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Escape Pod 510: Them Ships


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 505: Falling Leaves


Falling Leaves

by Liz Argall

Charlotte and Nessa met in Year Eight of Narrabri High School. Charlotte’s family were licensed refugees from the burning lands and the flooded coast, not quite landed, but a step apart from refugees that didn’t have dog tags.

Charlotte sat on the roof, dangled her legs off the edge and gazed at the wounded horizon, as she did every lunchtime. Nessa, recognizing the posture of a fellow animal in pain, climbed up to see what she could do. The mica in the concrete glittered and scoured her palms as she braced herself between an imitation tree and the wall and shimmied her way up.

She had to be careful not to break the tree, a cheap recycled–plastic genericus — who’d waste water on a decorative tree for children? The plastic bark squished beneath Nessa’s sneakers, smelling of paint thinner and the tired elastic of granny underpants.

Nessa tried to act casual once she got to the top, banging her knee hard as she hauled herself over the ledge and ripping a fresh hole in her cargos. She took a deep breath, wiped her sweaty hands, and sat down next to Charlotte.

“‘Sup?” said Nessa.

“Go away.” Charlotte kicked her feet against the wall and pressed her waxy lips together.

“You gonna jump?”

“No. I’m not an attention seeking whore like you,” said Charlotte.

Nessa shrugged her shoulders, as if that could roll away the sting. Rolling with the punches was what she did. “You look sad.”

Charlotte bared her teeth. “I said, I’m not like you. Leave me alone.”

Nessa wanted to say, “Fuck you,” but she didn’t. Nessa wanted to find magic words to fix Charlotte in an impatient flurry. She couldn’t. Nessa scratched her scars for a while and felt like puking, but she didn’t think that would help either. Neither would hitting Charlotte’s head against a wall and cracking Charlotte’s head into happiness, although Nessa could imagine it so violently and brightly it felt like she’d done it. Nessa had banged her own head against walls to get the pain out of her head and chest, but it never worked — or rather it never worked for long enough, leading to a worse, moreish pain.

Nessa didn’t know what to do, so she just sat there, feeling chicken shit, until the bell summoned them into class. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 504: End of the World Community College


End of the World Community College

by Sandra McDonald

Vision
The End of the World Community College (EWCC) strives to assist the residents of Port Clinton and surrounding areas with all of their educational needs, including farming, construction trades, radiation decontamination, emergency medicine, fine arts, and artisanal bread-making. Dean Hendershot’s parents once owned a bakery. He treasures the sourdough starter that has been passed down through his family for three generations. Students who complete their courses of study are automatically gifted with a delicious loaf of fresh bread. Unless, of course, your name is Abdul Howard.

Tuition
Paper currency is useless, but the Registrar gladly accepts silver coins, diamond jewelry, gold teeth, and unexpired medicine. Fresh food, canned food, charged batteries, ammunition, livestock, and freeze-dried coffee are also welcomed with open arms. EWCC does not offer financial aid. Despite these desperate times, please do not attempt to rob the Registrar. He and his assistants carry pistols and mace at all times.

Your professors will gladly barter for additional lessons. Professor Shawl constantly needs cat food, Professor Ohara manages a yarn bank, and Professor Pfister collects pornographic material. In the old days Dean Hendershot would not have hired Pfister, but it is hard to find good math teachers and Pfister generously loans out his magazines upon request. Colonel Fisher, our ROTC director, trades exclusively for knives. The sharper the better. He does not read Professor Pfister’s porn.

Registration
Enrollment dates are ongoing. Please apply in person at the Registrar’s Office during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Refrain from appearing late at night at the Registrar’s house and pounding on his door in a drunken stupor, lamenting the loss of the old world and all its convenient ways. In his former life, the Registrar managed a hardware store in Sandusky, providing the very best bait, groceries, and ammunition to tourists on Lake Erie. He is an excellent shot.

(Continue Reading…)

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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.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 486: Blight


Blight

by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

There are three thousand people in the world, and we are all the same.

I don’t mean equal, for The Book makes clear we are not in any way equal. Some of us are blessed, others unblessed, as some live in the temple and others live on the charred black surface. And I do not mean we are similar, like sheep – the term once used, I believe, for a world of people with different genetic coding but the same ideas. No, we are not “sheep.” We are the same, from our hair to our DNA.

The Book tells us that once there was The First, long ago, before the war. It tells us that She was not strong but lucky. Hospitalized for a broken leg before the bombs were released, all at once, across the world, or so The Book proclaims. The hospital was underground, hidden from the fallout’s worst. Most of the building caved in with the force of incessant blasts, everything destroyed but one wing: Hers. Our temple.

Inside the room with Her, Her sister Marna had been visiting. Sister Marna, a scientist skilled in genetic replication, was older than The First, who had seen only twenty years. Sister Marna nursed The First back to health in that room, mended Her wounded bones. They ate Jello from sealed plastic containers and cans of beans and the petals of roses left by loved ones they learned to forget. They did not know they were the last.

But they knew they should not leave the hospital wing, for the one time Sister Marna pushed open the door to the surface, she found the way blocked by rubble, saw a hazy light falling from the cracked concrete above. She and The First remained inside until the food ran out.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 480: To the Knife-Cold Stars


To the Knife-Cold Stars

by A. Merc Rustad

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…)

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Escape Pod 478: People of the Shell


People of the Shell

by Brian Trent

Egypt’s rolling ice-dunes were suddenly peppered by a new ashstorm, as if a bowl of soot had overturned in the heavens. King Cyrus held up his fist and the war drummer ceased his rhythmic pounding, the oarsmen relaxed, and the sandship ground to a halt in the slush. The ash sprinkled Cyrus’ cloak and collected in his beard. He leaned against the deck rails and stared.

