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Escape Pod 541: As Travelers in Sky Boats


As Travelers in Sky Boats

by Kristin Janz

My sister blames the Travelers.  Before they came, she says, we were content within the small world we knew.  No one wondered what lay beyond the flat blue horizon where ocean met sky, or who journeyed between the stars.  Children never complained that there was an easier way to mend fishing nets, that they did not like the taste of seaweed.  Men did not abandon responsibilities to pursue the impossible fantasy of becoming Travelers themselves.

One rainy night, when both she and the water leaking through our roof were keeping me awake, I told her that she sounded like a Traveler when she spoke that way.  Who was she–or they–to tell me how I should live, what I could know or not know?

She did not speak to me the rest of that night or most of the day that followed.  I did not enjoy her silence as much as I had expected to.

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Escape Pod 535: Bluejay


Bluejay

By Edward Ashton

Micah steps from the shuttle and onto the tarmac, eyes slitted against the hard north wind that whips across the empty runway. The sky is a flat, leaden gray, with high thin clouds too light for snow, but too thick to let the sun come through as anything more than a vague, diffuse glow near the southern horizon. Micah hunches his shoulders against the bitter cold, ducks his chin to his chest, and pulls his coat tight around him. He hesitates, glances up at the desolate stand of dead trees at the far end of the runway, then walks slowly toward the terminal building.

A sense of uneasiness, which has lurked deep in his belly since he boarded the shuttle, grows steadily as it becomes increasingly clear that he’s alone here. He hadn’t expected an honor guard, but he’d expected… something. As he reaches the terminal entrance, he looks back to see the shuttle wheel around and accelerate back down the runway. He pauses with his hand on the door. He can see through the glass that a half-dozen bodies are sprawled on the floor inside, perfectly preserved. He takes a deep breath in, then lets it out slowly as he enters the building. The scream of the shuttle’s engines fades as the door swings shut behind him.

As he climbs the frozen escalator to the arrivals lounge, Micah remembers the last time he passed through this airport. It was years ago, and he’d been on his way to visit a distant cousin in the North Country. He remembers stopping for a drink before heading to the rental car counter, intending to stay only long enough to take the edge off before a four hour drive, but instead spending most of the afternoon drinking crappy domestic beer and trading double entendres with the bartender. She was tall and lean and blonde, not young, but not yet old either, and her smile caught and held him long after he should have been on the road.

She’s dead now, of course. Lake Ontario was the epicenter. When the strike came, it was twelve thousand miles in any direction from here to safety.

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Escape Pod 531: Bend Back the Shadows


Bend Back the Shadows

By Michael Reid

Month 669, Day 10

When I was a little girl, Grandma used to tell me scary stories about the day the lights went out on Earth. Back then, she said, there were lots of people on our station. People would come and go from Earth all the time in little gray capsules. And then, one day, the capsules had stopped coming. Soon after that, the messages had stopped coming on the radio. Everyone on the station had hovered by the windows like ghosts, watching day after day as plumes of smoke erupted from the hearts of the cities, their trails snaking across the continents.

“But that wasn’t the worst of it,” Grandma would tell me. “Not by a long shot.”

“What was worse?” I asked her once, between lessons on medicine and aquaponics.

Grandma looked away when she spoke. “The worst part was watching the night sweep across the Earth and seeing that the darkness was empty. No more lights. Just shadows.”

Grandma used to live down on Earth, a long time ago. She was a doctor–a brain doctor. She said that one of the reasons she came up to the station was to see Earth from space with her own eyes. She loved the day side with its browns and greens and blues, but I think she loved the lights on the night side even more. I’ve seen pictures from back then, back when the whole Earth was covered with cities that glowed yellow at night. The pictures reminded me of the diagrams of neurons Grandma used to show me on her slate: nuclear cities connected to dendritic suburbs, all bound together by axonal highways. Then the end had come. Night after night, the web of neurons had disintegrated, like a brain consumed by Alzheimer’s. Grandma and the others had watched it all happen, watched each city flare brightly for a few seconds, then disappear forever.

