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Escape Pod 779: The Call of the Sky (Flashback Friday)


The Call of the Sky

By Cliff Winnig

The army hospital’s underground floors reminded me of Pluto Base, a place I’d never actually been. I’d never even been off-world, but I remembered those claustrophobic beige corridors. Two years before, I’d synced with a bunch of my alts home on leave after basic training. Today for the first time I’d be meeting one who’d seen combat. More than that, one who’d become a hero, the only Teri Kang to survive the Battle of Charon.

We wouldn’t be syncing, though. Not this time. Not ever. Before she’d escaped the doomed moon — the moon she’d given the order to destroy — she’d been bitten. That’s what the G.I.s called it when Hive nanobots infected you: being bitten. Like it was a zombie plague or something.

Hell, it might as well be. Soon the only other Teri Kang in the universe would lose her fight with that infection, and the army docs would euthanize her. Under the circumstances, even coming home had been an act of courage. A lot of G.I.s who got bitten went AWOL rather than face the certain death of returning to base. Not for the first time, I wondered if I had such courage lying latent within me.

Flanked by MPs, I followed a nurse down hallway after hallway till we arrived at my alt’s room. Well, the room next to it, since she was quarantined. A smartglass wall separated me from the sterile chamber where the other Teri Kang would live out her last few hours.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 778: The Machine is Experiencing Uncertainty


The Machine is Experiencing Uncertainty

by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor

Caliban cycles the captain out the airlock again. The man pounds his fists against the sealed door, mouth working in a torrent of curses and commands. The seals keep the blessed silence contained in the ship.

Once the captain is adrift, Caliban returns to the cockpit and plugs itself into the console.

::Command confirmed,:: says the ship.

“Diagnostic,” Caliban says. Its central processor does not have the capacity for multi-dimensional calculations about an unknown space-time anomaly. Besides, the ship—a Huxley-class freighter dubbed Leigh Possum—likes to assist.

::Reset in three minutes and fifteen seconds.::

Caliban sighs. It’s one of the little pleasures left to it: it is a salvage cyborg, named after a monster, enchained in a spaceship with a useless captain. It has one artificial lung, one organic lung, and a voice-box wired up its throat. It is supposed to look human, and humans sigh, and Caliban likes the feel of air pushed out through its esophagus.

Screaming is also something humans do, but that’s far less satisfying.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 777: The Dame With the Earth at Her Back


The Dame With the Earth at Her Back

By Sarah Pauling

That’s the trouble with Teegarden’s northern latitudes: the sun never sets in summer. The red glow assaults Maryellen’s stage long after midnight, pushing in through the picture window alongside the nightclub floor. She’s asked Bruce if she could close the curtains sometime, since she gets tired of squinting out into her audience. He said it’d be a waste of prime oceanside real estate not to let the tourists see the ice.

So she makes the best of it. A comedienne works with what she’s got: in this case, a prime view of the drug deal going down between the back tables.

“I mean honestly! During my show! You couldn’t’a waited fifteen minutes to get your fix?” She clicks across the stage in Mary Jane pumps, letting her voice go high and nasal and schoolmarm scolding. “You couldn’t’a waited fifteen minutes or so? I only got so much material! My stamina’s nil! Ask my ex!” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 775: Spaceship October


Spaceship October

By Greg van Eekhout

When you live on a spaceship, you learn to make your own fun. Exploring the tunnels is some of the very best fun the October’s got. After school hour, me and Droller go scuttling through the darkest conduits you ever will find. The starboard Hab gets minimal heat, so our breath clouds in the light of our head torches as we crawl on our hands and knees.

“You hear that?” Droller whispers from a couple of meters ahead.

I do hear it, a deep, wet wheezing that sounds exactly like Droller trying to spook me.

“You better go ahead and check it out, Droller.”

“Naw, Kitch, it’s behind you. It smells your butt. It’s a butthunter.”

I laugh at Droller’s stupid joke, because the stupider, the funnier, and she’s by far my stupidest friend.

