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Escape Pod 658: Beatrix Released

Show Notes

Termination Shock
Termination Shock

TERMINATION SHOCK is a new roleplaying game from Greg Stolze, chronicling your adventures as an ordinary human rescued from hellish war by disorganized aliens. What will you do as a refugee in a strange cosmos? Cling to your past, or find a purpose among inscrutable aliens? Will you just get by, or will you redefine humanity in the eyes of a million extraterrestrials? The choice is yours in this new tabletop game, on Kickstarter now.


Beatrix Released

By Shaenon K. Garrity

The lichen in the cupboard has at last begun to sing.  It sings in two-part harmony, bel canto, essaying a faultless duet with itself.  What a strange and lovely fairy!  I am convinced more and more that my earlier theory was correct, that the lichen is a bipartite organism comprising both fungus and an algae or bacterium.  A remarkable symbiosis, distinct I believe from any recognized taxonomy.  The love its halves sing to one another is profound enough to make one blush, and I soon retreated to the far end of the room to sketch my collection of English mice in the bone cabinet.  Papa and Mamma have allowed me to keep a few childhood specimens in my room again, to be used for art lessons only.

Dinner party tonight.  All the MPs got a clinical dissection, it was lively.  Papa and Grandpapa are appalled by Gladstone’s capitulation to the Irish Free Staters.  I agree entirely.  If it were me I’d turn them all out with a thrashing.  When the guests moved to the drawing room for dessert and coffee Mamma suggested I retire, as the conversation was likely to get too intellectual for a girl like myself.

(Speaking of conversation: I’ve decided to continue this diary in a new code.  The previous simple substitution code was v. solvable, and the thought of Mamma reading my less charitable observations was keeping me up at night.  She will go through my things!  Besides it is good mental exercise to practice a new writing system.)

A few new faces among the dinner guests.  One gentleman with an amusing gait, stiff and precise, like a spider.  He specifically resembles the Pholcus phalangioides or Daddy long-legs.  The cause of the distinctive perambulatory motion of spiders is hydraulic pressure, which assists them in flexing their limbs.  The cause of the distinctive perambulatory motion of the dinner guest is unknown.
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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.
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Escape Pod 635: After Midnight at the ZapStop

Show Notes

This story references a concept called “mirror neurons,” that’s subject to some controversy in the scientific community. Escape Pod’s current Assistant Editor happens to be a neuroscientist who shared some thoughts on the topic: http://benjaminckinney.com/mirror-neurons/


After Midnight at the Zap Stop

By Matthew Claxton

When the guy with the horns came in, I knew it wouldn’t be a good shift.

He scowled when the ZapStop’s doors refused to slide open for him. Ignoring the late-hours doorbell, he pounded one meaty fist on the shatterproof polycarbonate. The young woman beside him, hands tucked into the pouch of her hoodie, shifted uncomfortably.

I considered leaving them standing in the parking lot, but much as I’d like to have the ten p.m.-to-six a.m. shifts uninterrupted by customers, they were kind of the point. I hit the door release and let them in.

Under the bright store LEDs, I could see the forehead ornaments were new. Big, curling ram’s horns, straight out of a Rocky Mountain wildlife doc, joined across his forehead to give him a perpetual frown. Faint pink lines traced the graft below his hairline and just above his eyebrows where the whole mess had been slapped into place.

Typical frat boy, in other words. At least horns were less awkward than last year’s fashion for antlers. We’d lost a few ceiling tiles to those.

“Help you with anything?” I said.
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Escape Pod 580: Nozizwe and Almahdi


Nozizwe and Almahdi

By J. R. Dawson

She was a princess and he was a prince, and they had been genetically made for each other. The science had been precise down to their anatomical make-up, the blood and the speed in which that blood pulsed through their perfectly symmetrical hearts.

His name was Almahdi. He had been named this because of the way the consonants and vowels hit the shape of her ear. Her name was Nozizwe, because she would indeed be the mother of nations. They would meet at a grand ball on the space station, in the neutral zone between their two new colony kingdoms, in their eighteenth year. So that meant, while other children got to spend their first eighteen years enjoying their robo-dogs and trying to set their parents’ fireproof space suits aflame and going to camp on the moon, the prince and the princess did nothing fun. In fact, their daily activities were about as far from fun as daily activities could get.“You were made out of love,” Nozizwe’s father, the King, instructed her — age three — from his throne. “Therefore, you must love. Now, what does it mean to love, Nozizwe?”
Nozizwe, sitting in an uncomfortable chair, farted loudly.

