Archive for 10 and Up

Genres: , , , ,

Escape Pod 640: Paradise Regained


Paradise Regained

By Edward Lerner

My head hurts. I expect it: this is winter. I want it to be spring.

Paradise does not ask what I want.

The winter is young, and I think the dogs are not yet so hungry as to attack me. Still, I hold tight to my spear. Dogs or no dogs, the spear helps me walk through the knee-deep snow.

Only trees show above the snow, and I do not know what is under. In winter, asleep, the plants cannot scream when I step on them.

Because they are asleep, Father told me. Long ago. Before Mother died. Before I left home. I did not understand what he meant. I do not now.

I think Father is gone, too. “Watch the flag,” Father told me, long ago, pointing at the tall pole that stood near Ship. “I will change the flag every day. Unless … I can’t. Then you must come. You must.” (Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Escape Pod 636: Mother Tongues


Mother Tongues

By S. Qiouyi Lu

“Thank you very much,” you say, concluding the oral portion of the exam. You gather your things and exit back into the brightly lit hallway. Photos line the walls: the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu. The sun shines on each destination, the images brimming with wonder. You pause before the Golden Gate Bridge.

“右拐就到了,” the attendant says. You look up. His blond hair is as standardized as his Mandarin, as impeccable as his crisp shirt and tie. You’ve just proven your aptitude in English, but hearing Mandarin still puts you at ease in the way only a mother tongue does. You smile at the attendant, murmuring a brief thanks as you make your way down the hall.

You turn right and enter a consultation room. The room is small but welcoming, potted plants adding a dash of green to the otherwise plain creams and browns of the furniture and walls. A literature rack stands to one side, brochures in all kinds of languages tucked into its pockets, creating a mosaic of sights and symbols. The section just on English boasts multiple flags, names of different varieties overlaid on the designs: U.S. English – Standard. U.K. English – Received Pronunciation. Singaporean English – Standard. Nigerian English – Standard… Emblazoned on every brochure is the logo of the Linguistic Grading Society of America, a round seal with a side-view of a head showing the vocal tract.

You pick up a Standard U.S. English brochure and take a seat in one of the middle chairs opposite the mahogany desk that sits before the window. The brochure provides a brief overview of the grading system; your eyes linger on the A-grade description: Speaker engages on a wide variety of topics with ease. (Phonology?) is standard; speaker has a broad vocabulary… You take a quick peek at the dictionary on your phone. Phonology-linguistic sound systems. You file the word away to remember later.

The door opens. A woman wearing a blazer and pencil skirt walks in, her heels clacking against the hardwood floor, her curled hair bouncing with every step. You stand to greet her and catch a breath of her perfume.

“Diana Moss,” she says, shaking your hand. Her name tag also displays her job title: Language Broker. (Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Escape Pod 630: Midnight Blue (Flashback Friday)


Midnight Blue

By Will McIntosh

He’d never seen a burgundy before.  Kim held it in her lap, tapped it with her finger.  She was probably tapping it to bring attention to it, and Jeff didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of asking to see it, but he really wanted to see it.  Burgundy (Kim had insisted on calling it burgundy red when she showed it at show and tell) was a rare one.  Not as rare as a hot pink Flyer or a viridian Better Looking, but still rare.

A bus roared up, spitting black smoke.  It was the seven bus–the Linden Court bus, not his.  Kids rushed to line up in front of the big yellow doors as the bus hissed to a stop.  A second-grader squealed, shoved a bigger kid with her Partridge Family lunch box because he’d stepped on her foot.  All the younger kids seemed to have Partridge Family lunch boxes this year.

“What did you say it did when you’ve got all three pieces of the charm together?”  Jeff asked Kim.  He said it casually, like he was just making conversation until his bus came.

“It relaxes time,” Kim said.  “When you’re bored you can make time pass quickly, and when you’re having fun you can make time stretch out.”

Jeff nodded, tried to look just interested enough to be polite, but no more.  What must that be like, to make the hour at church fly by?  Or make the school day (except for lunch and recess) pass in an eyeblink?  Jeff wondered how fast or slow you could move things along.  Could you make it seem like you were eating an ice cream sandwich for six hours?  That would be sparkling fine.

“Want to see it?” Kim asked.

“Okay,” Jeff said, holding out his hands too eagerly before he remembered himself.  Kim handed it to him, looking pleased with herself, the dimples on her round face getting a little deeper.

It was smooth as marble, perfectly round, big as a grapefruit and heavy as a bowling ball.  It made Jeff’s heart hammer to hold it.  The rich red, which hinted at purple while still being certainly red, was so beautiful it seemed impossible, so vivid it made his blue shirt seem like a Polaroid photo left in the sun too long. (Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Escape Pod 628: The Endangered Camp


The Endangered Camp

By Ann Leckie

After the terrible push to be free of the Earth was past, we could stand again. In a while, the engineers had said, everything would float, but for now we were still accelerating. We were eight in the small, round room, though there were others on the sky-boat–engineers, and nest-guardians examining the eggs we had brought to see how many had been lost in the crushing, upward flight. But we eight stood watching the world recede.

