Posts Tagged ‘aliens’

EP365: The Garden of Earthly Delights


By Jay Caselberg
Read by Mat Weller
Discuss on our forums.
Originally appeared in Electric Velocipede (2007)
All stories by Jay Caselberg
All stories read by Mat Weller
Rated 17 and up for sexual situations

The Garden of Earthly Delights
Jay Caselberg

Bosch drew deeply on his cigarette and exhaled slowly, watching the smoke paint clouds of tissue paper across the chill moon. If his hard-boned mouth had been capable of smiling, it would have. He’d tried to mimic the gesture often enough. He took one last drag at the cigarette, then flicked it out in a wide arc to scatter sparks against the broad stone steps. It was funny how compelling these human habits could be, even the ones they frowned upon. There was no risk for Bosch, but the humans seemed to like the fact that he had adopted one of their vices. It showed them he had his personal weakness.

Compelling. It was less compulsion than convenient subterfuge, but they weren’t to know that. Smoking, and alcohol, and sex — particularly sex; the examples went on and on.

“Ambassador Bosch, come to escape the crowd?” It was Davy, his shadow, his cultural liaison, assigned to keep him on the straight and narrow.

Bosch turned his head to make eye contact. These humans liked eye contact. He whistled once and snapped his mouth, forgetting for a moment for the hundredth time that Davy could not understand. Quickly, he followed it with a series of signs using his three long fingers. Davy nodded and waited while Bosch withdrew his pad from inside his clothes, slipped the stylus from the carry case and tapped at the screen. Davy craned over Bosch’s shoulder to read, then glanced down at the still-smouldering cigarette end lying on the steps below.

“Yes, I needed some fresh air as well. I think it’s going well, don’t you?” Bosch tapped at the pad once. As well as it could be, he thought, but Davy seemed satisfied.

The smooth, dark-haired human leaned his head back and looked up at the stars. “Yes, a good night for it,” he said.

A good night for what? Often, these little expressions eluded Bosch. Expressions, cultural behaviours, so many things. (Continue Reading…)

EP363: Flowing Shapes


By Rajan Khanna
Read by Josh Roseman
Discuss on our forums.
Originally appeared in Basement Stories Issue 1 (2010)
All stories by Rajan Khanna
All stories read by Josh Roseman
Rated 17 and up for sexual situations

Flowing Shapes
Rajan Khanna

Part One: Contemplation

The human came to She Shalu on the Day of Flowering Awareness. Damo met him near the Still Garden, the fumes of the exiting shuttle mixing with the sharp spice of the tall, white twizak plant. Damo wore a humanoid shape so as to minimize the stranger’s discomfort.

Damo studied the human with the practiced eyes of a Synan. Dark hair covered his head and parts of his body, and he was sleight of build, despite the solidity of his form. About 1.7 meters tall. His features were mostly smooth, bones prominent, eyes with the barest hint of a slant. A mouth surrounded by full lips.

“How may I help you?” Damo said, trying to sound gracious.

“I came to study Wan She,” the human said.

Damo felt his features flow with his astonishment. Perhaps he had not heard correctly, or his translation module was malfunctioning. “I am sorry,” he said. “Wan She is the Path of Flowing Shapes. It is a Synan practice. Humans, being incapable of shifting, cannot practice it.”

The human smiled, revealing straight, white teeth. “I know. I’m writing a book,” he said. “But isn’t it true that the first stage is concerned solely with contemplation? Surely that is not beyond a human.”

Damo stifled his urge to shift in response to his unease. Uncontrolled shifting was against the teachings of Wan She. “That is true,” he said. “But Wan She is a path. Not a series of distinct teachings. To step on that path is to begin a journey.”

“All I ask is that you let me speak to your Tanshe. Let him decide.”

Damo was all too willing to accommodate the human in this. Let the Tanshe decide. It certainly saved Damo the trouble of having to assimilate this odd request.

“Please follow me,” he said.

He led the human through the Still Garden, inhaling the heady scent of it, delighting in its exoticness. Most of the students overlooked the Still Garden, and in doing so missed out on one of the true beauties of She Shalu.

They moved through the pearlescent designs of the sanctuary’s hallways to the Tanshe’s bubbled door. “Wait here,” Damo said, then entered.

