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Escape Pod 678: Blonde


Blonde

by Priya Sharma

“When did you go bald?”

Only Clarice would ask such a forthright question.

“Leave her alone,” Jake drains his beer. Only he would dare contradict his sister.

The clock hands have gone from late at night to early in the morning. Jake’s bar is empty of customers. The staff, who are sitting round the table, fall silent, intent on their drinks.

“It’s okay,” Rapunzel says. “I was sick and it all fell out.”

Her scalp is shiny, every follicle devoid of life. Nor does she have any eyebrows. Or hair elsewhere for that matter.

“What colour was it?”

“Blonde.”

There’s a pause, then laughter.

Jake nudges her. “You’re a joker after all.”

She knows what he thinks of her. That she’s vague and evasive and hasn’t a clue what’s going on most of the time.

“Lucky you’re beautiful enough to be bald,” he adds.

Rapunzel touches the nape of her neck where she feels most exposed and tries not to smile.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 677: Valedictorian (Flashback Friday)


Valedictorian

by N. K. Jemisin

There are three things Zinhle decides, when she is old enough to understand. The first is that she will never, ever, give less than her best to anything she tries to do. The second is that she will not live in fear. The third, which is perhaps meaningless given the first two and yet comes to define her existence most powerfully, is this: she will be herself. No matter what.

For however brief a time.


“Have you considered getting pregnant?” her mother blurts one morning, over breakfast.

Zinhle’s father drops his fork, though he recovers and picks it up again quickly. This is how Zinhle knows that what her mother has said is not a spontaneous burst of insanity. They have discussed the matter, her parents. They are in agreement. Her father was just caught off-guard by the timing. (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…)

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Escape Pod 675: Man of Straw


Man of Straw

By Russell Nichols

I pissed my PJs when I saw that scarecrow.

It was the middle of the night and everybody was knocked out. Marcus, my big brother who died the week before last, had his door cracked. I heard him snoring under the hum of the refrigerator. The carpet creaked under my feet as I stepped into the dark living room. I wanted to turn back, but I had to pee so bad and Mama told me Jesus didn’t shed blood for bed-wetters.

I never made it past the living room. Because that’s where I saw it: that stuffed body in our front yard, grinning at me through the window, face colored black, egg shells for eyes and straw sticking out the top of his head. My scream came out the wrong hole, wet and warm, streaming down my flannel Captain America pants.

I ran back to my room.

“The hell you doing?” asked my brother, Nick, on the top bunk. My adopted brother.

I was fumbling in pitch blackness, trying to change, trying not to think about what I saw, but couldn’t shake the image: that face, those eyes, the straw.

“N-nothing,” was all I could get out.

Nick reached down to cut on the light, catching me in my soaked boxers. “Damn, man, again? Marcus got you shook?” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 674: And Yet


And Yet

A. T. Greenblatt

Only idiots go back to the haunted houses of their childhood. And yet.

Here you are. Standing on the sagging, weed-strangled front porch that hasn’t changed in twenty years. Every dip in the floorboards, every peeling strip of paint is exactly as you remember it. Time seems to have ricocheted off this place.

Except not everything has stayed the same. You have your doctorate in theoretical physics now, the ink’s still fresh on the diploma. Your prospects look good. You’re going start teaching next month, your first steps on the path to tenure. You have a grant for a research project you’ve been waiting for years to start. The secrets of the universe are a locked door and you might have the key. That is, if the house doesn’t kill you first.

You’re lingering on the doorstep, not quite ready to commit. There’s an early morning hush to the neighborhood, but it’s already ungodly humid and warm. The backs of your calves stick to your leg braces, your backpack is heavy on your shoulders, and your walking cane is slick from your sweaty palm, though you’re not sure if that’s because of the heat or because being back on this porch is doing terrible things to your heart rate. Even the dragonflies are smart enough to linger at the property line.

This is a terrible idea. Your hand is clenched around the doorknob and you’re listing all the valid reasons you should walk away.

And yet. (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…)

Artemis Rising 5

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Escape Pod 672: She Knits the Universe a Pink Angora Sweater (Artemis Rising)


She Knits the Universe a Pink Angora Sweater

by Bo Balder

Aulis shuts out the frenetic buzz of the arena where she’s competing for an Oikotekt placement in the space navy. Only an Oikotekt, a person of powerful imagination, can hold onto a picture of the universe as it is supposed to be against the reality-altering presence of the Katabiotic aliens.

The Katabiotics’ erratic trajectory leaves a trail of despoiled reality, where physical laws no longer work, suns gutter and whole ecologies have never existed. So far they have cost humanity only the planet New Hope and its inhabitants, but the Katabiotics could potentially destroy the entire human sphere in the galaxy. Ordinary weaponry doesn’t work against them. There is nowhere to flee to. The economy is collapsing and people everywhere congregate in fear, pray, drink, make desperate love or kill themselves, whatever their nature tells them to.

The navy needs the Oikotekts, or Cobblers as they call themselves, to repair the world when the aliens come.

(Continue Reading…)

Artemis Rising 5

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Escape Pod 671: Octonet (Artemis Rising)

Show Notes

Keyan Bowes would like to thank  Dr. Jennifer Mather, author of “Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate” for being kind enough to read and comment on this story. She recommends Dr. Mather’s book, Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate, which was an important source document for “Octonet.”

Other links for this episode:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/inside-the-grand-and-sometimes-slimy-plan-to-turn-octopuses-into-lab-animals/2019/03/01/c6ce3fe0-3930-11e9-b786-d6abcbcd212a_story.html

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/timpratt/miracles-and-marvels-stories


Octonet

By Keyan Bowes

Sometimes at night when my mind is calm, I think I hear the octopuses. Around the world, the great network of molluscan philosophers.


I had many reasons for moving to the Pacific Northwest –  weather, closeness to potential clients and my big brother Rav, distance from a very ex ex. Slimy cephalopods definitely didn’t make the list.

But then Rav needed someone to fix their new IT system. And that’s how I met the octopuses.

(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…)

Artemis Rising 5


Escape Pod is proud to present the fifth annual Artemis Rising event through the month of March, 2019! We have four stories this year, guest-edited by our Associate Editors, Laura Pearlman and S. Kay Nash.

You can find the full list of all the Artemis Rising stories across all four podcasts here as they become available: http://escapeartists.net/news/artemis-rising/

This year’s artwork is by Yuumei, an illustrator, comic artists and designer. Her work includes Knite and Fisheye Placebo, the webcome comic Axent Wear Cat Ear Headphones and various other pieces exploring environmentalism, fantasy and nature.

You can read her comics for free at YuumeiArt.com, follow her on Twitter and Instagram, or support her on Patreon.

Special thanks also to Matt Dovey for his illustration and design work for this year’s event.