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Escape Pod 485: Supply Limited, Act Now


Supply Limited, Act Now

by Helen Marshall

Because Larry said it would never work, we knew we had to try.

Because Larry said he didn’t want any part of it, we knew we had to try it out on him first.

That was the way it was with Larry. That’s how it had always been between us. The four of us knew it. No one questioned it. We could all see the slightly sick look come over Larry’s face as he realized. We could see him turning pale. Pushing at his taped-up glasses and starting to scramble.

He tried to say something.

Marvin grabbed the shrink ray.

Marvin pressed the button.

And the world popped and crackled around us.


That’s how it started.

Maybe it wouldn’t have been like that if Larry had never said anything. But when Larry had followed the instructions last time it had been a disaster.

“FRIENDS,” the ad had said. “HERE’S HOW TO GET at almost NO COST YOUR NEW, Real, Live MINIATURE DOG!”

“Supply Limited,” the ad said. “ACT NOW!!”

“Please let me come home with you,” the miniature dog begged in a giant speech bubble.

The dog was black, with long, floppy ears, cartoonishly wide eyes and a white-speckled snout. Larry, on the other hand, was skinny as a beanpole with a face full of acne. His elbows and knees were huge and knobbly. They stuck out like the knots in the ropes we had to climb for gym class. And if there was any boy who ever was in need of a dog it was him.

And so Larry sent in his coupons and waited at the door for the mailman every day.

He waited the way he had every day for the past year; while those other times it had been with terror, this time it was with stupid, fearless joy.

You see, the thing you need to know about Larry is that his brother Joe had joined the Air Force last September.

“GEE!! I WISH I WERE A MAN!” said the ad.

“Come to the UNITED STATES AIR FORCE Recruiting Station,” it said.

We all wished we could be men—of course we did!—but only Larry’s brother Joe was old enough. So he’d signed up just like it said to. They’d sent him to Honolulu for a while and then after that he had been moved to Seoul where he wrote back letters every once in a while about how hot it was and how many of the shovelheads he had killed and how much he missed his kid brother.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 468: The Law of Gravity


The Law of Gravity

by Sam Ferree

That sunrise was the best they had made yet.  The air was cool, not cold, and the Termination was just the right shade of pomegranate red around the sun.  The light breeze smelled like oranges.  It reminded me of candy, not real fruit, just that imitation flavor that somehow tastes better than the real thing.

“I think Lauren’s dead,” Lukas repeated, his avatar’s young face contorted in disgust.  Lukas had chosen a runner’s physique, because, out there, he’d been a track star in college; why that mattered to him was beyond me.

“What do you mean you think she’s dead?” I asked.  We were sitting at Reel Café — a not-so clever pun, I thought — at the edge of the patio.  We had met there every Monday morning for years.

My coffee was cold and my cigarette spent.  Lukas had ordered his usual Earl Grey and a grapefruit, but he hadn’t touched either one.

Lukas shook his head.  “Her avatar is in Smith Field.  Just standing there, staring off at nothing.  It’s been doing that for weeks.  I spoke with a friend of mine, an administrator.  They’re shutting down her account because her fees are overdue.  She hasn’t been away from the Flat for more than two days in decades.  She’s dead, Noah.”

“So she’s been away for a few weeks.  That doesn’t mean anything.”

“But it’s a pretty good sign she isn’t coming back.”

The orange scent was fading and Lukas was silent.  I said, “Well, what do we do?”

“What?”  Lukas looked up.  Eventually, he shrugged.  “I suppose we arrange a funeral.”

I nodded, but said, “I don’t actually think she’s dead.”

“She is,” Lukas muttered.  His twenty-something avatar wore an old man’s bitterness.

I picked up my coffee.  The mug looked like it had been made by a five year old.  Everything about the Reel Café had that hokey-imperfection. When you sat in the chairs, you half-expected a distinguished looking gentleman to walk up and ask you to please not sit on the dadist art.

I dropped the mug. It shattered with a disappointing crack.  A nearby waiter started toward me, glowering and brandishing a towel like a gladiatorial weapon.

“Why did you do that?” Lukas asked.

“Just testing,” I said, knowing that Lauren would have been less than amused.   (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 398: Subversion


Subversion

by Elisabeth R. Adams

I knew, by his crossed arms, the way he rolled his eyes at himself, and particularly by the pale translucence of all three of him, that I was looking at a classic case of version conflict.

“I said stay away from her,” said one I decided to call Art. Nicknames help. Thick square rims, a jaunty fedora, a crisp T-shirt for a concert by a band that broke up before he hit preschool. He was yelling at a paler self in a white collared shirt and slacks. They were trailed by a bored looking him in sunglasses.

“What seems to be the problem, sir?” I asked. Rule number one: stick to the singular.

“I can’t get him to commit,” said Slacks.

I scanned his chip. Eduardo Martin, 34, programmer. No spouse or kids, but adoption records from the county shelter for two cats. Sealed tax records, a social security number, mortgage history. Subversion Inc. member for five years, currently version 4.1. Definitely the primary.

“And your subversion?”

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 377: Real Artists


Real Artists

by Ken Liu

“You’ve done well,” Creative Director Len Palladon said, looking over Sophia’s résumé.

