Tag: "mur lafferty"

EP481: Temporary Friends

by Caroline M. Yoachim
read by Caitlin Buckley

author Caroline M. Yoachim

author Caroline M. Yoachim

about the author…

I’m a photographer and writer currently living in Seattle, Washington. I’ve published about two dozen fantasy and science fiction short stories, in markets that include Asimov’sLightspeed MagazineInterzone, and Daily Science Fiction. In 2011 I was nominated for a Nebula Award for my novelette “Stone Wall Truth,” which you can read online here at my website.

For a list of my publications, see my writing page.

narrator Caitlin Buckley

narrator Caitlin Buckley

about the narrator…

Hey – my name is Caitlin Buckley, and I’m narrating this week’s episode. I’ve been voice acting for just over a year, but talking funny for my entire life – and I think it’s just such fun. If you want to see other stuff I’ve been involved with, I keep a blog with all my work: https://caitlinva.wordpress.com/. Thanks for listening!

 

 

Temporary Friends
by Caroline M. Yoachim

The second week of kindergarten, Mimi came home with a rabbit. Despite numerous mentions of the Temporary Friends project in the parent newsletter, I wasn’t prepared to see my five-year-old girl cuddling a honey-colored fluffball that was genetically engineered to have fatally high cholesterol and die of a heart attack later in the school year.

“I named him Mr. Flufferbottom.” Mimi told me. I glared at Great-Grandpa John, who’d been watching her while I finished up my shift at the clinic. He shrugged. My gruff maternal grandfather wasn’t my first choice of babysitter, but he needed a place to stay and I needed someone to watch Mimi after school.

“Are you sure it’s a good idea to name him, honey?” I knelt down and put my hand on Mimi’s shoulder. “He’s a completely biological rabbit, and this kind doesn’t tend to live very long.”

“Teacher said to pick good names for our rabbits,” Mimi said. “Besides, you put new parts on people, so if Mr. Flufferbottom breaks you can fix him.”

Replacement pet parts were readily available online, and the self-installing models could be put in by anyone who could afford the hefty price tag and follow simple instructions. But replacement parts defeated the purpose of the lesson — research showed that children needed to experience death in order to achieve normal emotional development. Aside from the occasional suicide or tragic accident, there weren’t many occasions to deal with loss. Schools were required to incorporate Temporary Friends into their kindergarten curriculum in order to get government funding.

The school couldn’t control what parents did, of course, but the parent newsletter strongly discouraged tampering with the damned death pets in any way.

“Mimi, sweetie, that’s not how it works this time — I know we get a lot of extra parts for Graycat, but your Temporary Friend is only until…” I tried to remember from the newsletter how long the rabbits were engineered to live. Six months? “Only until March, and then we’ll say goodbye.”

I expected Mimi to put up a big fuss, but she didn’t. She took Mr. Flufferbottom to the cage we’d set up in her room and got him some food and water.

#

Mimi didn’t say another word about Mr. Flufferbottom until mid-October.

“Mommy,” she said in her most serious voice, “I think we should order parts for Mr. Flufferbottom now, so we’ll have them ready when he needs them.”

“We talked about this, Mimi. Mr. Flufferbottom is a Temporary Friend. Do you remember what temporary means?”

“It means only for a little while. Like ice cream is temporary because I eat it or sometimes it melts.” Mimi frowned. “But Mr. Flufferbottom has lasted a lot longer than ice cream, and I think he should have parts because he is a nice rabbit and I don’t want him to die.”

“Of course we don’t want him to die,” I began, not sure how to explain something I rarely dealt with myself, “But death is a thing that just happens sometimes.”

“Am I going to die?” Mimi asked.

“Oh honey, not for a long long long time. Great-Grandpa John is still alive, and he is much older than you.”

“But he gets parts from the clinic.” Mimi said.

“If you need them, you can have parts from the clinic too. You’re young now, so your parts are still good.”

“So Great-pa John can get parts, and I can get parts, and Graycat can get parts,” Mimi said. “Why can’t Mr. Flufferbottom have parts? Don’t you think he’s a nice rabbit, Mommy?”

Mimi was often persistent, but I wasn’t used to seeing her quite this agitated. “Did something happen, Mimi, to make you worried about Mr. Flufferbottom?”

Mimi looked down at the floor. “Lizzy and I were talking to some first graders at recess and they said our bucket bunnies are going to die and then we won’t have them anymore.”

“But you knew that already, right? We told you at the start that the rabbits don’t live very long, that’s what it means for them to be temporary.”

“I didn’t know that I wouldn’t have him anymore once he was dead.” Mimi said. “I want to have him and have him and keep him forever and ever, like Graycat.”

