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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…)

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Escape Pod 722: His Stainless-Steel Heart


His Stainless-Steel Heart

by Jeffery Reynolds

It was at the rest stop in Tali that Viktor ran into trouble. His fault, really. He’d been driving along all swoon, meditating in an isolationist haze that provided him a good feeling, kept his thoughts clear. Didn’t even have to get high, it was a natural vibe for a motoring king. The ancient Buick purred like an avalanche of love, eating the miles. Better outcome than a warmonger could hope for. The rest were all perished. Peacetime no peace for warriors.

Into the stop he pulled, needing a stretch and a piss, maybe a hit of Somnup or a sip of caffeine. There were only a couple of vehicles there, so he thought sweet, no one to bust in on my mood. Two drone trucks; a couple three sedans, all electric and shiny new; a lone RV — first one he’d seen in about six years to be fair, so that made it coolness, and it clearly guzzled rich diez. Getting so he didn’t see gassers any more, which was opaque for the lungs, but always a bit low on the sadness scale. Made that RV something special, sitting there all proud on its rubber soles.

He walked through the swinging glass doors, into the cool of interior dusk, with the hum of an old AC unit buzzing like a hive through the ducts overhead. And there she came, out of the facilities, a Valkyrie with bleached blonde mohawk and electric green irises from the finest graft shop, her right arm one big circuit board, bio-gened and soldered with immaculate chromium threads. Perfect teeth when she smiled. Preggers as all heck, like she carried twinsies. She had that thing preggers get. He remembered that glow they had.

Green eyes.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 721: Hustle


Hustle

By Derrick Boden

I’m all stims and grins as I kick open the door to West Precinct, strung-out bounty dangling from my headlock like a slab of vat beef with a fauxhawk. Inside, it’s the regular bullshit: a row of five tellers–one for each of the bounty app networks–a half-dozen grime-streaked auto-cuff stations, four janitors, one cop. Everyone’s hustling, of course–cobbling gig-shifts to cover backlogged tuition payments and overdue streaming services, eyes glazed and fingers flensed to bone. Everyone except the cop, who’s there to lock up after everyone bails for the evening rideshare rush. She’s a loophole, a salaried ultra-minority, a relic of pre-privatization. She gives me the creeps.

I wrangle my mark to the EpicBounty desk. “Payday, y’all.”

The teller stares at me with soulless eyes. “Name and ID.”

Her DMV monotone is the stuff of legend. Of course she recognizes me–I’m not sporting a latex halter top and violet-tuned contax to blend in. But I’m still riding the post-gig high, so I play along.

“Violetta Yamamoto–”

“Into the lens, ma’am. You know the drill.”

Of course I know the drill. I’m a five-star double elite EpicBounty hunter, two tiers shy of max. Max elites qualify for fucking health insurance. No one in King County’s amassed more rep than me since I made parole five years ago–seventy-four thousand points and counting.

But who’s counting? (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 717: Listening


Listening

By Bob DeRosa

At exactly nine in the morning, Karen tapped the green box on her tablet screen and said, “Hello, my name is Karen. I’m listening.”

After a pause, a young woman said, “I’ve never done this before.”

“Whatever’s on your mind, feel free to share.

“Okay,” said the young woman. “I uh…my landlord’s raising my rent again. And…I have two kids and I work two jobs and their father…he’s just never around, y’know?

There was another pause, and Karen knew the young woman was trying not to cry. Still, the tears came. “And I don’t know what to do about it. I usually ask my mother for help but she’s not doing so good herself…”

Karen leaned back in her chair and settled in for the call. Her cubicle was small, but comfortable. A small desk held her tablet on a stand that was connected to the wireless headset she wore every day. The floor she worked on was a sea of identical cubicles. Every morning, Karen would enter the lobby of the unmarked corporate high-rise with the rest of her co-workers at the Listening offices. No one stood out. No pink hair or hipster beards, no sexy dresses or flashy ties. The plainness of the employees’ appearance matched their demeanor. There were no wishes of good mornings or smiles of greeting. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 701: Martian Chronicles (Part 2 of 2)


Martian Chronicles

by Cory Doctorow

I didn’t go back to the Junior Colonists’ Lounge for a whole week. Instead, I spent the time with my dad, who seemed pleasantly surprised that his son wanted to hang out with him. It made me feel bad, like I’d been neglecting him. But it also made me ask myself why my father didn’t think it was weird that I wasn’t spending any time with kids my age. Dad had always been busy on Earth, traveling half the time for work, spending his time at home with his computer over his face, barking angrily at it while his hands worked the keyboard like a mad player attacking a church-organ.

I didn’t mind, to be honest. Actually, I preferred it to those times when Dad decided to get all “dad-like” and insist on throwing a ball with me or take me to some kind of sports-match or play some game on the big living-room screen with me. It wasn’t that it wasn’t fun, but there was always a moment when we stopped talking about the game or the project and found ourselves sitting in awkward silence, trying to pretend that the reason we had nothing to say was that we were concentrating too hard on the matter at hand.

