Escape Pod 880: A Cosmonaut’s Guide to Talking to Your Parents

A Cosmonaut’s Guide to Talking to Your Parents

By Adriana C. Grigore

You have (3) unopened voicemails on your personal line. Last received 31 minutes ago, Aurea Minor Time.

> Read?

> No. Switch to broadcast.

> Engage deep space satellite?

> Yes. On, say…a five-sector perimeter.

> Live transmission upon connection?

> Sure.

“… and when I said that no, I didn’t order the pie, I made it myself, they said—they said, oh, you shouldn’t have made such a mess! And I, well, I, I cried.”


“It’s… it’s like the mess was all they saw, you know?”

“And you wanted them to see you.”

“Yeah… I mean, doesn’t everyone?”

Sam looked at the canopy of stars past the asteroid belt he was supposed to be mapping. None of them would’ve been visible from any of the planets he’d grown up on, but they felt familiar anyway. Distant and still, as his spacesuit ebbed and flowed.


He let the silence stretch out like gum as the ship slowly changed angle, bringing the lone blue giant into view, then he tapped the channel again.

“Okay, so how’s this?” He twisted around and the cord tying him to the ship tightened for a moment, a necessary but mood-breaking tether.

Dear Mom and Dad,

It’s not that I didn’t want to come to your favorite restaurant, it’s just that that’s the last place Grandma and I saw each, and being there, with her memory all around me, I would not have been able to see you at all.

I’m not distant because I resent you, but I admit I am distant. For years I’ve longed for a sense of peace within myself, and now that I’ve reached it, I find it hard to step away from it. And it’s not your fault for not knowing this, but neither is it my fault for not telling you. Some things are better said in their own time.

I miss the times when the things we made at home meant more than anything we could’ve found in any fancier galaxy.


Your son.

Sam paused, the amalgamation of uncharted stars steady around him as he turned and turned into the nothingness of space. “Er… how’s that?”

There was a sniffle. “Seriously, man?”


“Thank you. Thank you, I’ll… I’ll talk to them.”

Sam released a breath. “Good luck.”

The line went dead, and he let the cord carry him back inside.

“Hey, it’s me again, Mark from Station 13. I wanted to let you know that there will be a stellar flare in your sector in about five hours, and that I had that talk with my overprotective aunts as you suggested, and it actually went great! They still didn’t let me help with the party, but they haven’t called my supervisors to check on my health in a week, which is nothing short of a miracle. So, thank you for that!”

Sam opened the line. “Did they really hire ostriches?”

“Yes! If you can believe that! Part hologram, but so realistic! They tried to eat my cane and my new knee brace. It felt very targeted. Truth be told, I think I would’ve gone prematurely gray if I hadn’t come upon your podcast frequency before all this went down.”


“Yes, sorry, helpline. Hello! Did I wake you?”

“Nah, just having breakfast.”

“Still charting YS-15?”

“Got all the way to 16, actually.”

“At this rate, it shouldn’t take you more than a millennium or two to reach us.”

“Fingers crossed.”

“I’ll make sure to get you a room not overlooking the belt when you finally get here.”

Sam sighed around a mug of lukewarm tea. “That would be ideal.”

“Thought as much. There, I made a note. So… am I keeping the helpline busy or do you want company?”

“Nope, I’m off the air today.” Sam dunked a stale biscuit in his mug. “Go on, tell me about your aunts’ ostriches.”

“It’s just… I don’t understand what they want from me! One day it’s live your own life, the next, what’s so repugnant about the way we do things, you know?”

“I know.” The ship must have found something else to map while he lounged outside; he felt the vibration all the way in his suit. “All right.”

“Dear All,

I know it’s hard not having me in your sight all the time anymore, but it was the best thing for all of us. I know you care, I know you worry, I know you love me, but I also know that I needed to see who I am on my own.

Allowing me to make my own choices entails allowing me to make my own mistakes. And looking for something different doesn’t mean I hated how things were at home. It only means I want to try out as much of this world as I can.

I know you trust me. I just wish you’d trust yourselves as much too, for you did raise me well. I’ll be all right.



“How’s that?”

The line was silent for a long time. “Yeah… that’s good, yeah. Thanks.”

You still have (3) unopened voicemails on your personal line. Last received 133 hours ago, Aurea Minor Time.

> Read?

> Is there really no way to disconnect my devices from this?

> Restricted according to safety protocol.

> Great.

> Read?

> No, thank you.

“Got to YS-29 yet?”

“Good morning to you too. And nope, stellar storm yesterday. Way to rub it in.”

