Posts Tagged ‘sci fi’

EP396: Dead Merchandise


About the Author…

A firm believer in the “apply butt to chair, then fingers to keyboard” philosophy, Ferrett Steinmetz writes for at least an hour every day – which helps, he promises. He is a graduate of both the Clarion Writers’ Workshop and Viable Paradise, and has been nominated for the Nebula Award, for which he remains stoked.

Ferrett has a moderately popular blog, The Watchtower of Destruction, wherein he talks about bad puns, relationships, politics, videogames, and more bad puns. He is the creator of the most popular and comprehensive online purity quizzes (this one’s for sex, but he’s also done them for roleplaying and Livejournal). He’s written four computer books, including the still-popular-after-two-years Wicked Cool PHP.

He lives in Cleveland with his wife, who he couldn’t imagine living without.

About the Narrator…

Kathy Sherwood resides in a (probably only figuratively) magical forest in North Central Florida, with her significant other, two dogs and two cats.  She also hosts alternative rock show Not Quite Random on 88.5 WFCF–Flagler College Radio.

Dead Merchandise
by Ferrett Steinmetz

The ad-faeries danced around Sheryl, flickering cartoon holograms with fluoride-white smiles. They told her the gasoline that sloshed in the red plastic canister she held was high-octane, perfect for any vehicle, did she want to go for a drive?
She did not. That gasoline was for burning. Sheryl patted her pockets to make sure the matches were still there and kept moving forward, blinking away the videostreams. Her legs ached.

She squinted past a flurry of hair-coloring ads (“Sheryl, wash your gray away today!”), scanning the neon roads to find the breast-shaped marble dome of River Edge’s central collation unit. River’s Edge had been a sleepy Midwestern town when she was a girl, a place just big enough for a diner and a department store. Now River’s Edge had been given a mall-over like every other town — every wall lit up with billboards, colorful buildings topped with projectors to burn logos into the clouds. She was grateful for the dark patches that marked where garish shop-fronts had been bombed into ash-streaked metal tangles.
The smoke gave her hope. Others were trying to bring it all down — and if they were succeeding, maybe no one was left to stop her.

Rotting bodies leered out at her through car windows, where computer-guided cars had smashed headlong into the collapsed shopfronts that had fallen into the road. Had the drivers been fleeing, or trying to destroy the collation unit? She had no idea.
The ad-faeries sang customized praises to each auto as she glanced at the cars, devising customized ditties about the ’59 Breezster’s speed. Sheryl needed speed; at her arthritic pace, walking through the women’s district might tempt her into submission.

Given that the ad-faeries suggested it, driving was a terrible idea. River’s Edge had been so gutted by bombings that she’d have to drive manually — and it was already hard to see through the foggy blur of chirping ad-faeries, each triangulating her cornea’s focal point to obscure her vision for the legal limit of .8 seconds. They elbowed each other aside, proffering chewy pomegranate cookies, diamond-edged razors, laser-guided wall-bots that would paint her house a new color every day.
She had no use for them. She’d burned her house down, leaving Rudy’s body underneath the pile of engraved stones with her sons’ names on them.

She had to pass through the two main shopping districts to destroy the collation center at River’s Edge — and if she did that, then she could free Oakmoor, then Daleton, and then who knows where?  But they’d kill her if she weakened. (Continue Reading…)

EP395: Robot


About the Author…

Helena Bell is a poet and writer living in eastern North Carolina.  She has a BA, an MFA, aJD, and LLM in Taxation which fulfills her lifelong ambition of having more letters follow her name than are actually in it.  Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Clarkesworld, Shimmer, Brain Harvest and Rattle.  Her story “Robot” is a nominee for the 2012 Nebula Award for Best Short Story, and her website is www.helbell.com.

About the Narrator…

Eleiece Krawiec lives in a suburb of New Orleans, Louisiana. She began voice acting in early 2007, discovered how much she liked it, and is still going strong. She’s voiced (and continues to voice) characters for Star Trek: Excelsior, Star Trek: Outpost and a variety of characters for Misfits Audio.

Robot
by Helena Bell

You may wash your aluminum chassis on Monday and leave it on the back porch opposite the recyclables; you may wash your titanium chassis on Friday if you promise to polish it in time for church; don’t terrorize the cat; don’t lose the pamphlets my husband has brought home from the hospital; they suggest I give you a name, do you like Fred?; don’t eat the dead flesh of my right foot until after I have fallen asleep and cannot hear the whir of your incisors working against the bone.

This is a picture of the world from which you were sent; this is a copy of the agreement between our government and theirs; these are the attributes they claim you are possessed of: obedience, loyalty, low to moderate intelligence; a natural curiosity which I should not mistake for something other than a necessary facet of your survival in the unfamiliar; this is your bill of manufacture; this is your bill of sale; this is a warrant of merchantability on which I may rely should I decide to return you from whence you came; this is your serial number, here, scraped in an alien script on the underside of your knee; the pamphlets say you may be of the mind to touch it occasionally, like a name-tag, but if I command you, you will stop.

