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Escape Pod 688: A Most Elegant Solution


A Most Elegant Solution

by M. Darusha Wehm

I always said I wanted to be one of the first to die on Mars. I never wanted to be the last. But here I am.

I can’t even tell the others apart now. I know that inside those vaguely undulating metal cocoons are the bodies of the rest of my team—Marshall, Cherie, Gem and Abdul. Which squirming ovoid contains whom—there’s no way to tell.

And I’m about to join them. The swarm has already engulfed my legs. I can’t feel anything below the knee, which is a kind of relief. Devoured by my own creations is a terrible enough way to die—at least it probably won’t hurt.

I know I should be mourning the others, or desperately trying to save myself, but I don’t feel anything like that now. Maybe this is a side effect of the paralysis, maybe it’s not just a physical but an emotional anesthesia. Because all I can think about is how I got here. How we all got to be here, lying on the floor of our brand new habitation buildings, smothered by tiny robots.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 676: Ulissa

Show Notes

Dream Foundry’s Kickstarter is open and underway!

Dream Foundry 2019The Dream Foundry is a registered nonprofit focused on creating a community and shared culture for all creators working in the speculative arts. We have a special focus on nurturing beginners in the field, giving them access to the information, tools, and people they need to learn, grow, and succeed in their work.

Kickstarter link: Dream Foundry 2019: Hatching


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 673: Optimizing the Verified Good (Artemis Rising)


Optimizing the Verified Good

by Effie Seiberg

The little cleanerbot whirrs as it crisscrosses the arena, sucking up the robot dust with the vacuum chute on its right and picking up strewn robot parts with the multi-hinged arm on its front. The arm is strong – it can pick up parts that are larger than the entire cleanerbot, and fling them up into the little cart that trundles behind it.

The cleanerbot is officially named SpeedyKleen v1.5, though it doesn’t think of itself that way. Its only goal is of low-order complexity: clean the arena, with no speed specified. (A clean arena is Verified Good, and as all it can do is clean, it is an optimized solution.) It doesn’t mind the work – doesn’t stop to think about gurgling up the remains of its brethren. The dust is made of flecks of titanium and carbon fiber and plastic ground off in battle by the sawbots, ash from the flamethrowers of the firebots, and pulverized chunks of electronics bashed off by the wedgebots and hammerbots. The dust gets dumped into a buildbot, where it gets cleaned and reconstituted into lightweight amalgams perfect for printing new bot pieces. Any larger pieces that can be salvaged go to a repairbot to be hammered or flattened or re-soldered.

When it’s out of the arena the cleanerbot drops off its cart with the repairbot (a Fixer8300C), dumps out its vacuum container into the buildbot receptacle (a Build-A-Bot Arkitekt Pro), then parks in its chargeport, waiting in anticipation for its next scheduled arena cleaning. There’s nothing else for it to do that’s Verified Good.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 656: Into the Breach (Flashback Friday)


Into the Breach

By Malon Edwards

I’m off my bunk and into my jodhpurs, knee-high leather boots and flight jacket the moment the long range air attack klaxons seep into my nightly dream about Caracara.

Muscle memory and Secret Service training kick in; I’m on auto-pilot (no pun intended) and a good ways down the hall buttoning up both sides of my leather jacket to the shoulder a full thirty seconds before I’m awake.

And just so you know, the ever so slight tremble in my hands and fingers is not fear. It’s adrenaline. I’m cranked and ready to put my foot all up in it.

A door to the right opens and Pierre-Alexandre falls in on my right flank, his steps brisk like mine. Our boots echo down the long hallway as we make our way from the underground bunker at Soldier Field to the bunker at Meigs Field.

What you think we got? he asks.

My reptile mind—that wonderful, hedonistic thing of mine—notices how lovely his make-me-jump-up-and-dance-like-I-just-caught-the-Holy-Ghost-in-church dark skin looks in the red emergency scramble lighting.

And yeah, I know. I’m going to hell for that. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 647: Imma Gonna Finish You Off (Flashback Friday)


Imma Gonna Finish You Off

by Marina J. Lostetter

On the examining table lounged a body. It was an unremarkable body–rather wrinkly, with an inordinate amount of hair in all the wrong places and too few clothes for most people’s liking, but otherwise nothing to write your congressman about. The only thing special about the body was that it was dead–a problem that Detective Harry Sordido hoped would resolve itself quite soon.

“Will he just get on with the coming back to life already?” Harry huffed, checking the glowing numbers embedded in his left wrist. With his right hand, he patted his ample, middle-aged girth. “He’s not the only victim I’ve got to question today.”

“I’m not sure what’s the matter with him,” said the medical examiner, lifting the dead man’s wrist between two thin fingers. “He should have let out a nice scream-of-life by now.” He let the limb flop back to the sanitary paper.

“What do you think it was?” asked the detective, “Accidental? Experimental? Purposeful? What do you think he died of?”

“You’ll have to ask him to be sure. He was found out on the sidewalk. No indications of violence or a struggle, but he does look a tad flaccid.”