“Morning! Yeah, I saw that. Tori should’ve sent you a warning in my place. Everything okay?”

“Knowing about it in advance didn’t make it any more comfortable, but yes, all in one piece. Back to mapping. How was your day off?”

“Great! Managed to get off-station for a few hours. You know, people say Marketplace-63 is a sorry excuse for terraforming, here in the middle of nowhere, but I think they’re doing pretty well. Great food, and I even found these hiking tracks that take you round the upper ridges. I deeply, deeply needed to touch some vegetation, I’m not gonna lie.”

“Sounds nice.”

“Yeah! I really should get down there more often. When you get here, maybe I’ll show you around.”

“Maybe I’ll even let you.”

“Cheeky. Okay, so it should be smooth sailing for the next ten to twenty hours, but do keep an eye out for debris from the storm.”

Sam hummed. “You sure you don’t want me mapping that too?”

“Well, all within reason. Wouldn’t wanna take up too much of your airtime, the general nearby population would flip.”

It was strange, hearing the smile of someone you’d never seen. His mind didn’t quite know what shape to give it.

“Are you actually using company-time to encourage me to slack on the job?”

“I feel like the right answer is… no?”

Sam snorted. “Well, then—” His bracelet started blinking. “Ah, I think I’ve got a caller.”

“Oh. All right.”

“But, um…” He slipped into the airlock and started donning a spacesuit faster than he ever had to. Served him right for forgetting to disconnect the helpline. “…we could talk later?”

There was a pause as he did his clasps and checked the oxygen supply. Then just as the airlock opened into perfect silence, Mark said, “Yeah, I’d like that.”

… and don’t worry about the pickles. Love, Sabina.”

“That sounded great, I’m gonna transcribe it and give it to my dad tonight! I swear, so many of us would be dead or at least socially inept without you. How many people call you, usually? I noticed you don’t accept voicemails.”

“Ah, yes… I found all this works better in conversation. And I don’t know; it used to be around two-three per week, but now there’s at least one every time I connect.”

“Gosh, that must get tiring.”

“I guess, but… most people just need someone to talk to.”

Blue is my favorite color!

Even surrounded by a dozen monitors and with the flare blinds half-drawn, Sam could see the blue giant in the distance. He kept an eye on it as he went through the collected data during what the internal system told him were the late hours of the evening, somewhere. The longer he spent at it, the dimmer the interior lights got, and the clearer the glow from outside.

The map grew infinitesimally between cold cups of whatever he’d brewed that morning, and his mind went blank, blank, blank as he pieced it all together, one picture at a time, pebble after pebble.

Blissful, blissful blankness of the soul.

“I’ve got good news,” Mark singsonged as Sam oversteeped another cup of probably-morning tea. “You’re officially close enough for us to pick you up on the radar now.”

“Hurray,” Sam droned.

“Indeed! You’re also on schedule, now that I can see you. Just a bit behind. With some wiggle room for the occasional flare, I’d say you should get here in… five to six hundred hours?”

Sam sighed.

“Hang in there, Sam.”

“Hanging.” Sam drew shut all the blinds and turned the light to a minimum, then cocooned himself in the corner of the bed. “Tell me about your day?”

“Skipping all mentions of space rocks and emotionally stunted relatives, I presume?”

“Yes, please.”

“Dear Mom,

Just because I’m far away doesn’t mean I’ve run away. I’d hoped you would understand better, so perhaps I didn’t say as much as I should have, but I would never have got this far without knowing I could always come back. It hurts me when you say otherwise.

And I know. I know it’s because you’re scared, because you want me to be safe and happy, but I am telling you that I am happy, and as safe as I would be anywhere. Trust me in that like you trusted me with all your inventions and diagrams when I was little.

I wish you would meet Ann. She paints my life the same colors as our countryside house once did. I love her, I love you, and I am happy.

From only two stars away,

Your daughter.”

“Gosh, that’s… yes, that’s just what I wanted to say! I can’t…”

“Glad I could help.”

The blue giant filled half the horizon from this angle, but Sam doubted he could hold position for much longer, from the way the ship was pulling at his suit. Yet for now, if he kept his body limp, he could imagine he was floating in a sea at night. Nothing but him and the blue glow in the distance. Was this peacefulness? He felt like a fish half-swallowed.

“Now tell me about your day.”

It must’ve been late, both by ship and station standards. There was nothing whirring in the background of their voices, neither scanners nor station comms. “I mean, it’s just mapping stones and giving questionable advice. Nothing exciting about me.”

“I doubt that.”

“Well, let’s see, I had powdered eggs for breakfast.”

“Oooh, riveting!”

