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Escape Pod 676: Ulissa

Show Notes

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Ulissa

by Craig DeLancey

The old woman they called Ulissa pointed south. “There’s the ship.”

Edoardo raised the binoculars. “Mio dio, it’s huge,” he said.

“It is grande,” Ulissa said, nodding at the giant on the horizon that plowed Westward. The stacked containers on its deck looked like a city of pastel buildings that walled off the horizon. The waves seemed but a pale line along the ship’s towering hull. “Do you see the superstructure? It’s right on the bow.”

Edoardo raised the binoculars again. Ulissa watched him closely. All morning the boy had complained that they wasted their time, and he had come reluctantly, barely obedient to his father’s command. Now, the hulking ship before them made him swallow and stare.

“Yes. I see it.”

“The door to the bridge will be there. And near it, the door to the engine room. Just as I showed you with the diagrams.”

The boy nodded, making a brave face. “Simple,” he said.

Their boat—an open motorboat just five meters long with a single engine hanging off the back—jumped a wave and slapped against the next whitecap. The old woman and the boy bent their knees reflexively, riding the bounce.

Edoardo’s father, Enriche, sat in the back of the motorboat, one hand on the engine tiller, the other on the gunwale. He spoke now for the first time since they’d left the shore, “Storm is coming fast.”

The old woman looked west to where black clouds bore down on a dark sea.

“It’s best so,” she said. “They won’t try to get a drone through that.”

“You’re sure no one is on that ship?” Edoardo asked.

“It’s not a ghost ship,” Ulissa said. “Not even the dead will ride her.”

The boat jumped and the engine bit only air for a moment, shrieking. They hit the water and spray doused them all.

“Ma, mio dio, it’s huge,” Edoardo repeated.

(Continue Reading…)

Artemis Rising 5

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Escape Pod 670: The Scent of Lions (Artemis Rising)


The Scent of Lions

by Tara Campbell

“Congratulations, Mrs. Costa,” chirped the young Life Center nurse. “You’re ready to go home! Here’s your shield.”

Maria raised the infant in her arms high enough for the nurse to slip the slim, silver band around her waist.

“Let’s check the charge.” The nurse stepped back and smiled, nodding for Maria to switch on her shield. Maria shifted little Leon to free up a hand, causing her bag to slip off her shoulder.
“Oops, you don’t want to lose that,” cautioned the nurse, looping the strap back in place. She’d just rattled off the contents of the WellBaby Bag to Maria a moment ago: a blanket and hat, formula (to be used only “if all else fails”), diapers, home vaccination kit, a full power infant shield, and an emergency replacement shield.

The nurse stepped back and pushed her pink infospecs up the bridge of her nose. “Okay, try again.”

Maria slid a switch on the inside of her belt. She jumped slightly at the fizz of her shield activating—it had been over half a year since she’d last worn it—and little Leon’s body stiffened against her. She rocked him gently to comfort him. As the shield quieted to a low hum, he settled back into the crook of her arm.

Maria stretched her other arm out to reacquaint herself with the shield. The field of charged particles followed the contours of her body, moving with her and extending about a foot all around her. She looked up at the nurse again and squinted. Maria used to see through her shield just fine every day on the way to work. Now she found it hard to concentrate on the young woman’s face through the swirling, marbling effect.

“You’re not imagining things,” said the nurse. “Your shield strength is higher. We’ve given you an extra charge to make sure you and little—” The nurse hesitated, checking the display in her glasses. “—little Leon will get home safely. The shields in your bag have also been fully loaded.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 662: Another Day in the Desert


Another Day in the Desert

by Mame Bougouma Diene

“I’ll trip you first abba!”

Tagedouchet teased her father as she leaped over the long stick he swung at her ankles, raising a puff of sand with her sandals, the gritty substance drifting between her toes, and landed, folding her knees, narrowly dodging the swing of her father’s Takuba sabre.

