Archive for Podcasts

Genres:

Escape Pod 720: Child and Orb


Child and Orb

by James Dunham

The child spent most of her time watching the empty stars from the pod window. They were always nothing but distant, dead glitter–not a planet, cloud, or rock, not a fleck of wreckage from the explosion. With only one window, she often wondered whether, if there had been another vista at the rear of the two-room pod, she might still be able to see the spinning pieces of hull and conduit, see that glove someone hadn’t gotten a hand into in time.

Even though the stars ahead never grew closer, she knew the pod kept moving. A display in a lean-to showed speed, fuel, and probably a destination, though none of the numbers meant much to her. The windowed orb that had carried her onto the pod told her what she needed to know–the pod was heading to meet another ship, still weeks distant. She appreciated that the orb hadn’t lied to her the way adults sometimes did, to make her feel better or to give her time to adjust. Instead it told only the truth.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Escape Pod 719: A Hench Helps Her Villain, No Matter What


A Hench Helps Her Villain, No Matter What

By Izzy Wasserstein

The Lair’s intercom buzzes. “Hench, report to the interrogation room at once. Bring the restraints,” Night Mistress demands. For a moment I allow myself to hope, but when I get down to the deepest level, she’s got Patriotess drugged at her feet, and I know I’m a fool.

Hope isn’t the place of a henchperson. Hope will get you killed. Or, worse, out of a job.

I help Night Mistress restrain Patriotess in the center of the lead-walled room. I secure the heroine’s arms above her head. She’s still out of it, her body limp and her head hanging low, completely in Night Mistress’s power. My knees feel unsteady just thinking about it.

I check Patriotess for weapons. She has that whole thin-with-curves thing that only heroines seem to manage, but even that body can’t save her spandex blue-and-red onesie from looking ridiculous. Heroes will wear almost anything. They’ve got no real flair or sense of grandeur. I guess that’s why they’re not villains. Night Mistress practically radiates power in her black tux with silver trim, complete with a tight waistcoat and a daringly low-cut top. An operatic mask completes the perfectly-tailored look.

I feel stuffed into a glittering sequined gown. It’s a look designed for stage assistants with long legs and slim lines. My ex liked to call me “thick,” but I’m actually fat. This isn’t the costume I’d have chosen, but it’s the look Mistress wants in her henchwoman, which is good enough for me. I still remember her tone when she first ordered me to put it on. That memory keeps me warm at night. (Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Escape Pod 718: How the Emperor of All Space and Every World Awoke to the True Nature of Reality and Why it Didn’t Matter


How the Emperor of All Space and Every World Awoke to the True Nature of Reality and Why it Didn’t Matter

by P. H. Lee

The Emperor was bored. This was a problem. His Imperial Majesty, King of every Spiral Arm, Prince-Protector of Coreward Republics, Thearch of Bohm and its dependencies, Grand Duke of the Exterior Habitats, Elector of Both Magellanic Clouds, Guardian of All One Hundred Holy Relics and Defender of the Faith, the Emperor of All Space and Every World could not be bored. When he was not administering his empire—a task that consumed more than half the day—he was supposed to be entertained by his court—replete with jesters (from Mullwyd, the Jester Planet), dancers from Akyll and Boas (the best among the seven Dancer Planets), and singers from the Ibelia Habitat (known of course for its singers)—or comforted by his harem—staffed entirely by beautiful concubines from Isa (the Pleasure Planet) and eromenos from R’ (the other Pleasure Planet.) The Emperor, by convention and necessity and custom and law, could want for nothing.

    All of the advisors in the Depleted Uranium Palace were distraught. “Your most Imperial Majesty,” they explained to him time and time again, “you cannot simply be bored. You want for nothing, and everything is at your command. It is not possible that you could be bored. If you were, if even the whole of space was not enough to entertain a single man, then what good would be your empire? Surely you cannot simply be bored. There must some other explanation. Perhaps you are ill?”

    In response the Emperor—who had heard this speech as many times as he had advisors, and was well and truly bored of it—would sigh. “Perhaps you are right,” he would say, and sigh again. “Let us see what our doctors have to say.” But although the imperial doctors—the best of the best from Mimward (the Doctor Planet)—examined the Emperor time and again, they could find nothing wrong with his imperial person.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Escape Pod 717: Listening


Listening

By Bob DeRosa

At exactly nine in the morning, Karen tapped the green box on her tablet screen and said, “Hello, my name is Karen. I’m listening.”

After a pause, a young woman said, “I’ve never done this before.”

“Whatever’s on your mind, feel free to share.

“Okay,” said the young woman. “I uh…my landlord’s raising my rent again. And…I have two kids and I work two jobs and their father…he’s just never around, y’know?

