Archive for EP Original

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Escape Pod 469: Inseparable


Inseparable

by Liz Heldmann

The disruptor net hit the ocean with an eruption of steam. Obscuring billows gouted up in columns of gray and white and the target was close enough that the aft hull immediately registered a thermic spike. The temperature shot from swampy greenhouse to hot-as-fucking-Hades. Technically speaking.

Around the quadrant, warships were deploying nets as weaponry. Best not to think about that. Science was the new war, according to Delia.

The weave generated out of the arse end of the ship was coarse, each node tuned two-dimensionally to its neighbors in a honeycomb lattice that formed a curved plane. A great big seine made of plasma, dragging a world ocean underneath a sun that filled the forward viewscreen as if trying to muscle out of the frame.

Both density and chemistry dials had been spun and today’s net split the surly bonds between hydrogen and oxygen wherever it encountered them in a medium of approximately one gram per cubic centimeter. Which meant that the net sliced through alien waters like gamma rays through goose shit and didn’t so much as muss the hair of any entities it scooped up in the process.

Forget ‘Take me to your leader’. We quit asking nicely a few planetary systems in.

Just about the day we got our first sentient ‘Thanks, but no thanks, and by the way, eat plasma’.

Hence the warships.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 467: Trash


Trash

by Marie Vibbert

Nanlee was a woman with the sort of past that necessitated moving to a non-extradition treaty country, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t planned on enjoying her “retirement” on Luna Colony.  She was Facilities Manager – a polite term for the boss of all janitors.  Her staff jumped anxiously at her every glance, and waste was down nine percent since she had taken office.  She was still important; the life of the colony depended on her work.  No one bothered her.  Which was fortunate, given how she used to deal with people who bothered her.

Luna Colony concerned itself with maintaining the Ungodly Huge Array on the dark side of the moon and serving as a weigh station between Earth’s inconvenient atmosphere and the rest of the universe.  Nanlee concerned herself with minding her own business.

She was at her desk when the alarms started.  A male voice recorded long ago grunted “Evacuate.  Imminent danger of decompression. Evacuate.”  No doubt he had thought he sounded important and tough. Nanlee sighed and locked her workstation.

Vince, her assistant, fell to a halt against the door as she was picking up her cane.  “Boss! The station—”

“Yes, I heard.  I do have two working ears.  Probably a drill, but gather everyone to the garage.”

Vince’s hazel eyes just about vibrated, so wide open she could see the white all the way around the iris.  “It isn’t a drill!  This is ‘we could all die tonight’ bad news.”

Nanlee paused, half on her cane, half on the edge of the desk, pulling herself out of her chair.  She fell back into the seat.  She could feel her hot-tub calling to her.  “Metaphorical death or literal?”

“Literal.  Two tons of titanium on a crash-course with our dome.”  He tapped her desk surface, hurriedly typing in his password and pulling a document, which he rotated with a flick of his hand to point at her.

It was an orbit decay projection. They always looked the same.  “And this is too big for the dome to handle?”

“It’ll crack us like an egg!”

Vince sounded excited, almost gleeful, at the prospect.  He was young.

“What the hell is it?”

“The last stage of a Saturn V rocket.  Sucker’s been orbiting Luna for a hundred years.  Maybe it got hit by some other debris, maybe it’s just decided now’s the time to land.”

Nanlee stopped herself from asking “Saturn what?” because Vince was looking at her like he’d just won the lottery.  “Does Trey know about this?”

Trey was the mayor of the colony, Nanlee’s boss.

Vince rolled his eyes.  “Of course Trey knows.”  Like that was any less valid a question than asking her if she had heard the evacuation announcement.  Nanlee wasn’t going to waste breath pointing it out. “He sent me to tell you we’ve got a little less than a day.”

“Well pack shit up!”  She poked her cane against the wall behind her to get a little boost forward.  “Get Percy and take the organic filters off-line.  They won’t survive decompression. Also—“

“No. We’ve got a day to try and save the colony.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 466: Checkmate


Checkmate

by Brian Trent

The black steamrotor chugged noisily beneath the maze of damp brick arches, cutting a frothy wake in the underground canal.  Edward Oakshott stood rigidly at the bow, leaning against his silver cane. The dank stink of London’s forgotten netherworld perspirated over the vessel’s wood, the humidity visibly beading like a spate of glassy insect eyes on the many green lamplights they passed.  Edward drummed his fingers against one clammy hand.  His sense of direction, precise as his fashionable gold pocketwatch, reckoned they must be passing directly below the evening crowd at Charing Cross’ Hungerford Market.

