Archive for 17 and Up

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Escape Pod 767: Shadowboxer (Flashback Friday)


Shadowboxer (Excerpt)

By Paul Di Filippo

Generally speaking, I need only three minutes of concentrated attention to kill someone by staring at them. If I’m feeling under the weather, or my mind is preoccupied with other matters–you know how your mind can obsess about trivial things sometimes–it might take five minutes for my power to have its effect. On the other hand, if I focus intensely on my victim I can get the job done in as little as ninety seconds.

…Now the nation is at war. Or so we’re told. I guess that changes everything. A person like me becomes much more important.

Host Commentary by Alasdair Stuart

The thing I love about this is, honestly, everything, Di Fillippo does such a fantastic job of parking us inside the head of the protagonist that we wake up to the drip feed of information, and the theft of temporal awareness at the same time. That rising awareness is in turn mapped onto the gradual realization of what the lead can do. This is Scanners without the grand guignol, the assassin’s dream. Tireless, effortless, painless, invisible.

But not unaware.

That’s the single chink in the armour of dystopia and the author does such fascinating things with it. This is the slow moral awakening of a gun mixed with the gradual realization that he is far from alone and far from indispensable. There is always another target and there is always another gun.

That sort of cold, machine calculus lies at the heart of a lot of great espionage fiction alongside the simple, brutal certainty of survival, physical, rather moral. A spy may not leave a story with their mission intact but they’ll usually leave it with their body and mind intact. Whether that’s entirely true of the most famous spy in the world depends on when that latest Bond movie will finally be released but even Commander Bond, he of the bad knee and possible brain damage, still works in a position of moral certainty. He gets to live. His target does not.

This character is denied even that. The ending, for me, reads one of two ways. The personal one is arguably the more horrifying, where his lack of memory dovetails with the mirror and his latest target to ensure this particular cannon is fixed directly towards self slaughter. That, especially when he’s viewed as nothing more than a weapon, is terrifying. He’s ordered to decommission himself and seems minded to do so.

The second option is cold but almost more reassuring. That the President as his final target is an exhausted road to Damascus for the conspiracy that has him; they’re pushed to the limit, they have no further plays, so it’s time for a decapitation strike. Worse still, they’re winning and this is the last move. Regardless, the story ends with us, and the lead, aware that the chessboard is there but with no idea who is playing what side or what piece our lead is. Check is always a single move away. Choose wisely.

This is expertly handled genre fiction and for 5 bucks a month at Patreon, you can not only help us keep making it but get access to our vault. For more you get access to surveys, merch, the whole bit. For 5 bucks a month at PseudoPod, it’s the vault. Either option works for us. Both are needed. Please help out if you can. And if not with money, why not time? Help us raise our profile by leaving a review, on apple podcasts or google or whatever your podcatcher of choice is. Tweet a link to an episode, write a blog. Trust me it all helps. And on behalf of all of us, thank you.

Escape Pod is a production of Escape Artists Inc and released under a creative commons attribution non commercial no derivatives license. It will return next week with Balancing the Equation by Justin C Key, hosted by Jay Bhat with audio by Summer and narration by Laurice White. I leave you with this quote from The Iron Giant: “I Am NOT A Gun.”

Take care folks, see you next time.

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Escape Pod 766: The Unrepentant


The Unrepentant

by Derrick Boden

First time I saw her, she was bleeding from her left nostril with a nightstick jammed under her chin. Officer Vang was twisting her arm all kinds of unnatural behind her gene-hacked body, pressing her face to the exterior window with four thousand miles of freefall and filth and societal decay on the flip side. The lights in the cramped hallway–alpha quadrant, fourteenth floor of this godforsaken space elevator–painted her face a rusty orange. She was just another dirtside ghoul from the Rot, weaponized by another shadow corporation that had repurposed Earth’s battlegrounds into one big biotech testbed. Officer Vang–an over-muscled knot of a woman that never missed a chance to make example of one of us refugees–had the ghoul jammed against the hull so hard her boots were dangling like the guerrilla corpses in the town squares back home. She should’ve been howling in pain.

