Archive for 10 and Up

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Escape Pod 747: Flash from the Vault


Flash from the Vault

Host commentary by S. B. Divya

Hi there and welcome to the third and final term of Escape Pod’s Summer School, where we post some of our favorite flash fiction from the vault with a new perspective. I’m Divya, co-editor of the pod, and your instructor for this class. This episode also concludes our Summer Flashback series. We’ll be back next week with the best in original and reprint science fiction.

Today, I bring you three flash episodes from long, long ago. First up is “Standards,” by Richard K. Lyon, then we have “Paradox,” by Scott Janssens, and finally, “Stuck In An Elevator With Mandy Patinkin,” by Kitty Myers. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 746: The ’76 Goldwater Dime (Summer Flashback)


The ’76 Goldwater Dime

by John Medaille

I started in 1962, that’s when I became a numismatist. You know what that is? It’s the study of… well, it’s not the study of anything. It’s coin collecting, is what it is.

I was ten in 1962, and Christmas I got my first coin album. I didn’t actually get it. My father gave it to my brother. It was, you know, you’ve seen them, a sturdy cardboard folder with slots punched out that you put the coins in. Behind the slots, the empties, it had a backing of blue felt, I remember that. My dad gave it to my brother, I guess maybe thinking it would straighten him out. But coins, you know, they don’t really have that power. He wasn’t interested. He gave it to me. Me, I was interested.

The album was for Lincoln pennies, 1909 to 1959. I had five cents in the world then and each of the five fit in the slot. It only took me five more days to get the other forty-five. I would do anything for those pennies and slot it in its slot. Anything, anything. When I got my last penny, wow. It was a 1943 steel mint penny, a ‘steelie.’ They had to use steel instead of copper that year cause they needed the copper for all the bombs. I was so proud.

From then on it was just coins for me. My life was coins. I was hooked. They had their hooks in me, boy.

When I was just seventeen I moved by myself down to Washington, DC, cause I got a job there in a coin shop. That was my education. I lived in a one room dungeon in a crumby neighborhood, I loved coins that much.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 745: Immersion (Summer Flashback)


Immersion

By Aliette de Bodard

In the morning, you’re no longer quite sure who you are.

You stand in front of the mirror–it shifts and trembles, reflecting only what you want to see–eyes that feel too wide, skin that feels too pale, an odd, distant smell wafting from the compartment’s ambient system that is neither incense nor garlic, but something else, something elusive that you once knew.

You’re dressed, already–not on your skin, but outside, where it matters, your avatar sporting blue and black and gold, the stylish clothes of a well-traveled, well-connected woman. For a moment, as you turn away from the mirror, the glass shimmers out of focus; and another woman in a dull silk gown stares back at you: smaller, squatter and in every way diminished–a stranger, a distant memory that has ceased to have any meaning.

Quy was on the docks, watching the spaceships arrive. She could, of course, have been anywhere on Longevity Station, and requested the feed from the network to be patched to her router–and watched, superimposed on her field of vision, the slow dance of ships slipping into their pod cradles like births watched in reverse. But there was something about standing on the spaceport’s concourse–a feeling of closeness that she just couldn’t replicate by standing in Golden Carp Gardens or Azure Dragon Temple. Because here–here, separated by only a few measures of sheet metal from the cradle pods, she could feel herself teetering on the edge of the vacuum, submerged in cold and breathing in neither air nor oxygen. She could almost imagine herself rootless, finally returned to the source of everything.

Most ships those days were Galactic–you’d have thought Longevity’s ex-masters would have been unhappy about the station’s independence, but now that the war was over Longevity was a tidy source of profit. The ships came; and disgorged a steady stream of tourists–their eyes too round and straight, their jaws too square; their faces an unhealthy shade of pink, like undercooked meat left too long in the sun. They walked with the easy confidence of people with immersers: pausing to admire the suggested highlights for a second or so before moving on to the transport station, where they haggled in schoolbook Rong for a ride to their recommended hotels–a sickeningly familiar ballet Quy had been seeing most of her life, a unison of foreigners descending on the station like a plague of centipedes or leeches. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 743: Flash From the Vault


Flash From the Vault

Hello and welcome to Escape Pod Summer School, where we post some of our favorite episodes from the vault with a new perspective. I’m your assistant editor and teacher for this class, Benjamin C. Kinney, and I’ve got three flash episodes from long, long ago. We bring you “Paul Bunyan and the Photocopier” by Larry Hammer, “Beachcomber” by Mike Resnick, and “Semi-Autonomous: or, For Whom the Warranty Tolls” by Jim Kling. (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 723: How Did it Feel to be Eaten?


How Did it Feel to be Eaten?

By Amit Gupta

“I was an elderberry,” I announced, glowing with pride.

“How did it feel to be eaten?” he asked.

It seemed an odd question, but a response came unbidden, so I voiced it, “It was an honor.” My words surprised me, but they felt true.

“The Queen of England ate me,” I added. How did I know this? Who was he? My cheeks flushed with embarrassment. I didn’t feel like a berry. Did berries feel embarrassed?

“I didn’t know she was the Queen at the time,” I admitted.

