Visit him at petemilan.com for more.

 

A Rose for Ecclesiastes
by Roger Zelazny

Mercury Press, 1963
This text taken from
Science Fiction: The Science Fiction Research Association Anthology
Eds. Patricia S. Warrick, Charles G. Waugh, and Martin H. Greenberg
New York: HarperCollins, 1988. (Pgs. 308-337)

***

I was busy translating one of my Madrigals Macabre into Martian on the morning I was found acceptable. The intercom had buzzed briefly, and I dropped my pencil and flipped on the toggle in a single motion.

“Mister G,” piped Morton’s youthful contralto, “the old man says I should ‘get hold of that damned conceited rhymer’ right away, and send him to his cabin.–Since there’s only one damned conceited rhymer . . .”

“Let not ambition mock thy useful toil,” I cut him off.

So, the Martians had finally made up their minds! I knocked an inch and a half of ash from a smouldering butt, and took my first drag since I had lit it. The entire month’s anticipation tried hard to crowd itself into the moment, but could not quite make it. I was frightened to walk those forty feet and hear Emory say the words I already knew he would say; and that feeling elbowed the other one into the background.

So I finished the stanza I was translating before I got up.

It took only a moment to reach Emory’s door. I knocked thrice and opened it, just as he growled, “Come in.”

“You wanted to see me?” I sat down quickly to save him the trouble of offering me a seat.

“That was fast. What did you do, run?”

I regarded his paternal discontent:

Little fatty flecks beneath pale eyes, thinning hair, and an Irish nose; a voice a decibel louder than anyone else’s . . .

Hamlet to Claudius: “I was working.”

“Hah!” he snorted. “Come off it. No one’s ever seen you do any of that stuff.”
I shrugged my shoulders and started to rise.

“If that’s what you called me down here–”

“Sit down!”

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EP434: Coping Mechanisms

by Gerri Leen
read by Dani Cutler

Links for this episode:

Author Gerri Leen

about the author…

I’m a transplanted Seattleite who’s lived in Northern Virginia for nearly three decades. I started writing professionally in my early 40′s, and it’s been a fun ride so far. I have had stories and poems appearing in many anthologies and magazines, such as Sword and Sorceress XXIII, Footprints, She Nailed a Stake Through His Head: Tales of Biblical Terror, Dia de los Muertos, and Sails and Sorcery.

about the narrator…

Narrator Dani Cutler

Dani Cutler last narrated for EP in 389: Keeping Tabs. She has been part of the podcasting community since 2006, hosting and producing her own podcast through 2013. She currently works for KWSS independent radio in Phoenix as their midday announcer, and also organizes a technology conference each year for Phoenix residents to connect with others in the podcast, video, and online community.

 

COPING MECHANISMS
by Gerri Leen

The interface between Luna and Earth was particularly bad–like a slow connection to the Net when I was a kid and my grandparents had been too cheap to move off dial-up.  Cal’s image moved in fits and starts, and it wasn’t what I wanted–okay, needed–to see.  As chief base shrink, I should be woman enough to admit I _needed_ to see my husband in some way that didn’t immediately scream he was roughly 380,000 clicks away.

Even if Cal was barely my husband; he and I hadn’t touched in eight months–and I’d only been on Luna for six.  Coming here had been my way of saying goodbye, of letting our marriage die slowly and gracefully rather than living through the drama of a messy divorce.  Funny thing about the moon, though: you don’t get over people here.  You miss the hell out of them, every part of them.  Or maybe you just forget the bad parts, maybe they disappear in the middle of this resounding grayness.

I used to think my marriage was gray and grim.  Landing at Echosound–getting my first view of my new home in the bright lunar daytime that had gone on for fourteen Earth-days–had been a reality check of the highest order.

“Vanessa?”  Cal was probably wondering why I’d called.  We were supposed to be getting used to being away from each other, and I didn’t have much to say that was related to the impending dissolution of the marriage.

So I said the first thing that came to mind.  ”How’s Denny?”

The jerking image made his expression unreadable.  ”He’s fine.”

I didn’t normally ask about his parrot.  In fact, I hated that damn bird.  Probably because I knew Cal would part with me, but not with him.  As a psychiatrist, I don’t shy away from truths.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t make me any better at dealing with them.

“Van, I have to go.”  Cal didn’t sound disappointed, especially on five-second delay.  Not for the first time I wished personal calls were given the same priority for real-time access as mission-related calls. But they weren’t, so I would deal.  Badly, no doubt.  But I’d deal.

“I have to go, too.  Time for my shift.”  Which was a lie.  I may have normal duty hours, but as essential personnel, I’m on call all the time.  No shift work for Doctor Vanessa Holmes.  It used to make me feel important; now it felt like a stone around my neck–an Earth-stone in Earth-gravity where it would actually be heavy.

