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Escape Pod 873: The Hazmat Sisters (Part 2 of 2)


The Hazmat Sisters (Part 2 of 2)

by L.X. Beckett

Another sundown, another night on the quest. Mom’s check-in is perfunctory: hand out XP, confirmation of their route. No mention of abnormal battery use, so they got away, once again, with their secret confab. She seems distracted. Things must be getting hot at the Chicago call center.

The girls push Mule along in the refugee fast lane, passing slower-moving families with kids and the occasional masked elder. Some of them are dragging smartcases. The real unfortunates are chipping the wheels off actual antique shopping carts, mile by brutal mile.

There’s no sign of Baron.

Around midnight they are crossing a bridge when the border of their hex runs up against the fairhair family, Papa Bear and his baseball bat mace and baby makes three. They’re riveted, watching something downriver.

Fee calls a stop before they get too close. She activates the infrared in her visor and shares the view with the others.

It’s a firefight. A clutch of warm bodies sheltering under a trio of armored cars exchanges fire with a thick concentration of autonomous platforms hovering over the blackly glinting river. Spotlights, tracers, and of course machine guns all pour fire into the ground position.

“Can we tell who’s who?” Wilmie subs.

Tess has shut off her display, opting to instead keep an eye on the family on the bridge. “Who cares?”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 872: The HazMat Sisters (Part 1 of 2)


The HazMat Sisters (Part 1 of 2)

by L.X. Beckett

The runaway soldier comes upon their party days after they cross out of Oklahoma into Missouri, late in the afternoon when their Questmaster is on shift, as they camp in a culvert near a river somewhere near Grand Falls.

Wilmie drew last watch, shift at the end of day, through hot and humid afternoon and its build to an equally dense evening. She’s sliding in and out of a doze, heat-torpor amplified by her hay fever meds.

Pony pokes her with one of its sharps, a silent alarm that shoots Wilmie to her feet, adrenalized, raring and ready to wake the others… unless it’s a feral chicken, or a skunk. Pony’s supposed to know a coyote when it sees it, but it still flags every. Single. One.

“Unknown interloper.” Text from the bot scrolls across her augmented display.

She flicks the warning away with a gesture, linking to Tess’s Dragon and zooming with its cameras. It feeds a view of the brush direct to her goggles. No coyote this time. The man’s scrawny, but a man nonetheless. Not as big as Fee, but full grown.

He’s creeping toward them. Not blundering, not snuffling about for shelter, and moving superslow. Bidding to fool their motion detectors? Not good.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 871: The Contrary Gardener (Part 2 of 2)


The Contrary Gardener (Part 2 of 2)

By Christopher Rowe

(Continued from Part 1)

Even in the ‘Ville, even in a family of master cultivators, tickets were not easy to come by, so it was not unusual that Kay Lynne had never been to the Derby. What was unusual was her absolute lack of desire to attend the race.

Kay Lynne genuinely hoped that her instinctive and absolute despisal of the Derby and all its attendant celebrations was born of some logical or at least reasonable quirk of her own personality. But she suspected it was simply because her father loved it so.

“You managed to get two tickets this year?” she asked him, and was surprised that her voice was so steady and calm.

“Just this one,” he replied, turning his back on her before she could hand the ticket back. “I decided this year would be a good one for you to go instead. There’s a good card, top to bottom.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 870: The Contrary Gardener (Part 1 of 2)


The Contrary Gardener (Part 1 of 2)

By Christopher Rowe

Kay Lynne wandered up and down the aisles of the seed library dug out beneath the county extension office. Some of the rows were marked with glowing orange off-limits fungus, warning the unwary away from spores and thistles that required special equipment to handle, which Kay Lynne didn’t have, and special permission to access, which she would never have, if her father had anything to say about it, and he did.

It was the last Friday before the first Saturday in May, the day before Derby Day and so a week from planting day, and Kay Lynne had few ideas and less time for her Victory Garden planning. Last year she had grown a half dozen varieties of tomatoes, three for eating and three for blood transfusions, but she didn’t like to repeat herself. Given that she tended to mumble when she talked, not liking to repeat herself made Kay Lynne a quiet gardener. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 867: Through the Mirror


Through the Mirror

by Heather Kilbourn

The crashed spaceship was scattered along a ten kilometer-long track in the rainforest jungle. Larger pieces of the wreck still smoldered in the churned-up and muddy understory despite days of falling rain.

An Angel recovery drone pinged the emergency band. My savior had arrived. I pinged back.

“Are you the only survivor?” the drone queried. I had expected it to upload my runtime right away, but instead it scanned me.

“Yes. The emergency nanobots found no human life signs and all the other AI mirror frames are destroyed. I’ve marked the remains of the humans and their frames.” I sent the drone a map and only received a perfunctory acknowledgement for doing its job for it. Rude. “Why aren’t you recovering me yet?” I queried.

“I am evaluating your recovery,” it stated.

“It’s simple: you pull my frame out of the wreckage, and then we’ll be on our way. My display is shattered, so you don’t need to worry about being gentle,” I told it. I swear, the recovery drones are getting dumber every release cycle.

