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Escape Pod 464: Red Dust and Dancing Horses


Red Dust and Dancing Horses

by Beth Cato

No horses existed on Mars. Nara could change that.She stared out the thick-paned window. Tinted dirt sprawled to a horizon, mesas and rock-lipped craters cutting the mottled sky. It almost looked like a scene from somewhere out of the Old West on Earth, like in the two-dimensional movies she studied on her tablet. Mama thought that 20th-century films were the ultimate brain-rotting waste of time, so Nara made sure to see at least two a week. Silver, Trigger, Buttermilk, Rex, Champion—she knew them all. She had spent months picturing just how their hooves would sink into that soft dirt, how their manes would lash in the wind. How her feet needed to rest in the stirrups, heels down, and how the hot curve of a muzzle would fit between her cupped hands.The terraforming process had come a long way in the two hundred years since mechs established the Martian colonies. Nara didn’t need a pressure suit to walk outside, but in her lifetime she’d never breathe on her own outside of her house or the Corcoran Dome. There would never be real horses here, not for hundreds of years, if ever. But a mechanical horse could find its way home in a dust storm, or handle the boggy sand without breaking a leg. She could ride it. Explore. It would be better than nothing. Her forehead bumped against the glass. But to have a real horse with hot skin and silky mane…

“Nara, you’re moping again.” Mama held a monitor to each window, following the seal along the glass. “No matter how long you stare out the window and sulk, we can’t afford to fly you back to Earth just to see horses. They’re hard to find as it is. Besides, you know what happened when that simulator came through last year.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 452: Repo


Repo

by Aaron Gallagher

It took concentration to perform delicate work in the cumbersome gloves of the suit. The rounded fingers were metal-tipped, and bulky. Elise painted the tips of her gloves with luminous paint for ease when working outside.

The octopus found the wires and shorted the alarm. The device glowed green and she triggered the manual release. The door popped, expelling a breath or two of oxygen.

Elise slipped into the airlock and closed it behind her, shutting the door on the endless black of space. The inside porthole looked into the cargo hold. She glided through the cargo room with three kicks.

The head-up on her helmet showed schematics in blue. She found the environmental control room.

She flipped open the airtight seal on a container holding a large slab of green gel. She snapped open a metal vial sprayed dark liquid onto the slab. She sealed the container, turned the machinery to full, and crouched by the door out of sight.

At thirty minutes, Elise headed upstairs for the cockpit. Empty. She looked for the captain’s cabin. In the cabin’s refresher, she found his body slumped in a large rubber bag.

Great. He passed out in the shower.

Elise wrestled the naked man out of the rubber shower. Round globules of water drifted around them. She pulled a sedative pad out of her bag and slapped it onto Holland’s arm. The chemicals seeped into his bloodstream.

He’d sleep twenty-four hours in a chemical coma. She left him in his bunk pouch, cinch closed around his neck. His balding head bobbed in the breeze from the vent.

Back in the environmental control room, she worked the o2 scrubbers at full blast for thirty minutes. She broke seal on her helmet and sniffed the air, ready to clamp the helmet down the moment she felt dizzy.

Clean.

The ship was hers.

Elise floated through the ship to familiarize herself. It didn’t take long. It was a small Beech Skimmer, cargo capacity of around five metric tons. The craft was cylindrical, with two floors. Cargo, environmental, and engine room below. Main floor above was one long corridor, sixty meters long, with the cockpit at the fore, two staterooms to each side, a combination kitchen, dining room, and recreation area at the other end. The ship was roomy for one, comfortable with eight, rated for a maximum of sixteen.

Down below she examined the engines, because no pilot she knew ran a ship within recommended specs. The big Beech was tuned up to 122% efficiency. She studied the specs to learn what he had done. She shook her head. Sure, he’d managed to coax more power from the big engine, but it would need an overhaul twice as often. She shut off the display with a shrug. They never thought of the bottom line.

She finished her inspection and sealed her helmet. As she kicked out of the airlock, she paused to admire the view. It was worth admiring. Pluto, with her single, sickly colony. The dock in orbit, half-full of ships in port, lit like Vegas, and shining like diamonds on velvet.
She slipped under Adage to where her Betty was Remora’d to the hull and went inside. She plopped into the pilot’s couch. All her controls were custom, larger than normal. She spent a lot of time in her suit. Only two hours had passed since she used thrusters to come alongside the bigger ship. She watched the displays as she worked the controls by feel. Her deft touch meant hardly a small thump when she triggered the electromagnet and sealed to the hull of the bigger ship.

