Tag: "mur lafferty"

EP581: That Game We Played During the War

AUTHOR: Carrie Vaughn

NARRATOR: Amy H. Sturgis

HOST: Mur Lafferty

about the author…

Carrie Vaughn is best known for her New York Times bestselling series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty who hosts a talk radio show for the supernaturally disadvantaged. Her latest novels include a near-Earth space opera, Martians Abroad, from Tor Books, and a post-apocalyptic murder mystery, Bannerless, from John Joseph Adams Books. She’s written several other contemporary fantasy and young adult novels, as well as upwards of 80 short stories. She’s a contributor to the Wild Cards series of shared world superhero books edited by George R. R. Martin and a graduate of the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop. An Air Force brat, she survived her nomadic childhood and managed to put down roots in Boulder, Colorado.

 

 

about the narrator…ahsshotfour2

Amy H. Sturgis holds a Ph.D. in Intellectual History from Vanderbilt University and specializes in both Science Fiction and Indigenous American Studies. She is regular staff with the StarShipSofa podcast, editor in chief of Hocus Pocus Comics, and faculty at Lenoir-Rhyne University. She lives with her husband in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina.


That Game We Played During the War

By Carrie Vaughn

From the moment she left the train station, absolutely everybody stopped to look at Calla. They watched her walk across the plaza and up the steps of the Northward Military Hospital. In her dull gray uniform she was like a storm cloud moving among the khaki of the Gaantish soldiers and officials. The peace between their peoples was holding; seeing her should not have been such a shock. And yet, she might very well have been the first citizen of Enith to walk across this plaza without being a prisoner.

Calla wasn’t telepathic, but she could guess what every one of these Gaantish was thinking: What was she doing here? Well, since they were telepathic, they’d know the answer to that. They’d wonder all the same, but they’d know. It would be a comfort not to have to explain herself over and over again.

It was also something of a comfort not bothering to hide her fear. Technically, Enith and Gaant were no longer at war. That did not mean these people didn’t hate her for the uniform she wore. She didn’t think much of their uniforms either, and all the harm soldiers like these had done to her and those she loved. She couldn’t hide that, and so let the emotions slide right through her and away. She felt strangely light, entering the hospital lobby, and her smile was wry.

Some said Enith and Gaant were two sides of the same coin; they would never see eye to eye andwould always fight over the same spit of land between their two continents. But their differences were simple, one might say: only in their minds.

EP578: Cherry Squid

AUTHOR: Celeste Hollister

NARRATOR: Amy H. Sturgis

HOST: Mur Lafferty

about the author…

Celeste Hollister is a novelist, a mom, a travel writer, and a teacher. She writes characters who struggle with racial identity and LGBT+ representation. She graduated from Texas State with a degree in writing, taught in the public school system for a decade, and lived in Korea for a year. She loves wine, cats, cookies, and fanfiction. She currently lives in San Marcos, Texas, with her lovely boyfriend and fabulous daughter.

 

about the narrator…
ahsshotfour2

Amy H. Sturgis holds a Ph.D. in Intellectual History from Vanderbilt University and specializes in both Science Fiction and Indigenous American Studies. She is regular staff with the StarShipSofa podcast, editor in chief of Hocus Pocus Comics, and faculty at Lenoir-Rhyne University. She lives with her husband in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina.
Cherry Squid

By Celeste Hollister

It was the cherry squid that did him in.

Outside his window, seventy stories up, the advertisement bloomed, melon yellow, racecar red. A shoal of squid rippled across the holo, a tangram pattern that morphed into a human face. Almost human, but with a Vrellan’s ruby eyes. Then a blush of shimmer-pink as the slogan scrolled onscreen: “Let’s All Share a Cherry Squid” in all caps like a scream.

Fresh cherry scent wafted on the air. Then the ad faded to black before replaying, an endless loop of fragrance and light.

“A stupid, looping nonsense,” Adam called it.

The Mobius-strip of cherry squid peeled out from its backlit blue. I said, “I think it’s pretty.”

“They try too hard to be like us,” Adam said.

I edged onto the oval of his windowsill and watched the sun plait silver into the spillways. I said, “They are like us. The scientists say we share a common ancestor. We just evolved differently.”

Adam crooked a three-pod stool against his vid-wall. He popped open a can of Dr Pepper, one from his dwindling cache of Earthly goods. He said, “You don’t believe that crap, do you? The whole Selkie Evolution thing?”

The Vrellan face floated into view, its mouth wide as it chased the squid across the screen.

“How can you not?” I asked. “His face is like ours. The eyes are the same shape. Even his teeth–”

“–One,” he said. “You don’t even know if he’s a He. And two. They don’t have bones, Barbara. It’s all cartilage. Like a cuttlefish.”

“So?” I said.

“Really?” he deadpanned. “That’s your grand rebuttal? So?”

I said, “I still think they’re pretty.”

Adam sipped from his soda can. He said, “You think everything is pretty. Besides, you’re near the uptake land, tree-lined parks and all the quiet you can stand.”

“Yep,” I said. “My neighborhood wins, and you know the reason why.”

Adam’s nose twitched. “’Cause of Mercy,” he said.

“They put families in the Sheon-ho,” I said. “You could’ve joined us. Mercy and me get the hive dome. You get the pod-apartment.”

“For now,” Adam said. “We’ve been through this. Once they sort your daughter’s visa and she finally gets here, she’s gonna have to acclimatize to a whole new culture. Us all living together — major complications.”

“Mercy’s 17,” I reminded him. “After moving to another planet, the living together thing is not that big a deal.”

The ad splashed us yellow-white. Adam ground out a sigh.

I said, “I did not ride all this way to hear you bitch about your view again.”

Adam crushed his empty soda can. “Yeah,” he said. “Whatever.”

