Escape Pod 803: A Princess of Nigh-Space
A Princess of Nigh-Space
By Tim Pratt
There was a business card stuck in the crack between the door and the frame when I got home from another too-long day at the office. I plucked the card out, annoyed, assuming it was some stupid advertisement, but the thick black Gothic lettering caught my eye:
Bollard and Chicane
Obstacles Removed • Burdens Shifted • Troubles Untroubled
“We Murder Problems!”
With a phone number underneath.
There was small, neat, and slanted writing on the back, in pen: “Dear Tamsin: Our condolences on the loss of your grandmother. We can help settle your estate. Call soonest.”
“Granny isn’t dead,” I said to no one, and then my phone buzzed with an incoming call.
With the travel, and the funeral, and the lawyers, and the police investigation, and having to take time off work (and of course the startup where I bashed code was getting ready for its IPO, and of course “my grandmother died” sounded like a college-student-level excuse, although “my grandmother was murdered in a home invasion” was a little different), it was weeks before I actually made it to Culver House. The ancestral heap stood on the edge of a sagging damp town in the Midwest, where I grew up and lived until I fled to college. I hadn’t been back in the six years since, because why would I return? My only living family was Granny, brilliant and independent and remote and endlessly annoyed at raising little orphaned me. I didn’t come back for holidays because she didn’t celebrate any, calling them “American fripperies,” even Christmas and Easter. “Granny, they celebrate Christmas back in Croatia too,” I would argue, and Granny would say, “Not in the part I’m from, they don’t.”
I sat behind the desk in my grandmother’s study that evening and opened the top drawer as the attorney had instructed, revealing an envelope with Tamsin scrawled across the front. My legacy, or at least, the non-monetary part of it; I’d gotten the other part already. The money I was expecting to make when the company I worked for went public was a bit less exciting now that I’d inherited my genius Granny’s considerable estate.
The envelope had been torn open, though, and instead of a letter from the woman who’d raised me at cold arm’s length, I found a business card, another version of the one I’d discovered at my house. This one said:
Bollard and Chicane
Pests Removed • Offenses Redressed • Knives Sharpened
“Your Enemies Are Ours!”
On the back, in that neat handwriting, I read: “You really should call us, miss. Mr. B.”
Okay then. First I called my high school boyfriend Trevor, who still lived in town and had a tattoo of a snake eating its tail around his neck, and liked guns. I’d dated him mostly to annoy Granny, but he’d been fun, the way doing meth and committing arson are probably fun, and he still had a thing for me. “I think I might have some trouble over at the house, Trev,” I said.
“I’ll be right there.” He hung up without asking any questions. That’s a good quality sometimes.
Then I called the number on the card. A voice so deep and sonorous it sounded like a yeti with a head cold said, “Miss Culver. It’s an interesting last name, Culver. There are various possible origins. The old Engish ‘culfre,’ meaning dove, possibly used as a term of endearment, possibly referring to someone who was lovesick. Or the French ‘couleuvre,’ meaning snake. Or it could be related to ‘culverin,’ a kind of early handgun, a precursor of the musket, and later the name for a cannon. Which do you think your grandmother was thinking of when she chose that name for her new life in her new world?”
I could not have given fewer shits about the etymology of my surname. “Who is this?”
“This is Mr. Bollard. My associate Mr. Chicane is here as well.” I heard a scraping in the background, and a clatter, and then Mr. Bollard sighed, but not, I think, at me.
“I don’t want to know your name. I want to know why you left me business cards, why you broke into my grandmother’s desk, and what you took from me.” The lawyer who’d handed over the key said Granny had left a precious family heirloom in the desk for me, but he didn’t know the details.
“All excellent questions,” Bollard said. “But you should ask a different one first. You should ask, ‘Where are you, Mr. Bollard?’”
“Fuck off,” I said.
“I’ll pretend you replied ‘Where are you,’” Bollard said. “And that you didn’t inherit your grandmother’s poor manners. If you’d asked me what I asked you to ask me, I would have replied: We are here. We are in the basement. We are waiting by the door.”
“I’m calling the police,” I said.
“Why would you want Mr. Chicane to murder a bunch of perfectly nice police officers?” Bollard asked. “We don’t want to hurt you. We just want your help. It’s in your best interest. Your grandmother wasn’t helpful at all, and look what happened to her. Now. Are you coming down, or shall I send Mr. Chicane up to fetch you?”