Mimi had never shown much interest in Graycat, who was about 55 years old, and rarely did anything but sleep curled up on top of the living room bookshelves. In his younger days, Graycat had been quite the hunter, but now, despite his extra sensors and state-of-the-art replacement legs, he hadn’t pounced on anything for at least a couple decades.

“Graycat is our pet,” I told her, for lack of a better explanation, “Mr. Flufferbottom is a lesson.”

#

“Whiskers died today.” Mimi told me, without preamble, one January afternoon when I got home from work. “Tommy’s parents didn’t get him any parts and he died and they burned him in an incinerator and he died again.”

“He only died the first time, Mimi. They burned the body.” I tried to look at this as a learning opportunity. “Was Tommy sad?”

“Tommy was angry.” Mimi said. “He had to go home early for hitting. He did a lot of hitting.”

“Well, people react to death in lots of different ways,” I said, “but it was wrong of him to hit people, even if he was angry.”

Great-pa John came in from the kitchen.

“Of course he was angry. The whole project is ridiculous, giving you kids pets and then telling you not to take care of them properly.” Great-pa had fixed himself a sandwich, but he hadn’t gotten used to his new bionic eyes yet, and instead of lettuce he’d used some of the collard greens I was going to cook for dinner.

“The Temporary Friends lesson is supposed to teach kids about–” I started, but Great-pa John interrupted.

“I know what this is all about. Emotional development and learning about loss and yadda yadda whatever. I still have half my original brain in here.” Great-pa John tapped his head.

“But not your original eyes,” I snapped back, and instantly regretted it when his face fell. It was easy to forget what a proud man he was, and how hard it was for someone his age to adapt to so much technology. He knew death in ways that I never would. When he was young, the replacement parts weren’t that good. Sure there were limbs to help amputees walk, and pace makers and cochlear implants and dentures, but you couldn’t replace everything that broke. Back then, people died all the time. More than half of everyone Great-pa knew was dead.

“Sorry. I’ll go make you a better sandwich,” I said, taking the plate from his artificial hands. “You talk to Mimi about how things used to be. Maybe it will help her understand.”

To my surprise, I heard him start talking about Great-grandma Arlene, who had died back when the technology for replacement organs was still unreliable. I paused to listen, because I’d never heard the whole story. I’d always had the impression that Great-pa John had convinced Arlene to avoid the new technology because it was too risky.

He stopped talking when he realized I was hovering in the doorway, and I went to make his sandwich. Maybe talking to Mimi would help ease his guilt.

#

I don’t know what Great-pa said to Mimi, exactly, but it did wonders for their relationship. He got used to his new eyes, and together they built a fancy maze for Mr. Flufferbottom so he wouldn’t get bored. I questioned the wisdom of building entertainment for a rabbit who was doomed to die sometime in the next few weeks, but Mimi seemed happier to be doing something for her little fluffy companion, so I left them alone. Great-pa made no further mention of his long-departed wife, at least not when I was around, but he seemed more cheerful than I’d seen him for a long time.

Then one afternoon I came home from the clinic after a particularly rough spinal replacement surgery and found the two of them with their heads leaned over Mr. Flufferbottom. Fearing the worst, I rushed over, prepared to swoop a crying Mimi into my arms — but the bucket bunny wasn’t dead. He was hopping around the table, sniffing at the placemats.

“Great-pa helped me fix Mr. Flufferbottom,” Mimi said. “We ordered him medicines to help with his clestor-all, so he won’t have a heart attack after all.”

“Cholesterol.” I corrected her. “Go run and play while I talk to Great-pa, okay?”

“Can I take Mr. Flufferbottom?” Mimi asked.

“Sure.”

She scooped up the rabbit and skipped off to the living room.

“She’s supposed to be learning about death,” I told Great-pa John firmly. “We already have a pet that doesn’t die. We really don’t need an immortal rabbit. Besides, the drugs are just stalling the inevitable.”

“Are you raising a child or a monster? Do you really think it’s good for them to learn that they should sit and watch their rabbits die and not do a damned thing about it?” Great-pa asked. “Some lesson that would be.”

#

Mr. Flufferbottom stopped eating. I couldn’t tell if the loss of appetite was a side effect of his medication or some other health problem. Mimi shadowed me every minute I wasn’t at work, constantly peppering me with questions about what we could do for her poor rabbit. “Great-pa doesn’t know what parts to order, Mommy. You have to help us.”

“I don’t know either,” I told her honestly, “I install parts at the clinic, but I don’t do the diagnosis.” I didn’t mention that I’d had to sign up for extra shifts at the clinic to pay for the cholesterol medicine they’d gotten, which could well be what was making Mr. Flufferbottom sick.

Great-pa John banged around our apartment, starting “home improvement” projects and then abandoning them unfinished. I told him in no uncertain terms not to tinker with the central computer system, but otherwise left him to deal with his anxieties by destroying small sections of our unit.

