Rich Larson was born in West Africa, has studied in Rhode Island and worked in Spain, and at 23 now writes from Edmonton, Alberta. His speculative fiction received the 2014 Dell Award and 2012 Rannu Prize for Writers of Speculative Fiction, and has been nominated for the Theodore Sturgeon Prize, while his literary short work has been nominated for both the Pushcart and Journey Prize. He was a semifinalist for the 2013 Norman Mailer Poetry Prize, and in 2011 his novel Devolution was a finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Alongside writing, he enjoys soccer, basketball, foreign languages, travel, sketching, and pool..
about the narrator…
Nathaniel Lee is Escape Pod’s assistant editor and sometime contributor. His writing can be found at various online venues, including Daily Science Fiction, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and all of the EA podcasts. He lives somewhat unwillingly in North Carolina with his wife and son and their obligatory authorial cats.
This story, like teenagers, contains copious amounts of profanity.
I’m fascinated by how people put amazingness together. Or awfulness (Let’s not pretend schadenfreude doesn’t happen). What field’s doing the assembly changes quite frequently. Sometimes I even try putting together some of it myself. I refuse to comment on which end of the A to A spectrum that falls on.
by Jason Kimble
My favorite part about skimming is that I’m not broken when I do it. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have levels, that I’m on or off, because that’s how everything’s supposed to be when you’re in the hypernet. Even if I’m not supposed to be in the hypernet.
I’m only able to skim because Kaipo left my interface node on. That was the day he told me I could call him Kaipo instead of Dr. Singh. His eyes are different than mine, but that’s not because of the Skew, and even if it is I wouldn’t care, because they’re pretty and dark and they twinkle a little bit when he smiles. We’d had sex twice when he told me I could call him Kaipo if we’re alone. Sex is almost as good as skimming, only it doesn’t last as long, and sometimes I’m stinky afterwards, which I’m not a fan of. Sometimes Kaipo smells like pumpkin, which I’m totally a fan of.
“Hi, Heady,” I say, rolling onto my side on the bed to look at her. I frown, which I know because the muscles at my jawbone ache a little when I frown. “Did you hear all that?”
Heady raises an eyebrow and purses her lips. Heady’s my big sister. Like, really big. Eight and a half feet big. That’s what the Skew did to her, blew her up bigger than life, but I think it suits her. She’s not as tough as she looks to most people, though. She’s totally as tough as she looks to me right now.
“Sorry,” I say, sitting up. “Sometimes I get confused about outside and inside my head.” That’s what the Skew did to me: broke my head. You can see that when I cut my hair or trim my beard, because the hairs change colors each time. Other people tell me it’s silly, but I like it. I can never decide if I like red or blue or green or purple or yellow more, and this way I get to have them all, and all’s better than some.
“Don’t worry, Sy,” she says, because Sy’s my name. “You never have to apologize to me.”
She smiles, and the muscles in my cheeks tense up so I know I’m smiling, too. She’s a good big sister, Heady. Even if she’s not real. (Continue Reading…)
Angi Shearstone is an award-winning professional artist with an MFA in comics, a small herd of cats, strong geek tendencies and a fondness for ska-core. She’s worked in children’s books with Mercer Mayer, in comics on Batman: Gotham County Line with Scott Hampton, collaborated with Mur Lafferty on Beyond the Storm: Shadows of the Big Easy, and otherwise has self-published a handful of comic book projects, two of which with Joe Sutliff Sanders.
She currently teaches nifty computer stuff to keep the bills paid while trying to get this epic-sized fully painted comic book series off the ground. Pitches have been made, grants have been applied for, BloodDreams is to be released sometime in the unspecified but not-too-distant future.
by RM Graves
Dog sat at her kit, in the cavernous dark at the back of the stage, with Meg’s kiss chilling on her lips. That hadn’t fixed her nerves at all. Now Dog’s chest shook worse than her hands, jacked up on the worry of letting her girlfriend down, again.
The crowd didn’t see or care. As Meg took her spot out front, they thrummed the darkness with their chanting, “Rock… Work! Rock… Work!”
Dog’s sticks were already slick in her palms as she snapped rubber bands around them. She shuffled in her seat, checked contacts, toggled switches and sensed Meg’s impatience, standing in the dark between the drums and hungry fans. Dog brushed trembling fingers over the kit and it twitched around her, jittery. It hated gigs.
“Come on, Rocky,” she whispered and cogs whirred back at her. She shook her head. “Purring? Seriously?”
The kit’s blind trust made Dog gulp an urge to up and run. No. This time. This time Meg would be proud of her. Proud of them. No screw-ups. No zoning out.
