Black Future Month

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Escape Pod 807: T _ ME


T _ ME

By Alex Jennings

The portable classroom was larger than Joan Ellen had expected. Lit from overhead with fluorescent lights and busy with seventh-grade artwork, it smelled of chalk dust, old books, and refrigerated air. It reminded Joan Ellen of home. These days, most everything reminded Joan Ellen of home – or at least how far she was from it. She tried to pay attention, but now Joan felt the yawning chasm of distance, the thousands upon thousands of miles between Tunis and DC.

“I’ll put this as simply as I can,” Mrs. Thornton said. “Patrick is a brilliant boy.”

Liz Thornton was Patrick’s homeroom teacher. She was a heavy-set fortyish woman with close-cropped brown hair and a mouth that bunched up at the corners. Like many of the teachers here at ACST, Mrs. Thornton had come overseas with the Peace Corps, married, and stayed.

“I had a hard time getting through to him in our first few weeks together,” Mrs. Thornton said, “but I think his last essay assignment represents a breakthrough. He – I have it here.”

The teacher opened a manila folder on her desk blotter and handed Joan a short typed manuscript crawling with red pen marks.

Joan Ellen frowned as her eyes slid over the heading at the top of the page:

What Comes After Science? (Continue Reading…)

Black Future Month

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Escape Pod 806: Bright Lights Flying Beneath the Ocean


Bright Lights Flying Beneath the Ocean

by Anjali Patel

[Draft] (no subject) – 2:23 AM

My dearest Tasha, Moon bug, favorite sister…

How are you? I know it’s been a minute. I’m sure you’ve been busy. Probably doing all sorts of smart, lawyer things I don’t understand — litigating and adjourning. Protecting people. Being good. I believe in you, always have. You are the better sister. Things in Accra are good, by the way. I’m finishing my PhD, finally. I’ve made friends. It would be better, of course, if you were here.

I know you are still alive.

I am haunted by the fact that I am fine and you might not be. You are the last face I see before I fall asleep, the first person I imagine when I lie in a half-dream state where we still share a room, twin beds on opposite sides, separated by a few feet and the sticky, glowing stars we plastered across the ceiling. I think of those girls and I envy them for being able to fight and scratch and pull at each other’s hair and hug and scream as if they would not one day be separated by an ocean.

Wait for me. I am coming.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 804: Delete Your First Memory for Free


Delete Your First Memory for Free

by Kel Coleman

The bus jerks to a stop and I tighten my grip on the smooth, metal bar. Doors open. More passengers.

Bodies hem me in, which makes me anxious, which makes me bite my nails. I maneuver the shredded bits with my tongue, push them out past my lips, pinch them between my fingers, slither my hand down to my side, flick the moist clippings to the floor.

I feel eyes. I think it’s the lady in the beige knee-high boots. She must get on at one of the first stops ‘cause she always has a seat. She’s looking at her phone now, but she probably saw. White women are always pretending they don’t see me.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 802: Sentient Being Blues


Sentient Being Blues

by Christopher Rose

I got a pickaxe for a left hand,
I got a churn drill for a brain,
I got a pickaxe for a left hand,
I got a churn drill for a brain,
I got miles of tunnel behind me,
just to stand out in the rain.

[guitar solo 36 bars]
[2x chorus]
[long outro – guitar vamp harmonica over]

“ASIMOV WAS A BIGOT.” The graffiti, sprayed across the bucket of a soviet ore hopper car, one of a long train of them. Then a slash of Cyrillic, the same message probably, obscured by a crust of snow and mud and grit. Not clear from the lettering if it was a human hand that wrote it.

An icy wind picked up my tie and flapped it until I smoothed it back down under my parka. I shivered.

“I own your steps, Thom,” Freddie had said. “Every step from here to Siberia and back. Don’t come back empty-handed. Go get it, boy.”

Barking mad endeavor. Yet here I was.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 801: Hard Mother, Spider Mother, Soft Mother


Hard Mother, Spider Mother, Soft Mother

By Hal Y. Zhang

“Did you see the report on the spy from Aberdeen? The game is a-foot.”

I mumbled something like “No, sounds interesting.” All I remember is my usual annoyance at her ability to pronounce hyphens where they don’t belong. We must have been in the living room, her on a rare break from gardening and me trying to divine the future with my seeing stone of a computer. Either I had non-personal coffee in my hand, or my brain decided to add that detail on a later traverse. Why does it only fixate on the useless details—the weird green vase in the corner, the ugly plastic pitcher centerpiece on the table, both overflowing with fresh bleeding roses—that have nothing to do with the plot?

Our next interaction occurred during my viewing of a video reporting the formation of a new island in the Pacific. How uncannily the uncontrollable underwater caustic flow matched my job search situation, I thought idly in the crook of my elbow. Expert in esoteric studies, puzzles, and internal monologues seeking just about any position, really. Inquire within.

“All going as planned,” she mumbled behind me. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 799: No Strangers Any More (Part 2)


No Strangers Any More (Part 2 of 2)

by Ian Creasey

Royal Roundup — “ROSE’S NEW BOYFRIEND? Just days after the end of her relationship with Captain Gerrard Calderwood, Princess Rose has a new companion. Is this interplanetary diplomacy, or something more? Centuries have passed since the days when political alliances were cemented with royal marriages, but perhaps the old tradition is due a revival. Was the break-up with Calderwood so bitter that it soured her on the entire human race?”

Conspiracy Channel — “It looks like David Icke was right after all. He always said that the royal family were secretly a race of shape-changing lizards. Now Princess Rose has come out into the open and admitted her true love for her own kind!”

