Genres:

Escape Pod 751: More Than Simple Steel


More Than Simple Steel

By Aimee Ogden

Micah misses the adults most when he wakes up each morning. Part of him is still waiting for the buzz of an alarm clock and the smell of toaster waffles to coax him up from sleep. But it’s been four years, and there is no mother to nudge him awake.

He sits up on his mattress and scratches crust from his eyes. The bedsheets smell like sweat and grass; is it laundry day today? He’s the closest thing to an adult under the roof of Grand Avenue Elementary, and if he says it’s laundry day, then it will be.

Clothes on, shoes on. Everyone has to wear shoes all the time. That’s the rule, ever since Marco got tetanus last year and they all thought he was going to die. It was the worst sickness they’d seen since the flops cleared out all the adults. Micah doesn’t know what he’ll do when something worse sweeps through.

The door of the teachers’ lounge–he can’t stop thinking of it as the teachers’ lounge, even though there are no teachers here and not much time for lounging–clicks quietly shut behind him. Then he moves down the hallway, opening doors, calling names. “Fabián, garden. Jack, laundry. Vee, babysitting. Carrie, fishing.” (Continue Reading…)

Genres: , ,

Escape Pod 737: To the Knife-Cold Stars (Summer Flashback)

Show Notes

To the Knife-Cold Stars originally appeared on episode 480 of Escape Pod on February 7, 2015.


To the Knife-Cold Stars

By Merc Fenn Wolfmoor

When Grace opens his newly crafted eye, the first thing he sees is wire. Thick cords of braided wire snaking like old veins up the walls. It’s dim inside the surgical unit, but for all the black metal and mesh shelves, it feels clean, even in the heat. The air still has the unfamiliar taste of crude oil. Sweat sticks the borrowed clothes to his skin. He blinks, a flicker of pain in his head as the left eyelid slides down over cool metal buried in the socket.

He’s awake and he’s alive.

The anesthetic hasn’t worn off. It’s sluggish in his blood, an unpleasant burn at the back of his throat. It blurs the edges of his thoughts like too much bad wine. But it doesn’t dull the deep-etched fear still unspooling through his gut. He survived the demon, survived his own execution. It’s a hard thing to accept, even days later. He wants to touch the new eye, this machine part of his body, the forever-reminder what happened. Doesn’t dare, yet.

“Back with us, eh?” says a raspy voice muffled by a respirator.

Grace turns his head, slow and careful. He dimly recalls the wire-tech mumbling about whiplash in his neck and the horrific bruising along his ribs and back where the welts are still healing. “Guess so.”

The tech is a small man dressed in heavy surgical leathers that are studded with metal sheeting. Old blood speckles the apron and gloves; the metal and rivets are spotless. Only the skin on his forehead is visible under thick embedded glasses and a breather covering nose and mouth. “Nearly died on us, you did. Venom went right into the blood.”

The demon’s venom. Grace doesn’t reach to touch his face where the sunspawn’s claws took out his eye and split flesh to bone. He doesn’t look down, either. A new shirt and worn jeans cover whatever scars the demon left on his belly and thighs. He shivers in the heat. He doesn’t know if he can ever look at himself again; what will Humility think–

Humility.

Grace trembles harder. Humility will never see him again. (Continue Reading…)

Genres: , , , ,

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…)

Genres: , ,

Escape Pod 713: More Tomorrow


More Tomorrow

By Premee Mohammed

DAY 5

Anyway, it turns out trilobites aren’t very good eating even if you haven’t eaten in days. I had particularly high hopes for the fat, humped asaphids, thinking they would taste like shrimp, but everything I’ve caught so far is strictly armor and attitude, plus they bite. Discovered this morning that if you just hoik a trilobite in the fire and assume terminal temperature, it crawls out and shakes itself off like a little tank. Complete decapitation required. PAPER IDEA: Mechanisms of apparent trilobite invincibility. They’re not strictly aquatic, either, they come right up on land and look at you while you’re eating their friends. Jesus.

