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Escape Pod 813: A Consideration of Trees


A Consideration of Trees

By Beth Cato

As a xenoarbitrator, I was accustomed to working with concepts and situations deemed peculiar by most of humanity. Often, though, my own species confounded me most of all.

“I fear you misunderstood my advertisement.” I stood in Mari Kane’s miniscule parlor on Bradbury Orbital Station. My felizard partner, Petey, twitched in his nest atop my silvering crown braids. “I usually mediate between different species. You need a private investigator to look into a suspicious death–”

“Rainbow Charm Corporation owns the local investigators. Madam Alameda, you’re from off station. I couldn’t find any corporate affiliations in your history. You’re the independent investigator I want to hire.” A pleading note crept into her voice.

“I appreciate your confidence in me, but–”

“Bradbury Orbital is property of Rainbow Charm.” Petey spoke directly into my mind via our neural bond, his four-inch-long body flexing as he hummed in thought. “That’s a Thrassi-owned firm. This could be a cultural misunderstanding.”

“–this still isn’t my purview,” I finished, speaking aloud to both of them at once. “I study stories, new and old, and use them to bridge misunderstandings between different kinds of lifeforms. If you had a Murkle as your neighbor, for instance, who began screaming nonstop if rain lasted for more than a day, I could explain why and advise the Murkle on more appropriate responses.”

Honestly, I would have preferred to work with a screaming Murkle about then. Humans had been decisively immoral in every one of my recent jobs–cruel to fellow humans, and other kinds of life, too. Jaded as I felt, I had to wonder what crime her husband had committed to end up dead. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 812: The First Doom (Part 3 of 3)


The First Doom (Part 3)

by DaVaun Sanders

The Dubious’s bay doors didn’t budge as the hopper drew close. Kyria began to sweat as a console flickered on to show Zele’s scowl and Remiliat’s intense stare.

Kyria preempted them. “Everyone’s dead, except me and Paky,” she said. “Some sort of biological countermeasures. Paky’s still reeling from it, or he’d tell you himself.”

“A biological contaminant? That would mean—” Remiliat’s eyebrows climbed her forehead. “Replay the events exactly!”

“We’re not sick. The hopper sweeped our vitals clean. We’re wasting time. That ship is dangerous!”

“Yes, yes,” Zele said soothingly. “Give us a moment to think this through.”

The channel abruptly muted. Kyria wiped a hand over her scalp in frustration. Her eyes widened at sight of the glittering blue flecks on her palm. Hair follicles. Stained blue from Tar City, like indigo powder from a spent smart round. Am I sick? She licked her lips, glancing back at Zele. No way they had seen that on the monitor.

Paky gazed at her silently, working his mouth open and closed as if rediscovering his tongue. Kyria held a finger to his lips. After a moment he repeated the gesture. He doesn’t want them to know how messed up he is either, she thought bitterly. Hair falling out and a trauma mute…what a pair we make.

The monitor’s audio flicked back on. “Upflash your mission data,” Remiliat ordered.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 811: The First Doom (Part 2 of 3)


The First Doom (Part 2)

by DaVaun Sanders

Kyria awoke with a start. An alarm chimed faintly in the cryo tube. The frosted glass hissed aside. She clambered free, but her legs immediately buckled and the steel plated floor greeted her with a cold kiss. Kyria lay there until the trembling stopped, and sensation returned to her legs. A light blinked behind the skin of her palm—her sleep mod had finally kicked in. She’d never had to use it in a cryo tube before.

You hear me, rookie? It’s just a leg. You can make a new leg out of the medallions I’m going to get for you. Kyria never spoke the dead woman’s name, it only encouraged her to stir. Now pay attention. Exo-armor can process your new equilibrium better than you can if you lose a limb. Don’t fight the balance when—

“Bad enough I replay it when I’m awake, too,” Kyria muttered. She stood, thankful her legs held.

