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Escape Pod 819: Christmas at the Hilbert Astoria (Part 2)


Christmas at the Hilbert Astoria (Part 2 of 2)

by Sam Schreiber

“So. Let me get this straight,” Madeline said as Nick pressed a warm compress to his forehead. “Your room attacked you.”

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Escape Pod 818: Christmas at the Hilbert Astoria (Part 1)


Christmas at the Hilbert Astoria (Part 1 of 2)

by Sam Schreiber

“You’ll have to forgive the delay,” the concierge told Nick, smiling conspiratorially over the Talathello marble counter. “It’s our busiest time of the year.”

The hospitality program punctuated the nonsensical assertion with a knowing wink.

“Can’t imagine that joke ever gets old,” Nick said, tucking his hands into his red flannel overcoat and rocking on the heels of his black workman’s boots. The concierge’s static-gray face went blank for a moment as more sober-minded algorithms kicked in.

Booking a room at the Hilbert Astoria was, by definition, always possible. But booking the right room could be a slippery proposition. The Vice Regent of Svartalfheim had spent a month waiting for the palatial suite he’d demanded, or so Nick had heard.

Nick’s own requirements, while nowhere near as extravagant, were exacting in their own way. Though of course, he hadn’t been a guest at the Hilbert since before his face had been splashed across Coca-Cola’s 1933 advertising campaign. Nick suspected things had changed since then.

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Escape Pod 803: A Princess of Nigh-Space


A Princess of Nigh-Space

By Tim Pratt

There was a business card stuck in the crack between the door and the frame when I got home from another too-long day at the office. I plucked the card out, annoyed, assuming it was some stupid advertisement, but the thick black Gothic lettering caught my eye:

 

Bollard and Chicane

Obstacles Removed • Burdens Shifted • Troubles Untroubled

“We Murder Problems!”

With a phone number underneath.

There was small, neat, and slanted writing on the back, in pen: “Dear Tamsin: Our condolences on the loss of your grandmother. We can help settle your estate. Call soonest.”

“Granny isn’t dead,” I said to no one, and then my phone buzzed with an incoming call. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 725: Falling Through


Falling Through

by Steen Comer

Woke up again. Checked the news feeds. Everything seems to be about the same, though there is news of a presidential candidate who I don’t remember dropping out of the race. It’s really hard for someone in my position to take an interest in politics, so that’s not really a strong indication. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.

I went to work and the office was still there. My memory tells me I’ve had this job for a few months now, which is helpful. One of the most traumatic shifts I had, because it was one of the first, was showing up at my office job and finding that it was an auto body shop. Luckily I had a faint memory of another location and was able to get there only half an hour late. My boss didn’t even notice.

That was when I first started really thinking about the shifts. I had been seeing the small ones for a long time, but that was the first incontrovertible one, the first that I couldn’t explain away as an error of memory. I thought I was going crazy, of course. Spent a while like that. And, in a case like this, it’s impossible to be sure that I’m not crazy. But I’ve found a Practical Operational Paradigm, as Jonas was fond of saying.

Oh Jonas. First shifter other than myself I ever met. Last one I ever saw. I should get back to work. I don’t know why today I need to write this down again. Maybe it’s the sky. It’s a flat grey that could be anywhere. It’s the color of Claire’s eyes.

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Escape Pod 655: And Then There Were (N-One) (Part 4)


And Then There Were (N-One), Part 4

by Sarah Pinsker

Back in my room, I stripped my wet clothes off and replaced them with another T-shirt and boxer shorts. The whiskey didn’t do the job I’d hoped it would, so I spent the night in imaginary conversation with Mabel. The rain battering the window filled in her side of the dialogue. I walked through the order of events, everything I’d found. I had ideas, but they weren’t cohering. The timing was important, I knew that. Murder weapon would be lovely, but I didn’t expect a forensic report any time soon. As for suspects, for all the people giving me alibis and vouching for themselves and each other, it could still have been anybody.

I drifted away from the case itself. The host said she wasn’t the Prime, wasn’t the trunk of a branching tree, but she’d labeled us all in relation to her. We were all in close proximity. Even the most distant of us were still recognizable. Tiny differences. I hadn’t run into anyone who lived in a post-water shortage America, or post-flu, or post-oil. We all knew how to flush toilets.

