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Escape Pod 502: Gorlack the Destroyer’s All You Can Eat Adventure


Gorlack the Destroyer’s All You Can Eat Adventure

by Robert Lowell Russell

Seven hundred battered cases of “Unleash Your Inner Awesome!” mega-nutri-bars dotted the purple grass for kilometers in every direction. Pelle the Silicate rested his rocky body on one of the battered metal crates and sighed.

Noxious smoke from the wrecked “Do-It-Yourself and Save!” cargo lander wrinkled Pelle’s nose. He wondered if the “environmentally friendly materials” the lander was constructed from were in fact sarki beetle shells and dung.

Pelle had bet the Silicate colonists on this distant world would trade their exotic spices and rare materials for a little taste of home. Now, those little tastes were baking in their crates under an alien sun, a thousand kilometers from the nearest settlement.

“I’m ruined,” he muttered.


Gorlack the Destroyer fixed his gaze on the rough-skinned alien sitting on the metal box.

“Bah! Zarg, my friend, it is only another of the stone creatures.”

Zarg shook his head. “These are trying times.”

The troop of warriors and women gathered behind Gorlack murmured its discontent.
“A number three fusion blade will pierce the creature’s hide,” said Zarg, “but leave its soft, inner flesh intact. They taste like kana.”

Gorlack spat on the grass. “Everything tastes like kana. I long for a proper meal.” He turned to Zarg and rested a furred paw on the other’s shoulder. “The number three blade it will be, but first, honor demands I offer the creature challenge.”

“The coward will refuse.”

Gorlack nodded. “Undoubtedly.” He strode boldly through the grass, approaching the alien. The murmurs turned to silence.

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Escape Pod 493: Beyond the Trenches We Lie


Beyond the Trenches We Lie

By A. T. Greenblatt

This morning, the Globs are waiting for us, just like always. Despite what the official propaganda shows, we, this little band of ragged soldiers, don’t even bother to line up anymore. We just cram down our nutritional packets as fast as we can and climb out of our holes. Captain Beamon scowls at our lack of discipline, but he doesn’t push the point. Not when there’s a battle to be won.

Beyond the trenches, the meadow is flourishing from the war. The grass is dark and lush, though it’s been trampled by soldiers. You can hear the brook running about a hundred paces away, fat and happy, while the tall elm trees on its banks overlook the whole situation from a distance. Win or lose, they will still grow for a long time to come.

Every morning, I yank myself out of a trench, pull myself up with my cane, and make my way across the field. We never start the fight running, despite what the vids show. No need. The Globs will wait for us.

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Escape Pod 492: The Silent Ones


The Silent Ones

by Erica L. Satifka

The year travel opens up between alternate Earths is the first year you fall in love, with a strapping farm boy from one of the rural worlds named Paul. He takes you to a barn dance thrown by his people, where you learn to smoke a corncob pipe. His sister, a tiny girl with saucer eyes and dirty hair, steals your purse. You’re too hammered to mind.

You get drunk on apple wine and fuck Paul behind a haystack while a band of his cousins screeches on their fiddles and moans in that unintelligible alternate-world dialect of theirs. At the pale green Formica kitchen table, Paul gives you a stick-and-poke tattoo of his initials inside a heart.

But when your six days are up, it’s back through the travel gate with you, and no more Paul. You mope for weeks, watching but not performing the calisthenics exercises on television, alternating handfuls of candy and amphetamines. Finally, your two best girl friends drag you from your home – “Don’t be such a drag!” – and bring you to the club.

And that’s when you see your first silent one. With the robes and everything. Shit. He’s sipping a martini, looking totally out of place, bopping his head to a spastic electroclash beat. Club soda rises up your nose, coming close to spilling out.

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Escape Pod 451: The Aliens Made of Glass


The Aliens Made of Glass

by Helena Bell

Sister Charles Regina, formerly of the Daughters of Perpetual Help, attends to her boat, the Nunc Dimittis, as if it were the sole member of her parish. She scrubs the white transom, the gunwale, the wooden steps leading to the bridge, and the metal railings. She vacuums the carpet in the salon, empties then refills the refrigerator and checks the interior cabinets for ants. Once a week she cleans the bottom of the hull and even in this she is practiced and ritualed, reciting a dozen rosaries in time with the digs of her paint scraper, the bodies of barnacles swirling around her like ash. It gives her peace. Each action and inaction she commits will lead to consequences and she revels in the knowledge that everything worn away will be built up again. In these moments she does not miss the convent or her religion or God. She does not mind that the aliens are coming.

Sister Charles Regina, née Kathleen, brings the dock-master filets of tuna, wahoo, mahi mahi and sheepshead. For this and her company, Gray gives her electricity, use of the slip, and help with the lines. They watch the evening news together, and Gray does not ask about her lack of prayer over the meal. Kathleen does not ask after his parents or sister. He is her family; she is his. It is enough.

“The aliens passed Neptune today,” the local weather girl says, but she has been announcing the passing of Neptune for several days. A countdown glows in the right-hand corner with flickering dates and estimations. They will be here in 467 days, three years, or seven years, decades, soon, soon, sooner than we are ready.

