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Escape Pod 767: Shadowboxer (Flashback Friday)


Shadowboxer (Excerpt)

By Paul Di Filippo

Generally speaking, I need only three minutes of concentrated attention to kill someone by staring at them. If I’m feeling under the weather, or my mind is preoccupied with other matters–you know how your mind can obsess about trivial things sometimes–it might take five minutes for my power to have its effect. On the other hand, if I focus intensely on my victim I can get the job done in as little as ninety seconds.

…Now the nation is at war. Or so we’re told. I guess that changes everything. A person like me becomes much more important.

Host Commentary by Alasdair Stuart

The thing I love about this is, honestly, everything, Di Fillippo does such a fantastic job of parking us inside the head of the protagonist that we wake up to the drip feed of information, and the theft of temporal awareness at the same time. That rising awareness is in turn mapped onto the gradual realization of what the lead can do. This is Scanners without the grand guignol, the assassin’s dream. Tireless, effortless, painless, invisible.

But not unaware.

That’s the single chink in the armour of dystopia and the author does such fascinating things with it. This is the slow moral awakening of a gun mixed with the gradual realization that he is far from alone and far from indispensable. There is always another target and there is always another gun.

That sort of cold, machine calculus lies at the heart of a lot of great espionage fiction alongside the simple, brutal certainty of survival, physical, rather moral. A spy may not leave a story with their mission intact but they’ll usually leave it with their body and mind intact. Whether that’s entirely true of the most famous spy in the world depends on when that latest Bond movie will finally be released but even Commander Bond, he of the bad knee and possible brain damage, still works in a position of moral certainty. He gets to live. His target does not.

This character is denied even that. The ending, for me, reads one of two ways. The personal one is arguably the more horrifying, where his lack of memory dovetails with the mirror and his latest target to ensure this particular cannon is fixed directly towards self slaughter. That, especially when he’s viewed as nothing more than a weapon, is terrifying. He’s ordered to decommission himself and seems minded to do so.

The second option is cold but almost more reassuring. That the President as his final target is an exhausted road to Damascus for the conspiracy that has him; they’re pushed to the limit, they have no further plays, so it’s time for a decapitation strike. Worse still, they’re winning and this is the last move. Regardless, the story ends with us, and the lead, aware that the chessboard is there but with no idea who is playing what side or what piece our lead is. Check is always a single move away. Choose wisely.

This is expertly handled genre fiction and for 5 bucks a month at Patreon, you can not only help us keep making it but get access to our vault. For more you get access to surveys, merch, the whole bit. For 5 bucks a month at PseudoPod, it’s the vault. Either option works for us. Both are needed. Please help out if you can. And if not with money, why not time? Help us raise our profile by leaving a review, on apple podcasts or google or whatever your podcatcher of choice is. Tweet a link to an episode, write a blog. Trust me it all helps. And on behalf of all of us, thank you.

Escape Pod is a production of Escape Artists Inc and released under a creative commons attribution non commercial no derivatives license. It will return next week with Balancing the Equation by Justin C Key, hosted by Jay Bhat with audio by Summer and narration by Laurice White. I leave you with this quote from The Iron Giant: “I Am NOT A Gun.”

Take care folks, see you next time.

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Escape Pod 719: A Hench Helps Her Villain, No Matter What


A Hench Helps Her Villain, No Matter What

By Izzy Wasserstein

The Lair’s intercom buzzes. “Hench, report to the interrogation room at once. Bring the restraints,” Night Mistress demands. For a moment I allow myself to hope, but when I get down to the deepest level, she’s got Patriotess drugged at her feet, and I know I’m a fool.

Hope isn’t the place of a henchperson. Hope will get you killed. Or, worse, out of a job.

I help Night Mistress restrain Patriotess in the center of the lead-walled room. I secure the heroine’s arms above her head. She’s still out of it, her body limp and her head hanging low, completely in Night Mistress’s power. My knees feel unsteady just thinking about it.

I check Patriotess for weapons. She has that whole thin-with-curves thing that only heroines seem to manage, but even that body can’t save her spandex blue-and-red onesie from looking ridiculous. Heroes will wear almost anything. They’ve got no real flair or sense of grandeur. I guess that’s why they’re not villains. Night Mistress practically radiates power in her black tux with silver trim, complete with a tight waistcoat and a daringly low-cut top. An operatic mask completes the perfectly-tailored look.

I feel stuffed into a glittering sequined gown. It’s a look designed for stage assistants with long legs and slim lines. My ex liked to call me “thick,” but I’m actually fat. This isn’t the costume I’d have chosen, but it’s the look Mistress wants in her henchwoman, which is good enough for me. I still remember her tone when she first ordered me to put it on. That memory keeps me warm at night.
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Escape Pod 412: Thirty Seconds From Now


Thirty Seconds from Now

by John Chu

One second from now, the bean bag will thunk into Scott’s left palm. From reflex, his fingers will wrap around it before he’ll toss it back up again. The trick of juggling lies not in the catch but in the toss. The bean bag will arc up from his right hand, but Scott sees his left hand blur now. Phantom left hands at the few places his left hand may be one second from now overlap with each other, and with his real left hand about a foot above the cold tile floor he’s sitting on. The same holds for the phantom bean bags. They overlap each other and the result looks nearly as cubic, red, and solid in the air, stark against the dorm room’s blank walls, as the bean bag does right now resting in Scott’s right hand.