There was another pause, and Karen knew the young woman was trying not to cry. Still, the tears came. “And I don’t know what to do about it. I usually ask my mother for help but she’s not doing so good herself…”

Karen leaned back in her chair and settled in for the call. Her cubicle was small, but comfortable. A small desk held her tablet on a stand that was connected to the wireless headset she wore every day. The floor she worked on was a sea of identical cubicles. Every morning, Karen would enter the lobby of the unmarked corporate high-rise with the rest of her co-workers at the Listening offices. No one stood out. No pink hair or hipster beards, no sexy dresses or flashy ties. The plainness of the employees’ appearance matched their demeanor. There were no wishes of good mornings or smiles of greeting. (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 716: Physics by the Numbers


Physics by the Numbers

by Stephen Granade

Peifan had come and gone before Nevaeh reached the lab office the next morning. Nevaeh had hoped to say goodbye, but she supposed that if an algorithm had guillotined her graduate school career like a French royalist’s head, she’d have snuck away, too. Peifan had raked his class notes into a trash can that had overflowed and spilled his discarded plastic binders across the floor. He’d also left his poster of bar magnets on the wall, iron filings tracing arcs of magnetism that connected them.

She tossed her phone in her desk drawer and dug around for a Phillips screwdriver. Peifan’s computer had the best graphics card. She meant to claim it for her simulations before her labmate Mason arrived and joined in rifling through Peifan’s discards.


“Both of you are safe.” Dr. Scott gestured at Nevaeh and Mason with his food truck taco, nearly spilling fish onto the sidewalk. “My revised funding still supports two graduate students.”

The US federal science agencies had updated their algorithm that decided how productive universities were. For the second year in a row, they’d cut funding to Nevaeh’s school based on its results.

“It’ll slow down finishing our paper,” Mason said around a mouth full of quesadilla. Cheese dribbled down his chin.

“Peifan was the best at tuning the laser,” Nevaeh added. She dug her own taco out of an overfull box. Dr. Scott had bought dinner, so she hadn’t scrimped on her order.

Dr. Scott nodded. “We’ll make do. But we need results. Don’t forget, we think the funding agencies rank us based on submissions, not just publications.”

As if Nevaeh could ever let herself forget.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Escape Pod 715: A Box, a Pocket, a Spaceman


A Box, a Pocket, a Spaceman

by E. Catherine Tobler

The spaceman shows up on a hot summer afternoon, not in the dead of night when you’re crouched in the garden peering through a telescope that shows you the endless glories and wonders of the night sky. There’s no spaceship making a bright arc against a star-spangled sky. Just a man in a spacesuit, standing at the edge of your hammock. His presence reminds you school is over and relatives will be coming soon and you don’t want to see them. They will ask you who can’t see beyond the edge of your hammock about grades and ambitions and Plans For the Future. Aunt Fran is dead and there’s just no fixing it, but funerals help us move on, Mom says so, and Mom Knows Best. You don’t want to go, because going means it happened and going means something is over.

You ask the spaceman where his blue box is and he stares at you like you’ve lost your entire mind, because boxes, he tells you in absolute certainty, are no good for space flight. Boxes are not geometrically synergistic, he tells you, whether cardboard or wood or blue. He doesn’t have any kind of an accent, no bow tie, no box, and he’s lost. He tells you he’s lost.

This is just Earth, you tell him, and he says he knows that, how stupid do you think he is, he’s been here before, so many times before he knows Rubik’s Cubes and arcades and the way ugly yellow dish gloves will stick to your fingers and turn inside out if they’re too hot when you take them off. He remembers when an icy Big Gulp in a sweating plastic cup was the best part of summer—that’s why he’s here now, summer, and why it’s afternoon, and why— (Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Escape Pod 714: Marley and Marley

Show Notes

Thank you, Charlie Finlay, for believing in this story.


Marley and Marley

by J. R. Dawson

I never wanted to turn out like her.

When I met her, I was twelve. There was no one else to take care of me. Before she showed up, she was preceded by this man in a pinstriped suit. A harbinger. He sat me down in his sterile office and he said, “Time Law is not a joking matter.” He told me all the horrible things that would happen if I broke any Time Laws. Worlds would collapse. I would turn inside out. Important people would die and important things wouldn’t happen. And that’s when I first felt that clutching sensation in my chest. Like he had his fingers inside my rib cage and he was squeezing my lungs. Do not fuck this up.

“So are you the one I’m going with?” I asked. Because I was a newly coined orphan and I needed someone.

The pinstriped-suit man shook his head. “No,” he said. “The system is hard on children so we’ve come up with a better option. But you can’t go live with her. She must come to you.”

