Category: 10 and Up

EP481: Temporary Friends

by Caroline M. Yoachim
read by Caitlin Buckley

author Caroline M. Yoachim

author Caroline M. Yoachim

about the author…

I’m a photographer and writer currently living in Seattle, Washington. I’ve published about two dozen fantasy and science fiction short stories, in markets that include Asimov’sLightspeed MagazineInterzone, and Daily Science Fiction. In 2011 I was nominated for a Nebula Award for my novelette “Stone Wall Truth,” which you can read online here at my website.

For a list of my publications, see my writing page.

about the narrator…

Hey – my name is Caitlin Buckley, and I’m narrating this week’s episode. I’ve been voice acting for just over a year, but talking funny for my entire life – and I think it’s just such fun. If you want to see other stuff I’ve been involved with, I keep a blog with all my work: https://caitlinva.wordpress.com/. Thanks for listening!

narrator Caitlin Buckley

narrator Caitlin Buckley

 

 

Temporary Friends
by Caroline M. Yoachim

The second week of kindergarten, Mimi came home with a rabbit. Despite numerous mentions of the Temporary Friends project in the parent newsletter, I wasn’t prepared to see my five-year-old girl cuddling a honey-colored fluffball that was genetically engineered to have fatally high cholesterol and die of a heart attack later in the school year.

“I named him Mr. Flufferbottom.” Mimi told me. I glared at Great-Grandpa John, who’d been watching her while I finished up my shift at the clinic. He shrugged. My gruff maternal grandfather wasn’t my first choice of babysitter, but he needed a place to stay and I needed someone to watch Mimi after school.

“Are you sure it’s a good idea to name him, honey?” I knelt down and put my hand on Mimi’s shoulder. “He’s a completely biological rabbit, and this kind doesn’t tend to live very long.”

“Teacher said to pick good names for our rabbits,” Mimi said. “Besides, you put new parts on people, so if Mr. Flufferbottom breaks you can fix him.”

Replacement pet parts were readily available online, and the self-installing models could be put in by anyone who could afford the hefty price tag and follow simple instructions. But replacement parts defeated the purpose of the lesson — research showed that children needed to experience death in order to achieve normal emotional development. Aside from the occasional suicide or tragic accident, there weren’t many occasions to deal with loss. Schools were required to incorporate Temporary Friends into their kindergarten curriculum in order to get government funding.

The school couldn’t control what parents did, of course, but the parent newsletter strongly discouraged tampering with the damned death pets in any way.

“Mimi, sweetie, that’s not how it works this time — I know we get a lot of extra parts for Graycat, but your Temporary Friend is only until…” I tried to remember from the newsletter how long the rabbits were engineered to live. Six months? “Only until March, and then we’ll say goodbye.”

I expected Mimi to put up a big fuss, but she didn’t. She took Mr. Flufferbottom to the cage we’d set up in her room and got him some food and water.

#

Mimi didn’t say another word about Mr. Flufferbottom until mid-October.

“Mommy,” she said in her most serious voice, “I think we should order parts for Mr. Flufferbottom now, so we’ll have them ready when he needs them.”

“We talked about this, Mimi. Mr. Flufferbottom is a Temporary Friend. Do you remember what temporary means?”

“It means only for a little while. Like ice cream is temporary because I eat it or sometimes it melts.” Mimi frowned. “But Mr. Flufferbottom has lasted a lot longer than ice cream, and I think he should have parts because he is a nice rabbit and I don’t want him to die.”

“Of course we don’t want him to die,” I began, not sure how to explain something I rarely dealt with myself, “But death is a thing that just happens sometimes.”

“Am I going to die?” Mimi asked.

“Oh honey, not for a long long long time. Great-Grandpa John is still alive, and he is much older than you.”

“But he gets parts from the clinic.” Mimi said.

“If you need them, you can have parts from the clinic too. You’re young now, so your parts are still good.”

“So Great-pa John can get parts, and I can get parts, and Graycat can get parts,” Mimi said. “Why can’t Mr. Flufferbottom have parts? Don’t you think he’s a nice rabbit, Mommy?”

Mimi was often persistent, but I wasn’t used to seeing her quite this agitated. “Did something happen, Mimi, to make you worried about Mr. Flufferbottom?”

Mimi looked down at the floor. “Lizzy and I were talking to some first graders at recess and they said our bucket bunnies are going to die and then we won’t have them anymore.”