“Ah, disgruntled lover, then.”

“No, I mean on the whole. Like he’s been wrung out.”

They both stared at the body for a long while.

“You don’t think he’s really–?” began Detective Sordido.

“It is starting to seem a bit permanent.”

“That’s impossible! No one’s really died for damned near a millennium.”

The examiner shrugged. “There’s a first time for every eventuality.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 642: Oracle


Oracle

By Dominica Phetteplace

The two biggest applications for predictive software are killing people and selling things. Rita was quite successful at the latter. She founded a nail-polish-of-the-month club that used an online personality quiz to determine customer preferences. Bold cremes for basics, chunky glitters for the outrageous, and dark, sparkly metallics for edgy, forward-thinking geniuses like Rita.  Sales skyrocketed.

She used her money to start other subscription services: whisky-of-the-month, miniskirt-of-the-month.  What had started out as an online quiz morphed into something larger and more complex: a search engine that searched the customer.  It had tapped into a pent-up demand. People loved acquiring material goods but they hated making decisions.  Rita wasn’t just selling nail polish or whisky or miniskirts, she was selling freedom from choice.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 641: Flash Fiction Contest Winners


The Toastmaster

By Kurt Pankau

“Burnt the Pop Tarts again?”

“Yes,” Toaster responded over wifi. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Blender whirred with sympathy.

“Owner was upset,” said Toaster. “She picked me up and looked at my underside to make sure everything was okay.”

“That’s odd,” said Blender. “There’s nothing there but your crumb tray, though.”

“I know, and so does Owner. I don’t know why she did it. It was humiliating.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 631: Heart of Ash, Heart of Steam

Show Notes

Heart of Ash, Heart of Steam is set in the same universe as Escape Pod 436: Into the Breach.


Heart of Ash, Heart of Steam

By Malon Edwards

You squeeze through the doorway past the bouncer wearing the massive Conquest Knight XV exo and make way your over to Nyanza Swift. The Soul Queen’s blackout is spacious, but minimalist. Low sightlines. No shadowy alcoves. No jacks. No data exchange. No electricity.

This is the best blackout in uncontrolled airspace.

Your twin sister is sitting in the back near the chop shops. She stands and you kiss her on both cheeks. Her quicksilver skin is cold against your lips. You frown.

” It’s not that bad,” she says.

“Fout,” you curse, and you are surprised by the anger in your voice. “Ou malad prèt pou mouri. You’re dying.”

Nyanza Swift smiles, a wan, tired one, and new crow’s feet crinkle her eyes. “Mwen fatige.”

“E fèb,” you add, trying to keep the worry out of your voice. “You look like you’re about to fall over.”

“Mwen byen. I just need an hour or two of rest and some high quality coal dust.”

You shake your head. “M ka wè li. It’s all over your face. You’ve aged twenty years since we last saw each other.”

Your sister’s smile becomes more playful. “M ap fè dan zòrèy. I’m no spring chicken anymore, am I?”

“Sispann fè jwèt,” you tell her, wiping your eyes. “It’s not funny.”

Nyanza Swift’s smile fades fast. “Ah, sè byenneme mwen, my kind-hearted little sister, pa kriye.” She moves her chair to the other side of the table and puts her arms around you. The cold quicksilver skin of her fine jaw touches your exposed cheek. “Please don’t cry.”

You shake your smooth, brown bald head hard. “M pa vle al bwachat w. I don’t want you to die, but you will. If you keep doing this, w’ap mouri.”

You have no idea what she is doing to herself, but it scares you.

Nyanza Swift kisses you on the temple. “Se pa anyen ditou,” she tells you. “It’s nothing. M pa gen anyen. Really. M’anfòm. I’m fine.”

You take a deep breath to push back down the sob bubbling up from your chest, threatening to burst out of your mouth. “You look like Manmi.” Your voice is soft. It does not waver. “Age looks good on you.”

And you mean it.      (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 624: Fandom for Robots


Fandom for Robots

By Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Computron feels no emotion towards the animated television show titled Hyperdimension Warp Record (超次元 ワープ レコード). After all, Computron does not have any emotion circuits installed, and is thus constitutionally incapable of experiencing ‘excitement’, ‘hatred’, or ‘frustration’. It is completely impossible for Computron to experience emotions such as ‘excitement about the seventh episode of HyperWarp‘, ‘hatred of the anime’s short episode length’ or ‘frustration that Friday is so far away’.

Computron checks his internal chronometer, as well as the countdown page on the streaming website. There are twenty-two hours, five minutes, forty-six seconds, and twelve milliseconds until 2 am on Friday (Japanese Standard Time). Logically, he is aware that time is most likely passing at a normal rate. The Simak Robotics Museum is not within close proximity of a black hole, and there is close to no possibility that time is being dilated. His constant checking of the chronometer to compare it with the countdown page serves no scientific purpose whatsoever.

After fifty milliseconds, Computron checks the countdown page again.

(Continue Reading…)

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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…)