On Earth, Dad had been a hotshot statistical risk-analyst. This is not an easy thing to explain. But basically, what he did was tried to figure out how to balance investments to minimize risk. Say there’s an industry that benefits when someone finds a better way of growing wheat — the bread industry, say. And then there’s another industry that suffers when someone finds a better way of growing wheat, like, maybe, I don’t know, the corn industry? I forget how he explained this, to be honest, but this is generally the idea. So what he does is figures out how to invest some money in both industries, so that if someone finds a better wheat-growing technique, the investment in bread pays out, and if no one invents it, the investment in corn pays out. That’s the rough idea. What he did was like ten million times more complicated, though.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 700: Martian Chronicles (Part 1 of 2)


Martian Chronicles

by Cory Doctorow

They say you can’t smell anything through a launch-hood, but I still smelled the pove in the next seat as the space-attendants strapped us into our acceleration couches and shone lights in our eyes and triple-checked the medical readouts on our wristlets to make sure our hearts wouldn’t explode when the rocket boosted us into orbit for transfer to the Eagle and the long, long trip to Mars.

He was skinny, but not normal-skinny, the kind of skinny you get from playing a lot of sports and taking the metabolism pills your parents got for you so you wouldn’t get teased at school. He was kind of pot-bellied with scrawny arms and sunken cheeks and he was brown-brown, like the brown Mom used to slather on after a day at the beach covered in factor-500 sunblock. Only he was the kind of all-over-even brown that you only got by being born brown.

He gave me a holy-crap-I’m-going-to-MARS smile and a brave thumbs-up and I couldn’t bring myself to snub him because he looked so damned happy about it. So I gave him the same thumbs up, rotating my wrist in the strap that held it onto the arm-rest so that I didn’t accidentally break my nose with my own hand when we “clawed our way out of the gravity well” (this was a phrase from the briefing seminars that they liked to repeat a lot. It had a lot of macho going for it).

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 687: Four of Seven


Four of Seven

By Samantha Mills

In the waning light of an artificial sun, Camelia Dunlevy climbed a mountain with her sister on her back. Delilah was a hollow weight, bird-boned from reconstructive surgeries, unbreakable.

The trouble wasn’t her bones, but her lungs. She panted in Camelia’s ear, unaccustomed to altitude, a small sound that might as well have been a war drum. Camelia couldn’t call for help, she couldn’t leave Delilah behind, she couldn’t walk the road for fear of company men.

And her sister was still giving bad directions.

“There’s a path up the western slope,” Delilah whispered, her breath hot and tickling. “I swear it.”

“There’s no path.”

“I came up once, with Aster.”

“Then you were on a tram.”

“Yes. I saw it out the window.”

“I don’t know what you saw, but it wasn’t a path!”

An explosion rocked the mountain, pelting them in pebbles and moon dust. Camelia dashed behind the nearest bush—a sickly, transplanted thing, hardly any cover—and counted the seconds before the familiar grind-whir-scream of a strikebreaker started up. Distant, but not distant enough. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 682: Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast (Flashback Friday)


Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast

by Eugie Foster

Each morning is a decision. Should I put on the brown mask or the blue? Should I be a tradesman or an assassin today?

Whatever the queen demands, of course, I am. But so often she ignores me, and I am left to figure out for myself who to be.

Dozens upon dozens of faces to choose from.

1. Marigold is for murder.

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Escape Pod 681: That She Might Fly


That She Might Fly

By Mary Anne Mohanraj

“O’Brien,” the captain’s voice snapped across the net, interrupting Nuala’s conversation with her husband, demanding her attention. “We’re moving on to the last block, but there’s one holdout at number three-thirty-seven. Arjun Sivaloganathan. He’s refusing to evacuate. Go down and dig him out, by force if you have to.” His voice came through Nuala’s implant, syllables dropping out — some kind of interference from the bombing. It was disconcerting; in her entire life, the net had always worked smoothly. If the net wasn’t reliable, nothing was. Everything was changing, and not for the better.

“Yes, sir.” She signed off, to find that Michael had already cut their connection too. She couldn’t be sorry that the captain had interrupted that conversation – it had been a miserable one, her husband calling to tell her that the bank had refused their request for a medical loan. Until one of them got a promotion to a better-paying job, there would be no way to afford the gene-modding they needed. No way to have a child. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 678: Blonde


Blonde

by Priya Sharma

“When did you go bald?”

Only Clarice would ask such a forthright question.

“Leave her alone,” Jake drains his beer. Only he would dare contradict his sister.

The clock hands have gone from late at night to early in the morning. Jake’s bar is empty of customers. The staff, who are sitting round the table, fall silent, intent on their drinks.

“It’s okay,” Rapunzel says. “I was sick and it all fell out.”

Her scalp is shiny, every follicle devoid of life. Nor does she have any eyebrows. Or hair elsewhere for that matter.

“What colour was it?”

“Blonde.”

There’s a pause, then laughter.

Jake nudges her. “You’re a joker after all.”

She knows what he thinks of her. That she’s vague and evasive and hasn’t a clue what’s going on most of the time.

“Lucky you’re beautiful enough to be bald,” he adds.

Rapunzel touches the nape of her neck where she feels most exposed and tries not to smile.

(Continue Reading…)