Archive for 10 and Up

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…)

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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…)

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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…)

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Escape Pod 610: The Sweetness at the End


The Sweetness at the End

By Jenny Rae Rappaport

This is how it happens:

Tony and Ma are in their seats in the skimmer, strapped in and grinning at us. Daddy and I kiss them good bye; take a photo of them in their spacesuits for posterity, and wave at them. We stay behind at the Kennedy Space Center–there’s a viewing room that has live GPS tracking available for suborbital flights.

This is a huge thing for Ma. Positively, absolutely huge. She’s wanted to go to space since she was a little girl, and watched that old space shuttle explode on TV. The one with the teacher and all. Way before I got here, of course.

No one takes you to space when you’re old. Or if you take a medicine or two, here and there, because again–old. Old rules you out of almost everything fun. Money can overrule some of the old, but we don’t have that much money.

But then, Tony got his suborbital license. And no one regulates who you take up in a SubOrb plane; as long as you file your flight plan in advance, the government can’t really say anything. So Ma was going to get to go up as far as they would let her, all without having to pay anything to the expensive SubOrb tour companies. Tony had managed to snag the use of a plane from a guy he knew from training; otherwise, it would have still been way too expensive.

So there we are, Daddy and I, bumming around the viewing room. I’ve got one of those new sodas that are dispensed in round bubbles made of stiffened sugar; you can literally eat the can after you’re done with them. Beats the hell out of recycling it, any day. Daddy is tapping his fingers, as he stares at the GPS screen.

“They’ll be over Europe soon,” he says.

“Yeah,” I say.

We watch together, as they cross the Atlantic, swooping northeast, their flight path tracked in gold on the map in front of us. We’re one of the only flights today–Christmas is not a popular SubOrb day–so we have the viewing center mostly to ourselves. The fat couple to the left are clutching hands and praying, as a purple line streaks south over India. To my right, there’s a little old man, a cane across his lap, and his eyes fixed on the red line that’s near Australia.

I’m getting to the bottom of my soda bubble, almost to the part I love best, when I can eat the crunchy outside. I start slurping, ignoring Daddy’s silent looks; I never did have very good manners.

And then, our line stops moving over Spain. It hangs on the map, a golden thread from here to there, suspended in time. We stare at it, willing it to keep moving, to keep doing the grand jete it’s making over the rest of the continent.

But we know. You always know. (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 609: Wasps Make Honey


Wasps Make Honey

By Penelope Evans

The scrap heaps at the edge of the settlement are taller than the average colony building. They offer up next to nothing good. But the factory doesn’t want either of us anymore. Power cells don’t come cheap now. In fact, they barely come at all. “Sometimes I think we should give up on this,” Jax tells me, leaning on a big busted-up engine piece—an oscillator from a collector class ship or something of equal size. This is her half of the argument, where she begs me to give up. She has a lot of arguments, and they are all at least mildly convincing and a little hurtful. I’m getting old (true), she’s getting old (also true), sooner or later her drivers will fail and I could be doing better things with my time (true and true).

“I’m not giving up on you anytime soon.” This is my half. My half is not an argument, more a refusal to argue. It infuriates Jax. It makes her tv-screen face go fizzy red and yellow. I’ll hike up the closest heap and heft out something funny and wave it at her, and if she’s really sulking, sometimes toss it down at her so she has to dodge on many-times repaired joints. And some days, she’ll chuck something back, so I have to dodge too, even with my bad knee. (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 607: Red in Tooth and Cog


Red in Tooth and Cog

By Cat Rambo

A phone can be so much. Your memory, your edge against boredom, your source of inspiration. There’s always an app for whatever you need. Renee valued her phone accordingly, even celebrating it by giving way to the trend for fancy phone-cases. Its edges were bezeled with bling she’d won on a cruise the year before, and she’d had some tiny opals, legacy of her godmother, set into the center.

It was an expensive, new-model phone in a pretty case, and that was probably why it was stolen. (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 606: Home Sick


Home Sick

By M. Darusha Wehm

I was encoding a batch of classic ebooks when the ulu-aliki walked in to the library, the outdoors scent of gardenias and overripe mangoes following him. “Afternoon, chief,” I said, pushing my chair back a bit. Joseph Seru spoke Tuvaluan with his family and the other council members, but his English was so much better than my Tuvaluan would ever be. Besides, even though less than ten percent of us were Aussies or Kiwis, the official language on the SPIT was English.

“Hey ya, Sally,” he answered, lacking his usually jovial demeanour.

“You looking for something in particular?” I asked. The island’s chief was a voracious reader and a bit of a film buff. I usually gave him first crack at the new titles I managed to snag off the satellite internet connection.

“Sort of,” he said, the last remains of his smile disappearing. “You, I guess.”

I frowned. “What’s up, chief?” I asked.

“I’ve got something for the blog.” (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 604: Given Sufficient Desperation


Given Sufficient Desperation

By Bogi Takács

An ice cream cone.

A ceramic mug—brown with a single green stripe around the rim.

A smartphone—I don’t recognise the brand. It’s been a while.

Two sheaves of corn.

A plush caterpillar toy from some cartoon.

A table—rather worn, I’d say Danish Modern, but I’m not sure.

I need a break. (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 600: At the Rialto

Show Notes

“At the Rialto” was a 1990 Hugo nominee and the 1990 Nebula winner for best novelette.


At the Rialto

By Connie Willis

Seriousness of mind was a prerequisite for understanding Newtonian physics. I am not convinced it is not a handicap in understanding quantum theory.
—EXCERPT FROM DR. GEDANKEN’S KEYNOTE ADDRESS TO THE 1989 INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS OF QUANTUM PHYSICISTS ANNUAL MEETING, HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA

I got to Hollywood around one-thirty and started trying to check into the Rialto. “Sorry, we don’t have any rooms,” the girl behind the desk said. “We’re all booked up with some science thing.”

“I’m with the science thing,” I said. “Dr. Ruth Baringer. I reserved a double.”

(Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 597: Ms. Figgle-DeBitt‘s Home for Wayward A.I.s


Ms. Figgle-DeBitt’s Home for Wayward A.I.s

By Kurt Pankau

I watch with hope as Ms. Figgle-DeBitt samples a slice of caramelized banana upside-down cake. She takes a nibble and seems pleased. She sweeps cybernetic fingers through the shock of gray hair that sits on the human half of her face, a gesture I’ve learned is contemplative. She takes a larger bite, chews, and grimaces. She spits it out into a trash can.

I’m not upset by this. I do not get upset. I get better.

“This is definitely an improvement, Charlie,” she says. “If I may make a recommendation? Next time, peel the bananas first.” (Continue Reading…)