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Escape Pod 743: Flash From the Vault


Flash From the Vault

Hello and welcome to Escape Pod Summer School, where we post some of our favorite episodes from the vault with a new perspective. I’m your assistant editor and teacher for this class, Benjamin C. Kinney, and I’ve got three flash episodes from long, long ago. We bring you “Paul Bunyan and the Photocopier” by Larry Hammer, “Beachcomber” by Mike Resnick, and “Semi-Autonomous: or, For Whom the Warranty Tolls” by Jim Kling. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 741: Repo (Summer Flashback)


Repo

By Aaron Gallagher

It took concentration to perform delicate work in the cumbersome gloves of the suit. The rounded fingers were metal-tipped, and bulky. Elise painted the tips of her gloves with luminous paint for ease when working outside.

The octopus found the wires and shorted the alarm. The device glowed green and she triggered the manual release. The door popped, expelling a breath or two of oxygen.

Elise slipped into the airlock and closed it behind her, shutting the door on the endless black of space. The inside porthole looked into the cargo hold. She glided through the cargo room with three kicks.

The head-up on her helmet showed schematics in blue. She found the environmental control room.

She flipped open the airtight seal on a container holding a large slab of green gel. She snapped open a metal vial sprayed dark liquid onto the slab. She sealed the container, turned the machinery to full, and crouched by the door out of sight.

At thirty minutes, Elise headed upstairs for the cockpit. Empty. She looked for the captain’s cabin. In the cabin’s refresher, she found his body slumped in a large rubber bag.

Great. He passed out in the shower. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 739: The Nightmare Lights of Mars (Summer Flashback)

Show Notes

The Nightmare Lights of Mars was originally published as Escape Pod, episode 415 on September 27, 2013.


The Nightmare Lights of Mars

By Brian Trent

Before discovering the moths, Clarissa Lang stumbled blind in the Martian sandstorm and admitted she was about to die because of a painting.

Granules of sand flew past her head at 90 kph and crunched between her teeth. The storm hissed around her ears, a terrible insistence that she hush forever. There was no excuse for this death, Clarissa thought. Weather advisories had been in place for an hour. Her death would become a digital footnote, filed under foolishness, for all time.

She staggered blind and tacked through the needle-spray. Red sand piled around her neck and shoulders, grew around her mouth like exaggerated lipstick.
“Overlay!” she shouted — tried to shout — but her mouth instantly filled with gritty particulate. She panicked then, the first moment of true mindless panic. But the Martian Positioning Satellite had heard her cry: Maureen’s property map sprang up in her left eye, drawn scarlet against each blink.

The house was thirty meters northwest. Upwind.

Clarissa tucked herself into a protective ball and scuttled sideways, like a crab. The sand struck her exposed hands and face in a shifting, relentless wave.

I’ll never make it. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 737: To the Knife-Cold Stars (Summer Flashback)

Show Notes

To the Knife-Cold Stars originally appeared on episode 480 of Escape Pod on February 7, 2015.


To the Knife-Cold Stars

By Merc Fenn Wolfmoor

When Grace opens his newly crafted eye, the first thing he sees is wire. Thick cords of braided wire snaking like old veins up the walls. It’s dim inside the surgical unit, but for all the black metal and mesh shelves, it feels clean, even in the heat. The air still has the unfamiliar taste of crude oil. Sweat sticks the borrowed clothes to his skin. He blinks, a flicker of pain in his head as the left eyelid slides down over cool metal buried in the socket.

He’s awake and he’s alive.

The anesthetic hasn’t worn off. It’s sluggish in his blood, an unpleasant burn at the back of his throat. It blurs the edges of his thoughts like too much bad wine. But it doesn’t dull the deep-etched fear still unspooling through his gut. He survived the demon, survived his own execution. It’s a hard thing to accept, even days later. He wants to touch the new eye, this machine part of his body, the forever-reminder what happened. Doesn’t dare, yet.

“Back with us, eh?” says a raspy voice muffled by a respirator.

Grace turns his head, slow and careful. He dimly recalls the wire-tech mumbling about whiplash in his neck and the horrific bruising along his ribs and back where the welts are still healing. “Guess so.”

