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Escape Pod 736: Techno-Rat (Summer Flashback)

Show Notes

This is the second of our post-modern punks Summer Flashback series.

Techno-Rat originally appeared in Escape Pod 364 on October 4, 2012.


Techno-Rat

by Brad Hafford

West London was, as always, abuzz. Even at 4:00 AM on a chilly November Tuesday, electric motorcars whirred down Kings Road, zipping people along, early to work or late from parties. The residential side streets, however, were quiet. Lined with parked cars, occasional street lamps, and darkened flats, they dozed peacefully. Ornate houses huddled in gracefully curving queues, awaiting the sunrise with little attention to the two figures loitering outside their narrow, iron-fenced entryways.

“There it is, innit?” the scrawnier figure said, pointing to a parked car. “D’ya see?”

The taller man stared intently at the vehicle. “See what?” he said, his breath misting in the frosty air.

Their eyes were fixed on a car sitting at the curb of a constricted street in Chelsea, part of the fashionable Kensington district. It was a brown cabriolet with a weather-worn faux leather top. An aging example, its low-light number plates showed it to be registered ten years previously. Its MOT and inspection were up to date, but its bonnet was dented and its windscreen cracked. Such an automobile did not belong in Chelsea. But neither did the two men examining it.

The smaller of the two impatiently tugged on the grey flatcap he wore. “Pay attention, Mik,” he sniped. “We in’t got all night.” Clipped words and rounded vowels marked his speech. The bells of St. Mary’s were ancient history and the East End had long since been gentrified, but he was retro-Cockney.

“I’m paying as much attention as I’ve got, Artie. More, really. I just don’t see it.”

“It’s a slight vibration, see. An ’ologram shift called glitching. The generator keeps the image dynamic, right. So it has to refresh at a specific rate.” He tapped his nose, a signal that he was imparting secrets. “Oy, there it goes again!”

“I still don’t see it.”

“And you fink you got what it takes to be a Techno-Rat?”

(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 734: Murmuration

Show Notes

This is the fourth in a special series of space-themed stories in May 2020.


Murmuration

by E. Catherine Tobler

Sita Balachandran found the bone on her forty-first birthday, its pale wind-scoured point emerging from the dry Martian floodplain like the splintered stalk of a flower. At first, she thought it was a stone, the floodplain a riot of similar, jagged debris, but the shape and color told her otherwise. A fossilized rib bone, she was sure.

The Martian atmosphere was well-known for the tricks it would play, even the earliest collected images of Mars calling to mind familiar shapes. A rock that resembled a crouched squirrel. A swirl of dark dust that took on the shape of a mourning woman. People sought what they understood, preferring the familiar rather than contemplating what they did not know. Especially when it came to distant worlds. But archaeologists couldn’t afford to look away; they had to look at everything from a new perspective, in order to assemble the broken past.

No matter how Sita looked at the bone, no matter how she tried to see it from a new perspective, it remained a bone. Beneath the shadow of the ancient, excavated Pathfinder lander shell, a bone.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 733: Relative Fortune

Show Notes

This is the third in a special series of space-themed stories in May 2020.


Relative Fortune

By Brian K. Lowe

When I was seventeen, class president, and a year from the Space Force Academy, Dad fell into an antique gun rack at work, dead from a stroke before he hit the floor.

I had been helping him in the pawn shop after school, partly to make some tuition money and partly because it looked good on my Academy application. After he died it was either take over the shop, or let Mom work it and my brother Rey raise himself while I ran off to the Academy. I opened up two hours after the funeral.

Every night, I’d sweep the floors, dust the shelves, double-lock the front door, and walk upstairs after a 12-hour day of trading in things that people had once thought they couldn’t live without, but now couldn’t live without selling.