What would it look like if we had radiated out from me instead of the host? Or if we had all radiated out from the hotel clerk, whom the quantologist had said was one of the farther iterations? There were other realities between these, ones she hadn’t chosen. N Sarahs, in N realities, where N was unknowable and constantly changing. Why had she chosen us and not others? Was I the most interesting of a string of insurance investigators, or the only one available this weekend? I had more questions than I’d had before I arrived.

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Escape Pod 654: And Then There Were (N-One) (Part 3)


And Then There Were (N-One), Part 3

by Sarah Pinsker

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Escape Pod 653: And Then There Were (N-One) (Part 2)


And Then There Were (N-One), Part 2

by Sarah Pinsker

Not me, my logic brain understood, even though some tiny part of me screamed something was wrong. I’d made it through the entire afternoon talking with people who were more like me than an identical twin would be, but the body was somehow more real. The others down at dinner all had stories to remind me I was still myself, that I could still be differentiated. Absent stories and quirks, absent a person talking at me to prove we were not the same, the vacuum came rushing in. Who was she? In what ways was she me, in what ways was she not? Who would mourn her? I tried to imagine the shape of my own absence from my own world. It was an impossible exercise.

I struggled to regain control over myself. “You know I’m an insurance investigator, right? Dead bodies aren’t my area of expertise.”

“You’re the closest thing we’ve got. None of us are medical doctors, and it’s too late for one anyhow, and I figured you investigate things. I couldn’t find any of the organizers, so I thought I’d look for you.” She must have had a good memory for details, if she managed to find me in that dining hall based on one short conversation. Maybe that was a thing we all had in common.

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Escape Pod 652: And Then There Were (N-One), (Part 1)


And Then There Were (N-One)

by Sarah Pinsker

I considered declining the invitation. It was too weird, too expensive, too far, too dangerous, too weird. Way too weird. An invitation like that would never come again. I’d regret it if I didn’t go. It lay on our kitchen table for three weeks while I argued out the pros and cons with Mabel. She listened, made suggestions; I countered her, then argued her part, then made both arguments, then reversed them again.

“How do I know it’s not a hoax?” I asked, studying the list of backing organizations for the twentieth time. “The website looks legit, but how could it not be a hoax?”

“Look at it this way,” Mabel said. “Either you’ll be part of a ground-breaking event in human history, or a groundbreaking psych experiment. Someone benefits either way. And you’ve never been to eastern Canada, so at least you get to see someplace new even if you just end up standing in a field somewhere looking silly.”

She always had a way of making an adventure out of things that would otherwise stress me out. Four months later, I flew to Nova Scotia, took a bus to a seaside town too small for a dot on a map, boarded a ferry to Secord Island, and stepped through the waiting portal into an alternate-reality resort hotel lobby swarming with Sarah Pinskers. At least two hundred of us by my estimation, with more straggling in.

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Escape Pod 612: The Sixes, the Wisdom, and the Wasp


The Sixes, the Wisdom, and the Wasp

By E J Delaney

Fereshteh Nemati was scared.

She knew she was gripping her bow too tightly. She knew she should never ever aim at another person. But it wasn’t bad technique she was thinking of, or breaking her father’s golden rule. It wasn’t even the sight of poor Mr. Heke lying unmoving by his desk.

What bothered Fereshteh most of all was the girl on the opposite side of the classroom: the one standing with arrow notched and back elbow held high, staring at her across the small wooden desks and half-open tidy trays.

That’s me. I’m shooting at me!
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Escape Pod 553: Water Finds Its Level


Water Finds Its Level

By M. Bennardo

“Would you still love me if I were exactly the same,” he’d ask, “but was a Civil War re-enactor?”

“Shut up,” I’d say.

“What if I were exactly the same,” he’d say, “but refused to eat anywhere except McDonald’s?”

“Shut. Up.”

“Or what if I greased my hair with pomade and went tanning every week?”

That’s when I would give him the death-ray glare. “If you want me to stop loving you right now,” I’d say, “you can keep asking those stupid questions.”

“You know why.”

“But it doesn’t work like that,” I’d say. “You can’t do those things and still be exactly the same in every other way. If you did those things, you’d be somebody else. So just shut up because I don’t want to think about it.”

(Continue Reading…)