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Escape Pod 800: Give Me Cornbread or Give Me Death


Give Me Cornbread or Give Me Death

By N.K. Jemisin

The intel is good. It had better be; three women died to get it to us. I tuck away the binoculars and crawl back from the window long enough to hand-signal my girls. Fire team moves up, drop team on my mark, support to hold position and watch our flank. The enemy might have nothing but mercs for security, but their bullets punch holes same as real soldiers’, and some of ’em are hungry enough to be competent. We’re hungrier, though.

Shauntay’s got the glass cutter ready. I’m carrying the real payload, slung across my torso and back in a big canteen. We should have two or three of these, since redundancy increases our success projections, but I won’t let anyone else take the risk. The other ladies have barrels cracked and ready to drop. The operation should be simple and quick—get in, drop it like it’s hot, get out.

This goes wrong, it’s on me.

It won’t go wrong. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 793: A Little Bit of Kali (Part 2)


A Little Bit of Kali (Part 2 of 2)

By Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi

I can’t tell you how long I wandered. A failed soldier going home when India needed us the most. I knew I should have gotten back to my parents—but truth be told I couldn’t make myself go back. I ditched my gear, worked odd jobs, mostly bicycle repair. India is a country of motorcycles, and every village and every junction, those days, had a dusty little shop with a pile of half-rusted bikes outside and three grease-covered men inside screwing something onto and engine. I was one of those nuts. I worked in a two-bit town so nameless that you couldn’t find it on a map even if you wanted to.

One day a man brought in a bike I instantly recognized—a Royal Enfield Bullet. An ancient design, built to jump out of planes in the second World War, left to India when the British withdrew; now a stolid, reliable workhorse of a bike, one of the few capable of handling everything India could throw at it. I spent a bit more effort than I usually put into it.

The man who came to pick it up arrived in a long white Chrysler, kicking up fine dust. A floral print shirt stretched over an ample belly. Gold chains glistened on his neck. Two thugs got out with him—one swarthy and sweating in the heat, one pale and thin and unafflicted. Both wore white.

“Bad customer,” said the owner’s wife, and bustled out of there as fast as she could.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 792: A Little Bit of Kali (Part 1)


A Little Bit of Kali (Part 1 of 2)

By Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi

Where do old gods go to die?

Not to Mother Ganga, no. Not for us the fire that strips our sins from our bones, turns our bones into ashes, turns our ashes into a constellation of dust on the holy river. They say Ganga once took the seed from the fire-god Agni, which would have otherwise burned this world to a cinder, and cooled it in her waters: but even she will not take our kind. Ganga only takes the flesh and blood. Leaves the metal behind.

They tried. The government of India lay one of us down in the waters—a prototype Vishnu, I think, ’20, maybe ’21. A thing too difficult to burn it, so they lit a ritual pyre and let Him slide into the waters. He lies there still, decades of human rot piling upon His frame. Sometimes His eyes light up, throwing mocking shadows at those who come to worship him from the dead river-banks, and those of us who know Him shudder, because underneath the ceaseless filth something still lives.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 787: Ascend, Exalt, Love, Propagate, Rise!


Ascend, Exalt, Love, Propagate, Rise!

By Sarah Kumari

The Glory smolders through Jehanne’s bloodstream, pulsing its encouragement.

The rivals who have survived along with him–officially ‘Fellow Eminents’ now that selection is over–twitch and moan as their addiction is quenched. Within minutes they are preening, flexing their muscles, stomping, or singing to Mother Elethra.

Jehanne’s training allows him to douse the call, to batter it down with a deliberate shifting of delta waves. He visualizes his metabolism disassembling the compound at industrial speed. This works for the moment.

In the crowd that fills the EverReach company spaceship, Indrine, the rebel woman pretending to be Jehanne’s mother, clutches the hand of the girl playing his sister. They are mixed in with the family and friends of the other Eminents along with villagers and unrelated Fervents that have made the pilgrimage.

The crowd prays collectively, feverish in their good fortune, for the EverReach company will reward the kin of Eminents for two generations.