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Escape Pod 570: What Good is a Glass Warrior?


What Good is a Glass Warrior?

By Scott Huggins

Like falling through rings of intermittent diamonds;
White laser-circles of moon.

Kinhang Chan Tzu chose those words to describe being me. Given that he was Earth’s poet laureate, and I am only my parents’ daughter, who am I to argue? I have never seen any of those things – he might be right. How can I know? Colors remind me of swimming. Like water, they surround you, but give you nothing to hold on to.

I hold the release lever to the airlock in my hand. The inner door stands open behind me. I say a brief prayer. I pull the lever down.

The soft wind of Langstrand rushes into the colony ship, smelling of forest and beach. Behind me, bulkheads close with soft bangs. All except the ones I’ve cut out of the circuit. No alarms sound. No lights flash. Quickly, I jog back to Cargo Bay One.

Now there is only waiting.

I crouch in a swirl of blue and black wind, and my polyfiber spear is a shaft of warmth in the ocean of air, heated by my fingers. Wind flaps against my father’s too-big combat jacket, making listening difficult. The only breathing is Uncle Jimmy’s, strapped in the gurney.

“You there, Unk?” I whisper.

“Lass? Where are you? It’s dark.”

“Yes, Unk, it’s dark. What do you see? Anything?”

“Too dark to see. Too dark for the Glass Lass. You should be in bed. Where are Don and Amy?”

“They’re safe, Unk.” As safe as sickbay can make them, anyway.

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Escape Pod 568: Dr. Mbalu and the Butcher’s Daughter (Artemis Rising)

Show Notes

Artemis Rising returns to Escape Pod for its third year! This month-long event highlights science fiction by women and non-binary authors. We have five original stories this year that range in topics from biotech to far-flung A.I, virtual reality, and nanotech.


Dr. Mbalu and the Butcher’s Daughter

By Megan Chaudhuri

With a raspy pop, the cell sprayer in Rebecca’s hand sputtered one last drop of fur progenitor cells. Ignoring her stiff back, she leaned over the culture vat and daubed the cells onto the pink, gel-sculpted contours of a cheetah’s back muscles. The gel rippled; Rebecca held her breath as the reflexive shiver splashed the surrounding nutrient broth.

“Go in,” Rebecca whispered, her eyes hot and dry behind her goggles. Please, she prayed, conscious of the crucifix’s weight at her neck. Another reflex rippled the gel, as if the nerve matrix suddenly sensed the truth: It grew inside an old Gates Foundation lab trailer on the cheapest hook-up in Little Nairobi, rather than in the hide of an adult cheetah.

But the droplet disappeared slowly, the cells sinking into the gelatinous stew of serum and growth factors that—God willing—would ripen them into a furred skin.

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Escape Pod 565: The Zombee Project 3.0 (Artemis Rising)

Show Notes

Artemis Rising returns to Escape Pod for its third year! This month-long event highlights science fiction by women and non-binary authors. We have five original stories this year that range in topics from biotech to far-flung A.I, virtual reality, and nanotech.


The Zombee Project 3.0

By Allison Mulder

Jensen brought the job offer to each of them in person, like no one did anymore. She poached them from the best labs and the best apiaries, all over the world. Put everything she knew on the table, in out-of-the-way cafés and fine-but-nothing-fancy hotel rooms and home kitchens which smelled strongly of coffee and not much else.

She handpicked them. She made that very clear. Like she was assembling heroes, forming a unit—a rescue unit, with a crucial task.

At that point, it wasn’t recruitment. It was a higher calling.

“It’s not legal,” Jensen told each of them. “But no one who could enforce that knows about it.”

None of them cared. They signed Jensen’s contracts and confidentiality agreements.

And from then on they were all members of Jensen’s team.

Nothing less and nothing more.

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Escape Pod 562: Meltwater


Meltwater

by Benjamin C. Kinney

My beloved waits for me in the flooded church. She’s died one time too many, and I can’t get her back without her help. At least, at last, it gives me a reason to see her again.