“But you knew that already, right? We told you at the start that the rabbits don’t live very long, that’s what it means for them to be temporary.”

“I didn’t know that I wouldn’t have him anymore once he was dead.” Mimi said. “I want to have him and have him and keep him forever and ever, like Graycat.”

Mimi had never shown much interest in Graycat, who was about 55 years old, and rarely did anything but sleep curled up on top of the living room bookshelves. In his younger days, Graycat had been quite the hunter, but now, despite his extra sensors and state-of-the-art replacement legs, he hadn’t pounced on anything for at least a couple decades.

“Graycat is our pet,” I told her, for lack of a better explanation, “Mr. Flufferbottom is a lesson.”

#

“Whiskers died today.” Mimi told me, without preamble, one January afternoon when I got home from work. “Tommy’s parents didn’t get him any parts and he died and they burned him in an incinerator and he died again.”

“He only died the first time, Mimi. They burned the body.” I tried to look at this as a learning opportunity. “Was Tommy sad?”

“Tommy was angry.” Mimi said. “He had to go home early for hitting. He did a lot of hitting.”

“Well, people react to death in lots of different ways,” I said, “but it was wrong of him to hit people, even if he was angry.”

Great-pa John came in from the kitchen.

“Of course he was angry. The whole project is ridiculous, giving you kids pets and then telling you not to take care of them properly.” Great-pa had fixed himself a sandwich, but he hadn’t gotten used to his new bionic eyes yet, and instead of lettuce he’d used some of the collard greens I was going to cook for dinner.

“The Temporary Friends lesson is supposed to teach kids about–” I started, but Great-pa John interrupted.

“I know what this is all about. Emotional development and learning about loss and yadda yadda whatever. I still have half my original brain in here.” Great-pa John tapped his head.

“But not your original eyes,” I snapped back, and instantly regretted it when his face fell. It was easy to forget what a proud man he was, and how hard it was for someone his age to adapt to so much technology. He knew death in ways that I never would. When he was young, the replacement parts weren’t that good. Sure there were limbs to help amputees walk, and pace makers and cochlear implants and dentures, but you couldn’t replace everything that broke. Back then, people died all the time. More than half of everyone Great-pa knew was dead.

“Sorry. I’ll go make you a better sandwich,” I said, taking the plate from his artificial hands. “You talk to Mimi about how things used to be. Maybe it will help her understand.”

To my surprise, I heard him start talking about Great-grandma Arlene, who had died back when the technology for replacement organs was still unreliable. I paused to listen, because I’d never heard the whole story. I’d always had the impression that Great-pa John had convinced Arlene to avoid the new technology because it was too risky.

He stopped talking when he realized I was hovering in the doorway, and I went to make his sandwich. Maybe talking to Mimi would help ease his guilt.

#

I don’t know what Great-pa said to Mimi, exactly, but it did wonders for their relationship. He got used to his new eyes, and together they built a fancy maze for Mr. Flufferbottom so he wouldn’t get bored. I questioned the wisdom of building entertainment for a rabbit who was doomed to die sometime in the next few weeks, but Mimi seemed happier to be doing something for her little fluffy companion, so I left them alone. Great-pa made no further mention of his long-departed wife, at least not when I was around, but he seemed more cheerful than I’d seen him for a long time.

Then one afternoon I came home from the clinic after a particularly rough spinal replacement surgery and found the two of them with their heads leaned over Mr. Flufferbottom. Fearing the worst, I rushed over, prepared to swoop a crying Mimi into my arms — but the bucket bunny wasn’t dead. He was hopping around the table, sniffing at the placemats.

“Great-pa helped me fix Mr. Flufferbottom,” Mimi said. “We ordered him medicines to help with his clestor-all, so he won’t have a heart attack after all.”

“Cholesterol.” I corrected her. “Go run and play while I talk to Great-pa, okay?”

“Can I take Mr. Flufferbottom?” Mimi asked.

“Sure.”

She scooped up the rabbit and skipped off to the living room.

“She’s supposed to be learning about death,” I told Great-pa John firmly. “We already have a pet that doesn’t die. We really don’t need an immortal rabbit. Besides, the drugs are just stalling the inevitable.”

“Are you raising a child or a monster? Do you really think it’s good for them to learn that they should sit and watch their rabbits die and not do a damned thing about it?” Great-pa asked. “Some lesson that would be.”