This is a list of the chores you will be expected to complete around the house when you are not eating the diseases out of my flesh; this is the corner of my room where you may stay when you are not working; do not look at me when you change the linens, when you must hold me in the bathroom, when you record in the notebook how many medications I have had that day, how many bowel movements, how the flesh of my mouth is raw and bleeding against the dentures I insist on wearing.

The pamphlets say you are the perfect scavenger: completely self contained, no digestion, no waste; they say I can hook you up to an outlet and you will power the whole house.

You may polish the silver if you are bored; you may also rearrange the furniture, wind the clocks, pull weeds from the garden; you may read in the library any book of your choosing; my husband claims you have no real consciousness, only an advanced and sophisticated set of pre-programmed responses, but I have seen your eyes open in the middle of the night; I have seen you stare out across the fields as if there is something there, calling you. (Continue Reading…)

EP394: Good Hunting


by Ken Liu

Read by John Chu

About the Author…

I’ve worked as a programmer and as a lawyer, and the two professions are surprisingly similar. In both, one extra level of indirection solves most problems.

I write speculative fiction and poetry. Occasionally, I also translate Chinese fiction into English.

My wife, Lisa Tang Liu, is an artist. I’m working on a novel set in a universe we came up with together.

Things I like: pure Lisp, clever Perl, tight C; well-designed products, the Red Sox; sentences that sound perfect in only one language; math proofs that I can hold in my head; novels that make me quiver; poems that make me sing; arguments that aren’t hypocritical; old clothes, old friends, new ideas.

Labels that fit with various degrees of accuracy: American, Chinese; Christian, Daoist, Confucian; populist, contrarian, skeptic, libertarian (small “l”); a liminal provincial in America, the New Rome.

About the Narrator…

John designs microprocessors by day and writes fiction by night. His work has been published at Boston Review, Asimov’s and Tor.com. His website is http://johnchu.net

Good Hunting
by Ken Liu

Night. Half moon. An occasional hoot from an owl. The merchant and his wife and all the servants had been sent away. The large house was eerily quiet. Father and I crouched behind the scholar’s rock in the courtyard. Through the rock’s many holes I could see the bedroom window of the merchant’s son. “Oh, Tsiao-jung, my sweet Tsiao-jung…” The young man’s feverish groans were pitiful. Half-delirious, he was tied to his bed for his own good, but Father had left a window open so that his plaintive cries could be carried by the breeze far over the rice paddies. “Do you think she really will come?” I whispered. Today was my thirteenth birthday, and this was my first hunt.

“She will,” Father said. “A _hulijing_ cannot resist the cries of the man she has bewitched.”

“Like how the Butterfly Lovers cannot resist each other?” I thought back to the folk opera troupe that had come through our village last fall.

“Not quite,” Father said. But he seemed to have trouble explaining why. “Just know that it’s not the same.”

I nodded, not sure I understood. But I remembered how the merchant and his wife had come to Father to ask for his help.

_”How shameful!” The merchant had muttered. “He’s not even nineteen. How could he have read so many sages’ books and still fall under the spell of such a creature?”_

_”There’s no shame in being entranced by the beauty and wiles of a _hulijing_,” Father had said. “Even the great scholar Wong Lai once spent three nights in the company of one, and he took first place at the Imperial Examinations. Your son just needs a little help.”_

_”You must save him,” the merchant’s wife had said, bowing like a chicken pecking at rice. “If this gets out, the matchmakers won’t touch him at all.”_

A _hulijing_ was a demon who stole hearts. I shuddered, worried if I would have the courage to face one.

Father put a warm hand on my shoulder, and I felt calmer. In his hand was Swallow Tail, a sword that had first been forged by our ancestor, General Lau Yip, thirteen generations ago. The sword was charged with hundreds of Daoist blessings and had drunk the blood of countless demons.

A passing cloud obscured the moon for a moment, throwing everything into darkness.

When the moon emerged again, I almost cried out.

There, in the courtyard, was the most beautiful lady I had ever seen. (Continue Reading…)

EP393: Red Card


by S. L. Gilbow

Read by Heather Bowman-Tomlinson

About the Author…

(taken from http://www.johnjosephadams.com/brave-new-worlds/table-of-contents/red-card-s-l-gilbow/) S. L. Gilbow is a relatively new writer, with five stories published to date, four inThe Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and one in [the] anthology Federations.Gilbow served twenty-six years in the Air Force, and has been on dozens of deployments, and has flown more than 2000 hours as a B-52 navigator. He currently makes his living by teaching English at a public high school in Norfolk, Virginia.

Everyone knows that James Bond has a “license to kill.”  As an international spy, he must sometimes fight for his life. But he’s a trained government employee, specially selected for Her Majesty’s Service.  But could you trust just anyone with a license to kill?

What about your neighbor?