A glance at the open cryo tube’s chronometer surprised her. She’d slept just over two weeks; half of their expected flight time. Shuster’s measured snoring came loud enough to crack his tube open, but Kyria checked on him anyway, brushing her palm on the frosted glass. I’m keeping more of my crew alive than you, Captain. Her argument cheated on numbers, but even a frail truth held some comfort.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 810: The First Doom (Part 1 of 3)


The First Doom (Part 1)

by DaVaun Sanders

Kyria Grazheen faced down every hollow-eyed stare in the mess hall as she flexed her hand, ignoring the pain lancing through her knuckles. Over fifty women and men surrounded her, former Cassad crew bound by nothing but a shared desire to lash out over their fresh despair. She knew their pain, but sympathy in the Known served a mercenary worse than swallowing a handful of irradiated rounds.

“That’s the last warning you’re gonna get.” Kyria’s brown gaze settled on the man at her feet. He cupped a hand over his jaw, glowering up at her through a puffy eye. He had the good sense to keep his mouth closed while she spoke, even if it meant swallowing a little blood. “One more fight in this outpost, and I’ll shut the broadcast down myself. You can listen to it in orbit like all the rest.”

The scowls deepened as more of the surveying crew set to rush her. Behind them, Shuster’s hand slipped under the bar. Kyria gave a slight shake of her head. He kissed his teeth in exasperation, refusing to budge. Perfect. The man’s grip rested on worse than the mess hall’s poisonous ale.

Kyria winced, flexing her fist again as another Cassad elbowed past his crewmates. Veins bulged along his musclebound neck. “You Arcadian vermin act like you’re the—”

Kyria pried the tooth out of her knuckle with a grunt. “Finally.” A few drops of bright blood oozed out, spattering on the mess hall’s grated metal floor. She peered down at the stocky man, an Element G dispersal engineer by the smell of him. “You were saying?”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 809: Heard, Half-Heard, in the Stillness


Heard, Half-Heard, in the Stillness

By Iona Datt Sharma

Ekta’s Dadi could tell the future. She didn’t read the tea leaves, or make or lay bets on the cricket. But she booked the photographer the week before the news came of Purnima Didi’s engagement. She told the panditji to get his blood pressure checked before he told anyone he was short of breath. The day before the Human Spaceflight Programme was suspended, she called Ekta in Sriharikota and said she should come home.

Ekta had been living in the dormitory attached to the ISRO flight training school. It took her twenty minutes to pack her things into two suitcases. On her way out, one of the boys stopped her and said, “Ma’am, your mail.”

He handed her a heavy package, which Ekta put in her bag without opening. It would be a technical document, now mockingly out of date—a systems report for a rocket that would never leave the ground. “Thank you,” she said, both to him and to everything around her. She took a moment to look as though seeing this place for the first time, taking in the clean white lines of the building, the landscaped campus, the soft blue water lapping the fringes of the barrier island—every small detail of a place she had loved. Mangalyaan, the Mars Orbiter, had left for space from here. Ekta would not. (Continue Reading…)

Black Future Month

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Escape Pod 808: Win Again


Win Again

by Lina Munroe

“I want a do-over!” Zira crumpled her opponent’s collar in her fist and twisted it tight around his neck. Glasses shattered against the hardwood floor, spilling drinks at their feet.

Arkady Fabian just laughed. It was a harsh rasp of a sound, mean as sin, that didn’t quite match the sparkle in his left eye. His right eye was bisected by a long scar that ended somewhere beneath his thick brown beard. When he blinked, slow and mocking, the aperture of his right eye spiraled closed over the red glow shining from somewhere deep in his skull.

Zira scowled at the cards. She knew he’d stuck some up his sleeve, but she thought she was good enough to win anyway. She hadn’t accounted for the extras he’d stashed while she was focused on his sleeve. She couldn’t believe she’d fallen for the classic misdirection cheat like some amateur. Now he got to keep that glorious ship of his that she would’ve pushed out to the far end of the galaxy and back just because she could, and she was forced to pick her way through the mess below deck where she’d docked her hoopty starhopper. The old thing had nearly rattled itself to pieces getting her here and then had the nerve to start leaking fuel again when they docked. It was probably still overheated.