The tech is a small man dressed in heavy surgical leathers that are studded with metal sheeting. Old blood speckles the apron and gloves; the metal and rivets are spotless. Only the skin on his forehead is visible under thick embedded glasses and a breather covering nose and mouth. “Nearly died on us, you did. Venom went right into the blood.”

The demon’s venom. Grace doesn’t reach to touch his face where the sunspawn’s claws took out his eye and split flesh to bone. He doesn’t look down, either. A new shirt and worn jeans cover whatever scars the demon left on his belly and thighs. He shivers in the heat. He doesn’t know if he can ever look at himself again; what will Humility think–

Humility.

Grace trembles harder. Humility will never see him again. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 735: Boris’s Bar (Summer Flashback)

Show Notes

Boris’s Bar originally appeared on Escape Pod episode 483 on March 2, 2015.


Boris’s Bar

By Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

“Orani, tell Boris what is wrong.”

I told Boris about Enoch and our shared dreams, about how he abandoned me.

“He said I was frigid,” I confided, my head on Boris’s shoulder, his hand stroking my back.

Boris nodded, “What else?”

“He said that for all the credits in the system, I would never learn how to love.”

I’d been drowning in loneliness when I contracted Boris to help me recover from losing Enoch. After two years of long distance communication, Enoch had traveled from Earth to be with me, only to later decide it was a mistake. “You’re not the human being I thought you were,” he said, which was rich because he wasn’t a human being at all.

When I was spent of energy and tears, Boris lifted me into his arms, like steel support beams, and carried me to the bathroom. He undressed and washed me. He kissed my tearful eyes. He rubbed my skin with oil. With Boris I finally felt warm and safe.

“Orani, you are worthy and lovable. I want you to know this,” he murmured to me as he carried me back to bed. “I want you to feel like a little baby.”

“I don’t remember what that’s like,” I told him. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 733: Relative Fortune

Show Notes

This is the third in a special series of space-themed stories in May 2020.


Relative Fortune

By Brian K. Lowe

When I was seventeen, class president, and a year from the Space Force Academy, Dad fell into an antique gun rack at work, dead from a stroke before he hit the floor.

I had been helping him in the pawn shop after school, partly to make some tuition money and partly because it looked good on my Academy application. After he died it was either take over the shop, or let Mom work it and my brother Rey raise himself while I ran off to the Academy. I opened up two hours after the funeral.

Every night, I’d sweep the floors, dust the shelves, double-lock the front door, and walk upstairs after a 12-hour day of trading in things that people had once thought they couldn’t live without, but now couldn’t live without selling.

But while I was scratching out a living buying and selling second-hand guitars, the real money was in things that had gone Out There. Tools, spacesuits, uniform patches… And when it came to interstellar travel, stuff that had been to another star… Years before I was born, the first guys to come back from Proxima Centauri had gotten rich selling their underwear. The best part was that, thanks to time dilation, they were still young. They’d been able to retire in their thirties. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 731: For Whatever We Lose

Show Notes

This is the first in a special series of space-themed stories in May 2020.


For Whatever We Lose

By Jennifer R. Donohue

I lied to meet an astronaut.

Or my dad did, which is the same thing. I was supposed to be at least eight years old to attend, and I was only six but the tallest in my class. So I got to meet the astronaut that August day, instead of going to the beach, or playing in somebody’s backyard and running barefoot to the ice cream truck when we heard its roving song.

He was the third man on the moon, and at home I still have the framed and autographed NASA black and white of him young and serious in his spacesuit. It used to be one of the pictures on his Wikipedia page, a piece of my memories there on the internet for everybody to see. It’s probably the same promo photo he used for years and years; I wonder how many other kids kept theirs. Thinking of it like that makes him seem still alive, like as long as all those pictures are out there, he can’t possibly be gone. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 729: Gaze of Robot, Gaze of Bird


Gaze of Robot, Gaze of Bird

By Eric Schwitzgebel

First, an eye. The camera rose, swiveling on its joint, compiling initial scans of the planetary surface. Second, six wheels on struts, pop-pop, pop-pop, pop-pop, and a platform unfolding between the main body and the eye. Third, an atmospheric taster and wind gauge. Fourth, a robotic arm. The arm emerged holding a fluffy, resilient nanocarbon monkey doll, which it carefully set on the platform.

