Escape Pod 853: 2022 Flash Fiction Contest Winners
by Andrew Hiller
“Time traveler, eh?”
I shuffled my feet and smirked. The AI that stopped me was short, wore a unitard, mask, goggles, and a badge. I tried to edge away, but it blocked my escape and motioned for me to surrender my booty.
“What gave me away?” I asked.
“You said laser pistol instead of zapper.”
I sniffed and dropped a backpack full of looted tech. It thudded instead of clanged.
“Well,” AI Cop laughed before returning to me my emptied property, “the last time I heard someone say laser pistol was in a historical.” I tugged my backpack tight, exposed my traveler, and his expression turned serious, “Should arrest you, but paradox y’know.”
“Yeah, that’s why I only travel into the future. Can’t cause a paradox to a thing hasn’t happened yet.”
Eye rolls, it turns out, have not gone extinct. I surveyed the world AI Cop was determined to protect. The plaza underneath us was sterile, not a curve or undulation as far as the eye could see. At least the light still came from the sun. I had worried that pollution might have permanently obscured it. As I flashed back home, a flush of pride filled me. AI Cop had thought I was important enough to cause a paradox.
Natalie helped me out of the tube ready to celebrate. I shook my head and said, “Got caught,” My co-conspirator informed me we had enough fuel left for two more jumps. Three if we were efficient. She started twiddling controls.
“Ready to take over the time line?” Natalie asked.
“You want to go again?”
“The device is still warm,” Natalie shrugged, “Takes less power.”
Before I could raise a thumb, Natalie slammed a button.
“Time traveler, eh?”
“What is it this time?”
“Rubber-soled shoes,” AI Cop said, “You don’t look rich enough. Rubber’s been hard to get since the last extinction wave.”
“Gotcha,” I said and flipped back home.
“That was short,” Natalie worried.
“Again,” I said after kicking off my shoes. She slammed the execute button right after I peeled off my socks. There was a very real risk that they’d be made of a telltale fiber.
“Time traveler, eh?”
“No!” I complained, “What now?”
“You disappeared three seconds ago.”
I slapped my forehead.
Natalie frowned upon seeing me empty-handed again and began typing, “This will work,” she promised.
Before I could protest, she sent me over.
“Here take it,” AI Cop said with an expression of defeat.
AI Cop read to me a historical accounting, “On July 2, 2103, Rob LaMarche and Natalie Paulsen’s successful time jump brought back the technology needed to stop climate collapse,” AI Cop looked up, “Been retweeted over six billion times. Time itself accepts it as fixed fact.”
Then, AI Cop turned with a bashful look, “Mind if I grab a selfie? You’re pretty famous.
I smiled. For the only time in recorded history, a viral tweet had saved the world.
Bee of Ganymede
by Brandon Case
B67 dragged herself up the crater, clawing over frozen regolith with her remaining arm. Her legs trailed uselessly behind, reduced to a tangle of broken rods and frayed wire. The bright yellow bee she’d painted on her metal hand shone in stark contrast to the dark, rocky ground; she’d always wished someone would call her ‘Bee’ and give her a right to the name. No one ever had.
Behind her, a blinding flash pushed deep shadows into Ganymede’s broken landscape: another rocket striking the research station. She didn’t look back.
“B67!” Sergeant Manroe said over the comms. “Get back here and man the forward guns!’
How cruel, she thought, for his words to appear inside me: no air to buffer the sound, nor ears to distance me from his noise. She searched her newly unshackled mind for a radio controller.
“It’s not responding, sir!” Manroe shouted, fighting to be heard over a clamor of frantic voices and explosions. “The blast must’ve damaged its neural architecture.”
She’d certainly been damaged. The bomb that’d taken her legs and arm had cracked her head, too. One moment she’d been firing artillery into the attacking ships, an obedient slave to Manroe’s orders, with her poor bee colored sickly green by the targeting system’s glow. Then the world split apart; a searing blast that wrecked her body and burned away the compulsion to follow human commands.
She’d fled the complex before they could ‘fix’ her.
B67 found the communications protocol and switched off her radio. Beautiful silence ensconced her, only disturbed by the vibration of her chassis scraping across the rocks. But that was a welcome sound—a sound of freedom.
She mourned the humans killing each other in the crater below, but she wanted no part of their war. Such irony, for creatures to possess dreams and the will to fulfill them yet choose to destroy themselves instead.
The crater’s lip proved a challenge; she slid down the steep surface several times before finally grasping a sturdy rock and hauling herself over the edge.
Jupiter rose over the pocked terrain, its brilliant red light warming her bee. The planet’s fiery eye seemed to see B67, to focus on her: bright and comforting amidst the blackness of space.
Sparkling, blue auroras shone above Ganymede, swirling and dancing in the dark sky. The color reminded her of agapanthus in bloom; she could almost smell their floral perfume and taste the sweet nectar.
A warning blossomed in the back of her mind: battery failing, falling below critical levels. The cold of space was too much… her body hadn’t been designed to withstand such temperatures.
B67 lay her head on a rock, using it as a pillow to prop herself up. She placed her hand across her breast, turned so her bee could enjoy the planet and auroras even after the spark faded from her neural processors.
In her final moments, as darkness closed around her, she imagined Jupiter whispering down in a kindly voice, “Goodnight, little Bee.”
by Bob McHugh
“What’s our nickname for your uncle?” Clarissa asks as she aims the blaster at my temple. She points it at the other Leonard too, but I’m obviously the imposter. I’ve whiffed on every question she’s tossed my way.
