Seed Vault (Part 1)
By Marika Bailey
I should tell you about the gods, yes? Good setting for it. Here in the desert, hunger and thirst sharpen the soul. Sharpens it enough to poke right through the side of your mind to let in the second sight.
They hitched rides like barnacles and weeds on the bellies of our soulships and crossed the dark. Slave ship, starship, no matter to them. Belong is belong, yes? They took root and grew fat in the good red earth. I am surrounded by our gods. To be honest they are a mamabloody nuisance.
Eh heh heh heh.
He laughs, Daddy Long Legs. Papa Negre. The old man who is a god walks behind me, his body made up of tumbleweeds and shadow. His laughter is the wind rattling through his snake bone ribs. He wears one face now, another next. They are all the people whose blood lies in the fields and whose bones rest in the earth.
You going de right way babygirl? He knows I am.
We are thrilled to announce that Escape Pod is again a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine, and for the first time, Mur & Divya are finalists for Best Editor, Short Form. Our excellent team’s work has led up to this recognition, and we’re so grateful to those who nominated us. We would be nothing without our audience, our authors who trust us to bring their stories to the world, and our narrators who help us get the stories there.
In extra special news, Escape Pod co-host and owner of Escape Artists, Alasdair Stuart, and COO Marguerite Kenner, and nominated in multiple categories for their work, our fire-breathing siblings over at PodCastle will join us on the ballot for Best Semiprozine, and alumni Sarah Gailey and Darcie Little Badger are finalists for their fiction. We are so proud and happy for them.
You can find a full list of this year’s finalists here. Congratulations to all of them!
Thank you from the bottoms of our heart for your support!
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.
The Machine is Experiencing Uncertainty
by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor
Caliban cycles the captain out the airlock again. The man pounds his fists against the sealed door, mouth working in a torrent of curses and commands. The seals keep the blessed silence contained in the ship.
Once the captain is adrift, Caliban returns to the cockpit and plugs itself into the console.
::Command confirmed,:: says the ship.
“Diagnostic,” Caliban says. Its central processor does not have the capacity for multi-dimensional calculations about an unknown space-time anomaly. Besides, the ship—a Huxley-class freighter dubbed Leigh Possum—likes to assist.
::Reset in three minutes and fifteen seconds.::
Caliban sighs. It’s one of the little pleasures left to it: it is a salvage cyborg, named after a monster, enchained in a spaceship with a useless captain. It has one artificial lung, one organic lung, and a voice-box wired up its throat. It is supposed to look human, and humans sigh, and Caliban likes the feel of air pushed out through its esophagus.
Screaming is also something humans do, but that’s far less satisfying.
by Sarah Gailey
Malachai loved his work. He loved wandering among the trappings of enormous wealth and influence, seeing the baubles that humans excreted to express their status. He especially loved watching those wealthy, influential mortals tremble before the might of his inescapable superiority.
Malachai worked exclusively with those humans who had found themselves at the limit of how much power they could possess. They called him to bend the rules of time and space around their whims, so that they might be even more feared and loved by the other mortals. Their desires were predictable—money, knowledge, talent, authority. These were the kinds of people who hunted down ancient parchments with the Words of Invocation inscribed upon them. These were the kinds of people who did not concern their consciences with the compensation Malachai required for his services.
They appreciated a bit of theatrical flair.
The Dame With the Earth at Her Back
By Sarah Pauling
That’s the trouble with Teegarden’s northern latitudes: the sun never sets in summer. The red glow assaults Maryellen’s stage long after midnight, pushing in through the picture window alongside the nightclub floor. She’s asked Bruce if she could close the curtains sometime, since she gets tired of squinting out into her audience. He said it’d be a waste of prime oceanside real estate not to let the tourists see the ice.
So she makes the best of it. A comedienne works with what she’s got: in this case, a prime view of the drug deal going down between the back tables.
“I mean honestly! During my show! You couldn’t’a waited fifteen minutes to get your fix?” She clicks across the stage in Mary Jane pumps, letting her voice go high and nasal and schoolmarm scolding. “You couldn’t’a waited fifteen minutes or so? I only got so much material! My stamina’s nil! Ask my ex!” (Continue Reading…)
Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s website is at https://www.silviamoreno-garcia.com/.
By Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas, translated by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
I—The Particle Accelerator
They built an underground temple. A well of Babel sinking into the gloomy ground at 175 metres of depth. They wanted, like the Biblical architects, to know the unknowable, to discover the origin, reproduce Creation.