“Yes,” agreed the man who I could not see and did not know. “Let’s try another.”

I was in again and felt immensely powerful. I sparkled in the sun. The land beneath me rose, I stood, and I felt a caress on my shoulder. A child. We danced. I rolled, crested, and rumbled; she banked and cut on her board, gliding gracefully along me, her speed blowing droplets of me right off her wetsuit. We became one.

We reached the shore, and I crumbled, making room for others like me, and others like her.

That was a short one. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 712: When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis

Show Notes

“When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis” was initially created as part of Future Tense Fiction, a project of Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination and Slate magazine’s Future Tense channel.

East St. Louis was built on top of an ancient indigenous city called Cahokia. The people who lived there a thousand years ago were big fans of birds.


When Robot and Crow Saved East St. Louis

by Annalee Newitz

It was time to start the weekly circuit. Robot leapt vertically into the air from its perch atop the History Museum in Forest Park, rotors humming and limbs withdrawn into the smooth oval of its chassis. From a distance, it was a pale blue flying egg, slightly scuffed, with a propeller beanie on top. Two animated eyes glowed from the front end of its smooth carapace like emotive headlights. When it landed, all four legs and head extended from portals in its protective shell, the drone was more like a strangely symmetrical poodle or a cartoon turtle. Mounted on an actuator, its full face was revealed, headlight eyes situated above a short, soft snout whose purple mouth was built for smiling, grimacing, and a range of other, more subtle expressions.

The Centers for Disease Control team back in Atlanta designed Robot to be cute, to earn people’s trust immediately. To catch epidemics before they started, Robot flew from building to building, talking to people about how they felt. Nobody wanted to chat with an ugly box. Robot behaved like a cheery little buddy, checking for sick people. That’s how Robot’s admin Bey taught Robot to say it: “Checking for sick people.” Bey’s job was to program Robot with the social skills necessary to avoid calling it health surveillance.

Robot liked to start with the Loop. Maybe “like” was the wrong word. It was an urge that came from Robot’s mapping system, which webbed the St. Louis metropolitan area in a grid where 0,0 was at Center and Washington. The intersection was nested at the center of the U-shaped streets that local humans called the Loop. A gated community next to Washington University, the Loop was full of smart mansions and autonomous cars that pinged Robot listlessly. Though it was late summer, Robot was on high alert for infectious disease outbreaks. Flu season got longer every year, especially in high-density sprawls like St. Louis, where so many people spread their tiny airborne globs of viruses.

Flying in low, Robot followed the curving streets, glancing into windows to track how many humans were eating dinner and whether that number matched previous scans. Wild rabbits dashed across lawns and fireflies signaled to their mates using pheromones and photons. Robot chose a doorway at random, initiating a face-to-face check with humans. In this neighborhood, they were used to it.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 711: Carols on Callisto


Carols on Callisto

By Deborah L. Davitt

On the surface of Callisto, Rebecca Fox struggled with tangled, 3D-printed branches, her fingers clumsy inside the bulky gloves of her suit. The swollen belly of Jupiter dominated the horizon, a swirl of muted white and orange, and the Great Red Spot stared like a baleful eye. The landing lights of ships crossed the planet’s face, heading for the port. The vibration of their engines in the regolith rumbled underfoot as they landed.

“This is idiotic,” a voice broke in over the radio as her companion bounce-walked to her, holding another set of printed branches. “It takes us twelve years to orbit the sun. Why do we need to celebrate Earth’s holidays here? We should be creating our own.”

“The kids like it,” Rebecca defended. She had this conversation with Dieter at least once every three months. “They enjoy designing their trees at school, which is a good use of their CAD skills. They like seeing something they’ve made go up. The plastics get recycled, so it’s not a waste.”

“It wastes time.

“You get to charge hours for this,” she reminded him lightly. “Hush.”
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 704: Failsafe


Failsafe

by Tim Chawaga

When the machines finally decided to replace Liv, they broke her heart.

Her desk was tiny and wedged in between two massive automatons: The Vial Dispenser, which Liv called DJ, and the Vial Accepter, which Liv called Alvin. Above the desk were a couple of dusty posters that she had hung years ago and the big red button. The security camera that was pointed at her was broken, and she knew that it would probably not be fixed. There were no windows.

Liv had worked at Autagro for almost twenty years. She had spent countless hours crocheting little koozies to cover DJ and Alvin’s valves, which burned so hot with efficiency that they would melt the plastic parts around them. Countless mornings making up songs and raps to the rhythm of their whirs and clicks, which had become so fast that she had started doing vocal warm-ups on the bus ride in to loosen her lips.

Liv’s job consisted solely of grabbing the vials of extremely concentrated pesticide that DJ held out with its tiny arm, just inches away from Alvin, and pushing them through Alvin’s receptacle slot. The instant she removed a vial, DJ would retract its arm and shoot it out again faster than Liv could blink, holding another vial with a stillness that Liv couldn’t help but interpret as impatience. No matter how fast she moved, she would never be as fast as DJ, but she was a Failsafe. Her speed wasn’t supposed to matter.

(Continue Reading…)