EP576: Karma Among the Cloud Kings

AUTHOR: Brian Trent

NARRATOR: Ellora Sen-Gupta

HOST: Mur Lafferty

about the author…
Brian Trent’s speculative fiction appears in Escape Pod, Pseudopod, ANALOG, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Great Jones Street, Daily Science Fiction, Apex (winning the Story of the Year Reader’s Poll), COSMOS, Galaxy’s Edge, Nature, and numerous year’s best anthologies. The author of the historical fantasy series RAHOTEP, he is also a 2015 Baen Fantasy Adventure Award finalist and Writers of the Future winner. Trent lives in New England, where he works as a novelist, screenwriter, and poet.

 

 

about the narrator…

Ellora Sen-Gupta is a (currently Boston-based) biomedical engineer who often disguises herself as a voice over narrator and photographer among other roles. She has a great love of animals, miniatures, miniature animals, books and comics, exploring, tv cartoons, etc. Ellora is happiest when she is traveling the world with her family or friends but can also be delighted to sit home with her pets and some arts and crafts and/or Netflix.

Karma Among the Cloud Kings

By Brian Trent

I.

Fifty thousand feet above Tempest’s highest clouds, Antarag Vel-heth invites me to sit beside him in the lobby of Lindorm Refueling Station. It’s a desolate, littered expanse of tables, party-streamers, and plastic people with unceasingly flapping jaws.

What… what are they doing?” I whisper, sweating despite the room’s merciless air conditioner.

Eating,” Antarag winks. “Talking.” His pitted skin stretches like a weather-beaten tarp across a knobby skeleton and skull of aquiline protrusions.

The plastic people have no food that I can see. One of them leaps up from its chair, arms raised in silent declaration while the others applaud with rubbery hands. Discolored mouths swing open and shut on cheap hinges.

Antarag grins at me with pained, frank interest—I wonder when the last time he’s had a real, flesh-and-blood female visitor up here with him. He knows I’m from Bellcap 51. He knows we’re all Jains there, with our shaved heads, monastic robes, and vows of celibacy. Still, my eyes dart nervously to his holstered pistol.

EP569: Safe Harbour (Artemis Rising 3)

Artemis Rising returns to Escape Pod for its third year! This month-long event highlights science fiction by women and non-binary authors. We have five original stories this year that range in topics from biotech to far-flung A.I, virtual reality, and nanotech.

AUTHOR: Kristene Perron

NARRATOR: Divya Breed

HOST: Mur Lafferty

ARTIST: Ashley Mackenzie

about the author…

Kristene is a former professional stunt performer for film and television (as Kristene Kenward) and a self-described fishing goddess. Pathologically nomadic, she has lived in Japan, Costa Rica, the Cook Islands and a very tiny key in the Bahamas, just to name a few. Her stories have appeared in Canadian Storyteller Magazine, The Barbaric Yawp, Hemispheres Magazine, and Denizens of Darkness. In 2010 she won the Surrey International Writers’ Conference Storyteller Award. Kristene is a member of SF Canada. She currently resides in Nelson, BC, Canada but her suitcase is always packed.

about the narrator…

Divya is a lover of science, math, fiction, and the Oxford comma. She enjoys subverting expectations and breaking stereotypes whenever she can. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, including Lightspeed, Mothership Zeta, and Daily Science Fiction, and her writing appears in the indie game Rogue Wizards. Her debut science-fiction novella, Runtime, was released by Tor.com Publications in May, 2016. You can find out more at www.eff-words.com or on Twitter @divyastweets.

about the artist…Ashley Mackenzie

Ashley Mackenzie is an artist and illustrator based in Edmonton, Alberta. She was born in Victoria, BC and grew up between Vancouver, BC and Edmonton, AB. After studying online for a year through AAU in San Francisco, Calif., she moved to Toronto to pursue a degree in Illustration at OCADU. Though she loves the challenge of creating complex conceptual illustrations and finding new ways to navigate ideas, visually she also enjoys making concept art and decorative illustration. When not drawing, she can be found reading, playing video games or thinking about her next project.

 

Safe Harbour

By Kristene Perron

It begins with breath.

In. Wrap my hand around the handle at the bow of the kayak. Out. Drag the boat across the rocks. In and out, in time with the low moan of the fog horn in the distance. I welcome the grey of dawn though my muscles ache from the damp and cold.

Ten years since I set foot on the shores of Barclay Sound, since I smelled the salty sweet decay of the open Pacific. The blood pulses in my veins and no matter how hard I fight it a single word rises from the depths like a corpse: home.

EP519: Artemis Rising – In Their Image

by Abra Staffin-Wiebe
narrated by Diane Severson
with guest host Mur Lafferty

Welcome to the 2nd Annual Artemis Rising

a celebration of women and non-binary authors
author Abra Staffin-Wiebe

author Abra Staffin-Wiebe

about the author…

I grew up in Africa, India…and Kansas. Then I married a mad scientist and moved to Minneapolis, where I fold time and space to be a full-time fiction writer, part-time freelance photographer, part-time work-from-home employee, and full-time mother. My next project is learning to fold time and space to make this all physically possible! I blog intermittently at http://cloudscudding.livejournal.com, and I can probably be found on whichever social media platform you prefer:
Facebook | Twitter | G+ | Livejournal | Goodreads.

I’ve had short stories accepted by publications including Jim Baen’s Universe and Tor.com. I specialize in dark science fiction, cheerful horror, and modern fairy tales. See all my available stories.

My latest project is an online post-apocalyptic steampunk serial story about a circus traveling through the collapse of civilization, which can be found at http://www.circusofbrassandbone.com.

I also manage Aswiebe’s Market List, a downloadable, sortable list of paying science fiction, fantasy, and horror markets.

narrator Diane Severson

narrator Diane Severson

about the narrator…

Diane Severson is a lyric soprano specializing in Early Music, especially Baroque and medieval music. She is also a teacher of singing (taking her cues from her mentor the late Cornelius Reid and Carol Baggott-Forte – Functional Voice Training). She is the mother of a young multi-linguist and married to her very own Rocket Scientist.