#

Mr. Flufferbottom stopped eating. I couldn’t tell if the loss of appetite was a side effect of his medication or some other health problem. Mimi shadowed me every minute I wasn’t at work, constantly peppering me with questions about what we could do for her poor rabbit. “Great-pa doesn’t know what parts to order, Mommy. You have to help us.”

“I don’t know either,” I told her honestly, “I install parts at the clinic, but I don’t do the diagnosis.” I didn’t mention that I’d had to sign up for extra shifts at the clinic to pay for the cholesterol medicine they’d gotten, which could well be what was making Mr. Flufferbottom sick.

Great-pa John banged around our apartment, starting “home improvement” projects and then abandoning them unfinished. I told him in no uncertain terms not to tinker with the central computer system, but otherwise left him to deal with his anxieties by destroying small sections of our unit.

Mimi went to confer with Great-pa for a minute, then came back. “I want to take Mr. Flufferbottom to the vet clinic that Graycat goes to.”

I thought about what Great-pa John had said, about teaching children to passively watch their pets die. I thought about Graycat, who was alive, but was he really the same cat? I even thought about Great-pa John, who by now was mostly artificial sensors and prosthetic limbs and other man-made parts.

I didn’t know the answer, and my five-year-old daughter was looking up at me, hopeful that I would save her tiny fluffy friend. Did she really need to learn about death first hand? Would I be doing her a favor or a disservice if I let her sidestep one of life’s hardest lessons?

“No,” I said, “we can’t take him to the vet.”

It broke my heart to see the hopeful smile leave her face. I almost changed my mind. But even when the tears started to well up in her eyes, I held my ground. My daughter was supposed to learn the sadness of loss. Both of us would learn from this experience, and it would make us stronger.

#

The next morning, Mimi ran into my room with tears in her eyes. “Mr. Flufferbottom is dead, he’s cold and stiff and he won’t eat his breakfast.”

“I’m so sorry, honey. I know you loved that rabbit.” The words that I had practiced in my head sounded false and empty. I hugged Mimi tight, then we went to her room together to get Mr. Flufferbottom.

Great-pa John was there, standing over the cage. He was clutching something in his hand, an artificial part, I think, although I couldn’t see it clearly. He was scowling down at the lifeless rabbit.

“Did you find the right part, Great-pa?” Mimi asked.

He held out the tiny object he was clutching, a self-installing replacement liver. “I don’t know if this would have helped, but it’s too late now. Even fancy parts won’t bring back the dead.”

“Can we try? Mr. Flufferbottom didn’t eat his breakfast. I don’t want him to die hungry.”

To my horror, Great-pa put the tiny artificial liver on top of the dead rabbit, and activated the autoinstaller. The tiny organ set to work installing itself, shaving the fur and sterilizing the skin before making an incision and burrowing into the rabbit. We’d have to sell the liver used now, and while they were technically re-usable their value decreased dramatically. More shifts at work, for a rabbit that was already dead.

The liver completed its installation, but immediately began beeping to indicate an error. A few minutes later, it reappeared and clung to the rabbit’s skin and waited for further instructions. I picked it up and set it to clean itself for repackaging.

“Sorry, kiddo,” Great-pa said. “We did everything we could, right?”

Mimi nodded. “Is he with Great-ma now?”

Great-pa smiled. “She’d have liked that, my Arlene. A cute little fuzzball to keep her company. If there’s something after this, maybe they’ll find each other.”

Amazingly, both my daughter and my grandfather found comfort in that thought. I picked up Mr. Flufferbottom and set him gently in the trash incinerator, along with his uneaten breakfast. We stood in silence while he burned to ashes, and when it had finished, Mimi went to the living room and found, of all things, Graycat.

She picked him up from the bookshelf, and petted his artificial fur. He made a mechanical purring noise. He wasn’t her temporary friend, but he was warm and soft and comforting, and he let her bury her face in his fur and cry.

EP478: People of the Shell

by Brian Trent
read by Jeff Ronner

 

author Brian Trent

author Brian Trent

about the author…

I am a novelist, screenwriter, producer, poet, actor, and freethinker who supports both imagination and rationalism. I am an advocate for film and the written word and possibility.