Or your boss?

In fact, what if the government gave everybody one free pass to shoot one person,any person, for whatever reason?

That’s the premise of [this] story.  S. L. Gilbow says that the idea for “Red Card” actually came from a conversation he had with his daughter, Mandy.  “One day after a driver cut me off in heavy traffic, I… turned to my daughter and said, ‘Everyone should be allowed to shoot one person without going to prison.’ My daughter thought for a second then turned to me and said, ‘Dad, if that were true you would have been dead a long time ago.’”

About the Narrator…

“I may not be perfectly wise, perfectly witty, or perfectly wonderful, but I am always perfectly me.” Anonymous
The best part of my life is being Bill’s wife. I’m a horticulturist by trade, current stay at home mom for two children, team mom for the local Goalball team, and advocate for Blind/Visually Impaired causes and adoption causes. I love D20 gaming, reading, camping and canoeing, card playing, and music.

Red Card
by S.L. Gilbow

    Late one April evening, Linda Jackson pulled a revolver from her purse and shot her husband through a large mustard stain in the center of his T-shirt.  The official after incident survey concluded that almost all of Merry Valley approved of the shooting.  Sixty-four percent of the townspeople even rated her target selection as “excellent.”  A few, however, criticized her, pointing out that shooting your husband is “a little too obvious” and “not very creative.”

Dick Andrews, who had farmed the fertile soil around Merry Valley for over thirty years, believed that Larry Jackson, more than anyone else in town, needed to be killed.  “I never liked him much,” he wrote in the additional comments section of the incident survey.  “He never seemed to have a good word to say about anybody.”

“Excellent use of a bullet,” scrawled Jimmy Blanchard.  Born and raised in Merry Valley, he had known Larry for years and had even graduated from high school with him.  “Most overbearing person I’ve ever met.  He deserved what he got.  I’m just not sure why it took so long.”

Of course, a few people made waves.  Jenny Collins seemed appalled.  “I can hardly believe it,” she wrote.  “We used to be much more discerning about who we killed, and we certainly didn’t go around flaunting it the way Linda does.”  Jenny was the old-fashioned kind.

Linda would never have called her actions “flaunting it.”  Of course she knew what to do after shooting Larry.  She had read The Enforcement Handbook from cover to cover six times, poring over it to see if she had missed anything, scrutinizing every nuance.  She had even committed some of the more important passages to memory:  Call the police immediately after executing an enforcement–Always keep your red card in a safe, dry place–Never reveal to anyone that you have a red card–Be proud; you’re performing an important civic duty.

But flaunting it?  No, Linda blended in better than anyone in town, rarely talked and never called attention to herself.  She spent most of her days at the Merry Valley Public Library, tucked between rows of antique shelves, alone, organizing a modest collection of old books.  In the evening she fixed dinner.  After Larry had eaten, cleaned up and left the house for “some time alone,” Linda would lie in bed reading Jane Austen.  No, Linda never flaunted anything–never had much to flaunt.

(Continue Reading…)

EP392: Aftermaths


About the Author…
Lois McMaster Bujold was born 2 November 1949 in Columbus, Ohio. She attended Ohio State University from 1968 to 1972, but didn’t graduate. She describes her real education as reading five books a week for ten years from the Ohio State University stacks, reading enormous amounts of SF as a teenager, and listening to her father, an engineer. She discovered fandom in 1969, and married fellow fan John Fredric Bujold in 1971 (now recently divorced); they have one son and one daughter.She started writing in 1982, and sold her first story to Twilight Zone in 1985. Then in one glorious moment, Baen bought all three of the novels she had already written. All three were published in 1986.She has won four Hugo awards in the Novel category, more than any other writer except for Robert A Heinlein, (excluding his Retro Hugo) and yet many SF readers have never heard of her!Lois was on the Locus Recommended Reading list with Falling FreeBrothers In ArmsMountains of MourningLabyrinthBarrayar and Mirror Dance. She won the Locus Award for BarrayarMirror Dance and Paladin of Souls.She won the Nebula Award for Falling Free and The Mountains of Mourning. She won the Hugo Award for The Vor GameBarrayarMirror DancePaladin of Soulsand The Mountains of Mourning. She was nominated for the John W Campbell Award in 1987.

About the Narrator…

Aside from producing, Mat is also a graphic designer, an amateur voice actor, an amateur father, a forum agitator and a professional fat guy who has been trying desperately to take up jogging. You can follow him as he does all of these things at matweller.com.