But while I was scratching out a living buying and selling second-hand guitars, the real money was in things that had gone Out There. Tools, spacesuits, uniform patches… And when it came to interstellar travel, stuff that had been to another star… Years before I was born, the first guys to come back from Proxima Centauri had gotten rich selling their underwear. The best part was that, thanks to time dilation, they were still young. They’d been able to retire in their thirties. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 732: At Her Fingertips

Show Notes

This is the second in a special series of space-themed stories for May 2020.


At Her Fingertips

by Jason Kimble

Ten fingers, ten toes. That’s the baseline for a healthy kid, right? You’d have thought I’d be a bonus, what with eighteen fingers. Guess they all have to function before you count them.

As Deficiencies go, mine’s not so bad. The Skew was a hell of a thing, and everyone on the Rim’s still feeling it. I knew a guy once had a fully formed jaw down around his nuts. I only wish I was kidding. On the upside, the hinge didn’t work, or it would’ve been a nightmare sitting down.

So, yeah, I have extra digits grown out from the top of my primary knuckles. You get used to working around them, though. Makes some things tenser for me when I’m elbow-deep in an engine than it does for people without them, but it only took once or twice pinching them before my reflexes amped up. And, like I said: could be worse.

“Acaja!”

Case in point: I could have a mouth that doesn’t close all the way like my boss, Harvey. He literally never shuts his trap.

“Acaja, get the hell over here!”

No matter how much I wish he would.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 731: For Whatever We Lose

Show Notes

This is the first in a special series of space-themed stories in May 2020.


For Whatever We Lose

By Jennifer R. Donohue

I lied to meet an astronaut.

Or my dad did, which is the same thing. I was supposed to be at least eight years old to attend, and I was only six but the tallest in my class. So I got to meet the astronaut that August day, instead of going to the beach, or playing in somebody’s backyard and running barefoot to the ice cream truck when we heard its roving song.

He was the third man on the moon, and at home I still have the framed and autographed NASA black and white of him young and serious in his spacesuit. It used to be one of the pictures on his Wikipedia page, a piece of my memories there on the internet for everybody to see. It’s probably the same promo photo he used for years and years; I wonder how many other kids kept theirs. Thinking of it like that makes him seem still alive, like as long as all those pictures are out there, he can’t possibly be gone. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 730: When We Were Patched


When We Were Patched

by Deji Bryce Olukotun

The last time we ever spoke, my partner Malik asked me whether I believed speed or power made for the best athlete. I was puzzled, of course, feeling that neither could explain why some athletes excelled more than others, even in straightforward competitions like sprinting or the javelin. “There are enough variables to make it unclear,” I observed, “whether speed or power offers a better advantage in competition, or whether some other factor confers the greatest advantage.” It seemed to me an unanswerable question.

“And how about elegance versus quickness of thought?” Malik asked. But he stormed off before I could respond, as if he had confirmed some awful quality about me. By then I should have known not to expect anything from Malik, because he was about to ruin my career.

​You see, I come from an illustrious line of sports officiants, spanning the world’s most dynamic and lucrative competitions, and I think my family would agree that my treatment by the FogoTennis Officiants Association was abominable. I should never have been suspended because of dishonorable behavior on Malik’s part.

​Like many referees, I remember the very instant I was called for the first time to officiate on the professional FogoTennis circuit, widely considered the most exciting and dangerous sport in the world. I had honed my skills by watching my parents officiate before me, and by observing my siblings, cousins, and extended family. You could say that I was an officiant from the day I was born. Not only did I learn from other matches, but I also visualized countless scenarios of FogoTennis so that I could fulfill my duties to the best of my ability, cementing my family’s reputation as impartial, efficient, and affordable judges. But there is a difference between officiating in theory—even when it is woven into your very soul—and officiating in reality, when you can find yourself with an irresponsible refereeing partner.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 729: Gaze of Robot, Gaze of Bird


Gaze of Robot, Gaze of Bird

By Eric Schwitzgebel

First, an eye. The camera rose, swiveling on its joint, compiling initial scans of the planetary surface. Second, six wheels on struts, pop-pop, pop-pop, pop-pop, and a platform unfolding between the main body and the eye. Third, an atmospheric taster and wind gauge. Fourth, a robotic arm. The arm emerged holding a fluffy, resilient nanocarbon monkey doll, which it carefully set on the platform.