I am a recent (2013) winner in the Writers of the Future contest and have since had work accepted in Escape Pod (“The Nightmare Lights of Mars”), Daily Science Fiction, Apex (winning the 2013 Story of the Year Reader’s Poll), Clarkesworld, COSMOS, Strange Horizons, Galaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Electric Velocipede.

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. Jeff last read for us in EP439: Cradle and Ume

 

People of the Shell
by Brian Trent

Egypt’s rolling ice-dunes were suddenly peppered by a new ashstorm, as if a bowl of soot had overturned in the heavens. King Cyrus held up his fist and the war drummer ceased his rhythmic pounding, the oarsmen relaxed, and the sandship ground to a halt in the slush. The ash sprinkled Cyrus’ cloak and collected in his beard. He leaned against the deck rails and stared.

“Do you see that?” Cyrus asked his daughter, lowering his facemask around his smile. “Look!”

The girl squinted. “Are those the pyramids, father?”

“As I promised you.”

Three fires danced high in the darkness. In a world of never-ending night, the Egyptians alone had devised a brilliant defiance. The Giza pyramids were like magical lighthouses, capstones removed, their vast bodies filled with pitch, and red fires lit to smolder like desperate offerings to the vanished sun.

Standing on the sandship deck alongside his king, the Magus Jamshid said, “May they welcome us warmly. We are in no condition to fight.”

“I did not need a fight to take Babylon,” Cyrus reminded him.

“That was before the Hammerstrike, my lord.”

But the king waved his hand dismissively. “I will go to them and look in their eyes, and speak to them as friends, and trust that generosity has not perished with the trees.”

The withered magus grunted derisively. He was bearded and ancient, his skin like the patina of old scrolls. Jamshid wore a dark blue turban, facemask, and a scintillating black robe the same color as his pitched eyebrows. His gaze smoked like hot iron.

The royal sandship stood at the head of the royal Persian fleet. It sounded majestic, Cyrus thought, but only four sandships – with a meager two hundred starving Persians – remained. The men resembled skeletons in their rags. Their leather armor was reduced to chewed twines that the men fisted in their hands, to nibble on in want of food. When the last of the leather was eaten, little trace would remain that animals had ever existed on the Earth.

Cyrus turned to their dirtied ranks. “I give you Egypt!” he bellowed. “It is still here, as I promised!”

Hunger, not hope, blazed in their eyes as they beheld the pyramid fires.

Jamshid touched his arm. “Sire! The runner is returning!”

Cyrus followed the magus’ gnarled brown hand. He saw only falling ash and smoky miasma curling from the ice.

A moment later, the scout emerged into the fleet’s amber lamplight. The man saw the royal sandship and dug his spiked boots into the ice to stop hard. The archers relaxed their bows.

“Sandship, my lord!” the young man cried. “Approaching dark and fast from the southeast!”

“Banner?” Cyrus asked.

“I have not set eyes on it. They run dark.”

“They have seen our lamps,” the magus guessed.

Cyrus stooped to his daughter. She was such a tiny thing, like a miniature of his wife, with an oval brown face and her hair pulled back in the royal style. “Go into the cabin, my dear.”

She nodded and bit her lip. “Are you going to kill people, father?”

“I hope not.”

“Are they going to kill us?”

“Not while I live.”

EP476: In Loco Parentis

by Andrea Phillips
read by Mur Lafferty

 

author Andrea Phillips

author Andrea Phillips

about the author…

Andrea Phillips is an award-winning transmedia writer, game designer and author. Her book, A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling, is published by McGraw-Hill and is used to teach courses at USC, Columbia, McGill, and many other universities.

Her transmedia work includes a variety of educational and commercial projects, including Floating City with Thomas Dolby, The Maester’s Path for HBO’s Game of Thrones with Campfire Media, America 2049 with human rights nonprofit Breakthrough, Diesel Reboot with Moving Image & Content, and the independent commercial ARG Perplex City. These projects have variously won the Prix Jeunesse Interactivity Prize, a Broadband Digital award, a Canadian Screen Award, a BIMA, the Origins Vanguard Innovation Award, and others.

Her independent work includes the Kickstarted ongoing serial transmedia project The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart.

Andrea has spoken at TEDx Transmedia, Future of Storytelling, SXSW, MIT Storytelling 3.0, the Power to the Pixel/IFP Cross-Media Forum, and Nordic Games Conference, and many more events.

Andrea cheats at solitaire (a victimless crime) and Words With Friends (which is less forgivable). Consider yourself warned.

