Posts Tagged ‘mur lafferty’

EP339 – “Run,” Bakri Says


By Ferrett Steinmetz
Read by Mur Lafferty
Discuss on our forums.
Originally appeared in Asimov’s
All stories by Ferrett Steinmetz
All stories read by Mur Lafferty
Rated 15 and up for violence

“Run,” Bakri Says
By Ferrett Steinmetz

“I just want to know where my brother is,” Irena yells at the guards. The
English words are thick and slow on her tongue, like honey. She holds her
hands high in the air; the gun she’s tucked into the back of her pants jabs
at her spine.

She doesn’t want to kill the soldiers on this iteration; she’s never killed
anyone before, and doesn’t want to start. But unless she can get poor, weak
Sammi out of that prison in the next fifty/infinity minutes, they’ll start
in on him with the rubber hoses and he’ll tell them what he’s done. And
though she loves her brother with all her heart, it would be a blessing then
if the Americans beat him to death.

The guards are still at the far end of the street, just before the tangle of
barbed wire that bars the prison entrance. Irena stands still, lets them
approach her, guns out. One is a black man, the skin around his eyes
creased with a habitual expression of distrust; a fringe of white hair and
an unwavering aim marks him as a career man. The other is a younger man,
squinting nervously, his babyfat face the picture of every new American
soldier. Above them, a third soldier looks down from his wooden tower,
reaching for the radio at his belt.

She hopes she won’t get to know them. This will be easier if all they do is
point guns and yell. It’ll be just like Sammi’s stupid videogames.

“My brother,” she repeats, her mouth dry; it hurts to raise her arms after
the rough surgery Bakri’s done with an X-acto knife and some fishing line.
“His name is Sammi Daraghmeh. You rounded him up last night, with many
other men. He is – ”

Their gazes catch on the rough iron manacle dangling from her left wrist.
She looks up, remembers that Bakri installed a button on the tether so she
could rewind, realizes the front of her cornflower-blue abayah is splotched
with blood from her oozing stitches.

“Wait.” She backs away. “I’m not – ”

The younger soldier yells, “She’s got something!” They open fire.
Something tugs at her neck, parting flesh; another crack, and she swallows
her own teeth. She tries to talk but her windpipe whistles; her body
betrays her, refusing to move as she crumples to the ground, willing herself
to keep going. Nothing listens.

This is death, she thinks. This is what it’s like to die.

#

“Run,” Bakri says, and Irena is standing in an alleyway instead of dying on
the street – gravity’s all wrong and her muscles follow her orders again.
Her arms and legs flail and she topples face-first into a pile of rotting
lettuce. The gun Bakri has just pressed into her hands falls to the ground.

Dying was worse than she’d thought. Her mind’s still jangled with the
shock, from feeling all her nerves shrieking in panic as she died. She
shudders in the garbage, trying to regain strength.

Bakri picks her up. “What is your goal?” he barks, keeping his voice low so
the shoppers at the other end of the grocery store’s alleyway don’t hear.

Why is he asking me that? she thinks, then remembers: all the others went
insane. She wouldn’t even be here if Farhouz hadn’t slaughtered seventeen
soldiers inside the Green Zone.

It takes an effort to speak. “To – to rescue Sammi.”

“Good.” The tension drains from his face. He looks so relieved that Irena
thinks he might burst into tears. “What iteration? You did iterate,
right?”

“Two,” she says numbly, understanding what his relief means: he didn’t know.
He’d sent her off to be shot, unsure whether he’d linked her brother’s
technology to the heart monitor he’d stuck in the gash in her chest. It was
supposed to trigger a rewind when her heart stopped. If he’d misconfigured
it, Irena’s consciousness would have died in an immutable present.

