Posts Tagged ‘brian trent’

Escape Pod 614: Sparg


Sparg

By Brian Trent

Sparg had difficulty making pancakes, but he was trying.

In the empty apartment, he clutched the silver bowl with one tentacle to hold it steady. With another, he attempted the far trickier business of whipping the batter as he’d seen his owners do many, many times. The bowl was bigger than him. The counter was sticky with flour, egg, and ink.

From his cage, he had watched them conduct this peculiar ritual enough times to understand it was how they prepared their food. More elaborate than the brown fish-pellets they gave him. When his food dish was empty, they usually noticed as they shuffled in from the bedroom each morning. If they didn’t, Sparg would gently thump his tentacles against the bars until they came over to see what was the bother. Then strange sounds would issue from their red mouths:

Sparg’s food dish is empty. Can you get the bag?” (Continue Reading…)

EP576: Karma Among the Cloud Kings


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. (Continue Reading…)

EP533: 2016 Flash Fiction Contest Winners


Bona Fide

by Ben Hallert

The block’s turning into a rough neighborhood, the kind of place murder victims go to hang out.  It’s nasty and dirty but it’s home.  What’s got me pissed isn’t a little trash, it’s these stupid glasses everyone’s wearing.  Government wastes money on them instead of doing their goddamn jobs, drives me nuts.  The worst part: that dumb smile.  You know the one.  Bunch of fakers, walking around smiling at all the filth like it’s high art.

“Hey man, forget your specs?”  Crap, a cornerboy snuck up on me because I wasn’t paying attention.  He holds out a set.  “Free pair.”

“I pay my taxes, boy, it’s not free.  Bug off.”  I keep walking, the pest follows.

“Ok, then you’ve already paid.”  He waves ’em again.

“I don’t want ’em.  My taxes should go to REAL cleanup and maintenance, not…  those.”  I stop, point.  “They’re insulting, I’m not interested in fantasy.”  I walk again, faster.  The boy keeps pace, switching to that infuriating ‘reasonable tone’ parents use when they’re trying to con kids out of being monsters.  I don’t NEED to be handled, I just want him gone.

“Look guy…. if you don’t take these, someone’ll try again later, then again after that.  Might as well get it over with.”  He brightens.  “Hey, you can just turn off the overlay if you want, you know.”

I slow.  “I can turn ’em off?  And you’ll all leave me alone?”

“Sure, you can turn off any enhancement.  Click your tongue twi-”

“Yeah, I’m not a caveman.”  I grab the set.  “Ok, you win.  Go bug someone else.”  I scowl at the glasses as he leaves to find his next mark, then put ’em on.  Everything around me changes.

I ignore the pretty lies and start configuring.  I know if I don’t, the slums’ll look like new construction, the garbage in the street’ll be gone, and everyone’ll have the bodies of freakin’ supermodels.  After a minute, I’ve got honest, dingy reality back.  I’ll take true filth over fake clean anyday, but… everyone still has that dumb smile. I want to scream “It’s not real!  It’s a lie, they’re faking you out and you’re buying it!”  I want to, but they say I sound like a crazy person when I drop hard truths so sometimes I don’t.

They don’t care.  They get their shiny buildings and pretty people and nobody has to DO anything for it.

Well, at least the cornerboys’ll stop hassling me.  I squint, it’s bright out.  Re-open the editor, make ’em sunglasses.  Not bad.  For funsies, I flip one of those idiot mouths upside down.  Oh, this is rich, the simp looks so messed up.  I flip a setting so everyone’s like that.  That’s better, now I don’t have to look at the grins anymore.

Fine.  They can have their illusions, I’ll stay in the real world.  I know the score, I’ve got my integrity.

I keep walking, the last honest man in a world of lies, and I smile.

(Continue Reading…)

EP478: People of the Shell


People of the Shell

by Brian Trent

Egypt’s rolling ice-dunes were suddenly peppered by a new ashstorm, as if a bowl of soot had overturned in the heavens. King Cyrus held up his fist and the war drummer ceased his rhythmic pounding, the oarsmen relaxed, and the sandship ground to a halt in the slush. The ash sprinkled Cyrus’ cloak and collected in his beard. He leaned against the deck rails and stared.

“Do you see that?” Cyrus asked his daughter, lowering his facemask around his smile. “Look!”

The girl squinted. “Are those the pyramids, father?”

“As I promised you.”

Three fires danced high in the darkness. In a world of never-ending night, the Egyptians alone had devised a brilliant defiance. The Giza pyramids were like magical lighthouses, capstones removed, their vast bodies filled with pitch, and red fires lit to smolder like desperate offerings to the vanished sun.

Standing on the sandship deck alongside his king, the Magus Jamshid said, “May they welcome us warmly. We are in no condition to fight.”

“I did not need a fight to take Babylon,” Cyrus reminded him.

“That was before the Hammerstrike, my lord.”

But the king waved his hand dismissively. “I will go to them and look in their eyes, and speak to them as friends, and trust that generosity has not perished with the trees.”

The withered magus grunted derisively. He was bearded and ancient, his skin like the patina of old scrolls. Jamshid wore a dark blue turban, facemask, and a scintillating black robe the same color as his pitched eyebrows. His gaze smoked like hot iron.

(Continue Reading…)

EP466: Checkmate


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!”   (Continue Reading…)

EP415: The Nightmare Lights of Mars


The Nightmare Lights of Mars

by Brian Trent

Before discovering the moths, Clarissa Lang stumbled blind in the Martian sandstorm and admitted she was about to die because of a painting.

Granules of sand flew past her head at 90 kph and crunched between her teeth. The storm hissed around her ears, a terrible insistence that she hush forever. There was no excuse for this death, Clarissa thought. Weather advisories had been in place for an hour. Her death would become a digital footnote, filed under foolishness, for all time.

She staggered blind and tacked through the needle-spray. Red sand piled around her neck and shoulders, grew around her mouth like exaggerated lipstick.
“Overlay!” she shouted — tried to shout — but her mouth instantly filled with gritty particulate. She panicked then, the first moment of true mindless panic. But the Martian Positioning Satellite had heard her cry: Maureen’s property map sprang up in her left eye, drawn scarlet against each blink.

The house was thirty meters northwest. Upwind.

Clarissa tucked herself into a protective ball and scuttled sideways, like a crab. The sand struck her exposed hands and face in a shifting, relentless wave.

I’ll never make it.

Clarissa could no longer breathe. A recent story from the Japanese colony in Cydonia leapt to her mind, in which a grandmother had been caught outside in a sandstorm, wandered around in circles for ten minutes in the hissing tempest, and finally suffocated an arm’s length from her front door. When they found her, her stomach, throat, and mouth were bulging with sand.

The toolshed! I can make the tool shed!

Clarissa turned away from her house and the full brunt of the sandstorm slammed into her back, tearing the jacket, spraying around her body in silhouette. For a fleeting instant, she was able to suck clean air into her lungs. Then the sand closed around her again.
(Continue Reading…)