EP391: Making My Entrance Again With My Usual Flair


by Ken Scholes
Read by Bill Bowman

About the Author…
He sold his first story to Talebones Magazine in 2000 and won the Writers of the Future contest in 2004.  His quirky, offbeat fiction continues to show up in various magazines and anthologies like Polyphony 6, Weird Tales and Clarkesworld Magazine.In 2006, his short story “Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise” appeared in the August issue of Realms of Fantasy.  Later that year, inspired by Allen Douglas’s uncanny painting of Isaak and taunted by his friends and family to finally write a novel, Ken extended that story and Lamentation was born.  Lamentation is the first in a five book series from Tor Books called The Psalms of IsaakKen lives near Portland, Oregon, with his amazing wonder-wife Jen West Scholes and twin daughters:  Elizabeth Kathleen and Rachel Ann. He invites readers to contact him through the website or through his blog.  When he’s not writing, Ken loses himself in Story elsewhere or sings Paul Simon songs to his immoveable cats.

About the Narrator…

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

Making My Entrance Again With My Usual Flair
by Ken Scholes


No one ever asks a clown at the end of his life what he really wanted to be when he grew up. It’s fairly obvious. No one gets hijacked into the circus. We race to it, the smell of hotdogs leading us in, our fingers aching for the sticky pull of taffy, the electric shock of pink cotton on our tongue. Ask a lawyer and he’ll say when he was a kid he wanted to be an astronaut. Ask an accountant; he’ll say he wanted to be fireman.

I am a clown. I have always wanted to be a clown. And I will die a clown if I have my way.

My name is Merton D. Kamal.

The Kamal comes from my father. I never met the man so I have no idea how he came by it. Mom got the Merton bit from some monk she used to read who wrote something like this: We learn humility by being humiliated often. Given how easily (and how frequently) Kamal is pronounced Camel, and given how the D just stands for D, you can see that she wanted her only child to be absolutely filled to the brim with humility.

My Mom is a deeply spiritual woman.

But enough about her. This is my story.

“Merton,” the ringmaster and owner Rufus P. Stowell said, “it’s just not working out.”

I was pushing forty. I’d lost some weight and everyone knows kids love a chubby clown. I’d also taken up drinking which didn’t go over well right before a show. So suddenly, I found myself without prospects and I turned myself towards home, riding into Seattle by bus on a cold November night.

Mom met me at the bus stop. She had no business driving but she came out anyway. She was standing on the sidewalk next to the station wagon when she saw me. We hugged.

“I’m glad you’re home,” she said.

I lifted my bag into the back. “Thanks.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Not really.”

We went to Denny’s anyway. Whenever my Mom wanted to talk, we went to Denny’s. It’s where she took me to tell me about boys and girls, it’s where she took me to tell me that my dog had been hit by a car.

“So what are you going to do now?” She cut and speared a chunk of meatloaf, then dipped it into her mashed potatoes and gravy before raising it to her mouth.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess I’ll fatten up, quit drinking, get back into the business.” I watched her left eyebrow twitch—a sure sign of disapproval. I hefted my double bacon cheeseburger, then paused. “Why? What do you think I should do?”

She leaned forward. She brought her wrinkled hand up and cupped my cheek with it. Then she smiled. “I think you’ve already tried the clown thing, Merton. Why don’t you try something different?”

I grinned. “I always wanted to be a sword-swallower but you wouldn’t let me.”

“What about . . . insurance?”

“Well, it gets steep. The swords are real, Mom.”

The eyebrow twitched again. “I’m being serious. Remember Nancy Keller?”

Of course I did. I’d lost my virginity with her back in eleventh grade. It was my second most defining moment that year. Three days later, Rufus P. Stowell’s Traveling Big Top rolled into town and my first most defining moment occurred. They said I was a natural, I had the look and the girth. Would I be interested in an internship? I left a note for Nancy in her mailbox thanking her for everything in great detail, hugged my Mom goodbye and dropped out of high school to join the circus.

Mom was still waiting for me to answer. “Yes, I remember her.”

“Well, she’s some big mucky-muck now at CARECO.”

“And?” I took a bite of the cheeseburger.

“And I told her you were coming home and asked her if she’d interview you.”

I nearly choked. “You did what?”

“I asked her if she’d interview you. For a job.”

I had no idea what to say.

So the next morning, Mom took me down to J.C. Penney’s and bought me my first suit in thirty years. That afternoon, she dropped me downtown in front of the CARECO building, waved goodbye and drove away.

The CARECO building was new. I’d visited a few times over the years, had watched buildings come and buildings go. But I had never seen anything like this. It looked like a glass Rubik’s Cube tilted precariously in a martini glass full of green jello. Inside, each floor took on the color coding of the various policies they offered. Life insurance was green. Auto, a deep blue. I can’t remember what color Long-Term Disability was. Each color had been painfully worked out, according to a plaque near the door, by a team of eminent European corporate psychologists. Supposedly, it would enhance productivity by reducing the depression inherent within the insurance industry.

While I was reading the plaque, a man stepped up to me. He was as tan as a Californian, wearing sunglasses and a Hawaiian shirt despite impending rain. I went back to reading.

“Excuse me,” he said.

“Yes?”

“Have you seen a monkey around here?”

I shook my head, not really paying attention to the question. “Sorry.”

He smiled. “Thanks anyway.”

