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Escape Pod 775: Spaceship October


Spaceship October

By Greg van Eekhout

When you live on a spaceship, you learn to make your own fun. Exploring the tunnels is some of the very best fun the October’s got. After school hour, me and Droller go scuttling through the darkest conduits you ever will find. The starboard Hab gets minimal heat, so our breath clouds in the light of our head torches as we crawl on our hands and knees.

“You hear that?” Droller whispers from a couple of meters ahead.

I do hear it, a deep, wet wheezing that sounds exactly like Droller trying to spook me.

“You better go ahead and check it out, Droller.”

“Naw, Kitch, it’s behind you. It smells your butt. It’s a butthunter.”

I laugh at Droller’s stupid joke, because the stupider, the funnier, and she’s by far my stupidest friend.

We’re both from Aft Hab, both from the same birth lottery, and out of the eight babies born that season, we’re the only survivors. It used to be the three of us, me and Droller, and Jamm, but Jamm died last year along with her parents when the CO2 scrubbers in their cube failed. The scrubbers were item thirty-three on the fixems’ to-do list.

“How much farther?” I ask Droller.

“Just a couple of panels.”

It’s more like a couple dozen panels, but we finally arrive at the section of conduit above Town Square. Using just our fingers, Droller and me remove the fasteners holding the panel in place and slide it aside, just enough for us to peak out.

Down below, a crowd settles on the rings of benches surrounding the lawn. The brass band toots “Onward or Bust” in a marching beat, their jackets sparkling with silver buttons and silver loops of rope. Droller and I exchange a sad look. Jamm wanted to be a drummer and wear a thick, warm jacket like that. The odds were against an Aft Habber like her, but she was good enough that she might have made it.

Once the tooting is over, one of the Vice Captains ascends the grandstand. The audience stands and salutes in respect. Everyone on the October acts as like salutes are required, but White Madeleine told us saluting was never in the contract the original families signed. The Fore Habbers made up the requirement only eighty years ago.

The kind of people who come to witness a Course Correction are the type who do what they’re supposed to.

The Vice Captain says some stuff into a bullhorn. It’s too distorted for me and Droller to make out actual words, but we know what he’s saying, because this isn’t the first time we’ve watched a Course Correction from the conduits. He’s announcing the name of the violator and their crime.

The guards bring out a man, their hands gripping his arms and shoving. He’s dressed in thin brown paper coveralls. His face is bloodless. I bet he’s shivering in the cold.

“I’ve seen him before,” says Droller. She doesn’t know his name, but he does look familiar. Maybe I’ve spotted him in line at Distro, or maybe on a community service detail. Yeah, that’s it. A few months ago we were on the same crew scraping mold off crop troughs in the farm module. He was quiet and sniffed a lot.

“What do you think he did?” Droller asks.

“I bet he buggered a robot.”

Droller laughs, because it’s stupid. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 774: A Wild Patience (Part 3 of 3)


A Wild Patience (Part 3 of 3)

by Gwynne Garfinkle

When Jessica got home that night, she and I talked for a long time, and we agreed we needed to speak to our birth mother before we made any decisions. Then Mom and Jessica and I talked some more. By the time Jessica and I went to bed, my voice was hoarse, and Dad hadn’t come home.

The next day was Saturday. Dad still hadn’t come home. That morning Mom drove us in the station wagon to Santa Cruz. When we asked if she’d told Dad what we were doing, Mom said, “I haven’t spoken to him, and I’m not going to ask for his permission.”

Jessica and I wanted to get a look at our biological mom before we spoke to her, even though Mom had her phone number. Maybe that wasn’t very considerate, but we wanted to keep whatever little control of the situation we had. It was a mild sunny day, perfect for a road trip, but I couldn’t relax and enjoy the ride, even though Mom was the best driver I knew, the safest and most efficient (unlike Dad, who often drove too fast and erratically). The other robot moms I’d ridden with were good drivers too. Only now did it occur to me it was their programming.

Jessica fiddled with the radio dial until she hit on a station playing “The Tide Is High” by Blondie, and she sang along loudly and goofily. Mom smiled in the rearview mirror as though she was certain everything was going to be all right.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 773: A Wild Patience (Part 2 of 3)


A Wild Patience (Part 2 of 3)

by Gwynne Garfinkle

The next day, school was in an uproar. The other mothers had talked to their kids too. Some kids were red-eyed and tear-streaked, others cynical with bravado. Jessica and Tom held hands every minute they were together, like they physically needed to. Tom looked like he’d been crying. He was skinny and wan, with long lashes and floppy dark hair. Jessica was bigger and taller than he was, but they fit each other somehow.

Everyone compared notes at the lockers before first period: The fact that none of our moms had living parents or siblings or extended family we’d heard of. The fact that none of our moms worked outside the home. The fact that none of our moms ever had colds or the flu, headaches or nausea, much less any serious illnesses. (They had gone to see Dr. Powell regularly, but now we realized it was for repair and maintenance.)

