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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.

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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 643: Disarm (Flashback Friday)


Disarm

By Vylar Kaftan

Excerpt

We kept in touch through the war, when he messaged me about marching through upstate New York. He always started the same way: “Dear Ryan, Please come kick my commanding officer in the balls.” Then he’d tell me about the latest mess–cracks in their radiation suits, or toxic waterholes that were supposed to be clear. He never got in trouble for the messages; they needed him too badly. My epilepsy disqualified me from the draft, which probably saved my life. Pretty boys like me weren’t exactly Army material. By the time things were bad enough that they needed any warm body, there wasn’t enough human government left to organize a draft.

The ruins at Binghamton were where Trey got sick. By the time I got across the country to him, he’d recovered–well, as much as possible. I remember the doctor’s face as he says Trey will live, but he’ll be in pain.

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Escape Pod 642: Oracle


Oracle

By Dominica Phetteplace

The two biggest applications for predictive software are killing people and selling things. Rita was quite successful at the latter. She founded a nail-polish-of-the-month club that used an online personality quiz to determine customer preferences. Bold cremes for basics, chunky glitters for the outrageous, and dark, sparkly metallics for edgy, forward-thinking geniuses like Rita.  Sales skyrocketed.

She used her money to start other subscription services: whisky-of-the-month, miniskirt-of-the-month.  What had started out as an online quiz morphed into something larger and more complex: a search engine that searched the customer.  It had tapped into a pent-up demand. People loved acquiring material goods but they hated making decisions.  Rita wasn’t just selling nail polish or whisky or miniskirts, she was selling freedom from choice.

And it was just code, really.  She was able to adapt parts of it for use in her own life, to mixed results. She hoped her stock-picking software would take her from millionaire to billionaire, but instead her investments stalled out.  Her meal planning software did help her lose five pounds, but this wasn’t enough to get her down to a size two.
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Escape Pod 634: On a Clear Day You Can See All the Way to Conspiracy (Flashback Friday)

Show Notes

Alasdair referenced the following in the host endcaps: Frantic Caller and Bob Lazar Interview.


On a Clear Day You can See All the Way to Conspiracy

By Desmond Warzel

You’re listening to the Mike Colavito Show on Cleveland’s home for straight talk, WCUY 1200. The opinions expressed on this program do not reflect those of WCUY, its management, or its sponsors.

Fair warning; I’m in a mood today, folks.

We’ve got a mayor whose only talent seems to be showing up at luncheons and waving at the cameras.

Eighty bucks I had to pay yesterday for not wearing my seatbelt. Show me the seatbelts on a school bus.

I saw a Cleveland athlete on national TV last night wearing a Yankees cap.

And every day I get at least a dozen calls from schmucks who think that people like me are the problem in this city.

Tell me America’s not falling apart.
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Escape Pod 633: Lucky Shot (Part 2)


Lucky Shot

By Gerri Leen

The fire crackles, and Sirella watches as Kai lies with his eyes closed, pretending to sleep. She knows he’s pretending because his breathing is too soft. She’s heard his almost snores since the second night, when they’d both finally relaxed enough to sleep. She heard them and registered the strange, soft noises—realized they came from him and not from someone or something trying to sneak up on them in the dark of night—before falling back to sleep.

“Kai?” The word is a whisper. She isn’t sure what she wants to say to him. Just that she should say something.

His breathing stutters, but he doesn’t open his eyes.

“I’m sorry.” She looks away from him. She is sorry. But she doesn’t know who the people he lost were. She doesn’t know if they were innocents or not. She doesn’t know why they died, only that someone from her side killed them. She wishes he hadn’t lost people he loved. But he would have died if her shot hadn’t flown so damned wide. And then what? Would some other Vermayan have sat with some other person from one of the nations that make up the Revirian Confederation, and drawn out in strangely colored sand how Vrenden Kai was killed?

Vrenden Kai would have killed her if his shot hadn’t also gone wide.

They’re in the middle of a war. Killing is part of that. She can’t feel bad about it.

She mustn’t feel bad about it.

She feels bad about it.
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Escape Pod 632: Lucky Shot (Part 1)


Lucky Shot

By Gerri Leen

Lieutenant Sirella Nacleth breathes in green dust and tries not to cough. Her feet feel too heavy to move, but she forces herself to walk on, ignoring the heat that blasts down and around her, heat carried by winds that do nothing to cool the air from the sun above. This planet is a harrowing furnace, and she is bound here for the rest of her life—or until her people find her.

Or until her enemy’s people do. She glances back and sees that the Vermayan has finished filling in the deep grave he put his crewmates’ bodies in. She’s assuming the Vermayan is a he. It’s hard to tell from where she stands, and she doesn’t intend to get very close if she can help it.