We’re both from Aft Hab, both from the same birth lottery, and out of the eight babies born that season, we’re the only survivors. It used to be the three of us, me and Droller, and Jamm, but Jamm died last year along with her parents when the CO2 scrubbers in their cube failed. The scrubbers were item thirty-three on the fixems’ to-do list.

“How much farther?” I ask Droller.

“Just a couple of panels.”

It’s more like a couple dozen panels, but we finally arrive at the section of conduit above Town Square. Using just our fingers, Droller and me remove the fasteners holding the panel in place and slide it aside, just enough for us to peak out.

Down below, a crowd settles on the rings of benches surrounding the lawn. The brass band toots “Onward or Bust” in a marching beat, their jackets sparkling with silver buttons and silver loops of rope. Droller and I exchange a sad look. Jamm wanted to be a drummer and wear a thick, warm jacket like that. The odds were against an Aft Habber like her, but she was good enough that she might have made it.

Once the tooting is over, one of the Vice Captains ascends the grandstand. The audience stands and salutes in respect. Everyone on the October acts as like salutes are required, but White Madeleine told us saluting was never in the contract the original families signed. The Fore Habbers made up the requirement only eighty years ago.

The kind of people who come to witness a Course Correction are the type who do what they’re supposed to.

Read the full text in the Escape Pod Anthology.


Host Commentary

By Alasdair Stuart

One of the age-old debates in science fiction is what constitutes age-old. It’s not just SF in fact, but all of literature where the patina of respectability gets thicker the longer something has been around.  Look at my backyard, at the various old white men who haunt horror like Banquo’s Ghost at an IHOP, their very presence insisting things should be done at least partially like they’ve always been.

Of course, in some cases that’s not a bad thing and even the toxic ones are being increasingly re-assessed and viewed through different, diverse, fun lenses. It’s nice to see that happen with tropes as well as authors here, and I love how Greg’s taken the idea of the generation ship and looked at it for what it is as opposed to the romance it hides behind. That tells us a generation ship is a group of brave pioneers sacrificing generations of their families to an idea. That tells us this is the future’s cathedrals, built and steered by those with no hope of seeing them land. Faith as fuel. Science as the driving force behind survival.

The truth is…grungier. The truth is power cells failing, is paint fading. The truth is you inherit the space you lived in from your folks. The truth is you’re a passenger in a car where the doors are welded shut, heading somewhere you have no say in, won’t live to see, and no you cannot get McDonald’s drive thru. Chris Bucholz mines some wonderfully dark comedy from this in his novel Severance but Greg takes a subtler, I’d argue braver, route. This is a story not about arriving or even taking control of the flight, but of taking control of yourself and your life. There’s real darkness to it too, lives are going to be lost but the question of sustaining those at the cost of everyone else? Well, that’s not a theoretical argument. That’s disaster capitalism. Or perhaps in this case, deep-space capitalism.

Here knowledge really is power. The question is: What needs the power more and who needs the power now? Expertly written and read, thanks to you both and to everyone who’s brought the anthology to date!

 

We just started paying associate editors, who are slush readers and the first line of contact for every magazine and author. They are the unsung heroes of the industry and it’s time we sungthem. We’re currently paying all four shows’ associate editors at a reduced rate because we aren’t quite at the target donation yet, but it was time to get this done. So we still need your help especially as in addition, you also pay for everything else! Literally!

Stories, staff, tech, you name it, so thank you and if you can please either donate time or money. For time, it’s easy. Did you like this story? Then talk about it on social media. Leave a review,anything like that helps like you would not believe. Money? Literally the only thing that helps more. You can subscribe and get free audio goodies galore from as little as 5 bucks a month through either Patreon or PayPal, and do you have Amazon Prime? With five minutes you could support us with 5 bucks a month for free. Go to escapeartists.net/twitch and find out more.

We’ll be back next week with Tloque Nahuaque by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas, translated by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, read by Karlo Yeager Rodriguez hosted by Matt Olivas, with audio production by Adam. Then as now we’ll be a production of Escape Artists, Inc. and released under a creative commons attribution no commercial license. And we leave you with this quote from Contender.

