Genres:

Escape Pod 380: Punk Voyager


Punk Voyager

by Shaenon K. Garrity

Punk Voyager was built by punks.  They made it from beer cans, razors, safety pins, and a surfboard some D-bag had left on the beach. Also plutonium.  Where did they get plutonium?  Around.  f*** you.

The punks who built Punk Voyager were Johnny Bonesaw, Johnny Razor, Mexican Johnny D-bag, Red Viscera, and some other guys.  No, asshole, nobody remembers what other guys.  They were f***ing wasted, these punks.  They’d been drinking on the San Diego beach all day and night, talking about making a run to Tijuana and then forgetting and punching each other.  They’d built a fire on the beach, and all night the fire went up and went down while the punks threw beer cans at the seagulls.

Forget the s*** I just said, it wasn’t the punks who did it.  They were f***ing punks.  The hell they know about astro-engineering? Truth is that Punk Voyager was the strung-out masterpiece of Mexican Johnny D-bag’s girlfriend, Lacuna, who had a doctorate in structural engineering.  Before she burned out and ran for the coast, Lacuna was named Alice McGuire and built secret nuclear submarines for a government contractor in Ohio.  It sucked.  But that was where she got the skills to construct an unmanned deep-space probe.  Same principle, right?  Keep the radiation in and the water out.  Or the vacuum of space, whatever, it’s all the same s*** to an engineer.

f*** that, it wasn’t really Lacuna’s baby.  It wasn’t her idea.  The idea was Red’s.

“f***ing space,” he said that fateful night.  He was lying on his back looking up at space, is why he said it.

“Hell yeah,” said Johnny Bonesaw.

“s*** ain’t nothing but rocks and UFOs.”

“Ain’t no such thing as a UFO.”

“Like hell there ain’t,” said Red.  “CIA knows all about it.  Them and the astronauts.”

Red was always saying that s***, though.  Everything was the CIA and the saucer people with that burnout. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 378: Scout


Scout

by Bud Sparhawk

Captain Sandels came in during prep.  “Falcon,” he said, but softly, as if he didn’t want to disturb the techs working on squeezing me into the bomb casing.  I twittered our channel and winked: Kind of busy right now. Something come up?

“No,” the captain responded, again so softly that I knew he definitely didn’t want the techs to overhear.  The only reason I could hear him was that my acoustic enhancements were so sensitive that I could hear a mouse fart from a klick away.  “I just wanted to wish you luck.”

For making it back? I answered.  Not likely.

“That’s brutal,” he replied and I heard his pain. “I thought that, after all we. . .’

I stopped him there.  I’m not Falcon; just a revised edition.

“So it’s just goodbye, then?”

Sure.  I closed the channel before he could say anything else.  What I don’t need now is some damn puzzling reference to a past that no longer concerned me. Better not to dwell on the past.  Given humanity’s precarious state, sentiment was dangerous.  Besides, I had to concentrate on my scouting mission. We had to learn more about the aliens on the planet below.

I shut everything but the maintenance channel as they oozing the cushioning gel around me.  Its plasticity enfolds me in a warm, soft embrace that creeps into every crack and crevice, sealing me off from sight and sound and every sense save an assurance of my own humanity.  My form might be much reduced, to be sure, but nevertheless I retain my inherent humanity.

“We’re closing the lid,” the tech reports over the maintenance channel.

It’s time for sleep.  Landing will wake me up. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 374: Oubliette


Oubliette

by J. Kelley Anderson

The half-buried thing hadn’t moved once, but I didn’t have to include that in the story when I got back to base. The great, gray mass of it rose at least ten feet out of the red earth, tucked close to the sheer wall of the plateau. That part I’d tell. If there had been anything like a head, I would have shot it, but it just looked like a giant, lumpy football, oozing a viscous yellowy liquid here and there.

The non-military personnel tried to remember their instructions, looking away from the muzzle of my rifle as the metallic squeal of the charging weapon warned of an impending discharge. The moment the noise ended, a pencil-thin beam of white light leapt from the gun and bored another sizzling hole into the motionless mound of wrinkled gray flesh. There was a sound like someone cooking giant bacon in a giant skillet.

