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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…)

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CatsCast 289: The Thing in the Basement


The Thing in the Basement

by Gerri Leen

You can hear it, in the basement, behind the metal boxes that your human puts her outer-coverings in just when they start to smell good—when the boxes are done, she brings out her things stinking of flowers or fruit. She’s lucky you know the sound of her voice, because her scent is all over the place.

You chirp to get her attention. A cat would understand the sound. “Alert! Something to hunt!”

But no. Your human is frightfully stupid. She goes on loading the boxes and turns them on. You hear the sound of water, but you can’t see it. You’d splash in it if you could. Your kind has played in water since cats first walked the earth. You’re the original longhaired breed. Your lineage was explained to you by your mother, who heard it from her mother, who heard it from hers.

“She’s a Turkish Angora,” you’ve heard your human say when she’s complimented on your silky white fur or your bright green eyes. As if she had anything to do with them? She thanks your admirers, nonetheless.

But the water perplexes you. You’ve whiled away more than a few moments down here trying to find it, so tantalizing, but right now it’s annoying you because it’s masking the sound of whatever’s down here.

You’re a mighty hunter. That’s what your human tells you, as if you need confirmation that you’re skilled at catching vermin. Doesn’t she realize this is why you stay with her? Why any of your kind do? The first cat to move in with humans was a visionary who could recognize an all-you-can-eat buffet in the granaries. A bunch of cats followed. And the rest is history.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 725: Falling Through


Falling Through

by Steen Comer

Woke up again. Checked the news feeds. Everything seems to be about the same, though there is news of a presidential candidate who I don’t remember dropping out of the race. It’s really hard for someone in my position to take an interest in politics, so that’s not really a strong indication. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

I went to work and the office was still there. My memory tells me I’ve had this job for a few months now, which is helpful. One of the most traumatic shifts I had, because it was one of the first, was showing up at my office job and finding that it was an auto body shop. Luckily I had a faint memory of another location and was able to get there only half an hour late. My boss didn’t even notice.

That was when I first started really thinking about the shifts. I had been seeing the small ones for a long time, but that was the first incontrovertible one, the first that I couldn’t explain away as an error of memory. I thought I was going crazy, of course. Spent a while like that. And, in a case like this, it’s impossible to be sure that I’m not crazy. But I’ve found a Practical Operational Paradigm, as Jonas was fond of saying.

Oh Jonas. First shifter other than myself I ever met. Last one I ever saw. I should get back to work. I don’t know why today I need to write this down again. Maybe it’s the sky. It’s a flat grey that could be anywhere. It’s the color of Claire’s eyes.

(Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 724: The Season of the Storm


The Season of the Storm

by Jonathan Edelstein

Twenty kilometers outside Nkoloso Station, we stopped for gas.

The Titan rover turned and Misozi steered for a group of outcroppings; there were more of those now that we were getting to the uplands north of Kraken Mare. She slowed and stopped beside one of them, a cairn of ice-rocks fused into a column half again my height.

“Elias!” she said. “Let’s cut some.”

My eyes flicked to the dashboard display. “We’re not low.”

“Never hurts to top it off, and we’ll be up there a couple of days.”

Misozi was like that. She liked her margins of error large, and she’d never be satisfied with the gauges at eighty percent when they could be one hundred. She wasn’t going to change, and her habits had saved our lives a time or two, so I didn’t argue. Instead, I opened the door and jumped down.

There was a toolbox on the rover’s flatbed with the word “Banda” scrawled on it in an ancient marker; Misozi opened it and took out an ice pick and hammer, and I did the same with the box labeled “Yaluma.”

A breeze was blowing and stirring the dust and ice particles on the ground, raising even more of a burnt-orange haze than was usual in Titan’s sky. Enough dust was in the air that I had to wipe the face-plate of my suit, and I had the sensation of being in a cloud. I leapt into it; a single bound, in gravity one-seventh of what I’d been born under, took me to the middle of the cairns.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 723: How Did it Feel to be Eaten?