Yet he wondered at their boatman’s skill in navigating these dark, labyrinthine channels.  How often were customers ferried to Thoth’s subterranean bazaar?  Edward grinned in nervous anticipation and peered from beneath the rim of his hat at the constellation of green lamps marking the canal’s many twists and turns.

“We shall be late if this continues,” Sophia Westbury said behind him.  Her folded parasol looked like a pale sword against her shoulder. “Really, Edward, was there no earlier date you could meet him?  It had to wait until the very eve of war?”

“The party shall wait for me.”

“It will be a scandal,” Sophia said, though her bell-like voice belied the smile on her lips.  Edward was already the scandal of the decade. Chessmen were synonymous with shadowy, secret shufflings in the night; living legends who could be your banker, teacher, butcher, parent, or carriage driver during times of peace.  Edward’s public antics had shocked Europe into a buzzing hive.

Sophia sighed and looped her arm round his.  “What do you know about this Thoth?  Any man who dwells like a spider beneath London, spinning mechanical webs beyond the Ministry’s sight…”  She shivered.  “I feel like Faustus!”

“Henry sent a Bishop here last autumn, darling, the one who defended Cornwall.  If Henry says Thoth is trustworthy, that is good enough for me.”

At these words, the boat banked sharply through a new arch, throwing up a huge wake.  Edward steadied himself with pressure to his cane, but cast a ghastly glare at their boatman in the ship’s small cabin.

“Edward!”   (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 465: The Sky is Blue, and Bright, and Filled with Stars


The Sky is Blue, and Bright, and Filled with Stars

by Edward Ashton

Dot reaches the summit of Mary’s Rock just after six, maybe an hour before sunset. It’s a clear, cool September day, with a scattering of tiny white clouds in a royal blue sky, and a soft, steady breeze from the west that brings the faint smell of burning things up from the ruins of Luray. She drops her pack at the top of the trail, pulls out a water bottle, and scrambles up the last thirty meters of broken granite to the high point. The trees on the north side of Thornton Gap a half-kilometer below are just showing the first hints of color, tiny flecks of red and gold mixed into a sea of dark green. Off to the west she can see the smoke now, rising from what looks like a brush fire far down the valley. She sits down, leans back against a waist-high block of stone, and drains half of her water in one long, lukewarm pull.

She’s been here once before, when she was years younger and there were still a few people raising goats and vegetables down in the valley. It was winter then, and she spent a crystal-clear, bitterly cold night out on the overlook, bundled into her mummy bag, sleeping in hour-long snatches, waking each time to a different dazzling pattern of stars and station-lights. The beauty was almost overwhelming, and she vowed then to come back some day, to see what it was like to spend a night on the summit when she didn’t have to worry about hypothermia.

As the sun begins to redden and dip toward the horizon, Dot climbs to her feet and makes her way back down to the overlook, a flat half-circle of stone maybe forty meters across, hanging out over four hundred meters of empty space. A hawk rides the breeze, floating almost stationary out over the drop. It looks at her, dips one wing, and falls like a stone, chasing something down below. Dot retrieves her pack, pulls out her food sack and her alcohol stove. She’s low on fuel. Four more days, maybe five, and she’ll be cooking over an open fire until she can find some more. As she measures out her supper, she realizes that she only has a few days worth of beans and noodles left. No point in cooking when you’ve got nothing to cook, and she’s at least a week’s walk from the nearest resupply. She sighs, and pours a third of what she’d taken back into the sack. (Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Escape Pod 463: Rockwork

Show Notes

Also mentioned in this episode, treasured author Eugie Foster passed away.


Rockwork

by R. M. Graves

Dog sat at her kit, in the cavernous dark at the back of the stage, with Meg’s kiss chilling on her lips. That hadn’t fixed her nerves at all. Now Dog’s chest shook worse than her hands, jacked up on the worry of letting her girlfriend down, again.

The crowd didn’t see or care. As Meg took her spot out front, they thrummed the darkness with their chanting, “Rock… Work! Rock… Work!”

Dog’s sticks were already slick in her palms as she snapped rubber bands around them. She shuffled in her seat, checked contacts, toggled switches and sensed Meg’s impatience, standing in the dark between the drums and hungry fans. Dog brushed trembling fingers over the kit and it twitched around her, jittery. It hated gigs.

“Come on, Rocky,” she whispered and cogs whirred back at her. She shook her head. “Purring? Seriously?”

The kit’s blind trust made Dog gulp an urge to up and run. No. This time. This time Meg would be proud of her. Proud of them. No screw-ups. No zoning out.

She took a deep breath and kicked a volley of hard thumps into the black. The audience hushed. Cannon-shot beats echoed, overlapped, and swelled like an approaching army. A machine-gun of rimshots and the lights, and the crowd, exploded.