She has narrated for the StarShipSofa Podcast Magazine (StarShipSofa.com, part of the District of Wonders Network) since Tony C. Smith started running fiction and found out that she reads aloud to her husband. She has one 40 or so narrations of fiction, who knows how much poetry. As a result of her affinity to poetry, and because she does her best work when she has a Cause (a budding superheroine?), she decided to become Science Fiction Poetry’s Spokesperson. She produces the sporadic podcast, which runs as part of StarShipSofa, called Poetry Planet (http://www.starshipsofa.com/blog/category/podcast/fact-articles/poetry-planet/) and is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (sfpoetry.com) and is now their membership chairperson. She is a staff blogger for Amazing Stories Magazine (amazingstoriesmag.com) focusing on Science Fiction Poetry. She continues to narrate stories for StarShipSofa and other podcasts (notably PodCastle and Tales to Terrify) and has begun getting paying jobs as a voice actor.

The best place to find her is on the web because she tends to pick up and move to another country at the drop of a hat. She and her family recently moved back to Hannover, Germany after 3 years in Paris.

 

In Their Image
by Abra Staffin-Wiebe

When I stepped off the shuttle and breathed in the dry grass scent of Trade City, I was still confident I could launch the first human church on Landry’s World. My fellow passengers had been politely non-interested when I explained the mission my church had sent me on. A few had shaken their heads as they glided away. I thought maybe they objected to a female preacher. Or maybe it was because I’m an ex-marine. I’m an “ex-” a lot of things: ex-marine, ex-atheist, ex-drunk, ex-wife, and ex-mother–that last because I was a poor enough mother that when my kids grew up, they washed their hands of me.

The heavier gravity made my normal stride more of a shuffle, but my spirits were high as I walked to meet the young woman waiting for me. After all, I was here at the request of Amber Sands Mining, the major human employer on the planet. The indigenous government had approved; they even volunteered the labor to build my church. My denomination’s elders were delighted to have finally found a mission suitable for an ex-marine with other-world experience.

My guide held a sign saying, “Preacher.” She bestowed a chipper smile on me when I approached. “Welcome to Landry’s World! I’ll take you directly to the church so that you can get started.”

As I fell into step beside her, I said, “It seems odd that a planet with indigenous life is named after the captain who discovered it. Discovered isn’t quite the right term, either, is it?”

“Landry’s purpose in life was to find and name this world, and the Teddies honor that.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Teddies?”

“Oh, dear. I hope you didn’t memorize their long-form name! You don’t need to worry about that. We need to say that in the welcome packet.”

I remembered the images that had come with my briefing. The locals of Landry’s World were seven feet tall, ursine, and covered in bright pink fur. “Wait. You’re telling me that this place is populated by pink teddy bears?” I asked incredulously.

She grinned. “Yup. Here’s the road. Watch your step. I thought we could walk instead of taking the transit tube.”

The golden sand between the borders of the road appeared identical to the sand that stretched into the distance on either side. “What’s the difference?”

“Everything in its place.”

“And what’s your place? When you’re not shepherding green recruits, I mean?”

“This is my place.”

“Of course, but this can’t take up all your time. I meant, what else do you do? What are your plans for the future?”

“This is what I do,” she answered stiffly.

A few failed attempts at conversation later, I let silence fall between us until she stopped in front of a crystalline three-story castle. Sunlight danced across jutting, sharp-edged planes of glass. A Teddy the color of raspberry sherbet rose from the shadow of the building. I’d been so dazzled that I hadn’t even noticed him.

EP502: Gorlack the Destroyer’s All You Can Eat Adventure

by Robert Lowell Russell
read by Ethan Jones

author Robert Lowell Russel

author Robert Lowell Russell

about the author…

Robert Lowell Russell* is a writer and trophy husband (obviously). He is a SFWA member and a member of the Writeshop and Codex writers’ groups. He is a former librarian, a former history grad student, a former semi-professional poker player, and is now pursuing nursing degree (say “ah!”).

Rob has also just noticed how outdated and lame his website has become and will be modifying it in the near future here: robertlowellrussell.com

His stories have appeared (or will appear) in Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show, Penumbra, Digital Science Fiction, Daily Science Fiction (thrice!), Stupefying Stories (fice? what’s the word for five?), and a whole bunch of other places (see complete list on the right side).

*RLR finds it a bit silly to write about himself in the 3rd person.

about the narrator…

My name is Ethan Jones, I live in Melbourne, Australia. I have a passion for audio drama, and this passion led me to create my own. All on my lonesome, I have created ‘Caught Up’, an audio drama about three men who are unwillingly thrust into a world of crime after a shocking encounter with a hardened criminal. You can find this podcast on iTunes by searching my name or ‘Caught Up’, or find more info and subscribe via RSS on the website: http://caughtuppodcast.tk

 

Gorlack the Destroyer’s All You Can Eat Adventure
by Robert Lowell Russell

Seven hundred battered cases of “Unleash Your Inner Awesome!” mega-nutri-bars dotted the purple grass for kilometers in every direction. Pelle the Silicate rested his rocky body on one of the battered metal crates and sighed.
Noxious smoke from the wrecked “Do-It-Yourself and Save!” cargo lander wrinkled Pelle’s nose. He wondered if the “environmentally friendly materials” the lander was constructed from were in fact sarki beetle shells and dung.
Pelle had bet the Silicate colonists on this distant world would trade their exotic spices and rare materials for a little taste of home. Now, those little tastes were baking in their crates under an alien sun, a thousand kilometers from the nearest settlement.
“I’m ruined,” he muttered.

#

Gorlack the Destroyer fixed his gaze on the rough-skinned alien sitting on the metal box.
“Bah! Zarg, my friend, it is only another of the stone creatures.”
Zarg shook his head. “These are trying times.”
The troop of warriors and women gathered behind Gorlack murmured its discontent.
“A number three fusion blade will pierce the creature’s hide,” said Zarg, “but leave its soft, inner flesh intact. They taste like kana.”
Gorlack spat on the grass. “Everything tastes like kana. I long for a proper meal.” He turned to Zarg and rested a furred paw on the other’s shoulder. “The number three blade it will
be, but first, honor demands I offer the creature challenge.”
“The coward will refuse.”
Gorlack nodded. “Undoubtedly.” He strode boldly through the grass, approaching the alien. The murmurs turned to silence.
Gorlack addressed the alien telepathically. “I am Gorlack the Destroyer. You are my prey.” He waddled forward, flaring his hips. “Observe the size of my genitals. My many children will feast on your flesh.”
He opened his eyes wide and wiggled his rounded, furry ears. “If you flee, I will find you. If you hide, I will hear you.”
He flexed his fingers. “The Goddess did not give my people pointed claws, yet I will rend your flesh.” Gorlack opened his mouth, showing smooth, rounded teeth. “The Goddess did not give my people sharp teeth, yet I will consume you.”
Gorlack held his arms wide. “Look upon your doom and despair!” Then he filled his lungs, and he screamed aloud the ancient war cry. “Hagmay!”

