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Escape Pod 794: Episode 4: The Deflection of Probability


Episode 4: The Deflection of Probability

By Premee Mohamed

The tent billowed in the hot, humid wind, and Harriet thought if the canvas made that gun-crack noise near her head one more time she’d go mad—simply abandon her project and flee screaming into the meadow.

She took a deep breath, ignoring the hovering cameras that hummed in her peripheral vision. They’d make something of that in final production, she thought gloomily. That sigh. The plucky lass from Berwick-upon-Tweed, a clear shoo-in during the first three episodes, has done very poorly indeed today, and seems to be feeling the pressure… Well, and it would have to be ‘plucky,’ wouldn’t it? Harriet was sure the judges had an approved list of adjectives in their scripts. Some contestants were brilliant. Some were confident. Some…

Another gust of hot air roared in like the furious breath of a dragon. Her palladium microtorus setup spun on its little mirrored platform, reflecting glimpses of her startled gaze, her hair frizzed in the humidity. A skiff of pollen had dirtied the molecule-thick coating. Keeping her face still, she got out the nanofiber brush and cleaned the surface again.

It had all begun so well. Or at least it probably looked that way to viewers. Were episodes being aired already? Harriet didn’t know. But two weeks ago, her synthetic prions had gone about the place (well, the slide) like proper gangsters, knocking the other proteins aside and neatly recruiting only the ones they were meant to. Last week, only four contestants had managed to produce the correct crystal matrix in the final experiment—and hers had been the tallest of all, rising high and green as envy above their stations, nearly touching the ceiling. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 793: A Little Bit of Kali (Part 2)


A Little Bit of Kali (Part 2 of 2)

By Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi

I can’t tell you how long I wandered. A failed soldier going home when India needed us the most. I knew I should have gotten back to my parents—but truth be told I couldn’t make myself go back. I ditched my gear, worked odd jobs, mostly bicycle repair. India is a country of motorcycles, and every village and every junction, those days, had a dusty little shop with a pile of half-rusted bikes outside and three grease-covered men inside screwing something onto and engine. I was one of those nuts. I worked in a two-bit town so nameless that you couldn’t find it on a map even if you wanted to.

One day a man brought in a bike I instantly recognized—a Royal Enfield Bullet. An ancient design, built to jump out of planes in the second World War, left to India when the British withdrew; now a stolid, reliable workhorse of a bike, one of the few capable of handling everything India could throw at it. I spent a bit more effort than I usually put into it.

The man who came to pick it up arrived in a long white Chrysler, kicking up fine dust. A floral print shirt stretched over an ample belly. Gold chains glistened on his neck. Two thugs got out with him—one swarthy and sweating in the heat, one pale and thin and unafflicted. Both wore white.

“Bad customer,” said the owner’s wife, and bustled out of there as fast as she could.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 792: A Little Bit of Kali (Part 1)


A Little Bit of Kali (Part 1 of 2)

By Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi

Where do old gods go to die?

Not to Mother Ganga, no. Not for us the fire that strips our sins from our bones, turns our bones into ashes, turns our ashes into a constellation of dust on the holy river. They say Ganga once took the seed from the fire-god Agni, which would have otherwise burned this world to a cinder, and cooled it in her waters: but even she will not take our kind. Ganga only takes the flesh and blood. Leaves the metal behind.

They tried. The government of India lay one of us down in the waters—a prototype Vishnu, I think, ’20, maybe ’21. A thing too difficult to burn it, so they lit a ritual pyre and let Him slide into the waters. He lies there still, decades of human rot piling upon His frame. Sometimes His eyes light up, throwing mocking shadows at those who come to worship him from the dead river-banks, and those of us who know Him shudder, because underneath the ceaseless filth something still lives.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 791: Rights and Wrongs


Rights and Wrongs

By Brian K. Lowe

“Tell me again who I pissed off to get this job?” Carefully unwrapping my roast beef on wheat, I used the paper as a holder to keep mustard off of my lap.