Dog scowled into the glare of spotlights as the ‘Rockwork’ burst into life around her; a kit stretched beyond drums to form an entire robotic band. Butchered musical instruments twitched and writhed in a hellish chromed engine of noise. Cogs spun plectrums at wire. Hammers rapped on the broken teeth of piano keys. Thumbscrews wrenched raw electric scales out of strangled frets.

Dog set her features into maniacal control, sweat already trickling over her bald head, pooling in her eyebrows; her arms gleaming pistons at the snare and toms.

Meg swayed her hips to Dog’s driving cacophony; her playful nonchalance creating a tantalizing silhouette to the audience, but taunting Dog behind. Hinting at what she had to lose. The music press were in tonight, but there was more than the band at stake.

The Rockwork was autonomous to a point, but it relied on Dog to keep it in line. Left unchecked it would spin off on its own groove without regard to Meg. Or the audience. Dog pressed her lips, rolled an extravagant fill across the toms, thrashed out her anxiety in the splash and crash. Meg’s cue.

The fans bounced along with the opening bars. Meg tossed Dog a warning frown, the gobo’s lit her up, and her voice rang out. The crowd, already jumping, flung its hands in the air like antennae for more and howled in pleasure. (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 456: To Waste


To Waste

by Luke Pebler

When I wake, it is not yet hot.  But it will be soon.

I am already thirsty.

I get up from the cot and go to the machine.  I put my dick into the intake cup, and when my pee flows into the machine it clicks on automatically.  I stretch and reach out to snag my camera by its strap.  I review the shots I took yesterday while I finish going.  The machine whirs while it does its work.  I wait, still looking at photos.

When the machine beeps, it has produced almost eight ounces of clean warm water.  I sip some of it, just enough to wet my mouth, and put the rest into a second machine.

When the second machine beeps, it has produced five ounces of hot coffee.

I crouch in the corner of the room, where the rising sun cannot find me.  It is still cool here.  I inhale deeply, wanting not even the steam of the coffee to go to waste.  I sip.

When I look up, the boy is in the doorway, watching.  I do not know how long he’s been there.

“He wants you,” the boy says.

(Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 370 The Care and Feeding of Mammalian Bipeds, v. 2.1

Show Notes

Rated 13 and up for language


The Care and Feeding of Mammalian Bipeds, v. 2.1

by M. Darusha Wehm

The first day I meet my human herd they are so well-behaved that I wonder if they really need me at all. I arrive at their dwelling, and am greeted by the largest one of their group. I access the manual with which I have been programmed and skip to Section 3: Verbal and Physical Clues for Sexing Humans. I can tell by the shape and outer garments that this human is a male, and I make a note of this data. He brings me into the main area of their living space, and as we move deeper into the dwelling, he asks me to call him Taylor, so immediately I do. He makes a noise deep in his throat, then introduces me to the rest of the herd.

He puts his forelimb around the next largest one, who he introduces as Madison. The Madison bares its teeth at me in a manner that Section 14: Advanced Non-Verbal Communication suggests is a gesture indicating happiness, approval, cheerfulness, or amusement, but which may belie insincerity, boredom or hostility. The Madison says, “Welcome to the family, Rosie.”

“Thank you, Madison,” I respond, as suggested by the manual in Section 2: Introductions: Getting To Know Your Humans. “I am looking forward to serving you and your family.” The manual indicates that human herds designate each individual with a name, and that most will bestow a similar designation on their caregiver. Section 0: A Brief Overview of Current Anthropological Theories states that the predominant view is that humans believe we are a new addition to the herd, and the best thing to do is to go along with this idea so as not to confuse them. The Taylor and the Madison appear to have chosen to refer to me by the name Rosie, and I set my monitoring routine to key on the sound of that word.

“These here are Agatha and Frederick,” the Taylor says, pushing two smaller humans toward me. I am unable to tell by looking whether or not they are male or female — they are about the same height as each other, with shoulder-length glossy fur. Their outer coverings are very similar, shapeless and dark coloured except with colourful designs in the upper section. One of them bares its teeth at me, in a manner similar to the Madison’s earlier display, but the other looks away. “Kids,” the Taylor says, his voice growing deeper, “say hi to the new robot.”

“Hi, Rosie,” the toothy one says, “I’m Frederick, and this is my sister, Aggie.” The Frederick pulls on the forelimb of the other one, who looks through its fur at me.

“This is so stupid,” it says, pulling its arm out of its sibling’s grip. “I don’t have to say hi to the dishwasher or the school bus, why do I have to pretend to be nice to this thing?” (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 368: Springtime for Deathtraps

Show Notes

Rated 13 and up for language


Springtime for Deathtraps

By Marjorie James

The building sat in a small clearing in the jungle, its stone walls radiating solidity and the midday heat. Giant statues of warrior-gods
crushing skulls beneath their feet flanked the doorway. Xnab looked from the ornately carved keyhole to his customer and back again.