“With cinnamon.”

“Fascinating! Go on.”

Sam closed his eyes, imagined water washing all the protective layers of his suit away. “Then I made tea…”

“So, I don’t want it to sound harsh.”

This was the third caller since he’d woken up. Sam would probably not get to fall asleep again anytime soon, with all the work he needed to catch up on after spending this much time outside. His suit’s oxygen levels blinked orange in the corner of his visor, but they would hold. For a little while longer, they would hold.

“No, I understand.”

“Because they did nothing wrong, I’m fine, it’s just hard to…”

“… find the words?”

“Yeah. I mean, how do you do it?”

“Being in space helps.”

“Hah, I bet!”

Sam breathed in. The air tasted stale. “I just try to assume most people don’t want to hurt us when they do.”

“Yeah, exactly.”

“While also keeping in mind that our pain does not go away or diminish just because it was unintended. You need to hold the same consideration for yourself as you do for others, otherwise you’ll drown.”

“Yeah, that’s the part I’m still working on. But wow… your relationship with your parents must be amazing!”

You still have (3) unopened voicemails on your personal line. Last received 571 hours ago, Aurea Minor Time.

> Read?

> Nope.

> Delete?

> What—No!

> Switch to broadcast?

> No… no, call station.

> Calling station.

“Hello, Mark.”

“Hi. Having a hard time?”

“This asteroid belt is endless.”

There was a break in the belt at this point, just enough for the blue giant to appear unobstructed for the first time since it came into view. The vacuum held Sam still where he’d turned to face it hours before. The strength of his visor had turned it nearly purple, and still signals pinged that he should shield his eyes. Like the crackle of old records on the background of his call.

“And then she… and then she… she just left me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“So you think I should talk to her? Still?”

“I don’t know.”

“Would you?”

Blue is my favorite color!

The recording glitched as Sam replayed it for the thousandth time, turned his childhood home yellow and white for a moment before it shifted back to blue.

He’d never found flowers that smelled quite like the ones that used to grow in their garden. Long stalks, dill-like leaves, powdery blue petals with a near-purple stamen. They smelled sweet, like honey, with a hint of the sea that was so close he could hear it from the living room.

His homesickness would start with that smell for years to come, a whiff of pollen and salt onto which all his other senses would build, recreating that garden over and over everywhere they went, no matter how many times they moved. Stalks growing through chairs in waiting rooms, purple pollen on his fingertips as he counted pills, his mama’s eyes shiny under a crown of wilted flowers.

Sam stared at the blue giant outside and saw thin leaves grow like tendrils around it, that sweetly salty smell thick enough to drown him in his bed.

The world bubbled like ink spots in his eyes when Sam slipped back into the ship. He opened the line without needing to see the caller.

“They’re getting heavier,” Mark said.

“What are?” His limbs were numb as he fumbled out of the suit. “The calls?”

“Yeah. The last few were… quite a lot.”

“I didn’t know you still listened.”

“What can I say, I find your voice soothing while I go over maintenance reports.”

“That’s…” Sam stuffed the suit back into its place and felt himself grin. “Kinda sweet.”

“I’m a very sweet person. They’re not draining you?”

“A bit. But I’m good at compartmentalising.”

“I noticed.” Sam couldn’t wait to see the wry smile held in that tone in person. “Careful not to compartmentalise too much, though. You’re still somewhat behind schedule, so I’ll put the ETA at around… a hundred hours, hundred-twenty? Your accommodations are ready, by the way. Nice, roomy, planet-side views.”

“Thank you, Mark.”

“My pleasure, but it was mostly Tori making the arrangements while I drowned in flight diagnostics. I don’t know where all those merchant ships were when I needed some off-brand glucose, but they are here now.”

His throat hurt when he laughed, and hurt again when he poured himself some water. It was only now that Sam realised how sparse his oxygen had been getting outside. He checked the time. It hadn’t felt like that long, but apparently it had been.

“Oh, and before I forget. There are some things waiting for you here. I didn’t look closely, but the packaging looked like it was from a clinic back in the Aureas. Access keys, maybe? I think you’re supposed to sign for them in person, hence why they didn’t send them to you by shuttle.”

Sam watched rings form in the glass in his hand. The mass of the room grew and grew until everything became too heavy. And then, under pressure, it all got muffled. Water splashed over his feet.


Opening his mouth to form words drained the last remnants of his energy, but it didn’t hurt. “Yeah, I’ll… see to that when I get there.”

He disconnected the call without feeling a thing.

Blue is my favorite color!