Sophia squinted in the golden California sun that fell on her through the huge windows of the conference room. She wanted to pinch herself to be sure she wasn’t dreaming. She was here, really here, on the hallowed campus of Semaphore Pictures, in an interview with the legendary Palladon.

She licked her dry lips. “I’ve always wanted to make movies.” She choked back for Semaphore. She didn’t want to seem too desperate.

Palladon was in his thirties, dressed in a pair of comfortable shorts and a plain gray t-shirt whose front was covered with the drawing of a man swinging a large hammer over a railroad spike. A pioneer in computer-assisted movie making, he had been instrumental in writing the company’s earliest software and was the director of The Mesozoic, Semaphore’s first film.

He nodded and went on, “You won the Zoetrope screenwriting competition, earned excellent grades in both technology and liberal arts, and got great recommendations from your film studies professors. It couldn’t have been easy.”

To Sophia, he seemed a bit pale and tired, as though he had been spending all his time indoors, not out in the golden California sun. She imagined that Palladon and his animators must have been working overtime to meet a deadline: probably to finish the new film scheduled to be released this summer.

“I believe in working hard,” Sophia said. What she really wanted was to tell him that she knew what it meant to stay up all night in front of the editing workstation and wait for the rendering to complete, all for the chance to catch the first glimpse of a vision coming to life on the screen. She was ready.

Palladon took off his reading glasses, smiled at Sophia, and took out a tablet from behind him. He touched its screen and slid it across the table to Sophia. A video was playing on it.

“There was also this fan film, which you didn’t put on your résumé. You made it out of footage cut and spliced from our movies, and it went viral. Several million views in two weeks, right? You gave our lawyers quite a headache.”

Sophia’s heart sank. She had always suspected that this might become a problem. But when the invitation to interview at Semaphore came in her email, she had whooped and hollered, and dared to believe that somehow the executives at Semaphore had missed that little film. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 376: Shutdown


Shutdown

by Corry L. Lee

The alarm blared over the forest’s metallic rustling, and my HUD’s red warning light glazed the view through my faceplate. Ten seconds until the defense scan hit my position. Ten seconds until any motion, any electrical signature would whip vines down from the iron-cored trees, wrapping me as surely as steel cables, pinning me while cutter-bugs took me apart.

My muscles clenched, and I froze. The training sims hadn’t prepared me for the terror twisting my gut, for the way my heart seemed to dance a pas-de-bourrée, its ballerina toes rapping against my ribs.

I didn’t have time to panic. I chinned my skinsuit’s kill switch and dropped to the forest floor. In the silence after the klaxon died, my breather hissed out one final gasp of oxygen. The red glow faded from my faceplate and the forest closed in, dark without the HUD’s gain and unnaturally silent without the suit’s audio pickups. Weak sunlight filtered through the thick canopy, yellowed by sulfur gas, enough to make out shapes but not details. In sims, they’d cut our visual enhancement, but they must have extrapolated badly because the shadows had never been this deep, the shafts of sunlight never so diseased.

I crouched on a patch of dirt, crumpling fallen leaves but avoiding the forest’s ragged undergrowth. I folded my legs beneath me, splaying my arms for balance. My hands slipped on the metal-rich berries that covered the ground as if someone had derailed a freight train of ball bearings. I swept some impatiently aside and rested my helmeted forehead on the dirt. How much time had passed? Eight seconds? No time to worry.

Gritting my teeth, I stopped my heart.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod Flash: Semi-Autonomous or ‘For Whom The Warranty Tolls

Show Notes

Rated PG and now available in a wide variety of colours!


Semi-Autonomous or ‘For Whom The Warranty Tolls

By Jim Kling

Hello, you have reached Jim’s semi-autonomous answering machine. Leave a message and I will have him return your call.

Hello, you have reached Jim’s semi-autonomous answering machine. He will be hosting his birthday party on Saturday night. If you plan to attend, press ‘one’ and then speak your name. I will add you to the guest list. Otherwise, leave a message and I will make sure he receives it.

Hello, you have reached Jim’s semi-autonomous answering machine. My records indicate that you have previously RSVP’d for the Saturday night party. Please indicate your alcohol preference. For beer, press ‘one.’ For wine, press ‘two.’ For mixed drinks, press ‘three.’ If you prefer non-alcoholic beverages, press ‘four.’ This information will be used for ordering purposes only, transmitted through my wireless connection to Jim’s refrigerator, which in turn is linked to an online grocery. For more information about AutonomInc’s SmartAppliance line, please view our web site at www.autonominc.com. “AutonomInc: We give a whole new meaning to housework!” If you have a message for Jim, please leave it now.

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Escape Pod 191: This Is How It Feels


This Is How It Feels

By Ian Creasey

Nathan’s eyes stung as he remembered how Jenny used to do just that: the same jump down the stairs, the same windmilling of her arms as she landed…. The grief swept over him like a palpable wave, making him stagger backward.

“Dad?” Christopher kicked his backpack down the hall to the door. “You all right?”

“It’s nothing,” said Nathan. He rubbed the implant-port behind his right ear. It’s nothing. It’s not real.

But it felt real.