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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.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 624: Fandom for Robots


Fandom for Robots

By Vina Jie-Min Prasad

Computron feels no emotion towards the animated television show titled Hyperdimension Warp Record (超次元 ワープ レコード). After all, Computron does not have any emotion circuits installed, and is thus constitutionally incapable of experiencing ‘excitement’, ‘hatred’, or ‘frustration’. It is completely impossible for Computron to experience emotions such as ‘excitement about the seventh episode of HyperWarp‘, ‘hatred of the anime’s short episode length’ or ‘frustration that Friday is so far away’.

Computron checks his internal chronometer, as well as the countdown page on the streaming website. There are twenty-two hours, five minutes, forty-six seconds, and twelve milliseconds until 2 am on Friday (Japanese Standard Time). Logically, he is aware that time is most likely passing at a normal rate. The Simak Robotics Museum is not within close proximity of a black hole, and there is close to no possibility that time is being dilated. His constant checking of the chronometer to compare it with the countdown page serves no scientific purpose whatsoever.

After fifty milliseconds, Computron checks the countdown page again.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 617: A Cure for Homesickness (Artemis Rising)


A Cure for Homesickness

By S. L. Scott

Krem was dead.

Well, not exactly, yet, but he knew death when he saw it, and the scavenger holding a plasma shotgun three feet from his face sure looked like death. The Torqu might have exoskeletons strong enough to keep hardened steel from piercing, but that wouldn’t stop the ensuing explosions from ripping him apart. They’d just be nice big chunks instead of tiny pieces. Not that Krem was surprised he’d go this way. He’d signed up for glory and adventure traveling the galaxy, and what that really meant was boring travel time followed by constant near-death experiences. The former he’d learned to live with; the latter, it seemed, would be harder to ignore.

At least he’d finished his mission. They’d been hired to recover passengers from a crashed ship, but the scavengers and slavers had all gotten there at the same time. By now, the last group of survivors should be close to the final checkpoint, where the captain could get them to the safety of their ship.

“Del,” he whispered into his com. “Make sure they sing for at least two hours at my funeral. If I’m going to die a hero, I think I deserve it.”

Krem wanted to go out shooting and kill his own killer in one of those “showdowns” he’d seen when Max, their human crewmate, picked the entertainment. There was a certain appeal to two people facing each other over the fate of the universe. Krem was decidedly more practical though. He knew one drone like him wouldn’t matter any more than the one scavenger about to kill him. He’d done his part, and now he would come to an end for the betterment of the mission. That was how the Torqu thought of heroics, after all.

The scavenger raised his gun slightly—better to hit Krem in the neck between his more protected thorax and skull plates—and promptly exploded. A shower of sticky blue internal juices and meat splashed Krem’s entire front and dripped into his gasping mouth. The scavenger tasted rather sweet, he noted, as little else seemed to make it through his shock-addled brain. There, behind the scavenger and just as covered in corpse debris, stood Max.

“Why’d you come back?” he asked slowly and with as little understanding of the human as he ever managed. Max had taken the second group. There was no reason for her to be there.

Max, wiry as a bridge cable, wiped the blue blood from the visor protecting her eyes and spit a bit or two of scavenger from her mouth. Apparently, humans didn’t find it as appetizing. Once able to see again, she reached out a hand to hook his claw and yanked him to his feet. “We’ve got a saying back on Earth: never leave a man behind.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 597: Ms. Figgle-DeBitt‘s Home for Wayward A.I.s


Ms. Figgle-DeBitt’s Home for Wayward A.I.s

By Kurt Pankau

I watch with hope as Ms. Figgle-DeBitt samples a slice of caramelized banana upside-down cake. She takes a nibble and seems pleased. She sweeps cybernetic fingers through the shock of gray hair that sits on the human half of her face, a gesture I’ve learned is contemplative. She takes a larger bite, chews, and grimaces. She spits it out into a trash can.

I’m not upset by this. I do not get upset. I get better.

“This is definitely an improvement, Charlie,” she says. “If I may make a recommendation? Next time, peel the bananas first.”

“Of course, Ms. Figgle-DeBitt,” I say. Another foolish mistake.

“This recipe is important to you, isn’t it?” she asks. “You’ve tried to make it three times this week.”

“It’s the recipe that ended my career,” I say.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 585: We All Scream


We All Scream

by Marie Vibbert

We weren’t, any of us, heroes. Aiden was a downright chicken. I’m allowed to say that; I love him. My husband doesn’t have to live up to your expectations of masculinity. I’ll beat the crap out of anyone who says otherwise. Me? I don’t stick my neck out. I mind my own business, which is selling ice cream and looking after the twins. That’s Aiden’s business, too. We take turns driving the truck and keeping the kids from falling out of it.

It was Aiden driving that particular day. I was counting the money and finding that we’d gotten short-changed about the price of a dream bar at the playground stop – always happens when there’s a large crowd. Little scammers.

