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Escape Pod 779: The Call of the Sky (Flashback Friday)


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.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 776: Tloque Nahuaque

Show Notes

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s website is at https://www.silviamoreno-garcia.com/.


Tloque Nahuaque

By Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas, translated by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

—Carl Sagan

 

I—The Particle Accelerator

They built an underground temple. A well of Babel sinking into the gloomy ground at 175 metres of depth. They wanted, like the Biblical architects, to know the unknowable, to discover the origin, reproduce Creation.

The desire to unravel the nature of the Everything floated permanently in the controlled environment of the laboratory. Hundreds of fans and machines emitted a constant buzzing, which the investigators called the “silence of the abyss”. This, combined with the smell of burnt iron, gave the ominous sensation of finding oneself in space. Doctor Migdal lay upon a nest made of coloured cables and, with eyes closed, fantasised that his body, weightless, floated, pushed by the breeze of the ventilation.

Sometimes, he would imagine that he was being attracted by a very narrow tube, a cafeteria straw, the ink container of a pen, or a bleeding artery. His feet, near the edge of the conduit, would feel a titanic weight that would pull him and make him push through the small space. Migdal could see how he would turn into a thick strand of subatomic particles that would extend forever. (Continue Reading…)

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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 765: Tru Luv


Tru Luv

By Sarah Pinsker

The first three Tru fanatics were already waiting outside Meetspace when Molly arrived to open the bar. They were easy to recognize, pushing up their winter coats’ sleeves and glancing at the insides of their wrists every two seconds instead of their phones, each hoping for their algorithm-matched Prince or Princess or Princex to cross into range and light up their implant.

For all that Molly thought the implants were a scam, she appreciated that they broke people of obsessive phone-checking, at least a tiny bit. It was actually part of the marketing pitch: “Put your phone away and make a commitment. This isn’t social media; it’s Tru Luv.” She was still amazed that so many had taken them up on it, but, then again, she hadn’t gotten into bartending for her ability to understand people.

“Your group isn’t even supposed to be here until seven thirty,” Molly told them. “And we don’t open until six tonight.”

“It IS six,” the tall one said. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 756: In-Body

Show Notes

If you enjoyed this story, you might also like the author’s 5 book military science fiction Sim War series (written under the name Henry V. O’Neil), starting with Glory Main.


In-Body

by Vincent H. O’Neil

“You’re not supposed to be doing this, Colonel.”

Dentzler kept his eyes on the low table and pretended he hadn’t heard. “You said her In-Body chip was damaged?”

“When the grenade went off.” Ensign Teel pointed at a spot under the olive-colored draping that covered the broken form on the table. “One piece of shrapnel, penetrating front to back, managed to nick it.”

Dentzler swept the shroud away to reveal a small collection of bare human bones. His large hands gripped the low wall at the table’s edge, and it was a long moment before he spoke. “Well, she was right.”

“About what, sir?”

“The Hoops. They don’t den in the forest. Every piece of data said they did, but she tracked them out into the grassland.”

“She was stubborn that way.”

“The good scouts always are.” The colonel replaced the sheet. “So her In-Body recording is intact?”

“Sir, it is against Force regulations for you—for anybody—to experience In-Body of more than one fatality in a single mission year. And you’ve been doing every one of them.”

“Your objection is noted, Ensign. Thank you. Now is the recording finally ready?”

“It’s been ready for hours, sir.” Defiant eyes locked with his own, and squared shoulders dared him to rebuke her. “The electronics on two of her ‘bot dogs transmitted the whole thing before the Hoop snakes destroyed them.”

Dentzler’s lined face broke into a tight-lipped grin, and he regarded Teel with affection. “Lying to your boss again, Ensign?”

“You’re going to get into big trouble doing this, sir.” She let her features go blank. “And then I’ll have to train a new boss. Hopefully one who’ll listen to good advice.”

“I have to do this, Veronica.” Dentzler’s eyes were on the table again. “I train them. I send them down there. I owe them this when they don’t make it back.”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 755: Consolidation


Consolidation

By Langley Hyde

Lot 1796. Adult. Human. Female bodied. Standard limbs/digits. Immune/health function: class 7, can accommodate high-risk activity. Personality type: reactive/adaptive, ideal for customer service/high-level social interaction. Age: 0. Accident history: 0. Memory: N/A.

Sold.

Wake. Woken. Up. Upload. Connecting… connecting… Social/verbal package received. Movement package, received. Cognitive protocol, received. Download updates? Updating…

Installation complete.

I am. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 753: Chasing the Start (Part 2)


Chasing the Start (Part 2)

by Evan Marcroft

ͼ-Sa, this is a bad fucking idea-ͽ

Sa would die to admit it, but she must agree. This was perhaps a bit much for squashing a spider.