The Tanshe was in an original form, multilimbed, eyeless, lacking both ears and nose. Turning inward. Her bright amber skin was splattered with black inky spots. She looked up as Damo entered, eyes appearing from inside her face. Damo let his features droop in the customary manner. “Tanshe, there is a human to see you.”

The Tanshe’s features flowed and shifted until they were almost exactly a human’s. “Send it in,” she said. “And wait outside.”

Damo’s skin settled. He was not to be involved in this discussion. It was good. The Tanshe would deal with it and send the human away. Damo did as the Tanshe asked.

He waited outside, letting his features relax into the default Synan shape. He’d worn the humanoid one as a courtesy, and because it was polite and expected, but he disliked it. It was distasteful. Too firm. Too set.

He waited for some time, then the door bubble opened. He quickly shifted back into his humanoid form and turned to face the human, now exiting. “She told me to send you in,” the human said.

Damo looked at the human’s firm, immobile face. So alien. So disgusting. (Continue Reading…)

EP353: Talking to the Enemy


By Don Webb
Read by John Mierau
Discuss on our forums.
An Escape Pod Original!
All stories by Don Webb
All stories read by John Mierau
Rated 13 and up


Talking to the Enemy

By Don Webb

We knew a little, but we knew the Free Machines knew more. We hoped our adversary, the Belatrin, knew less; but since they were such creatures of dream and nightmare even at the late parts of the War, we suspected they knew everything.

The Peace Conference hadn’t happened in the first six months of our being here. Everyone talked about it. Breakthroughs were rumored everyday. The only hard facts are that we had grown more efficient at killing Belatrin and they us.

The “peace planet” was named Mrs. Roger Fishbaum III. Roger Fishbaum had paid currency to name a star after his wife in the International Star Registry a thousand years before. The Siirians had a name for it that had too many clicks and whistles, the Free Machines a binary designation, and for all we knew the Belatrin used telepathy. The planet stank of vinegar and moldy bread. I always assumed that its atmosphere contained some needful compound for our enemies’ breathing, but maybe the Free Machines choose it to annoy us, or them.

Siirian merchants made the most of our discomfort. They sold ineffective air shields that released some herbal concoction. I was buying one when I made my ironic remark about the peace talks. The merchant polished its carapace with two of its legs and whistled out a message that my implant made into, “Honored customer, do you think you will be the chief negotiator for the peace talks?”

I set my translator for ironic mode, and said, “Most certainly. My lowly position as a Viscount of the Instrumentality qualifies me far better than the Dukes of Diplomacy.” (Continue Reading…)

EP347: Next Time, Scales


By John Moran
Read by Josh Roseman
Discuss on our forums.
An Escape Pod Original!
All stories by John Moran
All stories read by Josh Roseman
Rated 13 and up for violence

Next Time, Scales
by John Moran

“You’re too restless,” the lizard whispered into my brain.

“And you’ve been at the reactor fuel again.”

Marla slapped her prehensile tail onto the table, cracking its surface with her paralysing stinger and rattling the chess pieces. The blow echoed through the control room.

“I hate it when you do that, Steven.”

“Do what?”

“Think you can read me.”

I smiled. “Your underarm scales are pale, which means a supercharged diet or zero-gravity. As we haven’t been off-planet, it must be the
food. Plus, your breath stinks of sulphur and your claws have white rings.”

Marla pointed one crimson eye at the table, but kept the other on me.

“Your move,” she said.

“Give me time. Why do you think I’m restless?”

“Because you’ve spent the last three weeks researching Loris, and done each patrol fully armed.”

I glanced through the window, as if by chance I might catch our thief creeping up in plain view, but all I saw were two huge moons glowering over the ruined planet, its civilisation long-dead, part-excavated and full of secrets.

I couldn’t let Marla know the site had me spooked, though. Her people had been hunters for a thousand years, and, through a quirk of fate, she believed in me.

“Right.” I said. “Let’s patrol.” I got most of the way to the door before I realised what the click behind me had meant. “And you can put that piece back.”

“Damn,” Marla said.

The night was darker than usual, but I left off my flashlight and navigated by the excavation’s amber glow. After two months I’d learned
the drill pretty well: walk three steps from the door before turning right, drop down through the first causeway, crunch my way over rubble and calcified ferns, pass beside three thousand year old shop windows, then into what people said were the temples of the spider-creatures that had once ruled Artemis.