EP498: Everyone Will Want One

by Kelly Sandoval
read by Erin Bardua

author Kelly Sandoval

author Kelly Sandoval

about the author…

I live, work, and write in Seattle, Washington. Gray sky days, abundant restaurant choices, and distant mountains are my idea of paradise.

In 2013 I abandoned my cat, tortoise, and boyfriend to spend six weeks studying writing at Clarion West. The experience taught me to commit myself and do the work, which is a lot less fun than just thinking about writing. It also introduced me to some of the best friends I’ve ever had. If you’re a writer considering whether you should apply, I’m happy to share my take on things. It’s not for everyone. But if it’s right for you, it’s worth it.

My tastes run to modern fantasy with a lyrical edge, though I’ve been writing science fiction, lately. If you’re looking for funny stories with happy endings, I fear you’ve come to the wrong place. I can’t seem to write anything without a dash of heartbreak.

narrator Erin Bardua

narrator Erin Bardua

about the narrator…

Erin Bardua is a Canadian singer and performer. She lives in near-rural Canada, where she assembles a living from singing and teaching others to sing. She always has about a dozen projects on the go; some of the more interesting ones have included acting and singing in a serialized film-noir murder mystery, and a collaborative clown opera. Erin is the artistic director of Essential Opera (www.essentialopera.com) which operates in Atlantic Canada and Ontario (so far), and recently rediscovered her writing habit, which she indulges in whenever the house is quiet enough.

 

Everyone Will Want One
by Kelly Sandoval

On Nancy’s thirteenth birthday, her father takes her to the restaurant he likes, the one with the wood paneling, the oversized chandeliers, and the menus in French. Around them, people talk in low voices but Nancy and her father eat their soup in silence. After the waiter takes the bowls away, her father sets a wrapped box the size of a toaster on the table.

She doesn’t open it, just smoothes down the ribbon and rearranges her silverware. The unsmiling waiter is watching her; she can feel it. She can feel that he doesn’t want her in his restaurant, opening her birthday present. It isn’t a birthday present sort of place, isn’t even a thirteen-year-old in her best dress kind of place. She tries to be very small in her chair.

“Go ahead,” demands her father. “Open it.”

He’s frowning and his frown is much closer than the waiter’s. Nancy picks at the bow, undoing the knot as best she can with her fresh manicure. Checking to make sure the waiter’s not looking, she picks up her knife and slides it under the tape, easing it loose without tearing the shiny paper.
The box inside has the logo of her father’s company on it. Nancy’s tangles her fingers together, stalling. She wants, very much, for it to be a toaster.

“Hurry up,” says her father.

She wants to fold the paper into a crisp square or turn it into a giant origami swan. She wants to pretend that is the present, a sheet of white wrapping paper. Her father clears his throat and she cringes. The box isn’t taped and she tugs it open. Inside, there’s a layer of packing foam, which she picks through, not letting any spill on the table, until her fingers meet fur. The thing in the box is soft, cold, and the size of her two closed fists. She traces the shape of it, four feet, a tail, ears pointed alertly upward.

When, a minute later, she gets it free of the box and shakes the last of the packing foam from its fur, she sees it has the shape of a kitten. Its fur is black and silver, with patterns that look nothing like a real cat’s, all loops and whirling, dizzy spirals. It looks like a synth-pet. They’re popular at her school and her father’s company does make them. But Nancy has a kitten, a dog, and a tiny jeweled unicorn at home. He wouldn’t give her another.

“Thank you,” she says, setting it beside her bread plate. “What is it?”

EP493: Beyond the Trenches We Lie

by A. T. Greenblatt
read by Andrew Clarke

about the author…

Who am I? I’m A(liza) T. Greenblatt. An engineer and a writer. A collector of cookbooks and recipes. An adventurous/messy cook and baker. Movie watcher, button mashing gamer, traveler, and gym rat. I like to make things and solve problems. I like to build things and write things down.

And I like stories. Ever since I figured out how to read, I’ve been a passionate reader. Always had a book or two in my book bag in school. My must-read booklist is still bottomless.

Why don’t I use my full name as my byline? Because when I first Googled myself this Aliza Greenblatt came up. It’s okay though, she beat me to it fair and square.

I was an editorial assistant for a few years at Every Day Fiction and am a graduate of Viable Paradise XVI. I currently volunteer as an interviewer at Flash Fiction Chronicles, pestering EDF’s top author of the month with questions.

about the narrator…

Andrew Clarke is a London-based musician, writer and actor who has created work for the stage, film and radio in an ongoing quest to work out how to make any money at all. He is currently writing the second series of The Lost Cat Podcast – which details the adventures he has had while looking for his lost cat – featuring monsters, ghosts, Old Ones, several ends of the world, some cats and lots and lots of wine. The first series can be found here: http://thelostcat.libsyn.com/ He is also currently demo-ing his latest album. The previous album, called ‘Bedrooms & Basements’ can be found here: Bedrooms And Basements, by A.P. Clarke

 

Beyond the Trenches We Lie
By A. T. Greenblatt

This morning, the Globs are waiting for us, just like always. Despite what the official propaganda shows, we, this little band of ragged soldiers, don’t even bother to line up anymore. We just cram down our nutritional packets as fast as we can and climb out of our holes. Captain Beamon scowls at our lack of discipline, but he doesn’t push the point. Not when there’s a battle to be won.