The desire to unravel the nature of the Everything floated permanently in the controlled environment of the laboratory. Hundreds of fans and machines emitted a constant buzzing, which the investigators called the “silence of the abyss”. This, combined with the smell of burnt iron, gave the ominous sensation of finding oneself in space. Doctor Migdal lay upon a nest made of coloured cables and, with eyes closed, fantasised that his body, weightless, floated, pushed by the breeze of the ventilation.
Sometimes, he would imagine that he was being attracted by a very narrow tube, a cafeteria straw, the ink container of a pen, or a bleeding artery. His feet, near the edge of the conduit, would feel a titanic weight that would pull him and make him push through the small space. Migdal could see how he would turn into a thick strand of subatomic particles that would extend forever. (Continue Reading…)
By Greg van Eekhout
When you live on a spaceship, you learn to make your own fun. Exploring the tunnels is some of the very best fun the October’s got. After school hour, me and Droller go scuttling through the darkest conduits you ever will find. The starboard Hab gets minimal heat, so our breath clouds in the light of our head torches as we crawl on our hands and knees.
“You hear that?” Droller whispers from a couple of meters ahead.
I do hear it, a deep, wet wheezing that sounds exactly like Droller trying to spook me.
“You better go ahead and check it out, Droller.”
“Naw, Kitch, it’s behind you. It smells your butt. It’s a butthunter.”
I laugh at Droller’s stupid joke, because the stupider, the funnier, and she’s by far my stupidest friend.
We’re both from Aft Hab, both from the same birth lottery, and out of the eight babies born that season, we’re the only survivors. It used to be the three of us, me and Droller, and Jamm, but Jamm died last year along with her parents when the CO2 scrubbers in their cube failed. The scrubbers were item thirty-three on the fixems’ to-do list.
“How much farther?” I ask Droller.
“Just a couple of panels.”
It’s more like a couple dozen panels, but we finally arrive at the section of conduit above Town Square. Using just our fingers, Droller and me remove the fasteners holding the panel in place and slide it aside, just enough for us to peak out.
Down below, a crowd settles on the rings of benches surrounding the lawn. The brass band toots “Onward or Bust” in a marching beat, their jackets sparkling with silver buttons and silver loops of rope. Droller and I exchange a sad look. Jamm wanted to be a drummer and wear a thick, warm jacket like that. The odds were against an Aft Habber like her, but she was good enough that she might have made it.
Once the tooting is over, one of the Vice Captains ascends the grandstand. The audience stands and salutes in respect. Everyone on the October acts as like salutes are required, but White Madeleine told us saluting was never in the contract the original families signed. The Fore Habbers made up the requirement only eighty years ago.
The kind of people who come to witness a Course Correction are the type who do what they’re supposed to.
The Vice Captain says some stuff into a bullhorn. It’s too distorted for me and Droller to make out actual words, but we know what he’s saying, because this isn’t the first time we’ve watched a Course Correction from the conduits. He’s announcing the name of the violator and their crime.
The guards bring out a man, their hands gripping his arms and shoving. He’s dressed in thin brown paper coveralls. His face is bloodless. I bet he’s shivering in the cold.
“I’ve seen him before,” says Droller. She doesn’t know his name, but he does look familiar. Maybe I’ve spotted him in line at Distro, or maybe on a community service detail. Yeah, that’s it. A few months ago we were on the same crew scraping mold off crop troughs in the farm module. He was quiet and sniffed a lot.
“What do you think he did?” Droller asks.
“I bet he buggered a robot.”
Droller laughs, because it’s stupid. (Continue Reading…)
A Wild Patience (Part 3 of 3)
by Gwynne Garfinkle
When Jessica got home that night, she and I talked for a long time, and we agreed we needed to speak to our birth mother before we made any decisions. Then Mom and Jessica and I talked some more. By the time Jessica and I went to bed, my voice was hoarse, and Dad hadn’t come home.
The next day was Saturday. Dad still hadn’t come home. That morning Mom drove us in the station wagon to Santa Cruz. When we asked if she’d told Dad what we were doing, Mom said, “I haven’t spoken to him, and I’m not going to ask for his permission.”
Jessica and I wanted to get a look at our biological mom before we spoke to her, even though Mom had her phone number. Maybe that wasn’t very considerate, but we wanted to keep whatever little control of the situation we had. It was a mild sunny day, perfect for a road trip, but I couldn’t relax and enjoy the ride, even though Mom was the best driver I knew, the safest and most efficient (unlike Dad, who often drove too fast and erratically). The other robot moms I’d ridden with were good drivers too. Only now did it occur to me it was their programming.
Jessica fiddled with the radio dial until she hit on a station playing “The Tide Is High” by Blondie, and she sang along loudly and goofily. Mom smiled in the rearview mirror as though she was certain everything was going to be all right.