I just can’t describe how much I love photon rifles. They’re big, noisy, ugly, unapologetic things that leave your hands shaking and the entire area smelling like ozone. They were shit on stealth missions but, then, so am I—that’s just one of the many reasons I got this gig as the Army equivalent of a galactic janitor.

Sergeant Wroblewski and I made eye contact as I turned to address the science team, and I noted the silent “high-five” look on his face.

“Well?” I said smoothly to Science Officer Neely. “Doesn’t get much deader than that.” I tried to look nonchalant.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 371: A Querulous Flute of Bone


A Querulous Flute of Bone

by Cat Rambo

Wherever, whenever wealth accumulates enough to create the idle, one finds those who collect things.

Such collections vary. Some catalog every cast off bit of flesh or chitin they shed. Others look outside themselves for art, or titillation, or an oblivion in which they can forget everyday life.

Collections may consist of the most mundane objects: string, or chewed up paper, or broken teacups, for example. Or they can take on outré forms: dioramas made of nihlex bone (considered contraband in certain areas), or squares of cloth exposed to the Smog, prized for the oracular patterns of dirt left deposited on the fabric, or the tiny aluminum snowflakes said to have fallen into the world during an Opening over a century ago.

Aaben was such a collector. S/he was one of the geniod, whose gender varies according to mood, location, and other private considerations, and who are known, in the face of great trauma, to forget who they are and become entirely different personalities, their old selves never to be resumed or spoken of. Some races adulate them for this, while others mock them. Such excesses of reaction have driven the geniod to keep to themselves, not by law, but preference.

Aaben was an oddity in its own preferences, for it was willing to travel, to go farther than most of its race, driven by the desire to augment its collection, choosing to focus only on its quest.

The items it sought, ranging up and down the Tube in expeditions funded by two sets of indulgent grandparents and a much less indulgent set of parents, were things that could be considered metaphors for the world and the state of those in it. In this pursuit, it followed the strictures of the philosopher-king Nackle, who described the emotions that such objects evoked in the beholder in one five hundred page monograph, and the intellectual effect of such exposure in a second, even longer work, followed by a six volume set of explanatory footnotes and addendums.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 369: Passengers

Show Notes

Rated 13 and over for sexual innuendo


Passengers

By Robert Silverberg

There are only fragments of me left now. Chunks of memory have broken free and drifted away like calved glaciers. It is always 
like that when a Passenger leaves us. We can never be sure of all the things our borrowed bodies did. We have only the lingering traces, 
the imprints.

Like sand clinging to an ocean-tossed bottle. Like the throbbings of amputated legs.

I rise. I collect myself. My hair is rumpled; I comb it. My face is creased from too little sleep. There is sourness in my mouth. Has my Passenger been eating dung with my mouth? They do that. They do anything.

It is morning.

A gray, uncertain morning. I stare at it awhile, and then, shuddering, I opaque the window and confront instead the gray, uncertain surface of the inner panel. My room looks untidy. Did I have a woman here? There are ashes in the trays. Searching for butts, I find several with lipstick stains. Yes, a woman was here.

I touched the bedsheets. Still warm with shared warmth. Both 
pillows tousled. She has gone, though, and the Passenger is gone, and I am alone.

How long did it last, this time?

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 365: The Garden of Earthly Delights

Show Notes

Rated 17 and up for sexual situations


The Garden of Earthly Delights

By Jay Caselberg

Bosch drew deeply on his cigarette and exhaled slowly, watching the smoke paint clouds of tissue paper across the chill moon. If his hard-boned mouth had been capable of smiling, it would have. He’d tried to mimic the gesture often enough. He took one last drag at the cigarette, then flicked it out in a wide arc to scatter sparks against the broad stone steps. It was funny how compelling these human habits could be, even the ones they frowned upon. There was no risk for Bosch, but the humans seemed to like the fact that he had adopted one of their vices. It showed them he had his personal weakness.

Compelling. It was less compulsion than convenient subterfuge, but they weren’t to know that. Smoking, and alcohol, and sex — particularly sex; the examples went on and on.

“Ambassador Bosch, come to escape the crowd?” It was Davy, his shadow, his cultural liaison, assigned to keep him on the straight and narrow.