Irena looks back at The Save Point, stashed underneath a pile of crates, a
contraption that’s totally Sammi; it’s several old X-Boxes wired together
with rusted antenna and whirligig copper cups, the humming circuitry glowing
green. It looks like trash, except for the bright red “<<" arrows Sammi spraypainted onto the side. That, and the fact that it just hauled her consciousness back through time. Bakri gives her an unapologetic nod: yes, I sent you off to die. "We can't let the Americans get it." "No," she agrees, then runs out to the street, headed four blocks down to where the prison is. She closes her hands into fists so her fingers don't tremble. She's been shot. She will be shot again, and again, until she rescues Sammi. # "Run," Bakri says, and this time she pushes the tether up around her arm - it's wide enough to slide up over her bicep, underneath her abayah's billowing sleeves - but the guards are panicky. They shoot her when she crosses the chain they've strung across the road to the prison entrance. God damn you, she thinks. I'm not like Sammi. I don't want to kill you. But they're terrified of what Fahrouz did. He cut the throats of seventeen men before anyone heard him; it's why the Americans rounded up anyone who had any connection to the resistance last night, including her brother. They think Fahrouz was a new breed of super-soldier; they believe any brown face is capable of killing them. But she's just a girl who's never fired a gun, not even in Sammi's stupid videogames. "Run," Bakri says. She tries climbing the high fence around the prison, but the barbed wire rips at her hands and the guard on the wooden sniper platform scans the prison every sixty seconds. He is inhuman, never tiring (at least in the fifty minutes she has before The Save Point's power fades and she's pulled back to the alleyway) - and his aim is infallible. He introduces her to the horror of her first headshot; when she reappears in the alleyway, her brain patterns are so scrambled she has a seizure. "Run," Bakri says. She tries different approaches; she smears her face with blood, yelling there's a shooter in the marketplace. She weeps, approaching as a mourner. She sneaks from the shadows. Anything to avoid killing them. They yell that they have orders to open fire on anyone crossing the line. Though they wince when they pull the trigger, open fire they do. "Run," Bakri says. She tries prostrating herself upon the ground. As she kneels to place her hands on the concrete, the tether slides down her arm. The sudden movement causes them to fire. "Run," Bakri says. She's getting good at dying, now. The trick is to go slack, so you don't flail upon waking when you rewind. Yet surrendering to her body's shutdown is like dying before she's dead. And every time she returns, Bakri's grabbing her with his sweaty palms, demanding to know her goal. "Stop it." She slaps his hands away. She shakes the iron bracelet at him; things inside it rattle. "You gave me a tether that looks like a damn bomb. No wonder they're shooting me! You have to restart it - Sammi made a tether you could bite down on, so no one could see - " "That one broke when they shot Fahrouz in the head," Bakri snaps back. "You're lucky I could build any tether at all. You're lucky I'm here. Everyone else thinks this machine just drives men mad. They want Sammi to die." The stitches from where Bakri implanted the heart monitor never stop hurting, her gashes always bleeding in the same way. She's always thirsty; her body can never relieve itself as she loops through the same time again and again. She gorges herself on stolen drinks from the marketplace between the alleyway and the prison - but then she's back with Bakri, dryness tickling the back of her throat. Why didn't she drink before Bakri started this? Why didn't anyone tell her to start the Save Point when she was lying down, so she wouldn't keep falling over? "Run," Bakri says. She wishes she could tell Sammi about her improvements. All this hard-earned knowledge, lost. It becomes a game of inches. The babyfaced soldier is hair-trigger, ripping her body to shreds the moment anything unexpected happens - oh, Fahrouz, you put the fear of God into these Americans, you were only supposed to steal a laptop - but he's also a softie, arguing with his older compatriot if she's crying. The older black man is hard-edged, by the book; he yells that he will shoot if she comes two steps closer, and he always does. Sometimes the babyfaced one vomits as she's dying. The soldier on the wooden sniper platform always looks down like a distant God, crossing himself as she bleeds out. Then Bakri, asking her what her goal is. "Run," Bakri says. She doesn't always die. She can usually get to the button on her wrist. But dying never gets easier. Her mind understands what will happen; her body cannot. No matter how she steels herself for the bullet, her body overwhelms conscious thought with dumb animal terror. "Run," Bakri says. She learns to optimize. If she's crying this way to tug on the younger one's emotions, and creeps that way when the older soldier's busy bickering with the young one that they can't help, then how far can she get before they fire? There's a wet newspaper flattened against the street, then a tire track a little further, then a rusty coil of barbed wire next to the entrance. She can get past the newspaper consistently, nearly getting to the tire track before they blow her apart; what can she say that will get her to the barbed wire? "Run," Bakri says. Their conversations become monotonous variants: Sir, she needs help. We have orders, soldier. Nothing she can do will make them discuss the weather, or tell her what cell her brother's in, or even smile. Just the same recycled topics, chopped into different words. It reminds her of home, listening to Sammi outwit AI guards and their recycled vocabulary, back when Sammi built bombs and played videogames. "Run," Bakri