If Jehanne succeeds in his true mission, his family will be slaughtered. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 782: Electronic Ghosts


Electronic Ghosts

By Innocent Chizaram Ilo

I

If Nneora had died two weeks earlier, her daughter, Anaeto, would not have resurrected her ghost. That was the night Nneora ran a fever, laid convulsing in bed, a slimy froth trickling from the corners of her lips. She had just finished telling Anaeto a story about a woman who fled home to find love. And when the fever subsided, she proceeded to talk to her late mother, Lolo-Nwa, in a tongue that reeked of everything living and dead. Dying on a night like that would have meant Nneora died complete, that her daughter was prepared for her death.

But Nneora will die this evening, when the air is the same as the feel of damp salt on dry skin. She will die midway telling Anaeto a new story. Nobody would believe, not that you can blame them, that Anaeto will do what she does because she is scared the Ghost Of Unfinished Stories will haunt her. Not even Anaeto herself. At some point, she will tell herself this lie: that she resurrected her mother’s ghost because the inquisitive scientist in her wanted to know how the story that numbed on the old woman’s lifeless lips ended. This is more plausible, more logical. A more scientific reason. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 779: The Call of the Sky (Flashback Friday)


The Call of the Sky

By Cliff Winnig

The army hospital’s underground floors reminded me of Pluto Base, a place I’d never actually been. I’d never even been off-world, but I remembered those claustrophobic beige corridors. Two years before, I’d synced with a bunch of my alts home on leave after basic training. Today for the first time I’d be meeting one who’d seen combat. More than that, one who’d become a hero, the only Teri Kang to survive the Battle of Charon.

We wouldn’t be syncing, though. Not this time. Not ever. Before she’d escaped the doomed moon — the moon she’d given the order to destroy — she’d been bitten. That’s what the G.I.s called it when Hive nanobots infected you: being bitten. Like it was a zombie plague or something.

Hell, it might as well be. Soon the only other Teri Kang in the universe would lose her fight with that infection, and the army docs would euthanize her. Under the circumstances, even coming home had been an act of courage. A lot of G.I.s who got bitten went AWOL rather than face the certain death of returning to base. Not for the first time, I wondered if I had such courage lying latent within me.

Flanked by MPs, I followed a nurse down hallway after hallway till we arrived at my alt’s room. Well, the room next to it, since she was quarantined. A smartglass wall separated me from the sterile chamber where the other Teri Kang would live out her last few hours.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 771: The Mercy of Theseus (Flashback Friday)

Show Notes

The Mercy of Theseus first appeared on Escape Pod on Episode 472 on December 19, 2014.


The Mercy of Theseus

By Rachael K. Jones

Greta and Jamal have three arms, two legs, and one working kidney between the two of them. The kidney belongs to Greta. Its twin went to her little sister three years back, and now she has a laparoscopic keyhole scar over her belly button to remember it by. She can feel it pull tight when she rolls her creeper beneath the chassis of the next project in the shop. Thanks to the war, Jamal has lost the arm, the legs, and the other two kidneys.

All his parts have since been replaced. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 767: Shadowboxer (Flashback Friday)


Shadowboxer (Excerpt)

By Paul Di Filippo

Generally speaking, I need only three minutes of concentrated attention to kill someone by staring at them. If I’m feeling under the weather, or my mind is preoccupied with other matters–you know how your mind can obsess about trivial things sometimes–it might take five minutes for my power to have its effect. On the other hand, if I focus intensely on my victim I can get the job done in as little as ninety seconds.

…Now the nation is at war. Or so we’re told. I guess that changes everything. A person like me becomes much more important.

Host Commentary by Alasdair Stuart

The thing I love about this is, honestly, everything, Di Fillippo does such a fantastic job of parking us inside the head of the protagonist that we wake up to the drip feed of information, and the theft of temporal awareness at the same time. That rising awareness is in turn mapped onto the gradual realization of what the lead can do. This is Scanners without the grand guignol, the assassin’s dream. Tireless, effortless, painless, invisible.

But not unaware.

That’s the single chink in the armour of dystopia and the author does such fascinating things with it. This is the slow moral awakening of a gun mixed with the gradual realization that he is far from alone and far from indispensable. There is always another target and there is always another gun.

That sort of cold, machine calculus lies at the heart of a lot of great espionage fiction alongside the simple, brutal certainty of survival, physical, rather moral. A spy may not leave a story with their mission intact but they’ll usually leave it with their body and mind intact. Whether that’s entirely true of the most famous spy in the world depends on when that latest Bond movie will finally be released but even Commander Bond, he of the bad knee and possible brain damage, still works in a position of moral certainty. He gets to live. His target does not.