Goggler — “Princess Rose is stepping out with an alien. Presumably, Earthmen aren’t good enough for her. It’s a slap in the face for all Englishmen, but she’s probably upset and confused. Here at Goggler, we think she just hasn’t met the right guy yet, and we want to help her out. Yeomen of England — do you think you’re good enough for Princess Rose? Write and tell us, explaining exactly why you’re suitable. How would you prove yourself? Which monsters would you slay first?”
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 798: No Strangers Any More (Part 1)


No Strangers Any More (Part 1 of 2)

by Ian Creasey

One of a princess’s many duties is to make polite conversation and avoid controversial subjects. Screw that, thought Rose. At the banquet after the first day of the conference, there was only one topic on everyone’s mind, so she raised it. “Are these aliens really going to buy the moon?”

The man opposite her laughed. “Are we really going to sell it?” Subtitles in Rose’s vision identified him as a European Union diplomat, an expert in international law, and a family man with a wife, four children, and a mistress.

As everyone else at the table chimed in, Rose’s visual overlay filled with a cloud of identifiers and titbits, until she tweaked her filters to display only the most relevant tags.
“I think we should sell,” said a Russian four-star general. “Let them have the moon. Best place for them! Then they’re not wandering around down here, eh?”

The Brazilian ambassador scowled. “Have you seen the size of their ship? It’s enormous. There could be millions of them in there.”

“The ship is big because it travels between the stars,” another lawyer said. “The crew is only a few hundred —”

“Sure, that’s what they say,” the ambassador retorted. “But who knows what’s really inside? And if they unload it all onto the moon, do we want to see that looming over us every night?”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 795: Tiger Lawyer Gets It Right


Tiger Lawyer Gets It Right

By Sarah Gailey

Vladislav Argyle rested his head on the cool titanium surface of the plaintiff’s table. It dipped a little under the sudden weight of his skull, then hummed as the antigrav lifts adjusted their power to accommodate their new burden.

“Mr. Argyle? Are you alright?” The bandage-swathed tip of Argyle’s client’s primary tentacle crackled near his ear, and he knew that she was touching his temple in a gesture of inquiry. The people of Ursa Vibrania were very skull-oriented in their communications. It was sweet, really, how they wanted to know what was happening inside every other endoskeletal vertebrate creature’s head. How much they wanted to understand.

Argyle clenched his fists in his lap. The Vibranians were so kind, and they had trusted him to help them, and he was failing. As always.

“I’m fine,” he said through his teeth. “Just a little ritual I have after opening statements.” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 794: Episode 4: The Deflection of Probability


Episode 4: The Deflection of Probability

By Premee Mohamed

The tent billowed in the hot, humid wind, and Harriet thought if the canvas made that gun-crack noise near her head one more time she’d go mad—simply abandon her project and flee screaming into the meadow.

She took a deep breath, ignoring the hovering cameras that hummed in her peripheral vision. They’d make something of that in final production, she thought gloomily. That sigh. The plucky lass from Berwick-upon-Tweed, a clear shoo-in during the first three episodes, has done very poorly indeed today, and seems to be feeling the pressure… Well, and it would have to be ‘plucky,’ wouldn’t it? Harriet was sure the judges had an approved list of adjectives in their scripts. Some contestants were brilliant. Some were confident. Some…

Another gust of hot air roared in like the furious breath of a dragon. Her palladium microtorus setup spun on its little mirrored platform, reflecting glimpses of her startled gaze, her hair frizzed in the humidity. A skiff of pollen had dirtied the molecule-thick coating. Keeping her face still, she got out the nanofiber brush and cleaned the surface again.

It had all begun so well. Or at least it probably looked that way to viewers. Were episodes being aired already? Harriet didn’t know. But two weeks ago, her synthetic prions had gone about the place (well, the slide) like proper gangsters, knocking the other proteins aside and neatly recruiting only the ones they were meant to. Last week, only four contestants had managed to produce the correct crystal matrix in the final experiment—and hers had been the tallest of all, rising high and green as envy above their stations, nearly touching the ceiling. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 790: AirBody


AirBody

by Sameem Siddiqui

Amazing how all Desi aunties are basically the same. Even when separated by vast oceans for a few generations. I mean, they fit into a few basic archetypes. There’s the genuine-sweetheart proxy mother who, in between her late-night work shifts, always makes sure you and your friends have all the snacks you need. The manipulative gossiper, who conveniently keeps details of her own children’s scandals nestled under her tongue. The nervous fidgeter who has spent three decades so worried that her basic thirty-year-old son won’t ever find a wife, that she forgets to teach him how to speak to women. The late-life hijabi, who pointedly replaces “Khuda-hafiz” with “Allah-hafiz” and “thank you, beta” with not just “jazak-allah” but the full on “jazak allahu khayran.” But which of these archetypes would find it appropriate to rent the body of a grown man halfway across the world?

I pull the AirBody request from Meena Khan into view in my contacts. She’s 59 years old and from Karachi. Her short wavy hijab-less hair and her relaxed smile makes her seem content with life, so maybe she’s the genuine-sweetheart type. Her only notes on the request are a list of Desi groceries and some cookware, which only reinforces the archetype. Maybe she’s too ill to travel to visit family for Eid and wants to surprise them with a feast? It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten a taste of such a spread. I hit accept and watch the usual legalese flash before me:

You acknowledge that you have the ability to observe, regain control and remove your guests at any time and therefore may be complicit in any crimes committed or responsible for any damage caused by your guests.

(Continue Reading…)