says. Now she can always hit the tire track. Sammi always played videogames. He hated going outside. He got political at thirteen after Mother was blown apart by a smart missile programmed with the wrong coordinates. Even then, Sammi never placed the bombs. He just handed people boxes of death, with instructions where to place them. Irena remembers how he'd tinker with his explosives and then play first-person shooters to relax, as though they were aspects of the same thing. "Run," Bakri says. Sammi was a genius with wires. When the Americans jammed the cell phones he used to activate his bombs, Sammi set the bombs to go off fifteen minutes after the cell phone signal cut out. And when the Americans got a jamming device that fuzzed the signal but didn't kill it, he switched to proximity sensors. Then he started working on other sensors - sensors that predicted when people would walk by, sensors that sent signals back to twenty seconds before they were disconnected. By the time he was seventeen, bombs bored him. He started other experiments. "Run," Bakri says. Now she's consistently past the tire track, her fingers halfway to the barbed wire. She'd gotten janitorial jobs for Sammi's volunteers, after they'd finished their trial runs with The Save Point. They made lousy employees. They knocked over cups of coffee and stared at the spill for minutes, then sobbed in relief. Irena understands why, now. They were grateful the spill stayed. Something remained changed - unlike her thirst, unlike the gash in her side, unlike the endlessly soft-hearted boy soldier and his hard-assed sergeant. "Run," Bakri says. Now her fingers always touch the barbed wire. Now she knows how to die. Now she fires the gun when they're perfectly distracted. She aims for the young one first because he shot her first, it's only fair; the gun's kick almost knocks it from her hands. She fires three more times, gets lucky, the third shot catches him in that babyface, a wet red fountain, and as he tumbles to the ground she laughs because she's no longer scared. She knows why Fahrouz killed seventeen soldiers. He was just supposed to get a laptop and get out, but how many times was he beaten before he slipped past the spotlights? How long did he endure the fear of being shot before he realized the Save Point erased all consequences? The guards' dumbstruck surprise as she kills them is the repayment for a thousand torments they can never remember. "Run," Bakri says. She does, now, eagerly. She's going to kill them as many times as they killed her. # Irena realizes she's drifting off-mission when she starts shooting Bakri in the face. She didn't mean to shoot him; it's just that Irena had gone down in a particularly bad firefight with the soldiers, one where they'd shot her left arm before tackling her to the ground, and she'd barely jammed the tether-button against the pavement before they hauled her off to prison. And she'd fallen over again once she'd rewound, and Bakri'd grabbed her and yelled "What is your goal?" and she yelled that her goal was to shut him up and she shot him. It was a good idea, as it turns out. She needs to shoot well, and firefights aren't a good time for lessons. So when Bakri says "Run," now she walks down the alley, takes aim, and shoots Bakri in the head. The marketplace shrieks when they hear the gun, but she just empties the clip at a garbage can and presses the tether-button. "Run," Bakri says. Bakri should be the one running, but he doesn't know. He's always surprised. If her first shot doesn't kill him, he weeps apologies. "Run," Bakri says. Then, once she jams the gun into his belly, he blubbers: "I know I should have told you the heartbeat monitor might not work. But you might not have done it then - we can't let Sammi's ideas fall into their hands!" She doesn't care about that. That was weeks ago. "You drove him insane, didn't you?" she asks. "He wanted to stop, didn't he?" "Him who?" Bakri is dumbfounded. Fahrouz was just yesterday for him, and already he's forgotten. She shoots him. "Run," Bakri says. She feels a pang of guilt once she realizes that Bakri might not even know what he did. Yet she knows what happened all the same: they told Fahrouz he had to get the laptop, and condemned him to God knows how many cycles of breaking into the Green Zone until he returned with one. Bakri and Sammi would never have turned it off until Fahrouz brought them results. The machine doesn't drive people mad. Its controllers do. "Run," Bakri says. She tortures Bakri for a while, trying to get him to turn off The Save Point. He won't, and she can't break him in fifty minutes. Bakri knows Sammi will reveal The Save Point's mechanisms once they start in with the serious interrogations. He tells her he'd die a thousand times before he let the Americans have this technology. "Run," Bakri says. "Run," Bakri says. "Run," Bakri says. Irena gets up to three hundred and seven deaths before she takes Bakri at his word. She thinks about shooting The Save Point to end it all. But Bakri barely got it working, and Sammi's told her there's a shutdown sequence. What if she unplugs it and everything freezes but her? Her brother's technology is as vicious and unpredictable as Sammi himself. She doesn't dare. Her aim's improved, though. She stops shooting Bakri and goes off to start in on the soldiers again. She's getting closer; she can catch the sniper on his wooden tower one time out of three now, and she almost always kills hard-ass or babyface. Though she's shot them enough that she thinks it's no longer their fault. It's the damn machine. It puts them into position like chess pieces. If it wasn't for the machine, they could see the sunset, quench their thirst with lemonade, do something other than be railroaded into a shootout. The machine reduces them to inputs and outputs. Was Sammi ever angry? She doesn't think so. That thought slides under her skin like a splinter as she re-runs the four