He’s making a good toss. This catch will be easy. His three bean bag cascade looks to him the way he imagines it must look to anyone else, well, if they were near-sighted and missing their glasses.

When he makes a bad toss, translucent Scotts scatter across the room. They reach for the beds on either side of him, lunge for his or his roommate’s desk, and dive over his bed for the closet. They all stretch for the myriad translucent bean bags raining from the stucco ceiling. The bean bags threaten to knock over the desk lamps, bury themselves in the acting textbooks that line his closet shelf and smack against the window blinds. A desperate enough toss and a phantom bean bag may fly through the doorway into the hall.

He does not need his time-skewed senses to know he will eventually make a bad toss. As hard as he tries to keep his sight solid, to make his life predictable, he will drop a bean bag. That’s why he’s sitting on the floor. It’s easier to pick up dropped bean bags that way.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 350: Observer Effects


Observer Effects

By Tim Pratt

“Ubiquitous surveillance isn’t the problem. Asymmetrical ubiquitous surveillance is the problem.” The Liberator was playing Chinese checkers against himself and talking, talking, talking, like always. “Who watches the watchmen, after all?”

We were superheroes then. Celebrities, back when there were such things. It was a slow night at orbital headquarters, and Eye-Oh was sitting at the big screen, watching a couple of people fuck — consensually, or we would have done something about it — in an alleyway. The screen was green with night-vision enhancements, and Eye-Oh’s strange complicated face was perfectly placid and empty as he observed.

“The problem is that we can watch ordinary people, and they can’t watch us,” the Liberator went on. He looked at me longingly, searchingly, and I thought it might be nice to tweak the inside of his brain and get rid of his earnestness, give him a little taste of what infamous brain-damage victim Phineas Gage got when that iron bar slammed through his frontal lobe, a total personality turnaround, from nice guy to sociopath. Let the Liberator be selfish and impulsive and violent and mercurial for a while, so he could appreciate the way normal avaricious sneaky hungry desperate needy people felt.

But that was supervillain thinking, and I’d gone straight and narrow. In those days I cured neurological damage instead of inflicting it. I fixed people. (Except bad people. Those, I was sometimes still allowed to play with with.) I’d refused to give up my supervillain name though. The Liberator had wanted to call me “Dr. Neuro” when I joined his little boys’ club, but I’d insisted on keeping my maiden name, as it were. Doctor. Please. I was a high-school dropout.

“Do you see?” the Liberator said. “If ordinary people could see us, if everyone could see everyone else, it wouldn’t matter if there were no privacy.”
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Escape Pod 349: Origin


Origin

By Ari Goelman

This is how I find out that I’m pregnant:

I wake up to find Carter standing next to my bed. The fire escape door is open behind him, so the rising sun silhouettes his body. A human silhouette, albeit a little crisper than it should be, as his body bends the light towards him, powering up. Always powering up.

“You’re pregnant,” he says. No particular emphasis on the words, which is as per usual, his voice being run through vocal cords that are not human, formed by lips that have blown hurricanes off course. It’s not that he doesn’t feel emotion, he tells me and anyone else who’ll listen. It’s just that he doesn’t have the same biologically hardwired ways of showing it. Usually I believe him.

“What?” I rub my eyes, push up on one elbow. “That’s not possible.”

He leans over me, and touches my stomach. “I was flying by your apartment, thinking about you. I heard the heartbeat.”

“You told me that was impossible,” I say.

He frowns and asks, “I told you it was impossible for me to hear the . . .”

“Conceiving, Carter,” I say. “You told me it was impossible for us to conceive.”

“I thought it was. I was wrong.” His frown deepens. “I could take care of it for you right now if you want.”

I push Carter away from me and sit up. “For me, Carter?! You mean for us, right?”

“Right. That’s what I meant.” A pause, then. “You’re freezing the bed, Margaret.”

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Escape Pod 348: Nemesis


Nemesis

By Nathaniel Lee

It was the middle of second-period Spanish when I felt my cell phone go off in my pocket. Three pulses, then two. That meant one of my alerts had hit paydirt. I’ve got newsfeeds filtered for keywords, pairing “emergency” and the names of every local school and business I could think of, plus I got Kenny from sixth period computer Science to cobble together a kind of hack on the actual first responders’ radio channels. If my phone had gone off, then there was trouble.

If there was trouble, then the city needed Atom Boy.

So where was he?

Well, if I was in Spanish, then he was in History. No, wait, he’d dropped the AP course. Did he have some kind of math now instead? Crud. I had no idea. I’d lost our hero.

“Miss Ramsey?”

“Ahem!”

“Uh, um, I mean, uh, Señora Ramsey?”

” Sí, Quentin?”

“Yo, uh, yo poder uso el baño?”

“Puedo. Y sí, se puede. Andale.”

I clapped a hand over my pocket to keep my phone-bulge hidden and ran out of the classroom, careful to turn to the right as if I were heading for the boy’s room. A couple of months ago, that wouldn’t have been a bad idea; I’d discovered Adam’s secret when I walked in on him trying to get out of his tights at the end of fourth period. Which he’d missed, by the way, and I’d had to cover for him and pretend like I’d gotten a text from his mom about an emergency dental appointment.

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