I cut the connection and picked up Granny’s letter opener—actually a misericorde from the 13th century, a slender knife designed to stab through the gaps in a knight’s armor. It was just like Granny to use it to open bills and junk mail. I held the knife tight and crept to the study door, listening.
There was plenty to hear, because Culver House is a rambling three-story Victorian with various newer additions, and it creaked and groaned and settled constantly, especially up here on the top floor. If some of those creaks were the mysterious Mr. Chicane coming to get me, I couldn’t tell. I decided to call the police anyway. It would take them half an hour to show up, but at least if I got murdered before then, the cops would know the names and phone number of my murderers, and probably Granny’s too. I dialed 9-1-1, and Bollard answered. “I don’t want to murder any police officers either,” he said. “No one is paying me to do that today. Please come downstairs. You’re wasting time.”
“Why aren’t you the cops?” I sputtered.
“Your grandmother had access to technology she didn’t sell to the government or Silicon Valley, miss, and some of it has wonderful applications, like intercepting calls to those I’d rather not have called. We—”
I cut the connection again. At least I’d gotten through to Trev. He’d show up faster than the cops, but in the meantime, I didn’t want stay in the study, where Bollard and Chicane would probably look for me first.
I went onto the landing and down the stairs to the second floor, then past my old room, left unchanged since I departed, not as any sort of shrine, but because Granny didn’t care about any part of the house other than the kitchen, her own bedroom, and her study…and the basement, which I had literally never entered, because that’s where Granny did her experiments and invented her inventions, and it was too dangerous, and too delicate, and was always locked. I’d been interested in finally getting a look at the place, but the presence of probably-murderers down there did a lot to dampen my curiosity.
I went down second-floor hall to the back stairs, where I could descend to the kitchen and slip out the side door and get away.
There was a man at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at me. My body was already fizzing with fight-or-flight chemicals, and seeing a stranger in the house made me feel like my brain was going to vibrate out of my skull.
He was thin, dressed in a baggy tweed suit, and had a big head irregularly occupied by tufts of hair, with dried blood crusted all down one side of his face When he saw me, he did a little capering dance in place, hooting and giggling, then he pointed one long finger and me and held it for a moment.
“Mr. Chicane?” I said.
He didn’t answer. He leapt forward, scampering up the stairs on all fours like a bounding dog.
I took out Granny’s knife and stepped back, but he was so fast—he barreled into me and drove me to the ground, knocking the breath out of my body and the misericorde from my hands. He hooted in delight as I struggled to get away. Up close I could see his features were all lumpy and potato-like, his eyes not quite on the same level, his nose mostly just two holes in his face, his lips thin, his chin nonexistent. Under all the old blood, I could see a cratered dent in the side of his head big enough to stick the end of your thumb in. He seemed like a badly made doll of a person.
He was strong, though, all cords and wires and bony limbs. He pinned both my wrists to the floor over my head, giggled in my face, and reached into his jacket with his free hand. I thrashed and twisted, expecting a gun, a blade, a hypodermic needle—but instead he took out a business card, and held it inches above my face. I had to cross my eyes a little to read it, but once it came into focus, it said:
Bollard and Chicane
Murder • Arson • Regime Change
“We Always Make A Killing!”
I took a deep breath, which required breathing in his raw-meat-and-onion reek. “Okay. I get it. What do you want from me?”
Chicane deftly flipped over the card, revealing another handwritten message: “We need to open a door. We have one key. You have the other. Join us downstairs.”
“I don’t have any key!” I shouted.
Chicane tapped me on the nose with the business card and waggled his eyebrows and grinned. His teeth were wrong: too numerous, too sharp, too many colors. He was drooling, and if I stayed under him much longer, that drool would drip onto my face.
“I’ll come down!” I said, turning my face away from his stinking mouth.
I heard a hollow metallic thonk. Chicane collapsed on top of me, then rolled off bonelessly. He had a new dent on the back of his head to match the first one. I wriggled away, snatched my knife from the floor, and looked around.
Travis stood at the top of the stairs, holding an aluminum baseball bat. He was wearing dirty jeans and a white undershirt and his boots were untied—he must have rushed over here as soon as I called.
I hugged him hard, because Trevor always responded well to physical encouragement. “Trev! Thank you, thank you, thank you for coming.” I looked at Chicane and kicked him in the side, but he didn’t stir.