blocks to the prison. When her mother died, Irena didn't have time for anger. She had to feed her family. She hustled pirated DVDs, worked tables, whatever it took. But she cried when no one was looking. Sammi never cried. He just played videogames and built bombs. She'd yelled at him for playing the Americans' videogames, but he went on about how well-designed they were. "Run," Bakri says. As she runs, she remembers a conversation: "Does it ever bother you that your bombs kill people?" she'd asked Sammi one night, as he harvested yet another X-Box for parts. "That's the goal," he agreed, not looking up. "No, but. what if it kills the wrong people?" "Bound to happen." He plucked a chip out, held it to the light. "Sometimes, people are in the wrong place." Irena flushed with anger. "Mother was in the wrong place." He frowned, seemed to notice her for the first time. "Well, yes." He cocked his head and squinted at her, confused. "She was." "Run," Bakri says. Those four blocks are getting longer. She'd told herself she couldn't judge Sammi's genius by the standards of other people. Besides, the bombs paid for their apartment. But now, running, she wonders: did Sammi make bombs to avenge his dead mother? Or was it a convenient excuse to make things that interested him? "Run," Bakri says. She's always running for Sammi. And by luck more than skill, she finally shoots all three. Clean headshots. They fall to the ground, the sniper toppling from his roost. Irena stands over their bodies, dumbfounded. I'm just a girl, she thinks. How did I kill three wary soldiers? Then she remembers how long she's been doing this. Months. Maybe years. She's almost forgotten what she's supposed to do now. She searches the older soldier's body for the key, praising God that this is just a holding location - a real prison would have thumbprint scanners and cameras - and she wonders why reinforcements aren't charging out of the gates. Then she realizes: this has all taken perhaps ninety seconds in their time. Nobody knows yet. She flings open the door to see a dank prison lobby in dreary bureaucrat beige, plastic bucket seats and buzzing fluorescent lights and a battered front desk. A receptionist sits at the desk - not a soldier, a local boy in an American uniform, looking strangely out of place. He glances up, surprised, from a phone call. "Where is Sammi?" She smiles. It's been so long since she had a new conversation. She aims the gun at him. He puts down the phone. "S-Sammi?" he stammers. She's surprised he doesn't know already, then remembers this is all new to him. It's a pleasant reminder that the whole world hasn't been reduced to Sammi's Save Point. "Samuel Daraghmeh." "He's." He looks it up. "In cell #8." "And that is where?" He points down a hallway with trembling fingers. She presses the gun barrel to his temple, whispers in his ear: "If you alert anyone, I will kill you every time from now on, and you will never know why." She removes the gun from his holster, shoots the phone. She hears a wet dribble on the tile as he pees himself. The prisoners see the young girl with the gun walking through the halls. They rise, bruised and bleeding, begging her to save them. Their words are canned. They will say the exact same thing whenever she returns. She ignores them. The guards inside don't wear bulletproof vests, making this easy. The prisoners cheer as she fires. And there, bunched in with ten other sweaty, beaten men, is Sammi. He looks miserable; the other men have crowded him out until he's perched on the dog-end of a cot. His lower lip sticks out as he stares at a urine stain in the corner, so concerned with his own fate that he hasn't even noticed the other men cheering. No wonder she has to rescue him. He's supposed to be reclined in a La-Z-Boy, a game controller in hand, not in a place where people actually get hurt. She motions the other prisoners aside, presses her face against the rusted bars. "Have you ever seen one of your bombs go off?" He registers the voice, not the words, jumping up with the same boyish thrill he gets whenever he beats a final boss. "Irena!" he shouts, running to the bars. His eyes well with tears of relief. She unlocks the cell door. "The rest of you run," she tells them. "I need to talk to my brother." "Irena." Sammi's chest heaves. "I knew you'd come for me." "Always. But listen. Bakri is dead." That much, she thought, was true; she'd taken to strangling Bakri and burying his body under the garbage as a matter of routine. "How do you shut down the machine?" "Oh, it's better than I'd thought," he says, eyes shining. "You're a part of my project! How many iterations did it take to get in? A thousand? Two thousand? You must have improvements." "I do," she agrees. "I want to understand how it works. Tell me how to exit the loop." He does. It's simpler than she'd thought. She hugs Sammi. "You did it," she whispers. "Your machine is perfect. It makes an untrained girl into an unstoppable killer." He squeezes her in triumph. She lets him ride his moment of absolute perfection, judging when her brother is happiest. Then she jams the gun against the base of his neck and pulls the trigger. His face explodes. She clutches his body until it ceases quivering. Then she drops him. Should she be sorrier? She probes her numbness and feels nothing. She shrugs, starts the walk back to The Save Point to shut it down and dismantle it. It's not until she gets to the lobby that the tears come. It takes her a moment to understand what's triggering them. From under the desk she can hear the muffled sobbing of the receptionist. He must have hid when the prisoners escaped. She stops long enough to tug him out, struggling, from the desk, then embraces him tightly. He shivers, a frightened bird, as she nuzzles him, wetting his shoulder with tears. "I don't have to kill you," she says, smelling his hair, feeling his clothes, loving him more than anyone she's ever loved before.