She was laughing.

I’m a shrewd woman, a survivor. Should’ve shuffled right past along with the seventy-some other scrag refugees, all beleaguered and shock-eyed with horror. We weren’t twenty hours from Processing–another week before we’d reach Distribution at the lift’s orbital counterweight–and the illusion of freedom had already bled dry. We’d won the lottery, escaped the Bloc, only to be stamped and sorted and packed into this long vertical handoff from one indenture to the next.

Maybe that’s why I stopped. Something in her laugh said nice try. Sure, we’d spent our respective lives on opposite sides of the war–ghoul against scrag, Rot versus Bloc. Sure, defiance is a cheap substitute for hope. But goddamn did that laugh sound just right, just then.

Besides, I had a plan. I’d been tracking Officer Vang since her immigration crew had subdermaled KUIPER INC down my forearm and tossed me onto this lift. I had a better shot at seeing my twenty-second birthday back in the dirtside scrabble than mining the Kuiper belt. Fucking sponsors.

Only hope now was to carve my own fate.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 742: Them Ships (Summer Flashback)


Them Ships

by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Leonardo says that the Americans are going to fire some rockets and free us from the tyranny of the aliens and I say: who gives a shit. Lemme tell you something: It wasn’t super-awesome around here before the aliens. At least we get three meals every day now.

I used to live in a cardboard house with a tin roof and collected garbage for a living. They called my home a ‘lost city’ but they should’ve called it ‘fucked city.’

Leonardo talks about regaining our freedom, ‘bout fighting and shit. What damn freedom? You think I had freedom in the slums? Leonardo can talk freedom out his ass because he had money before this thing started and he saw too many American movies where they kill the monsters with big guns.

I’m not an idiot. The cops used to do their little “operations” in our neighborhood. They’d come in and arrest everyone, take everything. They weren’t Hollywood heroes out to help people. They were fucking assholes and I don’t see why they would have changed. As for American soldiers saving the day: You think they give a rat’s ass ‘bout Mexico City? You think they’re going to fly here in their helicopters and save us?

I say fuck that shit. I never had no freedom. Leonardo can go piss himself.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 735: Boris’s Bar (Summer Flashback)

Show Notes

Boris’s Bar originally appeared on Escape Pod episode 483 on March 2, 2015.


Boris’s Bar

By Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

“Orani, tell Boris what is wrong.”

I told Boris about Enoch and our shared dreams, about how he abandoned me.

“He said I was frigid,” I confided, my head on Boris’s shoulder, his hand stroking my back.

Boris nodded, “What else?”

“He said that for all the credits in the system, I would never learn how to love.”

I’d been drowning in loneliness when I contracted Boris to help me recover from losing Enoch. After two years of long distance communication, Enoch had traveled from Earth to be with me, only to later decide it was a mistake. “You’re not the human being I thought you were,” he said, which was rich because he wasn’t a human being at all.

When I was spent of energy and tears, Boris lifted me into his arms, like steel support beams, and carried me to the bathroom. He undressed and washed me. He kissed my tearful eyes. He rubbed my skin with oil. With Boris I finally felt warm and safe.

“Orani, you are worthy and lovable. I want you to know this,” he murmured to me as he carried me back to bed. “I want you to feel like a little baby.”

“I don’t remember what that’s like,” I told him. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 727: And Never Mind the Watching Ones (Part 2 of 2)


And Never Mind the Watching Ones

(Part 2 of 2)

By Keffy Kehrli

(Continued from Part 1, Escape Pod 726…)

Of course, if someone were systematically scrubbing the Internet of all references to the glitter frogs, then how do you explain the Tumblr gif sets? The audio recordings? The videos that don’t involve illegal firecrackers and animal cruelty?