Cal ended the call before I could say anything more.  It shouldn’t have hurt.  It did anyway.

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EP433: That Other Sea

by William Ledbetter
read by Shaelyn Grey

Links for this episode:

author William Ledbetter

about the author…

from the author’s website…

William Ledbetter lives near Dallas with his family and too many animals.  His great love, after his wife of course, is reading and writing speculative fiction. He is an editor at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly and runs the annual Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest for Baen Books and the National Space Society.

narrator Shaelyn Grey

about the narrator…

Shaelyn Grey has been active in the entertainment industry for over 30 years, mainly as a singer and actor. Recently she has expanded into voice over work and is currently a part of the cast of Aurelia: Edge of Darkness, which is an online interactive web series. Aurelia is entering it’s second season and Shae is back as Thais ven Derrivalle. Aurelia can be viewed at http://www.theatrics.com/aurelia and Shae can be reached through shaelyngreyvocals.com.

 

THAT OTHER SEA
by William Ledbetter

From his position on the sandy slope, Catat couldn’t see the Visitor, but the eerie glow moving around beyond the jumbled rocks proved the device had survived its fall into the killing depths. Catat whipped his tail to move downward, but couldn’t generate enough thrust to overcome the water pressure pushing him into the sand. Only the brute force of side-to-side undulation gave him any forward momentum. He moved two body lengths and stopped to let his shell adjust.

As water weight compressed his internal organs further, the gland that produced shellbase went into hyperactive mode, flooding his system, filling the tiny pressure cracks and thickening his ring segments. The depths were changing him, maybe forever, but Catat believed retrieving the Visitor, or at least examining it, was worth the risk.

During the intense discussions that followed the Visitor’s arrival, Catat was the only one who believed it could be artificial. Others, including Catat’s main scientific rival, Racknik, maintained that it had to be some radiation mutated animal from an ice vent. But Catat had been the only one to see it up close. He’d watched the Visitor break through the ice ceiling and then struggle with the canopy kelp before starting its long swirling descent to the chasm floor.

The Visitor was twice Catat’s size and he probably could have done nothing to arrest its fall, but he’d also been frozen with terror and made no attempt to help. Then as it started downward, lights appeared. Not the dim luminescent bait offered by predator fish, but a brilliant, painful glare, brighter than white magma. At that instant, Catat’s fear dissolved in an overwhelming surge of curiosity and fascination. So know he was going after it.

A message from his warren came down the cable he dragged behind him, the electrical pulses converted to taps he could feel through the metal plate mounted between his tool arms and just above his digging arms. The signal was still strong, which worried him. If his shell had thickened enough to protect him against the extreme pressure, then the signal should have been faint.

“Can you still see it?” A prefix identified the sender as one of his research assistants.

“I see the glow from its lights,” Catat replied.

“You made your point. We believe you. Now come back up.” There had been no prefix to identify the second message’s sender, but Catat knew it had to be his friend and sometimes mate, Tipkurr.

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EP432: Inappropriate Behavior

by Pat Murphy
read by MJ Cogburn

Links for this episode:

author Pat Murphy

about the author…

from the author’s website…

I’m a writer, a scientist, and sometimes a toy maker.

All of my stories and novels have a hint of the strange. Some have been called science fiction, some fantasy, and some neither one. Most of my work falls between categories. I think that the most interesting events happen at the edges, in the borderlands where the lines are fuzzy.

My fiction writing has won a number of awards, including the Nebula Award for Science Fiction, the World Fantasy Award, the Philip K. Dick Award for best paperback original, the Christopher Award, and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. I also co-founded the James Tiptree Memorial Award.

narrator MJ Cogburn

about the narrator…

I’m an Special Education English teacher in Texas who also works with various audio production companies. I have worked with at least 6 different companies in the past, but I am head of production at Darker Projects and an actor in DP’s Quantum Retribution, Gypsy Audio’s Tamlynn PI, and Giant Gnome Productions’ Star Trek: Outpost. I’m a parent of three and after this year empty nest will set in (I think). I am currently working with Jerry Robbins at Colonial Radio Productions – at present producing Powder River, season 8. I thoroughly enjoy what I do and I’m glad that I can share it with everyone who is interested in any type of audio production!

 

Inappropriate Behavior
by Pat Murphy

The Mechano:

There was a man asleep on the sand.

He should not be here. It was my island. I had just returned to my mechano and it was time for me to go to work. He should not be here.

I studied the man through the eyes of my mechano. They were good eyes. They worked very well beneath the water, at depths down to fifteen hundred meters. I had adjusted them for maximum acuity at distances ranging from two inches to five feet. Beyond that, the world was a blur of tropical sunshine and brilliant color. I liked it that way.

