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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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Escape Pod 506: Harvester Dreams


Harvester Dreams

by Michael J. DeLuca

Morning flooded the transparent womb of the ob room. Knuckling his aching skull, Hector twitched the opacity up to a tolerable level and set down his tea, then took the pod out over the ag. The fight with Mela the night before had not been pleasant, but work, he was perpetually astonished to discover, never failed to cheer him.

The conduit was a brilliant white spear overhead, broken by ribs of fair-weather cloud. The ag spread into haze in every direction, curving gently upward with the concavity of the Hypatia’s hull: chessboard squares of rippling corn, glittering rice paddies, apple plots flowering white. Here and there, a skeletal hulk loomed indistinct–some remnant structure of the ship’s propulsion systems, long-dismantled; shade crops grew among latticed shadows.

The crowd of Workers waited below, lens-tipped appendages craned upward. He smiled, in spite of the headache and the persistent awareness that no matter how he chose to rationalize it, everything Mela had said was true. He called up the log feeds. Foreman, they were saying. Foreman, we need your understanding.

He brought the ob room down among them. A grand menagerie they made, his subjects, each finely adapted to its task: delicate pollinators, long-limbed harvesters, knob-treaded aerators, juggernaut ploughs. “You don’t need me,” he said. “Your designers gave you all the understanding you need. But I’m here, ready to listen. I’ll help if I can.”

The oldest of the ploughs rolled forward. Your understanding grants us insight into the will of our designers.

The Workers appreciated repetition. They were simple beings, the product of their design. They believed in an infallible, benevolent humanity the way humanity once believed in angels, the way so many Relics now believed in their inscrutable alien creator, the Ix. And Hector was their ambassador, though he’d only held this job a month and the designers were fifty generations dead.

H1703 has had a dream, said the plough.

The Workers’ reactions flooded the feeds with the euphemistic, agricultural info-speak they used among themselves, too much to decipher. Excitement, urgency. They didn’t know what to think.

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Escape Pod 502: Gorlack the Destroyer’s All You Can Eat Adventure


Gorlack the Destroyer’s All You Can Eat Adventure

by Robert Lowell Russell

Seven hundred battered cases of “Unleash Your Inner Awesome!” mega-nutri-bars dotted the purple grass for kilometers in every direction. Pelle the Silicate rested his rocky body on one of the battered metal crates and sighed.

Noxious smoke from the wrecked “Do-It-Yourself and Save!” cargo lander wrinkled Pelle’s nose. He wondered if the “environmentally friendly materials” the lander was constructed from were in fact sarki beetle shells and dung.

Pelle had bet the Silicate colonists on this distant world would trade their exotic spices and rare materials for a little taste of home. Now, those little tastes were baking in their crates under an alien sun, a thousand kilometers from the nearest settlement.

“I’m ruined,” he muttered.


Gorlack the Destroyer fixed his gaze on the rough-skinned alien sitting on the metal box.

“Bah! Zarg, my friend, it is only another of the stone creatures.”

Zarg shook his head. “These are trying times.”

The troop of warriors and women gathered behind Gorlack murmured its discontent.
“A number three fusion blade will pierce the creature’s hide,” said Zarg, “but leave its soft, inner flesh intact. They taste like kana.”

Gorlack spat on the grass. “Everything tastes like kana. I long for a proper meal.” He turned to Zarg and rested a furred paw on the other’s shoulder. “The number three blade it will be, but first, honor demands I offer the creature challenge.”

“The coward will refuse.”

Gorlack nodded. “Undoubtedly.” He strode boldly through the grass, approaching the alien. The murmurs turned to silence.

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Escape Pod 496: Falling Through Creation


Falling Through Creation

by Mark Robert Philps

HD 168443 b — Extra-Solar Terrestrial Planet, Silicate Core, Active Plate Tectonics

We drift in warm lighted liquid and dream of a home that we have never known. Below us the dead world hangs in space, its mantle loose and wrinkled like dusty grey skin. We fire probes, watch as they arc towards the planet in long loops of light.

We wonder if this planet is our planet. Will we find some trace of our people here?

The probes have laser cutters and diamond drills and they burrow deep into the planet core. We collect samples from the surface and test them. This had once been a lush world, a garden in a droplet of water, trembling in the void. Now it is dead, the atmosphere a noxious soup, and we can feel only its past in the rocks that remain.

This world is not our home.

We play cards while the probes do their work. You always win. Remember how Father would drift above us–a short man, even for a human, pudgy, bald and smiling, some kind of Buddha in a wetsuit–teaching us how to play? How he would laugh as we pincered the oversized polymer cards between jet-black mandibles. Now the cards are slick with the residue of our feeling for him.

We play for a long time. Days, weeks, months–it is easy to forget that time moves differently for us, faster than it does for Father and the other humans.

They are liars. They use us. You share this once, many times.

They let us leave, I reply. They could have killed us.