The floor and walls of the room were of smooth, gold metal. Around the low ceiling was a pattern of cycad fronds and under this scenes from the histories. There was the first mother, ancestor of us all, who broke the shell of the original egg. The picture showed the egg, a single claw of the mother piercing that boundary between Inside and Outside. With her was the tiny figure of her mate. If you are from the mountains, you know that he ventured forth and fed on the carcass of the world-beast, slain by the mother, and in due time found the mother and mated with her. If you are a lowlander, he waited in the shell until she brought the liver to him, giving him the strength to come out into the open. Neither was pictured–the building of the sky-boat had taken the resources of both mountains and lowlands.

On another panel was Strong Claw, her sharp-toothed snout open in a triumphant call. She stood tall on powerful legs, each foot with its arced killing claw, sharp and deadly. Her arms stretched out before her, claws spread, and her long, stiff tail stretched behind. The artists had worked with such skill that every feather could be distinguished. Behind her was the great tree that had carried her across the sea, and in the water were pictured its inhabitants: coiled ammonites, hungry sharks, and a giant mososaur, huge-mouthed enough to swallow a person down at a gulp. Before Strong Claw was forested land, full of food for the hunting, new territory for her and her daughters yet unhatched.

A third panel showed the first sky-boat departing for the moon that had turned out to be farther away than our ancestors ever imagined. That voyage had been a triumph–the sky-boat (designed, all were ceaselessly told, by lowlander engineers) had achieved a seemingly impossible goal. But it had also been a disaster–as the mountain engineers had predicted, and the lowlanders refused to believe until the last, irrefutable moment, there had been no air on the moon. But as we had now set our sights on Mars, the artist had left off the end of the tale, to avoid ill-omen.

The engineers had used mirrors to cast an image of the Earth on the last, blank panel of the curved wall. It was this that held our attention.

As we watched, disaster struck. A sudden, brilliant flash whited out the image for an instant, and after that an expanding ring began to spread across the face of the world, as though a pebble had been dropped into a pond. Almost instantly a ball of fire rose up from the center of the ripple and expanded outward, obscuring it. I blinked, slowly, deliberately, sure that my vision was at fault. Still the fire grew until finally it dissipated, leaving a slowly-expanding veil of smoke.

There was silence in the sky-boat for some time. (Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Escape Pod 625: Herd Mentality (Flashback Friday)

Show Notes

Herd Mentality originally appeared on Escape Pod on July 21, 2005 on episode 011.


Herd Mentality

By Jay Caselberg

(Excerpt)

Einstein was getting old now. All of them. Not so old that he was past it, but you had to wonder. When our troops liberated the Spemann Lab complex in 1945, the Einsteins had been just five years old. The Government had done the humanitarian thing and brought them back home. Eventually, someone had leaked the information and slowly, slowly, public pressure and outrage had grown. The big hush-hush operation our government had mounted was shut down and the Einsteins were released‚ or rather, they were integrated into society in a humanitarian manner. That was the wording the government press releases used. Two hundred and fifty is a lot of Einsteins.

Genres:

Escape Pod 623: Surveillance Fatigue


Surveillance Fatigue

By Jennifer R. Donohue

Is this woman a terrorist? It’s my job to decide.

My typical first step is social media, before I delve into the emails, the school records. Fortified with overbrewed office coffee, I take an afternoon and read through all three years of her 140-character thoughts, brief conversations with other users, occasional pictures. We’re encouraged to have our own process, and my entire workload, the entire organization’s workload, takes place on glowing screens large and small. We are constantly reading, listening, watching, bionic earbuds ensconced, AR glasses feeding us a constant stream of information. At the end of the day, we stumble out into natural light like people waking from a dream. The building which houses the organization is officially something too boring to look at twice, data storage or legal processing, office upon shell office of generic secretaries designed to deflect public inquiry.

She seems to like mystery books and horror movies. Here, I diverge to the school records. Drama club in high school. She majored in Communications and got good letters of recommendation from her professors. Moved to a city where she knew no one and got hired on at the temp agency. Maybe it’s her new friends which have put her on this list, writers and artists who still photocopy zines in fluorescent-lit shops, trimming them crookedly and stapling them together to hand out at open mic events.

Her government ID photo is serious, dark skin a stark contrast to the mandated white shirt, hair braided back, smile strained and not reaching her eyes. Her government ID does not reflect who she is; few do. She posts a lot of selfies, though. Far more than I do. There is an official metric of normalcy based on how many selfies one takes and posts and I, like my coworkers, try to do slightly more than minimum so as not to stand out. Of course, we’re graded differently, because we’re in the know. We are not to take this to mean we are immune to scrutiny. The opposite is true. (Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Escape Pod 621: Assistance (Artemis Rising)


Assistance

By Kathryn DeFazio

“Would you like to discuss your coping plan?”

