Posts Tagged ‘sci fi’

EP386: Finished


By Robert Reed
Read by Joel Nisbet

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Finished
by Robert Reed 

What did I plan?  Very little, in truth.  An evening walk accompanied by the scent of flowers and dampened earth, the lingering heat of the day taken as a reassurance, ancient and holy.  I was genuinely happy, as usual.  Like a hundred other contented walkers, I wandered through the linear woods, past lovers’ groves and pocket-sized sanctuaries and ornamental ponds jammed full of golden orfes and platinum lungfish.  When I felt as if I should be tired, I sat on a hard steel bench to rest.  People smiled as they passed, or they didn’t smile.  But I showed everyone a wide grin, and sometimes I offered a pleasant word, and one or two of the strangers paused long enough to begin a brief conversation.

One man—a rather old man, and I remember little else—asked, “And how are you today?”

Ignoring the implication, I said, “Fine.”

I observed, “It’s a very pleasant evening.”

“Very pleasant,” he agreed.

My bench was near a busy avenue, and sometimes I would study one of the sleek little cars rushing past.

“The end of a wonderful day,” he continued.

I looked again at his soft face, committing none of it to memory.  But I kept smiling, and with a tone that was nothing but polite, I remarked, “The sun’s setting earlier now.  Isn’t it?”

The banal recognition of a season’s progression—that was my only intent.  But the face colored, and then with a stiff, easy anger, the man said, “What does it matter to you?  It’s always the same day, after all.”

Hardly.  Yet I said nothing. (Continue Reading…)

EP385: The Very Pulse of the Machine


By Michael Swanwick
Read by Amy Robinson

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“The Very Pulse of the Machine”
by Michael Swanwick

Click.

The radio came on.

“Hell.”

Martha kept her eyes forward, concentrated on walking. Jupiter to one shoulder, Daedalus’s plume to the other. Nothing to it. Just trudge, drag, trudge, drag. Piece of cake.

“Oh.”

She chinned the radio off.

Click.

“Hell. Oh. Kiv. El. Sen.”

“Shut up, shut up, shut up!” Martha gave the rope an angry jerk, making the sledge carrying Burton’s body jump and bounce on the sulfur hardpan. “You’re dead, Burton, I’ve checked, there’s a hole in your faceplate big enough to stick a fist through, and I really don’t want to crack up. I’m in kind of a tight spot here and I can’t afford it, okay? So be nice and just shut the f*** up.”

“Not. Bur. Ton.”

“Do it anyway.”

She chinned the radio off again.

Jupiter loomed low on the western horizon, big and bright and beautiful and, after two weeks on Io, easy to ignore. To her left, Daedalus was spewing sulfur and sulfur dioxide in a fan two hundred kilometers high. The plume caught the chill light from an unseen sun and her visor rendered it a pale and lovely blue. Most spectacular view in the universe, and she was in no mood to enjoy it.

Click.

Before the voice could speak again, Martha said, “I am not going crazy, you’re just the voice of my subconscious, I don’t have the time to waste trying to figure out what unresolved psychological conflicts gave rise to all this, and I am not going to listen to anything you have to say.”

Silence.

(Continue Reading…)

EP384: The Tamarisk Hunter


By Paolo Bacigalupi
Read by Caith Donovan

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The Tamarisk Hunter
by Paolo Bacigalupi

 “The Tamarisk Hunter” originally appeared in the environmental journal High Country News. It was inspired by the only thing that really matters in the Western U.S. — water.

A big tamarisk can suck 73,000 gallons of river water a year. For $2.88 a day, plus water bounty, Lolo rips tamarisk all winter long.

Ten years ago, it was a good living. Back then, tamarisk shouldered up against every riverbank in the Colorado River Basin, along with cottonwoods, Russian olives, and elms. Ten years ago, towns like Grand Junction and Moab thought they could still squeeze life from a river.

