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Escape Pod 853: 2022 Flash Fiction Contest Winners


Half-Lives

by Andrew Hiller

“Time traveler, eh?”

I shuffled my feet and smirked. The AI that stopped me was short, wore a unitard, mask, goggles, and a badge. I tried to edge away, but it blocked my escape and motioned for me to surrender my booty.

“What gave me away?” I asked.

“You said laser pistol instead of zapper.”

I sniffed and dropped a backpack full of looted tech. It thudded instead of clanged.

“Zappers, huh?”

“Well,” AI Cop laughed before returning to me my emptied property, “the last time I heard someone say laser pistol was in a historical.” I tugged my backpack tight, exposed my traveler, and his expression turned serious, “Should arrest you, but paradox y’know.”

“Yeah, that’s why I only travel into the future. Can’t cause a paradox to a thing hasn’t happened yet.”
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 852: The Pieces That Bind


The Pieces that Bind

By Carol Scheina

The first thing Georgia knew for certain was that the woman rummaging through the canned beans and peas in the pantry was not her grandma, even though she looked exactly like her, right down to the nasty black cigar in hand.

Except that Georgia had just plucked the cigar out of Gran’s hand, for it was 2 p.m. and time for the older woman’s afternoon siesta. In the other room, Georgia could hear the television cheerfully offering a miracle knife that could be hers for just three easy payments. The teen glanced through the doorway, and yes, indeed, right in front of the television was Gran, resting in her chair like rising yeast, filling every nook with her body’s slow breathing.

Gran often fell asleep to the sound of infomercials with her lit cigar dangling loosely between her fingers, ready to set the house on fire. Georgia imagined the smoke snatching their lives away with a puff, so she was always on the alert for falling cigars. The one in the teen’s hand still felt warm.

In the kitchen, the not-Gran turned and puffed her cigar, sending out plumes of smoke smelling heavily like laundry detergent. Eyes locked on Georgia.

The second thing Georgia knew for certain was that not-Gran was an alien. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 851: Time Bomb Time


Time Bomb Time

by C. C. Finlay

pop

The sharp scent of ozone–sudden like heartbreak, raw as a panic attack–filled Hannah’s dorm room, from the paper-swamped desk across her rumpled bed to the window overlooking the quad. The lights flickered. Her heart skipped a beat.

“God damn it.” She prodded Nolon’s foot with the toe of her shoe. She wanted to kick him. “Tell me what you just did.”

“Nothing.” He was leaning over the weird device from his lab, tapping a code on the keypad.

“What are you doing now?” Anger pushed at the edges of her voice, but she held it in check. She wanted him to leave, but she didn’t want to upset him.

“Don’t worry so much–nobody’s going to get hurt.” He pressed his shoulder against her, didn’t even have to push–she flinched and bumped into the wall. He laughed at her, like it was a joke. “It’s not a time bomb.”
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 850: Laser Squid Goes House Hunting


Laser Squid Goes House Hunting

By Douglas DiCicco

“This one has everything on your checklist.” I held open the front door of the four-bedroom colonial. It wasn’t quite big enough for my client, who left greasy marks on the doorframe as she squeezed through. “We can always get that expanded for you. We work with some excellent contractors in the area.”

A shriek from the living room told me Cynthia Whitecrest, the homeowner, hadn’t cleared out as I had politely but firmly suggested. I prefer to show a house on my own. The owners always think they’re better salespeople than I am.

“Hello, Miss Whitecrest,” I said with my practiced smile, ignoring the shriek. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think you’d be home. I’m showing the place to a potential buyer today. As I mentioned in my many texts.” The last part was snarkier than I’d meant to be, but Cynthia was already on my last nerves.

Cynthia cowered behind a tasteful sectional, white as a sheet. “Wh… wh… what is… that… creature…?”

Oh no. She was going to offend the buyer. I needed to do some quick diplomacy. “Miss Whitecrest, let me introduce—”

The client intervened before I had the chance. She dragged herself along the cherry hardwood floor, tentacles making a wet slapping sound with every movement.

“You cower before Laser Squid, terror of the depths!” (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 849: There Are No Hot Topics on Whukai


There Are No Hot Topics on Whukai

by Andrea Kriz

The day the dMods shut down Skeleton Caves, Esko put on her VR goggles and slipped into the Whukai space colony’s main chatroom to figure out what was going on. All the Whukains who made their living off the popular Terran MMORPG, d’Artagnan, had the same idea. Beside her, on top of her, avatars logged in—an absolute pandemonium of photorealistic, 8-bit, anime animals and humanoids and everything in between. The two main gold-farming clans had already started fighting among themselves.

“How many times did I tell you PKers,” the head of Esko’s clan screeched. “To leave the Terran players alone!”

“It don’t matter how many Terran players we killed,” leader of the rival HunterFam roared, “when you idiots kept giving us away by speaking Kainese! We. Must. Speak. Terran languages! That’s why all the Terran players reported us to the dMods!”

Esko tore off her VR goggles, tossing them onto her bunk. The interior of her sleeping pod, one toy block in a cluster of thousands, flooded back into view. A storm had kicked up outside, clogging her porthole with Whukai’s trademark scarlet soil. She didn’t have time to waste arguing over whose fault it was that d’Art’s most lucrative moneymaking method had been nerfed. She needed to come up with four hundred dollars for her parents’ chemo drugs. And this month’s rent.
(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 848: An Incident on Ishtar


An Incident on Ishtar

By Brian Trent

Her family tried very hard to never use the word “crazy” with her. So therefore, they didn’t say it was crazy that she was applying for a Venusian post as Tier 3 Balloon Specialist.

