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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.

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Escape Pod 431: The Golden Glass


The Golden Glass

by Gary Kloster

“The jump-pilot,” said Alejandro, “is sleeping with Leo.”

“You just noticed?” Glory said, tugging off her pants. “And now these are getting too tight. That’s it, I’m upping G in engineering. It’ll skew the efficiency but my ass won’t fit through the access panels soon if I don’t burn some of this off.”

Alejandro ignored his wife’s attempted diversion. “How long has this been going on?”

Glory shrugged. “The kids? They’ve been flirting since Evy came aboard. I’m not exactly sure when they actually started sleeping together. Probably during the flight here to Valhalla.”  She dropped her clothes and stepped into the head. “Why’s it matter?”

Alejandro sat on the bunk and pulled off his slippers. “You’re okay with this?”

Glory leaned out the door, toothbrush in hand. “They’re consenting adults, and it’s impossible to stop ship romances. As long as it doesn’t effect their work, it’s not our business.”

“I don’t like it,” muttered Alejandro, staring at the stars that filled the wall screen. “Leo’s a dreamer. He should be with someone grounded. Evy’s nice, but she’s not right for him. Damn good jumper, but an air-head.”

“Cheez nah…” Glory spat and tried again. “She’s not an airhead, she’s just young and… cheerful.”

“She drinks too much.”

“She has wine with dinner. Her parents owned a vineyard on Laramie.” Glory walked back into the cabin and sat next to her husband. “Alejandro, she’s a nice girl and she’s here on the ship. You have to know that Leo’s been thinking of leaving.”

Alejandro frowned. “Why? He has a good life here with us, learning the trade, and when we finally retire the Evanston will be his.”

“Yes, but that won’t be for a long time. He needs to build his own life. Hell, why do you think I pressed you so hard to hire that newly graduated jump-pilot anyway?”

“You said she had great ratings and a low pay-scale.”

“Yes, but the real reason is that our son was lusting after her the minute he saw her. Thank the gods that it’s working out and we’re not dealing with a harassment suit. Now brush your teeth. Launch tomorrow, and we’re going to be busy.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 430: Heart of Joy


Heart of Joy

by Kate O’Connor

“How’s your ankle, Luci?” Feon Sen, High Chancellor of Carinae, leaned against the wall, watching intently as she braided her dark hair. Luscinia considered the question carefully, studying his reflection in the mirror. He was a man of many words, but his meaning was clearest in the surgically smoothed lines around his eyes and the rhythm his fingers absentmindedly tapped out on his arm. He was asking if she was up to the task he had for her tonight.

“Better, thank you.” She stood and danced a few quick steps to prove it. She was ready. The prism-glass walls sent the light they had collected from Carina’s dim sun scattering around the room in teardrops of scarlet and gold and sapphire. It was hard not to blame the cold and the hard crystal floors for the aches in her joints. Hot sun and soft ground were worlds away, but Feon was always ready with a good reason for her to stay whenever she mentioned returning to her home planet.

She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. Even after more than a year in his company, Luscinia still found how young he looked and how old his expressions were disconcerting. She hadn’t asked him about whatever medical miracles or cosmetic alterations he’d had done over the long decades he had been in control of the three hundred and forty-seven inhabited worlds of the nebula. It was how things were on Carina Prime, especially for those in the public eye. She hated the scrutiny that came with being his lover. More than one helpful soul had mentioned a few of the currently fashionable options for elongating her legs or slimming her curvy body. The idea turned her stomach.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 423: Arena


Arena

by Fredric Brown

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

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Escape Pod 422: Deshaun Stevens’ Ship Log

Show Notes

The author’s story about the story: http://reasie.livejournal.com/663241.html


Deshaun Stevens’ Ship Log

by Marie Vibbert

Personal Log — January 1

Crunches–one and a very near half.

Push-ups–none unless counting getting off floor

Calories–lost count, but all from alcohol, so okay

One year ago today I vowed I would not spend another year working on this stupid cruise ship.  One year ago my life was exactly as it is now, with exception of having a girlfriend.

Trying to have a good sulk about lack of gf, but general suckatude of life winning.  Have spent all adult years–five of them–treading the same tract of “unexplored” space with end trip to rings of Neptune tacked on by tourist company as apology for boringness of unexplored space.  Have also set lighting and sound cues for thousand ungrateful musicians with combined talent of medium-sized shrub.

(Is supposedly new tract of space each time, but how can anyone–especially easily-duped passengers who think cruise ship bands are good–tell the difference?)

Current misery doubled by working with now-ex gf.  Attempts to avoid said ex at New Year’s party largely consisted of going back to punch bowl repeatedly.  May have sung love ballad composed in throes of self-pity at end of night. Memory foggy.  Hope everyone else’s is, too.