How Did it Feel to be Eaten?

By Amit Gupta

“I was an elderberry,” I announced, glowing with pride.

“How did it feel to be eaten?” he asked.

It seemed an odd question, but a response came unbidden, so I voiced it, “It was an honor.” My words surprised me, but they felt true.

“The Queen of England ate me,” I added. How did I know this? Who was he? My cheeks flushed with embarrassment. I didn’t feel like a berry. Did berries feel embarrassed?

“I didn’t know she was the Queen at the time,” I admitted.

“Yes,” agreed the man who I could not see and did not know. “Let’s try another.”

I was in again and felt immensely powerful. I sparkled in the sun. The land beneath me rose, I stood, and I felt a caress on my shoulder. A child. We danced. I rolled, crested, and rumbled; she banked and cut on her board, gliding gracefully along me, her speed blowing droplets of me right off her wetsuit. We became one.

We reached the shore, and I crumbled, making room for others like me, and others like her.

That was a short one. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 722: His Stainless-Steel Heart


His Stainless-Steel Heart

by Jeffery Reynolds

It was at the rest stop in Tali that Viktor ran into trouble. His fault, really. He’d been driving along all swoon, meditating in an isolationist haze that provided him a good feeling, kept his thoughts clear. Didn’t even have to get high, it was a natural vibe for a motoring king. The ancient Buick purred like an avalanche of love, eating the miles. Better outcome than a warmonger could hope for. The rest were all perished. Peacetime no peace for warriors.

Into the stop he pulled, needing a stretch and a piss, maybe a hit of Somnup or a sip of caffeine. There were only a couple of vehicles there, so he thought sweet, no one to bust in on my mood. Two drone trucks; a couple three sedans, all electric and shiny new; a lone RV — first one he’d seen in about six years to be fair, so that made it coolness, and it clearly guzzled rich diez. Getting so he didn’t see gassers any more, which was opaque for the lungs, but always a bit low on the sadness scale. Made that RV something special, sitting there all proud on its rubber soles.

He walked through the swinging glass doors, into the cool of interior dusk, with the hum of an old AC unit buzzing like a hive through the ducts overhead. And there she came, out of the facilities, a Valkyrie with bleached blonde mohawk and electric green irises from the finest graft shop, her right arm one big circuit board, bio-gened and soldered with immaculate chromium threads. Perfect teeth when she smiled. Preggers as all heck, like she carried twinsies. She had that thing preggers get. He remembered that glow they had.

Green eyes.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 721: Hustle


Hustle

By Derrick Boden

I’m all stims and grins as I kick open the door to West Precinct, strung-out bounty dangling from my headlock like a slab of vat beef with a fauxhawk. Inside, it’s the regular bullshit: a row of five tellers–one for each of the bounty app networks–a half-dozen grime-streaked auto-cuff stations, four janitors, one cop. Everyone’s hustling, of course–cobbling gig-shifts to cover backlogged tuition payments and overdue streaming services, eyes glazed and fingers flensed to bone. Everyone except the cop, who’s there to lock up after everyone bails for the evening rideshare rush. She’s a loophole, a salaried ultra-minority, a relic of pre-privatization. She gives me the creeps.

I wrangle my mark to the EpicBounty desk. “Payday, y’all.”

The teller stares at me with soulless eyes. “Name and ID.”

Her DMV monotone is the stuff of legend. Of course she recognizes me–I’m not sporting a latex halter top and violet-tuned contax to blend in. But I’m still riding the post-gig high, so I play along.

“Violetta Yamamoto–”

“Into the lens, ma’am. You know the drill.”

Of course I know the drill. I’m a five-star double elite EpicBounty hunter, two tiers shy of max. Max elites qualify for fucking health insurance. No one in King County’s amassed more rep than me since I made parole five years ago–seventy-four thousand points and counting.

But who’s counting? (Continue Reading…)

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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…)

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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…)

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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…)