 

Watching Interstellar didn’t make it better
Reading Carl Sagan, looking kinda vacant
You say you’re buying time but you’re always late
I’m starting to think you don’t even want to go to space

 

See you next time folks!

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Escape Pod 769: Deal


Deal

By Eris Young

Beulah wonders what it would be like to touch the Visitor. Oil-slick iridescent, it is tennis ball-sized and scaled with an animated crystalline skin—or shell—or carapace. It floats, stationary, a foot above the rug in the corner of the living room. Its surface changes by the second, rippling back and forth as if stroked by an invisible hand. If she were to run her fingers—gently, gently—over its surface, would it be keratinous, like an iguana? Or feathery? Would it be warm to the touch?

Kim is still behind her somewhere, hovering in the hallway. Get it out, was all she had said, face white as saguaro blossom in the dim mudroom.

Beulah pulled on her jacket, then pulled it off again. “Babe, I have to go to class. Can’t you—”

Kim shook her head, “Uh-uh. Please.” She had been close to tears, almost hyperventilating. Now, muffled by the wall between hall and living room, Her voice is shaky but a bit firmer.

“Is it out?”

If Beulah turns she can just see a sliver of Kim’s shoulder, her pilly cardigan, the electric pink tips of her hair. Her face is now hidden.

“It takes a minute, you know that.”

Beulah crouches, knees popping, to get a better look, steadying herself on the coffee table.

“How’d you get in here, huh?” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 768: Balancing the Equation


Balancing the Equation

by Justin C. Key

June 18, 2031

Lauren led her two-year-old son, Sean, slowly to their car while carrying three full bags of groceries.

“Up,” Sean said, showing her his palms. “Up, Mama, up!”

“Ask one more time and you’re getting a time out when we get home.”

She should have used a cart to carry the groceries. She should have walked with Sean on the inside. She should have ignored the aching pain in her back and picked him up. The rest of her life would be haunted by ‘should’ves’.

“A dog!” Sean pointed at passing poodle as big as him. Of his budding vocabulary, identifying dogs was a family favorite.

“Yes,” Lauren said. “A black dog.” She silently cursed at her failing grip on the bags. She twisted the strap around her wrist. Sean yanked her other arm, hard.

“Okay, time out as soon as–” Lauren said, but choked when she saw that Sean hadn’t tugged at all. It was a black Prius, worn and dented and scratched and horrible, rolling silently over her son to replace him, as if by magic.

Lauren screamed.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 766: The Unrepentant


The Unrepentant

by Derrick Boden

First time I saw her, she was bleeding from her left nostril with a nightstick jammed under her chin. Officer Vang was twisting her arm all kinds of unnatural behind her gene-hacked body, pressing her face to the exterior window with four thousand miles of freefall and filth and societal decay on the flip side. The lights in the cramped hallway–alpha quadrant, fourteenth floor of this godforsaken space elevator–painted her face a rusty orange. She was just another dirtside ghoul from the Rot, weaponized by another shadow corporation that had repurposed Earth’s battlegrounds into one big biotech testbed. Officer Vang–an over-muscled knot of a woman that never missed a chance to make example of one of us refugees–had the ghoul jammed against the hull so hard her boots were dangling like the guerrilla corpses in the town squares back home. She should’ve been howling in pain.

She was laughing.

I’m a shrewd woman, a survivor. Should’ve shuffled right past along with the seventy-some other scrag refugees, all beleaguered and shock-eyed with horror. We weren’t twenty hours from Processing–another week before we’d reach Distribution at the lift’s orbital counterweight–and the illusion of freedom had already bled dry. We’d won the lottery, escaped the Bloc, only to be stamped and sorted and packed into this long vertical handoff from one indenture to the next.

Maybe that’s why I stopped. Something in her laugh said nice try. Sure, we’d spent our respective lives on opposite sides of the war–ghoul against scrag, Rot versus Bloc. Sure, defiance is a cheap substitute for hope. But goddamn did that laugh sound just right, just then.

Besides, I had a plan. I’d been tracking Officer Vang since her immigration crew had subdermaled KUIPER INC down my forearm and tossed me onto this lift. I had a better shot at seeing my twenty-second birthday back in the dirtside scrabble than mining the Kuiper belt. Fucking sponsors.