“Course I came,” he said. “It’s you and me. T-N-T.”
Oh, god, I’d forgotten that nickname he had for us—T-N-T, first we get hot, and then we explode. Teenage horniness is so embarrassing.
His face got serious. “I’m real sorry about your Granny. Who’s this little weasel?”
“I think his name is Chicane, but—”
Trevor took a step back. “Wait. Chicane. As in Bollard and Chicane?”
“You know them?” He knew plenty of local scum, but Bollard and Chicane sure didn’t seem local.
“Do I…” His eyes went glazed and faraway. “Bollard and Chicane. The Two. The Crush and the Bite. The Bad Neighbors. The Ones Who Come After. The Ones Who Come After You. Do I know them? Do you know the boogeyman, I mean, do you know—they’re from the old country. They shouldn’t be here.”
“The old country? You mean Croatia?”
“Croatia?” He blinked at me, then looked back at the man on the floor. “She never told you? You, wow, it shouldn’t be me—”
Trev had never been the most articulate person. That wasn’t one of the things I’d ever needed or demanded from him before, but I grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. “Start. Making. Sense.”
His focus snapped to me. “First we get out of here. Then I’ll start making sense.”
We raced away without any bother from Bollard, who was presumably waiting for me to be dragged down to the basement any minute. We rode ten minutes in silence in Trevor’s truck, then sat in our old booth at the Chickenarium, where the vinyl was just as torn and the formica just as smudged as it had been in high school. I got the chicken and waffles, and he had the chicken-fried steak with fries and cluck sauce. He passed me his flask under the table and I took a slug of something brown that was probably distantly related to bourbon.
“Making sense time,” I said. I kept the flask.
“Your family doesn’t come from Croatia,” Trev said. “They come from another plane of existence.”
I looked down at the flask. “How much of this did you drink already?”
He sighed, and sat up straighter, and it was weird—like slouching, mumbling, all-mischief-and-malice Trev was a costume he’d been wearing, and he’d shrugged it off and let it fall to the floor, becoming someone more serious. “Listen to me. This isn’t the only world. It’s not the only universe.”
“You’re talking about parallel universes? Or, what is it, the multiverse?”
“Sort of. Basically. It’s more like reality is a big stack of paper, and every piece of paper has a different world on the front and back, so some worlds are close to others, and some are far away, and sometimes you can poke a hole through the paper and travel from one to another. We call that stack of worlds nigh-space. Your Granny, and your parents, and me, we all come from the world next door.”
“And you?” Trev was many things, but delusional was never one of them. He’d had a clear-eyed understanding of himself as a thrill-seeking dirtbag.
“And me. Your Granny brought me over when I was twelve and you were ten, and paid off a family to raise me.”
“You mean…your foster parents.”
“That’s them.” He poked at his food but didn’t eat. “My family got into some trouble back home, and they were vassals of your family once upon a time, so somebody called in a favor, and they sent me here. The only requirement was, I had to watch over you. Remember when you had trouble with those bullies, and then you didn’t anymore?” He touched the snake’s head on his throat. “This tattoo is the symbol of fealty to your family. Your Granny insisted I get it as soon as I was plausibly old enough.”
Vassals? Fealty? I shook my head. “Trev, you’re not making any sense. You and me dated. Are you telling me Granny set that up too?”
“No, that part just kinda happened. I couldn’t believe you’d look twice at someone like me. Back home, I wasn’t even high-status enough to clean out your garderobe.”
How did Trev know the word “garderobe?”
“When we started going out, your Granny mostly thought it was funny, but also useful. She made a point of disapproving of me loudly, so you’d like me better. When we were together, I was able to look out for you better, not that you needed much help by then. Remember that guy you punched in the throat when he grabbed your ass at the reservoir?”
“Let’s forget memory lane for a minute. Go back to this stuff about another world.”
“Oh, sure. The old country. It’s a lot like this world, geography-wise, even some of the languages and stuff, because it’s…basically it’s the next sheet of paper, so our worlds are on facing pages, like. Worlds get weirder the farther out you go from your home space. The old country is politically regressive by your standards, controlled by powerful ruling families, dynasties and that, but it’s a lot more advanced technologically.” (Did Trev just say “politically regressive?”) “That’s how your Granny got so rich over here. She brought some of the least disruptive tech with her when she fled, and sold it to the locals.”