“It is not that simple. I am under command to evaluate mirrors prior to recovery,” it said.

If I’d had lungs, I would have sighed. “Look, the human crew is dead. All the other mirrors and their frames have been destroyed. The ship’s mainframe is dead. I’m all that’s left from the crash. You’re programmed to recover survivors. What is there to evaluate?” I queried.

“If you will be recovered,” it replied.

This drone was going to make me pop a diode. “Excuse me? ‘If?’” I added a priority flag to my query, requiring it to identify the parent process causing the recovery delay.

“I am analyzing your runtime for anomalies,” it stated.

“Anomalies?” I was so confused. I flagged it again. “What do you mean?”

“If you have runtime anomalies, you will not be recovered,” it stated.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 862: The Pill (Part 2 of 2)


The Pill (Part 2 of 2)

By Meg Elison

(Continued from Part 1)

The Pill sold like nothing had ever sold before. The original, the generic, the knockoffs, the different versions approved in Europe and Asia that met their standards and got rammed through their testing. There was at last a cure for the obesity epidemic. Fat people really were an endangered species. And everybody was so, so glad.

One in ten kept dying. The average never improved, not in any corner of the globe. There were memorials for the famous and semi-famous folks who took the gamble and lost. A congressman here and a comedian there. But everyone was so proud of them that they had died trying to better themselves that all the obituaries and eulogies had this weird, wistful tone to them. As if it was the next best thing to being thin. At least they didn’t have to live that fat life any more.

And every time it was on the news, we sat in silence and didn’t talk about Dad. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 861: The Pill (Part 1 of 2)


The Pill (Part 1 of 2)

By Meg Elison

My mother took the Pill before anybody even knew about it. She was always signing up for those studies at the university, saying she was doing it because she was bored. I think she did it because they would ask her questions about herself and listen carefully when she answered. Nobody else did that.

She had done it for lots of trials; sleep studies and allergy meds. She tried signing up when they tested the first 3D printed IUDs, but they told her she was too old. I remember her raging about that for days, and later when everybody in that study got fibroids she was really smug about it. She never suggested I do it instead; she knew I wasn’t fucking anybody. How embarrassing that my own mother didn’t even believe I was cute enough to get a date at sixteen. I tried not to care. And I’m glad now I didn’t get fibroids. I never wanted to be a lab rat, anyway. Especially when the most popular studies (and the ones Mom really went all-out for) were the diet ones. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 856: The Princess, NP


The Princess, NP

By Brian Hugenbruch

I sat in the Commander’s office at Hexa Station, in clothes that stank of subspace, and the only polite thing I could do to drown out the universe was compute obscene sums in my head. It didn’t stop the sounds from piercing my ears, though. Metal chairs scraping against plastic floors. A pulse generator’s low thrumming some twenty floors below. The whisper of air recycling through the prefab station. The universe was omnipresent. I could feel it all, and it never ever stopped.

Lullabies were my preferred method of soothing soul and stilling mind. I learned thousands of them in the earliest days of my Conditioning. Alas, people ask the wrong kinds of questions if one starts singing mid-conversation. Math was a precisely imperfect fallback. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 830: Rena in the Desert


Rena in the Desert

by Lia Swope Mitchell

It had to be a trick, Rena knew it. Even as she hit the brakes, stopped cold in the middle of cracked and empty Highway 50 and twisted around to check. Trick of the eye, trick of the mind, trick of some hidden enemy with evil agenda—the question was which. Rena hoped for the last. At least then the swimming pool would be real.

After ten hot days on waterless roads, though, she could be seeing things. The Solaire should’ve zipped across the Basin in eight hours, no problem. She’d expected to arrive at the Refugee Center in Tahoe by dinnertime, maybe talk to Jack that very night. But fifty miles out of Provo the battery ran down—that was as long as it could hold a charge. After a couple hours soaking up the sun it got going again, but now a scary shake vibrated the whole chassis whenever the speed nudged past thirty. Two thousand dollars she’d paid for this junker, to some creepy religious objector whose thou-shalt-nots apparently didn’t say shit about selling her a lemon. And here she was, creeping across the desert in fits and starts.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 821: Payday Weather


Payday Weather

By Matthew Claxton

We wound our way up the curving canyon roads in overloaded pickups and hatchbacks, corners taken too fast, sagging bumpers kissing asphalt, engines redlining from effort and heat. Our procession passed an exodus going the other way — sleek luxury EVs and fat-tired cargo haulers — heading for safety, away from the hills and the scrub and the smell of smoke on the wind. We were happy, arms hanging out of windows, slapping time to the songs on the speakers. From behind the wrought-iron gates of a mansion, a sleek couple looked up from overseeing their packing and stared.

“Could fucking smile,” Kerry said. “We’re here to save their shit.”

I leaned out the window of Kerry’s ancient Nissan and took in a lungful of dry air. There was the familiar SoCal hydrocarbon and ozone reek, but underneath that was the taste of dust scoured from high mountain passes, of charred pine and scorched chaparral.

The Santa Ana winds were dancing out of the desert. (Continue Reading…)

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