As I walked, Marla leapt from one wall to another like a shooting star. She looked beautiful, her scales shining like jewels.

“Why you care so much about an urban legend?” she asked.

“Because he’s a mystery. For two hundred years, Loris has been stealing artifacts, leaving only the letter L engraved onto the wall. Who wouldn’t be interested?”

“He’s only human, Steven.”

“I’m not sure. We didn’t have the technology to grow new bodies two centuries ago, so if he’s human, how has he lived so long?”

Marla was silent for a while, then she said, “however good he is, I bet you’re better.”

I walked away, unhappy with false praise. Instead, I ducked through the first arch, and stepped out below the huge, half-buried alien
machine. Next to it, the laboratories and excavating machines looked forlorn and tiny. Forty archaeologists worked here in Artemis’ summer, but none had yet figured out what the machine did.

“Perhaps you regret our melding?” Marla whispered, her voice quavering.

“Not for a moment.”

“Then why do you seek out complications?”

“What do you mean?”

“Loris, for instance. He’s just another hunt. So —”

“— Marla?”

“Yes?”

“The machine’s active.”

She appeared at my shoulder, scuttled up to the machine and crouched, eyes twitching in different directions. What had previously been a
mountain of dark metal now held a tiny panel that shimmered like oil on water. As we watched, it faded to black.

“Intriguing,” Marla said.

“Still think Loris is a myth?”

“I think we need to be careful.”

She left in a blur, dancing up the wall. I crept after her, gun ready, but stopped at the end of the avenue, just as the city opened into a plaza capped by a broken tower.

“What’s up?” Marla asked.

I sent my mind back through memories of other patrols, and compared them to the present. Some people have a photographic memory; I have video recall. It’s rare, but it has saved my life more than once.

“The shadows are wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

I ran through the images again, spotting a nearby lamp that had been smashed to put an area several metres square into darkness. Something was lying there, dark and still in the shadows, covered in thick cloth. Even as I dragged it into the light, I knew it was a body: an old man, sallow and grey, with slash marks down his face and a stab wound in his chest. His blood had not yet congealed.

“Loris is here,” I said.

Marla appeared at my shoulder. “So who’s that?”

“An accomplice, maybe?”

Her eyes swiveled upwards. “Steven?”

“What?”

“The lights are going out.”

I stood. Segment by segment, darkness was falling over the excavations.

“He must be in the base,” I said.

“About time we found something to hunt.”

Marla’s thoughts murmured low, then turned into alien chanting as she skipped ahead along the darkening walls. I chased after her, the sound of her death song filling my mind. It scared me when she was like this. She was too eager, too ready to put herself at risk.

When we reached the base I saw that the door had been forced, revealing two entrance corridors in a Y, their lights off.

“I’ll go right,” Marla said, her voice full of excitement.

“What if he’s in my side?”

She laughed. “Then keep some for me.”

She shivered and curled her tail like a scorpion, before speeding into the darkness. I gripped my weapon and followed.

“Corridor one clear,” Marla said while I was only part-way down my own, my footsteps clanging along the metal floor despite my efforts to be silent. Every step threw moon-shadows crazing over the walls. When I reached the end, the connecting door opened itself.

“Why remove lights but not the power?”

“Beats me. Reception room one clear, by the way.”

My heart beat hard as I stepped into an echoing dome of titanium and plastic, turned on my light and scanned the walls. Our base was a
hundred years old and built for far more spartan times. Now it echoed hollowly and something scraped in the distance.

“Sickbay clear,” Marla said, though she seemed to be hurrying too much. Despite her confidence, I’d seen her get hurt before. Then I noticed something else.

“The floor’s vibrating,” I said, moving to the wall and activating the readout.

“What with?”

“The reactor’s been set to self-destruct.”

Disbelief filled her voice. “How is that even possible? What about fail-safes?”

“It was designed to stop other races getting our technology.”

“You mean it’s deliberate? What sort of idiot culture builds a bomb into a science base?”

“Who cares? Right now I have to shut it off.”

“You know, if we hadn’t melded, I’d still be hunting on Targol.”

“You nearly died on Targol.”

“Everybody dies, Steven. The aim is to make it glorious. There’s nothing glorious about a bomb.”

“There’s nothing glorious about being stupid, either. Please be careful.”