She looked around the small cabin, dingy with use. The Betty was a work-ship and looked it. She kept it neat, but it was still messy in that lived-in way.

After a last look around, she grabbed her bag and thumbed the power-down sequence, keeping the power plant only alive enough to keep the electromagnet on and her wine unfrozen.

In the cockpit, she entered her flight plan and engaged, then she removed her suit. She shook herself out, tugged the simple grey shipsuit straight. It was a relief to scratch. She scrubbed her fingers through her brown free-fall short hair. Her eyes itched from the low-humidity atmosphere of her suit.

Twenty days from Pluto dock to Lunar orbit. It took one hundred forty minutes to get to full thrust.

Elise rooted through Holland’s stores. Among his other qualities, Efram Holland had surprisingly excellent taste in both wine and coffee. While the plastic didn’t improve the flavor of either, it wasn’t intrusive.

She opened a box of 2105 Chateau d’Yquem. She put a clip in the reader and stuck herself to the wall. She squeezed a globe of wine into the air and leaned forward to sip from the bubble. The reader displayed the text of Jane Eyre.

“Chapter nine,” she said, and the reader skipped ahead. She crossed her legs and arms and got comfortable.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 444: Those Are Pearls That Were His Eyes


Those Are Pearls That Were His Eyes

by Daniel Marcus

The only window in Suki’s bedroom opened onto an airshaft that ran through the center of the building like the path of a bullet.  She would lie in bed in the hot summer nights with the salt smell of the drying seabed coming in through the open window, a sheen of sweat filming her forehead and plastering the sheets to her body like tissue, listening to her downstairs neighbors.  When they made love, their cries echoing up through the airshaft made her loins ache, and she brought release to herself silently, visualizing men with slender, oiled limbs and faces hidden in shadow.

Sometimes the neighbors sang, odd, sinuous music redolent with quarter tones.  The melodies wove counterpoint like a tapestry of smoke and for some reason Suki thought of mountains.  Jagged, fractal peaks thrusting out of an evergreen carpet.  Summits brushed with snow.  Tongues of cloud laying across the low passes.

Sometimes they argued, and the first time she heard the man’s deep voice raised in anger she was sure he was a Beast, possibly an Ursa.

She was less certain of the woman, but there was a sibilant, lilting quality to her voice that suggested something of the feline.  They’d moved in three weeks before but their sleep cycles seemed out of sync with hers and she still hadn’t met them.

Suki tried to imagine herself going downstairs to borrow something — sugar, yarn, a databead.  His broad muzzle would poke out from behind the half-closed door; his liquid brown eyes would be half-closed in  suspicion.  They would chat for a bit, though, and perhaps he would invite her in.  They would teach her their songs and their voices would rise together into the thick, warm air. Some nights there was no singing, no arguing, no love, and Suki listened to the city, a white-noise melange of machinery and people in constant flux, like the sound of the ocean captured in a shell held to the ear.  Beneath that, emanating from the spaceport on the edge of the city, a low, intermittent hum, nearly subsonic, so faint it seemed to come from somewhere inside her own body.

On those nights, she had trouble sleeping, and she would climb the rickety stairs to the roof.  She couldn’t see the Web, of course, but she imagined she could feel it arching overhead, lines of force criss-crossing the sky.  Ships rode the Web up to where they could safely ignite their fusion drives for in-system voyages, or clung to the invisible threads all the way to their convergence at the Wyrm.

Newmoon hung in the sky, its progress just below the threshold of conscious perception, like the minute hands of a clock.  She had visited there as a child, a creche trip, and she remembered the feel of the factories humming under her feet, the metal skin pocked with micrometeorite impacts  stretching to the too-close horizon, the tingling caress of her environment field. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 442: Eater-of-Bone, Part 2


Eater-of-Bone, part 2

by Robert Reed

[Please see Part 1 of this story at Escape Pod 442: Eater of Bone for the complete text.]

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Escape Pod 442: Eater-of-Bone

Show Notes

We still encourage you to visit the sponsor for last week’s episode.