“I thought you wanted the job,” Rusty said. “I thought you were taking it as some kind of personal challenge.” Russ Becker and I ate lunch together almost every day. “Rusty” was another assistant district attorney, and we’d bonded over a mutual disdain for other lawyers. Things being what they were, though, sometimes we got drafted to work the other side, and I’d drawn the short straw here, with Rusty as my prosecutor.

“Hell, no, I didn’t want it! The Jan’i killed my parents, Rusty. I had to break into their house and found them on the floor, blood coming out of their ears. I couldn’t even bury them; they had to burn down the house with them still inside.” I stopped to pull myself together. “This is somebody’s idea of payback, probably Bertoli. She’s still mad at me because she thinks I screwed up the Andelson case.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 790: AirBody


AirBody

by Sameem Siddiqui

Amazing how all Desi aunties are basically the same. Even when separated by vast oceans for a few generations. I mean, they fit into a few basic archetypes. There’s the genuine-sweetheart proxy mother who, in between her late-night work shifts, always makes sure you and your friends have all the snacks you need. The manipulative gossiper, who conveniently keeps details of her own children’s scandals nestled under her tongue. The nervous fidgeter who has spent three decades so worried that her basic thirty-year-old son won’t ever find a wife, that she forgets to teach him how to speak to women. The late-life hijabi, who pointedly replaces “Khuda-hafiz” with “Allah-hafiz” and “thank you, beta” with not just “jazak-allah” but the full on “jazak allahu khayran.” But which of these archetypes would find it appropriate to rent the body of a grown man halfway across the world?

I pull the AirBody request from Meena Khan into view in my contacts. She’s 59 years old and from Karachi. Her short wavy hijab-less hair and her relaxed smile makes her seem content with life, so maybe she’s the genuine-sweetheart type. Her only notes on the request are a list of Desi groceries and some cookware, which only reinforces the archetype. Maybe she’s too ill to travel to visit family for Eid and wants to surprise them with a feast? It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten a taste of such a spread. I hit accept and watch the usual legalese flash before me:

You acknowledge that you have the ability to observe, regain control and remove your guests at any time and therefore may be complicit in any crimes committed or responsible for any damage caused by your guests.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 789: The Machine That Would Rewild Humanity


The Machine That Would Rewild Humanity

By Tobias S. Buckell

On a boat on the way to the Galapagos Islands to visit the world’s oldest tortoise, I got a call that the Central Park Human Reintroduction Center had been bombed.

I’d read somewhere that the point of travel was to see the thing yourself. To expose yourself to new points of view and to have new experiences. Before the call I’d spent two point seven seconds regarding the sweep of the Himalayas at the roof of the world and take a backup of my memory of the entire panorama. In Pattaya, I lounged at the beach and watched the aquamarine water lap the sand.

Ten years I’d planned this trip. A time to let my thoughts settle before the big push on the Central Park project.

My life’s work.

A mechanical butterfly perched on my hand with the message. To deliver it, the butterfly had wafted its way over almost two thousand kilometers of ocean boundaries, negotiated with air currents for overflight permissions, and applied for fifty different visas until it tracked my boat down.

The Institute had paid a small fortune to recall me from vacation. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 788: Broken (Flashback Friday)


Broken

by Jaxton Kimble

My favorite part about skimming is that I’m not broken when I do it. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have levels, that I’m on or off, because that’s how everything’s supposed to be when you’re in the hypernet. Even if I’m not supposed to be in the hypernet.

I’m only able to skim because Kaipo left my interface node on. That was the day he told me I could call him Kaipo instead of Dr. Singh. His eyes are different than mine, but that’s not because of the Skew, and even if it is I wouldn’t care, because they’re pretty and dark and they twinkle a little bit when he smiles. We’d had sex twice when he told me I could call him Kaipo if we’re alone. Sex is almost as good as skimming, only it doesn’t last as long, and sometimes I’m stinky afterwards, which I’m not a fan of. Sometimes Kaipo smells like pumpkin, which I’m totally a fan of.

“Overshare.”

