Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

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

Discuss on our forums. 

 

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…)

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

Discuss on our forums. 

 

“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

Discuss on our forums. 

 

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…)

EP380: Punk Voyager


By Shaenon Garrity
Read by Nathaniel Lee

Discuss on our forums. 

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

Rated 13+ for rebellious vulgarity


Punk Voyager
By Shaenon K. Garrity

Punk Voyager was built by punks.  They made it from beer cans, razors, safety pins, and a surfboard some D-bag had left on the beach. Also plutonium.  Where did they get plutonium?  Around.  f*** you.

The punks who built Punk Voyager were Johnny Bonesaw, Johnny Razor, Mexican Johnny D-bag, Red Viscera, and some other guys.  No, asshole, nobody remembers what other guys.  They were f***ing wasted, these punks.  They’d been drinking on the San Diego beach all day and night, talking about making a run to Tijuana and then forgetting and punching each other.  They’d built a fire on the beach, and all night the fire went up and went down while the punks threw beer cans at the seagulls.

Forget the s*** I just said, it wasn’t the punks who did it.  They were f***ing punks.  The hell they know about astro-engineering? Truth is that Punk Voyager was the strung-out masterpiece of Mexican Johnny D-bag’s girlfriend, Lacuna, who had a doctorate in structural engineering.  Before she burned out and ran for the coast, Lacuna was named Alice McGuire and built secret nuclear submarines for a government contractor in Ohio.  It sucked.  But that was where she got the skills to construct an unmanned deep-space probe.  Same principle, right?  Keep the radiation in and the water out.  Or the vacuum of space, whatever, it’s all the same s*** to an engineer.

f*** that, it wasn’t really Lacuna’s baby.  It wasn’t her idea.  The idea was Red’s.

“f***ing space,” he said that fateful night.  He was lying on his back looking up at space, is why he said it.

“Hell yeah,” said Johnny Bonesaw.

“s*** ain’t nothing but rocks and UFOs.”

“Ain’t no such thing as a UFO.”

“Like hell there ain’t,” said Red.  “CIA knows all about it.  Them and the astronauts.”

Red was always saying that s***, though.  Everything was the CIA and the saucer people with that burnout. (Continue Reading…)

Science Future: Aggrandize Aptitude


This time on Science Future: Various stepping-stones to human augmentation.

Science fiction inspires the world around us. It inspires us to create our future. So we look to the future of science to find our next fiction. We look to Science Future. The Science Future series presents the bleeding edge of scientific discovery from the viewpoint of the science fiction reader, discussing the influences science and science fiction have upon each other.

Aggrandize Aptitude

Last month we were treated to a story about human performance. EP318: The Prize Beyond Gold by Ian Creasey was about a human with incredible abilities surrounded by transhumans with mediocre abilities. It took place in a world where humans regularly modified their bodies beyond what we consider to be the human normal but focused on one human who hadn’t and might not and yet still had the chance to exceed all of them.

Yet the story was cheating in asense for the protagonist already had a capability that far exceeded that of the standard human template. So much so that he was under constant surveillance for the possibility of actual augmentation. The stealthiest augmentation for one competing in sports today is drugs. In the future, the definition of drugs might be expanded beyond simple chemical concoctions. Rohit Talwar, the founder of Fast Future Research, gave a talk at Intelligence Squared’s If conference about the possibility of digital drugs via direct manipulation of brain chemistry using transcranial magnetic stimulation. One could only assume this kind of manipulation would be extremely hard to detect. No chemical traces and nothing invasive or even ingested. Except that in The Prize our protagonist had his doppelgänger, which was an atomic scale simulation of himself. This copy could easily have been used as both a training and surveillance device.

It is hard to believe the precision needed to copy someone down to the atomic level could be easily done via external sensors and implants would obviously not be allowed for competitive reasons but they likely used a more advanced version of this system. Researchers led by the California Institute of Technology have created a series of microchips that can quickly and inexpensively assess immune function of a human from one single cell harvested from their body. With a device like that, occasionally sampling the body for a drop of blood and building a clone that could forecast the physical changes one might undergo after eating cake seems almost feasible.

The Gift focused more on the possibility of human enhancement. Changing a the body to give one abilities that they could never hope to achieve within a human genetic code. Two of the enhancements referenced were increasing intelligence and empathy. The brain is a complicated organ in charge of many things that we don’t understand and the idea of enhancing seems far off. Repairing it, less so. There is promising research in the field of cybernetics that helps repair brain damage. Created by Theodore Berger and his team at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and researchers at Wake Forest University, a neural prosthesis is able to restore  a rat’s ability to form long-term memories after they had been pharmacologically blocked. This is the first step to augmenting something like intelligence and empathy.

But what if dramatic enhancement was not really what someone like Michito was looking for? Well a discovery by Columbia University Medical Center researchers may lead to a better understanding how to fundamentally change the human body in subtle ways. They have shown that not all traits passed on to offspring without the use of DNA but instead naturally occurring viral agents called viRNAs which modify the creature’s RNA. RNA acts like DNA’s messenger in the body, relaying the code. So if the RNA is modified, then the DNA of the being is effectively bypassed. This kinda of science could be harnessed to create a slightly faster person or creating large-scale immunity against difference diseases.

Obviously research into human augmentation continues, be through a biological, technological, or chemical means. Stories like The Prize Beyond Gold will continue to give us reasons to achieve new and different levels of augmentation. Afterall, most of us will never be Michito but we could possibly be better than him.

There are two ways of being happy: We must either diminish our wants or augment our means – either may do – the result is the same and it is for each man to decide for himself and to do that which happens to be easier. – Benjamin Franklin