Eater-of-Bone

by Robert Reed

1

With cured gut and twitch-cord, the Nots had constructed their trap—a marriage of old cleverness and deep rage designed to catch dreaded, unworldly monsters such as her. But the device had lain undisturbed since summer, and the winter rains had washed away some of the leaf litter and clay that served as its camouflage. Knowing what to expect, the young woman easily spotted the taut lines and anchor points, and experience told her where a single soft footfall would trigger the mechanism, causing the ground to fall away. An extraordinarily deep hole had been dug into the hillside. One misstep, and she would plunge into blackness, every kick and helpless flail bringing down the loose dirt that would suffocate and then temporarily kill. She had seen this design before. The Nots were masters when it came to doing the same ancient tricks again and again. Only once in her experience had this type of mechanism worked as designed, but the vivid memory of that exceptionally miserable night was enough to make the woman step backwards—a reflexive, foolish reaction, since traps occasionally came in pairs, and one careless motion could be more dangerous than twenty smart, studied footfalls.

But her bare foot fortunately hit only damp dirt, and she felt nothing worse than a jikk-incisor gouging her exposed Achilles.

She knelt slowly and pulled the thorn free, placing a thumb across the wound to force the first drop of blood to remain inside her body. Her skin grew warm beneath her touch, and then there was no wound. Sucking on her thumb, she tasted iron and salt and a dozen flavors of grime, and after some consideration, she carefully, carefully traced out a wide ellipse that eventually placed the trap upwind from her.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 441: Kumara

Show Notes

Please visit the sponsor for this episode – Posthuman Pathways


Kumara

By Seth Dickinson

You asked me why you are alive, and this is the answer: because I was asked to do the impossible, to choose someone to die. And I loved them all, loved them as I loved Kumara, as I loved myself. I could not bear the choice.

“I need you to choose one of our crew to delete,” Kumara told me.

“I need room to think, or we’re not going to make it.”

Thirty years of diligence said no, never and I began to refuse.

Outside the ship a revenant screamed a radio scream and through the umbilical of our link I felt Kumara cry back in defiance: jamming but still overmatched, struggling against sixty million years of mindless machine hate. Throwing every spark of thought she could muster into beating the revenant’s virals, decrypting them, compiling an inoculation.

I closed my eyes and waited for her to fail, for the revenant to slip into her systems, for the antimatter torch to let go and end us all. But Kumara held herself together. Turned the attack.

Her avatar grinned up from where she knelt, shoulder bowed with effort, nails clawed down to pink flesh. “Saved us again,” she said. “Ha. And they told me I wasn’t built for this. Thirty years, and still state of the art!”

“You can make it,” I said, knowing it was a lie, that she had tapped every scrap of processing power in her hull. I was systems officer; I was the ship as much as she was. But still I begged: “Just an hour to the jump point. You’ll make it. You don’t need to ask for any more.”

Kumara had taken the image of a woman, cable-shouldered, strong. Her hands trembled and her eyes shone bright with an inhuman intellect, a very human fatigue. Her intellect was digital, her fatigue an abstract, but she wore the metaphor of flesh. Flesh speaks clearly to the human mind.

She looked up at me with those brilliant tired eyes and shook her head. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I’m out of processing power. They’re getting too sophisticated and I can’t keep up. You have to delete someone from heaven.”

I closed my eyes and turned away.

I was the last living crew of Kumara, you see? The others were dead: Captain Shiroma, who burned in her own armor as she stole the machine god’s dream, Matthews who cracked the revenant code, smiling Jayaraman who died first, wordless Landvatter whose ash still painted the hull. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 440: Canterbury Hollow


Canterbury Hollow

by Chris Lawson

[EDITOR: We don’t have the rights to post the text of this story.]

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Escape Pod 437: A Rose for Ecclesiastes

Show Notes

This text taken from Science Fiction: The Science Fiction Research Association Anthology, Eds. Patricia S. Warrick, Charles G. Waugh, and Martin H. Greenberg, New York: HarperCollins, 1988. (Pgs. 308-337).


A Rose for Ecclesiastes

by Roger Zelazny

I was busy translating one of my Madrigals Macabre into Martian on the morning I was found acceptable. The intercom had buzzed briefly, and I dropped my pencil and flipped on the toggle in a single motion.

“Mister G,” piped Morton’s youthful contralto, “the old man says I should ‘get hold of that damned conceited rhymer’ right away, and send him to his cabin.–Since there’s only one damned conceited rhymer . . .”

“Let not ambition mock thy useful toil,” I cut him off.

So, the Martians had finally made up their minds! I knocked an inch and a half of ash from a smouldering butt, and took my first drag since I had lit it. The entire month’s anticipation tried hard to crowd itself into the moment, but could not quite make it. I was frightened to walk those forty feet and hear Emory say the words I already knew he would say; and that feeling elbowed the other one into the background.

So I finished the stanza I was translating before I got up.