 

In Loco Parentis
by Andrea Phillips

The video stutters at the eighteen-second mark. Yakova knows by heart precisely when it happens. As she watches, she mouths the words along with Autumn. “So this girl just, like, opens up her bag, right?”

And here is where it happens: Autumn elbows her and knocks her glasses off. Yakova knows she should edit it out, those few seconds of skewed and jarring footage as her glasses skitter across the lunch table. Instead, she studies each frame carefully.

Jad is there, nearly off-frame and out of focus, light gleaming off the angled planes of his cheekbones, dark hair curled over his eyes. He starts from his recline, and he looks at her (looks at her!), eyes widening. His hand reaches up, and —

She cuts it off here, before she has to hear her own brassy laugh, before she can hear herself telling Autumn to be more careful. If she doesn’t hear it, she can pretend HE didn’t hear it, either.

She bites her lip, studying Jad’s expression of… concern? It must be concern. Probably. But is it the aloof concern of a bystander, or a more significant concern, floating atop a deep ocean of unspoken feeling?

At the base of Yakova’s skull, her minder, Seraph, uncoils and stretches. “You have homework to do,” Seraph says. When she speaks, it is a warm vibration behind Yakova’s ear, all thought and no real sound. Her voice is the same as Yakova’s mother.

Yakova zooms in on Jad’s inscrutable degree of concern. “Do you think he likes me?” she asks.

The video panel winks out. “Homework,” Seraph says. If she has arrived at any conclusions regarding the boy’s feelings, she keeps them to herself.

Yakova shouldn’t have glasses at all, of course. Not anymore, not at her age. The last two years have seen her friends blossoming into adulthood — one by one peripherals have fallen away, leaving their eyes clear, their faces open and unguarded. Yakova is left behind with a goggle-eyed wall between her and her newly coltish, beautiful peers.

The Season

It’s a new year!  Celebrations and congratulations all around, as we have successfully survived, both as a species and as individuals (presuming you are reading this text from a computer and not, like, Valhalla).  That means, however, a new awards season is coming.  If you want to support Escape Pod, then please, feel free to nominate us for awards such as the Hugos, the Nebulas, or the Parsecs.  Escape Pod publishes both text and audio, so that gives some flexibility in how you nominate us.  For example, with the Hugos we are eligible for Best Fancast and Best Semi-Pro-Zine.

We’d also love to see some of the authors we publish see their own work highlighted.  The stories are, after all, the whole point of the exercise.  With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the award-eligible fiction we ran in 2014.

The following short stories were originally published in EscapePod in 2014:

That Other Sea,” by William Ledbetter

Kumara,” by Seth Dickinson

An Understanding,” by Holly Heisey

To Waste,” by Luke Pebler

Rockwork,” by R. M. Graves

The Sky is Blue, and Bright, and Full of Stars,” by Edward Ashton

Checkmate,” by Brian Trent

Trash,” by Marie Vibbert

Inseparable,” by Liz Heldmann

Shared Faces,” by Anaea Lay

The Mercy of Theseus,” by Rachael K. Jones

Soft Currency,” by Seth Gordon

The Golden Glass” by Gary Kloster

The following stories were originally published somewhere else in 2014, but reprinted in Escape Pod that same year. (If you want to nominate any of these, please do so naming the original venue, even if you heard them first with us.):

The Transdimensional Horsemaster Rabbis of Mpumalanga Province,” by Sarah Pinsker, originally published in Asimov’s

A Struggle Between Rivals Ends Surprisingly,” by Oliver Buckram, originally published in F&SF

Repo,” by Aaron Gallagher, originally published in Analog

Enjoy the Moment,” by Jack McDevitt, originally published in the anthology “The End is Nigh

This is as I Wish to Be Restored” by Christie Yant, originally published in Analog

Hat tip to datameister David Steffen of Diabolical Plots for volunteering to help put this list together!

 

EP475: Homegrown Tomatoes

by Lara Elena Donnelley
read by David Levine

 

author Lara Elena Donnelly

author Lara Elena Donnelly

about the author…

Lara Elena Donnelly lives and pretends to work in Louisville, Kentucky. When she is not writing (which is far too often), she swing dances, makes art, and does yoga in the park.

Her fiction swings heavily anachronistic. She has a penchant for putting fairies, magic, and demons where they shouldn’t be; namely, pivotal points in history.