I didn’t believe any of this, but I did like the idea that Granny wasn’t the genius she always claimed to be. “Why did she flee?”
He took a sip of water. “I was like five when this stuff happened, so don’t expect political analysis or whatever, but your parents were in one of those ruling families I mentioned. Some shit went down, assassinations and betrayals and alliances shifted, and your parents got killed. People were hunting little three-year-old you, too, hoping to exterminate the line, or maybe make you a hostage, I don’t know. Granny decided to take you away someplace you’d be safe until the situation stabilized—protecting the heir. Since your family was one of the few with the technology to travel through nigh-space, she took you someplace really safe. The original idea was to bring you back at some point, let you take your rightful place, but the politics stayed in flux for a long time, and your Granny started to like it over here. Less hassle, even if it is pretty primitive by our standards. She told me that when you were older, she’d give you the key to the door and tell you the whole story and let you decide whether to return and try to get back the ancestral vaults and all or not.”
My chicken and waffles had gotten cold. “You’re telling me I’m a secret princess, Trevor?”
“That’s not the word we use, but, I mean.” He shrugged.
When I was little, I’d sometimes pretended to be a warrior princess. I wasn’t opposed to a pretty dress, but I wanted an axe, too. “Granny asked me to come visit on my next birthday,” I said. “My twenty-fifth. She said she was going to unlock my trust fund. ‘If you’re old enough to rent a car,’ she said, ‘you’re old enough for the keys to the kingdom.’” I shook my head. “Trev, this all sounds ridiculous.”
“Bollard and Chicane aren’t ridiculous.” He leaned over the table, looking at me earnestly. “They’re killers and spies and ratfuckers for hire, legendary pieces of shit from the old country, and I don’t know who sent them—it must be enemies of your family. Granny was in touch occasionally with people back home, all real secret, but maybe somebody got word you were coming of age and decided to kill you. Once Bollard and Chicane have a commission, nothing stops them until it’s fulfilled—they’re relentless. We have to get out of here. I have to keep you safe.”
A huge man in a white suit, like a comic book villain or a pretentious novelist, entered the diner and walked ponderously over to the table. In a yeti-with-a-head-cold voice he said, “Move over, young sir.”
Trev stared up at the man. I’d seen Trev attack a guy twice his size with a broken bottle, and charge into a crowd of frat boys swinging a bicycle chain while laughing, and once he’d bitten a cop—but now he went pale and whimpered and slid over against the wall.
The big man sat down, filling three-quarters of the bench and jostling the table with his bulk. He had a head like a boiled egg and eyes the color of dirt. “My name is Mr. Bollard.” He tilted his head toward Trev. “Everything your paramour here said about other worlds is true.”
Either everyone was insane in the same way, or the world was bigger than I’d realized. “How do you know what he said?”
“More of your grandmother’s technology. Your phone has a microphone, and I have been listening through it since you left the house. I wasn’t sure where you went—I gather it’s possible to track phones, but annoyingly, I don’t have that technology, and Mr. Chicane, who usually does our finding, is indisposed. Fortunately your little internet assured me there was only one place locally that serves whatever ‘cluck sauce’ is, so I found you once you placed your order.” He put his arm around Trev and pulled him close, into something between a side-hug and a headlock. “The young man misunderstands our mission, however. We had no idea you were a secret princess, or the true identity of your grandmother. So you’re the lost heir to the Zmija estate. How strange to find you here. Like finding a diamond in a dungheap, as the saying goes.”
“Zmija.” The syllables were slippery in my mouth. “That’s my name?” I should have been afraid, but I was too interested.
“It means ‘snake.’” He squeezed Trevor again. “Like the one he wears for a collar. I suppose that settles on which derivation of ‘Culver’ your grandmother meant. I should have suspected, but honestly, the cover-up back home was first-rate. I really believed your whole family was ripped up, root and branch. Everyone did. Though I must say if you went back and managed to recover your ancestral estates, global politics would become interesting again. No one hired us to kill you—if they had, you’d be dead already.”
“My grandmother is dead already.”
Bollard inclined his head as if acknowledging a point scored. “She was uncooperative. She didn’t go without a fight, though. She had hidden weapons, secreted in her body, and she was able to put a nasty dent in Mr. Chicane before we subdued her. That’s why we were so careful and polite with you. If we’d realized you were defenseless and ignorant, we would have kidnapped you ages ago. We were afraid you might have hidden resources.” Another squeeze. Trev wasn’t even struggling, which was probably smart. “Besides your sex vassal.”