Mimi went to confer with Great-pa for a minute, then came back. “I want to take Mr. Flufferbottom to the vet clinic that Graycat goes to.”

I thought about what Great-pa John had said, about teaching children to passively watch their pets die. I thought about Graycat, who was alive, but was he really the same cat? I even thought about Great-pa John, who by now was mostly artificial sensors and prosthetic limbs and other man-made parts.

I didn’t know the answer, and my five-year-old daughter was looking up at me, hopeful that I would save her tiny fluffy friend. Did she really need to learn about death first hand? Would I be doing her a favor or a disservice if I let her sidestep one of life’s hardest lessons?

“No,” I said, “we can’t take him to the vet.”

It broke my heart to see the hopeful smile leave her face. I almost changed my mind. But even when the tears started to well up in her eyes, I held my ground. My daughter was supposed to learn the sadness of loss. Both of us would learn from this experience, and it would make us stronger.

#

The next morning, Mimi ran into my room with tears in her eyes. “Mr. Flufferbottom is dead, he’s cold and stiff and he won’t eat his breakfast.”

“I’m so sorry, honey. I know you loved that rabbit.” The words that I had practiced in my head sounded false and empty. I hugged Mimi tight, then we went to her room together to get Mr. Flufferbottom.

Great-pa John was there, standing over the cage. He was clutching something in his hand, an artificial part, I think, although I couldn’t see it clearly. He was scowling down at the lifeless rabbit.

“Did you find the right part, Great-pa?” Mimi asked.

He held out the tiny object he was clutching, a self-installing replacement liver. “I don’t know if this would have helped, but it’s too late now. Even fancy parts won’t bring back the dead.”

“Can we try? Mr. Flufferbottom didn’t eat his breakfast. I don’t want him to die hungry.”

To my horror, Great-pa put the tiny artificial liver on top of the dead rabbit, and activated the autoinstaller. The tiny organ set to work installing itself, shaving the fur and sterilizing the skin before making an incision and burrowing into the rabbit. We’d have to sell the liver used now, and while they were technically re-usable their value decreased dramatically. More shifts at work, for a rabbit that was already dead.

The liver completed its installation, but immediately began beeping to indicate an error. A few minutes later, it reappeared and clung to the rabbit’s skin and waited for further instructions. I picked it up and set it to clean itself for repackaging.

“Sorry, kiddo,” Great-pa said. “We did everything we could, right?”

Mimi nodded. “Is he with Great-ma now?”

Great-pa smiled. “She’d have liked that, my Arlene. A cute little fuzzball to keep her company. If there’s something after this, maybe they’ll find each other.”

Amazingly, both my daughter and my grandfather found comfort in that thought. I picked up Mr. Flufferbottom and set him gently in the trash incinerator, along with his uneaten breakfast. We stood in silence while he burned to ashes, and when it had finished, Mimi went to the living room and found, of all things, Graycat.

She picked him up from the bookshelf, and petted his artificial fur. He made a mechanical purring noise. He wasn’t her temporary friend, but he was warm and soft and comforting, and he let her bury her face in his fur and cry.

EP477: Parallel Moons

by Mario Milosevic
read by Bill Bowman

 

author Mario Milosevic

author Mario Milosevic

about the author…

I live in the Columbia River Gorge, one of the most beautiful places anywhere. My day job is at the local public library. I started writing quite young, and submitted my first story to a magazine when I was 14 years old. Nowadays I write poems, stories, novels, and a little non-fiction. I’m married to fellow writerKim Antieau. We met at a writer’s workshop quite a few moons ago and got married a year later. We’ve been deliriously happy for many years now. My advice to any would be writers: Don’t do it! It’s a crazy life. But if you absolutely must enter this nutty profession, here’s three things that just might help you out: 1. Write regularly (every day is good). 2. Read constantly. 3. Get a job. Seriously.

about the narrator…

Bill started voice acting on the Metamor City Podcast, and has wanted to do more ever since. He spends his days working at a library, where he is in charge of all things with plugs and troubleshooting the people who use them. He spends his nights with his wife, two active children, and two overly active canines and all that goes with that. Bill last read for us on EP440: Canterbury Hollow.

 

Parallel Moons
Mario Milosevic

1a
I never understood the term “new moon.” When the moon is invisible, how can it be new? “New moon” should be called “empty moon,” the opposite of full moon. I resolved to use the term when I was quite young. I figured all my friends would agree with me and we’d start a new way of talking about the moon. Only thing is, the phases of the moon don’t come up in conversation all that often, so the terminology never caught on.
Another thing I remember about the moon: I used to put my finger over it to make it disappear. Lots of kids did that There’s immense power in erasing an object big enough to have its own gravity. Kids crave that kind of power. They want to rule the world.