He laughed in her face again, the sound scratchy from years of smoking. “Deal’s a deal, Zira. Pay up.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 788: Broken (Flashback Friday)


Broken

by Jaxton Kimble

My favorite part about skimming is that I’m not broken when I do it. It doesn’t matter that I don’t have levels, that I’m on or off, because that’s how everything’s supposed to be when you’re in the hypernet. Even if I’m not supposed to be in the hypernet.

I’m only able to skim because Kaipo left my interface node on. That was the day he told me I could call him Kaipo instead of Dr. Singh. His eyes are different than mine, but that’s not because of the Skew, and even if it is I wouldn’t care, because they’re pretty and dark and they twinkle a little bit when he smiles. We’d had sex twice when he told me I could call him Kaipo if we’re alone. Sex is almost as good as skimming, only it doesn’t last as long, and sometimes I’m stinky afterwards, which I’m not a fan of. Sometimes Kaipo smells like pumpkin, which I’m totally a fan of.

“Overshare.”

“Hi, Heady,” I say, rolling onto my side on the bed to look at her. I frown, which I know because the muscles at my jawbone ache a little when I frown. “Did you hear all that?”

Heady raises an eyebrow and purses her lips. Heady’s my big sister. Like, really big. Eight and a half feet big. That’s what the Skew did to her, blew her up bigger than life, but I think it suits her. She’s not as tough as she looks to most people, though. She’s totally as tough as she looks to me right now.

“Sorry,” I say, sitting up. “Sometimes I get confused about outside and inside my head.” That’s what the Skew did to me: broke my head. You can see that when I cut my hair or trim my beard, because the hairs change colors each time. Other people tell me it’s silly, but I like it. I can never decide if I like red or blue or green or purple or yellow more, and this way I get to have them all, and all’s better than some.

Heady sighs.

“Don’t worry, Sy,” she says, because Sy’s my name. “You never have to apologize to me.”

She smiles, and the muscles in my cheeks tense up so I know I’m smiling, too. She’s a good big sister, Heady. Even if she’s not real.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 784: Annotated Setlist of the Mikaela Cole Jazz Quintet


Annotated Setlist of the Mikaela Cole Jazz Quintet

by Catherine George

Tight Squeeze
That solo! Art blowing so hard and so hot, jumping out like a solar flare. Art, the only one of us with a real instrument, a beat-up old brass thing with the spit of two hundred years of play in it—and, well, sometimes we thought you could hear the difference. Oh, people said the three-d printers could make horns that sounded just as good, blew just as pure, and Mikaela said it was worth it to have anti-grav, so she could tow the piano behind her wheelchair—but still, there was something about knowing the horn had been on Earth, that there might be red clay or Terran bacteria gummed up under the keys. Every note heavy with the weight of time.

We never asked Art where he’d gotten a real Earth tenor sax, but there must have been a doozy of a story there.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 783: Report of Dr. Hollowmas on the Incident at Jackrabbit Five


Report of Dr. Hollowmas on the Incident at Jackrabbit Five

By T. Kingfisher

The following report is from the Jackrabbit Colony, Five Tau, regarding the incidents occurring during 7-5-11-8881, fifth rotation, involving Marine Midwife Unit Eleven-Gamma.

Incident report has been taken using the I-Witness program from your friends at Taxon Interrogation Software, with explanatory notes added and our new clarification system, saving you valuable time and manpower! At Taxon, Clarity is Our Business!(tm)

This is the l-Witness program from Taxon Programming. I will be taking your report today. Please relax and answer normally. When explanatory notes or clarifications are added, please indicate if they are correct by stating ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ when prompted. Remember, clarity is our business!

Sure.

Please state your name for the record.

I’m Doc Hollow.

Please state your full legal name for the record.

(sigh) Lin Hollowmas.

Clarification: This is Lin Hollowmas, PhD, DVM, FRCVM…

Yeah, that one.

… current position Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Jackrabbit Colony?

Yeah.

Thank you, Doctor Hollowmas. Please state your purpose today. (Continue Reading…)

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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…)