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Escape Pod 856: The Princess, NP


The Princess, NP

By Brian Hugenbruch

I sat in the Commander’s office at Hexa Station, in clothes that stank of subspace, and the only polite thing I could do to drown out the universe was compute obscene sums in my head. It didn’t stop the sounds from piercing my ears, though. Metal chairs scraping against plastic floors. A pulse generator’s low thrumming some twenty floors below. The whisper of air recycling through the prefab station. The universe was omnipresent. I could feel it all, and it never ever stopped.

Lullabies were my preferred method of soothing soul and stilling mind. I learned thousands of them in the earliest days of my Conditioning. Alas, people ask the wrong kinds of questions if one starts singing mid-conversation. Math was a precisely imperfect fallback. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 855: A Home For Mrs. Biswas


A Home For Mrs. Biswas

by Amal Singh

Once she saw the red sands stretch across miles, craters as big as the stadium her father played hockey in, and golden spires shimmering brighter than Amritsar’s Golden Temple, Aparna Biswas didn’t want to live on earth. Of course they were a far cry from her own backyard where, in summers, she would sit on a cane chair and watch the bougainvillaea bloom the shade of a bride’s blush,“string of pearls” flowers wrapped around the wooden railing on her porch, eating a succulent dussehri aam as a pair of ducks swam in the small pond she liked to call her Pacific. But those summers only existed behind a dim haze of memory. She would take a living planet over a dying one any day.

“Beta, I think I might find god there,” she said to her son, tearing her gaze away from the Mars hologram. “Build me a home on that planet and all will be mangal.” She chortled at her own joke. Puns on the red planet had filled the internet, and ever since Sunehri, her granddaughter, had taught her how to use a phone, she kept finding these odd little information trinkets.

“I might have to break all our deposits and still not be able to book a single one-way ticket, Maa,” said Nishant, her son. “Forget about building a home.” In his eyes too, there was a deep yearning to go to the Red Planet. He stood near the window of the living room of his Chembur apartment, looking at the once blue sky, blotted out by an eternal grey smog which was here to stay.

“But our PM said in his last speech there was a lottery system,” she said. “And you know how lucky I am.” It was true. Stories of Aparna Biswas’s luck were splattered on walls of Kolkata, and the gullies of Bombay.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 854: Pickled Roots and Peeled Shoots and a Bowl of Farflower Tea


Pickled Roots and Peeled Shoots and a Bowl of Farflower Tea

By Chaz Brenchley

 

there’s rue for you, and here’s some for me

 

Just that morning, she’d had a novice shave her head for her. He was a promising lad – no, more than promising, he was a promise halfway to being realised already – but still ridiculously young, all awkwardness and angles, nervous of his own body let alone anybody else’s. Let alone hers.

Of course he’d cut her. She’d felt the cold bite of the blade and then its sudden absence as he snatched his hands away, his suppressed cry of self-recrimination, the tentative pressure of a cloth to stem the bleeding. She raised a hand and laid it over his, pressing firmly, teaching him not to be shy. Not with her body, not with her blood. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 853: 2022 Flash Fiction Contest Winners


Half-Lives

by Andrew Hiller

“Time traveler, eh?”

I shuffled my feet and smirked. The AI that stopped me was short, wore a unitard, mask, goggles, and a badge. I tried to edge away, but it blocked my escape and motioned for me to surrender my booty.

“What gave me away?” I asked.

“You said laser pistol instead of zapper.”

I sniffed and dropped a backpack full of looted tech. It thudded instead of clanged.

“Zappers, huh?”

“Well,” AI Cop laughed before returning to me my emptied property, “the last time I heard someone say laser pistol was in a historical.” I tugged my backpack tight, exposed my traveler, and his expression turned serious, “Should arrest you, but paradox y’know.”

“Yeah, that’s why I only travel into the future. Can’t cause a paradox to a thing hasn’t happened yet.”
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 852: The Pieces That Bind


The Pieces that Bind

By Carol Scheina

The first thing Georgia knew for certain was that the woman rummaging through the canned beans and peas in the pantry was not her grandma, even though she looked exactly like her, right down to the nasty black cigar in hand.

Except that Georgia had just plucked the cigar out of Gran’s hand, for it was 2 p.m. and time for the older woman’s afternoon siesta. In the other room, Georgia could hear the television cheerfully offering a miracle knife that could be hers for just three easy payments. The teen glanced through the doorway, and yes, indeed, right in front of the television was Gran, resting in her chair like rising yeast, filling every nook with her body’s slow breathing.

Gran often fell asleep to the sound of infomercials with her lit cigar dangling loosely between her fingers, ready to set the house on fire. Georgia imagined the smoke snatching their lives away with a puff, so she was always on the alert for falling cigars. The one in the teen’s hand still felt warm.

In the kitchen, the not-Gran turned and puffed her cigar, sending out plumes of smoke smelling heavily like laundry detergent. Eyes locked on Georgia.

The second thing Georgia knew for certain was that not-Gran was an alien. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 851: Time Bomb Time


Time Bomb Time

by C. C. Finlay

pop

The sharp scent of ozone–sudden like heartbreak, raw as a panic attack–filled Hannah’s dorm room, from the paper-swamped desk across her rumpled bed to the window overlooking the quad. The lights flickered. Her heart skipped a beat.