Beyond the trenches, the meadow is flourishing from the war. The grass is dark and lush, though it’s been trampled by soldiers. You can hear the brook running about a hundred paces away, fat and happy, while the tall elm trees on its banks overlook the whole situation from a distance. Win or lose, they will still grow for a long time to come.

Every morning, I yank myself out of a trench, pull myself up with my cane, and make my way across the field. We never start the fight running, despite what the vids show. No need. The Globs will wait for us.

Hell, they are waiting for us. On the other side of the brook, they’ve gathered on the banks, their clear gelatinous bodies undulating. Their neon eyes watching, boring into me from across the meadow, seeing nothing. Seeing everything.

Every time, I shudder. And every time, hate myself for it. I hold the clod of dirt I pulled from the trench wall to my nose, inhale, and remember.

My lies are endless. Everyone on the front line needs a mantra. Everyone needs a prayer. Mine helps me remember it’s the Globs that should be afraid of me.

Still, in spite of it all, I enjoy my morning walk. In the first weeks of fighting, the mud repulsed me (you avoid squishy, smelly, wet things on the station -usually at all costs). But now I walk through the field barefoot, savoring the wet thwacking sound my soles make with each step, though I’m careful not to snag my feet -or cane – in the soft uneven ground. Unlike Reggie, I never relished my boots.

When we reach the banks, we halt, taking a moment to eye our enemy. Sizing each other up, as it were. And then, slowly, we begin the assault.

I pick my way carefully down the bank and ease my feet into the water -my time on Earth has taught me to mistrust slippery pebbles. A comrade, Mae, offers me an arm and together we cross the brook.

The Globs meet us on the bank, slick and shiny like river stones in the morning sun. It’s impossible to tell for sure, but I can swear there are more of them today.

Why are you here?

The question is wordless – they don’t have mouths. Instead, the words rumble deep within your stomach vibrating, humming until every cell in your body understands what they are asking and you would do anything – anything – to stop that damn question from rolling around inside you. Even if it means telling them the truth.

The trick ­­-the thing that all those “traditional” soldiers and diplomats couldn’t manage – is not to lose yourself in the question. Keep your feet on the ground. Squeeze the clod of dirt in your hand. Remember who you are.

And lie.

Mae turns and looks at me. “I don’t miss Reggie,” she says, “I’m not sorry he’s gone.”

The humming of the six closest Globs bleeds into high-pitched whistles. Their dying screams

Mae’s a good solider. I study the remaining healthy Globs surrounding us and see my face reflecting in their shiny skins.

“Me neither,” I say. And a dozen more start to die, their glassy, dissolving bodies turning our reflections into monstrosities.

Despite what the military tells you, there aren’t any strategies or battle plans here. No higher logic or particular order. It’s just me and my fellow “soldiers” holding the line with a pocketful of lies. It’s true; all the traditional methods of warfare have failed and the traditional fighters have died months ago. But I’m not your typical soldier. Me and my brother were master liars long before this war.

“It’s like we’re pretty much invincible,” Reggie told me once, as he wriggled his feet into his new boots, trying to work out the pinching stiffness.

But we’re not. The Globs ate my brother two weeks ago.

Mae gives me a small nod before moving on alone and I make my way to my usual spot, the elm with the perfect size nook for a soldier in its roots. Because in this war, your lies are your own.

There is a Glob by my tree. My spot.

Why are you here?

“It’s true, I don’t miss my brother.” I tell it. And the Glob melts, not as fast as before, but it yields me my spot all the same.

Don’t ask me why the same lie doesn’t work as well a second time. It’s a problem for most soldiers. But not for me. My lies are endless.

Tucking myself between the roots and propping up my cane beside me, I flex my stiff leg, and wait for my enemies to come. They always do.

Why are you here? Every Glob asks the same question, their demanding insistence rattling around inside, until you start to doubt your answer. Why. Are. You. Here.

It’s easiest when you have a story -a mesh to weave all your lies on. Today I tell the Globs all about my family. It’s big, with a mom and a dad and lots and lots of sisters. No brothers, of course. No twins.

All around my tree, my enemies fall. In this war, there is no blood or bodies on the battlefield. No weapons or scorched earth. Just puddles, puddles, puddles. And the occasional pair of shoes.

The swollen brook besides me runs joyfully on.

By the time noon has come and gone, I’m drenched in the remains of my enemies and the only thing I want in life is a hot shower and a walk. About fifty paces away, Mae is surrounded by Globs. Her lies don’t come as quickly, she has grown pale and rivulets of sweat trickle down her neck. She’s going to slip.

I dig my cane into the ground and haul myself up, my leg protesting the change, refusing to bend.

“How’s your sister, Mae?” I call as I move, cursing my slowness.

“Fine,” she replies, licking her dry lips, “She always tells the best stories.”

Only two Globs fall and ten more move in to take their place. They can sense her weakness.

Why are you here? Why are you here?

By the time I reach her, their question is so loud and insistent, that I want to stick my fingers in my ears and scream. This is why no one’s ever managed to come close to a Glob without dying. But we are the military’s elite fighters. Our lies define us.

Mae is biting her lips, trying not to give them a shred of truth to eat. There is no color left in her face.

So, I dig my heels into the mud and take a deep breath.

“I have this sister who loved nutritional packets. Like, would wrestle me for them. It was a good thing that she was a slower runner than I was because otherwise I would’ve had to start giving her a few bruises of her own. Was a skinny little runt too. Like living proof that those things weren’t as cracked up as they’re made out to be. But she’s a weird one. She’s interested in Earth and seriously, who cares about Earth anymore?”

I pause. All around us, the Globs are whistling their death songs. Mae stands there silent, shaking, drenched, the relief honest on her face.

“See, this isn’t so bad, now is it?” I give Mae a mad grin.

And another Glob dies.

#

I think the leaves of the elm trees have souls. I’ve been watching them for a while now; they rejoice in the sunlight and dance in the wind and thrive in the rain. They die.

The trees alone make this fight worthwhile. Even a space station brat like me can understand why everyone’s taking up arms to protect Earth.