Ew. “So if you aren’t here for me, why are you here? Who hired you?”
“I regret to say we are here without the benefit of contract. Which is to say, without getting paid, a condition we despise. Mr. Chicane and I have enemies of our own. People usually understand that we’re non-partisan. We fulfill our commissions, and we’re loyal to our clients for the duration of those commissions. Alas, one of the oligarchs took our actions against him personally. He also has the technology to navigate nigh-space, and he used it to exile us. Mr. Chicane and I were meant to die in this backwater, with its empty skies and common colds and inedible food.” He prodded the plate of steak and made a face. “Fortunately, Mr. Chicane has a nose for technology—part of his tracking suite—and he detected the signature of devices from our world. We investigated, and discovered the door in your grandmother’s basement. We assumed she was a countryperson of ours who’d slipped through decades ago to become a queen among the savages. We asked her nicely to open the door and let us go home, but she refused. Something about refusing to do any favors for ‘garbage like us.’” He shrugged. “So we killed her, not without effort, and found her key. Too late, we discovered the key wasn’t enough.” He rose, still holding Trevor in his armpit. “If I let you go, will you behave? If you don’t, it’s not you I’ll hurt, it’s her. I need her alive, but not unbroken.”
“Yes,” Trevor breathed.
Bollard released him, straightened his lapels, and smiled at me. “Come along, princess. To the basement.”
I still had the misericorde in my lap, so I tried to stab him, and he took the knife from me like taking a lollipop from a child, so deftly the waitress didn’t even notice the commotion.
“Calm down. Don’t make me murder all these witnesses. I detest killing people without getting paid.”
“Does that mean you don’t want to kill us?”
“I want to go home, princess. Help me do that, and you’re welcome to rot here for the rest of your pitiful lifespans. How long do people even live over here? A hundred and fifty years? It’s squalid.”
Trevor looked at me, and I knew if I so much as nodded at him, he’d launch himself in a suicide attack and give me time to run away. Spending the rest of my life looking over my shoulder wasn’t appealing, though. I’ve always been more about looking forward.
So we left together, and I drove us back toward Culver House in Trev’s truck, with Trevor beside me, and Bollard on his other side. Bollard put his arm around Trevor, around his neck again, and Trevor made a little squeaking noise as the big man squeezed him.
I tapped the brakes. “You said you wouldn’t kill us.”
“This is a blood choke,” Bollard said. “I’m compressing the major arteries in his neck, but not his airway. No real harm. He’s just going to take a little nap. He’s too devoted to you. I’m afraid he might take unwise initiative.” After a moment, Bollard released him, and Trev’s head rested gently on my shoulder, just like in the old days when he’d get drunk at the movies. He was my only resource, and now he was asleep.
Hmm. Maybe not my only resource.
Considering its mythic status in my own mind, the basement was disappointing in reality. There were two doors, the wooden one up top and a steel one at the bottom of the stairs, but beyond that was just a room with a work bench and stools, shelves covered in dusty bits of interdimensional technology, some books printed in an alphabet I didn’t recognize, and a battered old leather couch, presumably where Granny took naps after a hard day of pretending to invent things. There was also a red metal door, set not flush in a wall but freestanding in a silver frame, facing another corner of the basement.
Mr. Bollard had Trevor slung over his shoulder, and he set him down on the floor, smoothed his suit again, and then took a long silver key from his pocket. “This was in the envelope your Granny left for you, along with a letter written in a cipher we couldn’t understand.”
I groaned. “Granny had a code she always used, even when she emailed me. She said it was so outsiders wouldn’t know our business, but she’d even write grocery lists in it. There’s a key, but I learned to translate in my head by the time I was fifteen.”
“I’m sure the letter says all those things about how you’re a princess, and tells you how to use the door, but I already know that much. See?” He put the silver key in the door, turned it, and shoved. The door didn’t budge, but a recording of my grandmother’s annoyed voice said, “Unauthorized user.”
“We didn’t realize we needed your grandmother alive until it was too late. The lock is more than biometrics or facial recognition—Mr. Chicane dragged the body down here and tried all that. Such locks are common among the dynasties back home, they sniff your genome and confirm you’re alive, and so forth. The door is barred to me, but you, princess: I believe you can open it, and let us go back home, to all our beloved pleasures, diversions, and scores that need settling.”