I don’t remind you that it was because of your anger, your frustration, your rejection of ignorance, that we are out on the edge of the void, alone and separated from Father and the Star-City where he raised us. I don’t care about these things. Besides, you are the mercurial one. The stronger one.

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Escape Pod 491: Heaven’s Touch


Heaven’s Touch

by Jason Sanford

As the Tonatiuh arcs through the sparkling coma of Heaven’s Touch, Parda’s holographic proxy wraps herself around my spacesuit and kisses my visor. “Please let Sister Dusty live,” the proxy prays in fervent devotion, defying the actions of the real Parda, who at this moment is piloting our ship on a collision course with the comet.

But I’m too busy for either Parda or her proxy. After topping off my suit’s air, I crank open the exterior airlock door until whiteness swirls before me, my fatigue-addled mind turning the ice and dust to ghosts. Countless comet ghosts. Icy haunts begging me to embrace my destiny.

“If you jump now, you’re dead,” the proxy whispers seductively in my ear. “All the prayer in the universe won’t save you. Wait until we’re closer to the surface.”

I nod, almost forgetting this isn’t the real Parda. Instead, the autonomous AI program is a near-perfect imitation of my best friend–the proxy’s programmed intelligence infesting my spacesuit, my visor’s holographic projectors creating the illusion of her body. The proxy appears to wear a white dress as she stands barefoot before the open airlock door, as if Parda and I were once again in Florida running along white-sand beaches.

To my eyes, this is Parda.

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Escape Pod 484: That Tear Problem


That Tear Problem

by Natalia Theodoridou

“Now flex your arm,” the controller said. Her voice sounded dry and mechanical through the speakers.

“The real one or the other one?” I asked and immediately received a neuro-ping: You are real.

“Both your arms are real, soldier,” she said.

I always thought of her as a woman, but really it was just a voice. There was no way to tell gender.

Focus.

“Right. Which one do you want me to flex?”

“The left one.”

I flexed my left arm. It’s one of the limbs they rebuilt after the accident. The Neuropage pinged me again, just in case: You are real. All this is real. I wondered if they figured out I had found the glitch. Was that what prompted this ping? But it couldn’t be; the pager was supposed to be entirely incorporated into the nervous system. No outside access available.

Unless that was a lie, too.

“Now the other one,” the voice said.

“How much longer is this going to take?” I asked, flexing my right arm. I could feel my legs getting fidgety. They always did that when I was strapped down for long chunks of time. Ever since the accident. Fidget fidget fidget. Even while I slept, the legs fidgeted. I would much rather sleep floating around, but that set off the security alarm. I had found that out the hard way, on my second day at the space station.

“The muscle-tone examination is complete,” the controller said. “Now on to the neural routine.”

“The neural routine. Of course.”

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Escape Pod 483: Boris’s Bar


Boris’s Bar

by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

“Orani, tell Boris what is wrong.”

I told Boris about Enoch and our shared dreams, about how he abandoned me.

“He said I was frigid,” I confided, my head on Boris’s shoulder, his hand stroking my back.

Boris nodded, “What else?”

“He said that for all the credits in the system, I would never learn how to love.”

I’d been drowning in loneliness when I contracted Boris to help me recover from losing Enoch. After two years of long distance communication, Enoch had traveled from Earth to be with me, only to later decide it was a mistake. “You’re not the human being I thought you were,” he said, which was rich because he wasn’t a human being at all.

When I was spent of energy and tears, Boris lifted me into his arms, like steel support beams, and carried me to the bathroom. He undressed and washed me. He kissed my tearful eyes. He rubbed my skin with oil. With Boris I finally felt warm and safe.

“Orani, you are worthy and lovable. I want you to know this,” he murmured to me as he carried me back to bed. “I want you to feel like a little baby.”

“I don’t remember what that’s like,” I told him. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 477: Parallel Moons


Parallel Moons

by Mario Milosevic

1a

I never understood the term “new moon.” When the moon is invisible, how can it be new? “New moon” should be called “empty moon,” the opposite of full moon. I resolved to use the term when I was quite young. I figured all my friends would agree with me and we’d start a new way of talking about the moon. Only thing is, the phases of the moon don’t come up in conversation all that often, so the terminology never caught on.

Another thing I remember about the moon: I used to put my finger over it to make it disappear. Lots of kids did that There’s immense power in erasing an object big enough to have its own gravity. Kids crave that kind of power. They want to rule the world.

2a

You work at a medium-sized law firm. You get a call from some nerds. Space cadets. They want to reclassify the moon. They say it’s a planet, not a satellite. You think this has to be some kind of joke. But no. They are dead serious. They have money to pay for your legal work. Seven hundred and eighty-six dollars. And thirty-two cents. They collected it by passing a hat.

You are amused. You take the case. Why not? No point in being who you are unless you can have some fun once in a while, right? Right?