This evening, after the battle and before the Globs begin to reappear, I walk to the elms by the brook. I stand under the golden leaves that were once green and in the pile of fallen ones, browning at the edges. There’s a beauty here that I can’t quite understand and also a sadness, which I know all too well. When the transformation had first begun, Reggie had stood here with me.

“Nim, what’s happening?” he whispered pointing at the yellowing leaves.

“They’re dying, I think.”

“Why? Do you think it’s the war?”

“Maybe.” But that didn’t make sense. Whatever Globs became when they died, it makes things grow. The meadow was sickly and dry when we first arrived on the battlefield – the grass and the weeds and the wild flowers. Now, everything thrives. Only the leaves wilt.

I’ve done some research since then, learned about the seasons (yes, this information is in the station archives-if you know where to look) and how things on the surface sleep when the cold comes. I wish I’d known earlier, of course. Reggie would’ve been relieved. But I’ve been here for four months and this Earth – it’s new to me.

Hell, when we were kids, me and Reggie use to paint pictures with our water on the older parts of the station, where the galvanized steel had worn away from time and traffic. We had to be patient with those portraits and come back every day to “touch up” our work. But eventually the rust would begin to bud, filling out the drawings we had so painstakingly made. The adults would scoff, but they never told us to stop. Besides ourselves, it was the closest thing we had to anything that could grow.

Well, except for our lies, of course. Those got bigger too. Even back then we knew that lies should be endless because your truths are as finite as you are.

We lied because we were the rare set of twins in a station full of single child families. We lied when my leg went gimp and I couldn’t outrun the bullies. We lied to cover for Reggie’s pranks. We lied to deceive and to entertain. We lied because we could.

We must have been memorable, because when they figured it out, the army came for us – the cripple and the hell raiser, the most unlikely of soldiers.

I turn my face up to the autumn tree and pick a leaf out of my hair. This is the type of tree I used to make up stories about as a kid. Except in my stories, the leaves were blue.

I hope we were memorable. Because when Reggie slipped and began to tell Globs almost-truths, they devoured him, piece by piece.

Memories are all I have left of him now.

#

Tonight, I eat my nutritional packet, as always, from within the tightly packed walls of my trench. The Globs are back, I can hear them humming in that same tuneless voice and I know if I look up over the rim, their neon eyes will be there to greet me.

I wonder where they’ve come from, the Globs. I figure they’re like cells, reproducing by splitting in half and making perfect clones of themselves. I can’t imagine them courting or having sex – not with those deadpan eyes and repetitive questions.

And to think that me and Reggie laughed at the Globs the first time we saw them.

To think, one more week and I will be leaving my cozy trench behind.

From a few holes over, Captain Beamon climbs over and joins me in mine.

“Congratulations on your promotion, soldier,” he says dropping down next to me, “Can’t say I’m envious, but those station kids need to know what they’re getting into.”

I nod my thanks, but we both know I’ll make a terrible instructor. It was a promotion of compassion.

“I’m sure I’ll be an excellent role model,” I say, without sarcasm, of course.

The Captain gives me sidelong look. “You know you still have leaves in your hair, right?”

“Yes,” I lie, rushing to find them and pull them out. In my hands, in the trench, they look like misplaced recruits.

Funny, it was Reggie who always wanted to live on the surface and I figured if all we had to do were tell a few lies, I would help him. I didn’t hate the crowded station, but without him, I didn’t have a reason to stay.

The Captain braces his tall boots against the wall and lovingly rubs away the dirt. “What are you fighting so hard for, Nim?” he asks, like it’s the type of question you ask offhand.

“For Earth, of course,” I say. Reggie – who never owned a pair in his life – had been so excited about those damn shoes too.

The Captain nods, though I know he doesn’t believe me. He’s smarter than that; he’s been here for months now, since the beginning of the war. Rumor says, he’s the one that figured out how to kill the enemy first.

“Goddamn Globs,” he says, looking up over the edge of the trench, “Won’t stay dead.”

And like an idiot, I look too.

There must be hundreds of them out there. The military’s calling this the alien invasion that mankind has feared since, well, forever. But us, the few living soldiers who have been fighting this war day in and out for weeks can see that they are turning this yellow, arid Earth green again.

“Why are we fighting them?” I ask quietly, keeping my eyes trained on the enemy.

“What are you going soft on me, now? They want to destroy this place!”

In the distance, the Globs’ whistles grow so loud it’s almost unbearable and we both dig our hands into the trench walls. I grind my teeth and wonder why the Globs are wasting their time with this place.

But I guess some questions you’re better off not knowing the answers to. Sometimes a quick fib is even easier than giving in and dying.

When the Globs have finally melted and we can speak again, the Captain leaves in silence, both of us too tired for anymore lies.

#

This morning the Globs haven’t made it to the banks of the brook yet, but there are hundreds waiting for us. Probably more.

Today, their question is why.

Why?

They echo it over and over. The question with no right answer, the question with millions of truths. Maybe the Globs aren’t as stupid as they look.

It rained in the middle of the night and the world smells clean and damp and earthy. The field beyond the brook is soaked and covered in leaves, but the grass is so green and vibrant, it seems almost a crime to bend its blades. I do anyway, of course, because fighting is harder when you have to worry about your feet (and your cane) getting tangled.

Today I tell the Globs about all the sports awards I’ve won over the years.

Why?

Hell, where do they come from? What do they want? Why are we, this little band of misfits, the only ones who can fight them? Stupid questions I know, but I wonder about them anyway as I plant my feet in the ground and lie.

Why?

I see Mae about fifty paces away and give her a small smile. I know she can see the sweat on my forehead and my fist clenched around my cane. She knows I can see her paling face. It starts to rain again as I move over to aid her, fibbing my way through the crowds of Globs. My lies are endless. She’s the one that needs the promotion, not me.

Why? Why? Why?

And there, out of the corner of my eye, I see them. There. Between the Globs. His boots, about twenty paces away with the bright laces and scuffed toes, lying in the mud as if he dropped them carelessly there moments ago.

“Reggie.”

An instant too late, I realize my mistake. But the Globs are quick when they want to be; they see the almost-truth for what it is. The one closest to me lunges forward and I topple back into the mud.