EP338 – The Trojan Girl


By N. K. Jemisin
Read by Mur Lafferty
Discuss on our forums.
Originally appeared in Weird Tales
All stories by N. K. Jemisin
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Rated 15 and up for language

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.

“Why?”

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.)

EP334: The Eckener Alternative


By James L. Cambias
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Originally appeared in All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, edited by David Moles, 2004
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Rated all ages. Zeppelins!

The Eckener Alternative
by James L. Cambias

The Hindenburg swung gently on the mast at Lakehurst as the sky over New Jersey turned to purple twilight.  All the passengers, the reporters, the newsreel men were gone.  A couple of sailors stood guard beneath the big ship to enforce the no-smoking rule.

John Cavalli waited until the watchman below had turned away, then slid down the stern rope to the ground.  He hunkered down next to the big rolling anchor weight for a couple of minutes, then hurried off into the darkness beyond the floodlights.

Once he was clear, Cavalli stopped to peel off the Russian army arctic commando suit he’d been wearing ever since the Zeppelin had lifted off from Frankfurt-am-Main.  It had kept him warm as he hid among the gas cells with his IR goggles and fire extinguisher, but now in the warmth of a spring evening it was stifling.

He hit the RETURN button on his wristband and disappeared. (Continue Reading…)

EP330: The Ghost of a Girl Who Never Lived


By Keffy R. M. Kehrli
Read by Mur Lafferty
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Originally appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show.
All stories by Keffy R. M. Kehrli
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Rated 13 and up

The Ghost of a Girl Who Never Lived
By Keffy R. M. Kehrli

I am Sara’s second body.

My first memory is of Sara’s resurrection in a room that smelled of cotton balls and hydrogen peroxide.

“That’s funny,” a man said.

The world felt raw, sore, and new. Under my back, my butt, my fingertips, I could feel every thread in the sheets beneath me. The blanket over my stomach scratched. Padded straps crossed my arms.

“What’s funny?” This voice was a woman’s.

“Got another error message,” the man answered. “Have you ever seen that one before?”

I felt the sheets with Sara’s fingers, and the texture conjured memories I didn’t have. I should have known where I was and what I was there for, but I couldn’t catch hold of the fleeting thoughts. In the dim light of the room I could only see the ceiling.