Bosch turned his head to make eye contact. These humans liked eye contact. He whistled once and snapped his mouth, forgetting for a moment for the hundredth time that Davy could not understand. Quickly, he followed it with a series of signs using his three long fingers. Davy nodded and waited while Bosch withdrew his pad from inside his clothes, slipped the stylus from the carry case and tapped at the screen. Davy craned over Bosch’s shoulder to read, then glanced down at the still-smouldering cigarette end lying on the steps below.

“Yes, I needed some fresh air as well. I think it’s going well, don’t you?” Bosch tapped at the pad once. As well as it could be, he thought, but Davy seemed satisfied.

The smooth, dark-haired human leaned his head back and looked up at the stars. “Yes, a good night for it,” he said.

A good night for what? Often, these little expressions eluded Bosch. Expressions, cultural behaviours, so many things.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 363: Flowing Shapes

Show Notes

Rated 17 and up for sexual situations


Flowing Shapes

By Rajan Khanna

Part One: Contemplation

The human came to She Shalu on the Day of Flowering Awareness. Damo met him near the Still Garden, the fumes of the exiting shuttle mixing with the sharp spice of the tall, white twizak plant. Damo wore a humanoid shape so as to minimize the stranger’s discomfort.

Damo studied the human with the practiced eyes of a Synan. Dark hair covered his head and parts of his body, and he was sleight of build, despite the solidity of his form. About 1.7 meters tall. His features were mostly smooth, bones prominent, eyes with the barest hint of a slant. A mouth surrounded by full lips.

“How may I help you?” Damo said, trying to sound gracious.

“I came to study Wan She,” the human said.

Damo felt his features flow with his astonishment. Perhaps he had not heard correctly, or his translation module was malfunctioning. “I am sorry,” he said. “Wan She is the Path of Flowing Shapes. It is a Synan practice. Humans, being incapable of shifting, cannot practice it.”

The human smiled, revealing straight, white teeth. “I know. I’m writing a book,” he said. “But isn’t it true that the first stage is concerned solely with contemplation? Surely that is not beyond a human.”

Damo stifled his urge to shift in response to his unease. Uncontrolled shifting was against the teachings of Wan She. “That is true,” he said. “But Wan She is a path. Not a series of distinct teachings. To step on that path is to begin a journey.”

“All I ask is that you let me speak to your Tanshe. Let him decide.”

Damo was all too willing to accommodate the human in this. Let the Tanshe decide. It certainly saved Damo the trouble of having to assimilate this odd request.

“Please follow me,” he said.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 353: Talking to the Enemy


Talking to the Enemy

By Don Webb

We knew a little, but we knew the Free Machines knew more. We hoped our adversary, the Belatrin, knew less; but since they were such creatures of dream and nightmare even at the late parts of the War, we suspected they knew everything.

The Peace Conference hadn’t happened in the first six months of our being here. Everyone talked about it. Breakthroughs were rumored everyday. The only hard facts are that we had grown more efficient at killing Belatrin and they us.

The “peace planet” was named Mrs. Roger Fishbaum III. Roger Fishbaum had paid currency to name a star after his wife in the International Star Registry a thousand years before. The Siirians had a name for it that had too many clicks and whistles, the Free Machines a binary designation, and for all we knew the Belatrin used telepathy. The planet stank of vinegar and moldy bread. I always assumed that its atmosphere contained some needful compound for our enemies’ breathing, but maybe the Free Machines choose it to annoy us, or them.

Siirian merchants made the most of our discomfort. They sold ineffective air shields that released some herbal concoction. I was buying one when I made my ironic remark about the peace talks. The merchant polished its carapace with two of its legs and whistled out a message that my implant made into, “Honored customer, do you think you will be the chief negotiator for the peace talks?”

I set my translator for ironic mode, and said, “Most certainly. My lowly position as a Viscount of the Instrumentality qualifies me far better than the Dukes of Diplomacy.”
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 347: Next Time, Scales


Next Time, Scales

By John Moran

“You’re too restless,” the lizard whispered into my brain.

“And you’ve been at the reactor fuel again.”

