Congratulations to the winners of Escape Pod’s Flash Fiction Contest, as chosen by our community forum members! Their stories will appear in Episode 641.
Congratulations to the winners of Escape Pod’s Flash Fiction Contest, as chosen by our community forum members! Their stories will appear in Episode 641.
In this, the 25th anniversary of the founding of the lunar colony, First World (colloquially called Blacktopia by its residents), The Indianapolis Recorder, the nation’s oldest-surviving African-American newspaper, continues its series re-visiting key events. Their reporter interviewed (and re-interviewed) many of the principals in order to piece together a picture of the terrorist threat that nearly ended it and the heroic actions of Science Police Officer, Astra Black.
Jiminy Crootz (aka J-Croo, Science Police, Senior Investigator. Retired.)
When the alarms sounded for the converter station, I had no doubt she would beat me there. The gate surrounding the solar panel farm had been slit open, like someone wanted to perform a Caesarean but only had a rusted pair of clippers at their disposal. The backdoor of the converter station had been battered in. The air, heavy and re-breathed, like the filters weren’t working at full efficiency. Panels ripped open, wires everywhere. Nanobots probably skittered across the room like roaches in my aunty’s old kitchen. The farm was strictly a backup source of power for the lunar colony, so it wasn’t as heavily guarded as say the nuclear fission power station or the magnetic generators. But there was still a man down and Astra Black stood over his body.
Dr. Hensley Morgan (aka Dreamer, ranking Science Council member)
Astra had an elegance about her, like the waltz of a First Lady. When she walked, she stepped with purpose. Long strides, though only the balls of her feet ever seemed to touch the ground. At first glance, nothing about her stuck out as exceptional. Average height and build. Hair drawn back in Afro puffs. But she had this way about her.
Escape Pod is looking for a holiday-themed story to run at the end of the year. We are accepting reprints and originals for this limited submissions call, which will run from Oct 1 – Oct 15, 2018.
Stories should follow our general guidelines for subject matter and word count. They should also incorporate a holiday that could take place in November or December by an Earth-based Gregorian calendar.
If you have a story in our general submissions that you would like considered for the special call, let us know by email to email@example.com, otherwise, please use the Submittable portal below for our Holiday Special.
“Thank you very much,” you say, concluding the oral portion of the exam. You gather your things and exit back into the brightly lit hallway. Photos line the walls: the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu. The sun shines on each destination, the images brimming with wonder. You pause before the Golden Gate Bridge.
“右拐就到了，” the attendant says. You look up. His blond hair is as standardized as his Mandarin, as impeccable as his crisp shirt and tie. You’ve just proven your aptitude in English, but hearing Mandarin still puts you at ease in the way only a mother tongue does. You smile at the attendant, murmuring a brief thanks as you make your way down the hall.
You turn right and enter a consultation room. The room is small but welcoming, potted plants adding a dash of green to the otherwise plain creams and browns of the furniture and walls. A literature rack stands to one side, brochures in all kinds of languages tucked into its pockets, creating a mosaic of sights and symbols. The section just on English boasts multiple flags, names of different varieties overlaid on the designs: U.S. English – Standard. U.K. English – Received Pronunciation. Singaporean English – Standard. Nigerian English – Standard… Emblazoned on every brochure is the logo of the Linguistic Grading Society of America, a round seal with a side-view of a head showing the vocal tract.
You pick up a Standard U.S. English brochure and take a seat in one of the middle chairs opposite the mahogany desk that sits before the window. The brochure provides a brief overview of the grading system; your eyes linger on the A-grade description: Speaker engages on a wide variety of topics with ease. (Phonology?) is standard; speaker has a broad vocabulary… You take a quick peek at the dictionary on your phone. Phonology-linguistic sound systems. You file the word away to remember later.
The door opens. A woman wearing a blazer and pencil skirt walks in, her heels clacking against the hardwood floor, her curled hair bouncing with every step. You stand to greet her and catch a breath of her perfume.