I went inside. I rode three escalators, two elevators and talked to seven receptionists. I sat in a chair that looked like plastic but was really made of foam. I filled out long and complicated application forms.

An hour later, someone took me up into an office at the top of the highest point of the inside of the glass Rubik’s Cube.

Nancy Keller looked up. She smiled until my escort closed the door on her way out.

“Merton D. Camel,” she said, stretching each syllable.

“Kamal. Hi Nancy.” The view from her office was spectacular. The walls were glass framed in steel and I could see the city spread out around me in a wide view that pulled at my stomach. The office had a modern-looking desk in the middle of it, a few chairs and some potted plants.

“I’m surprised to see you after so long. Back from clowning around?”

“I am.” I smiled. “You look good.“ And she did. Her legs were still long but her hair was short and she’d traded her Van Halen tank top for a crisp blue suit.

She ignored my compliment and pointed to another of those foam chairs. “Let’s get this over with.”

I sat. She sat. I waited, trying to ignore the places where my wool suit created urgent itching.

She studied my application, then she studied me. I kept waiting. Finally, she spoke. “This interview,” she said, “consists of two questions.” She leaned forward and I realized the button on her suit coat had popped open to reveal more cleavage than I remembered her having. “First question. Do you remember the day you left for the circus, three days after our . . . special moment.” She made little quote marks in the air when she said “special.”

I nodded. “I do. I left you a note.” I grinned. “I think I even said thank you. In some detail.”

She nodded, too. “Second question. Did you ever stop to think that maybe . . . just maybe . . . my father would be the one getting the mail?” She stood and pushed a button on her desk. I stood, too. “Thank you for coming, Mr. Camel. Patrice will see you out.” She extended her hand. I shook it and it was cold.

Later, I was working on my third bowl of ice cream and looking over the Twelve Steps when her assistant called with the offer.

* * *

“It’s easy,” Nancy Keller said again. I wasn’t sure I’d heard her right. “I want you to drive a monkey to our branch office in New Mexico.”

“That’s my job?”

She nodded. “If you don’t futz it up, there’ll be another.”

“Another monkey?”

“No,” she said. “Another job. This monkey’s one of a kind.”

“And you’re sure you don’t want me to just take him to the airport and put him on a plane?”

“I’m sure.”

I should’ve asked why but didn’t. “Okay. When do I leave?”

“As soon as you get your Mom’s car.” She noticed my open mouth. “This monkey,” she said, “needs as much anonymity as possible.”

“I’m traveling with an incognito monkey in a twenty-year-old station wagon?”

“Yes. You’d better get changed.”

“Changed?” I knew I’d worn the suit two days in a row but I figured the first day didn’t really count.

“You can’t be seen like that. What would a guy in a suit need with a monkey? I need a clown for this one.”

I was opening my mouth to question all of this when Patrice came in with a thick envelope. Nancy took it, opened it, and started ruffling through the hundred-dollar bills.

“I’ll get changed, get the car, be back in an hour,” I said.

Nancy smiled. It was a sweet smile, one that reminded me of eighties music and her parents’ ratty couch. “Thanks, Merton.”

* * *

The monkey and I drove southeast, zigzagging highways across Washington, crossing over the Cascades into dryer, colder parts of the state. There was little snow on the pass and the miles went by quickly.

The monkey was in an aluminum crate with little round holes in it. They’d loaded him into the back in their underground parking garage. Two men in suits stood by the door, watching.

“You shouldn’t need anything else, Merton,” Nancy said. “He’s pretty heavily sedated. He ought to sleep all the way through.”

I looked at the map, tracing my finger along the route she’d marked in blue highlighter. “That’s . . . around seventeen hundred miles, Nancy.” I did some math in my head. “At least two days . . . and that’s if I really push it.”

“Just bring his crate into your hotel room. Discreetly, Merton.” She smiled again. “You’ll be fine. He’ll be fine, too.”

Naturally, I’d said okay, climbed into the car and set out for Roswell, New Mexico.

When we crossed into Oregon, the monkey woke up.

I knew this because he asked me for a cigarette.

I swerved onto the shoulder, mashing the brakes with one clown-shoed foot while hyperventilating.

“Just one,” he said. “Please?”

I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough. After a few minutes of pacing by the side of the road, convincing myself that it was the result of quitting the booze cold turkey, I poked my head back into the car.

“Did you say something?” I asked, holding my breath.

Silence.

Releasing my breath, I climbed back into the car. “I didn’t think so.” I started the car back up, eased it onto the road. I laughed at myself. “Talking monkeys,” I said, shaking my head.

“Monkeys can’t talk,” the monkey said. Then he yawned loudly.

I braked again.

He chuckled. “Look pal, I’m no monkey. I just play one on TV.”

I glanced up into the rearview mirror. A single dark eye blinked through one of the holes. “Really?”

He snorted. “No. I don’t. Where are we supposed to be going?”

“Roswell, New Mexico.”