You know what your mama wanted to do when she was younger, Sammy? I wanted to go on one of those far-reaching surveys around old stars, where they give you a tiny ship and a strip of space that you have to map and research. I loved the idea of it, just me and my blue star, watching it for months at a time. All on my own. It seemed so peaceful.

Did you ever go?” Sam mouthed along with his young self. His ceiling shone blue.

Oh, no, I didn’t really get to. First I met your mom, and then we had you, and I didn’t feel the need to run away anymore. I found the peace I always wanted in something else. That’s usually how it happens. But I still think of it fondly, that little dream.

“My mom died last year. She was sick and—”

“I’m so sorry,” Sam said. “I’m so sorry, I can’t do this.”

You still have (3) unopened voicemails on your personal line. Last received 869 hours ago, Aurea Minor Time.

> Read?

> Please, just leave me alone.

                        > Temporary assistant dormancy initiated.

“Hi, Sam. You’ve been stationary for a while there. Talk to me.”

Sam ebbed. “I’m just… looking.”

“All right. At what?”

He flowed. “Did you know nearly all blue giants become black holes when they die?”

“Um… yes.”

“Which means everything we do here, every map we make of this place will be useless in just…”

“A million years? Give or take a few hundred thousand?” Sam winced, but apparently Mark had never needed to see him, for his voice softened all the same. “I wouldn’t say useless.”

“But it will all be gone.”

“Maybe. Maybe not all of it. Or maybe mapping it is exactly the right thing to do, before it’s lost forever. Maybe it matters even more because it will all someday collapse.”

It took enormous effort to blink this fast when all the rest of him was still. “Does it?”

“I think so,” Mark said quietly.

Sam closed his eyes. Tight enough and he could be underwater, no sound at all to reach him.

“What’s wrong, Sam?”

“It’s…” Cracked, his voice sounded like someone else’s, like he really did go away entirely. “It’s my moms.”

“Oh. What happened?” But it was too much to speak now, too much to— “Are they…?”

“They’re not dead,” Sam rasped out. “They’re just… not here anymore.”

And maybe he would’ve continued, if his throat hadn’t collapsed in on itself with that confession.

“Sam… I’m gonna disconnect now so I can leave the control room, but I’ll call you from my personal line in a few minutes, okay?”

Sam watched the tears rise like marbles above his eyes. “Okay.”

“Get inside.”


It was at once freeing and horrible, to have it all out there. The truth lay like broken glass shards between the two of them, making the distance of two days’ travel no longer than the width of Sam’s sleeping quarters.

“They left me messages, you know. After I left.”

“Oh… what did they say?” There was a pause, a shuffle, and Sam leaned his head back against the wall above his bed and breathed. “You don’t have to tell me, it’s okay.”

“I don’t know,” Sam said. “I don’t know what they said. I never listened to them.” And this felt as horrible to confess as everything else. “I thought I would. I’ve been steeling myself for it, but I’m… I’m scared.”

“Of what? Of what they’ll say?”

“Of the fact that maybe once I listen to them, I’ll hate myself for not calling back.”

“Sam. I don’t want this to sound mean, but… it feels as if you’re already doing that.”

Sam laughed. “What gave it away?”

“The mindless job alone in the middle of nowhere was a pretty big hint.” And world, when Sam got a hold of him, he was going to learn the shape of that smile with his fingertips. “But that’s normal. It’s a process. I might be totally out of line here, but…”

“Are you writing me a letter?”

“Yes. No. Shut up. Not all of us can be as emotionally literate as you, I’m trying my best here.”

“You’re all wildly overestimating my capabilities, but go on. You’re doing great.”

“Why, thank you. What I wanted to say was… you’re always talking about trust in your letters. I kept thinking about what you said once, about trying to assume most people don’t mean us harm. I didn’t know them, I only know what you just told me, but maybe—maybe you should trust your moms too. I don’t think they would’ve wanted to hurt you, not with this.”

Sam didn’t think they would’ve wanted that either. Deep inside, he knew they didn’t. But the problem with last words was that once he listened to them, it was over. There would be nothing left but what he could remember.

Or maybe he’d tricked himself into believing he was postponing this goodbye, when in truth it had happened months ago. He was just lingering in the space between the words.

“Which is not to say it won’t still hurt,” Mark went on. “But I think what you need is closure, Sam. And I choose to believe they knew that too.”

Sam half-laughed, wiping at his cheek. “Oh, they would’ve liked you.”

“I’ll try not to let that get to my head.”

Sam breathed out, then in, and the air only smelled like the busy mechanisms of the ship and a long-forgotten mug on his nightstand. No sea, no flowers.

“All right,” he said. “All right. I’ll give it a go.”