She is a graduate of the Alpha and Clarion workshops. Her work has appeared several places in print and online

narrator David D. Levine

narrator David D. Levine

about the narrator…

David D. Levine is the author of novel Arabella of Mars (forthcoming from Tor in 2016) and over fifty SF and fantasy short stories. His story “Tk’Tk’Tk” won the Hugo Award, and he has been shortlisted for awards including the Hugo, Nebula, Campbell, and Sturgeon. His stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Analog, F&SF, and five Year’s Best anthologies as well as his award-winning collection Space Magic from Wheatland Press. David lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife Kate Yule. His web site is www.daviddlevine.com.

 

Homegrown Tomatoes
by Lara Elena Donnelly

When I pick Louisa up from school, _All Things Considered_ is on the radio, playing a round table discussion about the virus. One person believes that the disease ravaging the corn belt is a government experiment gone awry. The reporter reminds the audience: botanists speculate it was brought to the U.S. by an invasive species of beetle. I recognize a few of the interviewees—I studied their research back when I was still pursuing my doctorate. Before I met Ann, before we had Louisa. It’s strange, thinking I could have been on NPR some day, if I had finished my degree.

I turn the radio off before Louisa is buckled in. The virus has been the only thing on the news for a week. Louisa’s teacher talked about it with her class a little bit, but I don’t want Louisa to get worried, so Ann and I don’t mention it much at home.

“Daddy,” she says, buckling herself in. “Can we plant my tomatoes when we get home?”

Louisa’s tomatoes started out as a kindergarten project last spring, but quickly escalated into a backyard plot sized right for a small-town farmers’ market. Ann and I thought she would forget about them this year, but in February she asked if we could plant tomatoes again.

“Sure, cookie. But you have to do your homework first.”

She shakes her head. “Mommy said she would help with my homework.”

I sigh. Ann won’t be home until Louisa is in bed. She called at lunch today and said her boss wanted a story on the virus before she left the office—it’s starting to appear outside the Midwest now, affecting fields in New England. There are signs that it might be spreading to wheat and other grasses.

“Mommy’s going to be late,” I say. “I can help you.” Like I’ve been helping Ann on and off. Half the reason she’s on the stupid story to begin with is my half-finished PhD.

Louisa doesn’t say anything. She used to cry every night Ann was away. Now she hardly complains, but I worry about what’s going on in her head. We try to make her understand that mommy’s work is very important because daddy doesn’t have an office job—his job is to pick Louisa up from school and make her healthy snacks, to watch her favorite TV shows and play with Legos.

Now, Louisa stares out the window, picking at the edge of a band-aid on her knee. I hope she knows we both love her.

EP474: In Coppelius’s Toyshop

by Connie Willis
read by Nathaniel Lee

 

author Connie Willis

author Connie Willis

about the author…

from Wikipedia: Constance Elaine Trimmer Willis (born December 31, 1945) is an American science fiction writer. She has won eleven Hugo Awards and seven Nebula Awards for particular works —more “major awards” than any other writer — most recently the year’s “Best Novel” Hugo and Nebula Awards for Blackout/All Clear (2010). She was inducted by the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2009 and the Science Fiction Writers of America named her its 28th SFWA Grand Master in 2011.

Several of her works feature time travel by history students at a faculty of the future University of Oxford—sometimes called the Time Travel series. They are the short story “Fire Watch” (1982, also in several anthologies and the 1985 collection of the same name), the novels Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog (1992 and 1998), as well as the two-part novel Blackout/All Clear (2010). All four won the annual Hugo Award and all but To Say Nothing of the Dog won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

EP473: Soft Currency

by Seth Gordon
read by Melissa Bugaj

 

author Seth Gordon

author Seth Gordon

about the author…

Seth Gordon, a mild-mannered programmer for a great metropolitan software company, lives in Boston with his wife and three sons. For the past two and a half years, he has belonged to B-Spec, the Boston Speculative Fiction Writing Group, which has given him valuable advice and support. His personal Web site is at http://imaginaryfamilyvalues.com. This is his first professional fiction sale.

about the narrator…

Melissa is the proud mom of a nine-year-old boy and seven-year-old girl. She is a special educator in her sixteenth year of teaching. Mel has taught all grade levels from preschool to grade five in both general and special education. This past year, however, she left the world of elementary school to teach Special Education in a High School Conceptual Physics and Chemistry class. She survived her first year of being the shortest person in the classroom and was enthusiastic to get back to teaching velocity, gravity and atoms for the 2014-2015 school year. In her “free time,” she co-produces a children’s story podcast with her techie husband called Night Light Stories and writes a blog about the silly antics of her family called According To Mags.