Then there were the kids who had no idea what we were talking about, like Jimmy Hernandez, who was being raised by his grandparents, and Jody Drucker, whose mom (human, as far as we could tell) was a widow. There even seemed to be some kids with a dad married to a non-robot mom, but they lived in the rundown part of town–kids like Diane Russo, who we quizzed until we were convinced. (Her mom got colds and migraines, had a large extended family, gave birth to two kids after Diane, and worked as a bank teller in Abundante.) I figured these dads wouldn’t have had enough money to pay for a robot mom, though I didn’t say that to their kids. (I didn’t know for a fact that money had been involved, but it made sense.) Besides, maybe these dads really loved their human wives. It was hard to take that for granted anymore. “You are so lucky,” was all we said to Diane.

Diane shrugged. “This all sounds unbelievable,” she said. “Are you sure this is even real?”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 772: A Wild Patience (Part 1 of 3)


A Wild Patience (Part 1 of 3)

by Gwynne Garfinkle

We first noticed something was off one April afternoon when Jessica and I came home from school and Mom had lopped her hair off. Though we probably should’ve known something was going on a week or two before that when Cecilia Ivers’ mom started baking cakes full of Tabasco sauce and pickles (bizarre but good).

But anyway, we walked in the front door, and Mom came out of the living room to greet us. Her hair looked cool, and cool was just about the last word I ever would’ve used to describe her. It looked weird, and that was cool. Jessica let out a whistle of startled appreciation. She wanted to cut her hair short and dye it purple, but she knew our dad would freak.

Mom smiled. “Do you like it, Jessie?”

“It’s so not like you,” Jessica blurted out, and added, “No offense!” Up until this point, Mom always had boring mom-hair. (We’d never seen any photos of her from before she met Dad.)

“None taken,” Mom said. “Absolutely none.” There was something strangely intense about the way she said it.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 771: The Mercy of Theseus (Flashback Friday)

Show Notes

The Mercy of Theseus first appeared on Escape Pod on Episode 472 on December 19, 2014.


The Mercy of Theseus

By Rachael K. Jones

Greta and Jamal have three arms, two legs, and one working kidney between the two of them. The kidney belongs to Greta. Its twin went to her little sister three years back, and now she has a laparoscopic keyhole scar over her belly button to remember it by. She can feel it pull tight when she rolls her creeper beneath the chassis of the next project in the shop. Thanks to the war, Jamal has lost the arm, the legs, and the other two kidneys.

All his parts have since been replaced. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 770: The First Trebuchet on Mars


The First Trebuchet on Mars

by Marie Vibbert

If you come to Mars you need to know that in the twelfth century a French engineer named Trebuchet popularized a model of sling catapult with a counterweight. The Middle East had been using ‘em for centuries, and probably got them from the Chinese who’d been using ‘em for centuries before that, but this dude got the publicity campaign, if you follow my meaning, and so the device to this day is called a trebuchet.

I’m getting to the Mars part.

The first trebuchet on Mars was built by Jill Cooper out of some broken PVC structural elements, rubber tubing, and Mars-grown hemp rope. Jill invited everyone over to debut her treb. We’re usually busy in our own habitats, and it’s not an inconsiderable walk from one to another, but there’s not a lot of entertainment to be had on Mars. Everyone came, even Ned Taylor, our local fussbudget.

“You’re not firing it there,” Ned said. “What if you hit a habitat?”

“Be a lucky damn shot,” Jill said.

Ned said, “A thousandth of a percent of a chance is too much.”

“Don’t care about your dating life,” Jill said.

“Jill,” I said, with a sideways look at Ned, who was going purple in the face, “won’t hurt to aim it away from the valley.”

She sighed heavily and used her foot to spin the treb around so it faced the crater wall behind her habitat.

“That’s not a solution! What if debris flies back at us?”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 769: Deal


Deal

By Eris Young

Beulah wonders what it would be like to touch the Visitor. Oil-slick iridescent, it is tennis ball-sized and scaled with an animated crystalline skin—or shell—or carapace. It floats, stationary, a foot above the rug in the corner of the living room. Its surface changes by the second, rippling back and forth as if stroked by an invisible hand. If she were to run her fingers—gently, gently—over its surface, would it be keratinous, like an iguana? Or feathery? Would it be warm to the touch?

Kim is still behind her somewhere, hovering in the hallway. Get it out, was all she had said, face white as saguaro blossom in the dim mudroom.

Beulah pulled on her jacket, then pulled it off again. “Babe, I have to go to class. Can’t you—”

Kim shook her head, “Uh-uh. Please.” She had been close to tears, almost hyperventilating. Now, muffled by the wall between hall and living room, Her voice is shaky but a bit firmer.

“Is it out?”

If Beulah turns she can just see a sliver of Kim’s shoulder, her pilly cardigan, the electric pink tips of her hair. Her face is now hidden.

“It takes a minute, you know that.”

Beulah crouches, knees popping, to get a better look, steadying herself on the coffee table.

“How’d you get in here, huh?” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 768: Balancing the Equation


Balancing the Equation

by Justin C. Key

June 18, 2031

Lauren led her two-year-old son, Sean, slowly to their car while carrying three full bags of groceries.

“Up,” Sean said, showing her his palms. “Up, Mama, up!”

“Ask one more time and you’re getting a time out when we get home.”