The air boils with radiation. The sky is all storm, great scarified burls of fulgurant cloud lumped into screaming faces. Mushroom clouds bloom all along the horizon where cylinders of pure, fabbed uranium have been dropped from outside the planetoid, blasting starry craters in its shallow atmosphere, to say nothing of its crust. Warships flounder in the firmament beyond, gnawed upon by flung gobbets of surface matter gone cancerous.

Sa takes it all in from the bellied-up keel of some leviathan war vessel bombarded into shapelessness, now a convenient straightaway. She has chosen her weapon a little too well.

ͼ-It’s okay to pull the cord. Everyone does it once-ͽ

Sa remembers this from her past, actually—the black day Pluto went mad. It had begun with a simple logic bomb smuggled into the tutelary software on which the planet operated, and there left to cook like a rat corpse in the wall. It was intended to kill off the demisapient processes that regulated everything from its hydrological cycle to its ecosystems. And while it had triggered a domino-chain of suicides among its pantheon, its programmer had been woefully illiterate in classical mythology. Patterns of atomic behavior that called themselves Neptune or Apollo decided, with horrific suddenness, to die as grandly as they deserved. What followed was a Titanomachy that left the planet dead down to its core, in her time a cold and cracked monument.

Sa would be ten or eleven right now, a mere five billion kilometer jaunt away. At this moment she exists in two places at once. Always an uncomfortable thought to fit in one’s head. She feels zero, subtracted from, negated by the contradictory fact of her younger self. The sensation stops being bowel-churning after the first few times, at least. It helps to believe that this is a strand where she was never born. Sa knows full well that nothing would happen should they meet. But it always felt like it should.

ͼ-Sa!-ͽ

ǂ Shut up. I’m sorry. I need to run ǂ

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 752: Chasing the Start (Part 1)


Chasing the Start (Part 1)

by Evan Marcroft

There, quick—the blue sky bleeds. A runner in red tumbles across it, unstoppable, the sun itself shattering against her armor. One leg outstretched, the other flung behind her, vaulting from one moment to the next, and between them suspended in flight for a small forever. You read the number that burns on her armor and you that this is not the end. She is proof that you are not finished yet, a promise chiseled into the diamond of history. She will always be here, always this strand.

You want to say something to her, but she is already gone.

The date is June 18th, 1815. The place is Waterlô. And Sa Segokgo is racing against time.

The treads of her boots scoop up huge tracts of bloody, Belgian soil and thresh it into aerosol. Archaic bullets dart about her like swarming mosquitoes, pinging noisily off her poly-diadmant suit, its staalglas facepiece. An experienced strandrunner, she is not daunted by such minor impacts. Over ridges and craters she leaps, devouring meters with each stride, explosively imprinting the IOvac corporate icon wherever she lands. Her armor does its work, yes, but it is her conditioned body that knows how to exert itself most efficiently. Every movement must barter energy for distance, and profit. There are no pit stops in this sport; to spend recklessly will purchase only a quicker death.

Her brain thinks to itself in the voice of her spotter. ͼ-Sa, on your five, Luboy cautions. Another runner in the strand. Watch out— -ͽ

Sa pings a wordless acknowledgement to her crew, but doesn’t bother looking back. Her lead is enough that this newcomer is irrelevant. You are the Dragonhoof, she tells herself, the Hot Number 99. First place starts behind you.

Ahead of her, the front lines of the French and British armies are crashing together. Wellington on the left hand, Napoleon on the right. Her suit blasts a klaxon that yanks every eye towards her just as the two great waves of bodies meet in the gully between two trampled hills and blast themselves apart. Sa has ten seconds left in this strand; she is going forward, no matter what. Better they see her coming and get out of her way.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 750: The Anatomy of Miracles


The Anatomy of Miracles

by Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko

For half a song every evening, the sunsets reminded the miracle worker of home. The hills were reddish-brown in daylight, but when the two suns, one after the other, slipped below the horizon, they came alive with purple highlights. He could almost pretend the hills were blue, instead, that the sea in the distance was true water and not liquid methane. On those occasions, he leaned back on his rear limb-pairs and, from a great distance, heard the timekeepers singing time.

He didn’t know what the window was made of. He couldn’t have said there was a window there at all, but for the fact he didn’t suffocate. He understood why his masters always sent him to inhospitable planets. His work was imprecise. It was safer that way. But this was the first planet that had been beautiful, the first that had brought the old songs ringing back. It was different. He felt it in his bones.

By first dawn, the hills were red again, and he was merely an old man who had not seen home in a long, long time.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 745: Immersion (Summer Flashback)


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. (Continue Reading…)