“Count the dream bars, Stevie,” I said. He rolled his eyes as he got to his feet like I’d asked him to carry eight loads of bricks ten miles. Molly raised her head and with the air of a saint said, “I can do it, Momma.”

“Nothing doing, you keep on with your reading.”

I was being mean and forcing them to do the work the other one was better at. Builds character. Molly hid her annoyance well.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 559: Vegetablemen in Peanut Town


Vegetablemen in Peanut Town

By August Marion

Otto scanned the grassy countryside for any sign of marauding vegetables. The steeple he and Darby were in wasn’t quite thirty feet tall, but it was taller than any other building in Peanut Town, so it offered an unobstructed view of the surrounding farmland. There were acres and acres of genetically engineered, perambulatory peanut plants shuffling around in scattered groups, probing the rich soil for nutrients with their roots. Everything looked perfectly safe. Peaceful even.

“Hey, genius.” Darby said acidly. “North is that a way.”

“Oh.” Otto said, as he turned around. He refocused the binoculars he was using, and then he saw them: vegetablemen. The same strain that had so annihilated Manhattan that even the rats had given up on the place. There were about three dozen of them scattered over the gently rolling hills. They lumbered toward the town slow and heavy on their long, stout, green stalks. They were still far off, but he could tell from the coloring of the peels around their thoraxes that they were the same cultivar that the king had sown on Manhattan.

Otto lowered the binoculars. He swallowed hard.

“Well?” Darby asked. “Is them the ones from Manhattan?”

“Those are they, yes.” Otto confirmed, as he tugged at his collar. He hated hot weather. It didn’t fit his wardrobe.

“We’re going to have to fight them.” Darby grinned madly.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 554: Captain Drake Learns His Lines


Captain Drake Learns His Lines

By Amy Sisson and Kate Suratt

So I was sitting there minding my own business and trying to choke down the rotgut Rick passes off as whiskey, when who should come sailing through the door but Jeanne Bixby –- yes, the Jeanne Bixby, the biggest telewave starlet this side of the galaxy. She’d covered that famous red-gold hair with a gauzy green scarf and wore sunglasses, but she had to take them off because the bar was so dim she nearly tripped over the Candalubian dozing on the floor just inside the doorway.

Candalubians can sleep anywhere.

Anyway, I knew it was her the minute she took the glasses off, but I couldn’t figure out what the hell she was doing in Rick’s Bar. She didn’t even have her contingent of red-carpet bodyguards with her, just a single H’Rak’tin wearing brass knuckles on all four hands.

On second thought, maybe that was enough. H’Raks are famous for what they can do with brass knuckles.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 420: The Shunned Trailer


The Shunned Trailer

by Esther Friesner

[EDITOR: We don’t have the rights to post the text of this story.]

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Escape Pod 321: Honor Killing


Honor Killing

By Ray Tabler

You would think that after all the years I’ve spent schlepping cargoes around the galaxy I’d have learned not to get involved with the locals, especially when they’re not humans. You would think.

A Yanuleen sat down across the table from me in a bar at the edge of the landing field outside of Yanult’s largest city. Yanuleen are furry little folk, bipedal and about a meter tall with six multi-jointed arms poking out at odd intervals around their middles. This one blinked beady, black eyes at me, “Greetings Sentient Being.”

“Uh, greetings.”

“Isn’t it a glorious piece?” My new buddy pointed an arm at the artwork on display in the middle of the bar.

Yanuleen are a bit nuts for that type of thing. They have artwork, mainly sculpture, everywhere, even in a bar. To me it just looked like a three-meter tall bundle of twigs with pieces of broken pottery tossed in at random.

“Very nice.” Being in a foul mood, I took a drink and stared at the Yanuleen.

“Here is being Klonoon.” He pointed all six arms at himself, in the manner of his kind. “Might here also being Captain Anne Katya Shim, who is having a cargo of entertainment modules impounded by the Port Authority?”
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 241: Thargus and Brian

Show Notes

Show Notes:

Next week… we discover that food is, in fact, love.


Thargus and Brian

By Stephen Gaskell

Thargus thought the time right. He set the lights to full strength and flailed and gnashed and roared as he’d been practising. He felt rather silly, but the performance seemed to be working. The human, one hand steadying its spin, looked on intensely. It moved the white stick up to its mouth, breathed in, and then stabbed the stick out against the sac wall.

“Don’t be afraid,” Thargus said, meaning the opposite. He’d seen the trick on old films stored in the moss-brain when humans always said one thing and meant another like “We’re safer if we split up.”

The human exhaled a long stream of smoke. “I’m not,” it said.

That didn’t sound right. Thargus considered his response while staring at the human. It sure was ugly. A patchwork of dirty synthetics over the majority of its body, and on top of its pudgy, pink head, strand upon strand of greasy hair. Ugh! Thargus felt sick.

“Be afraid, then,” he said.

“Why, are you going to eat me?”

Thargus didn’t feel comfortable telling an outright lie, but that didn’t mean he needed to be too honest. “I might.”

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