Archive for EP Original

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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 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 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…)