“Let me see.” I heard a frenzied clicking. “It failed twice?” (Continue Reading…)

EP324: Long Winter’s Nap


By Catherine H. Shaffer
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First published in Analog, 2006
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Nothing objectionable in this episode, except it may not be appropriate for the younger folk, as the story does discuss Santy Clawr.

Long Winter’s Nap
by Catherine H. Shaffer

“Eat,” said MooninMama, “You have a long winter ahead.” LittlestOne turned her head away as MooninMama lifted the spoon of raspberry pie dripping with honey and caribou fat. LittlestOne was sleepy, too sleepy, for what she planned.

“I am already full,” said LittlestOne. Her stomach rumbled, giving away her lie.

MooninMama shrugged and set the plate away. It was beginning to get cold in the cave as the crackling fire burned down to embers. Soon it would be time to sleep, time to dream of spring, when they would awaken, shivering, and find that Santy Clawr had visited them.
(Continue Reading…)

EP321: Honor Killing


By Ray Tabler
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An Escape Pod original!
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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…)

EP319: Driving X


By Gwendolyn Clare
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First appeared in Warrior Wisewoman 3
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Driving X
by Gwendolyn Clare

Carmela wouldn’t have stopped if she had known that the kid was still alive.

She spotted the body lying under a creosote bush, maybe ten yards from
the road, and she hit the brakes.  She grabbed the roll cage of the
old dune buggy and pulled herself up, standing on the driver’s seat to
scan in both directions along the unpaved road.  A dust devil twirled
a silent ballet off to the southeast, but hers was the only man-made
dust trail in evidence for miles.  She raised her hand to cover the
sun and squinted into the bleached, cloudless sky–no vultures yet,
which was good, since vultures attract attention.  Minimal risk, she
decided.

The dune buggy itself wasn’t that valuable, but the newer-model solar
panels powering it would be enough to tempt any sane person, and the
carboys of potable water were worth a small fortune out here.

Carmela swung out of the dune buggy and jogged over to check out the
body.  It was tall but skinny, with the not-yet-filled-out look of a
teenager.  Pale skin, a tint of sunburn, brown hair cropped at
chin-length.  The girl was lying face down in the dust, so Carmela
rolled the body over and checked her front pockets for anything of
interest.  A month ago, she would have felt ashamed, but scavenging
was the norm down here; after all, dead people don’t miss what you
take from them.
(Continue Reading…)

EP308: Kill Me


By Vylar Kaftan
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First appeared in Helix, 2007
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Rated inappropriate for seventeen and younger due to language and violence.

[Note- we do not have the ebook rights, but you can read it at Transcriptase!]

Kill Me
by Vylar Kaftan

I’m sitting cross-legged on a rock in west Texas, somewhere north of El Paso, bleeding into the dirt. The pose feels like a meditation. I’m fascinated with the knife mark on my left thigh, a shallow slash from hip to knee. It’s surrounded by bruise clusters that look like flowers of broken skin. In the silent desert, I hear only the soft clicking of the car cooling down. Then his urine splashes against the rock behind me, and I hear his zipper when he’s done. The night breeze is icy on my back, drying the blood into clots. He did me well, I admit, glancing up at the full desert moon. If my body survived–which it wouldn’t–I would be scarred, possibly disfigured. The welts on my back throb like electricity, and everything–the moon, the desert, the wind–is alive with me.

He walks in front of me. I look up at the man who brought me all the way from Denver. He looks like a black dog, matted and angry, and growls like one too. My eyes travel to the cluster of thick hair springing from his shirt neck. He folds his arms over his chest.

“The night’s almost over,” I remind him.

He scowls. “Get in the trunk.”

I hesitate–he paid me to do the shy-girl act, a popular one–and he grabs my arm. He hauls me over the rear bumper into the trunk of his ’33 Axis. He slaps me once across the face–not as hard as I expected–and crumples me into the tight compartment. He slams the trunk closed, catching my hair in the door. I try to pull free, but it’s no use. I don’t think he meant that part, but he doesn’t seem to notice the long trail of hair hanging out of the trunk. The car door opens and the ignition starts. I tug on my hair once more and then relax, concentrating on where I hurt, where my body throbs with pain.