Astor did not want to discuss their coping plan. They didn’t want to think about their coping plan, or the trip itself, or the airport, or the subway, or— “No, thank you.”

“Do you think it would be—”

“Manual override.” Astor sat heavily in the armchair.

“Hmm.” The little android tilted its head slightly. “I’m sorry, Astor, I don’t understand the command. Could you rephrase?”

It had been worth a shot. “Never mind.”

“The value of coping in advance allows you to prepare for the most likely scenario and therefore decrease feelings of helplessness and fear. Would you like to discuss your coping plans?” (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 614: Sparg


Sparg

By Brian Trent

Sparg had difficulty making pancakes, but he was trying.

In the empty apartment, he clutched the silver bowl with one tentacle to hold it steady. With another, he attempted the far trickier business of whipping the batter as he’d seen his owners do many, many times. The bowl was bigger than him. The counter was sticky with flour, egg, and ink.

From his cage, he had watched them conduct this peculiar ritual enough times to understand it was how they prepared their food. More elaborate than the brown fish-pellets they gave him. When his food dish was empty, they usually noticed as they shuffled in from the bedroom each morning. If they didn’t, Sparg would gently thump his tentacles against the bars until they came over to see what was the bother. Then strange sounds would issue from their red mouths:

Sparg’s food dish is empty. Can you get the bag?” (Continue Reading…)

Genres: , , , ,

Escape Pod 612: The Sixes, the Wisdom, and the Wasp


The Sixes, the Wisdom, and the Wasp

By E J Delaney

Fereshteh Nemati was scared.

She knew she was gripping her bow too tightly. She knew she should never ever aim at another person. But it wasn’t bad technique she was thinking of, or breaking her father’s golden rule. It wasn’t even the sight of poor Mr. Heke lying unmoving by his desk.

What bothered Fereshteh most of all was the girl on the opposite side of the classroom: the one standing with arrow notched and back elbow held high, staring at her across the small wooden desks and half-open tidy trays.

That’s me. I’m shooting at me! (Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Escape Pod 611: When We Fall


When We Fall

by Kameron Hurley

I don’t remember the first time I was abandoned and forgotten, but I have told the story of the second time so often that when the memory boils up it feels hot and gummy, like the air that day.

Whoever cared for me – and I can’t be certain they were legal guardians, let alone relatives – took me with them to beg at the crossroads just outside the interplanetary port. I don’t know how long they had me, but I know they were not the first. I remember being hungry. I remember a tall woman with dark hair pulling me close and saying, “Stay here Aisha.” She gave me a length of sugarcane and a mango. Her skirt was red. I still think of the red skirt when I think of home.

The people I saw as I sat out there, day after day, were all engineered for different worlds. The world I was on then, there was something about the sky… bloody red most of the day; stars the rest of the day, and a night filled with blue light. People were tailored to fit where they were from, or the place they’d chosen as home, whether that was a world or the deep black between the stars. Some were tall and fat, short and squat, or spindly; willowy as leaves of grass. Gills, webbed toes, ears that jutted out sharply from faces with eyes the size of jack bolts… many had tails; a few had four arms or more. Many wore respirators; teeth gleaming purple behind translucent masks or fuzzy full-bodied filters or suits that clung to their bodies like a second skin.

Even then, sitting alone on the mat with my mango and sugarcane, I couldn’t imagine that none of these people wanted me. I used to pretend, sitting at every port then and later, that somebody would come up and recognize me, or see me and just want me, not for some gain of theirs, but out of pure, unadulterated love. I was skinny and long-fingered, with squinty eyes and tawny skin covered in fine hair. I had a high forehead and a bright shock of white hair that stood straight up. I still wear it that way, long after I figured out the tricks for taming it, because I never did like being tamed. I suppose it never occurred to me to ask why none of them looked like me, because none of them even looked much like each other. I heard once that there’s a test you can take to find out what system your people are most likely in, but I can’t afford the test, and sure couldn’t afford to go back. And who’s to say they’d want me now, when they didn’t before?

It’s difficult to reconcile this memory, still, with what I’m told about our society, about how our people are supposed to be. I see close-knit families and communities embracing one another in media stories. Every audio play and flickering drama squirming at the corner of my vision tells me we care for one another deeply, because we are all only as healthy, happy, and prosperous as our least fortunate member. There is no war, no disease that cannot be overcome, and every child is guaranteed a life of security and love.

But the grand narrative of societies often forgets people like me. They forget the people who fall between the seams of things. They don’t like to talk about what happens below the surface.

I went through a series of homes – waystations, temporary shelters – is probably more accurate. When this story drips out now, to engineers or star hustlers or bounty hunters at whatever watering hole I’m drunk at, most insist I had to be part of some community foster system organized by one government or another.

I wasn’t. I’ve made my own way around, getting work in junk ports and on dying organic ships. I’ve done salvage of old trawlers, rotting on the edge of the shipping lanes, half consumed by some star.

I spent my life with ships.

But I never expected a single ship to change my life. (Continue Reading…)