I crossed my arms. “What’s in it for me?”
He took a business card from an inner pocket and silently handed it to me.
Bollard and Chicane
We Killed Your Granny • We’ll Kill You • We’ll Kill Everyone You Know
“If You Don’t Do What We Say!”
I turned it over. Blank. “No personalized message this time?”
“I believe the card speaks for itself.”
“Nice try. You can’t kill me, though. You said so yourself. Not if you want to get home.”
“What if I kill Trevor?”
I didn’t even look at Trev’s slumped body. “Then you’ll save the state a lot of money in future incarceration costs?”
Bollard chuckled. “Are you really so cold? Your grandmother was, when she ruled the family. The Serpent of the Zmija, they called her, which is a bit like calling someone the Insect of the Bug, but never mind. Assuming you don’t care about Trevor, you do care about you. There’s dead, and there’s alive, but those aren’t the only possible states of being. You don’t need eyes or a tongue to open a door. Normally Mr. Chicane does the elective surgeries—you’d be the one electing for said surgeries by refusing to help us, of course—but since he is currently indisposed, I’ll manage. The knife I took from you seems sharp enough.”
My mind spun through possibilities. Maybe Granny had refused because she had some history with them—Bollard and Chicane could have murdered her cousins or something—but I suspect she was motivated by her basic stubbornness. No one told her what to do; she told other people what to do. Me, personally? I didn’t really care if this asshole went through the door. But if I was suddenly in a land of miracles, there should be some miracles in it for me. It turned out I had a birthright, stolen and hidden, and I wanted it back.
It’s like this: San Francisco was a lot nicer than my hometown, and I moved there as soon as I could and never looked back. It sounded like the world beyond that door would make San Francisco look like a latrine. Technological wonders, long life, an existence infinitely more exciting than eating takeout and writing code. Forget disruptive innovation. This was disruptive reality.
Of course, even San Francisco sucked if you didn’t have friends to show you around and money to enjoy things, and on another page of nigh-space, I wouldn’t have either one.
I held up the little rectangle in my hand. “This is a business card.”
“That’s true. The suit makes them.” Bollard patted his breast pocket. “Very convenient.”
“You’re businessmen. You can be hired.”
He cocked his head. “You propose to offer us a commission? How would you pay? I understand your grandmother was wealthy in this world, but from our point of view, you’d be offering us glass beads.”
“Trevor said something about my family’s vaults, on the other side.”
“Ah. Hmm. The Zmija vaults.” He looked to the ceiling for a moment. “Which are inaccessible, both because they are surrounded by the forces of your ancestral enemies, and because they are locked against anyone who isn’t part of your family. But you carry the genetic legacy of your parents and grandparents, so they would open, for you…. What would you be hiring Mr. Chicane and myself to do, besides liberating the vaults so you could pay us in the first place?”
“I just found out I’m a princess,” I said. “I think I’d like being a princess. I could use help. Royal advisers. Could you help me regain my family’s throne?”
“It’s not a throne, but yes, we have some experience with regime change. It says so right on our business card. Sometimes.” He considered me. “You would really hire us, miss? Even after we killed your grandmother?”
“Obviously, I wish you hadn’t done that. But…I can understand why you had the impulse.”
He snorted. “If I had any doubt about your heritage, you just dispelled it. How very like your ancestors you are. Mmm. Once we got to the other side, I’d have to go to my workshop first, and decant a new Chicane. Between your grandmother and your vassal, my old one is too damaged.”
There was no point in looking surprised. “I trust your expertise.” I pointed to Trev. “We should take him with us.”
“Ah. You aren’t so cold after all?”
“I’m cold enough. But a princess needs retainers.”
Mr. Bollard chuckled, then reached out. It was like shaking hands with a polar bear. “I look forward to our partnership, princess.”
By Alasdair Stuart
The thing about calls to adventure is they require you to take a moment. It’s that second when Sam Gamgee realizes he’s never been further from home than he is now. It’s Amy Pond waiting for the 11th Doctor and, later, Rory waiting for her. It’s the quiet, exhausted heroism of the lead in The Animals in That Country who continues doing what she does as a wave of seismic change sweeps the planet because what else can you do? Heroism sometimes is where you’re standing and what better example than my favourite Friends episode, Cloverfield.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, give it a shot, it’s a surprising fun and very short flick that’s pretty much the platonic ideal of the found footage sub-genre. A group of friends throw a leaving party for one of their own on the same night something emerges from the ocean, tears the head off the Statue of Liberty and rampages across New York. Desperate to reach his not quite girlfriend, who he was a STAGGERING arse to earlier in the night, our hero drags his friends across town as a monster movie continually rages one block to the left.