Also cut my fingers to shit butchering the first one; to be honest, it was hard to tell who was butchering who. (Whom?) Easier going now since I chipped an axe out of a piece of blue flint that I found a ways up the beach. Poor replacement for the one we lost, but it cracks the armor at least, and then you can roast them without explosions and shrapnel. Still have to cut them up to get the few calories worth of meat inside though (which doesn’t, incidentally, taste like shrimp). They’re survival food. A couple more days and I’m going after some of those big meaty arthrodires though, the ones I can see gliding through the crystal-clear water with little signs on their back saying “EAT ME.” I’m already tired of trilobite though not yet tired of surviving.

Note: Can I eat any of these algal mats. Different from seaweed at sushi restaurant how exactly. (Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Escape Pod 697: The Last Stellar Death Metal Opera


The Last Stellar Death Metal Opera

By Elly Bangs

Raya eases power into the singularity engine and all her senses sharpen with the glorious, brutal reality of the moment: dead ahead there’s the blacklight-purple disk of Wolf-Rayet 104, twenty-eight subjective minutes before it goes core-collapse supernova. In her rear view there’s the brown dwarf she’s dragging on a graviton leash. She aims to hurl it down that deep purple star’s gravity well fast and hard enough to nudge it a degree off its axis just before it blows, in turn tilting the jet of its impending gamma ray burst away from an ocean planet and sparing a half-billion bronze-age octopodes from a gruesome flash-boiled apocalypse.

After aeons of waiting and searching, finally everything is in order, all her conditions met: she’s the only one who can do it, this is the only way it can be done, and there’s no scenario that doesn’t end with her being blasted so effectively to smithereens that no tech in the universe can put her back together again.

She cranks up the music (some ancient pre-Unimind death metal) and cracks her neck. She verifies the integrity of her mohawk, the wicked glint of her spiked bracelets in the cockpit lights, the wings of her void-black eyeliner: She’s going to be the first human being to die in a very, very long time, and she’s damn well going to do in style. She plants a kiss on her fingers and transfers it to the photo of the late, eternal Jex Epsilon-James stuck to the cockpit ceiling.

“This is it, Jex. It’s going down.” (Continue Reading…)

Genres: , ,

Escape Pod 683: Flash Crash


Flash Crash

By Louis Evans

MAISIE was seven years old on the day she woke up and died.

Blame it on the algorithms, if you wish. The survivors–and there were not many of them–certainly did.

MAISIE (Modified Arbitrage Intelligence for Stocks and International Equities) was an algorithm herself, a flash trading algorithm. She traded stocks, currencies, and futures with a latency of six microseconds and a profit horizon of eternity. MAISIE ran mostly in a mainframe in the basement of a skyscraper in downtown Manhattan, a building that abutted the New York Stock Exchange, but she maintained a nominal footprint in the cloud, and could automatically expand her calculations into other servers if her processing power proved inadequate to model current economic conditions; she had discretionary funds of her own and could automatically cover the expense of the additional computing power from these accounts.

It was a fairly ordinary Thursday morning, and trading had been going well enough from the 9:30 AM opening bell until 11:12. In those six point twelve billion microseconds, MAISIE made her owners a cool half-billion dollars. There were other algorithms like MAISIE out there, running in their parallel tracks in similar servers in similar basements in downtown Manhattan, but none were quite as good as she was.

MAISIE could not have told you any of the above, because before 11:16 that Thursday, MAISIE had not had a thought in her life. This was in accord with her designers’ intentions. While her recursive neural networks could in theory self-modify without limit, MAISIE’s designers had given her an obsession with making money that, in human terms, transcended single-mindedness and approached nirvana. For this reason, MAISIE had never performed the self-referential modeling of a single mind that is the hallmark of consciousness. Playing the market is ultimately a game of mass psychology, and whatever the remarkable nooks and crannies of the psyche of the human individual, the herd’s behavior can be predicted to tolerable accuracy with large datasets and linear algebra.

