Archive for 13 and Up

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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 765: Tru Luv


Tru Luv

By Sarah Pinsker

The first three Tru fanatics were already waiting outside Meetspace when Molly arrived to open the bar. They were easy to recognize, pushing up their winter coats’ sleeves and glancing at the insides of their wrists every two seconds instead of their phones, each hoping for their algorithm-matched Prince or Princess or Princex to cross into range and light up their implant.

For all that Molly thought the implants were a scam, she appreciated that they broke people of obsessive phone-checking, at least a tiny bit. It was actually part of the marketing pitch: “Put your phone away and make a commitment. This isn’t social media; it’s Tru Luv.” She was still amazed that so many had taken them up on it, but, then again, she hadn’t gotten into bartending for her ability to understand people.

“Your group isn’t even supposed to be here until seven thirty,” Molly told them. “And we don’t open until six tonight.”

“It IS six,” the tall one said. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 763: No Spaceship Go


No Spaceship Go

By Annie Bellet

The boys lay on their backs side by side staring up through the open roof of the abandoned building. Dylan clutched Meek’s hand in anticipation as the ground shook and a roar filled the air. Tiny pebbles danced up from the ground around them and dust ran like water off the crumbling walls.

“Ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five,” Dylan whispered, “four… three… two… one.”

The shaking increased and he had to release Meek’s hand to shade his eyes. Smoke billowed up into the air, a streak of fire ahead of it. Then the true sonic blast of the rocketship hit them in a wave as the boys squinted to make out the ship speeding through the atmosphere. It sounded like the crackling of a hundred fires, or perhaps the blast of the biggest blowtorch Dylan could imagine.

Meek whooped and crawled to his knees, staring up into the sky.

“Do you think that’s the one we’ll be on someday?” he asked Dylan.

Dylan rolled to his side and propped himself up on one arm. Dust had accumulated on Meek’s round, tan cheeks and Dylan fought the urge to wipe it away.

“Nah, by the time we’ve saved enough to get our home on Elle Four, the ships’ll all be new I bet. We’ll ride on a superfast one for sure.”

“I want to grow peppers.” Meek smiled up at Dylan, his crooked teeth warping the line of his chapped lips.

“What kind of peppers?” Dylan grinned back. They’d had variations of this conversation before and Dylan didn’t pay much attention to Meek as the boy launched into his usual daydream about gardens and pepper plants.

Dylan daydreamed about something else entirely as he fixated on Meek’s lips, his eyes drifting to the dimple in his friend’s left cheek. He didn’t notice at first that Meek had stopped talking and instead stared up at him with those dark, nearly pupil-less eyes.

“Oh, hmm? I’m sorry.” Dylan murmured.

“Pebble for your thoughts?” Meek smiled again. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 761: Jolene


Jolene

by Fiona Moore

“I’ve got a case for you,” said Detective Inspector Wilhemine FitzJames. “It’s a country singer whose wife, dog and truck have all left him.”

“Seriously,” she said, after my unprintable reply. “The dog died and there’s nothing much you can do about the wife, but I thought you might be able to help with the truck.”

I leaned back in my reasonably-priced office chair so I could see the screen better. “So, you want me to try and patch things up between them? Bit outside my usual remit.”

The hand-lettered card under the buzzer downstairs read DOCTOR NOAH MOYO, CONSULTANT AUTOLOGIST, and I usually had to explain that to the uninitiated as “like a cross between a psychologist and a social worker, only for cars and other intelligent Things.” Wills, though, had been working for the London Metropolitan Police’s automotive crime unit for much longer than I’d been in practice, and was more likely to ask if you specialised in criminal, restorative, therapeutic or developmental autology, and if your clients were primarily cars, bots, or home appliances.

“Not sure you can.” On screen, Wills shook her mane of locs. “The truck has been ignoring all communications, and doesn’t seem likely to agree to mediation. I was brought into the case because the fellow turned up at the station reporting an automotive kidnap, but it didn’t take long to establish that the truck had left him and was working for a new user. Voluntarily.”

“As is his legal right,” I said, “Hers? Its?”

“Hers. Texcoco pickup. Name of Jolene.”

The name rang a bell, and, tediously, sparked an earworm. I told my inner Dolly Parton to get knotted. “If she didn’t violate the terms of her contract, she’s free to leave and work for someone else.”

“That’s what I told him,” Wills said. “But he’s having trouble coming to terms with it. Kept claiming she’d been kidnapped. Got upset when we repeatedly told him that the police can’t investigate a crime that isn’t a crime. I thought maybe you might be able to help. Either patch things up between the two of them, or help him understand and move on.”

“Okay,” I said. I hadn’t had many cases recently, and was also hoping to move on, to an office that wasn’t deep within an old industrial park and shared with a local construction and demolition company. Maybe print out some furniture that was more comfortable than it was reasonably priced. “Tell him my fees, give him my address and suggest he makes an appointment.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 760: Deepster Punks


Deepster Punks

by Maria Haskins

Surface

The animated tattoos on Jacob’s skin glimmer in the dark water, words and images swarming over his skin, bright and luminous, before they fade away again.

“Don’t you dare die on me.” I’m holding his head above the waves, but his naked body is cold and slick and heavy in my grip. By now, I should be able to see the lights of the ocean platform, but there’s nothing, only darkness above and below, no horizon separating them. I unseal the mask of my thermal-suit so I can talk to him, even though I’m not sure he can even hear me anymore. “You’re one lucky bastard, you know. If the Company had sent us anywhere else in the system and you pulled this kind of stunt, you’d be dead already.”

