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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

Back in the hallway, I dug in my bag for a pen. I’d normally have taken notes while she talked, but I’d had a feeling it would have shut her up. Instead of a pen, I came up with the dinner roll I’d taken earlier. I ate it in two bites. Diving in again, my fingers settled on the key card I’d found in the nightclub. Room 517. In the tower, I guessed. Might as well check it out.

I rode the tower elevator—much faster than the one to the nightclub—with two Sarahs who were making eyes at each other in a way that made me deeply uncomfortable. I was happy to escape.

Room 517 was around the corner and down the hall. My shoes sank into plush carpeting. Pushing a luggage cart through it wouldn’t be any fun, but maybe tower people paid bellhops to do the grunt work. The halls up here had actual wallpaper, tasteful stripes, in contrast with our bare-walled wing.

I paused for a moment outside the room, trying to hear if there was anyone moving inside, preparing myself to find… I didn’t know what. I hadn’t gotten clearance to do this. Then again, nobody had told me not to, which was basically permission. I knocked, waited for an answer, knocked again.

(Continue Reading…)

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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.

(Continue Reading…)

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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! (Continue Reading…)

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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.”

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Escape Pod 551: The Most Absurd Dance at the End of the Worlds


The Most Absurd Dance at the End of the Worlds

By Holly Heisey

It was the end of the worlds, and Mr. Jamison and I were arguing over peas. Not the mush you get in a cafeteria, but peas that smelled like grasshoppers and summer. Real, in the shell, peas.

Mr. Jamison detached his monocle and peered down at the pea pods on my outstretched hand. He made a huffing sound that poofed his drooping moustache. He looked like a side character in an old John Wayne movie, stuffed into fussy clothes.

“It is an altogether sensible looking vegetable,” he finally said. “But how will they help us to program the Back Button?”

He motioned to the collection of brass pipes and gauges that hulked on the sturdy worktable. Afternoon sunlight slanted from the warehouse windows and gave the Back Button a purposeful glint. If we could figure out what that purpose was, we could save the worlds.

I picked a pod off my hand and held it to the sunlight. “I think this pod is like the shape our worlds are taking now. The brane that contains the one hundred and nineteen realities is stretched thin and long, and our worlds are lined up inside of it.”

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Escape Pod 494: The Retgun


The Retgun

by Tim Pratt

If you find yourself squatting over a pit toilet while wearing stiletto heels, you’ve made a few bad choices at some point during the evening. I could have taken off my shoes, but then I’d be barefoot, in the woods, in the half-light of a lantern dangling from a tree branch, standing in whatever you can expect to find on the ground around an artisanal hand-excavated poop hole.

Apparently there was a fashion for high-and-low cultural juxtapositions in this particular dimensional node, hence a full fancy-dress party being held in and around a homemade earth-and-sod house lit only by torches. The hors d’oeuvres were processed cheese foam sprayed on mass-produced crackers, served on silver platters passed around by leggy supermodels dressed in hair shirts and stinking rags, plus prune-wine brewed in a ramshackle still and passed around in crystal goblets. Let me tell you something: prune wine goes right through you, so I didn’t even have to pretend I needed to use the facilities when the time came to get in position.

The pit toilet was well back in the woods, some distance behind the sod house, but it nevertheless came equipped with a scrupulously polite bathroom attendant–he was standing on the lowest branch of a nearby tree–dressed in a green velvet tuxedo and prepared to offer towels, breath mints, and cocaine on demand. Interdimensional travel is often way more boring than you’d expect, but this was not one of the boring times.

Earlier, when I was mingling among the partygoers–the worst human beings this node had to offer–a guy wearing a moth mask had lunged over to me drunkenly, tried to touch my cheek and slurred, “Your skin . . . so beautiful . . . like porcelain . . .”

I’d knocked his hand aside and said, “My skin is like the stuff toilets are made out of?” Proving that I’d had a way overly optimistic idea about the quality of the local toilets.

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Escape Pod 488: In Another Life


In Another Life

by Kelly Sandoval

Waking after a night spent slipping, I reach for Louisa automatically, rolling into the empty space where she belongs. I lick the memory of her from my lips, languid with sex. The alarm shrieks from my bedside table but I’ve gotten good at ignoring it.

We went skating. Louisa wore a purple sweater and, giggling and unsteady, clung to my arm. We kissed on the ice and she pressed herself against me, her frozen fingers sneaking under my coat to stroke my back. It’s her laughter I cling to. These days, I only hear her low, honeyed laugh when I’m slipping. I miss the warmth of it.

But it fades. Even the taste of her fades.

I tell myself it’s all right. That it’s necessary. I’ve got an appointment with my therapist at noon. If I’m still clinging to the night’s slip, he’ll know I haven’t been taking my medication.

No help for it. I drag myself out of bed and hit the alarm. My head pounds and the world blurs along the edges. I’ve slipped for three nights straight and ice skating with Louisa is nothing like sleeping. If I don’t take a day off soon, it’ll start to get dangerous.

My therapist would say it’s already dangerous. But he doesn’t understand what I’ve lost.

I’ve got four houses to show before my appointment, and a lot of coffee to drink to be ready for them. He’ll make a thing of it, if I’m late. He always does.

The hours dribble past, hazy and distant. It’s like I left a shard of myself in my alter and can’t quite get back in step with my timeline. When the charming young couple at house two asks me about financing I try to answer, only to be distracted by the ghost of a red-headed boy rushing past in pursuit of a large gray bunny. The woman selling the house wears her red curls pulled back in a tight bun. She’s childless, though abandoned rabbit hutches sit moldering in the back yard, lowering her property values.

Does she slip, stealing moments with this laughing, clumsy boy?

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