As many times as I’ve done this, I still try to experience it all. Because it’s not every day you experience death. Only every three months.

EP300: We Go Back


By Tim Pratt
Read by: Mur Lafferty
An Escape Pod original!
Discuss on our forums.
All stories by Tim Pratt
All stories read by Mur Lafferty

Rated appropriate for younger teens and up – occasional adult language.

Episode 300! Wow!

We Go Back
Tim Pratt

My best friend Jenny Kay climbed in through my window and nearly stepped on my head. If I’d been sleeping a foot closer to the wall, I would’ve gotten a face full of her boot, but instead I just snapped awake and said “What who what now?” and blinked a lot.

“Oh damn,” Jenny said in a loudish whisper. “When did you move your bed under the window?”

“Last week,” I said, sitting up in bed. “I wanted a change.” If you can’t rearrange your life, you can at least rearrange yourself, and if your mom won’t let you dye your hair blue, you can make do with rearranging your rooms.

Jenny Kay dropped from standing to sitting in one motion, making my mattress bounce, and landed cross-legged and totally comfortable. “Hey,” she said. “So I need to borrow your ring.” I couldn’t read her expression in the dim moonlight from the window.

I looked at my right hand, where a thin silver ring looped my index finger, catching what light there was in the room and giving back twinkles. The metal grew cold against my skin and tightened a fraction, almost a friendly little squeeze. The ring — which wasn’t really a ring — could tell when I was thinking about it. “Uh,” I said.

Jenny nodded vigorously, a motion I felt in the jostling of the mattress more than I saw. “I know! I know. But I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important. I mean, you’ve had the thing for more than a year, and I’ve never asked once if I could use it, right?”

I glanced at my closed door — no glow under the crack at the bottom, which meant my parents had gone to their separate beds and turned out the hall light — and switched on my bedside lamp. Jenny was dressed in jeans and a sweater, all in dark grays and blacks, not her usual aggressively flamboyant colorful mishmash style at all. Good for sneaking into people’s windows, I guessed.

I sat up against the headboard, because when you’re about to annoy your best friend, it’s better not to be flat on your back at the time. “I wish I could,” I said — not one hundred percent true, but Jenny was a fourteen-year-old genius, not a human lie detector. “But it’s, like… part of me. You know? I’m part of the mechanism. I can’t just take it off. It’s linked into my, what’s it called, socratic nervous system?”

“Somatic,” Jenny said gloomily. She was almost as good at biology as she was at math. “The part of your nervous system that controls movement, which sort of halfway makes sense, I guess.”

I shrugged. “So, there you go. The ring’s not something I wear. It’s something that wears me. Or we wear each other. What did you want it for?”

(Continue Reading…)

EP296: For Want of a Nail


By Mary Robinette Kowal
Read by: Mur Lafferty
Originally appearing in Asimov’s
Discuss on our forums.
All stories by Mary Robinette Kowal
All stories read by Mur Lafferty
Nominated for the Hugo Award for Short Story, 2011

Rated appropriate for teens and up for language.

For Want of a Nail
By Mary Robinette Kowal

With one hand, Rava adjusted the VR interface glasses where they bit into the bridge of her nose, while she kept her other hand buried in Cordelia’s innards. There was scant room to get the flexible shaft of a mono-lens and her hand through the access hatch in the AI’s chassis. From the next compartment, drums and laughter bled through the plastic walls of the ship, indicating her sister’s conception party was still in full swing.

With only a single camera attached, the interface glasses didn’t give Rava depth perception as she struggled to replug the transmitter cable. The chassis had not been designed to need repair. At all. It had been designed to last hundreds of years without an upgrade.

If Rava couldn’t get the cable plugged in and working, Cordelia wouldn’t be able to download backups of herself to her long-term memory. She couldn’t store more than a week at a time in active memory. It would be the same as a slow death sentence.

The square head of the cable slipped out of Rava’s fingers. Again. “Dammit!” She slammed her heel against the ship’s floor in frustration.

“If you can’t do it, let someone else try.” Her older brother, Ludoviko, had insisted on following her out of the party as if he could help.

“You know, this would go a lot faster if you weren’t breathing down my neck.”

“You know, you wouldn’t be doing this at all if you hadn’t dropped her.”

(Continue Reading…)