The aliens move as slowly and perpetually as shadows on a sundial. The anchors express disbelief that we spotted them near Pluto at all. Should not they have zipped in at the speed of light? At warp? Hyperspace? Should not they be in our skies one minute, the valleys of the moon the next? Kathleen wonders if space is more like the ocean than anyone thought with currents and tides and troughs. She pictures the aliens adjusting a compass set to the pull of opposing suns. She imagines long, bone white fingers turning the knobs of a LORAN adjusted for eleven-dimensional space.

Instead of sports, a man in a checkered suit announces the decision of all space-faring nations to reroute their shuttles, their satellites, and refitted weather balloons. Like marathon racers or a soapbox derby, the line of them stretches from Baikonour to the moon. A tech company has announced a prize for the first privately-funded spaceship to reach the aliens. A second prize for the first to establish meaningful contact. A third for the first to determine their intentions and draft an appropriate response.

The checkered man begins to stutter, his face reddening under the studio lights. He misses basketball and baseball, where the most threatening stories were coaches throwing metal chairs across the gleaming laminate floors. He takes a deep breath. He has a job, a purpose; his world is not so different that he has forgotten to be professional. “Whether the prize will be in currency or fame or nonperishable foodstuffs is unknown at this time.” He smiles and hands off to a field reporter at a local high school. The seniors intend to build rockets. They do not expect them to reach the aliens, or orbit, or the upper levels of the atmosphere, but on each rocket the students will write a message in any and all languages in which they have proficiency. English, Latin, Spanish, German, French, Klingon, Elvish, Binary. . . They no longer care about prom or AP English exams, but of a future filled with higher-level mathematics.

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Escape Pod 446: The Way of the Needle


The Way of the Needle

by Derek Künsken

I

The ancient pulsar’s lighthouse beam of microwaves and radio waves spun twice per second. Within the bloom of its magnetic field orbited the single planet that had survived the long-ago supernova, at the cost of its crust and mantle. An atmosphere of carbon dioxide had congealed around the little metallic world, producing oceans of iron and nickel carbonyl, dotted with thickets of steel needles that fanned to catch the microwaves. On the largest islands, the growth of the needles had been coaxed into towers, pedestals, and martial walls. Prickly metal creatures held together by strong magnetic fields scuttled in these towns and forts, on eight articulated legs of steel spines. Their fine quills caught the flashing microwaves, generating the electricity for their quick, agile movements.

One of them, whose fame would not be made for many years yet, was uncomfortable in a disguise. Mok was a Follower of the Needle, an order of martial priests. Whereas other Followers and fighters-at-arms bore large metal claws high on their forelegs, Mok now scurried with only small, shameful servant claws. No one recognized him and no one complimented him. Nor would he earn any compliments from this mission; he’d been sent by Master Hac not as a warrior to fight under the full shine of the pulsar, but as an assassin.

Mok tried to fan his steel quills wider, but the road was too crowded. Fussing builders swung long rods culled from faraway orchards, patching the palisaded walls that lined the streets. Shabby, short-needled monks stood where the upturned points of the streets were overlaid with rusted garbage and sniped at each other with pinching claws and philosophical recriminations. Mok paused at a stall where a thinly needled elder showed off processed snow paste.

Mok hadn’t stopped for the snow paste. He wasn’t hungry. He’d stopped for the view of the Ban estate. The Ban family had consolidated an immense estate on the south road during the clan wars. Its high noble gate showed sprouting buildings and growing towers within the palisade. Slow mercenaries controlled the gate. To the side, at a narrow opening, flowed the swarmers, servants and merchants, short-needled and small-clawed.

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Escape Pod 438: Enjoy the Moment

Show Notes

THE APOCALYPSE TRIPTYCH

Famine. Death. War. Pestilence. These are the harbingers of the biblical apocalypse, of the End of the World. In science fiction, the end is triggered by less figurative means: nuclear holocaust, biological warfare/pandemic, ecological disaster, or cosmological cataclysm.

But before any catastrophe, there are people who see it coming. During, there are heroes who fight against it. And after, there are the survivors who persevere and try to rebuild.

THE APOCALYPSE TRIPTYCH will tell their stories.

Edited by acclaimed anthologist John Joseph Adams and bestselling author Hugh Howey, THE APOCALYPSE TRIPTYCH is a series of three anthologies of apocalyptic fiction. THE END IS NIGH focuses on life before the apocalypse. THE END IS NOW turns its attention to life during the apocalypse. And THE END HAS COME focuses on life after the apocalypse.

Featuring all-new, never-before-published works by Hugh Howey, Paolo Bacigalupi, Seanan McGuire, Ken Liu, Jamie Ford, Tananarive Due, Jonathan Maberry, Robin Wasserman, Nancy Kress, Charlie Jane Anders, Matthew Mather, Ben H. Winters, Scott Sigler, and many others.

Don’t want to risk missing out on news about THE APOCALYPSE TRIPTYCH? Sign up for John Joseph Adams’s free newsletter (sent out no more than once or twice a month) to receive updates about THE APOCALYPSE TRIPTYCH, as well as news about his other editorial projects.