There had been a big storm the night before. One of the coconut palms had blown down, and the beach was littered with driftwood, coconuts, and palm fronds.

The man didn’t look good. He had a bloody scrape on his cheek, other scrapes on his arms and legs, a smear of blood in his short brown hair. His right leg was marked with bruises colored deep purple and green. He wore an orange life vest, a t-shirt, a pair of shorts, and canvas boat shoes.

He stirred in his sleep, sighing softly. Startled, I sent the mechano scuttling backward. I stopped a few feet away from him.

My mechano had a speaker. I tested it and it made a staticky sound. I wondered what I should say to this man.

The man moved, lifting a hand to rub his eyes. Slowly, he rolled over.

“Bonjour,” I said through the mechano’s speakers. Maybe he had come from one of the islands of French Polynesia.

# # #

The Man:

A sound awakened him—a sort of mechanical squawking.

Evan Collins could feel the tropical sun beating down on his face, the warm beach sand beneath his hands. His head ached and his mouth was dry. His right leg throbbed with a dull, persistent pain.

Evan raised a hand to rub his eyes and winced when he brushed against a sand-encrusted scrape on his cheek. When he rolled over onto his back, the throbbing in his leg became a sudden, stabbing pain.

Wiping away the tears that blurred his vision, he lifted his head and blinked down at his leg. His calf was marked with bloody coral scrapes. Beneath the scrapes were vivid bruises: dark purple telling of injuries beneath the surface of the skin. When he tried to move his leg again, he gasped as the stabbing pain returned.

He heard the sound again: a mechanical rasping like a radio tuned to static. He turned in the direction of the sound, head aching, eyes dazzled by the sun. A gigantic cockroach was examining him with multifaceted eyes.

The creature was at least three feet long, with nasty looking mandibles. Its carapace glittered in the sunlight as it stood motionless, staring in his direction.

Again, the mechanical squawk, coming from the cockroach. This time, the sound was followed by a scratchy voice. “Bonjour,” the cockroach said.

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EP430: Heart of Joy

by Kate O’Conn0r
read by Andrea Richardson

Links for this episode:

about the author…

Kate O’Connor was born in Virginia in 1982. She graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott in 2009 and now lives (and occasionally works) in the New York area.

Kate has been writing science fiction and fantasy since 2011. In between telling stories, she flies airplanes, digs up artifacts, and manages a kennel full of Airedales.

Narrator Andrea Richardson

Narrator Andrea Richardson

about the narrator…

Andrea Richardson is a British singer and actress.  With extensive stage and film performances to her name, she began narration and voice over work fairly recently, but enjoys using her existing skills in a different way. You can find Andrea at www.andrea-richardson.co.uk and www.castingcallpro.com/uk/view.php?uid=507734

 

Heart of Joy
By Kate O’Connor

“How’s your ankle, Luci?” Feon Sen, High Chancellor of Carinae, leaned against the wall, watching intently as she braided her dark hair. Luscinia considered the question carefully, studying his reflection in the mirror. He was a man of many words, but his meaning was clearest in the surgically smoothed lines around his eyes and the rhythm his fingers absentmindedly tapped out on his arm. He was asking if she was up to the task he had for her tonight.

“Better, thank you.” She stood and danced a few quick steps to prove it. She was ready. The prism-glass walls sent the light they had collected from Carina’s dim sun scattering around the room in teardrops of scarlet and gold and sapphire. It was hard not to blame the cold and the hard crystal floors for the aches in her joints. Hot sun and soft ground were worlds away, but Feon was always ready with a good reason for her to stay whenever she mentioned returning to her home planet.

She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. Even after more than a year in his company, Luscinia still found how young he looked and how old his expressions were disconcerting. She hadn’t asked him about whatever medical miracles or cosmetic alterations he’d had done over the long decades he had been in control of the three hundred and forty-seven inhabited worlds of the nebula. It was how things were on Carina Prime, especially for those in the public eye. She hated the scrutiny that came with being his lover. More than one helpful soul had mentioned a few of the currently fashionable options for elongating her legs or slimming her curvy body. The idea turned her stomach.

“So you’ll be able to dance for the Alshain Ambassador and his assorted cronies this evening? He’s been after me almost without ceasing since they arrived.” Feon’s carefree grin made her stomach flutter for entirely different reasons. “You’re still the talk of the nebula. Half the city shows up to parties without footwear because you dance barefoot. Not to mention how everyone goes on about what each dance means. It doesn’t help that you keep changing them.”

