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Escape Pod 498: Everyone Will Want One


Everyone Will Want One

by Kelly Sandoval

On Nancy’s thirteenth birthday, her father takes her to the restaurant he likes, the one with the wood paneling, the oversized chandeliers, and the menus in French. Around them, people talk in low voices but Nancy and her father eat their soup in silence. After the waiter takes the bowls away, her father sets a wrapped box the size of a toaster on the table.

She doesn’t open it, just smoothes down the ribbon and rearranges her silverware. The unsmiling waiter is watching her; she can feel it. She can feel that he doesn’t want her in his restaurant, opening her birthday present. It isn’t a birthday present sort of place, isn’t even a thirteen-year-old in her best dress kind of place. She tries to be very small in her chair.

“Go ahead,” demands her father. “Open it.”

He’s frowning and his frown is much closer than the waiter’s. Nancy picks at the bow, undoing the knot as best she can with her fresh manicure. Checking to make sure the waiter’s not looking, she picks up her knife and slides it under the tape, easing it loose without tearing the shiny paper.

The box inside has the logo of her father’s company on it. Nancy’s tangles her fingers together, stalling. She wants, very much, for it to be a toaster.

“Hurry up,” says her father.

She wants to fold the paper into a crisp square or turn it into a giant origami swan. She wants to pretend that is the present, a sheet of white wrapping paper. Her father clears his throat and she cringes. The box isn’t taped and she tugs it open. Inside, there’s a layer of packing foam, which she picks through, not letting any spill on the table, until her fingers meet fur. The thing in the box is soft, cold, and the size of her two closed fists. She traces the shape of it, four feet, a tail, ears pointed alertly upward.

When, a minute later, she gets it free of the box and shakes the last of the packing foam from its fur, she sees it has the shape of a kitten. Its fur is black and silver, with patterns that look nothing like a real cat’s, all loops and whirling, dizzy spirals. It looks like a synth-pet. They’re popular at her school and her father’s company does make them. But Nancy has a kitten, a dog, and a tiny jeweled unicorn at home. He wouldn’t give her another.

“Thank you,” she says, setting it beside her bread plate. “What is it?”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 489: Uncanny


Uncanny

by James Patrick Kelly

A month after I broke up with Jonathan, or Mr. Wrong, as my mother liked to call him, she announced that she’d bought me a machine to love. She found it on eBay, paid the Buy It Now price and had it shipped to me the next day. I’m not sure where she got the idea that I needed a machine or how she picked it out or what she thought it would do for me. My mother never asked advice or permission. I dreaded finding the heavy, flat box that UPS left propped against my front door.

I called her. “It’s here. So what does it do?”

“Whatever you want.”

“I don’t want anything.”

“You always say that, but it’s never true. We all want something.” I hated it when she was being patient with me. “Just give it a chance, honey. They’re more complicated than men,” she said, “but cleaner.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 471: Shared Faces


Shared Faces

by Anaea Lay

Dora’s favorite thing about Justin was that he liked to talk during sex. A good conversation turned him on, and he’d keep it up until the breathless, incoherent stage right before the end. They weren’t at that stage quite yet. Soon. At the moment she was nibbling the flesh at the very top of his thigh.

What’s the spot for the sexbot to spot the spot of the plot damn spot

You’ll never get it out

The music fell from the speakers in a manic rush and Dora shifted her pace to match it. Her skin tingled in response to his arousal, her body automatically configuring itself to comply with the program they’d designed together before starting.

“Ugh, I hate this song,” Justin said.

Dora tightened her hand around him as she let go with her teeth. The conversation kept her mind engaged, prevented her from slipping completely into brain-dead-Bot mode. “Really? I like it. It’s catchy.”

“It’s awful,” Justin said. “Haven’t you seen the video?”

She had, and he was right, it was awful. A Sex Bot got jealous of her primary client’s human lover and attacked her. As if the heart-break of watching the client defend the lover weren’t enough, the video went on to lovingly depict the brutal punishment and dismantling of the offending bot. Dora’s skin went clammy-cold when she’d watched it.