Enjoy the Moment

by Jack McDevitt

[EDITOR: We don’t have the rights to post the text of this story.]

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Escape Pod 435: Made of Cats: A Love Story


Made of Cats: A Love Story

by Judith Tarr

Never mind the slithy toves; let me tell you about the time all the cats splooped into floons.

It all started the day the aliens landed. (Doesn’t it always?) We’d been getting the odd invasion–sometimes really odd–for about a hundred years by then. The ones that came up out of the ground and down from the sky and blasted people to powder and tried to marsiform the planet? And got the common cold and turned into slime mold and died? They were just the start.

We were pretty solid on the intergalactic maps by the time the Kovarrubians showed up. Killer microbes? Check. Nuclear option? Check. Toxic xenophobia? Triple check.

So now when the aliens came, they came in peace. For reals, dudes. Cure for cancer? Check. Super-mega-hyper-insta-teleporta-warp drive? Check. World peace? Not so much. But now when people got their hate on, mostly they got it on somebody Out There.

The day the Kovarrubians came, Emily Habibi-Rubinstein, age five and a half, was having a terrible, horrible, awful, no-good, very bad day. Which meant that as her mother, I, Shannon Habibi, age never mind, was having one, too. Between the snufflecrud that kept her home from school, the power failure that took out the television, the Internet, the house controls, and the air conditioning in one fell swoop, and the failure of the city bus to show up and get us both to the library where we could cool off and toss Emily into a big blissful pile of books, we were not a happy family.

Oh, and did I mention that the phones were down, too? So we were effectively cut off from the world?

Right.

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Escape Pod 433: That Other Sea


That Other Sea

by William Ledbetter

From his position on the sandy slope, Catat couldn’t see the Visitor, but the eerie glow moving around beyond the jumbled rocks proved the device had survived its fall into the killing depths. Catat whipped his tail to move downward, but couldn’t generate enough thrust to overcome the water pressure pushing him into the sand. Only the brute force of side-to-side undulation gave him any forward momentum. He moved two body lengths and stopped to let his shell adjust.

As water weight compressed his internal organs further, the gland that produced shellbase went into hyperactive mode, flooding his system, filling the tiny pressure cracks and thickening his ring segments. The depths were changing him, maybe forever, but Catat believed retrieving the Visitor, or at least examining it, was worth the risk.

During the intense discussions that followed the Visitor’s arrival, Catat was the only one who believed it could be artificial. Others, including Catat’s main scientific rival, Racknik, maintained that it had to be some radiation mutated animal from an ice vent. But Catat had been the only one to see it up close. He’d watched the Visitor break through the ice ceiling and then struggle with the canopy kelp before starting its long swirling descent to the chasm floor.

The Visitor was twice Catat’s size and he probably could have done nothing to arrest its fall, but he’d also been frozen with terror and made no attempt to help. Then as it started downward, lights appeared. Not the dim luminescent bait offered by predator fish, but a brilliant, painful glare, brighter than white magma. At that instant, Catat’s fear dissolved in an overwhelming surge of curiosity and fascination. So know he was going after it.

A message from his warren came down the cable he dragged behind him, the electrical pulses converted to taps he could feel through the metal plate mounted between his tool arms and just above his digging arms. The signal was still strong, which worried him. If his shell had thickened enough to protect him against the extreme pressure, then the signal should have been faint.

“Can you still see it?” A prefix identified the sender as one of his research assistants.

“I see the glow from its lights,” Catat replied.

“You made your point. We believe you. Now come back up.” There had been no prefix to identify the second message’s sender, but Catat knew it had to be his friend and sometimes mate, Tipkurr. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 423: Arena


Arena

by Fredric Brown

[EDITOR: We don’t have the rights to post the text of this story.]

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Escape Pod 422: Deshaun Stevens’ Ship Log

Show Notes

The author’s story about the story: http://reasie.livejournal.com/663241.html


Deshaun Stevens’ Ship Log

by Marie Vibbert

Personal Log — January 1

Crunches–one and a very near half.

Push-ups–none unless counting getting off floor

Calories–lost count, but all from alcohol, so okay

One year ago today I vowed I would not spend another year working on this stupid cruise ship.  One year ago my life was exactly as it is now, with exception of having a girlfriend.

Trying to have a good sulk about lack of gf, but general suckatude of life winning.  Have spent all adult years–five of them–treading the same tract of “unexplored” space with end trip to rings of Neptune tacked on by tourist company as apology for boringness of unexplored space.  Have also set lighting and sound cues for thousand ungrateful musicians with combined talent of medium-sized shrub.

(Is supposedly new tract of space each time, but how can anyone–especially easily-duped passengers who think cruise ship bands are good–tell the difference?)

Current misery doubled by working with now-ex gf.  Attempts to avoid said ex at New Year’s party largely consisted of going back to punch bowl repeatedly.  May have sung love ballad composed in throes of self-pity at end of night. Memory foggy.  Hope everyone else’s is, too.

Suspecting ship regulation against alcohol v. wise after all.  Hope they don’t read our logs.

(Continue Reading…)