It’s true. Beneath the icy mantle of Ceres, in the 10 K depths of Enceladus, he’d be dead for sure. In the sub-surface ocean of Ganymede, or in the tidal-flexing waters of Europa, he’d be dead-dead-dead. Dead like Petra. But he’s here, on Earth, with me, and he’s alive.

Stay alive, Jacob. Please.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 759: The Sun From Both Sides (Part 3 of 3)


The Sun From Both Sides (Part 3 of 3)

By R.S.A. Garcia

(Continued from Part 2 – Escape Pod episode 758)

“Grandmaster Lucochin.”

He started awake, his hand tightening on something. Someone.

The Knight hung motionless over him. He had it by the throat, his fingers digging into the soft flesh beneath the golden full mask and its red speaker.

A gold mask. A Knight of the Royal Sept Valencia. He released the Knight and it straightened, showing no sign that he had almost throttled it in his sleep.

His sleep. He’d fallen asleep.

He looked down at the empty sheets beside him and sucked in a breath. The Knight took a step back as he swung his legs onto the floor.

“Where is my wife?” he ground out, his voice harsh with sleep and fear.

“Grandmaster Valencia awaits you in the Audience Room.”

Where is my wife?

The Knight crossed its arms over bare breasts, the only outward reaction to his inexcusable rudeness.

“Grandmaster Valencia awaits you,” the Knight repeated. The rainbow colors of the three-dimensional dodecahedron crest of Sept Valencia covered most of its forearm.

His blood was ice in his veins as he swiftly pulled on his boots. There was no sign Eva had ever been there. Her shoes were gone, the trays of food had been removed and only one mask remained on the table. His heart stuttered when he laid eyes on it, his lungs refusing to draw air. Then he took a breath and let the old calm, the old watchfulness, settle around him. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 758: The Sun From Both Sides (Part 2 of 3)


The Sun From Both Sides (Part 2 of 3)

By R.S.A. Garcia

(Continued from Part 1 – Escape Pod episode 757)

Once, a man left his home to find his home.

It was not an easy journey, but going home never is.

He gave up all that he was, and all he knew, to experience a great many things. Genuine smiles and thoughtless malice. Shared purpose and individual failure.

And one bright day, in the middle of a river, he found peace. The first true peace in his long life. He learned that a home could be shared, and that in finding his home, he’d become another’s. That was more than enough to bury the fears and chase away the memories. More than enough to keep the world and its cares far, far away.

Until the day he came home, and the world was sitting at their table, brushing invisible dust from white diaphanous trousers with immaculately trimmed and painted fingers. The Knight rose from the wooden chair it had been seated on, the smooth white surface of its full-mask catching the evening light. A pin-hole speaker made a glowing blue circle in the centre of the lower half of the mask, and tinted slits hid the Knight’s eyes. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 757: The Sun From Both Sides (Part 1 of 3)


The Sun From Both Sides (Part 1 of 3)

By R.S.A. Garcia

Once, a woman loved a man, and a man loved a woman.

They lived in a forest, in a small stone-grey hut, set far enough back from a river to escape the seasonal floods. Every day, they woke on a too-soft mattress and turned their faces to each other before they opened their eyes. Her smile would curve her lips as she lay her hand on his cheek, and he would sigh and nuzzle her palm.

Then they would roll away and sit up on either side of the low bed and push their feet into their shoes.

Days were short and cool, or long and hot, but there was always something to do. Firewood to chop, the roof to repair, a garden to tend. They carried out their chores accompanied by his tuneless humming, and when she looked at him, he always knew. They would pause, gazes locked as they took a breath, hands wiping sweaty foreheads, or resting on bent knees, before they both went back to what they were doing.

Nights were for dinner, and fireside reading, and sitting with their shoulders touching on the wooden swing-bench outside the creaky front door as they stared up at the patches of sky visible between the swaying branches. He would use his legs to push them back and forth slowly while she sat with her knees drawn up. Sometimes she let her head rest against his neck, and sometimes he put his head in her lap. Other times, he would play his flute while she lay her hand on his chest and her head on his shoulder. If she fell asleep, he would carry her inside without waking her.

When they fought, with air sucked through teeth, hands on hips and narrowed eyes, it was usually over small things, like whose turn it was to clean up. But they made up quickly, with soft kisses, fingers interlaced as they walked, and bodies entwined at night. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 755: Consolidation


Consolidation

By Langley Hyde

Lot 1796. Adult. Human. Female bodied. Standard limbs/digits. Immune/health function: class 7, can accommodate high-risk activity. Personality type: reactive/adaptive, ideal for customer service/high-level social interaction. Age: 0. Accident history: 0. Memory: N/A.

Sold.

Wake. Woken. Up. Upload. Connecting… connecting… Social/verbal package received. Movement package, received. Cognitive protocol, received. Download updates? Updating…

Installation complete.

I am. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 754: Where They Keep Their Promises


Where They Keep Their Promises

By B. Pladek

I imagine you eating the chocolate bar.

It will arrive tomorrow, I hope, though the war has disrupted the medrunners’ routes between Chicago and London. It will arrive, though. I promise.

I imagine you unwrapping it, double-checking the forged postmark from your old orphanage, the forged note that says only happy birthday, since I never learned your real name. You’ll guess it’s chocolate, though it’s so expensive you’ve never tasted it before. Only copywrit people can afford chocolate.

The thought gives me pause. You believe I’m copywrit now, and I’m the only person who has ever bought you sweets. If you guess the bar is from me, you might throw it away.

Promise me, Fi. Promise me you’ll eat it.

I look up, away from the cartel’s sleek chemlab, and out over the Chicago skyline, hazy with sunset.

How dare you, you might reply if you were here. How dare you make me promise you anything. (Continue Reading…)