Marla slapped her prehensile tail onto the table, cracking its surface with her paralysing stinger and rattling the chess pieces. The blow echoed through the control room.

“I hate it when you do that, Steven.”

“Do what?”

“Think you can read me.”

I smiled. “Your underarm scales are pale, which means a supercharged diet or zero-gravity. As we haven’t been off-planet, it must be the
food. Plus, your breath stinks of sulphur and your claws have white rings.”

Marla pointed one crimson eye at the table, but kept the other on me.

“Your move,” she said.

“Give me time. Why do you think I’m restless?”

“Because you’ve spent the last three weeks researching Loris, and done each patrol fully armed.”

I glanced through the window, as if by chance I might catch our thief creeping up in plain view, but all I saw were two huge moons glowering over the ruined planet, its civilisation long-dead, part-excavated and full of secrets.

I couldn’t let Marla know the site had me spooked, though. Her people had been hunters for a thousand years, and, through a quirk of fate, she believed in me.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 340: Golubash (Wine-Blood-War-Story)


Golubash (Wine-Blood-War-Story)

By Catherynne M. Valente

The difficulties of transporting wine over interstellar distances are manifold. Wine is, after all, like a child. It can _bruise_. It can suffer trauma—sometimes the poor creature can recover, sometimes it must be locked up in a cellar until it learns to behave itself. Sometimes it is irredeemable. I ask that you greet the seven glasses before you tonight not as simple fermented grapes, but as the living creatures they are, well-brought up, indulged but not coddled, punished when necessary, shyly seeking your approval with clasped hands and slicked hair. After all, they have come so very far for the chance to be loved.

Welcome to the first public tasting of Domaine Zhaba. My name is Phylloxera Nanut, and it is the fruit of my family’s vines that sits before you. Please forgive our humble venue—surely we could have wished for something grander than a scorched pre-war orbital platform, but circumstances, and the constant surveillance of Chatêau Marubouzu-Debrouillard and their soldiers have driven us to extremity. Mind the loose electrical panels and pull up a reactor husk—they are inert, I assure you. Spit onto the floor—a few new stains will never be noticed. As every drop about to pass your lips is wholly, thoroughly, enthusiastically illegal, we shall not stand on ceremony. Shall we begin?

2583 Sud-Cotê-du-Golubash (New Danube)

The colonial ship _Quintessence of Dust_ first blazed across the skies of Avalokitesvara two hundred years before I was born, under the red stare of Barnard’s Star, our second solar benefactor. Her plasma sails streamed kilometers long, like sheltering wings. Simone Nanut was on that ship. She, alongside a thousand others, looked down on their new home from  that great height, the single long, unfathomably wide river that circumscribed the globe, the golden mountains prickled with cobalt alders, the deserts streaked with pink salt.

How I remember the southern coast of Golubash, I played there, and dreamed there was a girl on the invisible opposite shore, and that her family, too, made wine and cowered like us in the shadow of the Asociación.

My friends, in your university days did you not study the rolls of the first colonials, did you not memorize their weight-limited cargo, verse after verse of spinning wheels, bamboo seeds, lathes, vials of tailored bacteria, as holy writ? Then perhaps you will recall Simone Nanut and her folly, that her pitiful allotment of cargo was taken up by the clothes on her back and a tangle of ancient Maribor grapevine, its roots tenderly wrapped and watered. Mad Slovak witch they all thought her, patting those tortured, battered vines into the gritty yellow soil of the Golubash basin. Even the Hyphens were sure the poor things would fail. There were only four of them on all of Avalokitesvara, immensely tall, their watery triune faces catching the old red light of Barnard’s flares, their innumerable arms fanned out around their terribly thin torsos like peacock’s tails. Not for nothing was the planet named for a Hindu god with eleven faces and a thousand arms. The colonists called them Hyphens for their way of talking, and for the thinness of their bodies. They did not understand then what you must all know now, rolling your eyes behind your sleeves as your hostess relates ancient history, that each of the four Hyphens was a quarter of the world in a single body, that they were a mere outcropping of the vast intelligences which made up the ecology of Avalokitesvara, like one of our thumbs or a pair of lips.
(Continue Reading…)