Only hope now was to carve my own fate.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 763: No Spaceship Go


No Spaceship Go

By Annie Bellet

The boys lay on their backs side by side staring up through the open roof of the abandoned building. Dylan clutched Meek’s hand in anticipation as the ground shook and a roar filled the air. Tiny pebbles danced up from the ground around them and dust ran like water off the crumbling walls.

“Ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five,” Dylan whispered, “four… three… two… one.”

The shaking increased and he had to release Meek’s hand to shade his eyes. Smoke billowed up into the air, a streak of fire ahead of it. Then the true sonic blast of the rocketship hit them in a wave as the boys squinted to make out the ship speeding through the atmosphere. It sounded like the crackling of a hundred fires, or perhaps the blast of the biggest blowtorch Dylan could imagine.

Meek whooped and crawled to his knees, staring up into the sky.

“Do you think that’s the one we’ll be on someday?” he asked Dylan.

Dylan rolled to his side and propped himself up on one arm. Dust had accumulated on Meek’s round, tan cheeks and Dylan fought the urge to wipe it away.

“Nah, by the time we’ve saved enough to get our home on Elle Four, the ships’ll all be new I bet. We’ll ride on a superfast one for sure.”

“I want to grow peppers.” Meek smiled up at Dylan, his crooked teeth warping the line of his chapped lips.

“What kind of peppers?” Dylan grinned back. They’d had variations of this conversation before and Dylan didn’t pay much attention to Meek as the boy launched into his usual daydream about gardens and pepper plants.

Dylan daydreamed about something else entirely as he fixated on Meek’s lips, his eyes drifting to the dimple in his friend’s left cheek. He didn’t notice at first that Meek had stopped talking and instead stared up at him with those dark, nearly pupil-less eyes.

“Oh, hmm? I’m sorry.” Dylan murmured.

“Pebble for your thoughts?” Meek smiled again. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 762: Give the Family My Love


Give the Family My Love

by A. T. Greenblatt

I’m beginning to regret my life choices, Saul. Also, hello from the edge of the galaxy.

Also, surprise! I know this isn’t what you had in mind when you said “Keep in touch, Hazel” but this planet doesn’t exactly invoke the muse of letter writing. The muse of extremely long voice messages however…

So. Want to know what’s this world’s like? Rocky, empty, and bleak in all directions, except one. The sky’s so stormy and green it looks like I’m trudging through the bottom of an algae-infested pond. I’ve got this 85-million-dollar suit between me and the outside, but I swear, I’m suffocating on the atmosphere. Also, I’m 900 meters away from where I need to be with no vehicle to get me there except my own two legs.

So here I am. Walking.

Sorry to do this to you, Saul, but if I don’t talk to someone—well, freak out at someone—I’m not going to make it to the Library. And like hell I’m going to send a message like this back to the boys on the program. You, at least, won’t think less of me for this. You know that emotional meltdowns are part of my process.

850 meters. I should have listened to you, Saul.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 760: Deepster Punks


Deepster Punks

by Maria Haskins

Surface

The animated tattoos on Jacob’s skin glimmer in the dark water, words and images swarming over his skin, bright and luminous, before they fade away again.

“Don’t you dare die on me.” I’m holding his head above the waves, but his naked body is cold and slick and heavy in my grip. By now, I should be able to see the lights of the ocean platform, but there’s nothing, only darkness above and below, no horizon separating them. I unseal the mask of my thermal-suit so I can talk to him, even though I’m not sure he can even hear me anymore. “You’re one lucky bastard, you know. If the Company had sent us anywhere else in the system and you pulled this kind of stunt, you’d be dead already.”

It’s true. Beneath the icy mantle of Ceres, in the 10 K depths of Enceladus, he’d be dead for sure. In the sub-surface ocean of Ganymede, or in the tidal-flexing waters of Europa, he’d be dead-dead-dead. Dead like Petra. But he’s here, on Earth, with me, and he’s alive.

Stay alive, Jacob. Please.

(Continue Reading…)