2a
You work at a medium-sized law firm. You get a call from some nerds. Space cadets. They want to reclassify the moon. They say it’s a planet, not a satellite. You think this has to be some kind of joke. But no. They are dead serious. They have money to pay for your legal work. Seven hundred and eighty-six dollars. And thirty-two cents. They collected it by passing a hat.
You are amused. You take the case. Why not? No point in being who you are unless you can have some fun once in a while, right? Right?

3a
Alice Creighton knew as much about Richard Mollene as anyone who ever looked at a gossip website, which made sense, since she wrote for one of the most popular. Mollene was the richest person ever, a complete recluse, a widower, and dedicated to three things above all else: stopping global warming, halting disease, and making the moon disappear. He had already accomplished the first with his innovative solar cell technology, had made real progress on the second with his universal vaccine, and now, with the pepper mill in orbit around the moon for the past twenty years, he was well on his way to achieving the third.
Alice approved of Mollene’s first two dreams, but was not in favor of the third. A lot of people said they understood Richard Mollene and his pepper mill.
Alice Creighton did not. She asked for an interview with Mollene to get more information. To her surprise, he said yes. Alice would get face time with the man who set the pepper mill grinding and seasoning the moon from lunar orbit almost twenty years ago. A lot of people said its mission was impossible. They said fine non-reflective dust, no matter how abundant, couldn’t quench the light of the moon.
But they were wrong.

EP476: In Loco Parentis

by Andrea Phillips
read by Mur Lafferty

 

author Andrea Phillips

author Andrea Phillips

about the author…

Andrea Phillips is an award-winning transmedia writer, game designer and author. Her book, A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling, is published by McGraw-Hill and is used to teach courses at USC, Columbia, McGill, and many other universities.

Her transmedia work includes a variety of educational and commercial projects, including Floating City with Thomas Dolby, The Maester’s Path for HBO’s Game of Thrones with Campfire Media, America 2049 with human rights nonprofit Breakthrough, Diesel Reboot with Moving Image & Content, and the independent commercial ARG Perplex City. These projects have variously won the Prix Jeunesse Interactivity Prize, a Broadband Digital award, a Canadian Screen Award, a BIMA, the Origins Vanguard Innovation Award, and others.

Her independent work includes the Kickstarted ongoing serial transmedia project The Daring Adventures of Captain Lucy Smokeheart.

Andrea has spoken at TEDx Transmedia, Future of Storytelling, SXSW, MIT Storytelling 3.0, the Power to the Pixel/IFP Cross-Media Forum, and Nordic Games Conference, and many more events.

Andrea cheats at solitaire (a victimless crime) and Words With Friends (which is less forgivable). Consider yourself warned.

 

In Loco Parentis
by Andrea Phillips

The video stutters at the eighteen-second mark. Yakova knows by heart precisely when it happens. As she watches, she mouths the words along with Autumn. “So this girl just, like, opens up her bag, right?”

And here is where it happens: Autumn elbows her and knocks her glasses off. Yakova knows she should edit it out, those few seconds of skewed and jarring footage as her glasses skitter across the lunch table. Instead, she studies each frame carefully.

Jad is there, nearly off-frame and out of focus, light gleaming off the angled planes of his cheekbones, dark hair curled over his eyes. He starts from his recline, and he looks at her (looks at her!), eyes widening. His hand reaches up, and —

She cuts it off here, before she has to hear her own brassy laugh, before she can hear herself telling Autumn to be more careful. If she doesn’t hear it, she can pretend HE didn’t hear it, either.

She bites her lip, studying Jad’s expression of… concern? It must be concern. Probably. But is it the aloof concern of a bystander, or a more significant concern, floating atop a deep ocean of unspoken feeling?

At the base of Yakova’s skull, her minder, Seraph, uncoils and stretches. “You have homework to do,” Seraph says. When she speaks, it is a warm vibration behind Yakova’s ear, all thought and no real sound. Her voice is the same as Yakova’s mother.

Yakova zooms in on Jad’s inscrutable degree of concern. “Do you think he likes me?” she asks.

The video panel winks out. “Homework,” Seraph says. If she has arrived at any conclusions regarding the boy’s feelings, she keeps them to herself.

Yakova shouldn’t have glasses at all, of course. Not anymore, not at her age. The last two years have seen her friends blossoming into adulthood — one by one peripherals have fallen away, leaving their eyes clear, their faces open and unguarded. Yakova is left behind with a goggle-eyed wall between her and her newly coltish, beautiful peers.