 

Soft Currency
by Seth Gordon

When Cassie Levine was nine years old, her family lived in the center of Boston, Lyndon B. Johnson was President, and Cassie learned that her mother was a criminal.

The two of them sat in a parked car on Blue Hill Avenue, outside Ethel Glick’s grocery store. While Cassie ate an ice-cream sandwich, her mother smoked a cigarette. The sandwich, the cigarettes, and three bags of groceries had come from Mrs. Glick’s store. When the ice cream sandwich was half gone, Cassie asked, “Why did you change Dad’s money at Mrs. Glick’s? Why not go to the bank?”

Cassie’s mother had passed Mrs. Glick a twenty-dollar bill; the older woman had tucked the bill under the counter and handed back a stack of coupons; then, her mother had used some of those coupons to pay Mrs. Glick. Each twenty-coupon note showed a picture of Margaret Mitchell, holding a copy of _Gone With the Wind_. Cassie’s little brother called coupons “cootie money,” because only women and girls could use them.

“The exchange rate at the banks is twenty-seven coupons for a dollar,” Cassie’s mother said, “and Mrs. Glick is paying thirty-one.”

“Why don’t the banks pay thirty-one?”

“The government won’t let them.”

“Does the government let Mrs. Glick?”

Cassie’s mother drew on her cigarette and exhaled out the half-open window into the drizzle. Cassie licked vanilla ice cream all around the edge of her sandwich, feeling smug and virtuous and full of sugar. “You’re doing something il-le-gal,” she said, stretching out the last word.

“Don’t tell your father about this.”

Cassie raised her eyebrows. Her mother’s expression was solemn. Through the blur of rain over the windshield, Cassie could see the delicatessen on the opposite corner; the G&G sign was suspended over the sidewalk, round and vertical like a ketchup bottle. Some nights, Cassie’s father would take the family out to dinner there.

“He’s an idealist, and I love him for that, but… he doesn’t understand how much things cost.”

“Is it really illegal, changing money at Mrs. Glick’s? Could you get arrested for it?”

Her mother shook her head. “It’s like jaywalking, honey. It doesn’t hurt anyone, and the police have better things to do than go after it.”

EP470: The Transdimensional Horsemaster Rabbis of Mpumalanga Province

by Sarah Pinsker
read by Amy Robinson

author Sarah Pinsker

author Sarah Pinsker

about the author…

Sarah Pinsker  is the author of the novelette “In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind,” Sturgeon Award winner 2014 and Nebula finalist 2013. Her fiction has been published in magazines including Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Lightspeed, Daily Science Fiction, the Journal of Unlikely Cartography, FiresideStupefying Stories, and PULP Literature, and in anthologies including Long HiddenFierce Family, and The Future Embodied.

She is also a singer/songwriter with three albums on various independent labels (the third with her rock band, the Stalking Horses) and a fourth forthcoming. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland and can be found online at sarahpinsker.com and twitter.com/sarahpinsker.

narrator Amy Robinson

narrator Amy Robinson

about the narrator…

Amy’s voice over training began by taking a short workshop at the Alliance Theatre, instructed by industry veteran, Paul Armbruster.  Having whetted her appetite for the craft, she sought out further voiceover training with experts and agents alike, and finally landed at yourAct studios in Atlanta, GA. Under the expert instruction of Della Cole, a seasoned voice actress with over 30 years experience as both an actress and an agent, Amy grew as an actress and a voice over talent. She continues to sharpen her skills and is constantly working hard to provide the best possible voiceovers in the business. She is now proudly represented by People Store, and Umberger Agency, and works both in local studios and out of her home studio.

 

The Transdimensional Horsemaster Rabbis of Mpumalanga Province
by Sarah Pinsker

I. Options for an Imagined Pictorial Eulogy of Oliver Haifetz-Perec

IMAGE 1: The photograph depicts an unmade bed covered in gear and clothing. A military-style duffel, half filled, dominates the shot. A camera bag sits next to it, cameras and lenses and lens cleaners laid out neatly alongside.