3a

Alice Creighton knew as much about Richard Mollene as anyone who ever looked at a gossip website, which made sense, since she wrote for one of the most popular.

Mollene was the richest person ever, a complete recluse, a widower, and dedicated to three things above all else: stopping global warming, halting disease, and making the moon disappear. He had already accomplished the first with his innovative solar cell technology, had made real progress on the second with his universal vaccine, and now, with the pepper mill in orbit around the moon for the past twenty years, he was well on his way to achieving the third.

Alice approved of Mollene’s first two dreams, but was not in favor of the third. A lot of people said they understood Richard Mollene and his pepper mill.

Alice Creighton did not. She asked for an interview with Mollene to get more information. To her surprise, he said yes. Alice would get face time with the man who set the pepper mill grinding and seasoning the moon from lunar orbit almost twenty years ago. A lot of people said its mission was impossible. They said fine non-reflective dust, no matter how abundant, couldn’t quench the light of the moon.
But they were wrong.

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Escape Pod 469: Inseparable


Inseparable

by Liz Heldmann

The disruptor net hit the ocean with an eruption of steam. Obscuring billows gouted up in columns of gray and white and the target was close enough that the aft hull immediately registered a thermic spike. The temperature shot from swampy greenhouse to hot-as-fucking-Hades. Technically speaking.

Around the quadrant, warships were deploying nets as weaponry. Best not to think about that. Science was the new war, according to Delia.

The weave generated out of the arse end of the ship was coarse, each node tuned two-dimensionally to its neighbors in a honeycomb lattice that formed a curved plane. A great big seine made of plasma, dragging a world ocean underneath a sun that filled the forward viewscreen as if trying to muscle out of the frame.

Both density and chemistry dials had been spun and today’s net split the surly bonds between hydrogen and oxygen wherever it encountered them in a medium of approximately one gram per cubic centimeter. Which meant that the net sliced through alien waters like gamma rays through goose shit and didn’t so much as muss the hair of any entities it scooped up in the process.

Forget ‘Take me to your leader’. We quit asking nicely a few planetary systems in.

Just about the day we got our first sentient ‘Thanks, but no thanks, and by the way, eat plasma’.

Hence the warships.

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Escape Pod 467: Trash


Trash

by Marie Vibbert

Nanlee was a woman with the sort of past that necessitated moving to a non-extradition treaty country, but that didn’t mean she hadn’t planned on enjoying her “retirement” on Luna Colony.  She was Facilities Manager – a polite term for the boss of all janitors.  Her staff jumped anxiously at her every glance, and waste was down nine percent since she had taken office.  She was still important; the life of the colony depended on her work.  No one bothered her.  Which was fortunate, given how she used to deal with people who bothered her.

Luna Colony concerned itself with maintaining the Ungodly Huge Array on the dark side of the moon and serving as a weigh station between Earth’s inconvenient atmosphere and the rest of the universe.  Nanlee concerned herself with minding her own business.

She was at her desk when the alarms started.  A male voice recorded long ago grunted “Evacuate.  Imminent danger of decompression. Evacuate.”  No doubt he had thought he sounded important and tough. Nanlee sighed and locked her workstation.

Vince, her assistant, fell to a halt against the door as she was picking up her cane.  “Boss! The station—”

“Yes, I heard.  I do have two working ears.  Probably a drill, but gather everyone to the garage.”

Vince’s hazel eyes just about vibrated, so wide open she could see the white all the way around the iris.  “It isn’t a drill!  This is ‘we could all die tonight’ bad news.”

Nanlee paused, half on her cane, half on the edge of the desk, pulling herself out of her chair.  She fell back into the seat.  She could feel her hot-tub calling to her.  “Metaphorical death or literal?”

“Literal.  Two tons of titanium on a crash-course with our dome.”  He tapped her desk surface, hurriedly typing in his password and pulling a document, which he rotated with a flick of his hand to point at her.

It was an orbit decay projection. They always looked the same.  “And this is too big for the dome to handle?”

“It’ll crack us like an egg!”

Vince sounded excited, almost gleeful, at the prospect.  He was young.

“What the hell is it?”

“The last stage of a Saturn V rocket.  Sucker’s been orbiting Luna for a hundred years.  Maybe it got hit by some other debris, maybe it’s just decided now’s the time to land.”

Nanlee stopped herself from asking “Saturn what?” because Vince was looking at her like he’d just won the lottery.  “Does Trey know about this?”

Trey was the mayor of the colony, Nanlee’s boss.

Vince rolled his eyes.  “Of course Trey knows.”  Like that was any less valid a question than asking her if she had heard the evacuation announcement.  Nanlee wasn’t going to waste breath pointing it out. “He sent me to tell you we’ve got a little less than a day.”

“Well pack shit up!”  She poked her cane against the wall behind her to get a little boost forward.  “Get Percy and take the organic filters off-line.  They won’t survive decompression. Also—“

“No. We’ve got a day to try and save the colony.”

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