“You sure you don’t want to wait until you get here?”

“Yes, I am, I… I want to do it here.”

“Will you be okay?”

“I think so.”

“All right. See you in twenty-six hours, Sam.”

You still have (3) unopened voicemails on your personal line. Last received 1005 hours ago, Aurea Minor Time.

> Read?

> …Yeah, okay. All right.

> Voicemail received 1132h ago:

“Sam, this is ridiculous, answer me, we need to talk, we might never get to—no, shut up, let me say this! First he goes on this stupid mission and now he won’t even—no, don’t—”

> Voicemail received 1064h ago:

“Sam, this is Mom. Again. I’m sorry. I know I always tell you not to say things when you’re upset, but I… No, I’m just sorry.

“You know your mama and I would never have done something this rash if we’d had any other choice. Maybe in a few decades they’ll find a way to cure her, to stop this thing eating away at her, and they’ll wake us up, but right now there’s no other way to save her. And it’s despicable I had to choose, and I’m sorry I did, but I won’t leave her alone. I can’t. Not now, and not in the future either.

“But I know you’ll be okay. You will. It hurts now, but it will pass. You have too much of your mama in you to grieve your life away.

“I wish you would pick up…”

> Voicemail received 1005h ago:

“Hey, Sammy, it’s Mama. I’m sorry I didn’t call earlier. I just felt so… there was so much I wanted to say, so many things I could get wrong. But the truth of it is this: I love you. Please, listen. I love you. I’ve loved you so much from the first moment I met you. I’ve loved you joyfully, achingly, fearfully, easily, and I still do, and I always will.

“They’re preparing the cryobeds now, and your mom is making that face she used to make when you wanted her to go skydiving with you. Scared but determined, but that’s your mom, isn’t she? Don’t blame her because she’s scared. Blame me, if you have to. Blame this selfishness of mine in not turning her away. But know that I love you, and I love your mom, and she loves us both just as painfully as we love each other. It must run in the family, mustn’t it, this string of bleeding hearts?

“I hope I’ll see you again. But even if I don’t, I hope and I know you’ll find that same peace I found with you two, full of people who’ll love you as much as we do. You’re so hard not to love, Sam… And I understand why you went away; I would’ve done so too. Don’t be hard on yourself. I know everything you’ve ever wanted to say to me.

“Love you always,

“Your mama.”

> Voicemail empty. Respond?

Sam kept the heels of his palms pressed against his eyes for a few moments longer, then let out a shuddering breath. “Okay.” He straightened up. “Yeah, um… Record.” Around him, all the blue light was seeping out of the room as the ship turned to face the station docks. “Dear Mom and Mama…”

Host Commentary

Host Commentary

By Mur Lafferty

A cynical person might say this story is the epitome of the saying, “physician heal thyself” or the story of the shoemaker’s kids having bare feet, but it reminded me strongly of one of my favorite moments from the show Babylon 5. I couldn’t find the exact quote, but I remember the scene very well, because my husband and I mention it to each other a lot. Delenn tells Sheridan that when you have a mess to clean up, it’s easier to help clean up someone else’s mess because then you are doing a kindness for someone else. It’s more than cleaning.

However, you also need to remember to put your mask on first and see to your own needs, and in this story the metaphor is almost literal in that Sam gives so much of himself that he won’t see to his own emotional and physical needs. This is what makes the connection with Mark so meaningful, that someone can finally see Sam’s mess and want to help clean it up.

There’s also truth in the thought that it’s easier to give advice than to take it. You can always find a hundred ways the advice you’re giving won’t work for you, because your problem is extra special and unique in the universe. But nearly all of the reasons are evasive excuses. It still helps to hear advice from someone else’s lips, for the reason I said earlier; if someone is helping you with your mess, it’s an act of kindness on top of the help they’re offering. They care enough to help, and, as in Sam’s case, sometimes that’s all you need.

About the Author

Adriana C. Grigore

Adriana Grigore

Adriana C. Grigore is a writer from the windswept plains of Romania. They have a degree in language and literature, a penchant for folklore, and a tendency to overwater houseplants. You can find their fiction in Clarkesworld, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and others.

Find more by Adriana C. Grigore

Adriana Grigore

About the Narrator

Bryce Dahle

Bryce Dahle

Bryce Dahle is a beginner voice actor who’s recorded multiple stories for the tales to terrify podcast, along with a character voice in monsters out of the closet episode 33. When he’s not working or hanging out with his wife, he uploads some of his own recordings to his youtube channel “awkward mammal”

Find more by Bryce Dahle

Bryce Dahle