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Archive for 13 and Up

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Escape Pod 834: Anticipation of Hollowness


Anticipation of Hollowness

by Renan Bernardo

Having an obsolete best friend meant I had to put up with constant warnings about her plight.
“Software needs to be updated,” Lyria said and stopped abruptly on our way to the Algae on Wheels. Her hands slumped and stiffened against her sides. “Software will shut down unless updated.” A few meters ahead, the floating algaewich rickshaw honked twice, announcing its imminent departure.

“Well, Lyria,” I said, chuckling, “you’re way too predictable. Have I told you?” I waved to Roberto, the algaewich vendor. He was gliding the rickshaw away across the street. Its buffed surface reflected the rosy skies giving way to the darkness of night. Roberto flashed a wide smile when he saw me. He steered the Algae on Wheels into a parking area designated for bicycles, rickshaws, and the like.

“Janet, about predictability, I would like to—”

“Shush, friend. There’s our man.”

I ran. Lyria followed me as she always did. Her feet clanked unevenly on the asphalt.

It tastes like algae, but it’s hidden among slices of bread! advertised a small hologram floating in blue and yellow around the roof of the Algae on Wheels, sometimes crossing through the round solar panel on it.

Lyria tried to keep up with me, but her legs were old, marred by time and use, unable to run without making her look like an unwieldy dancer. Nothing about her age was new for me. Her alerts had been warning me about her obsolescence for more than two years.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 833: The Heroine Kokofe


The Heroine Kokofe

By Ife J. Ibitayo

Kokofe awoke an hour before dawn, crusty-eyed and groggy. She wobbled to her feet and washed her face. Her simuclip projected her reflection before her eyes.

Already dressed, her pink all-weather blouse draped over her delicate frame. Her bird-thin cheek bones jutted out of her light brown face. The glow from the simuclip in her hair coated her skin in an unearthly off-white haze. She brushed her teeth and applied some blush. Don’t want to look like a ghost before I hunt a demon, she thought wryly. At least that was what Agba ceremonies used to be about, killing the demon without to put to death the demon lurking within.

Much to her surprise, the pleasant aroma of frying sweet potato wafted into her bedroom. She hefted her backpack and stepped out of her room.

“It’s been a long time since you cooked,” Kokofe said as she took a seat at their dining table.

Baba stood over a frying pan simmering on their portastove. “It’s time I remember how to. You won’t be in our home much longer.”

Kokofe bit her lip. “Yeah.”

Baba finished scraping the fried potato slices onto a plate and glanced at Kokofe. “None of that, Koko. Today is a glorious day for our tribe. I even trimmed my beard for the occasion.” He stroked his salt-and-pepper goatee, and Kokofe couldn’t help but laugh. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 827: The Wrong Side of the Sky


The Wrong Side of the Sky

By Raymond Roach

There’s an old woman who lives in the desert, and who has lived in the desert a very long time. So, too, have her people, but many of them have gone, while she remains. She’s old enough that she should have a child on her back, or even a grandchild, but she doesn’t. When she was a girl, her people crossed the desert back and forth in an intricate network of traveling families, constantly intersecting; so many of them are gone, now, that the old woman can spend days at a time in perfect solitude without ever seeing another traveler cross the horizon, much less her own path.

So she flies alone, the fat brown barrel of her body slung easily between wide black wings, over the desert. It isn’t an endless desert, but it’s broad enough that even from the thin cold ceiling of the sky, this woman can’t see the edges. What she’s looking for—what she finds—are the far-flung speckles of green that make constellations of the smooth and trackless sands, those points which turn a formless emptiness into meaningful space.
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Escape Pod 825: Fourth Nail


Fourth Nail

By Mur Lafferty

Regina Phillips’ job on the orbital station God’s Eye was that of a nighttime systems engineer. She had to warm her desk chair and make sure nothing broke. It was the highest paying, most boring job around. So she sat in shocked silence for a good minute when the red alert hit.

She didn’t even know the cloning lab had an alert system. It was hard to have an emergency involving minds that were backed up and bodies that were ultimately renewable. Still, there it was, a red glow around her monitor as the words “UNAUTHORIZED TRANSMISSION” blinked over and over again.

Around her, cloning vats filled the lab, each waiting for the command to start growing a new body for a dying clone. One clone in the far end vat was nearly done, but Regina didn’t recognize the face. She wasn’t a tech responsible for dealing with the actual vats, just the computer systems. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 823: Build-A-Body


Build-A-Body

By Avi Burton

When I was eighteen, I ordered a body off the internet. It was actually kind of easy.

I was old enough to remember when the first successful human transfer was performed— the consciousness of a paralyzed young man was dropped into a lab-grown body, appropriately nicknamed ‘Adam’. Scientists thought it would change the world. Politicians and preachers thought it would end the world. For a while, every pundit and their mother were convinced that we’d be walking around with chips in our brains, swapping bodies left and right. But as it turned out (as it almost always turns out), the reality was much more mundane. Full-body transference was limited to extreme medical cases and the occasional desperate celebrity. The world’s governments stuck enough red tape on it to dye the whole operation a bloody mess, and most people left well enough alone.