The Glob takes a long, greedy piece out of my leg.

Funny, it doesn’t hurt as badly as I always thought it would. But I scream all the same.

Their neon eyes are hungry, so hungry, their questions are more demanding, frantically insistent now. And once you start telling the truth, it’s hard to stop.

I scramble back, pulling up a chunk of earth and throw it at the nearest Glob, but it doesn’t even make a dent. I see Mae moving, rushing toward me, killing Globs as fast as she can. But she still is too far away. So the next handful of dirt I hold on to. And I remember my lies.

“I always wanted to be an only child. Couldn’t stand that I had to share everything with Reggie. I’d rather have been like all the other kids, single and alone. I was tired of always getting into trouble, I liked the rules and stuff. Hell, I didn’t want to follow Reggie down to this place. Because…because I hated my brother.”

I’m shouting, almost shrieking. And the Globs -all of them within a thirty pace radius -begin to melt. For entire minutes, the battlefield is filled with the sound of their screaming whistles. I try to crawl away, but my bad leg has finally forsaken me. This is one wound it does not tolerate.

So I wait until the Globs are nothing more than harmless puddles.

“How did you do that?” Mae asks as she pulls me up and puts an arm around me.

I shrug, and try not to look at my bloody leg. “My lies are endless,” I tell her.

And then, mercifully, everything becomes silent and black.

#

This is my last evening on Earth. Like hell I’m going to spend it in the medics’ tent. Not when I have the elms and the meadow. What, you think a lame leg is going to stop me? Never has before. It’ll take more than a crutch to keep me from sneaking out.

The elms welcome me by showering drops of water as their branches sway in the wind. That smell – which I now know is the distinct smell of wet leaves – is extraordinary, a summary of life and death in a single sensation. And I know that in all my life I will never experience anything as beautiful as these fallen leaves.

My leg is comfortably numb and I want to sit between the roots one last time, though I doubt I’ll be able to get up again if I try. So I stand under the elms for a long time.

“Does it hurt?”

I turn to find Mae standing behind me, her hands jammed into her pockets.

I look down at my senseless limb. “Stings like hell.” I say.

“I..I wanted to thank you for saving my life the other day. If you hadn’t been there…”

I nod. “My pleasure,” I say. Before I realize that this is, in fact, the truth.

The words sound funny – out of place – like not recognizing a familiar voice. Mae must have realized it too because her eyes widen in surprise.

“Well, now that I’ve lost my edge,” I say, “You’ll have to raise a bit of hell yourself out here.” I smile. I can see why the truth’s hard to stop. I’ve missed the sound of it.

Mae nods. “I’ve been wanting to ask you for a while,” she says softly, “What was it like, having a brother?”

I frown, my hand clenching my crutch, my smiling slipping away. It’s not that I don’t appreciate her effort, but in a society made up of one-child families, no understands the loss of a sibling.

“Like having a partner in crime,” I say.

But that is an almost-truth. Rather, it was like having a bit of yourself kept safe within another person. And because I lied and didn’t lie enough, I’ve lost that piece.

You see, I’m the one who loved Earth, who studied it late at night. I’m the one who convinced Reggie to agree to the recruitment. I dragged him down here; Reggie knew how to handle the bullies and tell a quick story, but it was me who had the endless lies.

It’s my fault Reggie is dead.

“You’re not going to do anything reckless, are you?” Mae asks, twisting her hands in front of her.

I shrug. Suddenly, all my lies taste bitter.

So instead, I link my free arm around hers and together, we stare up past the trees into the night sky, our eyes focused on what we can’t reach. If Mae notices my tears, she never mentions it.

#

This morning is my last morning on Earth. Alone, I cross the brook for one final time. The crutch digs into my armpit and the world is still cold and dim in the early dawn light.

Their eyes are watching me, waiting as always. They are patient as I limp across the stream and I take my time. They greet me with their questions.

Who are you?

But today I have no lies. No stories. No fight. Today I have just come to reclaim my brother’s boots, the ones he had so loved. The boots with “NIM” scrawled on the inside. The ones I gave him when his own got destroyed by Globs. It’s was my fault, you see, I had slipped up and he had to fight them off using his shoes as shields. Our boots are the only solid piece left of him.

So I shuffle forward through the crowd of Globs that don’t attack me or even blink. They just ask.

Who are you?

The boots are exactly where I left them yesterday. Before I fainted and Mae dragged me away. Stupid, I should have held onto them tighter. I should have taken better care of Reggie.

I pick them up, clutch them to my chest and turn, cringing slightly as my bad foot sinks into the wet ground.

There is a wall of Globs blocking my retreat, their question drowning out everything but the feeling of dirt between my toes and the boots against my chest.

Who are you?

I look at the boots and at my scraggy signature. Hell, even this is a lie. Nim was just a nickname Reggie gave me. Short for Nimble. Our joke, you see.

Who. Are. You?

I look at the Globs and at my reflection in their shiny bodies, barely visible in at dawn, and I no longer recognize what I see.

“Who are you?” I ask. My reflection asks.

The Globs hesitate and the humming stops. And for a moment, there’s nothing but silence. Silence. The question to which there are too many truths and too many lies.

Then, the Globs begin to hum again, inching closer, and the war resumes.

A lie springs to my lips and it tastes foul. I don’t want to say it though I don’t want to die. So, I squeeze the boots closer and shut my eyes. But I can still see them, in the distance, the tall, defiant elm trees, who win or lose, will grow and look forever on.

EP489: Uncanny

by James Patrick Kelly
read by Dani Cutler

author James Partick Kelly

author James Partick Kelly

about the author…

James Patrick Kelly is an American science fiction writer born April 11, 1951, in Mineola, New York. He began selling science fiction professionally in the mid-1970s, and has subsequently become one of the field’s leading writers of short fiction.

He has won the Hugo Award twice, for his 1995 novelette “Think Like A Dinosaur” and for his 1999 novelette “Ten to the Sixteenth to One.” His 2005 novella “Burn” won the Nebula Award. His novels include Freedom Beach (1986, with John Kessel), Look Into the Sun (1989), and Wildlife (1994). Also with John Kessel, he co-edited the anthologies Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology (2006), Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology (2007), and The Secret History of Science Fiction (2009).