Our station orbits Earth once every four hours: two hours over the day side and two hours over the night. Grandma said that, every time the station caught up to the night, she would go to a window and pray that there would still be lights. One orbit, she had gone to the windows and there had been only one light left on the whole dark side of the planet. One tiny light, smack in the middle of the big continent–Africa, it was called, when there were still people on it. Orbit after orbit, she watched for that spot, prayed the whole time it was in daylight that it would still be there when the night returned. She would wish on it like an ember, praying for it to spark and spread. But one day, less than a year after the last capsule had come to the station, darkness swept over the place where the light had been and the light was gone.

Grandma said that was the single worst day of her life. Worse than leaving Grandpa behind on Earth. Worse than watching the city where he lived go dark. Worse than watching all those plumes of smoke circling the planet. She said watching that last light be engulfed by the shadows was more fearful than losing all of the rest combined. “But it won’t always be this way,” she told me. “Someday those lights are going to come back. Someday you’ll see just the tiniest flicker down there, but that one tiny flicker will spread and soon it will bend back all those shadows.”

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Escape Pod 530: City in the Wound

Show Notes

This episode also featured an excerpt from Ecko: Endgame by Danie Ware which you can get more info about on her website: http://danieware.com/tag/ecko-endgame/ and you can tweet her @danacea


City in the Wound

By Michael Buckley

In the middle of the night Eztli decides to burn The Mothers. He’s a block down and they’re visible through a sliver of space between two corners, drapes of light kelping back and forth slow in the darkness.

Eztli runs, safe for the moment ‘cause it’s his street, Da is watching, but then off his block, out into the middle of the road.

A brick flies past him. He hears shouting in the rooms above The Mothers, but their boys and girls don’t make it out in time. Now it’s just him standing in front of The Mothers. There’s three in a row, their dresses shimmering and lovely, and they stare down at him, so kind and gentle. The one in front is actually crying as Eztli sprays stolen gasoline in a wide arc across them. Eztli hates her for it. He could burn her a thousand times.

The lit match hits the wall and The Mothers go up. The children scream from the second floor. Feet bang on the stairs. Eztli runs, the warmth of the fire behind him, listening to the other screams, the ones coming from beneath the flames.

That night he sleeps next to Da, the composites moving about slowly behind him, lulling. And he doesn’t dream at all.

Da wakes him the next day. The composites reach finger-like to brush his cheek. Feels like lizard skin, or what he’s heard of The Native’s hide.

“Wakee,” Da says. His voice makes Eztli’s lips go cold. “Wakee. Food for the others. At the farthest pit.”

Eztli stands in the morning light. The street is dead quiet and Da behind him moves across the wall, ticking and groaning and hissing.

“You slept close to Da last night for burning The Mothers,” Da says.

Eztli gets it: But today you gotta work.

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Escape Pod 523: Windows (Artemis Rising)

Show Notes

Welcome to the 2nd Annual Artemis Rising, a celebration of women and non-binary authors.


Windows

by Beth Goder

After just three years, most of Gurt’s downtown was nearly unrecognizable. Roldan Street boasted a new tea shop, and the roads had been repaved with greenish eco-tar. Even the old sign at Marta’s Bakery, which had been shaped like a pink cupcake, was replaced with sleek blue lettering.

Score another one for the prophetic soup.

The library sported new windows, stained glass whorls of teal and gold, while Grocery Plus had removed the panoramic window which used to overlook the river. That was the first thing I noticed when I came back, the windows.

I’d spent a lot of time looking out of windows, back when I lived in Gurt. I couldn’t go outside during the dust storms, because of my asthma, so I’d waited inside wherever I happened to be when the storm hit. But dust is all the same, just one blank, swirling vortex, so instead of watching the storms I started looking at the windows. Marta’s Bakery used to have the most beautiful violet windows, circular, like a morning bun with icing on top. Not that I eat morning buns, anymore.