The church lies at the edge of the Mediterranean fracture, below cliffs barely eight thousand years old. Glacial melt pours down the precipice, filling the air with a fine frigid mist. Rime ice coats the façade, making the church look like a sharp-clawed hand locked in melting wax. Another fork drops me off in a flier, leaving me alone in the valley with my pack and what few memories I can carry.

Boulders and high water have turned the entrance into a scramble over icy stone. My lungs heave against thin cold air as I catch my breath in the nave atop a half-submerged pile of boulders. There’s just enough dry space for me to stand upright. I wish I’d taken a different body, but for this task—for me—only the traditional shape will do.

I first spot Emlune as a glowing line of blue. Her primary lamp cuts across the chamber, and the air glimmers with frozen mist. She clings to the vaulted ceiling with eight articulated limbs. Smaller lights spangle her teardrop-shaped chassis, as if she had swum in water rich with bioluminescent algae.

I cup my hands in front of my mouth. “Emlune!”

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Escape Pod 482: Chimeras

Show Notes

“Chimeras” was a Notable Story for The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016.


Chimeras

by Julie Steinbacher

You’ve heard going chimera is addictive. You’ve never done any hard drugs, so you’re not afraid of what this means. The “Free Consultations” sign on the clinic has drawn you in, not for the first time. It’s raining lightly in the city and droplets cling to your long hair and your nose. Bumps rise on your bare arms. You have the money for the first operation–savings you were going to put toward an apartment just for you and him–and the time: your whole life. You push open the door.


The waiting room is full of people. Some have only subtle modifications, pigment alteration to suggest stripes, lengthened earlobes, eyes that shine in the low lamplight. There are others who stare at you with unblinking reptilian irises, or who run sandpaper tongues across pointed canines. And then there are the other naturals like you, all huddled in one corner, stinking to some, probably, like fear and nerves. The bravado leaks out of you, but you force yourself to the desk, where you add your name to the list.

Then you find a place to sit in the center of the room and avoid eye contact with everyone, natural or not. You’re not going to lose your nerve now. You’re making a choice, going against all the promises you made to T–but then, he broke his promises to you.

Magazines litter the end tables to make the room look more homey. Animal women are on their covers, or beautiful animal men. There are interviews in Fur & Scales with a handful of celebrities on their personal journeys to chimera. The season’s fashions are highlighted on a page–lacy webbed fingers, dappled rumps, prehensile tails. Your name is called and you furl the magazine and put it in your purse. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 481: Temporary Friends


Temporary Friends

by Caroline M. Yoachim

The second week of kindergarten, Mimi came home with a rabbit. Despite numerous mentions of the Temporary Friends project in the parent newsletter, I wasn’t prepared to see my five-year-old girl cuddling a honey-colored fluffball that was genetically engineered to have fatally high cholesterol and die of a heart attack later in the school year.

“I named him Mr. Flufferbottom.” Mimi told me. I glared at Great-Grandpa John, who’d been watching her while I finished up my shift at the clinic. He shrugged. My gruff maternal grandfather wasn’t my first choice of babysitter, but he needed a place to stay and I needed someone to watch Mimi after school.

“Are you sure it’s a good idea to name him, honey?” I knelt down and put my hand on Mimi’s shoulder. “He’s a completely biological rabbit, and this kind doesn’t tend to live very long.”

“Teacher said to pick good names for our rabbits,” Mimi said. “Besides, you put new parts on people, so if Mr. Flufferbottom breaks you can fix him.”

Replacement pet parts were readily available online, and the self-installing models could be put in by anyone who could afford the hefty price tag and follow simple instructions. But replacement parts defeated the purpose of the lesson — research showed that children needed to experience death in order to achieve normal emotional development. Aside from the occasional suicide or tragic accident, there weren’t many occasions to deal with loss. Schools were required to incorporate Temporary Friends into their kindergarten curriculum in order to get government funding.

The school couldn’t control what parents did, of course, but the parent newsletter strongly discouraged tampering with the damned death pets in any way.

“Mimi, sweetie, that’s not how it works this time — I know we get a lot of extra parts for Graycat, but your Temporary Friend is only until…” I tried to remember from the newsletter how long the rabbits were engineered to live. Six months? “Only until March, and then we’ll say goodbye.”

I expected Mimi to put up a big fuss, but she didn’t. She took Mr. Flufferbottom to the cage we’d set up in her room and got him some food and water.

(Continue Reading…)