A prolific teacher, Kelly has taught at most of the major science-fiction writing workshops, including Clarion, Clarion West, Viable Paradise, and Odyssey. Since 1998, he has served on the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts; he chaired the council in 2004. He is the Vice Chair of the Clarion Foundation, which oversees the Clarion Science Fiction Workshop; he has served on the Board of Directors of the New England Foundation for the Arts; and he is currently on the faculty of the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine. He also writes a column about SF on the internet for Asimov’s SF.

 

narrator Dani Cutler

narrator Dani Cutler

about the narrator…

Dani Cutler last narrated for EP in 454: Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One. She has been part of the podcasting community since 2006, hosting and producing her own podcast through 2013. She currently works for KWSS independent radio in Phoenix as their midday announcer, and also organizes a technology conference each year for Phoenix residents to connect with others in the podcast, video, and online community.

 

Uncanny
by James Patrick Kelly

A month after I broke up with Jonathan, or Mr. Wrong, as my mother liked to call him, she announced that she’d bought me a machine to love. She found it on eBay, paid the Buy It Now price and had it shipped to me the next day. I’m not sure where she got the idea that I needed a machine or how she picked it out or what she thought it would do for me. My mother never asked advice or permission. I dreaded finding the heavy, flat box that UPS left propped against my front door.

I called her. “It’s here. So what does it do?”

“Whatever you want.”

“I don’t want anything.”

“You always say that, but it’s never true. We all want something.” I hated it when she was being patient with me. “Just give it a chance, honey. They’re more complicated than men,” she said, “but cleaner.”

I muscled it into the foyer. I retrieved the box cutter from Jonathan’s neurotically tidy toolbox and sliced carefully through the packing tape. I decided that I’d try it, but I also intended to send the thing back, so I saved the bubble wrap and styrofoam.

There was no manual. The assembly instructions were in twelve pictographs printed on either side of a glossy sheet of paper. They showed a stick figure woman with a black circle for a head building the machine. Black was just how I felt as I attached the arms and headlights, fit the wheels and drawers into place. It stood five feet, eleven and three quarter inches tall; I measured. I had to give Mom credit; she knew quality when she saw it. The shiny parts were real chrome and there was no flex to the titanium chassis, which was painted glossy blue, the exact blue of Jonathan’s eyes. It smelled like the inside of a new car. I realized too late that I should have assembled it closer to the wall, I had to plug the charger into an extension cord. The power light flashed red; the last pictograph showed the stick figure woman staring at a twenty-four hour clock, impatience squiggles leaping from her round, black head.

I didn’t sleep well that night. My bed seemed very big, filled with Jonathan’s absence. I had a nightmare about the dishwasher overflowing and then I was dancing with the vacuum cleaner in a warm flood of soapy water.

When I came home from work the next day the machine was fully charged and was puttering about the apartment with my dusting wand, which I never used. It had loaded the dishes into the dishwasher and run it. There were vacuum tracks on the living room rug. I found the packing materials it had come with bundled into the trash; it had broken down its cardboard box for recycling. At dinner time, it settled at the other end of the kitchen table, dimmed its headlights and waited while I ate my Weight Watchers Chicken Mesquite microwave dinner. Later we watched The Big Bang Theory together. I thought it wanted to follow me into the bedroom when I was ready to go to sleep, but I turned at the door and pointed at the hall closet. It flashed its brights and rolled obediently away.

EP486: Blight

by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
read by Christiana Ellis

author Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

author Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

about the author…

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s fiction and poetry has appeared in magazines such as ClarkesworldLightspeedStrange HorizonsHobart, and Goblin Fruit.

She lives in Texas with her partner and two literarily-named cats – Gimli and Don Quixote. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast program.

She also created and coordinates the annual Art & Words Collaborative Show in Fort Worth, Texas.

 

about the narrator…

Christiana Ellis is an award-winning writer and podcaster, currently living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her podcast novel, Nina Kimberly the Merciless was both an inaugural nominee for the 2006 Parsec Award for Best Speculative Fiction: Long Form, as well as a finalist for a 2006 Podcast Peer Award. Nina Kimberly the Merciless is available in print from Dragon Moon Press. Christiana is also the writer, producer and star of Space Casey, a 10-part audiodrama miniseries which won the Gold Mark Time Award for Best Science Fiction Audio Production by the American Society for Science Fiction Audio and the 2008 Parsec Award for Best Science Fiction Audio Drama. In between major projects, Christiana is also the creator and talent of many other podcast productions including Talking About Survivor, Hey, Want to Watch a Movie? and Christiana’s Shallow Thoughts.

narrator Christiana Ellis

narrator Christiana Ellis

 

Blight
by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

There are three thousand people in the world, and we are all the same.

I don’t mean equal, for The Book makes clear we are not in any way equal. Some of us are blessed, others unblessed, as some live in the temple and others live on the charred black surface. And I do not mean we are similar, like sheep – the term once used, I believe, for a world of people with different genetic coding but the same ideas. No, we are not “sheep.” We are the same, from our hair to our DNA.

The Book tells us that once there was The First, long ago, before the war. It tells us that She was not strong but lucky. Hospitalized for a broken leg before the bombs were released, all at once, across the world, or so The Book proclaims. The hospital was underground, hidden from the fallout’s worst. Most of the building caved in with the force of incessant blasts, everything destroyed but one wing: Hers. Our temple.

Inside the room with Her, Her sister Marna had been visiting. Sister Marna, a scientist skilled in genetic replication, was older than The First, who had seen only twenty years. Sister Marna nursed The First back to health in that room, mended Her wounded bones. They ate Jello from sealed plastic containers and cans of beans and the petals of roses left by loved ones they learned to forget. They did not know they were the last.

But they knew they should not leave the hospital wing, for the one time Sister Marna pushed open the door to the surface, she found the way blocked by rubble, saw a hazy light falling from the cracked concrete above. She and The First remained inside until the food ran out.