“Yeah, but the nastiness isn’t in the actual lyrics, and it is really catchy.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 463: Rockwork

Show Notes

Also mentioned in this episode, treasured author Eugie Foster passed away.


Rockwork

by R. M. Graves

Dog sat at her kit, in the cavernous dark at the back of the stage, with Meg’s kiss chilling on her lips. That hadn’t fixed her nerves at all. Now Dog’s chest shook worse than her hands, jacked up on the worry of letting her girlfriend down, again.

The crowd didn’t see or care. As Meg took her spot out front, they thrummed the darkness with their chanting, “Rock… Work! Rock… Work!”

Dog’s sticks were already slick in her palms as she snapped rubber bands around them. She shuffled in her seat, checked contacts, toggled switches and sensed Meg’s impatience, standing in the dark between the drums and hungry fans. Dog brushed trembling fingers over the kit and it twitched around her, jittery. It hated gigs.

“Come on, Rocky,” she whispered and cogs whirred back at her. She shook her head. “Purring? Seriously?”

The kit’s blind trust made Dog gulp an urge to up and run. No. This time. This time Meg would be proud of her. Proud of them. No screw-ups. No zoning out.

She took a deep breath and kicked a volley of hard thumps into the black. The audience hushed. Cannon-shot beats echoed, overlapped, and swelled like an approaching army. A machine-gun of rimshots and the lights, and the crowd, exploded.

Dog scowled into the glare of spotlights as the ‘Rockwork’ burst into life around her; a kit stretched beyond drums to form an entire robotic band. Butchered musical instruments twitched and writhed in a hellish chromed engine of noise. Cogs spun plectrums at wire. Hammers rapped on the broken teeth of piano keys. Thumbscrews wrenched raw electric scales out of strangled frets.

Dog set her features into maniacal control, sweat already trickling over her bald head, pooling in her eyebrows; her arms gleaming pistons at the snare and toms.

Meg swayed her hips to Dog’s driving cacophony; her playful nonchalance creating a tantalizing silhouette to the audience, but taunting Dog behind. Hinting at what she had to lose. The music press were in tonight, but there was more than the band at stake.

The Rockwork was autonomous to a point, but it relied on Dog to keep it in line. Left unchecked it would spin off on its own groove without regard to Meg. Or the audience. Dog pressed her lips, rolled an extravagant fill across the toms, thrashed out her anxiety in the splash and crash. Meg’s cue.

The fans bounced along with the opening bars. Meg tossed Dog a warning frown, the gobo’s lit her up, and her voice rang out. The crowd, already jumping, flung its hands in the air like antennae for more and howled in pleasure. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 416: On the Big Fisted Circuit


On the Big Fisted Circuit

by Cat Rambo

Jane counted them again to make sure: twelve.

Twelve signatures on the back panel, most jerky with haste, a couple deliberate and firm, one with a little flower above the i, for god’s sake. The pen in her hand ready to add the thirteenth.

How blatant were they going to be?

This was the biggest suit she’d ever crawled into. It meant money: money dripping through the wires around her, money in the gleaming metal struts, money being made by every step it took, money her family needed, every step a week’s rent and food if they were careful with it.

She’d never hit a thirteenth signature before. Most rigs, even the monster ones like this, got destroyed long before a thirteenth fight. It wasn’t just the bad luck, it was dealing with machinery that had been damaged and repaired, damaged and repaired, until you didn’t know what was original body and what was filler.

The sound of the crowd filtered into the suit. Most were screaming, “Coke! Coke! Coke!” as though they meant blood instead, shouts thrumming through the five railroad cars’ worth of metal surrounding her.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 404: Zebulon Vance Sings the Alphabet Songs of Love


Zebulon Vance Sings the Alphabet Songs of Love

by Merrie Haskell

I am Robot!Ophelia. I will not die for love tonight.