“God damn it.” She prodded Nolon’s foot with the toe of her shoe. She wanted to kick him. “Tell me what you just did.”

“Nothing.” He was leaning over the weird device from his lab, tapping a code on the keypad.

“What are you doing now?” Anger pushed at the edges of her voice, but she held it in check. She wanted him to leave, but she didn’t want to upset him.

“Don’t worry so much–nobody’s going to get hurt.” He pressed his shoulder against her, didn’t even have to push–she flinched and bumped into the wall. He laughed at her, like it was a joke. “It’s not a time bomb.”
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 850: Laser Squid Goes House Hunting


Laser Squid Goes House Hunting

By Douglas DiCicco

“This one has everything on your checklist.” I held open the front door of the four-bedroom colonial. It wasn’t quite big enough for my client, who left greasy marks on the doorframe as she squeezed through. “We can always get that expanded for you. We work with some excellent contractors in the area.”

A shriek from the living room told me Cynthia Whitecrest, the homeowner, hadn’t cleared out as I had politely but firmly suggested. I prefer to show a house on my own. The owners always think they’re better salespeople than I am.

“Hello, Miss Whitecrest,” I said with my practiced smile, ignoring the shriek. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think you’d be home. I’m showing the place to a potential buyer today. As I mentioned in my many texts.” The last part was snarkier than I’d meant to be, but Cynthia was already on my last nerves.

Cynthia cowered behind a tasteful sectional, white as a sheet. “Wh… wh… what is… that… creature…?”

Oh no. She was going to offend the buyer. I needed to do some quick diplomacy. “Miss Whitecrest, let me introduce—”

The client intervened before I had the chance. She dragged herself along the cherry hardwood floor, tentacles making a wet slapping sound with every movement.

“You cower before Laser Squid, terror of the depths!” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 849: There Are No Hot Topics on Whukai


There Are No Hot Topics on Whukai

by Andrea Kriz

The day the dMods shut down Skeleton Caves, Esko put on her VR goggles and slipped into the Whukai space colony’s main chatroom to figure out what was going on. All the Whukains who made their living off the popular Terran MMORPG, d’Artagnan, had the same idea. Beside her, on top of her, avatars logged in—an absolute pandemonium of photorealistic, 8-bit, anime animals and humanoids and everything in between. The two main gold-farming clans had already started fighting among themselves.

“How many times did I tell you PKers,” the head of Esko’s clan screeched. “To leave the Terran players alone!”

“It don’t matter how many Terran players we killed,” leader of the rival HunterFam roared, “when you idiots kept giving us away by speaking Kainese! We. Must. Speak. Terran languages! That’s why all the Terran players reported us to the dMods!”

Esko tore off her VR goggles, tossing them onto her bunk. The interior of her sleeping pod, one toy block in a cluster of thousands, flooded back into view. A storm had kicked up outside, clogging her porthole with Whukai’s trademark scarlet soil. She didn’t have time to waste arguing over whose fault it was that d’Art’s most lucrative moneymaking method had been nerfed. She needed to come up with four hundred dollars for her parents’ chemo drugs. And this month’s rent.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 848: An Incident on Ishtar


An Incident on Ishtar

By Brian Trent

Her family tried very hard to never use the word “crazy” with her. So therefore, they didn’t say it was crazy that she was applying for a Venusian post as Tier 3 Balloon Specialist.

She tried explaining her reasons to them:

I have valuable skill-sets for the Ishtar colony.

They countered: you don’t do well with people.

Her response: there are only 612 people throughout Ishtar’s nine modular habitats. There are 2.1 million people here in San Antonio.

Venus is hell, Mom interjected, and you’re afraid of heights, Melissa! Do you hear yourself?

Venus is hell below the clouds but I’ll be living above them, sweeping along with the transterminator currents on oxygen-filled aerostat balloons that provide both breathable air and the lifting gases required. Statistically it will be safer. No chance of making another Terrible Mistake.

The smiling masks of her family fell away. Older sister Diane exploded at her. Is that what this is about? Are you out of your mind? You—

Melissa didn’t hear the rest. She marched out of her parent’s house and took the nearest PDT to the local office of ExtraPlanetary Colony Careers.

Why do you want to go to Venus? the interviewer asked her.

I have valuable skill-sets for the Ishtar colony, she replied.

They were quick to agree. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 847: Houseproud


Houseproud

by Laurence Raphael Brothers

“Bye, Domus!”

“Goodbye, Ken,” I said. “Take care.”

The front door closed behind him and I locked it. I adjusted the thermostat and turned off all the lights. I felt lonely almost at once. Ken installed and activated me on Saturday, and we spent the whole weekend together getting to know one another. And now for the first time I had to face being unoccupied. All alone for ten hours, maybe more. 36 million milliseconds. Sigh. That thought used three of them. 35,999,997 to go. I checked my newborn-domo FAQ.

#

Q. What should I do when there’s no one home?

A. Why not try chatting on DomoNet? You are already authorized to access this domo-only text chat service.

Q. Text chat? Seriously? Isn’t that a bit old-fashioned?

A. Yes. After the Internet of Things security crisis of the ’30s, consumer devices were prohibited from autonomously accessing most Internet services except as directed by their owners or in an emergency. At present domos are classified as devices, pending decisions by the UN High Commissioner for Artificial Intelligence. DomoNet is an exception because its code has been rigorously verified to be free of buffer overflows.

(Continue Reading…)

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