Gun held high, I slid into the reactor room with my back to the wall.

I didn’t think there was anything wonderful about dying in any manner.

That was why I’d joined the Explorer’s Service a hundred years earlier, to get the new bodies they’d offered. Old, young, male, female — I’d tried them all. Little had I known I’d end up having humanity’s first contact with the Lizards.

I swept my flashlight from left to right, trying to be systematic.

Given the number of alcoves and chest-high machines, the room could have been full of people and I wouldn’t have known. The reactor terminal stood exposed in the centre, but it was the only way to stop the countdown. Or to start it, I realised, which meant the intruder was probably in my side of the building.

I kept low, and began to relax only when I reached the terminal and managed to end the countdown. Then something skittered along the floor behind me. I tried to turn, but was far too late.

Ten years earlier I’d been late, too. I was still in the Service because of my rapport with the Lizards, and had been partnered with one on her first hunt. It was sold as a getting-to-know-you mission, but tradition said it should be done without technology. After showing lizard after lizard my fingernails, they’d finally allowed me one small knife.

Targol was hot that month, entering the nearest phase of its eccentric orbit, and after being in the jungle for three days I was glad I’d been argued down over body armour. Then my companion found the first traces of our prey and her naive eagerness took over. She sped after it, leaving me alone amongst the thin green trees and ankle-deep water, naked except for a knife pouch.

When the screaming began, I panicked and fled, only to find myself in the heart of the action regardless.

Someone was screaming when I woke this time, too, face-down on a cracked floor-tile in the flickering darkness of the reactor room. My head ached, pain between my shoulder blades prevented me breathing fully, and my throat burned with vomit. I heard a skittering noise, then more screaming.

I rolled over and saw it. Facing the wall, dark red scales shining, and eight legs skittering over the reactor room floor was a creature I’d only previously seen in drawings on the alien machine.

Although its front two legs looked adapted to tool-use and it carried a green bracelet high on one of them, it drew breath instead, and used some internal force to blow a stream of fine grit onto the wall, completing the letter L it had been etching.

Two thoughts filled my brain: first, that this couldn’t be the same Loris who had left footprints on Beta-4. Second: was Marla okay?

She arrived in a blur, skipping off two walls and landing on the creature’s back before plunging her stinger into its chitinous armour. Incredibly, she failed to penetrate, and instead the creature turned, grabbed and hurled her with such force that she snapped against the far wall and left a dint in the metal. She fell and did not get up.

The creature advanced, raising one of its second-row legs, tipped with barbs, for a killing blow.

“No,” I shouted, grabbing a back leg — and immediately it turned and skittered towards me like an onrushing asteroid. Now I understood why the arches round the dig had been so broad. The spider was as high as my shoulder, but wider than three humans.

I kicked backwards along the floor, waving my hands to show I had no hostile intent.

“There’s no need for violence. Take what you want.”

It stopped, and its mouth clicked sideways before speaking. “I’m sorry, but I can’t let you tell anyone about me.” As the sentence progressed, I made out an Earth accent and realised how Loris had lived so long. Nowadays we use enormous hospital ships around the moons of Jupiter, but there’s really no reason an alien couldn’t make the technology smaller. A bracelet, for example.

“Was it the machine we’ve been excavating?” I asked, walking closer.

“Yes,” Loris said. “Damn gene-banks. I turned it on thinking it was a technology store, but ended up bringing one of them to life, instead.”

“You thought quickly, body-swapping like that.”

“I am rather proud of myself, but, if you’ll excuse me, I have to destroy the witnesses.”

I ducked, and he caught me high on one shoulder, my arm splintering in a flash of blood and pain that took me back to that fateful day in the jungle years earlier. This time I remained conscious, and as he lifted my impaled body off the floor, I groped for the alien bracelet, flipped back the cover and hit its only button.

I expected to wake looking at my own body through spider-eyes. I was even going to be gentle with Loris, take him into custody and confiscate the bracelet.

None of that happened.

Instead, I ended on my back, staring at the ceiling with my left side aching. When I tried to stand, I found it difficult because I now had legs where arms should have been. Also, I was seeing images in two places at once. Crazy, confused images, that —

— I focused both eyes to the front. Ahead, the alien spider threw my limp body at a wall before turning to face me. I was a half-metre off the floor, dark-green, and, something told me, possessed of a strong prehensile tail with a stinger at its end. Even if I lived, I had no idea if Marla would, as she was now trapped in my dying body. To save her, I would have to press the bracelet again, but it was still on the spider.