Suspecting ship regulation against alcohol v. wise after all.  Hope they don’t read our logs.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 421: Bright Moment


Bright Moment

by Daniel Marcus

Arun floated in the ammonia swells, one arm around the buoyant powersled, waiting. He’d blocked all his feeds and chats, public and private, and silenced his alerts. He felt deliciously alone. His ears were filled with the murmuring white noise of his own blood flow, intimate and oceanic, pulsing with his heartbeat. Metis was a bright diamond directly overhead. Athena hung just above the near, flat horizon, her rings a plaited bow spanning the purple sky. Persistent storms pocked her striated surface, appearing deceptively static from thirty kiloklicks out. Arun had negotiated the edgewalls of those storms more than once, setting up metahelium deep-mining rigs. A host of descriptive words came to mind, but “static” was not among them.

The sea undulated slowly in the low gee, about 0.6 Standard. The distant shape of a skyhook was traced out by a pearlstring of lights reaching up from the horizon and disappearing into distance haze, blinking in synchronization to suggest upwards motion. The skyhook was the only point of reference for scale. He shuddered involuntarily. His e-field distributed warmth to his body extremities from the tiny pack at the small of his back and maintained his blood oxygenation, but bobbing in the swell, alone in the vast sea, he felt cold and a little dizzy. He wanted to breathe and felt a fleeting instant of lizard-brain panic.

The current began to tug at his feet long before he saw the humped swell bowing the horizon upwards, a slight backward drift, accelerating slowly. His heart began beating faster as he clambered belly down onto the power sled. He drifted back towards the swell, slowly at first, then faster. He looked over his shoulder at the rising wall of liquid. It appeared solid, like moving metal, completely blocking the sky. He imagined he could feel wind tugging at his e-field.

Arun felt a vibration through the powersled, a vast low frequency murmur, the world-ocean getting ready to kick his ass. Just as he was about to be sucked beneath the monstrous swell, he activated the sled. He surged forward and stood as the sled began to accelerate up the face of the wave.

He felt the sled’s stabilizers groaning beneath his feet as he sought balance on the flat surface. The wave steepened, hurtling him forward. He could just make out the landmass upon which this immense wave would break. Brooklyn was the moon’s only continent, a million square klicks of frozen nothing.
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Escape Pod 415: The Nightmare Lights of Mars


The Nightmare Lights of Mars

by Brian Trent

Before discovering the moths, Clarissa Lang stumbled blind in the Martian sandstorm and admitted she was about to die because of a painting.

Granules of sand flew past her head at 90 kph and crunched between her teeth. The storm hissed around her ears, a terrible insistence that she hush forever. There was no excuse for this death, Clarissa thought. Weather advisories had been in place for an hour. Her death would become a digital footnote, filed under foolishness, for all time.

She staggered blind and tacked through the needle-spray. Red sand piled around her neck and shoulders, grew around her mouth like exaggerated lipstick.

“Overlay!” she shouted — tried to shout — but her mouth instantly filled with gritty particulate. She panicked then, the first moment of true mindless panic. But the Martian Positioning Satellite had heard her cry: Maureen’s property map sprang up in her left eye, drawn scarlet against each blink.

The house was thirty meters northwest. Upwind.

Clarissa tucked herself into a protective ball and scuttled sideways, like a crab. The sand struck her exposed hands and face in a shifting, relentless wave.

I’ll never make it.

Clarissa could no longer breathe. A recent story from the Japanese colony in Cydonia leapt to her mind, in which a grandmother had been caught outside in a sandstorm, wandered around in circles for ten minutes in the hissing tempest, and finally suffocated an arm’s length from her front door. When they found her, her stomach, throat, and mouth were bulging with sand.

The toolshed! I can make the tool shed!

Clarissa turned away from her house and the full brunt of the sandstorm slammed into her back, tearing the jacket, spraying around her body in silhouette. For a fleeting instant, she was able to suck clean air into her lungs. Then the sand closed around her again.

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Escape Pod 410: Nutshell


Nutshell

by Jeffrey Wikstrom

Carpet ocean, stretching over miles; hills and valleys and ravines, all upholstered.  The green indoor-outdoor gives way to blue, as land gives way to sea, but the texture never changes.  When it rains, as it sometimes does, the drops pass through the carpet without making contact, as though they or it aren’t really there.  It’s there enough for me to walk on, at least, though spongy in some places and firm in others, as though it conceals hidden frames or foundations.  Out on the blue carpet-sea, it feels stretched, tight, as though I walk on a drumhead.  Maybe if I cracked it open I would find a vast dark expanse of water, lit by undersea jack-o-lanterns and holes that show the sky without breaking up the carpet-underside ceiling.