EP473: Soft Currency

by Seth Gordon
read by Melissa Bugaj

 

author Seth Gordon

author Seth Gordon

about the author…

Seth Gordon, a mild-mannered programmer for a great metropolitan software company, lives in Boston with his wife and three sons. For the past two and a half years, he has belonged to B-Spec, the Boston Speculative Fiction Writing Group, which has given him valuable advice and support. His personal Web site is at http://imaginaryfamilyvalues.com. This is his first professional fiction sale.

about the narrator…

Melissa is the proud mom of a nine-year-old boy and seven-year-old girl. She is a special educator in her sixteenth year of teaching. Mel has taught all grade levels from preschool to grade five in both general and special education. This past year, however, she left the world of elementary school to teach Special Education in a High School Conceptual Physics and Chemistry class. She survived her first year of being the shortest person in the classroom and was enthusiastic to get back to teaching velocity, gravity and atoms for the 2014-2015 school year. In her “free time,” she co-produces a children’s story podcast with her techie husband called Night Light Stories and writes a blog about the silly antics of her family called According To Mags.

 

Soft Currency
by Seth Gordon

When Cassie Levine was nine years old, her family lived in the center of Boston, Lyndon B. Johnson was President, and Cassie learned that her mother was a criminal.

The two of them sat in a parked car on Blue Hill Avenue, outside Ethel Glick’s grocery store. While Cassie ate an ice-cream sandwich, her mother smoked a cigarette. The sandwich, the cigarettes, and three bags of groceries had come from Mrs. Glick’s store. When the ice cream sandwich was half gone, Cassie asked, “Why did you change Dad’s money at Mrs. Glick’s? Why not go to the bank?”

Cassie’s mother had passed Mrs. Glick a twenty-dollar bill; the older woman had tucked the bill under the counter and handed back a stack of coupons; then, her mother had used some of those coupons to pay Mrs. Glick. Each twenty-coupon note showed a picture of Margaret Mitchell, holding a copy of _Gone With the Wind_. Cassie’s little brother called coupons “cootie money,” because only women and girls could use them.

“The exchange rate at the banks is twenty-seven coupons for a dollar,” Cassie’s mother said, “and Mrs. Glick is paying thirty-one.”

“Why don’t the banks pay thirty-one?”

“The government won’t let them.”

“Does the government let Mrs. Glick?”

Cassie’s mother drew on her cigarette and exhaled out the half-open window into the drizzle. Cassie licked vanilla ice cream all around the edge of her sandwich, feeling smug and virtuous and full of sugar. “You’re doing something il-le-gal,” she said, stretching out the last word.

“Don’t tell your father about this.”

Cassie raised her eyebrows. Her mother’s expression was solemn. Through the blur of rain over the windshield, Cassie could see the delicatessen on the opposite corner; the G&G sign was suspended over the sidewalk, round and vertical like a ketchup bottle. Some nights, Cassie’s father would take the family out to dinner there.

“He’s an idealist, and I love him for that, but… he doesn’t understand how much things cost.”

“Is it really illegal, changing money at Mrs. Glick’s? Could you get arrested for it?”

Her mother shook her head. “It’s like jaywalking, honey. It doesn’t hurt anyone, and the police have better things to do than go after it.”

EP469: Inseparable

by Liz Heldmann
read by Pamela Quevillion

about the author…

Credits: The Australian science fiction magazine Cosmos: The Science of Everything published my hard sci fi story “Echoes” and “Inspiration” was printed in the first Antipodean SF Anthology. Other credits include the comparative mythology fantasy “Realms of Gold” and Jupiter mining sci fi “Bright Cloud of Music,” both at Neverworlds The Unique Fiction Webzine.  I was short-listed for the Random House/Transworld Australia George Turner Prize for my manuscript “Hashakana”.

about the narrator…

Pamela Quevillon is a writer and narrator who lives in the St Louis area and gives voice to everything from planetarium shows to documentary movies from her not necessarily well heated attic. You can find more of her narration  as part of the Space Stories series on 365 Days of Astronomy and on past episodes of Escape Pod.

 

Inseparable
by Liz Heldmann

The disruptor net hit the ocean with an eruption of steam. Obscuring billows gouted up in columns of gray and white and the target was close enough that the aft hull immediately registered a thermic spike. The temperature shot from swampy greenhouse to hot-as-fucking-Hades. Technically speaking.

Around the quadrant, warships were deploying nets as weaponry. Best not to think about that. Science was the new war, according to Delia.

The weave generated out of the arse end of the ship was coarse, each node tuned two-dimensionally to its neighbors in a honeycomb lattice that formed a curved plane. A great big seine made of plasma, dragging a world ocean underneath a sun that filled the forward viewscreen as if trying to muscle out of the frame.

Both density and chemistry dials had been spun and today’s net split the surly bonds between hydrogen and oxygen wherever it encountered them in a medium of approximately one gram per cubic centimeter. Which meant that the net sliced through alien waters like gamma rays through goose shit and didn’t so much as muss the hair of any entities it scooped up in the process.

Forget ‘Take me to your leader’. We quit asking nicely a few planetary systems in.

