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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.

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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…)

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Escape Pod 743: Flash From the Vault


Flash From the Vault

Hello and welcome to Escape Pod Summer School, where we post some of our favorite episodes from the vault with a new perspective. I’m your assistant editor and teacher for this class, Benjamin C. Kinney, and I’ve got three flash episodes from long, long ago. We bring you “Paul Bunyan and the Photocopier” by Larry Hammer, “Beachcomber” by Mike Resnick, and “Semi-Autonomous: or, For Whom the Warranty Tolls” by Jim Kling. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 730: When We Were Patched


When We Were Patched

by Deji Bryce Olukotun

The last time we ever spoke, my partner Malik asked me whether I believed speed or power made for the best athlete. I was puzzled, of course, feeling that neither could explain why some athletes excelled more than others, even in straightforward competitions like sprinting or the javelin. “There are enough variables to make it unclear,” I observed, “whether speed or power offers a better advantage in competition, or whether some other factor confers the greatest advantage.” It seemed to me an unanswerable question.

“And how about elegance versus quickness of thought?” Malik asked. But he stormed off before I could respond, as if he had confirmed some awful quality about me. By then I should have known not to expect anything from Malik, because he was about to ruin my career.

​You see, I come from an illustrious line of sports officiants, spanning the world’s most dynamic and lucrative competitions, and I think my family would agree that my treatment by the FogoTennis Officiants Association was abominable. I should never have been suspended because of dishonorable behavior on Malik’s part.

​Like many referees, I remember the very instant I was called for the first time to officiate on the professional FogoTennis circuit, widely considered the most exciting and dangerous sport in the world. I had honed my skills by watching my parents officiate before me, and by observing my siblings, cousins, and extended family. You could say that I was an officiant from the day I was born. Not only did I learn from other matches, but I also visualized countless scenarios of FogoTennis so that I could fulfill my duties to the best of my ability, cementing my family’s reputation as impartial, efficient, and affordable judges. But there is a difference between officiating in theory—even when it is woven into your very soul—and officiating in reality, when you can find yourself with an irresponsible refereeing partner.

(Continue Reading…)