I promised myself when I moved away from Gurt that I’d never come back, not after Sara left me at the altar. On the day of our wedding, I waited for hours at the church window (clean, but with the latch rusted off), fingering the beading on my beautiful white dress, while all of the guests snuck out, except for my family, who had transported in for the ceremony. Dad enveloped me in a hug, while Mom said that she had never liked Sara anyway, reminding me of the time Sara had ruined our trip to Seldar by whining about the swamp smell. It helped, but not very much.

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Escape Pod 518: Brain Worms and White Whales


Brain Worms and White Whales

by Jen Finelli

My name isn’t Spaceman Spiff, and if you call me Ishmael I’ll knock the chewing gum right out of your mouth.

Actually, can I get a piece of that? We don’t get gum up here.

Thanks. I know you’re new here—service droid, right?—so take a look around before I explain why I called you into my office. Heads up, it’s because you did something bad. See this pose? My boots on my desk, arms crossed, limitless backdrop of space out the window behind me as ignored in all its glory as a homemaker whose husband works overtime for secretary kisses? Yeah, this pose, this clean wooden desk, this suitcase full of old Colt firearms behind me, they all mean something.

They mean I’m a man with a past and I like to shoot things.

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Escape Pod 511: The Lone and Level Sands


The Lone and Level Sands

By Marco Panessa

I don’t know how they found us. Beneath this eternal torrent of dust, our dulled marble shells should be hidden forever; and furthermore, it occurs to me to wonder how they even found this planet. But as the shining ship descends from the stars, my brother and sister and I look on in amazement before turning to one another.

Saphida’s voice is a hoarse whisper, her words echoing down my empty corridors and fading away in the false treasure chambers and dead ends full of traps. She says, “Why do they bother us? We have so much to do.”

“They should bow down in our presence!” Kalesh’s voice shakes dust from my ceilings. “Unworthy, lowly creatures–”

“We never reached other stars.” My voice silences his rage at once. “Whoever they are, they achieved far more than we managed to do. Be quiet. Reserve judgment.”

Beneath a sky of sand and a million years of silence, we await our visitors tall and proud. To my left, Saphida rears in defiance of the stars, her gargantuan funeral runes weathered to illegibility in the constant blast of grit. Her tomb faces the wind in death like she did in life, and she breathes sand as she once breathed the hot foundry air. Every so often a windstorm deposits a pebble or two at her golden gates. Enough time has passed that fifty men could not tunnel their way through to her sealed doors.

To my right, Kalesh broods. A column in his neoclassical portico has fallen down, taking a corniced chunk of marble with it. The lost marble weathered into dust a long time ago. His outlying temples and shrines are all worn away now, like mine and our sister’s. Behind the crumbling façades, the wind has whittled us all down to hemispheres with radii equal to the range of our repair nanorobots. Within this range, they’ve expunged every trace of erosion with fanatical precision. Beyond, there is only the sand. I can hardly see my siblings, a few hundred meters away through the grit.
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Escape Pod 510: Them Ships


Them Ships

by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Leonardo says that the Americans are going to fire some rockets and free us from the tyranny of the aliens and I say: who gives a shit. Lemme tell you something: It wasn’t super-awesome around here before the aliens. At least we get three meals every day now.

I used to live in a cardboard house with a tin roof and collected garbage for a living. They called my home a ‘lost city’ but they should’ve called it ‘fucked city.’

Leonardo talks about regaining our freedom, ‘bout fighting and shit. What damn freedom? You think I had freedom in the slums? Leonardo can talk freedom out his ass because he had money before this thing started and he saw too many American movies where they kill the monsters with big guns.

I’m not an idiot. The cops used to do their little “operations” in our neighborhood. They’d come in and arrest everyone, take everything. They weren’t Hollywood heroes out to help people. They were fucking assholes and I don’t see why they would have changed. As for American soldiers saving the day: You think they give a rat’s ass ‘bout Mexico City? You think they’re going to fly here in their helicopters and save us?

I say fuck that shit. I never had no freedom. Leonardo can go piss himself.
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Escape Pod 509: Broken


Broken

by Jason 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.
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Escape Pod 507: The Call of the Sky


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.

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