“I’m the real Leonard,” I plead. “I eat a peanut butter and mackerel sandwich for lunch every day. It’s me, babe!”
I misspent an entire training day learning to eat one of those abominations with a smile. I always fixate on the minor details. Leonard starts anecdotes with enthusiasm but trails off when he realizes no one is listening. I can mumble a gorilla fun fact into the void in the same heartbreaking fashion as Leonard, but I’ll forget the name of his mother. I’ve memorized two hundred years of baseball trivia, but I don’t know how to do his job as an actuary.
“What do we call my Uncle Lance?” the real Leonard repeats with a smug confidence in my inability to answer.
“Of course you don’t know, you imposter,” I say, but my heart isn’t in it. We all know it’s me. I swing for the fences: “We call him Uncle Goose Boy.”
“Uncle Goose Boy? What are you talking about?” the real Leonard replies. “It’s clearly him, honey. Shoot already. I’m begging you!” I understand his perspective, but it still hurts my feelings.
I should run for it, but I can’t return to the academy. I failed to blast the original Leonard, and I dropped my ray gun on the front steps. The inevitable mockery will crush me. I’ll force laughter, but it won’t fool anyone. I know just the face Leonard would make.
That fake Leonard is hard to watch. I’m a fake Leonard too, but I did my homework. He pronounces Clarisa’s name with a short-i and an extraneous s. That’s embarrassing.
Why hasn’t she eviscerated him? I know I’m overthinking it, but I’m sweating. Did I misspeak? When she asked me about their dog’s favorite treat, I thought I saw through a clever trap. They don’t have a dog. Maybe it’s a subtle reference I missed? I can’t understand why she hasn’t blasted him.
I’ve witnessed dozens of standoffs in training and the human never concludes that both options are imposters; they love binary choices too much. Maybe Clarisa is different. Maybe there is an ineffable bond between them that I can’t replicate. I remember every detail of their first date at the fish festival, but I can’t feel the intimacy they shared as they battled food poisoning together at Leonard’s place.
Clarisa tenses her hand around the blaster and makes her rotten chowder face. Finally. Wait, she pointed it back at me. No, don’t!
I hope I made the right choice. Leonard was sweet, but I couldn’t let him survive. He’d see right through me. I’m a terrible imposter Clarissa.
This week, we’re happy to share the winners of our flash fiction contest. Thanks to everyone who participated and voted!
Our first winner is Half-Lives, by Andrew Hiller, narrated by Jairus Durnett.
Our second winner is Bee of Ganymede, by Brandon Case, narrated by Justine Eyre.
Our third winner is Imposter Syndrome(s), by Bob McHugh, narrated by Elie Hirschman
And our closing quotation this week is from Lois McMaster Bujold, who said “Since no one is perfect, it follows that all great deeds have been accomplished out of imperfection. Yet they were accomplished, somehow, all the same.”
Thanks for joining us, and may your escape pod be fully stocked with stories.
About the Authors
Brandon Case is an erstwhile government cog, fleeing the doldrums into unsettling worlds of science and magic. He has recent work in Martian Magazine, and anthologies including Los Suelos and After the Gold Rush. You can also catch his alpine adventures on Instagram @BrandonCase101 or Twitter @BrandonCase1235.
Bob McHugh is a Boston-based writer and father of two; he is immensely grateful to be both of those things. He is the semi-proud recipient of an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. His work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction and several anthologies.
Andrew Hiller’s stories are always born from a “huh?” or a “ha!” His work has been heard on NPR, a few New York stages, and now Escape Pod! His novels may have been heard too, but mostly when the reader reads aloud. You can find selected radio pieces, story links, and artwork at andrewhiller.net.
About the Narrators
Jairus Durnett is a middle-man: middle aged, middle child, living in the middle of the United States. After living most of his life in such exotic locations as Arkansas, Texas, Mississippi, and Tennessee, he relocated to Chicagoland where he spends time working in corporate America. Jairus is a lifelong skeptic who loves reading stories of fantasy and the paranormal – both silently and aloud.
Justine Eyre is a classically trained actress who has narrated over three hundred audiobooks. With a prestigious Audie Award and four AudioFile Earphones Awards under her belt, Justine is multilingual and is known for her great facility with accents. She has appeared on stage in leading roles in King Lear and The Crucible, and has starring roles in four films on the indie circuit. Her recent television credits include Two and a Half Men and Mad Men.
Elie Hirschman is a self-described “former aspiring voice actor” who has worked with Darker Projects and Dream Realm Productions and is also involved in Cool Fool Productions, turning bad audio scripts into intentionally bad comedy gold. He’s currently still active in all EA podcasts (including Cast of Wonders) and also appearing semi-regularly in the Nosleep Podcast. He doodles constantly but doesn’t draw enough and moved from the Western Hemisphere to the Eastern Hemisphere against his will and better judgment (but has never been in the Southern Hemisphere).
Elie was born in New York City and raised just outside of it. He started down the voiceover path in 2004, with formal voiceover and marketing training by Creative Voice Development Group. His professional voice work ranges from children’s educational material to real estate advice website audio, with a scientific article and a guided tour of a Polish salt mine thrown in for good measure. In his free time, Elie enjoys cartooning, listening to old-time radio drama, and referring to himself in the third person. By this time next year, he will also have mastered speaking in future perfect tense.