Surely someone would have taken down the space frog conspiracy theory site designed by a person with only a very cursory understanding of HTML?

The site has a star field background with red, white, and blue text. The only thing less systematic than the wildly varying font size is the capitalization, which seems to occur at random.

tHe FRogS ArE NOT alIeNS, ThEY are GOveRnmENT sPiES!

DO NoT leT TheM FOOL yOU!

i HaVE THE uLTiMatE PrOoF thAt THE sHIp iN oRbIT iS FAkE

tHeRE ARE NO aLiENs

tHAt iS whAt THEY WanT YOu tO BeLiEVE

cIA and FbI haVE bEEN tRYinG tO ShUT Me uP FoR YEARS

NsA iS UsInG FROGs tO ImPLAnt TheIR InSTRUctiOnS In YoUR ChilDRenS MInDS

We MuST RISE UP BeFoRE iT iS TOo LaTE!!!

 

And so on…

This site has been up for at least a year now. If these sites were under surveillance, don’t you think it’d be down already? (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 726: And Never Mind the Watching Ones (Part 1 of 2)


And Never Mind the Watching Ones

(Part 1 of 2)

By Keffy Kehrli

 

Aaron

 

He is lying on the splintered, faded-gray wood of the dock, the fingers of one hand dangling in the slough and glitter frogs in his hair. His breath catches and he cups the back of Christian’s head. An airplane is flying far, far overhead. It sounds like the purring exhale of the frogs. Aaron wonders where it’s going.

When he comes, his abdominal muscles tense, pulling his shoulders off the planking. The frogs in his hair go tumbling nubbly ass over nose, their creaking noises gone silent. The orgasm is an adrenaline rush that outlines his body in nervous fire before fading, leaving a ringing in his ears.

Aaron stares up at the broadening remains of the jet contrail, sucking air like he’s been running rather than getting head. He thinks, like every time, that he should have liked it more. He wonders if there’s something wrong with his dick. Christian crawls across the dock and flops beside him, one arm draped carelessly over the baseball logo on Aaron’s T-shirt.

One of the frogs has come back. It puts a clammy little hand on Aaron’s cheek before letting out a croak. The others are scattered across the dock and they answer in identical voices.

“God, they’re so creepy,” Christian says. He picks up the frog. It kicks out its back legs and inflates its neck. It doesn’t ribbit; it freezes as though holding its breath. The two boys can see the delicate iridescent shading on the frog’s belly, the flecks of “glitter” — sensors of some kind, probably alien nanotech. They can see circuitry, visible under thin layers of skin.

“I like them,” Aaron says, reaching out to touch the frog’s nose with a fingertip. It opens its mouth slightly.

Christian holds the frog closer to his face, eyes narrowed in mock anger. “If you’re going to watch, the least you could do is pay us, frogface.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 725: Falling Through


Falling Through

by Steen Comer

Woke up again. Checked the news feeds. Everything seems to be about the same, though there is news of a presidential candidate who I don’t remember dropping out of the race. It’s really hard for someone in my position to take an interest in politics, so that’s not really a strong indication. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

I went to work and the office was still there. My memory tells me I’ve had this job for a few months now, which is helpful. One of the most traumatic shifts I had, because it was one of the first, was showing up at my office job and finding that it was an auto body shop. Luckily I had a faint memory of another location and was able to get there only half an hour late. My boss didn’t even notice.

That was when I first started really thinking about the shifts. I had been seeing the small ones for a long time, but that was the first incontrovertible one, the first that I couldn’t explain away as an error of memory. I thought I was going crazy, of course. Spent a while like that. And, in a case like this, it’s impossible to be sure that I’m not crazy. But I’ve found a Practical Operational Paradigm, as Jonas was fond of saying.