The spider charged, so I leapt for the wall like I’d seen Marla do. Pads miraculously flowered upon my fingers as I ran over the surface just ahead of its onrushing blows. They cracked nearer and nearer, so I leapt to the ceiling, re-oriented my eyes, and ran over its bellowing body.

The door yawned in front of me as I realised I was faster than it was. I could leave, and live to fight another day. The Service medics would raise an eyebrow but give me another body eventually.

That wouldn’t save Marla, though. Reluctantly, tiny heart beating faster than I could believe, I turned back to face the thing. Behind it, I saw my body get up, try to follow, then fall over and throw up.

A scream that sounded terribly like Marla hit the air and my mind simultaneously.

“I’m sorry,” I thought back to her. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

The spider didn’t seem to notice as it attacked me at full speed, legs whipping and jaw wide. I spun off the door jamb, backflipped from the ceiling and scuttled down the corridor as the whisper of its barbs skimmed me. This body was amazing. Now I knew how Marla’s people hunted so well, I didn’t feel so bad about being poor in comparison.

“Come on,” I shouted. “I can take you,” but the noise came out as a series of clicks. Whatever magic Marla used to speak mind to mind remained a mystery. Ahead, my body rose, then collapsed.

“Steven,” Marla’s thoughts echoed. “If this is pain, make it stop.”

Ten years earlier I’d turned the corner and ran headlong into a ghoul-like creature holding Marla down and throttling her. More by luck than judgement I’d plunged in my blade and saved her life. Though its dying blows had mortally shattered my ribcage, I’d won the fight and upheld the honour of humanity.

Now in this body, I knew I’d failed Marla when it mattered most, and anger drove me forwards. I felt exhilarated, too, and wanted only to leap for its face and take it on directly. Even if I died, this creature would pay for hurting her. As I feinted left, a barbed leg whipped past the spot I would have stood upon, but it was so hard emotionally to give ground.

It’s endorphins, I thought, suddenly realising just how much this body was pumped up for battle. No wonder Marla was so active, if she went through this each time we hunted.

Though it felt wrong, I forced myself to retreat, skipping from wall to wall and trying to think like a human — and as I dodged, I ran through the fight in my mind, searching for a weakness.

At last I remembered a spot between its plates that had opened up when it struck my human form. I turned, waited, and ducked down as the spider’s leg whistled over my back, ending up underneath the thing. I twisted my eyes frantically, feeling nauseous from the spinning images, but finally found the gap — struck hard, and, in the biggest surprise of the day, had something like an orgasm as poison pumped out of my stinger.

A minute later, and still quivering with excitement, I struggled out from Loris’ still form, retrieved the transfer bracelet and went looking for Marla.

She lay in a pool of blood, and my heart trembled to see her spirit inside my dying eyes. Something white fell from her mouth; a tooth, perhaps.

“I never realised it was like this, being you,” she said, in part mind-speak, part whisper.

As I held up the transfer bracelet, I finally realised something I’d refused to notice in the five years since she’d saved my life on Targol: whatever strange, wayward, naive spirit inhabited her, it was one I loved. Although I was going to die, I felt happy, knowing I could swap back and save her.

I pressed the switch. At first the pain was immense, but then, through some unexpected grace, I fell into utter blackness. When I woke I was completely numb and unable to move. I opened my eyes to find eight images of Marla dancing before me, all smiling in that slow lizard way of hers.

“Welcome back, idiot,” she said, her voice gentler than I’d ever heard it before.

“What happened?” I asked, finding words so hard to form I ended up just thinking them.

“I saved your life, as you would have done, had you thought it through.”

My mind flicked back to that day in the jungle when a young lizard had made the decision to save my life by sharing her own life-force the only way she could, leaving us exquisitely and uniquely connected.

“By melding with me again?”

“We can only perform the mating ritual once, I’m afraid.”

“Then what?”

She raised her tail and showed me the stinger. “This isn’t lethal poison.”

I looked down and saw my new body, already feeling the numbness recede. Eight jointed spider legs ran from the edge of my vision to the floor. Lost in wonder, I raised a long barbed leg and stared. “Loris?” I asked at last.