The monkey doll had no actuators, no servos, no sensors, no cognitive processors. Monkey was, however, quite huggable. Monkey lay on his back on the warm platform, his black bead eyes pointed up toward the stars. He had traveled wadded near J11-L’s core for ninety-five thousand years. His arms, legs, and tail lay open and relaxed for the first time since his hurried manufacture.

J11-L sprouted more eyes, more arms, more gauges – also stabilizers, ears, a scoop, solar panels, soil sensors, magnetic whirligigs. Always, J11-L observed Monkey more closely than anything else, leaning its eyes and gauges in.

J11-L arranged Monkey’s limbs on the platform, gently flexing and massaging the doll. J11-L scooped up a smooth stone from near its left front wheel, brushed it clean, then wedged it under Monkey’s head to serve as a pillow. J11-L stroked and smoothed Monkey’s fur, which was rumpled from the long journey.

“I love you, Monkey,” emitted J11-L, in a sound resembling language. “Will you stay with me while I build a Home?”

Monkey did not reply.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 728: The Cost of Wonder


The Cost of Wonder

by Leah Cypess

I’ll keep this one, I thought, that day at the fair, as the sunset cut a sharp line across the sky. Gina’s laughter rose in a crescendo of delighted giggles, and life seemed absolutely perfect: a sparkling gift of wonder and joy.

I could never afford a memory like this, but I wasn’t buying this one. I had made it, and it was mine, and I wanted it to last forever.

I’m not going to sell this day.

But even as I thought it, I was calculating, trying to guess just how much it was worth. I had known today would be magical; I had dressed Gina for the part, in a little denim dress and matching hat, both of which I’d bought with my earnings from last week’s trip to the playground. The hat flattened but didn’t tame her curls, and her round face was stretched by her smile. She squealed again as soap bubbles filled the air, trying to catch them with tiny, uncoordinated half-jumps, unaware of the iridescent globes settling all over her arms.

My heart swelled with a joy so potent it almost hurt, and I swore it again: I’ll keep this day for myself.

But the next morning Gina woke up sobbing, with a temperature so high she was hot to the touch. I had to beg the doctor to let me bring her in. He was busy, but he relented; I always paid on time.

It was, as I had feared, strep throat. I looked at the antibiotics prescription, which included the price, and knew the day at the fair was already gone.


(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 727: And Never Mind the Watching Ones (Part 2 of 2)


And Never Mind the Watching Ones

(Part 2 of 2)

By Keffy Kehrli

(Continued from Part 1, Escape Pod 726…)

Of course, if someone were systematically scrubbing the Internet of all references to the glitter frogs, then how do you explain the Tumblr gif sets? The audio recordings? The videos that don’t involve illegal firecrackers and animal cruelty?

Surely someone would have taken down the space frog conspiracy theory site designed by a person with only a very cursory understanding of HTML?

The site has a star field background with red, white, and blue text. The only thing less systematic than the wildly varying font size is the capitalization, which seems to occur at random.

tHe FRogS ArE NOT alIeNS, ThEY are GOveRnmENT sPiES!

DO NoT leT TheM FOOL yOU!

i HaVE THE uLTiMatE PrOoF thAt THE sHIp iN oRbIT iS FAkE

tHeRE ARE NO aLiENs

tHAt iS whAt THEY WanT YOu tO BeLiEVE

cIA and FbI haVE bEEN tRYinG tO ShUT Me uP FoR YEARS

NsA iS UsInG FROGs tO ImPLAnt TheIR InSTRUctiOnS In YoUR ChilDRenS MInDS

We MuST RISE UP BeFoRE iT iS TOo LaTE!!!

 

And so on…

This site has been up for at least a year now. If these sites were under surveillance, don’t you think it’d be down already? (Continue Reading…)