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Escape Pod 800: Give Me Cornbread or Give Me Death


Give Me Cornbread or Give Me Death

By N.K. Jemisin

The intel is good. It had better be; three women died to get it to us. I tuck away the binoculars and crawl back from the window long enough to hand-signal my girls. Fire team moves up, drop team on my mark, support to hold position and watch our flank. The enemy might have nothing but mercs for security, but their bullets punch holes same as real soldiers’, and some of ’em are hungry enough to be competent. We’re hungrier, though.

Shauntay’s got the glass cutter ready. I’m carrying the real payload, slung across my torso and back in a big canteen. We should have two or three of these, since redundancy increases our success projections, but I won’t let anyone else take the risk. The other ladies have barrels cracked and ready to drop. The operation should be simple and quick—get in, drop it like it’s hot, get out.

This goes wrong, it’s on me.

It won’t go wrong. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 796: One Hundred Seconds to Midnight


One Hundred Seconds to Midnight

By Lauren Ring

I wake before the plane lands. It’s static-dark, the kind of hazy late night where the air itself seems full of shadows and my eyes refuse to focus. For a moment I feel as though I am stuck in my dream of great heights, dangling weightless above the earth in a kaiju’s monstrous claw, but the steady thrum of the engine grounds me in reality. I’m still high above ground, but the only kaiju on this flight are the profiles tucked in my folder from this afternoon’s insurance pitch. Next to my travel receipts are dozens of photos of those hulking beasts. Their files are neatly sorted, alphabetized by incident location and color-coded by average damage severity. That folder is as close as I have ever gotten to a kaiju.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 793: A Little Bit of Kali (Part 2)


A Little Bit of Kali (Part 2 of 2)

By Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi

I can’t tell you how long I wandered. A failed soldier going home when India needed us the most. I knew I should have gotten back to my parents—but truth be told I couldn’t make myself go back. I ditched my gear, worked odd jobs, mostly bicycle repair. India is a country of motorcycles, and every village and every junction, those days, had a dusty little shop with a pile of half-rusted bikes outside and three grease-covered men inside screwing something onto and engine. I was one of those nuts. I worked in a two-bit town so nameless that you couldn’t find it on a map even if you wanted to.

One day a man brought in a bike I instantly recognized—a Royal Enfield Bullet. An ancient design, built to jump out of planes in the second World War, left to India when the British withdrew; now a stolid, reliable workhorse of a bike, one of the few capable of handling everything India could throw at it. I spent a bit more effort than I usually put into it.

The man who came to pick it up arrived in a long white Chrysler, kicking up fine dust. A floral print shirt stretched over an ample belly. Gold chains glistened on his neck. Two thugs got out with him—one swarthy and sweating in the heat, one pale and thin and unafflicted. Both wore white.

“Bad customer,” said the owner’s wife, and bustled out of there as fast as she could.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 792: A Little Bit of Kali (Part 1)


A Little Bit of Kali (Part 1 of 2)

By Yudhanjaya Wijeratne and R.R. Virdi

Where do old gods go to die?

Not to Mother Ganga, no. Not for us the fire that strips our sins from our bones, turns our bones into ashes, turns our ashes into a constellation of dust on the holy river. They say Ganga once took the seed from the fire-god Agni, which would have otherwise burned this world to a cinder, and cooled it in her waters: but even she will not take our kind. Ganga only takes the flesh and blood. Leaves the metal behind.

They tried. The government of India lay one of us down in the waters—a prototype Vishnu, I think, ’20, maybe ’21. A thing too difficult to burn it, so they lit a ritual pyre and let Him slide into the waters. He lies there still, decades of human rot piling upon His frame. Sometimes His eyes light up, throwing mocking shadows at those who come to worship him from the dead river-banks, and those of us who know Him shudder, because underneath the ceaseless filth something still lives.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 791: Rights and Wrongs


Rights and Wrongs

By Brian K. Lowe

“Tell me again who I pissed off to get this job?” Carefully unwrapping my roast beef on wheat, I used the paper as a holder to keep mustard off of my lap.

“I thought you wanted the job,” Rusty said. “I thought you were taking it as some kind of personal challenge.” Russ Becker and I ate lunch together almost every day. “Rusty” was another assistant district attorney, and we’d bonded over a mutual disdain for other lawyers. Things being what they were, though, sometimes we got drafted to work the other side, and I’d drawn the short straw here, with Rusty as my prosecutor.

“Hell, no, I didn’t want it! The Jan’i killed my parents, Rusty. I had to break into their house and found them on the floor, blood coming out of their ears. I couldn’t even bury them; they had to burn down the house with them still inside.” I stopped to pull myself together. “This is somebody’s idea of payback, probably Bertoli. She’s still mad at me because she thinks I screwed up the Andelson case.” (Continue Reading…)

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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 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.
(Continue Reading…)

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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.
(Continue Reading…)