The noon show is the three-hour 1858 Booth production. The most fashionable historical war remains the First American Civil. Whenever FACfans discover that Lincoln’s assassin played Horatio, they simply must come and gawk at this titillating replica of their favorite villain playing no one’s favorite character.

FACfans love authenticity. To the delight of Robot!Hamlet, today’s clients insist that Edwin Booth stride the stage beside his more famous brother. Most performances, Robot!Hamlet remains unused in the charging closet, for the first law in our business is Everybody Wants to Play the Dane.

Today, Robot!Hamlet is afire with Edwin Booth’s mad vigor, and runs his improv algorithms at full throttle; he kisses me dreamily, and rips my bodice in a way that would never have been allowed in Victorian America. The FACfans don’t look hyperpleased about this; it tarnishes their precious authenticity.

Robot!Horatio also loves the 1858 Booth. It’s the only time anyone comes to a performance for him alone. But what about the rest of us, the remainder of the AutoGlobe’s incantation of robots? We bear with it, as we bear with all the other iterations of our native play.

The FACfans barely notice me when either Booth is on stage. I clutch my ripped bodice; exit Robot!Ophelia. I get me to a nunnery.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 401: Growing Up Human


Growing Up Human

By Claudine Griggs

One historical film character slapped another who was snoring.  “Wake up and go to sleep!”

Jonathan laughed and signaled a replay.

Slap.  “Wake up and go to sleep!”

Again Jonathan laughed.

Betty entered the recreational living area of their home.  “Are you still watching that waste of energy?  Please turn it off.”

“All right, Mother.  How long before I can re-engage?”

Betty did a rough calculation.  “Five-point-seven-six hours because you have an afternoon project.  Macro-hermeneutic heteromorphic psychology of the pre-apocalyptic social democracies followed by the intercontinental Maslowvian identity regressions of 2080-2095, leading to the failed survivalist era and extinction.  Multiple volumes to upload, cross-reference, and consider.  Then there’s replicated lawn care with a petrochemical mower dating from 2013—very dirty.  And,” she searched for appropriate parental terminology, “I want you to clean that room of yours.  It’s starting to look like a pigpen, pigsty, or other unattractive pig place.”

“Awh, gee, Mom!”

Betty appreciated the skilled inflection.

“Is dinner included in the estimate?” asked Jonathan.

“Negative.  Our morning uploads call for meal functions every fourth day, supplemented with biweekly nutra-packs.”  Betty smiled.  “We have mastered comestible etiquette, and dining rituals are being phased out.”

“Wow!” said Jonathan.  “That’s,” he skipped a pulse, “a psychedelic soul train.”

Betty looked concerned.  “Are your linguistic filters functioning properly?”

Jonathan scanned.  “Yes, but the younger generations sometimes combined words, especially adjectives and explicatives, and embellished them with coded meanings.  Yesterday I studied 1960s Southern California jargon, which seems to include a fascinating, discrete language for teenagers that was apparently stimulated by too much ultraviolet sunlight.  But their dialects are almost fun.”

“Fun?” asked Betty.  This had real potential.  “Please translate.  Be specific.”

Jonathan paused, nearly admitting that the Mother Figure had caught him bragging.  “It might be easier to demonstrate, Mom.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 396: Dead Merchandise


Dead Merchandise

by Ferrett Steinmetz

The ad-faeries danced around Sheryl, flickering cartoon holograms with fluoride-white smiles. They told her the gasoline that sloshed in the red plastic canister she held was high-octane, perfect for any vehicle, did she want to go for a drive?

She did not. That gasoline was for burning. Sheryl patted her pockets to make sure the matches were still there and kept moving forward, blinking away the videostreams. Her legs ached.

She squinted past a flurry of hair-coloring ads (“Sheryl, wash your gray away today!”), scanning the neon roads to find the breast-shaped marble dome of River Edge’s central collation unit. River’s Edge had been a sleepy Midwestern town when she was a girl, a place just big enough for a diner and a department store. Now River’s Edge had been given a mall-over like every other town — every wall lit up with billboards, colorful buildings topped with projectors to burn logos into the clouds. She was grateful for the dark patches that marked where garish shop-fronts had been bombed into ash-streaked metal tangles.
The smoke gave her hope. Others were trying to bring it all down — and if they were succeeding, maybe no one was left to stop her.