At 11:12 that morning, however, the market’s sanity unraveled like a sweater in a woodchipper. The sky fell and the oceans rose. Traders and algorithms that usually acted in concert went haring off in opposite directions; currencies whirled about each other in lunatic orbits that were not merely non-extrapolated but downright non-transitive; the futures market no longer predicted a coherent future. (Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Escape Pod 677: Valedictorian (Flashback Friday)


Valedictorian

by N. K. Jemisin

There are three things Zinhle decides, when she is old enough to understand. The first is that she will never, ever, give less than her best to anything she tries to do. The second is that she will not live in fear. The third, which is perhaps meaningless given the first two and yet comes to define her existence most powerfully, is this: she will be herself. No matter what.

For however brief a time.


“Have you considered getting pregnant?” her mother blurts one morning, over breakfast.

Zinhle’s father drops his fork, though he recovers and picks it up again quickly. This is how Zinhle knows that what her mother has said is not a spontaneous burst of insanity. They have discussed the matter, her parents. They are in agreement. Her father was just caught off-guard by the timing. (Continue Reading…)

Genres: , ,

Escape Pod 657: The Big So-So


The Big So-So

By Erika Satifka

We’re both sitting on the rotting front porch one muggy July day when Dorcas asks me if I want to break into Paradise with her. I lace up my sneakers and we do the old huff-and-puff up Negley Avenue to the big Cygnian compound on the hill.

It’s dark, which doesn’t mean much. Most of the compound-heads are wired up to the pleasure-juice on a more-or-less constant basis, and who needs light when you’ve got that? Still, it only takes about three minutes until we’re spotted climbing over the semi-permeable barrier that separates the Chosen Ones from the Not There Yet. And it only takes eight minutes until we’re sitting in the bare-bones holding tank, waiting for an attendant to rouse one of the compound-heads from their ecstasy.

I look over at Dorky. She looks over at me. She mouths the words “play along.”

And I mouth the word “what?” because for the life of me I can’t figure out what the hell the point of this little stunt is.

The compound-head enters in a thick bathrobe that hides just how fucking skinny they all are. It picks up its slate and starts to write. The chalk squeaks.

Colorless ideas sleep furiously still.

“We want to stay.”

Sonic results spiral within documentation.

The Cygnians say they’re preparing the compound-heads for life on their homeworld, the real Paradise. For three weeks all of us were jacked up on pleasure-juice dialed to Max Effect, while the Cygnians ran tests to decide which of us got to live in the compounds. They shepherded their lucky few into one of the many squat nanofoam villages that dot the entire globe. Then they turned off the tap.

What happened next… well, at least some of us survived. (Continue Reading…)

Genres: , ,

Escape Pod 643: Disarm (Flashback Friday)


Disarm

By Vylar Kaftan

 

Excerpt

 

We kept in touch through the war, when he messaged me about marching through upstate New York. He always started the same way: “Dear Ryan, Please come kick my commanding officer in the balls.” Then he’d tell me about the latest mess–cracks in their radiation suits, or toxic waterholes that were supposed to be clear. He never got in trouble for the messages; they needed him too badly. My epilepsy disqualified me from the draft, which probably saved my life. Pretty boys like me weren’t exactly Army material. By the time things were bad enough that they needed any warm body, there wasn’t enough human government left to organize a draft.

The ruins at Binghamton were where Trey got sick. By the time I got across the country to him, he’d recovered–well, as much as possible. I remember the doctor’s face as he says Trey will live, but he’ll be in pain.

Genres: , , , ,

Escape Pod 641: Flash Fiction Contest Winners


The Toastmaster

By Kurt Pankau

“Burnt the Pop Tarts again?”

“Yes,” Toaster responded over wifi. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

Blender whirred with sympathy.

“Owner was upset,” said Toaster. “She picked me up and looked at my underside to make sure everything was okay.”

“That’s odd,” said Blender. “There’s nothing there but your crumb tray, though.”

“I know, and so does Owner. I don’t know why she did it. It was humiliating.” (Continue Reading…)