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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…)

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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.

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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…)

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Escape Pod 640: Paradise Regained


Paradise Regained

By Edward Lerner

My head hurts. I expect it: this is winter. I want it to be spring.

Paradise does not ask what I want.

The winter is young, and I think the dogs are not yet so hungry as to attack me. Still, I hold tight to my spear. Dogs or no dogs, the spear helps me walk through the knee-deep snow.

Only trees show above the snow, and I do not know what is under. In winter, asleep, the plants cannot scream when I step on them.

Because they are asleep, Father told me. Long ago. Before Mother died. Before I left home. I did not understand what he meant. I do not now.

I think Father is gone, too. “Watch the flag,” Father told me, long ago, pointing at the tall pole that stood near Ship. “I will change the flag every day. Unless … I can’t. Then you must come. You must.”

From a high hill in my part of the forest, around a great curve of the sea, I look every day for a spot of color on top of the pole. Day by day, the spot changes color. Once, I knew the names of the colors. No more. Talking only to myself, the words go away. But then a day came when the color did not change. Not the next day. Not the day after. Not in … many days.

I see I do not remember numbers, either.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 606: Home Sick


Home Sick

By M. Darusha Wehm

I was encoding a batch of classic ebooks when the ulu-aliki walked in to the library, the outdoors scent of gardenias and overripe mangoes following him. “Afternoon, chief,” I said, pushing my chair back a bit. Joseph Seru spoke Tuvaluan with his family and the other council members, but his English was so much better than my Tuvaluan would ever be. Besides, even though less than ten percent of us were Aussies or Kiwis, the official language on the SPIT was English.

“Hey ya, Sally,” he answered, lacking his usually jovial demeanour.

“You looking for something in particular?” I asked. The island’s chief was a voracious reader and a bit of a film buff. I usually gave him first crack at the new titles I managed to snag off the satellite internet connection.

“Sort of,” he said, the last remains of his smile disappearing. “You, I guess.”

I frowned. “What’s up, chief?” I asked.

“I’ve got something for the blog.”
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 604: Given Sufficient Desperation


Given Sufficient Desperation

By Bogi Takács

An ice cream cone.

A ceramic mug—brown with a single green stripe around the rim.

A smartphone—I don’t recognise the brand. It’s been a while.

Two sheaves of corn.

A plush caterpillar toy from some cartoon.

A table—rather worn, I’d say Danish Modern, but I’m not sure.

I need a break.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 594: The Spice Portrait


The Spice Portrait

By J.M. Evenson

They said my love for my daughter was excessive, that I made her weak by kissing her and singing in her ear at night.

They also said I killed her.


My mother did not believe in tenderness. She was gaunt, all teeth and hair, her face hard as a stone lion. “If she wants to be fed, she must work,” my mother said.

She hunched over a copper vat of bubbling breadbean stew, stirring to make sure it didn’t burn. Powdered white liverwort dusted her eyelashes and the edges of her black headscarf. A dozen vats boiled behind her, each with a different gaunt woman stirring it.

Three young girls carried large bundles of firewood and loosed their loads into the flames beneath the vats. They couldn’t have been more than six or seven, but their shoulders were already wide and knotted with muscles.

I looked up from my own copper vessel and snuck a glance at Damla. She was sitting in the crook of a juniper tree collecting berries. She had dark eyes ringed in lashes that curled upward at the outer corners like a cat’s and a black ponytail that spiraled down her back.

Damla was smaller than the other children, even the younger ones. She’d been premature at birth and struggled for every inch, but I was proud of her length of bone. By some miracle she’d survived infancy—many didn’t—so I still had hope she’d catch up to the others.

“She’s too young,” I said.

“Nonsense,” said my mother. “You started when you were five. Like everyone else.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 571: Beetle-Cleaned Skulls


Beetle-Cleaned Skulls

By J. E. Bates

Fine amber dust infiltrated everything in the Preserve. Each morning, I vacuumed it away with my ventral hose prior to opening my kiosk. I paid particular care to my curios: the fossils, the bismuth crystals, and the beetle-cleaned skulls. Forebears, especially the children, delighted in receiving my curios as gifts. Each successful transaction gave me a burst of surplus energy, expressed as pride.

The mineral specimens I gathered from the talus behind the kiosk. I polished them right in the kiosk according to aesthetic principles. But I prepared the skulls in the subterranean machine rooms. They were created from deceased rhuka, a species of domesticated bovine. No other kiosk attendant created such skulls, and Forebears traveled great distances to receive one. They used them to decorate their caves.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 561: The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie


The Android’s Prehistoric Menagerie

By A. Merc Rustad

The world explodes.


Unit EX-702 comes back online when UV wavelengths activate its solar plating. Its optics are crusted with red dust; a low-powered system scan concludes that though its left arm is missing and there is excessive oxidation damage along its chassis and helmet, as well as a web spun from several arachnids (Nephila clavipes) now embedded in its servo stump, EX-702 is functional. Its operational protocols are intact.

This unit is programmed for the support of life and sapience.

Its databanks are semi-corrupted beyond basic functions and archived footage and base knowledge dumps. Attempts to access the ‘Net and reboot from a mobile hub fail with a repeated NO CONNECTION AVAILABLE alert. EX-702 lifts its remaining arm and scrapes dust away from its optics.

Operational Function 413: this unit will maintain self-preservation operations, including but not limited to the access of immediately available data to determine procedure, when it does not conflict with the preservation of homo sapiens’ survival.

EX-702 sits in the crater of what had been Newtonian Genetech Incorporated laboratories and HQ facility. Debris from the lab cakes the thick concrete and rusted iron walls. Its scanner matrix glitches with static-filled readouts and partially deteriorated unprocessed updates from microseconds before it was shut down.

Scientist voices agitated and unmodulated without appropriate safety masks. [STATIC] “—find survivors! Protect yourself!” [SHUT DOWN]

Something crackles against EX-702’s knee joints. Fibers, synthetic and organic—old HAZMAT suits shredded and woven around broken plywood and stripped copper wiring—shaped in a non-geometric design. Inside the structure sit three maroon and heather-brown eggs thirteen centimeters in length and six in diameter.

Processing…

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 560: Run


Run

By C.R. Hodges

The claxon blares three times: all clear. We file out of the underground shelter and up the serpentine lava tube. Our semi-annual hibernation drill, bureaucratic gibberish for run down to the emergency shelter and hide, is now monthly. I’m all for avoiding nuclear annihilation, but I wish the drills weren’t scheduled so close to lunar sunset.

I jostle my way toward the front of the long line headed for the surface modules. It’s been fourteen Earth days since I’ve talked to my best friend. Sure we could have emailed or texted, even from two-hundred and thirty-nine thousand miles away, but that would be cheating. We’re the Interplanetary Morse Code Club. Sally is President, Earth District; I’m Vice President of Lunar Operations. It’s a small club.

(Continue Reading…)