“I’d get bored if the routines were always the same. You wouldn’t use the same words in every speech you gave, would you?” Luscinia smiled back, taking note of the slight crease at the corner of his mouth. “And stop worrying. I’ll settle your diplomats for you.” There was so much more to say that never seemed to make it past her lips… or his. He was far more eloquent than she, except when it came to speaking with her. Alshain was dangerous, more so because of the allies the ambassador was gathering. Feon was old and wily, but she saw him plagued with the worry that he was slowing down, that he would miss something vital. They didn’t talk about that.

“I know you will.” He touched her newly braided hair lightly and she caught his intense expression in the mirror. It warmed her. Too many people thought he could have done better than a backwater dancer, even if she was the artistic sensation of the year. Feon kissed her hair and headed for the door. He stopped with his hand on the doorframe. “Make it a good one tonight. The Ambassador says he has a gift for me. I hate it when the slimy bastard gets smug.” He lingered a minute, body swaying between feelings and words.

“It will be all right.” She repeated firmly, saving him the need to give voice to his fears.

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EP429: The Little Black Bag

by C.M. Kornbluth
read by Mat Weller

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About the Author…

 from the Wiki about the author - Cyril M. Kornbluth (July 2, 1923 – March 21, 1958) was an American science fiction author and a notable member of the Futurians. He used a variety of pen-names, including Cecil Corwin, S. D. Gottesman, Edward J. Bellin, Kenneth Falconer, Walter C. Davies, Simon Eisner, Jordan Park, Arthur Cooke, Paul Dennis Lavond and Scott Mariner. The “M” in Kornbluth’s name may have been in tribute to his wife, Mary Byers; Kornbluth’s colleague and collaborator Frederik Pohl confirmed Kornbluth’s lack of any actual middle name in at least one interview.

 

The Little Black Bag
by C. M. Kornbluth

Old Dr. Full felt the winter in his bones as he limped down the alley. It was the alley and the back door he had chosen rather than the sidewalk and the front door because of the brown paper bag under his arm. He knew perfectly well that the flat-faced, stringy-haired women of his street and their gap-toothed, sour-smelling husbands did not notice if he brought a bottle of cheap wine to his room. They all but lived on the stuff themselves, varied with whiskey when pay checks were boosted by overtime. But Dr. Full, unlike them, was ashamed. A complicated disaster occurred as he limped down the littered alley. One of the neighborhood dogs–a mean little black one he knew and hated, with its teeth always bared and always snarling with menace–hurled at his legs through a hole in the board fence that lined his path. Dr. Full flinched, then swung his leg in what was to have been a satisfying kick to the animal’s gaunt ribs. But the winter in his bones weighed down the leg. His foot failed to clear a half-buried brick, and he sat down abruptly, cursing. When he smelled unbottled wine and realized his brown paper package had slipped from under his arm and smashed, his curses died on his lips. The snarling black dog was circling him at a yard’s distance, tensely stalking, but he ignored it in the greater disaster.

With stiff fingers as he sat on the filth of the alley, Dr. Full unfolded the brown paper bag’s top, which had been crimped over, grocer-wise. The early autumnal dusk had come; he could not see plainly what was left. He lifted out the jug-handled top of his half gallon, and some fragments, and then the bottom of the bottle. Dr. Full was far too occupied to exult as he noted that there was a good pint left. He had a problem, and emotions could be deferred until the fitting time.

The dog closed in, its snarl rising in pitch. He set down the bottom of the bottle and pelted the dog with the curved triangular glass fragments of its top. One of them connected, and the dog ducked back through the fence, howling. Dr. Full then placed a razor-like edge of the half-gallon bottle’s foundation to his lips and drank from it as though it were a giant’s cup. Twice he had to put it down to rest his arms, but in one minute he had swallowed the pint of wine.

He thought of rising to his feet and walking through the alley to his room, but a flood of well-being drowned the notion. It was, after all, inexpressibly pleasant to sit there and feel the frost-hardened mud of the alley turn soft, or seem to, and to feel the winter evaporating from his bones under a warmth which spread from his stomach through his limbs.

A three-year-old girl in a cut-down winter coat squeezed through the same hole in the board fence from which the black dog had sprung its ambush. Gravely she toddled up to Dr. Full and inspected him with her dirty forefinger in her mouth. Dr. Full’s happiness had been providentially made complete; he had been supplied with an audience.

“Ah, my dear,” he said hoarsely. And then: “Preposserous accusation. ‘If that’s what you call evidence,’ I should have told them, ‘you better stick to your doctoring.’ I should have told them: ‘I was here before your County Medical Society. And the License Commissioner never proved a thing on me. So, gennulmen, doesn’t it stand to reason? I appeal to you as fellow memmers of a great profession–”‘