“And the key is where, exactly?” he asked.

“In the treasure chamber,” the big man said in a small voice. “We had just finished putting everything away and, well, it had been a long day. I think I must have put the key down on the altar or something. The problem is, the place locks automatically, and our entire fortune is in there. We had a few locksmiths out to work on it, but they didn’t get very far.”

Xnab nodded. He had already noticed the blood spatter around the keyhole.

“So that’s why we called you. Everyone said that if anybody could get in there, it would be you.”

Xnab accepted that, not as a compliment, but a statement of fact. He was a specialist the design and construction of booby traps, deadfalls and other, largely fatal, security options. He was a small man, thin and wiry, his shaved head still smooth and unwrinkled despite years of working in the sun. Despite making a very good living, he wore a plain tunic and no adornments at all. In his business, he considered it a bad idea to have anything extra hanging around, and he was very good at his business. In fact, anyone who knew anything considered Xnab the best death trap designer alive.

Which typically would have been reason enough to turn down a job like this, but in this case it was actually why he was there.

“How long have you owned the temple?” he asked the man, who had introduced himself as Tuak.

“Just a couple of months, actually,” Tuak admitted. “It’s not really a temple. I think the statues of the gods are just there for show. The
family who used to have it used it to store their treasures and they spared no expense on the security.” He sighed heavily and stared up at the tiers of stone vanishing into the jungle. “It seemed like a good idea when we bought it.” (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 357: Connoisseurs of the Eccentric


Connoisseurs of the Eccentric

By Jetse de Vries

Salvador Dalí took his pet ocelot to a New York restaurant, where a woman protested that wild animals were being allowed in. Dalí replied it was only a cat he’d painted in op-art style. The woman looked closer: “Now I can see it’s a cat,” she said. “At first, I thought it was an ocelot.”

Seated near the swimming pool in the artist’s retreat in Port Lligat, a BBC interviewer said that he had “heared that Dalí was unkind to animals. Was that true?”x

“Dalí cruel to ze animal?” The artist exclaimed, “Nevair!” After which he picked up his pet ocelot and hurled it into the swimming pool.

—Eccentric anecdotes;

I SEE HER arriving in her private vacuum zeppelin, flying over the rewilded mountains of the Nagasaki peninsula, while I’m tending the extreme bonsai wine garden on top of my farmscraper. Expertly manoeuvering through the photovoltaic city forest, the zep berthes at the telescopic docking station. It gives me time to change from my gardening attire into something more formal.

Originally, she found me through my hyperdense pinot noir à la bonsaïe, almost two decades ago. Back then, I proudly showed her my grotto garden, but she quickly decided that she liked my ecological acumen better than my micro bonsai specimen. Today, for the second time only, she comes unnanounced.

I come prepared, but even my Icho’s ‘the power of light and shadow’ complemented with a pair of Peron & Peron’s is no match for the way Afri Kamari makes an off-the-shelf, demure business suit look like haute couture. Above ebony cheekbones: deep brown eyes that see straight through you. Under a head of long, thick, fine curls: a brain that never shifts from top gear. Inside a very conservative skirtsuit: an animated sensuality that puts any anime girl to shame. (Continue Reading…)

EP355: Grandmother


Grandmother

By Cat Rambo

Most people called her Phoenix. Her former crew used “Captain” before that and “Sir” afterward. Ruby and Ada respectively called her “mother” and “g’ma.” Her hair was silver – not white, but genuine, metallic silver, a long fall against her pale blue skin, the color of a shadow on a piece of willow ware, that made her seems ageless despite the century and more that lay upon her, not to mention all those decades of pirating.

They said she’d been the best slideboard rider of her time, and perhaps the best battleship pilot of all time, back before her parents and sister were killed and she turned rogue.

They said she had done terrible things in her pirate days.

They said she’d been ruthless in her rise to power, moving up the chain from god knows where, an origin she’d never, ever spoken of to anyone, not even her own daughter. She’d killed some captains, slept with others, called in favors and maneuvered and betrayed and seized power with a brutal efficiency that still underlay what now seemed a calm and orderly, rules-bound government that she and Mukopadhyay had created.

They said she had killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people — sometimes at a distance, sometimes up close, with knife or fist. They said she’d killed a crew member when the shuttle she was in needed its mass reduced and the man hadn’t even argued, just nodded and stepped into the airlock, never said a word as the door closed and the lock cycled, staring in at his captain as she stared back.

They said time had mellowed her. They said working with Mukopadhyay, even though he was crazy as a spiral comet, had mellowed her.

(Continue Reading…)