Oh Jonas. First shifter other than myself I ever met. Last one I ever saw. I should get back to work. I don’t know why today I need to write this down again. Maybe it’s the sky. It’s a flat grey that could be anywhere. It’s the color of Claire’s eyes.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 721: Hustle


Hustle

By Derrick Boden

I’m all stims and grins as I kick open the door to West Precinct, strung-out bounty dangling from my headlock like a slab of vat beef with a fauxhawk. Inside, it’s the regular bullshit: a row of five tellers–one for each of the bounty app networks–a half-dozen grime-streaked auto-cuff stations, four janitors, one cop. Everyone’s hustling, of course–cobbling gig-shifts to cover backlogged tuition payments and overdue streaming services, eyes glazed and fingers flensed to bone. Everyone except the cop, who’s there to lock up after everyone bails for the evening rideshare rush. She’s a loophole, a salaried ultra-minority, a relic of pre-privatization. She gives me the creeps.

I wrangle my mark to the EpicBounty desk. “Payday, y’all.”

The teller stares at me with soulless eyes. “Name and ID.”

Her DMV monotone is the stuff of legend. Of course she recognizes me–I’m not sporting a latex halter top and violet-tuned contax to blend in. But I’m still riding the post-gig high, so I play along.

“Violetta Yamamoto–”

“Into the lens, ma’am. You know the drill.”

Of course I know the drill. I’m a five-star double elite EpicBounty hunter, two tiers shy of max. Max elites qualify for fucking health insurance. No one in King County’s amassed more rep than me since I made parole five years ago–seventy-four thousand points and counting.

But who’s counting?
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 719: A Hench Helps Her Villain, No Matter What


A Hench Helps Her Villain, No Matter What

By Izzy Wasserstein

The Lair’s intercom buzzes. “Hench, report to the interrogation room at once. Bring the restraints,” Night Mistress demands. For a moment I allow myself to hope, but when I get down to the deepest level, she’s got Patriotess drugged at her feet, and I know I’m a fool.

Hope isn’t the place of a henchperson. Hope will get you killed. Or, worse, out of a job.

I help Night Mistress restrain Patriotess in the center of the lead-walled room. I secure the heroine’s arms above her head. She’s still out of it, her body limp and her head hanging low, completely in Night Mistress’s power. My knees feel unsteady just thinking about it.

I check Patriotess for weapons. She has that whole thin-with-curves thing that only heroines seem to manage, but even that body can’t save her spandex blue-and-red onesie from looking ridiculous. Heroes will wear almost anything. They’ve got no real flair or sense of grandeur. I guess that’s why they’re not villains. Night Mistress practically radiates power in her black tux with silver trim, complete with a tight waistcoat and a daringly low-cut top. An operatic mask completes the perfectly-tailored look.

I feel stuffed into a glittering sequined gown. It’s a look designed for stage assistants with long legs and slim lines. My ex liked to call me “thick,” but I’m actually fat. This isn’t the costume I’d have chosen, but it’s the look Mistress wants in her henchwoman, which is good enough for me. I still remember her tone when she first ordered me to put it on. That memory keeps me warm at night.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 702: Inheritance


Inheritance

By Elise Stephens

Carmen would have expected a gold necklace or tarnished antique, maybe some money or a secret family recipe card, but she’d never dreamed her grandmother would try to immortalize herself through an inheritance like this.

The attorney was holding a velvet-covered box in his open palms as he explained, “Maria Elena had these memory grafts discreetly extracted prior to her death. She chose not to inform the family beforehand. I believe she felt her memories could safely be left to the care of the third generation, that is, the three of you.”

Carmen was relieved to see that both her siblings were likewise surprised by the news.

Mr. Hoffman tapped the box with his thumbs. “As you may know, memory grafts are a practical-application variety of memory extraction. They’re a refined amalgamation of all memories and experiences related to specific fields or areas of expertise.”

“So there’s no real estate or stocks. It’s just her memories,” Mario said, eyebrows raised.

“She was never rich to begin with,” Daniela said. “Living in that tiny place after Grandpa died. Unless she was secretly saving up, how did she afford an extraction?”

(Continue Reading…)