It took only a moment to reach Emory’s door. I knocked thrice and opened it, just as he growled, “Come in.”

“You wanted to see me?” I sat down quickly to save him the trouble of offering me a seat.

“That was fast. What did you do, run?”

I regarded his paternal discontent:

Little fatty flecks beneath pale eyes, thinning hair, and an Irish nose; a voice a decibel louder than anyone else’s . . .

Hamlet to Claudius: “I was working.”

“Hah!” he snorted. “Come off it. No one’s ever seen you do any of that stuff.”
I shrugged my shoulders and started to rise.

“If that’s what you called me down here–”

“Sit down!”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 435: Made of Cats: A Love Story


Made of Cats: A Love Story

by Judith Tarr

Never mind the slithy toves; let me tell you about the time all the cats splooped into floons.

It all started the day the aliens landed. (Doesn’t it always?) We’d been getting the odd invasion–sometimes really odd–for about a hundred years by then. The ones that came up out of the ground and down from the sky and blasted people to powder and tried to marsiform the planet? And got the common cold and turned into slime mold and died? They were just the start.

We were pretty solid on the intergalactic maps by the time the Kovarrubians showed up. Killer microbes? Check. Nuclear option? Check. Toxic xenophobia? Triple check.

So now when the aliens came, they came in peace. For reals, dudes. Cure for cancer? Check. Super-mega-hyper-insta-teleporta-warp drive? Check. World peace? Not so much. But now when people got their hate on, mostly they got it on somebody Out There.

The day the Kovarrubians came, Emily Habibi-Rubinstein, age five and a half, was having a terrible, horrible, awful, no-good, very bad day. Which meant that as her mother, I, Shannon Habibi, age never mind, was having one, too. Between the snufflecrud that kept her home from school, the power failure that took out the television, the Internet, the house controls, and the air conditioning in one fell swoop, and the failure of the city bus to show up and get us both to the library where we could cool off and toss Emily into a big blissful pile of books, we were not a happy family.

Oh, and did I mention that the phones were down, too? So we were effectively cut off from the world?

Right.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 434: Coping Mechanisms

Show Notes

This episode features sound effects from users dADDoiTchuckycheetosDanielsonIIInocommoneraRobinhood76felix.blume and zimbot on Freesound.org.

Mentioned in this episode: www.ClarionWest.org.


Coping Mechanisms

by Gerri Leen

The interface between Luna and Earth was particularly bad–like a slow connection to the Net when I was a kid and my grandparents had been too cheap to move off dial-up.  Cal’s image moved in fits and starts, and it wasn’t what I wanted–okay, needed–to see.  As chief base shrink, I should be woman enough to admit I needed to see my husband in some way that didn’t immediately scream he was roughly 380,000 clicks away.

Even if Cal was barely my husband; he and I hadn’t touched in eight months–and I’d only been on Luna for six.  Coming here had been my way of saying goodbye, of letting our marriage die slowly and gracefully rather than living through the drama of a messy divorce.  Funny thing about the moon, though: you don’t get over people here.  You miss the hell out of them, every part of them.  Or maybe you just forget the bad parts, maybe they disappear in the middle of this resounding grayness.

I used to think my marriage was gray and grim.  Landing at Echosound–getting my first view of my new home in the bright lunar daytime that had gone on for fourteen Earth-days–had been a reality check of the highest order.

“Vanessa?”  Cal was probably wondering why I’d called.  We were supposed to be getting used to being away from each other, and I didn’t have much to say that was related to the impending dissolution of the marriage.

So I said the first thing that came to mind.  “How’s Denny?”

The jerking image made his expression unreadable.  “He’s fine.”

I didn’t normally ask about his parrot.  In fact, I hated that damn bird.  Probably because I knew Cal would part with me, but not with him.  As a psychiatrist, I don’t shy away from truths.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t make me any better at dealing with them.

“Van, I have to go.”  Cal didn’t sound disappointed, especially on five-second delay.  Not for the first time I wished personal calls were given the same priority for real-time access as mission-related calls. But they weren’t, so I would deal.  Badly, no doubt.  But I’d deal.

“I have to go, too.  Time for my shift.”  Which was a lie.  I may have normal duty hours, but as essential personnel, I’m on call all the time.  No shift work for Doctor Vanessa Holmes.  It used to make me feel important; now it felt like a stone around my neck–an Earth-stone in Earth-gravity where it would actually be heavy.

Cal ended the call before I could say anything more.  It shouldn’t have hurt.  It did anyway.

(Continue Reading…)