None of it is real, of course.  That probably goes without saying.

It’s funny; I wasn’t supposed to experience time at all.  When they loaded us into the ship, we were told that the travel would be instantaneous from our perspectives.  One minute lying down in the big white plastic tombs, the next freshly decanted and opening raw new eyes.  We would transition seamlessly from fluorescents and anesthesia to the light of some distant new sun.  Certainly I have no memory of consciousness during departure.  I wouldn’t have wanted to be aware, during that dreadful acceleration which pulped our bones, and wrecked our flesh.  By then they had already guided us from our old bodies into the safety of simulation and storage.

This curated world never bruises me or shows me sharp edges.  Trees are padded poles, slick vinyl trunks capped by rubbery green spheres fifteen, twenty feet up.  Stairsteps run up the hillsides, though even the steepest rises are shallow enough I don’t really need the footholds.  Fat plush toys, pink and green and blue, gambol across the plains and mimic living beasts grazing carpet-grass, or drinking from carpet-brooks.  They ignore me, even when I shove or punch them.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 408: Immersion


Immersion

by Aliette de Bodard

In the morning, you’re no longer quite sure who you are.

You stand in front of the mirror–it shifts and trembles, reflecting only what you want to see–eyes that feel too wide, skin that feels too pale, an odd, distant smell wafting from the compartment’s ambient system that is neither incense nor garlic, but something else, something elusive that you once knew.

You’re dressed, already–not on your skin, but outside, where it matters, your avatar sporting blue and black and gold, the stylish clothes of a well-traveled, well-connected woman. For a moment, as you turn away from the mirror, the glass shimmers out of focus; and another woman in a dull silk gown stares back at you: smaller, squatter and in every way diminished–a stranger, a distant memory that has ceased to have any meaning.

Quy was on the docks, watching the spaceships arrive. She could, of course, have been anywhere on Longevity Station, and requested the feed from the network to be patched to her router–and watched, superimposed on her field of vision, the slow dance of ships slipping into their pod cradles like births watched in reverse. But there was something about standing on the spaceport’s concourse–a feeling of closeness that she just couldn’t replicate by standing in Golden Carp Gardens or Azure Dragon Temple. Because here–here, separated by only a few measures of sheet metal from the cradle pods, she could feel herself teetering on the edge of the vacuum, submerged in cold and breathing in neither air nor oxygen. She could almost imagine herself rootless, finally returned to the source of everything.

Most ships those days were Galactic–you’d have thought Longevity’s ex-masters would have been unhappy about the station’s independence, but now that the war was over Longevity was a tidy source of profit. The ships came; and disgorged a steady stream of tourists–their eyes too round and straight, their jaws too square; their faces an unhealthy shade of pink, like undercooked meat left too long in the sun. They walked with the easy confidence of people with immersers: pausing to admire the suggested highlights for a second or so before moving on to the transport station, where they haggled in schoolbook Rong for a ride to their recommended hotels–a sickeningly familiar ballet Quy had been seeing most of her life, a unison of foreigners descending on the station like a plague of centipedes or leeches.

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Escape Pod 407: Mono No Aware


Mono no Aware

by Ken Liu

The world is shaped like the kanji for umbrella, only written so poorly, like my handwriting, that all the parts are out of proportion.

My father would be greatly ashamed at the childish way I still form my characters. Indeed, I can barely write many of them anymore. My formal schooling back in Japan ceased when I was only eight.

Yet for present purposes, this badly drawn character will do.

The canopy up there is the solar sail. Even that distorted kanji can only give you a hint of its vast size. A hundred times thinner than rice paper, the spinning disc fans out a thousand kilometers into space like a giant kite intent on catching every passing photon. It literally blocks out the sky.

Beneath it dangles a long cable of carbon nanotubes a hundred kilometers long: strong, light, and flexible. At the end of the cable hangs the heart of the Hopeful, the habitat module, a five-hundred-meter-tall cylinder into which all the 1,021 inhabitants of the world are packed.

The light from the sun pushes against the sail, propelling us on an ever widening, ever accelerating, spiraling orbit away from it. The acceleration pins all of us against the decks, gives everything weight.

Our trajectory takes us toward a star called 61 Virginis. You can’t see it now because it is behind the canopy of the solar sail. The Hopeful will get there in about three hundred years, more or less. With luck, my great-great-great-I calculated how many “greats” I needed once, but I don’t remember now-grandchildren will see it.

There are no windows in the habitat module, no casual view of the stars streaming past. Most people don’t care, having grown bored of seeing the stars long ago. But I like looking through the cameras mounted on the bottom of the ship so that I can gaze at this view of the receding, reddish glow of our sun, our past.

(Continue Reading…)