Just about the day we got our first sentient ‘Thanks, but no thanks, and by the way, eat plasma’.

Hence the warships.

The thought of slammin’ and jammin’ in the spaces between worlds raised a bit of nostalgia in a girl.

“All right, Shar, bring her up!” Delia’s shout interrupted before I got all weepy.

The science vehicle, romantically named ScV-341, burped inertial brakes out of its titanium skin and gimbaled 45°. The net raveled in. A telltale with the image of a stepped-on snail floating above it went green, the deck vibrated and the ship pinged a saccharine little public service announcement. “Aft hold, secure.”

“Thank you, ship.” We’d been excessively polite to each other ever since Delia had told me it was beneath me to argue with a ship over operational procedure. What she’d told it, I don’t know.

Ping. “Inertial sink projecting.”

“Thank you, ship.”

EP466: Checkmate

by Brian Trent
read by Mat Weller

author Brian Trent

author Brian Trent

about the author…

I am a novelist, screenwriter, producer, poet, actor, and freethinker who supports both imagination and rationalism. I am an advocate for film and the written word and possibility.

I am a recent (2013) winner in the Writers of the Future contest and have since had work accepted in Escape Pod (“The Nightmare Lights of Mars”), Daily Science Fiction, Apex (winning the 2013 Story of the Year Reader’s Poll), Clarkesworld, COSMOS, Strange Horizons, Galaxy’s Edge, Penumbra, and Electric Velocipede.

about the narrator…

Mat reads stuff. Sometimes he voice acts too. Oh, and he just beat Metroid II for the first time since 1991.

 

Checkmate
by Brian Trent

The black steamrotor chugged noisily beneath the maze of damp brick arches, cutting a frothy wake in the underground canal.  Edward Oakshott stood rigidly at the bow, leaning against his silver cane. The dank stink of London’s forgotten netherworld perspirated over the vessel’s wood, the humidity visibly beading like a spate of glassy insect eyes on the many green lamplights they passed.  Edward drummed his fingers against one clammy hand.  His sense of direction, precise as his fashionable gold pocketwatch, reckoned they must be passing directly below the evening crowd at Charing Cross’ Hungerford Market.

Yet he wondered at their boatman’s skill in navigating these dark, labyrinthine channels.  How often were customers ferried to Thoth’s subterranean bazaar?  Edward grinned in nervous anticipation and peered from beneath the rim of his hat at the constellation of green lamps marking the canal’s many twists and turns.

“We shall be late if this continues,” Sophia Westbury said behind him.  Her folded parasol looked like a pale sword against her shoulder. “Really, Edward, was there no earlier date you could meet him?  It had to wait until the very eve of war?”

“The party shall wait for me.”

“It will be a scandal,” Sophia said, though her bell-like voice belied the smile on her lips.  Edward was already the scandal of the decade. Chessmen were synonymous with shadowy, secret shufflings in the night; living legends who could be your banker, teacher, butcher, parent, or carriage driver during times of peace.  Edward’s public antics had shocked Europe into a buzzing hive.

Sophia sighed and looped her arm round his.  “What do you know about this Thoth?  Any man who dwells like a spider beneath London, spinning mechanical webs beyond the Ministry’s sight…”  She shivered.  “I feel like Faustus!”

“Henry sent a Bishop here last autumn, darling, the one who defended Cornwall.  If Henry says Thoth is trustworthy, that is good enough for me.”

At these words, the boat banked sharply through a new arch, throwing up a huge wake.  Edward steadied himself with pressure to his cane, but cast a ghastly glare at their boatman in the ship’s small cabin.

“Edward!”  

EP465: The Sky is Blue, and Bright, and Filled with Stars

by Edward Ashton
read by Andrea Richardson

about the author…

Edward Ashton is the author of more than a dozen short stories, as well as numerous technical articles and medical texts. His fiction has appeared in InterText, Louisiana Literature, and The Lowell Review, among other places. His first novel, Three Days in April, is currently in search of a good home. You can find his work online at smart-as-a-bee.tumblr.com.

about the narrator…

Andrea Richardson is a British singer and actress.  With extensive stage and film performances to her name, she began narration and voice over work fairly recently, but enjoys using her existing skills in a different way. You can find Andrea at www.andrea-richardson.co.uk and www.castingcallpro.com/uk/view.php?uid=507734 – See more at: http://escapepod.org/2014/01/11/ep430-heart-joy/#sthash.zWMVsntv.dpuf

 

The Sky is Blue, and Bright, and Filled with Stars
by Edward Ashton

Dot reaches the summit of Mary’s Rock just after six, maybe an hour before sunset. It’s a clear, cool September day, with a scattering of tiny white clouds in a royal blue sky, and a soft, steady breeze from the west that brings the faint smell of burning things up from the ruins of Luray. She drops her pack at the top of the trail, pulls out a water bottle, and scrambles up the last thirty meters of broken granite to the high point. The trees on the north side of Thornton Gap a half-kilometer below are just showing the first hints of color, tiny flecks of red and gold mixed into a sea of dark green. Off to the west she can see the smoke now, rising from what looks like a brush fire far down the valley. She sits down, leans back against a waist-high block of stone, and drains half of her water in one long, lukewarm pull.