She looked away. “I put him in your body, Steven. I’m sorry I couldn’t make his death glorious.”

I extended one leg, then another; skittered sideways before levelling myself.

Marla spoke again. “Steven. When I was dying, you had certain … thoughts about me.”

“I’m sorry. I —”

Her skin paled in a ripple from her nose to the tip of her tail. “—I’d just like to say that it’s about time.”

I stared at her for a long time, then found myself saying, “I know.” Later, as we walked down the long corridor to the outside world together, the Spider and the Lizard, I was already wondering what to tell the Service about how I ended up in my current shape. And I had no idea at all what they were going to make of my next request for a body.–>

EP340: Golubash (Wine-Blood-War-Story)


By Catherynne M. Valente
Read by Marguerite Croft
Discuss on our forums.
Originally appeared in Federations
All stories by Catherynne M. Valente
All stories read by Marguerite Croft
Rated 13 and up simply because kids likely won’t be into a story about wine.

Golubash (Wine-Blood-War-Story)
by Catherynne M. Valente

The difficulties of transporting wine over interstellar distances are manifold. Wine is, after all, like a child. It can _bruise_. It can suffer trauma—sometimes the poor creature can recover, sometimes it must be locked up in a cellar until it learns to behave itself. Sometimes it is irredeemable. I ask that you greet the seven glasses before you tonight not as simple fermented grapes, but as the living creatures they are, well-brought up, indulged but not coddled, punished when necessary, shyly seeking your approval with clasped hands and slicked hair. After all, they have come so very far for the chance to be loved.

Welcome to the first public tasting of Domaine Zhaba. My name is Phylloxera Nanut, and it is the fruit of my family’s vines that sits before you. Please forgive our humble venue—surely we could have wished for something grander than a scorched pre-war orbital platform, but circumstances, and the constant surveillance of Chatêau Marubouzu-Debrouillard and their soldiers have driven us to extremity. Mind the loose electrical panels and pull up a reactor husk—they are inert, I assure you. Spit onto the floor—a few new stains will never be noticed. As every drop about to pass your lips is wholly, thoroughly, enthusiastically illegal, we shall not stand on ceremony. Shall we begin?

2583 Sud-Cotê-du-Golubash (New Danube)

The colonial ship _Quintessence of Dust_ first blazed across the skies of Avalokitesvara two hundred years before I was born, under the red stare of Barnard’s Star, our second solar benefactor. Her plasma sails streamed kilometers long, like sheltering wings. Simone Nanut was on that ship. She, alongside a thousand others, looked down on their new home from  that great height, the single long, unfathomably wide river that circumscribed the globe, the golden mountains prickled with cobalt alders, the deserts streaked with pink salt.

How I remember the southern coast of Golubash, I played there, and dreamed there was a girl on the invisible opposite shore, and that her family, too, made wine and cowered like us in the shadow of the Asociación.

My friends, in your university days did you not study the rolls of the first colonials, did you not memorize their weight-limited cargo, verse after verse of spinning wheels, bamboo seeds, lathes, vials of tailored bacteria, as holy writ? Then perhaps you will recall Simone Nanut and her folly, that her pitiful allotment of cargo was taken up by the clothes on her back and a tangle of ancient Maribor grapevine, its roots tenderly wrapped and watered. Mad Slovak witch they all thought her, patting those tortured, battered vines into the gritty yellow soil of the Golubash basin. Even the Hyphens were sure the poor things would fail. There were only four of them on all of Avalokitesvara, immensely tall, their watery triune faces catching the old red light of Barnard’s flares, their innumerable arms fanned out around their terribly thin torsos like peacock’s tails. Not for nothing was the planet named for a Hindu god with eleven faces and a thousand arms. The colonists called them Hyphens for their way of talking, and for the thinness of their bodies. They did not understand then what you must all know now, rolling your eyes behind your sleeves as your hostess relates ancient history, that each of the four Hyphens was a quarter of the world in a single body, that they were a mere outcropping of the vast intelligences which made up the ecology of Avalokitesvara, like one of our thumbs or a pair of lips. (Continue Reading…)

EP333: Asteroid Monte


By Craig DeLancey
Read by Rajan Khanna
Discuss on our forums.
Originally appeared in Analog
All stories by Craig DeLancey
All stories read by Rajan Khanna
Rated 15 and up for language, drug abuse