IMAGE 2: Shot from the center of the bed. A shirtless man reaches for something high in the closet. He has the too-thin build of an endurance runner, his bare back lanky and muscled. There is a permanent notch in his left shoulder, from where his camera bag rests. A furrow across his back tells of a bullet graze in Afghanistan. The contrast of his skin and his faded jeans plays well in black and white. A mirror on the dresser catches Yona Haifetz-Perec in the act of snapping the picture, her face obscured but her inclusion clearly deliberate. Multiple subjects, multiple stories.

IMAGE 3: This photograph does not actually exist. A third person in the room might have taken an intimate portrait of the two alone in their Tel Aviv apartment, photographers once again becoming subjects. A third person might have depicted the way her freckled arms wrapped around his torso, tender but not possessive. It might have shown the serious looks on both of their faces, the way each tried to mask anxiety, showing concern to the room, but not each other. They have the same career. They accept the inherent risks. They don’t look into each other’s faces, but merely press closer. It would have been the last photograph of the two together. Eleven days later, he is beaten to death in Uganda. His press credentials, his passport, his cameras, his memory cards, and cash are all found with his body; it isn’t a robbery. Since the third option doesn’t exist, the last picture of Yona and Oliver is the one that she took from the bed: his strong back, her camera’s eye.

IMAGE 4: A Ugandan journalist sent Yona a clipping about Oliver’s death. A photo accompanies the article. It shows a body, Oliver’s body, lying in the street. Yona doesn’t know why anyone would think she would want to see that photograph. She does; she doesn’t. She could include it, make people face his death head on.

Instead she opts for

IMAGE 5: in which Oliver plays football with some children in Kampala, his dreadlocks flying, his smile unguarded (photographer unknown), and IMAGE 6.

EP464: Red Dust and Dancing Horses

by Beth Cato
read by Marguerite Kenner

author Beth Cato

author Beth Cato

about the author…

I reside in Buckeye, Arizona, on the outskirts of Phoenix. My family includes my husband Jason, son Nicholas, and elder-cat Porom. I’m originally from Hanford, California. If I wear ruby slippers and tap my heels three times, that’s where I go by default.

My literary agent is Rebecca Strauss of DeFiore and Company.

 

narrator Marguerite Kenner

narrator Marguerite Kenner

about the narrator…
Marguerite is a native Californian who has forsaken sunny paradise to be with her true love and live in Merrye Olde England. She frequently wears so many hats that she needs two heads. When she’s not grappling with legal conundrums as a trainee solicitor or editing Cast of Wonders, she can be found narrating audio fiction, rockclimbing, studying popular culture (i.e. going to movies and playing video games) with her partner Alasdair Stuart, or curling up with a really good book. You can follow her at her personal blog, Project Valkyrie, or on Twitter via @LegalValkyrie.
Red Dust and Dancing Horses
by Beth Cato
No horses existed on Mars. Nara could change that.She stared out the thick-paned window. Tinted dirt sprawled to a horizon, mesas and rock-lipped craters cutting the mottled sky. It almost looked like a scene from somewhere out of the Old West on Earth, like in the two-dimensional movies she studied on her tablet. Mama thought that 20th-century films were the ultimate brain-rotting waste of time, so Nara made sure to see at least two a week. Silver, Trigger, Buttermilk, Rex, Champion—she knew them all. She had spent months picturing just how their hooves would sink into that soft dirt, how their manes would lash in the wind. How her feet needed to rest in the stirrups, heels down, and how the hot curve of a muzzle would fit between her cupped hands.The terraforming process had come a long way in the two hundred years since mechs established the Martian colonies. Nara didn’t need a pressure suit to walk outside, but in her lifetime she’d never breathe on her own outside of her house or the Corcoran Dome. There would never be real horses here, not for hundreds of years, if ever. But a mechanical horse could find its way home in a dust storm, or handle the boggy sand without breaking a leg. She could ride it. Explore. It would be better than nothing. Her forehead bumped against the glass. But to have a real horse with hot skin and silky mane…

“Nara, you’re moping again.” Mama held a monitor to each window, following the seal along the glass. “No matter how long you stare out the window and sulk, we can’t afford to fly you back to Earth just to see horses. They’re hard to find as it is. Besides, you know what happened when that simulator came through last year.”

SPECIAL EDITION: PG Holyfield

 

Music in this episode:
http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lee_Rosevere/All_These_Simple_Things/09_-_The_Idea_of_Space