She took a deep breath and kicked a volley of hard thumps into the black. The audience hushed. Cannon-shot beats echoed, overlapped, and swelled like an approaching army. A machine-gun of rimshots and the lights, and the crowd, exploded.
Dog scowled into the glare of spotlights as the ‘Rockwork’ burst into life around her; a kit stretched beyond drums to form an entire robotic band. Butchered musical instruments twitched and writhed in a hellish chromed engine of noise. Cogs spun plectrums at wire. Hammers rapped on the broken teeth of piano keys. Thumbscrews wrenched raw electric scales out of strangled frets.
Dog set her features into maniacal control, sweat already trickling over her bald head, pooling in her eyebrows; her arms gleaming pistons at the snare and toms.
Meg swayed her hips to Dog’s driving cacophony; her playful nonchalance creating a tantalizing silhouette to the audience, but taunting Dog behind. Hinting at what she had to lose. The music press were in tonight, but there was more than the band at stake.
The Rockwork was autonomous to a point, but it relied on Dog to keep it in line. Left unchecked it would spin off on its own groove without regard to Meg. Or the audience. Dog pressed her lips, rolled an extravagant fill across the toms, thrashed out her anxiety in the splash and crash. Meg’s cue.
The fans bounced along with the opening bars. Meg tossed Dog a warning frown, the gobo’s lit her up, and her voice rang out. The crowd, already jumping, flung its hands in the air like antennae for more and howled in pleasure. (Continue Reading…)
Trixie got out of her cherry-red godmobile and waved away the flitting cherubim waiting to bear her to her sedan chair. She wasn’t in the mood for a reverent chorus of hosannas, and the sedan chair desperately needed re-springing. She felt every jostle and jounce from those damned pandas. A day didn’t pass that she didn’t regret adopting giant pandas as her sacred vahanas. Sure, it seemed like a good idea at the time. They were so cute with their roly-poly bellies and black-masked faces, but they were wholly unsuited to be beasts of conveyance. The excessive undulation of their waddling gaits was enough to make Captain Ahab seasick, and their exclusive diet of bamboo made them perpetually flatulent. The novelty of being hauled along by farting ursines in a stomach-roiling sedan chair had gotten very old very fast. But there wasn’t a lot she could do about it now. It was all about the brand. Pandas were part of her theology. If she adopted new vahanas, she’d likely end up with a splitter faction, possibly even a reformation. Such a pain in the ass.
So she’d started walking more—well, floating really, since gods weren’t supposed to tread the earth. Appearances and all.
Drifting a hairsbreadth above the pavement, Trixie pulled out her holy tablet and launched the Karmic Retribution app. The first thumbnail belonged to a Mr. Tom Ehler, the owner of the walkway and the two-story colonial house it led to. She unpinched two fingers across the screen to zoom up Mr. Ehler’s details. (Continue Reading…)
The girl was perfect. Her framing, the engine at her core, the intricate web of connections holding her objects together, built-in redundancies… Meroe had never seen such efficiency. The girl’s structure was simple because she didn’t need any of the shortcuts and workarounds that most of their kind required to function. There was no bloat to her, no junk code slowing her down, no patchy sores that left her vulnerable to infection.
“She’s a thing of beauty, isn’t she?” Faster said.
Meroe returned to interface view. He glanced at Zo and saw the same suspicion lurking in her beatific expression.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Meroe said, watching Zo, speaking to Faster. “We don’t grow that way.”
“I know!” Faster was pacing, gesticulating, caught up in his own excitement. He didn’t notice Meroe’s look. “She must have evolved from something professionally-coded. Maybe even Government Standard. I didn’t think we could be born from that!”
They couldn’t. Meroe stared at the girl, not liking what he was seeing. The avatar was just too well-designed, too detailed. Her features and coloring matched that of some variety of Latina; probably Central or South American given the noticeable indigenous traits. Most of their kind created Caucasian avatars to start — a human minority who for some reason comprised the majority of images available for sampling in the Amorph. And most first avatars had bland, nondescript faces. This girl had clear features, right down to her distinctively-formed lips and chin — and hands. It had taken five versionings for Meroe to get his own hands right.
“Did you check out her feature-objects?” Faster asked, oblivious to Meroe’s unease.
Zo answered. “Two of them are standard add-ons — an aggressive defender and a diagnostic tool. The other two we can’t identify. Something new.” Her lips curved in a smile; she knew how he would react.
(Note: We secured only audio rights to this story, so there will be no website version.)