“And what does that tell you?”

I shrugged. “You got me.”

“Let’s just say I’m not from around here.”

“Where are you from?” But it was sinking in. Of course, I didn’t believe it. I had laid aside the cold turkey alcohol withdrawal theory at this point and was wondering now if maybe I was tilting more towards a psychotic break theory.

“Unimportant. But I’m not a monkey.”

“Okay then. Why don’t you go back to sleep?”

“I’m not tired. I just woke up. Why don’t you let me out of this box and give me a cigarette?”

“I don’t smoke.”

“Let’s stop somewhere, then. A gas station.”

I looked back at him in the rearview mirror. “For someone that’s not from around here, you sure know an awful lot.” More suspicion followed. “And you speak English pretty good, too.”

“Well,” the monkey said. “I speak it well. And I may not be from here but I’ve certainly spent enough time on this little rock you call home.”

“Really?” Definitely a psychotic break. I needed medication. Maybe cognitive therapy, too. “What brings you out this way?”

“I’m a spy.”

“A monkey spy?”

“I thought we’d already established that I’m not a monkey.”

“So you just look like one?” I gradually gave the car some gas and we slipped back onto the highway.

“Exactly.”

“Why?”

“I have no idea. You’d have to ask my boss.”

I pushed the station wagon back up to seventy-five, watching for road signs and wondering if any of the little towns out here would have a psychiatrist. “Where’s your boss?”

“Don’t know,” the monkey said. “I gave him the slip when I defected.”

“You defected?”

“Of course I defected.”

“Why?”

“Got a better offer.”

It went on like that. We made small talk and Oregon turned into Idaho. I never asked his name; he never offered. I found a Super Eight outside Boise and after paying, hauled his crate into the room.

“So are you going to let me out?”

“I don’t think that’d be such a good idea,” I told him.

“Well, can you at least get us a pizza? And some beer?”

“Pizza, yes,” I said. “Beer, no.” I called it in and channel-surfed until it arrived.

The holes presented a problem. And I couldn’t just eat in front of him. I went to open the crate.

It was locked. One of those high powered combination jobs.

“Odd, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I said. “A bit.”

He sighed. “I’m sure it’s for my own protection.”

“Or mine,” I said.

He chuckled. “Yeah, I’m quite the badass as you can see.”

That’s when I picked up the phone and called Nancy. She’d given me her home number. “Hey,” I said.

“Merton. What’s up?”

“Well, I’m in Boise.”

“How’s the package?”

“Fine. But . . . .“ I wasn’t sure what to say.

“But what?”

“Well, I went to check on the monkey and the crate’s locked. What’s the combination?”

“Is the monkey awake?” Her voice sounded alarmed.

I looked at the crate, at the eye peeking out. “Uh. No. I don’t think so.”

“Has anything—” she paused, choosing her word carefully, “—unusual happened?”

I nearly said you mean like a talking space alien disguised as a monkey? Instead, I said, “No. Not at all. Not really.” I knew I needed more or she wouldn’t believe me. “Well, the guy at the front desk looked at me a bit funny.”

“What did he look like?”

“Old. Bored. Like he didn’t expect to see a clown in his lobby.”

“I’m sure he’s fine.”

I nodded, even though she couldn’t see me. “So, about that combination?”

“You don’t need it, Merton. Call me when you get to Roswell.” The phone clicked and she was gone.

* * *

In the morning, I loaded the monkey back into the car and we pointed ourselves towards Utah.

We picked up our earlier conversation.

“So you defected? To an insurance company?” But I knew what he was going to say.

“That’s no insurance company.”

“Government?”

“You’d know better than I would,” he said. “I was asleep through most of that bit.”

“But you’re the one who defected.”

He laughed. “I didn’t defect to them.”

“You didn’t?”

“No. Of course not. Do you think I want to be locked in a metal box in the back of a station wagon on my way to Roswell, New Mexico, with an underweight clown who doesn’t smoke?”

I shrugged. “Then what?”

“There was a guy. He was supposed to meet me in Seattle before your wacky friends got me with the old tag and bag routine. He represents certain other interested parties. He’d worked up a bit of an incognito gig for me in exchange for some information on my previous employers.”

I felt my eyebrows furrow. “Other interested parties?”

“Let’s just say your little rock is pretty popular these days. Did you really think the cattle mutilations, abductions, anal probes and crop circles were all done by the same little green men?”

“I’d never thought about it before.”

“Space is pretty big. And everyone has their schtick.”

I nodded. “Okay. That makes sense, I guess.” Except for the part where I was still talking to a monkey and he was talking back. It was quiet now. The car rolled easy on the highway.

“Sure could use a cigarette.”

“They’re bad for you. They’ll kill you.”

“Jury’s still out on that,” the monkey said. “I’m not exactly part of your collective gene pool.” He paused. “Besides, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter.”

“It doesn’t?”

“What do you really think they’re going to do to me in Roswell?”