The monkey doll had no actuators, no servos, no sensors, no cognitive processors. Monkey was, however, quite huggable. Monkey lay on his back on the warm platform, his black bead eyes pointed up toward the stars. He had traveled wadded near J11-L’s core for ninety-five thousand years. His arms, legs, and tail lay open and relaxed for the first time since his hurried manufacture.

J11-L sprouted more eyes, more arms, more gauges – also stabilizers, ears, a scoop, solar panels, soil sensors, magnetic whirligigs. Always, J11-L observed Monkey more closely than anything else, leaning its eyes and gauges in.

J11-L arranged Monkey’s limbs on the platform, gently flexing and massaging the doll. J11-L scooped up a smooth stone from near its left front wheel, brushed it clean, then wedged it under Monkey’s head to serve as a pillow. J11-L stroked and smoothed Monkey’s fur, which was rumpled from the long journey.

“I love you, Monkey,” emitted J11-L, in a sound resembling language. “Will you stay with me while I build a Home?”

Monkey did not reply.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 727: And Never Mind the Watching Ones (Part 2 of 2)


And Never Mind the Watching Ones

(Part 2 of 2)

By Keffy Kehrli

(Continued from Part 1, Escape Pod 726…)

Of course, if someone were systematically scrubbing the Internet of all references to the glitter frogs, then how do you explain the Tumblr gif sets? The audio recordings? The videos that don’t involve illegal firecrackers and animal cruelty?

Surely someone would have taken down the space frog conspiracy theory site designed by a person with only a very cursory understanding of HTML?

The site has a star field background with red, white, and blue text. The only thing less systematic than the wildly varying font size is the capitalization, which seems to occur at random.

tHe FRogS ArE NOT alIeNS, ThEY are GOveRnmENT sPiES!

DO NoT leT TheM FOOL yOU!

i HaVE THE uLTiMatE PrOoF thAt THE sHIp iN oRbIT iS FAkE

tHeRE ARE NO aLiENs

tHAt iS whAt THEY WanT YOu tO BeLiEVE

cIA and FbI haVE bEEN tRYinG tO ShUT Me uP FoR YEARS

NsA iS UsInG FROGs tO ImPLAnt TheIR InSTRUctiOnS In YoUR ChilDRenS MInDS

We MuST RISE UP BeFoRE iT iS TOo LaTE!!!

 

And so on…

This site has been up for at least a year now. If these sites were under surveillance, don’t you think it’d be down already? (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 726: And Never Mind the Watching Ones (Part 1 of 2)


And Never Mind the Watching Ones

(Part 1 of 2)

By Keffy Kehrli

 

Aaron

 

He is lying on the splintered, faded-gray wood of the dock, the fingers of one hand dangling in the slough and glitter frogs in his hair. His breath catches and he cups the back of Christian’s head. An airplane is flying far, far overhead. It sounds like the purring exhale of the frogs. Aaron wonders where it’s going.

When he comes, his abdominal muscles tense, pulling his shoulders off the planking. The frogs in his hair go tumbling nubbly ass over nose, their creaking noises gone silent. The orgasm is an adrenaline rush that outlines his body in nervous fire before fading, leaving a ringing in his ears.

Aaron stares up at the broadening remains of the jet contrail, sucking air like he’s been running rather than getting head. He thinks, like every time, that he should have liked it more. He wonders if there’s something wrong with his dick. Christian crawls across the dock and flops beside him, one arm draped carelessly over the baseball logo on Aaron’s T-shirt.

One of the frogs has come back. It puts a clammy little hand on Aaron’s cheek before letting out a croak. The others are scattered across the dock and they answer in identical voices.

“God, they’re so creepy,” Christian says. He picks up the frog. It kicks out its back legs and inflates its neck. It doesn’t ribbit; it freezes as though holding its breath. The two boys can see the delicate iridescent shading on the frog’s belly, the flecks of “glitter” — sensors of some kind, probably alien nanotech. They can see circuitry, visible under thin layers of skin.

“I like them,” Aaron says, reaching out to touch the frog’s nose with a fingertip. It opens its mouth slightly.

Christian holds the frog closer to his face, eyes narrowed in mock anger. “If you’re going to watch, the least you could do is pay us, frogface.” (Continue Reading…)