She’s been here once before, when she was years younger and there were still a few people raising goats and vegetables down in the valley. It was winter then, and she spent a crystal-clear, bitterly cold night out on the overlook, bundled into her mummy bag, sleeping in hour-long snatches, waking each time to a different dazzling pattern of stars and station-lights. The beauty was almost overwhelming, and she vowed then to come back some day, to see what it was like to spend a night on the summit when she didn’t have to worry about hypothermia.

As the sun begins to redden and dip toward the horizon, Dot climbs to her feet and makes her way back down to the overlook, a flat half-circle of stone maybe forty meters across, hanging out over four hundred meters of empty space. A hawk rides the breeze, floating almost stationary out over the drop. It looks at her, dips one wing, and falls like a stone, chasing something down below. Dot retrieves her pack, pulls out her food sack and her alcohol stove. She’s low on fuel. Four more days, maybe five, and she’ll be cooking over an open fire until she can find some more. As she measures out her supper, she realizes that she only has a few days worth of beans and noodles left. No point in cooking when you’ve got nothing to cook, and she’s at least a week’s walk from the nearest resupply. She sighs, and pours a third of what she’d taken back into the sack.

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EP464: Red Dust and Dancing Horses

by Beth Cato
read by Marguerite Kenner

author Beth Cato

author Beth Cato

about the author…

I reside in Buckeye, Arizona, on the outskirts of Phoenix. My family includes my husband Jason, son Nicholas, and elder-cat Porom. I’m originally from Hanford, California. If I wear ruby slippers and tap my heels three times, that’s where I go by default.

My literary agent is Rebecca Strauss of DeFiore and Company.

 

narrator Marguerite Kenner

narrator Marguerite Kenner

about the narrator…
Marguerite is a native Californian who has forsaken sunny paradise to be with her true love and live in Merrye Olde England. She frequently wears so many hats that she needs two heads. When she’s not grappling with legal conundrums as a trainee solicitor or editing Cast of Wonders, she can be found narrating audio fiction, rockclimbing, studying popular culture (i.e. going to movies and playing video games) with her partner Alasdair Stuart, or curling up with a really good book. You can follow her at her personal blog, Project Valkyrie, or on Twitter via @LegalValkyrie.
Red Dust and Dancing Horses
by Beth Cato
No horses existed on Mars. Nara could change that.She stared out the thick-paned window. Tinted dirt sprawled to a horizon, mesas and rock-lipped craters cutting the mottled sky. It almost looked like a scene from somewhere out of the Old West on Earth, like in the two-dimensional movies she studied on her tablet. Mama thought that 20th-century films were the ultimate brain-rotting waste of time, so Nara made sure to see at least two a week. Silver, Trigger, Buttermilk, Rex, Champion—she knew them all. She had spent months picturing just how their hooves would sink into that soft dirt, how their manes would lash in the wind. How her feet needed to rest in the stirrups, heels down, and how the hot curve of a muzzle would fit between her cupped hands.The terraforming process had come a long way in the two hundred years since mechs established the Martian colonies. Nara didn’t need a pressure suit to walk outside, but in her lifetime she’d never breathe on her own outside of her house or the Corcoran Dome. There would never be real horses here, not for hundreds of years, if ever. But a mechanical horse could find its way home in a dust storm, or handle the boggy sand without breaking a leg. She could ride it. Explore. It would be better than nothing. Her forehead bumped against the glass. But to have a real horse with hot skin and silky mane…

“Nara, you’re moping again.” Mama held a monitor to each window, following the seal along the glass. “No matter how long you stare out the window and sulk, we can’t afford to fly you back to Earth just to see horses. They’re hard to find as it is. Besides, you know what happened when that simulator came through last year.”

EP462: Women of Our Occupation

by Kameron Hurley
read by Mur Lafferty live at LonCon3

 

author Kameron Hurley

author Kameron Hurley

about the author…

Kameron Hurley is an award-winning author, advertising copywriter, and online scribe.  Hurley grew up in Washington State, and has lived in Fairbanks, Alaska; Durban, South Africa; and Chicago. She has degrees in historical studies from the University of Alaska and the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, specializing in the history of South African resistance movements. Her essay on the history of women in conflict “We Have Always Fought” was the first blog post to win a Hugo Award. It was also nominated for Best Non-Fiction work by the British Fantasy Society.