The monkey had a point. The next truck stop, I pulled off and went inside. I came out with a pack of Marlboros and pushed one through the little hole. He reversed it, pointing an end out to me so I could light it. He took a long drag. “That’s nice,” he said. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Suddenly my shoulders felt heavy. As much as I knew that there was something dreadfully wrong with me, some wire that had to be burned out in my head, I felt sad. Something bad, something experimental was probably going to happen to this monkey. And whether or not he deserved it, I had a role in it. I didn’t like that at all.

“Have you seen a monkey around here?” the California Tan Man had asked me two days ago in front of the CARECO building.

I looked up. “Hey. I saw that guy. The one in Seattle. What was the gig he had for you? Witness protection type-thing?”

“Sort of. Lay low, stay under everyone’s radar.”

Where would a monkey lay low, I asked myself. “Like what?” I said. “A zoo?”

“Screw zoos. Concrete cage and a tire swing. Who wants that?”

“What then?”

Cigarette smoke trailed out of the holes in his crate. “It’s not important. Really.”

“Come on. Tell me.” But I knew now. Of course I knew. How could I not? But I waited for him to say it.

“Well,” the monkey said, “ever since I landed on this rock I’ve wanted to join the circus.”

Exactly, I thought, and I knew what I had to do.

“I’ll be back,” I said. I got out of the car and walked around the truck stop. It didn’t take long to find what I was looking for. The guy had a mullet and a pickup truck. In the back of the pickup truck’s window was a rifle rack. And in the rifle rack, a rifle. Hunting season or not, this was Idaho.

I pulled that wad of bills from my wallet and his eyes went wide. He’d probably never seen a clown with so much determination in his stride and cash in his fist. I bought that rifle from him, drove out into the middle of nowhere, and shot the lock off that crate.

When the door opened, a small, hairy hand reached out, followed by a slender, hairy arm, hairy torso, hairy face. He didn’t quite look like a monkey but he was close enough. He smiled, his three black eyes shining like pools of oil. Then, the third eye puckered in on itself and disappeared. “I should at least try to fit in,” he said.

“Do you want me to drop you anywhere?” I asked him.

“I think I’ll walk. Stretch my legs a bit.”

“Suit yourself.”

We shook hands. I gave him the pack of the cigarettes, the lighter and all but one of the remaining hundred dollar bills.

“I’ll see you around,” I said.

* * *

I didn’t call Nancy until I got back to Seattle. When I did, I told her what happened. Well, my version about what happened. And I didn’t feel bad about it, either. She’d tried to use me in her plot against a fellow circus aficionado.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” I said. “We were just outside of Boise, early in the morning, and there was this light in the sky.” I threw in a bit about missing time and how I thought something invasive and wrong might’ve happened to me.

I told her they also took the monkey.

She insisted that I come over right away. She and her husband had a big house on the lake and when I got there, she was already pretty drunk. I’m a weak man. I joined her and we polished off a bottle of tequila. Her husband was out of town on business and somehow we ended up having sex on the leather couch in his den. It was better than the last time but still nothing compared to a high wire trapeze act or a lion tamer or an elephant that can dance.

Still, I didn’t complain. At the time, it was nice.

Three days later, my phone rang.

“Merton D. Kamal?” a familiar voice asked.

“Yes?”

“I need a clown for my act.”

“Does it involve talking monkeys?” I asked with a grin.

“Monkeys can’t talk,” the monkey said.

So I wrote Nancy a note, thanking her in great detail for the other night. After putting it in her mailbox, I took a leisurely stroll down to the Greyhound Station.

When the man at the ticket counter asked me where I was headed, I smiled.

“The greatest show on earth,” I said. And I know he understood because he smiled back.


EP390: Cerbo un Vitra ujo


By Mary Robinette Kowal
Read by Veronica Giguere

Discuss on our forums. 

Cerbo un Vitra ujo
By Mary Robinette Kowal

Grete snipped a diseased branch off her Sunset-Glory rosebush like she was a body harvester looking for the perfect part. Behind the drone of the garden’s humidifiers, she caught a woosh-snick as the airlock door opened. Her boyfriend barreled around Mom’s prize Emperor artichoke.

Something was wrong.

The whites showed around Kaj’s remarkable eyes, a blue-green so iridescent they seemed to dull all the plants around them. “Mom and Dad got me a Pass to a down-planet school!”

The blood congealed in her veins. Kaj would leave her. Grete forced a smile. “That’s the outer limit!”

“I didn’t even know they’d applied. Fairview Academy—game design.” His perfect teeth flashed like sunshine against the ink of space.

“It’s wacking crazed. Should’ve been you, you’re a better hack than me.”

“I’m already entitled to school.” Grete winced as the words left her mouth. Like he didn’t know that. He was the middle of five children, way past the Banwith Station family allowance. She picked up the pruning sheers to hide the shake in her hands. How would she live without Kaj? “So, I guess you got packing to do and stuff.”

