Archive for 13 and Up

EP371: A Querulous Flute of Bone


A Querulous Flute of Bone

by Cat Rambo

Wherever, whenever wealth accumulates enough to create the idle, one finds those who collect things.

Such collections vary. Some catalog every cast off bit of flesh or chitin they shed. Others look outside themselves for art, or titillation, or an oblivion in which they can forget everyday life.

Collections may consist of the most mundane objects: string, or chewed up paper, or broken teacups, for example. Or they can take on outré forms: dioramas made of nihlex bone (considered contraband in certain areas), or squares of cloth exposed to the Smog, prized for the oracular patterns of dirt left deposited on the fabric, or the tiny aluminum snowflakes said to have fallen into the world during an Opening over a century ago.

Aaben was such a collector. S/he was one of the geniod, whose gender varies according to mood, location, and other private considerations, and who are known, in the face of great trauma, to forget who they are and become entirely different personalities, their old selves never to be resumed or spoken of. Some races adulate them for this, while others mock them. Such excesses of reaction have driven the geniod to keep to themselves, not by law, but preference.

Aaben was an oddity in its own preferences, for it was willing to travel, to go farther than most of its race, driven by the desire to augment its collection, choosing to focus only on its quest.

The items it sought, ranging up and down the Tube in expeditions funded by two sets of indulgent grandparents and a much less indulgent set of parents, were things that could be considered metaphors for the world and the state of those in it. In this pursuit, it followed the strictures of the philosopher-king Nackle, who described the emotions that such objects evoked in the beholder in one five hundred page monograph, and the intellectual effect of such exposure in a second, even longer work, followed by a six volume set of explanatory footnotes and addendums. (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 369: Passengers

Show Notes

Rated 13 and over for sexual innuendo


Passengers

By Robert Silverberg

There are only fragments of me left now. Chunks of memory have broken free and drifted away like calved glaciers. It is always 
like that when a Passenger leaves us. We can never be sure of all the things our borrowed bodies did. We have only the lingering traces, 
the imprints.

Like sand clinging to an ocean-tossed bottle. Like the throbbings of amputated legs.

I rise. I collect myself. My hair is rumpled; I comb it. My face is creased from too little sleep. There is sourness in my mouth. Has my Passenger been eating dung with my mouth? They do that. They do anything.

It is morning.

A gray, uncertain morning. I stare at it awhile, and then, shuddering, I opaque the window and confront instead the gray, uncertain surface of the inner panel. My room looks untidy. Did I have a woman here? There are ashes in the trays. Searching for butts, I find several with lipstick stains. Yes, a woman was here.

I touched the bedsheets. Still warm with shared warmth. Both 
pillows tousled. She has gone, though, and the Passenger is gone, and I am alone.

How long did it last, this time? (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 366: Some of Them Closer

Show Notes

Rated 13 and up


Some of Them Closer

by Marissa Lingen

Coming back to Earth was not the immediate shock they expected it to be for me. It was something, certainly, but I’d been catching up on the highlights of the news as it cascaded back to the ship on our relativistic return trip, and I never knew the island where we landed, when we left home twenty of our years ago and a hundred of theirs, so I expected it to look foreign to me, and it did. The sun was a little yellower than on New Landing, the plants friendlier.

But I never thought of myself as an Earther. Even with the new system, hardly any of us do. I thought of myself as from Montreal. Quebecoise. Canadian, even. But Earther? No. I am far more provincial than the colonists whose home I built will ever be.

I flew into the new place instead of Dorval. It looked like Dorval used to. It looked nearly exactly like Dorval used to, and I had a twinge of discomfort. The floors were curiously springy, though, which made me feel like something was different, and that was reassuring. There isn’t an Old Spacers’ Legion or anything like that to meet people like me coming in from off-planet–they did that on the little Brazilian island where we landed–but there was a department for Cultural Integration, meant for people traveling from elsewhere on Earth. They assigned me to a representative of the government, who greeted me in a French whose accent was nearly my own. To my ear it sounded more English, with the round vowels, but even with the new system I thought it might be rude to say that to a Quebecoise.

The English-sounding French-speaker gave me a key to the four-room apartment they’d gotten me, not far from the Guy-Concordia Metro station. I told her I could take the Metro to it, but she smiled and said no, they’d have to get my things out of storage for me anyway. So we did that. There were only three boxes. Once you do the math on what will keep for a hundred years, it’s a lot easier to give away the things you can’t take with you. I gave them to my sister, who died, and whatever was left, she probably gave to her son, who had also died, or her daughter, who was retired and living comfortably in Senegal last I heard. So what I had left myself fit in three small plastic boxes, all labeled “Mireille Ayotte NL000014.”

(Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 364: Techno-Rat

Show Notes

Rated 13 and up for language


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…)

Escape Pod 361: Ashes on the Water

Show Notes

Rated 13 and up


Ashes on the Water

By Gwendolyn Clare

I hoped that Ranjeet’s friends were as disreputable as promised.  Ranjeet himself was late, of course.  I’d asked him to park his car out on the road and meet me behind the house–my cousin is, shall we say, out of favor, and I couldn’t afford to get caught with him.  So I sat on the dry, cracked ground in the shadow of the house, waiting where Father wouldn’t think to look for me.  A meter away, heat rose off the sun-baked earth, wavering like water, as if the dormant land dreamed of monsoon season.  I shut my eyes against the image.  For years now, each summer has come harsher than the last.

Soft footsteps in the dirt, and Ranjeet strolled around the corner of the house, calling, “You’ll never make it across the border, kid.”

I stood up and brushed the dust off my jeans, annoyed. Seventeen and he still calls me a kid.  “Why don’t you say that a little louder?  I don’t think the neighbors could hear you clearly.”

The closest neighbors live on the other side of a one-hectare vacant field that used to be the mango grove, before the mango trees withered.  I used to sit on Father’s shoulders to help with the harvest when I was small.  He keeps saying we’re going to replant the grove, but nobody’s all that eager to dig up the dead roots.

Ranjeet folded his arms and leaned back against the side of the house.  “You know it’s true.”

“Did you get the papers for me, or not?”

He pulled a thick envelope out of the inner pocket of his cream-colored sportcoat, but he held on to it, turning it over in his hands.  “What are you planning to do, smuggle it in your shoes? You’re going to get caught.” (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 360: Follow That Cathedral!

Show Notes

Rated 13 and up


Follow that Cathedral!

By Gareth Owens

…and with that Pixie dived from the open door of the Zeppelin. The air around her suddenly becoming liquid, rushing over the smooth leather of her helmet and bringing tears to her eyes.

“Always some bloody thing!” she grinned into the gale, falling headlong towards the welcoming embraces of Mother Earth and Mother Russia below.

Siberian night enveloped her, storm filled frozen darkness, cloud shrouded full moon, and below, the steam powered lightning of The Iron Czar. A hissing, glowing, monster of a train, three storeys high, and even longer than the leviathan Fourteen Bags of Mischief hanging above.

Pixie saw the orange furnaces erupting sparks through the twin stacks, as if Hephaestus himself stoked on the imperial railways. (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 359: Chasers

Show Notes

Rated 13 and up


Chasers

By Scott W. Baker

Sebastian’s organs squeezed into his pelvis as he accelerated past point-one.  He had a good feeling this time.  This catch was going to be his.

He could see his objective ahead of him, the enormous Drifter-class colony ship Calypso barreling through space on her inertial journey from Earth to Terra III.  Since she carried no fuel for deceleration, Calypso would travel through space forever without Chasers like Sebastian.  It was the job of a Chaser to run down Drifters and fill their tanks.  The job had sounded easy when he signed with Mulligan Mining eight months ago.  But despite nine arrivals since then, Sebastian has not made one catch.

Calypso was a slow Drifter at a mere point-13 c.  Surely he could catch that.  His Skeeter was designed to reach point-2, faster and more maneuverable than any other company’s ships.  Yet what advantages Skeeters held in speed and agility they sacrificed in capacity.  Even if he caught the Drifter, it took a total of three Skeeters to fill her.

Sebastian ran a scan of Calypso.  Leonard was already docked.  That was too fast for him to have waited for the Drifter’s beacon; he must have taken his Skeeter out without confirmation a Drifter was coming in.  Lucky.  Blind patrols were expensive gambles, especially on a Chaser’s budget.  The exorbitant price of fuel on Earth was the primary reason Drifter-class colonizers dominated the colonization market, and a booming fuel industry made Terra III the most popular destination.  Like most things, it boiled down to money. (Continue Reading…)

Escape Pod 358: Like a Hawk in its Gyre

Show Notes

Rated 15 and up for language


Like a Hawk in Its Gyre

By Philip Brewer

The bicycle noticed someone was following before Kurt did. Watching for a tail was a habit he’d finally broken himself of, but not before the bicycle’s impressionable brain had picked it up. Its low warning hum sent a thrill of adrenaline through him, giving power to the part of his brain that wanted him to sprint away.

Kurt glanced back down the single track. The trees were already beginning to turn fall colors around the edges of the forest, but here along the narrow trail the foliage was green and thick. Resisting the urge to pick up the pace, he continued on, looking back when he could take his eyes off the trail, and after a few moments caught sight of what the bicycle had seen.

“It’s just another cyclist,” Kurt said, reaching down to pat the bicycle’s yellow-and-black, hornet-striped frame. The bicycle didn’t understand–its brain was small and lacked the regions for understanding speech–but Kurt’s tone of voice calmed it and the warning hum grew softer and less anxious.

The end of the trail, a scenic overlook above the Vermillion River, was not far ahead, but the overtaking bicyclist was approaching even faster. The polite thing to do would be to find a place to pull off the trail and let the cyclist past. But there were no surveillance devices in the forest, and Kurt couldn’t face meeting someone out of sight of some sort of watching eyes. At just the thought of it, his adrenaline surged again.

Letting his brain chemistry have its way with him, Kurt leaned low over his handlebars and pedaled hard. (Continue Reading…)