Hurley is the author of God’s War, Infidel, and Rapture, a science-fantasy noir series which earned her the Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer and the Kitschy Award for Best Debut Novel. She has won the Hugo Award (twice) and been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Nebula Award, the Locus Award and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Additionally, her work has been included on the Tiptree Award Honor List. Hurley’s short fiction has appeared in magazines such as LightspeedEscapePod, and Strange Horizons, and anthologies such as The Lowest HeavenThe Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women and Year’s Best SF. Her fiction has been translated into Romanian, Swedish, Spanish and Russian. She is also a graduate of Clarion West.

In addition to her writing, Hurley has been a Stollee guest lecturer at Buena Vista University and taught copywriting at the School of Advertising Art. Hurley currently lives in Ohio, where she’s cultivating an urban homestead. Her latest novel, The Mirror Empire, will be published by Angry Robot Books in August 2014.

If you’d like to contact Kameron, click here. To inquire about rights to remix her work, please contact her agent.

 

narrator Mur Lafferty

narrator Mur Lafferty

about the narrator…

Winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, 2012

“one of the worst-kept secrets in science fiction and fantasy publishing.” – Cory Doctorow via BoingBoing

Mur Lafferty is an author, podcaster, and editor. She lives in Durham, NC, with her husband and 11 year old daughter.

  • Books: Starting with podcast-only titles, Mur has written several books and novellas. Her first professionally published book, The Shambling Guide to New York City, is in book stores now. The sequel, The Shambling Guides 2: Ghost Train to New Orleans came out this year. She writes urban fantasy, superhero satire, afterlife mythology, and Christmas stories.
  • Podcasts: She has been podcasting since 2004 when she started her essay-focused show, Geek Fu Action Grip. Then she started the award-winning I Should Be Writing in 2005, which is still going today. She was the editor of Escape Pod from 2010-2012, and she also runs the Angry Robot Books podcast.
  • Nonfiction: Mur has written for several magazines including Knights of the Dinner Table, Anime Insider, and The Escapist.

In January, 2014, Mur graduated from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine with an MFA in popular fiction.

Mur is represented by Jen Udden at Donald Maass Literary Agency.

EP456: To Waste

by Luke Pebler
read by Joshua Price

Links for this episode:

about the author…

Luke Pebler is a graduate of the 2012 Clarion Workshop at UCSD, and his fiction has appeared in the Sword & Laser Anthology and others.

about the narrator…

My name is Josh and I’m legally blind. I have a degenerative eye condition that claimed most of my vision while I was in college for film art and design. I now devote all of my free time to volunteering what skills I acquired in college to the blind community. I describe tv shows and movies for a website in England. For those of you who are not familiar with descriptive movies, it basically means that we lay an additional audio track over the film that explains what is happening when the characters aren’t talking. I also spend a great deal of time producing fully casted audio dramas of comic books. I don’t feel that it is fair for the comic book companies to provide an amazing art form for sighted people, but nothing for the blind community. I wrote to the big companies and asked them  to provide an audio form of their products or a text form of them, so a screen reader could read it for the blind, but none of the companies answered me. so, under the 3.0 creative commons license, I produce these free products. At this time, I mainly  focus on comics that use to be television shows. For example, Buffy the vampire slayer and it’s spin off series Angel, as well as Charmed, because these comics are intended to pick up right where the series left off. Again,  I don’t feel that it is fair that the blind community is cut off from the story line simply because the series has changed form and is no longer accessible. Often I am asked why I go through so much trouble to create such detailed audio projects for the comic books content, and I respond with “Comic books are supposed to be a visual art form. I could create a simple read through audio track, like an audio book, but I strive for something more. Comics are visual art form, not just written words.”  I try to change a visual art form into an audio art form, thus keeping the idea of comics as art. I make what sighted people see, into something that blind people can hear. It is my hope that the audio can create an image in people’s minds that resembles visual art.

 

To Waste
by Luke Pebler

When I wake, it is not yet hot.  But it will be soon.

I am already thirsty.

I get up from the cot and go to the machine.  I put my dick into the intake cup, and when my pee flows into the machine it clicks on automatically.  I stretch and reach out to snag my camera by its strap.  I review the shots I took yesterday while I finish going.  The machine whirs while it does its work.  I wait, still looking at photos.

When the machine beeps, it has produced almost eight ounces of clean warm water.  I sip some of it, just enough to wet my mouth, and put the rest into a second machine.

When the second machine beeps, it has produced five ounces of hot coffee.

I crouch in the corner of the room, where the rising sun cannot find me.  It is still cool here.  I inhale deeply, wanting not even the steam of the coffee to go to waste.  I sip.

When I look up, the boy is in the doorway, watching.  I do not know how long he’s been there.

“He wants you,” the boy says.