Asteroid Monte
by Craig DeLancey

“You don’t look like an omnivore.”
I was supposed to spend the next several years working side-by-side
with this bear monster thing from an unpronounceable planet, and the
first words she speaks to me are these.
“Excuse me?”
“Your teeth are flat,” she hissed. “Like a herbivore’s.”
I had been waiting in the tiered square outside the Hall of Harmony,
main office of the Galactic police force officially called the
Harmonizers, but which everyone really called the Predators.
Neelee-ornor is one of those planets that makes me a believer. Cities
crowd right into forests as thick as the Amazon, and both somehow thrive
with riotous abandon. It proves the Galactic creed really means
something. Something worth fighting for. Something that could get me
to take this thankless job.
So I waited to meet my partner, as I sat on a cool stone bench under a
huge branch dripping green saprophytes. The air was damp but smelled,
strangely, like California after the rain, when I would leave CalTech
and hike into the hills. I almost didn’t want her to show, so I could
sit and enjoy it.
I really knew only three things about her. She had about two e-years
under her belt as a Predator. She was a Sussuratian, a race of fierce
bearlike carnivores evolved from predatory pack animals, only a century
ahead of humanity in entering Galactic Culture. And she was named
Briaathursiasaliantiormethessess.
God help me.
I rose awkwardly every time a Sussuratian passed, only to sit again
after it walked on. Finally I gave up, and then a moment later a
Sussuratian bounded out of the passing crowds, and addressed me with
this comment about my eating habits.
I sprung off the bench and bowed slightly. “I am Tarkos.” We were
talking Galactic. But my Galactic is pretty good, really. Better than
hers, I was betting. Her name, however, was a Sussuratian name, and in
that language a human larynx was hopeless. Well, here goes. “I am
honored to meet you Briaathursiasaliantiormethessess.”
She was about six feet long, with short dark fur that had black and
green and gold patterns in it reminiscent of a boa. She was a
quadraped, and walked on all fours, her claws clicking. Now she sat
back on her haunches and put her front hands together, threading the
seven claws on one hand through the seven on the other. The effect was
a Kodiak holding a bouquet of knives. Her four eyes — two large green
ones set below two small black ones — fixed on me.
“I am called Briaathursiasaliantiormethessess,” she said. (Continue Reading…)

EP321: Honor Killing


By Ray Tabler
Read by Mur Lafferty
Discuss on our forums.
An Escape Pod original!
All stories by Ray Tabler
All stories read by Mur Lafferty

Rated 10 and up for blaster violence.

Honor Killing
by Ray Tabler

You would think that after all the years I’ve spent schlepping cargoes around the galaxy I’d have learned not to get involved with the locals, especially when they’re not humans. You would think.

A Yanuleen sat down across the table from me in a bar at the edge of the landing field outside of Yanult’s largest city. Yanuleen are furry little
folk, bipedal and about a meter tall with six multi-jointed arms poking out at odd intervals around their middles. This one blinked beady, black eyes at me, “Greetings Sentient Being.”

“Uh, greetings.”

“Isn’t it a glorious piece?” My new buddy pointed an arm at the artwork on display in the middle of the bar.

Yanuleen are a bit nuts for that type of thing. They have artwork, mainly sculpture, everywhere, even in a bar. To me it just looked like a three-meter tall bundle of twigs with pieces of broken pottery tossed in at random.

“Very nice.” Being in a foul mood, I took a drink and stared at the Yanuleen.

“Here is being Klonoon.” He pointed all six arms at himself, in the manner of his kind. “Might here also being Captain Anne Katya Shim, who is having a cargo of entertainment modules impounded by the Port Authority?”
(Continue Reading…)

Science Future: Insuring Intelligence


Science fiction inspires the world around us. It inspires us to create our future. So we look to the future of science to find our next fiction. We look to Science Future. The Science Future series presents the bleeding edge of scientific discovery from the viewpoint of the science fiction reader, discussing the influences science and science fiction has upon each other.

Insuring Intelligence

The human race is the smartest life form on the plant Earth. To some that statement is simple fact and to others it sounds incredibly arrogant. Yet no one can deny the progress we’ve made scientifically in the last few centuries and with breakthrough technologies emerging quicker and quicker, very few claim to know where we are going.