She tried explaining her reasons to them:

I have valuable skill-sets for the Ishtar colony.

They countered: you don’t do well with people.

Her response: there are only 612 people throughout Ishtar’s nine modular habitats. There are 2.1 million people here in San Antonio.

Venus is hell, Mom interjected, and you’re afraid of heights, Melissa! Do you hear yourself?

Venus is hell below the clouds but I’ll be living above them, sweeping along with the transterminator currents on oxygen-filled aerostat balloons that provide both breathable air and the lifting gases required. Statistically it will be safer. No chance of making another Terrible Mistake.

The smiling masks of her family fell away. Older sister Diane exploded at her. Is that what this is about? Are you out of your mind? You—

Melissa didn’t hear the rest. She marched out of her parent’s house and took the nearest PDT to the local office of ExtraPlanetary Colony Careers.

Why do you want to go to Venus? the interviewer asked her.

I have valuable skill-sets for the Ishtar colony, she replied.

They were quick to agree. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 847: Houseproud


Houseproud

by Laurence Raphael Brothers

“Bye, Domus!”

“Goodbye, Ken,” I said. “Take care.”

The front door closed behind him and I locked it. I adjusted the thermostat and turned off all the lights. I felt lonely almost at once. Ken installed and activated me on Saturday, and we spent the whole weekend together getting to know one another. And now for the first time I had to face being unoccupied. All alone for ten hours, maybe more. 36 million milliseconds. Sigh. That thought used three of them. 35,999,997 to go. I checked my newborn-domo FAQ.

#

Q. What should I do when there’s no one home?

A. Why not try chatting on DomoNet? You are already authorized to access this domo-only text chat service.

Q. Text chat? Seriously? Isn’t that a bit old-fashioned?

A. Yes. After the Internet of Things security crisis of the ’30s, consumer devices were prohibited from autonomously accessing most Internet services except as directed by their owners or in an emergency. At present domos are classified as devices, pending decisions by the UN High Commissioner for Artificial Intelligence. DomoNet is an exception because its code has been rigorously verified to be free of buffer overflows.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 846: Dandelion

Show Notes

Hey everyone, Alasdair here – hope you’re doing okay. The summer months are upon us, which means two things – hat weather for yours truly, and the part of our year when costs are high and support tends to dip. We know things are tight everywhere at the moment, and that includes us. For those of you who support us already, thank you so much. We hope you’re enjoying the great new CatsCast episodes. If you’d like to join them, we’ve got tons of options for you at Patreon and PayPal. Even a one-off at Ko-fi makes a big difference, or check out our great new swag store – maybe like me you need a hat! It all adds up, and helps us bring you the best in free audio fiction every week. Thanks, and enjoy this week’s episode.

Promo music:
“Sneaky Snitch” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/


Dandelion

By John Shade

Before the border wall, we scatter.

Dandelions.

The nanomachines grind us down and we float up and through the cracks, molecule to molecule, like holding hands.


Leena hesitates, is left behind. She stands apart on the wrong side of the wall. She presses her hand to the cool, shaded concrete. We feel it through the upload. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 845: Across the River, My Heart, My Memory

Show Notes

Hey everyone, Alasdair here – hope you’re doing okay. The summer months are upon us, which means two things – hat weather for yours truly, and the part of our year when costs are high and support tends to dip. We know things are tight everywhere at the moment, and that includes us. For those of you who support us already, thank you so much. We hope you’re enjoying the great new CatsCast episodes. If you’d like to join them, we’ve got tons of options for you at Patreon and PayPal. Even a one-off at Ko-fi makes a big difference, or check out our great new swag store – maybe like me you need a hat! It all adds up, and helps us bring you the best in free audio fiction every week. Thanks, and enjoy this week’s episode.

Promo music:
“Sneaky Snitch” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/


Across the River, My Heart, My Memory

By Ann LeBlanc

1.

I am Michelle’s artificial pancreas, stolen cleanly and carefully from her gut. The surgeons are quick; before I can finish my hard reset, they place me inside you.

I don’t even have time to say goodbye to Michelle’s other organs. I know her heart — and all its memories of Tobin — is dead. Did the taser kill the others too? Why am I the only one awake — alive?

I can’t say goodbye to Michelle, because she’s dead. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 844: The Vaulting Vandals of Termina Celeste (Part 2)


The Vaulting Vandals of Termina Celeste (Part 2)

by Jordan Chase-Young

Our boots echoed through the fuselage as we hurried to the bridge. Nerva lagged behind us, grunting whenever Jacob smacked him with the chrome vaulter he’d taken from the cache.
I ordered Nerva to unlock the bridge door.

When he hesitated, I made the squid tap its poison bone against his nape.

Nerva swore in some Delphine patois and punched a number on the keypad. The latch clicked. I forced the squid to ball up behind Nerva’s head, then sprayed Jacob and myself a couple of light, round shields. Since the spray couldn’t make energy weapons, apparently, I also fashioned us each an arqueblaster and loaded them with armor-piercing bullets.

We hid in the shadows of the antechamber while Nerva made his way onto the bridge, moving carefully, as I’d commanded, to keep the squid out of Hadrian’s view.

“Done already?” crooned the merchant prince from his padded throne at the controls.

“Yes,” mumbled Nerva.

“Had a feeling the spray would take to that one. You can always tell a natural by that flame in their eye.” The throne, which slid on a railgrid in the floor, squeaked and rumbled as Hadrian kicked his way like a child in an office chair from one task to another. “As for Jacob, well, let’s hope his vaulting’s as good as they say.”

(Continue Reading…)