Rotting bodies leered out at her through car windows, where computer-guided cars had smashed headlong into the collapsed shopfronts that had fallen into the road. Had the drivers been fleeing, or trying to destroy the collation unit? She had no idea.

The ad-faeries sang customized praises to each auto as she glanced at the cars, devising customized ditties about the ’59 Breezster’s speed. Sheryl needed speed; at her arthritic pace, walking through the women’s district might tempt her into submission.

Given that the ad-faeries suggested it, driving was a terrible idea. River’s Edge had been so gutted by bombings that she’d have to drive manually — and it was already hard to see through the foggy blur of chirping ad-faeries, each triangulating her cornea’s focal point to obscure her vision for the legal limit of .8 seconds. They elbowed each other aside, proffering chewy pomegranate cookies, diamond-edged razors, laser-guided wall-bots that would paint her house a new color every day.

She had no use for them. She’d burned her house down, leaving Rudy’s body underneath the pile of engraved stones with her sons’ names on them.

She had to pass through the two main shopping districts to destroy the collation center at River’s Edge — and if she did that, then she could free Oakmoor, then Daleton, and then who knows where?  But they’d kill her if she weakened. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 395: Robot


Robot

by Helena Bell

You may wash your aluminum chassis on Monday and leave it on the back porch opposite the recyclables; you may wash your titanium chassis on Friday if you promise to polish it in time for church; don’t terrorize the cat; don’t lose the pamphlets my husband has brought home from the hospital; they suggest I give you a name, do you like Fred?; don’t eat the dead flesh of my right foot until after I have fallen asleep and cannot hear the whir of your incisors working against the bone.

This is a picture of the world from which you were sent; this is a copy of the agreement between our government and theirs; these are the attributes they claim you are possessed of: obedience, loyalty, low to moderate intelligence; a natural curiosity which I should not mistake for something other than a necessary facet of your survival in the unfamiliar; this is your bill of manufacture; this is your bill of sale; this is a warrant of merchantability on which I may rely should I decide to return you from whence you came; this is your serial number, here, scraped in an alien script on the underside of your knee; the pamphlets say you may be of the mind to touch it occasionally, like a name-tag, but if I command you, you will stop.

This is a list of the chores you will be expected to complete around the house when you are not eating the diseases out of my flesh; this is the corner of my room where you may stay when you are not working; do not look at me when you change the linens, when you must hold me in the bathroom, when you record in the notebook how many medications I have had that day, how many bowel movements, how the flesh of my mouth is raw and bleeding against the dentures I insist on wearing.

The pamphlets say you are the perfect scavenger: completely self contained, no digestion, no waste; they say I can hook you up to an outlet and you will power the whole house.

You may polish the silver if you are bored; you may also rearrange the furniture, wind the clocks, pull weeds from the garden; you may read in the library any book of your choosing; my husband claims you have no real consciousness, only an advanced and sophisticated set of pre-programmed responses, but I have seen your eyes open in the middle of the night; I have seen you stare out across the fields as if there is something there, calling you. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 239: A Programmatic Approach to Perfect Happiness


A Programmatic Approach to Perfect Happiness

By Tim Pratt

My step-daughter Wynter, who is regrettably prejudiced against robots and those who love us, comes floating through the door in a metaphorical cloud of glitter instead of her customary figurative cloud of gloom. She enters the kitchen, rises up on the toes of her black spike-heeled boots, wraps her leather-braceleted arms around my neck, and places a kiss on my cheek, leaving behind a smear of black lipstick on my artificial skin and a whiff of white make-up in my artificial nose.

“Hi Kirby,” she says, voice all bubbles and light, when normally she would never deign to utter my personal designation.

“Is Moms around? Haven’t talked to her in a million.”

I know right away that Wynter has been infected.