Theoretically, for transgender people with severe dysphoria, full-body transference was an option. There was a waitlist and everything. I’d been on it for eighteen months, trying to get a consultation. With my day job at the DMV, I was intimately familiar with the aching slog of bureaucracy, and had long since given up on making progress with transitioning, full-body or not. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 821: Payday Weather


Payday Weather

By Matthew Claxton

We wound our way up the curving canyon roads in overloaded pickups and hatchbacks, corners taken too fast, sagging bumpers kissing asphalt, engines redlining from effort and heat. Our procession passed an exodus going the other way — sleek luxury EVs and fat-tired cargo haulers — heading for safety, away from the hills and the scrub and the smell of smoke on the wind. We were happy, arms hanging out of windows, slapping time to the songs on the speakers. From behind the wrought-iron gates of a mansion, a sleek couple looked up from overseeing their packing and stared.

“Could fucking smile,” Kerry said. “We’re here to save their shit.”

I leaned out the window of Kerry’s ancient Nissan and took in a lungful of dry air. There was the familiar SoCal hydrocarbon and ozone reek, but underneath that was the taste of dust scoured from high mountain passes, of charred pine and scorched chaparral.

The Santa Ana winds were dancing out of the desert. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 819: Christmas at the Hilbert Astoria (Part 2)


Christmas at the Hilbert Astoria (Part 2 of 2)

by Sam Schreiber

“So. Let me get this straight,” Madeline said as Nick pressed a warm compress to his forehead. “Your room attacked you.”

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Escape Pod 818: Christmas at the Hilbert Astoria (Part 1)


Christmas at the Hilbert Astoria (Part 1 of 2)

by Sam Schreiber

“You’ll have to forgive the delay,” the concierge told Nick, smiling conspiratorially over the Talathello marble counter. “It’s our busiest time of the year.”

The hospitality program punctuated the nonsensical assertion with a knowing wink.

“Can’t imagine that joke ever gets old,” Nick said, tucking his hands into his red flannel overcoat and rocking on the heels of his black workman’s boots. The concierge’s static-gray face went blank for a moment as more sober-minded algorithms kicked in.

Booking a room at the Hilbert Astoria was, by definition, always possible. But booking the right room could be a slippery proposition. The Vice Regent of Svartalfheim had spent a month waiting for the palatial suite he’d demanded, or so Nick had heard.

Nick’s own requirements, while nowhere near as extravagant, were exacting in their own way. Though of course, he hadn’t been a guest at the Hilbert since before his face had been splashed across Coca-Cola’s 1933 advertising campaign. Nick suspected things had changed since then.

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Escape Pod 813: A Consideration of Trees


A Consideration of Trees

By Beth Cato

As a xenoarbitrator, I was accustomed to working with concepts and situations deemed peculiar by most of humanity. Often, though, my own species confounded me most of all.

“I fear you misunderstood my advertisement.” I stood in Mari Kane’s miniscule parlor on Bradbury Orbital Station. My felizard partner, Petey, twitched in his nest atop my silvering crown braids. “I usually mediate between different species. You need a private investigator to look into a suspicious death–”

“Rainbow Charm Corporation owns the local investigators. Madam Alameda, you’re from off station. I couldn’t find any corporate affiliations in your history. You’re the independent investigator I want to hire.” A pleading note crept into her voice.

“I appreciate your confidence in me, but–”

“Bradbury Orbital is property of Rainbow Charm.” Petey spoke directly into my mind via our neural bond, his four-inch-long body flexing as he hummed in thought. “That’s a Thrassi-owned firm. This could be a cultural misunderstanding.”

“–this still isn’t my purview,” I finished, speaking aloud to both of them at once. “I study stories, new and old, and use them to bridge misunderstandings between different kinds of lifeforms. If you had a Murkle as your neighbor, for instance, who began screaming nonstop if rain lasted for more than a day, I could explain why and advise the Murkle on more appropriate responses.”

Honestly, I would have preferred to work with a screaming Murkle about then. Humans had been decisively immoral in every one of my recent jobs–cruel to fellow humans, and other kinds of life, too. Jaded as I felt, I had to wonder what crime her husband had committed to end up dead. (Continue Reading…)

Black Future Month

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Escape Pod 807: T _ ME


T _ ME

By Alex Jennings

The portable classroom was larger than Joan Ellen had expected. Lit from overhead with fluorescent lights and busy with seventh-grade artwork, it smelled of chalk dust, old books, and refrigerated air. It reminded Joan Ellen of home. These days, most everything reminded Joan Ellen of home – or at least how far she was from it. She tried to pay attention, but now Joan felt the yawning chasm of distance, the thousands upon thousands of miles between Tunis and DC.

“I’ll put this as simply as I can,” Mrs. Thornton said. “Patrick is a brilliant boy.”

Liz Thornton was Patrick’s homeroom teacher. She was a heavy-set fortyish woman with close-cropped brown hair and a mouth that bunched up at the corners. Like many of the teachers here at ACST, Mrs. Thornton had come overseas with the Peace Corps, married, and stayed.

“I had a hard time getting through to him in our first few weeks together,” Mrs. Thornton said, “but I think his last essay assignment represents a breakthrough. He – I have it here.”

The teacher opened a manila folder on her desk blotter and handed Joan a short typed manuscript crawling with red pen marks.

Joan Ellen frowned as her eyes slid over the heading at the top of the page:

What Comes After Science? (Continue Reading…)