“Diana Moss,” she says, shaking your hand. Her name tag also displays her job title: Language Broker. (Continue Reading…)
This story references a concept called “mirror neurons,” that’s subject to some controversy in the scientific community. Escape Pod’s current Assistant Editor happens to be a neuroscientist who shared some thoughts on the topic: http://benjaminckinney.com/mirror-neurons/
When the guy with the horns came in, I knew it wouldn’t be a good shift.
He scowled when the ZapStop’s doors refused to slide open for him. Ignoring the late-hours doorbell, he pounded one meaty fist on the shatterproof polycarbonate. The young woman beside him, hands tucked into the pouch of her hoodie, shifted uncomfortably.
I considered leaving them standing in the parking lot, but much as I’d like to have the ten p.m.-to-six a.m. shifts uninterrupted by customers, they were kind of the point. I hit the door release and let them in.
Under the bright store LEDs, I could see the forehead ornaments were new. Big, curling ram’s horns, straight out of a Rocky Mountain wildlife doc, joined across his forehead to give him a perpetual frown. Faint pink lines traced the graft below his hairline and just above his eyebrows where the whole mess had been slapped into place.
Typical frat boy, in other words. At least horns were less awkward than last year’s fashion for antlers. We’d lost a few ceiling tiles to those.
“Help you with anything?” I said. (Continue Reading…)
You’re listening to the Mike Colavito Show on Cleveland’s home for straight talk, WCUY 1200. The opinions expressed on this program do not reflect those of WCUY, its management, or its sponsors.
Fair warning; I’m in a mood today, folks.
We’ve got a mayor whose only talent seems to be showing up at luncheons and waving at the cameras.
Eighty bucks I had to pay yesterday for not wearing my seatbelt. Show me the seatbelts on a school bus.
I saw a Cleveland athlete on national TV last night wearing a Yankees cap.
And every day I get at least a dozen calls from schmucks who think that people like me are the problem in this city.
Tell me America’s not falling apart. (Continue Reading…)
The fire crackles, and Sirella watches as Kai lies with his eyes closed, pretending to sleep. She knows he’s pretending because his breathing is too soft. She’s heard his almost snores since the second night, when they’d both finally relaxed enough to sleep. She heard them and registered the strange, soft noises—realized they came from him and not from someone or something trying to sneak up on them in the dark of night—before falling back to sleep.
“Kai?” The word is a whisper. She isn’t sure what she wants to say to him. Just that she should say something.
His breathing stutters, but he doesn’t open his eyes.
“I’m sorry.” She looks away from him. She is sorry. But she doesn’t know who the people he lost were. She doesn’t know if they were innocents or not. She doesn’t know why they died, only that someone from her side killed them. She wishes he hadn’t lost people he loved. But he would have died if her shot hadn’t flown so damned wide. And then what? Would some other Vermayan have sat with some other person from one of the nations that make up the Revirian Confederation, and drawn out in strangely colored sand how Vrenden Kai was killed?
Vrenden Kai would have killed her if his shot hadn’t also gone wide.
They’re in the middle of a war. Killing is part of that. She can’t feel bad about it.
She mustn’t feel bad about it.
She feels bad about it. (Continue Reading…)
Lieutenant Sirella Nacleth breathes in green dust and tries not to cough. Her feet feel too heavy to move, but she forces herself to walk on, ignoring the heat that blasts down and around her, heat carried by winds that do nothing to cool the air from the sun above. This planet is a harrowing furnace, and she is bound here for the rest of her life—or until her people find her.
Or until her enemy’s people do. She glances back and sees that the Vermayan has finished filling in the deep grave he put his crewmates’ bodies in. She’s assuming the Vermayan is a he. It’s hard to tell from where she stands, and she doesn’t intend to get very close if she can help it.