If their ships hadn’t crashed almost on top of each other, she might not have seen him for days, if at all. But their ships did land nearly twisted together, and the bodies of the crews are strewn all over. She has to get closer to him than she likes just to retrieve her dead.

She’s the only one on her ship who survived the crash. Her left arm is broken, and her right ankle wrenched. Her back feels strained and her head hurts. But she’s alive. She’s alive and burying her dead, shoveling one handed and pulling her crewmates behind her as she limps from body to hole, body to hole.

The Vermayan is way ahead of her. There are no rust-colored bodies strewn over the plain anymore, while so many of her own dead still lie waiting for her to reach them. The green sand blows over the bodies as the blazing wind lifts stinging grit and flings it at her, making her eyes hurt and her lips crack. She will help her friends; she will give them rest. But not soon. She’s only one person. And she’s tired. So tired.

The Vermayan has sat down. He’s watching her as she limps toward the next body, which is halfway between where she’s dug her hole and where he’s resting. Glancing at his rank, she sees he’s the Vermayan equivalent of lieutenant. He’s taken his weapon out of its holster and is playing with it—no, he’s checking it. She laughs bitterly. If it’s built as poorly as hers, it will be clogged with the fine green grit of this damned world. And since his ship didn’t perform any better than hers, why should his gun?
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Escape Pod 631: Heart of Ash, Heart of Steam

Show Notes

Heart of Ash, Heart of Steam is set in the same universe as Escape Pod 436: Into the Breach.


Heart of Ash, Heart of Steam

By Malon Edwards

You squeeze through the doorway past the bouncer wearing the massive Conquest Knight XV exo and make way your over to Nyanza Swift. The Soul Queen’s blackout is spacious, but minimalist. Low sightlines. No shadowy alcoves. No jacks. No data exchange. No electricity.

This is the best blackout in uncontrolled airspace.

Your twin sister is sitting in the back near the chop shops. She stands and you kiss her on both cheeks. Her quicksilver skin is cold against your lips. You frown.

“It’s not that bad,” she says.

“Fout,” you curse, and you are surprised by the anger in your voice. “Ou malad prèt pou mouri. You’re dying.”

Nyanza Swift smiles, a wan, tired one, and new crow’s feet crinkle her eyes. “Mwen fatige.”

“E fèb,” you add, trying to keep the worry out of your voice. “You look like you’re about to fall over.”

“Mwen byen. I just need an hour or two of rest and some high quality coal dust.”

You shake your head. “M ka wè li. It’s all over your face. You’ve aged twenty years since we last saw each other.”

Your sister’s smile becomes more playful. “M ap fè dan zòrèy. I’m no spring chicken anymore, am I?”

“Sispann fè jwèt,” you tell her, wiping your eyes. “It’s not funny.”

Nyanza Swift’s smile fades fast. “Ah, sè byenneme mwen, my kind-hearted little sister, pa kriye.” She moves her chair to the other side of the table and puts her arms around you. The cold quicksilver skin of her fine jaw touches your exposed cheek. “Please don’t cry.”

You shake your smooth, brown bald head hard. “M pa vle al bwachat w. I don’t want you to die, but you will. If you keep doing this, w’ap mouri.”

You have no idea what she is doing to herself, but it scares you.
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Escape Pod 625: Herd Mentality (Flashback Friday)

Show Notes

Herd Mentality originally appeared on Escape Pod on July 21, 2005 on episode 011.


Herd Mentality

By Jay Caselberg

(Excerpt)

Einstein was getting old now. All of them. Not so old that he was past it, but you had to wonder. When our troops liberated the Spemann Lab complex in 1945, the Einsteins had been just five years old. The Government had done the humanitarian thing and brought them back home. Eventually, someone had leaked the information and slowly, slowly, public pressure and outrage had grown. The big hush-hush operation our government had mounted was shut down and the Einsteins were released‚ or rather, they were integrated into society in a humanitarian manner. That was the wording the government press releases used. Two hundred and fifty is a lot of Einsteins.

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Escape Pod 614: Sparg


Sparg

By Brian Trent

Sparg had difficulty making pancakes, but he was trying.

In the empty apartment, he clutched the silver bowl with one tentacle to hold it steady. With another, he attempted the far trickier business of whipping the batter as he’d seen his owners do many, many times. The bowl was bigger than him. The counter was sticky with flour, egg, and ink.

From his cage, he had watched them conduct this peculiar ritual enough times to understand it was how they prepared their food. More elaborate than the brown fish-pellets they gave him. When his food dish was empty, they usually noticed as they shuffled in from the bedroom each morning. If they didn’t, Sparg would gently thump his tentacles against the bars until they came over to see what was the bother. Then strange sounds would issue from their red mouths: “Sparg’s food dish is empty. Can you get the bag?”
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