“Do you see that?” Cyrus asked his daughter, lowering his facemask around his smile. “Look!”

The girl squinted. “Are those the pyramids, father?”

“As I promised you.”

Three fires danced high in the darkness. In a world of never-ending night, the Egyptians alone had devised a brilliant defiance. The Giza pyramids were like magical lighthouses, capstones removed, their vast bodies filled with pitch, and red fires lit to smolder like desperate offerings to the vanished sun.

Standing on the sandship deck alongside his king, the Magus Jamshid said, “May they welcome us warmly. We are in no condition to fight.”

“I did not need a fight to take Babylon,” Cyrus reminded him.

“That was before the Hammerstrike, my lord.”

But the king waved his hand dismissively. “I will go to them and look in their eyes, and speak to them as friends, and trust that generosity has not perished with the trees.”

The withered magus grunted derisively. He was bearded and ancient, his skin like the patina of old scrolls. Jamshid wore a dark blue turban, facemask, and a scintillating black robe the same color as his pitched eyebrows. His gaze smoked like hot iron.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 465: The Sky is Blue, and Bright, and Filled with Stars


The Sky is Blue, and Bright, and Filled with Stars

by Edward Ashton

Dot reaches the summit of Mary’s Rock just after six, maybe an hour before sunset. It’s a clear, cool September day, with a scattering of tiny white clouds in a royal blue sky, and a soft, steady breeze from the west that brings the faint smell of burning things up from the ruins of Luray. She drops her pack at the top of the trail, pulls out a water bottle, and scrambles up the last thirty meters of broken granite to the high point. The trees on the north side of Thornton Gap a half-kilometer below are just showing the first hints of color, tiny flecks of red and gold mixed into a sea of dark green. Off to the west she can see the smoke now, rising from what looks like a brush fire far down the valley. She sits down, leans back against a waist-high block of stone, and drains half of her water in one long, lukewarm pull.

She’s been here once before, when she was years younger and there were still a few people raising goats and vegetables down in the valley. It was winter then, and she spent a crystal-clear, bitterly cold night out on the overlook, bundled into her mummy bag, sleeping in hour-long snatches, waking each time to a different dazzling pattern of stars and station-lights. The beauty was almost overwhelming, and she vowed then to come back some day, to see what it was like to spend a night on the summit when she didn’t have to worry about hypothermia.

As the sun begins to redden and dip toward the horizon, Dot climbs to her feet and makes her way back down to the overlook, a flat half-circle of stone maybe forty meters across, hanging out over four hundred meters of empty space. A hawk rides the breeze, floating almost stationary out over the drop. It looks at her, dips one wing, and falls like a stone, chasing something down below. Dot retrieves her pack, pulls out her food sack and her alcohol stove. She’s low on fuel. Four more days, maybe five, and she’ll be cooking over an open fire until she can find some more. As she measures out her supper, she realizes that she only has a few days worth of beans and noodles left. No point in cooking when you’ve got nothing to cook, and she’s at least a week’s walk from the nearest resupply. She sighs, and pours a third of what she’d taken back into the sack. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 450: Valedictorian


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.

But Zinhle, too, has considered the matter in depth. Do they really think she wouldn’t have? “No,” she says.

Zinhle’s mother is stubborn. This is where Zinhle herself gets the trait. “The Sandersens’ boy — you used to play with him, when you were little, remember? — he’s decent. Discreet. He got three girls pregnant last year, and doesn’t charge much. The babies aren’t bad-looking. And we’d help you with the raising, of course.” She hesitates, then adds with obvious discomfort, “A friend of mine at work — Charlotte, you’ve met her — she says he’s, ah, he’s not rough or anything, doesn’t try to hurt girls — ”

“No,” Zinhle says again, more firmly. She does not raise her voice. Her parents raised her to be respectful of her elders. She believes respect includes being very, very clear about some things.

Zinhle’s mother looks at her father, seeking an ally. Her father is a gentle, soft-spoken man in a family of strong-willed women. Stupid people think he is weak; he isn’t. He just knows when a battle isn’t worth fighting. So he looks at Zinhle now, and after a moment he shakes his head. “Let it go,” he says to her mother, and her mother subsides.

They resume breakfast in silence.


Zinhle earns top marks in all her classes. The teachers exclaim over this, her parents fawn, the school officials nod their heads sagely and try not to too-obviously bask in her reflected glory. There are articles about her in the papers and on Securenet. She wins awards.

She hates this. It’s easy to perform well; all she has to do is try. What she wants is to be the best, and this is difficult when she has no real competition. Beating the others doesn’t mean anything because they’re not really trying. This leaves Zinhle with no choice but to compete against herself. Each paper she writes must be more brilliant than the last. She tries to finish every test faster than she did the last one. It isn’t the victory she craves, not exactly; the satisfaction she gains from success is minimal. Barely worth it. But it’s all she has.

The only times she ever gets in trouble are when she argues with her teachers, because they’re so often wrong. Infuriatingly, frustratingly wrong. In the smallest part of her heart, she concedes that there is a reason for this: a youth spent striving for mediocrity does not a brilliant adult make. Old habits are hard to break, old fears are hard to shed, all that. Still — arguing with them, looking up information and showing it to them to prove their wrongness, becomes her favorite pastime. She is polite, always, because they expect her to be uncivilized, and because they are also her elders. But it’s hard. They’re old enough that they don’t have to worry, damn it; why can’t they at least try to be worthy of her effort? She would kill for one good teacher. She is dying for one good teacher.

In the end, the power struggle, too, is barely worth it. But it is all she has.

(Continue Reading…)

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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.]