“Hi, Heady,” I say, rolling onto my side on the bed to look at her. I frown, which I know because the muscles at my jawbone ache a little when I frown. “Did you hear all that?”

Heady raises an eyebrow and purses her lips. Heady’s my big sister. Like, really big. Eight and a half feet big. That’s what the Skew did to her, blew her up bigger than life, but I think it suits her. She’s not as tough as she looks to most people, though. She’s totally as tough as she looks to me right now.

“Sorry,” I say, sitting up. “Sometimes I get confused about outside and inside my head.” That’s what the Skew did to me: broke my head. You can see that when I cut my hair or trim my beard, because the hairs change colors each time. Other people tell me it’s silly, but I like it. I can never decide if I like red or blue or green or purple or yellow more, and this way I get to have them all, and all’s better than some.

Heady sighs.

“Don’t worry, Sy,” she says, because Sy’s my name. “You never have to apologize to me.”

She smiles, and the muscles in my cheeks tense up so I know I’m smiling, too. She’s a good big sister, Heady. Even if she’s not real.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 787: Ascend, Exalt, Love, Propagate, Rise!


Ascend, Exalt, Love, Propagate, Rise!

By Sarah Kumari

The Glory smolders through Jehanne’s bloodstream, pulsing its encouragement.

The rivals who have survived along with him–officially ‘Fellow Eminents’ now that selection is over–twitch and moan as their addiction is quenched. Within minutes they are preening, flexing their muscles, stomping, or singing to Mother Elethra.

Jehanne’s training allows him to douse the call, to batter it down with a deliberate shifting of delta waves. He visualizes his metabolism disassembling the compound at industrial speed. This works for the moment.

In the crowd that fills the EverReach company spaceship, Indrine, the rebel woman pretending to be Jehanne’s mother, clutches the hand of the girl playing his sister. They are mixed in with the family and friends of the other Eminents along with villagers and unrelated Fervents that have made the pilgrimage.

The crowd prays collectively, feverish in their good fortune, for the EverReach company will reward the kin of Eminents for two generations.

If Jehanne succeeds in his true mission, his family will be slaughtered. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 786: The Steel Magnolia Metaphor


The Steel Magnolia Metaphor

by Jennifer Lee Rossman

Each petal was carefully shaped from the finest iron-carbon alloy, curved delicately while still hot and meticulously positioned to overlap with its neighbors just so to form a blossom. Astrid gazed lovingly at the way each petal’s razor-sharp edge glinted in the light of the setting sun, at the way her creation cast a shadow indistinguishable from the other ornamental trees in Mama’s garden.

Mama didn’t look too pleased, though.

She had her fake smile on, the one she used when she knew she had to be proud of Astrid but couldn’t quite figure out how. Astrid was used to adults using that smile around her machines. And around her in general.

“It’s very pretty,” Mama said finally, swatting at a mosquito that had flown near her face. “But I’m not sure I understand what it is.”

“It’s a steel magnolia,” Astrid said, devastated. How could Mama not recognize the main character of her favorite movie?

A sadness came over Mama’s face, which was entirely the wrong emotion. There’d been too much sadness around the house already. “Oh, honey.” She made to put her arm around Astrid, like she’d do with the boys, but stopped herself. “Honey, Steel Magnolias isn’t about a magnolia made of steel. It’s about friendship and strong Southern women.”

Astrid frowned. That didn’t sound right.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 785: Death, the Universe, and Everything

Show Notes

An international list of suicide prevention hotlines and other suicide prevention resources is available HERE.


Death, the Universe, and Everything

By Sherin Nicole

The morning after it happened for the first time, I–

I’m not sure if I should tell you, but maybe you can tell me. If your understanding of reality fundamentally changes, does it change you?

And how responsible am I for who you become? 

I don’t know.

And that relative state of not knowing is the start of my conundrum. And my conflict.

The morning after it happened for the first time, I woke up with half of my soul hanging out of my body. The worst case of pins and needles possible. The pain was a soft plodding ache, but it couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. It hurt. (Continue Reading…)