This character is denied even that. The ending, for me, reads one of two ways. The personal one is arguably the more horrifying, where his lack of memory dovetails with the mirror and his latest target to ensure this particular cannon is fixed directly towards self slaughter. That, especially when he’s viewed as nothing more than a weapon, is terrifying. He’s ordered to decommission himself and seems minded to do so.

The second option is cold but almost more reassuring. That the President as his final target is an exhausted road to Damascus for the conspiracy that has him; they’re pushed to the limit, they have no further plays, so it’s time for a decapitation strike. Worse still, they’re winning and this is the last move. Regardless, the story ends with us, and the lead, aware that the chessboard is there but with no idea who is playing what side or what piece our lead is. Check is always a single move away. Choose wisely.

This is expertly handled genre fiction and for 5 bucks a month at Patreon, you can not only help us keep making it but get access to our vault. For more you get access to surveys, merch, the whole bit. For 5 bucks a month at PseudoPod, it’s the vault. Either option works for us. Both are needed. Please help out if you can. And if not with money, why not time? Help us raise our profile by leaving a review, on apple podcasts or google or whatever your podcatcher of choice is. Tweet a link to an episode, write a blog. Trust me it all helps. And on behalf of all of us, thank you.

Escape Pod is a production of Escape Artists Inc and released under a creative commons attribution non commercial no derivatives license. It will return next week with Balancing the Equation by Justin C Key, hosted by Jay Bhat with audio by Summer and narration by Laurice White. I leave you with this quote from The Iron Giant: “I Am NOT A Gun.”

Take care folks, see you next time.

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Escape Pod 766: The Unrepentant


The Unrepentant

by Derrick Boden

First time I saw her, she was bleeding from her left nostril with a nightstick jammed under her chin. Officer Vang was twisting her arm all kinds of unnatural behind her gene-hacked body, pressing her face to the exterior window with four thousand miles of freefall and filth and societal decay on the flip side. The lights in the cramped hallway–alpha quadrant, fourteenth floor of this godforsaken space elevator–painted her face a rusty orange. She was just another dirtside ghoul from the Rot, weaponized by another shadow corporation that had repurposed Earth’s battlegrounds into one big biotech testbed. Officer Vang–an over-muscled knot of a woman that never missed a chance to make example of one of us refugees–had the ghoul jammed against the hull so hard her boots were dangling like the guerrilla corpses in the town squares back home. She should’ve been howling in pain.

She was laughing.

I’m a shrewd woman, a survivor. Should’ve shuffled right past along with the seventy-some other scrag refugees, all beleaguered and shock-eyed with horror. We weren’t twenty hours from Processing–another week before we’d reach Distribution at the lift’s orbital counterweight–and the illusion of freedom had already bled dry. We’d won the lottery, escaped the Bloc, only to be stamped and sorted and packed into this long vertical handoff from one indenture to the next.

Maybe that’s why I stopped. Something in her laugh said nice try. Sure, we’d spent our respective lives on opposite sides of the war–ghoul against scrag, Rot versus Bloc. Sure, defiance is a cheap substitute for hope. But goddamn did that laugh sound just right, just then.

Besides, I had a plan. I’d been tracking Officer Vang since her immigration crew had subdermaled KUIPER INC down my forearm and tossed me onto this lift. I had a better shot at seeing my twenty-second birthday back in the dirtside scrabble than mining the Kuiper belt. Fucking sponsors.

Only hope now was to carve my own fate.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 754: Where They Keep Their Promises


Where They Keep Their Promises

By B. Pladek

I imagine you eating the chocolate bar.

It will arrive tomorrow, I hope, though the war has disrupted the medrunners’ routes between Chicago and London. It will arrive, though. I promise.

I imagine you unwrapping it, double-checking the forged postmark from your old orphanage, the forged note that says only happy birthday, since I never learned your real name. You’ll guess it’s chocolate, though it’s so expensive you’ve never tasted it before. Only copywrit people can afford chocolate.

The thought gives me pause. You believe I’m copywrit now, and I’m the only person who has ever bought you sweets. If you guess the bar is from me, you might throw it away.

Promise me, Fi. Promise me you’ll eat it.

I look up, away from the cartel’s sleek chemlab, and out over the Chicago skyline, hazy with sunset.

How dare you, you might reply if you were here. How dare you make me promise you anything. (Continue Reading…)