Lolo stands on the edge of a canyon, Maggie the camel his only companion. He stares down into the deeps. It’s an hour’s scramble to the bottom. He ties Maggie to a juniper and starts down, boot-skiing a gully. A few blades of green grass sprout neon around him, piercing juniper-tagged snow clods. In the late winter, there is just a beginning surge of water down in the deeps; the ice is off the river edges. Up high, the mountains still wear their ragged snow mantles. Lolo smears through mud and hits a channel of scree, sliding and scattering rocks. His jugs of tamarisk poison gurgle and slosh on his back. His shovel and rockbar snag on occasional junipers as he skids by. It will be a long hike out. But then, that’s what makes this patch so perfect. It’s a long way down, and the riverbanks are largely hidden.
(Continue Reading…)

EP383: The First Book of Flaccid Swords


By Edward Cowan
Read by Bruce Busby

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The First Book of Flaccid Swords
by Edward Cowan

It was a snake–and Gods, what a snake it was. Fifty feet from sweeping tail to flicking tongue, its eyes as cold as deepest space and dim as the farthest star, its fangs dripping poison so vile the stench alone would kill a lesser man.

This, then, was the dreaded Doom of Lla Haathra, into whose black maw the unlucky and damned were fed to the Impotent God. Never having counted myself among His faithful, I saw no reason to submit meekly to His wrath.

His priests had made one crushing mistake when they lured me onto the trap door: they failed to relieve me of my blade. _Wind,_ they called it, those for whom that name was the last word to leave their lips. I rushed the foul altar, upon which lay my Darinda, black chains coiling about her supple form, her body purest alabaster against the crimson stone marbling her flesh. Tsutu Kalai, highest of the wretched priests, cackled as I approached, throwing the lever that opened the trap. Darinda’s scream followed me down the endless, serpentine flue. Beyond that, darkness.

Rolling to my feet, I stood in the shaft of light piercing the abyss from the chamber above, Wind held before me, daring the almost tangible shadow to draw near. Within moments came a rasping omen, as of a great mass dragging itself awake after a slumber of eons.

Now the Doom reared before me, thrusting its head into the light. We goaded one another to strike–it with the insolence of the predator that has never known failure, I with a rage that would never be clenched till the serpent’s blood coated my blade from point to pommel. From above echoed the laughter of the priests and the muffled screams of my Darinda. Here there was only silence–the sweet anticipation of the moment before death.

Finally I saluted the beast with a nod and spoke: “At least your masters have granted me a worthy adversary. Very well; let us have at it. I will not pretend to the ancient patience of the serpentfolk.”

It hissed its reply.

At that I lunged. Its mammoth head darted forward quicker than mercury, but primal speed avails not against human cunning. I ducked its strike and gripped my blade for the piercing jab: up under the jaw and through the skull. I sprang up, mighty thews tensing for the killing blow–

And found myself holding a wet noodle. (Continue Reading…)

EP382: They Go Bump


By David Barr Kirtley
Read by Alasdair Stuart

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They Go Bump
By David Barr Kirtley

     Ball placed his feet carefully. Walking on rough terrain was treacherous when you couldn’t see your feet — or your legs, for that matter, or any part of yourself. All he could see was the uneven ground, the shady stones outlined with sharp sunlight, drifting eerily beneath him. His boot caught and twisted, and he pitched forward, falling and smacking his elbows rough against the ground.

From somewhere up on the hilltop, Cataldo’s voice laughed. That voice — smooth and measured, with just a hint of sharpness. Ball had never paid much attention to voices before, but now voices were all he had.

Cataldo’s shouted, “Was that you, Ball? Again?”

Ball groped on the ground for his rifle. He felt it, grasped it, and slung it over his shoulder. He clambered to his feet, and wavered there a few moments, unsteady.

Cataldo’s voice again: “How many times is that now? Twelve?”