She swung her stick at his knees. He parried with his own and hammered her with his curved sword. The old, wiry man was still strong. Her blade blocked his attacks, but her shoulder bent almost to dislocation. She used a break in his thrusts to roll over to the side and sweep him off his feet with a sharp spin of her long stick. He hit the ground without a word, rolled over, and leaped back to his feet.

“Told you!” she said, the thick turban wrapped around her face muffling her words in the evening sun, setting behind the dunes around them.

“It’s important for trainees to build up some confidence, and…”

The beating wings of a Han Industries helithopter cut his words short, leaving a shadow across the sand like a giant firefly.

They instinctively covered their eyes, closed their mouths and stopped breathing. Some people said it did little good — whatever radiation seeped from the uranium transported from the mines would trickle in — but they did anyway, perhaps more in disgust of the corporation than for protection.

Her father spit a gob of black phlegm into the sand at the thopter’s passage, traces left from his own years working the mines around Arlit.

“Let’s get going,” he said “the drones’ll start flying soon.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 657: The Big So-So


The Big So-So

By Erika Satifka

We’re both sitting on the rotting front porch one muggy July day when Dorcas asks me if I want to break into Paradise with her. I lace up my sneakers and we do the old huff-and-puff up Negley Avenue to the big Cygnian compound on the hill.

It’s dark, which doesn’t mean much. Most of the compound-heads are wired up to the pleasure-juice on a more-or-less constant basis, and who needs light when you’ve got that? Still, it only takes about three minutes until we’re spotted climbing over the semi-permeable barrier that separates the Chosen Ones from the Not There Yet. And it only takes eight minutes until we’re sitting in the bare-bones holding tank, waiting for an attendant to rouse one of the compound-heads from their ecstasy.

I look over at Dorky. She looks over at me. She mouths the words “play along.”

And I mouth the word “what?” because for the life of me I can’t figure out what the hell the point of this little stunt is.

The compound-head enters in a thick bathrobe that hides just how fucking skinny they all are. It picks up its slate and starts to write. The chalk squeaks.

Colorless ideas sleep furiously still.

“We want to stay.”

Sonic results spiral within documentation.

The Cygnians say they’re preparing the compound-heads for life on their homeworld, the real Paradise. For three weeks all of us were jacked up on pleasure-juice dialed to Max Effect, while the Cygnians ran tests to decide which of us got to live in the compounds. They shepherded their lucky few into one of the many squat nanofoam villages that dot the entire globe. Then they turned off the tap.

What happened next… well, at least some of us survived. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 649: Loyalty Test

Show Notes

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Loyalty Test

by Andrew Gudgel

When the intercom on his desk buzzed, Marc’s head snapped up, instantly awake. He’d been dozing in his chair. His finger stabbed the button that told the boss he was on his way. He stood up and straightened his rumpled gray suit before glancing at his watch. One seventeen AM. It figures. The boss tried to cut him as much slack as he could, but humans just couldn’t keep the same pace as the Vrith, who came from the sunny side of a tidally locked planet and didn’t sleep at all.

“Yes, Governor?” Marc said, even before the door to the boss’ office was fully open. Speaking before he could be seen did double duty: it showed that he was eager to be of service, as well as preventing the boss from seeing his yawn–the Vrith sometimes considered wide-open mouths a sign of aggression, and their claws could cut deep. Marc had a couple of scars on his forearms from when the previous Governor’s instincts got the better of them. It was an occupational hazard of working for the Vrith who now ran Earth’s government.

“Marc,” the translation box on the boss’ desk said. “Tell me about–doors.”

He walked across the rough, tile floor that the Vrith preferred to the side of the desk at the far end of the boss’ office, where he made his obeisance by looking down and crossing his arms at the wrists in a sign of submission. He spoke without looking up. “What would you like to know about doors, Governor?”

“You may look at me when you speak,” the boss replied. “Are doors always necessary?”

(Continue Reading…)

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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…)