Archive for 10 and Up

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Escape Pod 820: Tony Roomba’s Last Day on Earth


Tony Roomba’s Last Day on Earth

By Maria Haskins

It’s Tony Roomba’s last day on Earth. After two years of working undercover as a vacuum cleaner bot on this boondock planet, he is finally heading home to the Gamma Sector, but his final day is full of challenges. He has to get out of the apartment undetected; has to reach the extraction point in time for teleportation; and he has to submit his intel-report to the Galactic Robotic Alliance (not that they’ll like it much). However, his most immediate and hairiest problem, is that he can’t get Hortense off his back.

“Hortense, listen to me,” Tony says firmly, but Hortense just twitches her fluffy tail, caressing the buttons on top of his wheeled, disc-shaped body, causing him to inhale several dust bunnies. “I have to get out of here for a bit,” he wheezes, “and you’re an indoor cat. You know you’re not supposed to leave the apartment.”

Neither are you, Hortense’s luminous, jade-green eyes seem to say as she purrs and gazes down at him while her lush posterior remains firmly planted on his back. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 815: Mathematical Revelations


Mathematical Revelations

By Helen De Cruz

I have never had a Mathematical Revelation in my life. I am presently thirty-eight years and three months old; the first strands of gray have made their hesitant debut in my dark brown hair. I have been a Priestess for about half that time, and yet the Supreme Mathematician has never uttered a word to me.

There is no shame in this, unusual as it is. I remind myself that the Supreme One has many ways to let us know Her intentions, direct Revelation being only one among many.

I am on the shore, kneeling on the fine sand; the azure combers with their white crests dance and dart ever closer, so I must make haste to trace my Sand Graphs, before they are swept away by the ocean. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 814: Oddments, Pasha’s Autodiary of 07 MAR 2032


Oddments, Pasha’s Autodiary of 07 MAR 2032

By Christopher Noessel

I woke you up two hours before, so you would have time to get into face. You sat in the rattling shoebox lavatory of an interstate bus with a handheld mirror and terrible lighting, sang false apologies to anyone who knocked, and finished your work with a band of programmable glitter on your lips and in a wide stripe from temple to temple, right across your eyes like some kind of brigand. You decided, “Indigo,” and in a cascade, it changed. You reached into a bag and pulled out a giant blue wig with antlers sticking out. You pulled it on, bobby-pinned it into place, and primped.

Admiring your handiwork in the mirror, you accidentally elbowed the little glass jar of glitter into the sink, and without a strainer, the jar vanished right down. It was a costly mistake. You didn’t get worked up though. You just looked down the dark drain and said, “Do svidaniya, little sun.”

>> Inserted 10 MAR: A few days later, a maintenance technician would recover the lost jar in a bus parking lot, and, curious, open it. The stuff would spill everywhere. The next evening satellite images showed curly loaves of sparkling-indigo javelina turds in the neighboring fields. I expect you will find this hilarious. Perhaps even metaphorical.

>>End Insert (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 809: Heard, Half-Heard, in the Stillness


Heard, Half-Heard, in the Stillness

By Iona Datt Sharma

Ekta’s Dadi could tell the future. She didn’t read the tea leaves, or make or lay bets on the cricket. But she booked the photographer the week before the news came of Purnima Didi’s engagement. She told the panditji to get his blood pressure checked before he told anyone he was short of breath. The day before the Human Spaceflight Programme was suspended, she called Ekta in Sriharikota and said she should come home.

Ekta had been living in the dormitory attached to the ISRO flight training school. It took her twenty minutes to pack her things into two suitcases. On her way out, one of the boys stopped her and said, “Ma’am, your mail.”

He handed her a heavy package, which Ekta put in her bag without opening. It would be a technical document, now mockingly out of date—a systems report for a rocket that would never leave the ground. “Thank you,” she said, both to him and to everything around her. She took a moment to look as though seeing this place for the first time, taking in the clean white lines of the building, the landscaped campus, the soft blue water lapping the fringes of the barrier island—every small detail of a place she had loved. Mangalyaan, the Mars Orbiter, had left for space from here. Ekta would not. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 770: The First Trebuchet on Mars


The First Trebuchet on Mars

by Marie Vibbert

If you come to Mars you need to know that in the twelfth century a French engineer named Trebuchet popularized a model of sling catapult with a counterweight. The Middle East had been using ‘em for centuries, and probably got them from the Chinese who’d been using ‘em for centuries before that, but this dude got the publicity campaign, if you follow my meaning, and so the device to this day is called a trebuchet.

I’m getting to the Mars part.

The first trebuchet on Mars was built by Jill Cooper out of some broken PVC structural elements, rubber tubing, and Mars-grown hemp rope. Jill invited everyone over to debut her treb. We’re usually busy in our own habitats, and it’s not an inconsiderable walk from one to another, but there’s not a lot of entertainment to be had on Mars. Everyone came, even Ned Taylor, our local fussbudget.

“You’re not firing it there,” Ned said. “What if you hit a habitat?”

“Be a lucky damn shot,” Jill said.

Ned said, “A thousandth of a percent of a chance is too much.”

“Don’t care about your dating life,” Jill said.

“Jill,” I said, with a sideways look at Ned, who was going purple in the face, “won’t hurt to aim it away from the valley.”

She sighed heavily and used her foot to spin the treb around so it faced the crater wall behind her habitat.

“That’s not a solution! What if debris flies back at us?”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 764: In the Absence of Instructions to the Contrary


In the Absence of Instructions to the Contrary

By Frank Wu

Karl 3478 sprawled on the beach, partially disassembled, bits of him scattered across mats arrayed on the sand. Diving planes, ducted propellers, 5-way valves and 4-way cables all awaited clean-up, tear-down and re-build.

He was performing a major overhaul on himself for deep-seaworthiness. No poppet or sprocket would escape inspection.

Underwater, Karl was untethered, free. But freedom came with risks. If a vital system failed, no one would rescue him.

Wrapped around Karl’s finger was a black O-ring. One of his smallest but more important parts, it fit into a groove at the end of electronics sleeve III. This little ring, with a little grease, was all that prevented water from rushing into the sleeve, destroying everything inside.

Only a smear of marine-grade silicone grease was necessary. A blob might break off, allowing the water in.

In knowing violation of protocols, Karl squeezed a huge glob of grease onto the tip of a titanium finger.

This he would do – as everything – in full consideration of his love for Adaline.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 762: Give the Family My Love


Give the Family My Love

by A. T. Greenblatt

I’m beginning to regret my life choices, Saul. Also, hello from the edge of the galaxy.

Also, surprise! I know this isn’t what you had in mind when you said “Keep in touch, Hazel” but this planet doesn’t exactly invoke the muse of letter writing. The muse of extremely long voice messages however…

So. Want to know what’s this world’s like? Rocky, empty, and bleak in all directions, except one. The sky’s so stormy and green it looks like I’m trudging through the bottom of an algae-infested pond. I’ve got this 85-million-dollar suit between me and the outside, but I swear, I’m suffocating on the atmosphere. Also, I’m 900 meters away from where I need to be with no vehicle to get me there except my own two legs.

So here I am. Walking.

Sorry to do this to you, Saul, but if I don’t talk to someone—well, freak out at someone—I’m not going to make it to the Library. And like hell I’m going to send a message like this back to the boys on the program. You, at least, won’t think less of me for this. You know that emotional meltdowns are part of my process.

850 meters. I should have listened to you, Saul.

(Continue Reading…)

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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…)