“Eleven.” Ball groaned, stretched, and looked around. “Where are you?” (Continue Reading…)

EP379: Concussion


By David Glen Larson
Read by Mat Weller

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For a list of all Escape Pod stories by this author or narrator, visit our sortable Wikipedia page

Rated 13+ for mild language

Special thanks to users costaipsa, iankath, mario1298 and DJ Chronos at FreeSound.org who created and/or recorded the sound effects used in this episode!

Concussion
By David Glen Larson

He scrambled from the fire that was snaking through the corridor when another explosion jolted the ship, and just like that he was dead again. A moment later he was someone else, gazing down with another’s eyes at the mangled green body he’d left behind.

Never before had Tyler experienced such terror. Sure, he’d been afraid—afraid his knee would give out again, sidelining him for the big game; afraid he’d let down his teammates and make a fool of himself—but he’d never been terrified of being incinerated in an alien system countless light-years from the home world he was forced to flee. Not until now.

Staring up at the night sky, the stars were dim under the glare of the stadium lights. Which star was theirs? He caught himself and shook his aching head. It was only a dream, after all. The frog people weren’t real.

The doctor shined a penlight into each pupil. “Any headache, nausea, or dizziness?”

“What do you think? I was just hit by a freight train.” Good old Number 32—the biggest, meanest linebacker in the NFL.

“You may have a concussion.”

Coach Landis spit tobacco juice on the grass only inches from Tyler’s head. “We’re down 22-27 in the fourth quarter with under a minute to go. Montoya’s out, Casper’s out, and now you’re saying I’m out my third string too? Uh-uh, Doc. I need Harden in the game.”

“If he takes another hit—”

“A few aches and pains go with the territory,” said the coach.

“Forget aches and pains. I’m talking stroke or death. Those go with the territory?”

“Ordinarily no, but this is the Super Bowl and I’m out of quarterbacks.”

“I can play, Coach.” Tyler rolled onto his knees and wobbled to his feet with a groan. Lights flashed and popped behind his eyes, some internal wiring knocked loose, but he didn’t let on. “I’m fine.”

Tyler teetered backward, but the coach steadied him, pretending to pat him on the back.

“That a boy. See, Doc? It was just a tap.”

“All right, but I’ll need to check his cognitive function after every play.”

“Whatever you say,” said the coach.

“I’m going to ask you to remember a list of five words. If you can’t repeat them back to me, you’re a NO-GO.”

“Apple, wrench, sombrero, parrot, porcupine,” Tyler said with confidence.

“But I didn’t give you the words yet.”

“Sure you did. Last season against the Colts. It was the only time I played. Number 24 clocked me from behind on our 15.”

“Well I’m glad to see your long-term memory isn’t impaired, but it’s your short-term memory that concerns me.”

“Fine, but make it quick. I have a qweetah to win.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“I said, make it quick. I have a game to win.” (Continue Reading…)

EP369: Passengers


By Robert Silverberg
Read by Michael Spence
Discuss on our forums
All stories by Robert Silverberg
All stories read by Michael Spence
Rated 13 and over for sexual innuendo
Nominee for Hugo Award for Best Short Story (1970)

Passengers
By Robert Silverberg

There are only fragments of me left now. Chunks of memory have broken free and drifted away like calved glaciers. It is always 
like that when a Passenger leaves us. We can never be sure of all the things our borrowed bodies did. We have only the lingering traces, 
the imprints.

Like sand clinging to an ocean-tossed bottle. Like the throbbings of amputated legs.

I rise. I collect myself. My hair is rumpled; I comb it. My face is creased from too little sleep. There is sourness in my mouth. Has my Passenger been eating dung with my mouth? They do that. They do anything.

It is morning.

A gray, uncertain morning. I stare at it awhile, and then, shuddering, I opaque the window and confront instead the gray, uncertain surface of the inner panel. My room looks untidy. Did I have a woman here? There are ashes in the trays. Searching for butts, I find several with lipstick stains. Yes, a woman was here.

I touched the bedsheets. Still warm with shared warmth. Both 
pillows tousled. She has gone, though, and the Passenger is gone, and I am alone.

How long did it last, this time? (Continue Reading…)