“They provide uniforms. All I’m taking is my pod with music and books. Zero else.” Kaj slid his arm around her waist and laced his long, delicate fingers through hers. “And I want to spend every moment till launch with you.”

She loved him so much, it hurt. Grete leaned her head against him, burning the feel of his body into her memory. She breathed in the musky smell of his sweat and kissed his neck, sampling the salt on his skin.

After a moment, Kaj hung a chain around her neck. The metal tags hanging from it were still warm from his body.

“What?”

“Dogtags, like they used in the oldwars. I put all my bios on there so you’d remember me.”

“Kaj Lorensen, don’t think I could forget you.”

But if he was away at school, he might forget her. She studied her rosebush and freed the most perfect rose with her sheers. She held it out to him, suddenly shy.

He kissed the rose and then her palm. Grete sank into his gaze, lost in the blue-green of his eyes. (Continue Reading…)

EP389: Keeping Tabs


By Kenneth Schneyer
Read by Dani Cutler

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Keeping Tabs
By Kenneth Schneyer

I was so excited when I could finally buy a Tab. They cost so much, you know, but I saved up for maybe six months. I waitressed at Antonio’s in the North End, and let me tell you, it’s murder on the feet.  Those trays are heavy, too, and Nico screams at everybody the whole shift, not to mention the way you smell after six hours.  But the customers tip really well, and I was able to save up enough money, even after paying rent and stuff.

I could never have gotten a Tab when I was still married to Marc, that shit.  He never liked anything I liked.  When I married him, all I saw was the big brown eyes and the cleft in his chin and the way he could make his voice go down low, so that I felt it all the way down to my knees.  I had to learn the hard way.

Not that I could’ve afforded a Tab back then, anyway.  The price started coming down just a few years ago, about when Marc broke my front tooth. By that time I couldn’t go to my mom’s, because she said I always went back to that shit anyway, and she wasn’t going to help me do it again, and my friend Lila wouldn’t let me stay with her either, same reason. So I went to a shelter, and the police came, and we got a restraining order on Marc.  But yeah, the same damn thing happened, he gave me that look with those eyes and told me how things were really, really going to change this time, because he’d seen the light and couldn’t believe he’d done something like that to me, and like an asshole, I dropped the charges and lifted the restraining order and went back to him.

Two years ago, right after I divorced Marc, Pearl Moulton started playing Mandi Trenton on _Dark Little Corners_, which was her first really big break, and they announced that there’d be a Tab on her.  I wanted it as soon as I saw her on the show, because Mandi is so awesome; she’s this really tough girl who works in a bar, and she gives as good as she gets, and she never gives up on love when all these guys leave her all the time. And Pearl Moulton is so beautiful and talented; I used to watch her on _Deception_, when nobody paid her any attention. Now she was in all the magazines, and she’s exactly my age, and she was Tabbed. (Continue Reading…)

EP388: Trixie and the Pandas of Dread


By Eugie Foster
Read by Mur Lafferty

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Trixie and the Pandas of Dread
by Eugie Foster

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…)

EP387: Perspective


By Jake Kerr
Read by Julian Bane

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PERSPECTIVE
By Jake Kerr
 

The worst part about picking my son up from the police station was the walk to get there. I hadn’t been outside in years, but it was still the same–the drab gray of the smog-stained overcast sky, the decaying concrete, the stench of gasoline, urine, and who knew what else. But thanks to Jeffrey there was a new assault to my senses–black molecular paint permanently defacing an already wretched city.With every step I could see his work–his “tags” as the police called them. They were all different, and there was no rhyme or reason as to what he would vandalize–the sides of buildings, street surfaces, retailer kiosks, even windows. The randomness made catching my son a difficult task for the police, but catch him they did, and now I had to walk these vile streets to bring him home.

I paid the bail, followed the directions to processing, and waited for my son. The policewoman there was polite and offered me a seat, but I stood. I wasn’t in the mood to relax, and Jeffrey needed to see how angry I was. So I waited, arms behind my back, staring at the door that led inside.

His head hung low as he walked out. He glanced up at me and then lowered his head again. “Hi, Pop,” he mumbled. I didn’t move. He walked over and added in a whisper, “I’m really sorry.”

“You lied to me.” I grabbed his right hand and pulled it up between us. “These black stains aren’t paint, Jeffrey. That is your _skin_. It was the price to pay for your job, you said. I’m painting ships with a new kind of paint, you said. You made the stains sound like a worthy sacrifice.” I tossed his hand down.

“Pop, please. Let’s talk about this at home.” He looked around the room, shifting from one foot to the other.

“Yes, we will discuss this at home.” I turned and walked out the door. He followed. I walked the streets again, Jeffrey shuffling behind me. I focused on the concrete at my feet, unable to bear looking at his work. My hands were clenched tight enough to turn my knuckles white, so I shoved them in my pockets.
(Continue Reading…)