If their ships hadn’t crashed almost on top of each other, she might not have seen him for days, if at all. But their ships did land nearly twisted together, and the bodies of the crews are strewn all over. She has to get closer to him than she likes just to retrieve her dead.
She’s the only one on her ship who survived the crash. Her left arm is broken, and her right ankle wrenched. Her back feels strained and her head hurts. But she’s alive. She’s alive and burying her dead, shoveling one handed and pulling her crewmates behind her as she limps from body to hole, body to hole.
The Vermayan is way ahead of her. There are no rust-colored bodies strewn over the plain anymore, while so many of her own dead still lie waiting for her to reach them. The green sand blows over the bodies as the blazing wind lifts stinging grit and flings it at her, making her eyes hurt and her lips crack. She will help her friends; she will give them rest. But not soon. She’s only one person. And she’s tired. So tired.
The Vermayan has sat down. He’s watching her as she limps toward the next body, which is halfway between where she’s dug her hole and where he’s resting. Glancing at his rank, she sees he’s the Vermayan equivalent of lieutenant. He’s taken his weapon out of its holster and is playing with it—no, he’s checking it. She laughs bitterly. If it’s built as poorly as hers, it will be clogged with the fine green grit of this damned world. And since his ship didn’t perform any better than hers, why should his gun?
“It won’t work,” she says, unsure why she bothers. He won’t understand her and talking will only make the dryness in her throat worse.
He gets up, closes the weapon, and aims at the ground. The gun sort of clicks as he pulls the trigger, but it doesn’t fire.
“Nothing like fine Vermayan craftsmanship,” she says, laughing as he drops the weapon on the ground. Obviously, the Vermayans went with the lowest bidder, too. She’s sorry she laughed when her throat begins to itch. Soon she’s coughing, and she imagines her lungs are filling up with green dust.
He stares at her, and she stares back at him as soon as she gets the coughing under control, wondering if she should challenge him to a hand-to-hand duel. They are enemies: the Revirian Confederation is at war with the Vermayan Union. Surely they should fight? (Continue Reading…)
Heart of Ash, Heart of Steam is set in the same universe as Escape Pod 436: Into the Breach.
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…)
He’d never seen a burgundy before. Kim held it in her lap, tapped it with her finger. She was probably tapping it to bring attention to it, and Jeff didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of asking to see it, but he really wanted to see it. Burgundy (Kim had insisted on calling it burgundy red when she showed it at show and tell) was a rare one. Not as rare as a hot pink Flyer or a viridian Better Looking, but still rare.
A bus roared up, spitting black smoke. It was the seven bus–the Linden Court bus, not his. Kids rushed to line up in front of the big yellow doors as the bus hissed to a stop. A second-grader squealed, shoved a bigger kid with her Partridge Family lunch box because he’d stepped on her foot. All the younger kids seemed to have Partridge Family lunch boxes this year.
“What did you say it did when you’ve got all three pieces of the charm together?” Jeff asked Kim. He said it casually, like he was just making conversation until his bus came.
“It relaxes time,” Kim said. “When you’re bored you can make time pass quickly, and when you’re having fun you can make time stretch out.”
Jeff nodded, tried to look just interested enough to be polite, but no more. What must that be like, to make the hour at church fly by? Or make the school day (except for lunch and recess) pass in an eyeblink? Jeff wondered how fast or slow you could move things along. Could you make it seem like you were eating an ice cream sandwich for six hours? That would be sparkling fine.
“Want to see it?” Kim asked.
“Okay,” Jeff said, holding out his hands too eagerly before he remembered himself. Kim handed it to him, looking pleased with herself, the dimples on her round face getting a little deeper.
It was smooth as marble, perfectly round, big as a grapefruit and heavy as a bowling ball. It made Jeff’s heart hammer to hold it. The rich red, which hinted at purple while still being certainly red, was so beautiful it seemed impossible, so vivid it made his blue shirt seem like a Polaroid photo left in the sun too long. (Continue Reading…)