She should have used a cart to carry the groceries. She should have walked with Sean on the inside. She should have ignored the aching pain in her back and picked him up. The rest of her life would be haunted by ‘should’ves’.

“A dog!” Sean pointed at passing poodle as big as him. Of his budding vocabulary, identifying dogs was a family favorite.

“Yes,” Lauren said. “A black dog.” She silently cursed at her failing grip on the bags. She twisted the strap around her wrist. Sean yanked her other arm, hard.

“Okay, time out as soon as–” Lauren said, but choked when she saw that Sean hadn’t tugged at all. It was a black Prius, worn and dented and scratched and horrible, rolling silently over her son to replace him, as if by magic.

Lauren screamed.

(Continue Reading…)

2020 Year in Review and Awards Eligibility


In 2020, Escape Pod published 21 original science fiction stories and 32 reprint stories. We also published a print anthology with 9 original stories, and 6 reprints.

If you are nominating and/or voting for these awards, please consider our original publications for the Short Story category of the Hugo and Nebula Awards, among others. The full list is below!

Escape Pod is eligible for the Best Semiprozine Hugo Award. 2019 staff include Co-Editors Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya, Assistant Editor Benjamin C. Kinney, and Audio Producers Adam Pracht and Summer Brooks.

Mur Lafferty and S.B. Divya are also eligible for the Best Editor (Short Form) Hugo Award. (Please nominate them together.)

A list of current Escape Pod staff is available here, including our Guest Hosts, Tina Connolly and Alasdair Stuart. We are very proud of our crew and the work we’ve done, especially during this trying year, and we thank you for joining us in this orbit around the sun.

— Mur Lafferty & S.B. Divya


Original Short Stories

Escape Pod 716: Physics by the Numbers by Stephen Granade

Escape Pod 717: Listening by Bob DeRosa

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 by P.H. Lee

Escape Pod 719: A Hench Helps Her Villain, No Matter What by Izzy Wasserstein

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 767: Shadowboxer (Flashback Friday)


Shadowboxer (Excerpt)

By Paul Di Filippo

Generally speaking, I need only three minutes of concentrated attention to kill someone by staring at them. If I’m feeling under the weather, or my mind is preoccupied with other matters–you know how your mind can obsess about trivial things sometimes–it might take five minutes for my power to have its effect. On the other hand, if I focus intensely on my victim I can get the job done in as little as ninety seconds.

…Now the nation is at war. Or so we’re told. I guess that changes everything. A person like me becomes much more important.

Host Commentary by Alasdair Stuart

The thing I love about this is, honestly, everything, Di Fillippo does such a fantastic job of parking us inside the head of the protagonist that we wake up to the drip feed of information, and the theft of temporal awareness at the same time. That rising awareness is in turn mapped onto the gradual realization of what the lead can do. This is Scanners without the grand guignol, the assassin’s dream. Tireless, effortless, painless, invisible.

But not unaware.

That’s the single chink in the armour of dystopia and the author does such fascinating things with it. This is the slow moral awakening of a gun mixed with the gradual realization that he is far from alone and far from indispensable. There is always another target and there is always another gun.

That sort of cold, machine calculus lies at the heart of a lot of great espionage fiction alongside the simple, brutal certainty of survival, physical, rather moral. A spy may not leave a story with their mission intact but they’ll usually leave it with their body and mind intact. Whether that’s entirely true of the most famous spy in the world depends on when that latest Bond movie will finally be released but even Commander Bond, he of the bad knee and possible brain damage, still works in a position of moral certainty. He gets to live. His target does not.

This character is denied even that. The ending, for me, reads one of two ways. The personal one is arguably the more horrifying, where his lack of memory dovetails with the mirror and his latest target to ensure this particular cannon is fixed directly towards self slaughter. That, especially when he’s viewed as nothing more than a weapon, is terrifying. He’s ordered to decommission himself and seems minded to do so.

The second option is cold but almost more reassuring. That the President as his final target is an exhausted road to Damascus for the conspiracy that has him; they’re pushed to the limit, they have no further plays, so it’s time for a decapitation strike. Worse still, they’re winning and this is the last move. Regardless, the story ends with us, and the lead, aware that the chessboard is there but with no idea who is playing what side or what piece our lead is. Check is always a single move away. Choose wisely.

This is expertly handled genre fiction and for 5 bucks a month at Patreon, you can not only help us keep making it but get access to our vault. For more you get access to surveys, merch, the whole bit. For 5 bucks a month at PseudoPod, it’s the vault. Either option works for us. Both are needed. Please help out if you can. And if not with money, why not time? Help us raise our profile by leaving a review, on apple podcasts or google or whatever your podcatcher of choice is. Tweet a link to an episode, write a blog. Trust me it all helps. And on behalf of all of us, thank you.

Escape Pod is a production of Escape Artists Inc and released under a creative commons attribution non commercial no derivatives license. It will return next week with Balancing the Equation by Justin C Key, hosted by Jay Bhat with audio by Summer and narration by Laurice White. I leave you with this quote from The Iron Giant: “I Am NOT A Gun.”

Take care folks, see you next time.