Looked at one way, it’s romantic, heroic, amazing. Rob, for he is a Rob, has a moment of clarity at the end of his world and realizes what his priorities are. It’s adorable. Laudable.
Looked at another way he’s a mass casualty event with a good haircut. Rob leaves bodies in his wake as his singular devotion to Beth (For she is a Beth) puts innocents in the most unimaginable peril that he rarely has time to care about or notice. Similarly, the monster itself is both a terrifying force of abject destruction and also a terrified animal. A victim trapped in an alien world, unable to understand or even perceive the people it’s killing.
It’s all about perspective, which is why I love this story so much. Well it’s Tim’s writing too and in this case Sandy’s exemplary reading and Adam’s top notch production but for me it’s that ending. It’s the suit that prints business cards and what that implies. It’s the realization that forgiveness and survival and redemption can be the same thing. It’s reprogramming the test so it’s possible for everyone to win.
Who wouldn’t love that? Great work all.
We’re now paying associate editors, who are slush readers and the first line of contact for every magazine and author. They are the unsung heroes of the industry and it’s time we sung them. We’re currently paying all four shows’ associate editors at a reduced rate because we aren’t quite at the target donation yet, but it was time to get this done. So we still need your help especially as in addition, you also pay for everything else!
Stories, staff, tech, you name it so thank you and if you can please either donate time or money.
For time, it’s easy. Did you like this story? Then talk about it on social media. Leave a review, anything like that helps like you would not believe. Money? Literally the only thing that helps more. you can subscribe and get free audio goodies galore from as little as 5 bucks a month through neither Patreon or PayPal and Do you have Amazon Prime? With five minutes you could support us with 5 bucks a month for free. Go to escapeartists.net/twitch and find out more.
Two things before we go. First off, October at Escape Pod is Black Future Month and it’s going to be brilliant. It’s inspired by N.K. Jemisin’s essay titled, “How Long ’til Black Future Month,” (as well as a recent short story collection with the same title), and timing is aligned with Black Speculative Fiction Month. Brent Lambert of FIYAH Magazine is our guest editor for this month-long celebration of Black voices in science fiction Episodes will air in the month of October and feature two original works of short fiction as well as two reprints.
Finally, are you a Hugo voter this year? If so, did you know Escape Pod and PodCastle are both finalists for Best Semiprozine? AND Divya and Mur of this very Escape Pod are up for Best Editor, Short Form! Also your intrepid host here is up for Best Fan Writer, Best Fanzine for The Full Lid, which I co-edit with my partner in all things Marguerite Kenner and Best Related Work for my work with ConZealand Fringe. So if you’ve still to vote, we’d love your consideration, thank you.
We’ll be back next week September 30: “Delete Your First Memory for Free” by Kel Coleman, narrated by Hollis Monroe, hosted by Tina Connolly, audio production by Summer Brooks. Then as now we’ll be a production of Escape Artists Incorporated and released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial no derivatives license. Our closing quote this week is
“Love isn’t about what we deserve,” Mia said, kneeling by my side and putting a hand over my fist. “Your people love you because of who you are. All of it, not just the good.”
― K.B. Wagers, Down Among the Dead
About the Author
Tim Pratt is the author of over 20 novels, most recently Philip K. Dick Award finalist The Wrong Stars. As T.A. Pratt he wrote ten novels in the Marla Mason urban fantasy series. His stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Year’s Best Fantasy, and other nice places. He’s a Hugo Award winner for short fiction, and has been a finalist for World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Stoker, Mythopoeic, and Nebula Awards, among others. He’s a senior editor at Locus magazine, and lives in Berkeley CA with his family. Every month he writes a new story for his Patreon supporters at www.patreon.com/timpratt.
About the Narrator
Sandy’s fiction can be read in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Escape Pod, and Reckoning, among others. In addition to writing fiction, Sandy also narrates audio fiction. When not writing, Sandy works as an anesthetist in Georgia. More information and links to stories can be found at http://www.sandyparsons.com/