However I claim to know where we should go and that place is outer space. So much of our science fiction draws upon the possibilities of what we could find beyond our own atmosphere. For example in Escape Pod 309: The Insurance Agent a significant portion of humanity had come to believe that intelligence beings come from somewhere other than Earth to embody the influential members of the human race such as Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Jean D’arc, Elvis, and Madonna.

Whatever you might personally believe about this theory the possibility of extraterrestrial life is not completely unprovable. For example, astronomers have discovered a quasar which is producing water which as we known is one of the major requirements for life as we know it. The quasar has in fact produced 140 trillion times more water than all that could be collected from the Earth. Of course this quasar is an estimated 12 billion light years away (about 30 billion trillion miles, not that means anything to the average person) so it is unlikely we will ever reach it without inventing or discovering some kind of faster than light travel, which is impossible according to our current understanding of physics. Or is it?

Scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research have released findings showing neutrinos, subatomic particles that make up an atom, that move faster than the speed of light. Their findings are now being rigorously studied for possible faults since it would begin a re-write of some of the fundamental theories of physics. Yet another example of how science slowly and methodically changes its view points in order to build a better understanding the universe. The human race, however, is not typically so methodic.

I can't speak to the paper's scientific merits, but it's really cool how on page 10 you can see that their reference GPS beacon is sensitive enough to pick up continential drift under the detector (interrupted halfway through by an earthquake).

In The Insurance Agent, it is explained that the Alien Theory of Spiritual Beings, as it is called, is a concept that goes in and out of vogue. This is understandable when you compare this to the conclusions found by scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Their studies show that if only ten percent of a population holds an unshakable belief, that said belief will end up being adopted by the majority of society. Even more interestingly, these beliefs, once they reach the critical ten percent threshold, tend to spread quickly. The best examples being the overthrowing of decade long dictatorships. Fundamentally most people don’t like to hold an unpopular opinion except, as a popular meme tells us, for haters, who have to hate.

Science fiction I think is an imperfect example of an unshakable belief. For years we have continued to write science fiction about space exploration and with each passing year, we understand and find more and more about the sky above us. The ideas put forth by our stories and their adoption by readers could be the ten percent needed to inspire the next young scientist to test if Lady Gaga is really an alien or not.

It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen. – Muhammad Ali

EP309: The Insurance Agent


By Lavie Tidhar
Read by Christian Brady
Discuss on our forums.
First appeared in Interzone, 2010
All stories by Lavie Tidhar
All stories read by Christian Brady

Rated inappropriate for seventeen and younger due to language and violence.

The Insurance Agent
By Lavie Tidhar

The bar was packed and everyone was watching the Nixon-Reagan match. The fighters were reflected off the bar’s grainy wood countertop and the tables’ gleaming surfaces and seemed to melt as they flickered down the legs of the scattered chairs. The bar was called the Godhead, which had a lot to do with why I was there. It was a bit of an unfair fight as Reagan was young, pre-presidency, circa-World War Two, while Nixon was heavy-set, older: people were exchanging odds and betting with the bar’s internal gaming system and the general opinion seemed to be that though Reagan was in better shape Nixon was meaner.

I wasn’t there for the match.

The Godhead was on Pulau Sepanggar, one of the satellite islands off Borneo, hence nominally under Malaysian federal authority but in practice in a free zone that had stronger ties to the Brunei Sultanate. It was a convenient place to meet, providing easy access to the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and, of course, Singapore, which resented the island’s role as a growing business centre yet found it useful at the same time.

She wore a smart business suit and a smart communication system that looked like what it was, which was a custom-made gold bracelet on her left arm. She wore smart shades and I was taking a bet that she wasn’t watching the fight. She was drinking a generic Cola but there was nothing generic about her. I slid into a chair beside her and waited for her shades to turn transparent and notice me.

‘Drink, Mr. Turner?’

(Continue Reading…)

EP302: Flash Extravaganza


Winners of our 2010 Flash Contest!
London Iron by William R. Halliar (narrator Andrew Richardson)
Wheels of Blue Stilton by Nicholas J. Carter (narrator Christian Brady)
Light and Lies by Gideon Fostick (narrator- Mur Lafferty)
All Escape Pod Originals!
And we end with a grand “It’s Storytime” montage put together by Marshal Latham!
Discuss on our forums.