Because she lived in the future.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: , ,

Escape Pod 713: More Tomorrow


More Tomorrow

By Premee Mohammed

DAY 5

Anyway, it turns out trilobites aren’t very good eating even if you haven’t eaten in days. I had particularly high hopes for the fat, humped asaphids, thinking they would taste like shrimp, but everything I’ve caught so far is strictly armor and attitude, plus they bite. Discovered this morning that if you just hoik a trilobite in the fire and assume terminal temperature, it crawls out and shakes itself off like a little tank. Complete decapitation required. PAPER IDEA: Mechanisms of apparent trilobite invincibility. They’re not strictly aquatic, either, they come right up on land and look at you while you’re eating their friends. Jesus.

Also cut my fingers to shit butchering the first one; to be honest, it was hard to tell who was butchering who. (Whom?) Easier going now since I chipped an axe out of a piece of blue flint that I found a ways up the beach. Poor replacement for the one we lost, but it cracks the armor at least, and then you can roast them without explosions and shrapnel. Still have to cut them up to get the few calories worth of meat inside though (which doesn’t, incidentally, taste like shrimp). They’re survival food. A couple more days and I’m going after some of those big meaty arthrodires though, the ones I can see gliding through the crystal-clear water with little signs on their back saying “EAT ME.” I’m already tired of trilobite though not yet tired of surviving.

Note: Can I eat any of these algal mats. Different from seaweed at sushi restaurant how exactly. (Continue Reading…)

Genres: , , ,

Escape Pod 712: When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis

Show Notes

East St. Louis was built on top of an ancient indigenous city called Cahokia. The people who lived there a thousand years ago were big fans of birds.


When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis

by Annalee Newitz

It was time to start the weekly circuit. Robot leapt vertically into the air from its perch atop the History Museum in Forest Park, rotors humming and limbs withdrawn into the smooth oval of its chassis. From a distance, it was a pale blue flying egg, slightly scuffed, with a propeller beanie on top. Two animated eyes glowed from the front end of its smooth carapace like emotive headlights. When it landed, all four legs and head extended from portals in its protective shell, the drone was more like a strangely symmetrical poodle or a cartoon turtle. Mounted on an actuator, its full face was revealed, headlight eyes situated above a short, soft snout whose purple mouth was built for smiling, grimacing, and a range of other, more subtle expressions.

The Centers for Disease Control team back in Atlanta designed Robot to be cute, to earn people’s trust immediately. To catch epidemics before they started, Robot flew from building to building, talking to people about how they felt. Nobody wanted to chat with an ugly box. Robot behaved like a cheery little buddy, checking for sick people. That’s how Robot’s admin Bey taught Robot to say it: “Checking for sick people.” Bey’s job was to program Robot with the social skills necessary to avoid calling it health surveillance.

Robot liked to start with the Loop. Maybe “like” was the wrong word. It was an urge that came from Robot’s mapping system, which webbed the St. Louis metropolitan area in a grid where 0,0 was at Center and Washington. The intersection was nested at the center of the U-shaped streets that local humans called the Loop. A gated community next to Washington University, the Loop was full of smart mansions and autonomous cars that pinged Robot listlessly. Though it was late summer, Robot was on high alert for infectious disease outbreaks. Flu season got longer every year, especially in high-density sprawls like St. Louis, where so many people spread their tiny airborne globs of viruses.

Flying in low, Robot followed the curving streets, glancing into windows to track how many humans were eating dinner and whether that number matched previous scans. Wild rabbits dashed across lawns and fireflies signaled to their mates using pheromones and photons. Robot chose a doorway at random, initiating a face-to-face check with humans. In this neighborhood, they were used to it.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Escape Pod 711: Carols on Callisto


Carols on Callisto

By Deborah L. Davitt

On the surface of Callisto, Rebecca Fox struggled with tangled, 3D-printed branches, her fingers clumsy inside the bulky gloves of her suit. The swollen belly of Jupiter dominated the horizon, a swirl of muted white and orange, and the Great Red Spot stared like a baleful eye. The landing lights of ships crossed the planet’s face, heading for the port. The vibration of their engines in the regolith rumbled underfoot as they landed.

“This is idiotic,” a voice broke in over the radio as her companion bounce-walked to her, holding another set of printed branches. “It takes us twelve years to orbit the sun. Why do we need to celebrate Earth’s holidays here? We should be creating our own.”

“The kids like it,” Rebecca defended. She had this conversation with Dieter at least once every three months. “They enjoy designing their trees at school, which is a good use of their CAD skills. They like seeing something they’ve made go up. The plastics get recycled, so it’s not a waste.”

“It wastes time.

“You get to charge hours for this,” she reminded him lightly. “Hush.”
(Continue Reading…)