Posts Tagged ‘Alasdair Stuart’

Escape Pod 557: Impossibility Crow


Impossibility Crow

By Remy Nakamura

The Kingdom Coffee Missionary Handbook tells Paulo that he should always put his guns away during a door approach. He’s heard this hundreds of times before, but the Handbook speaks with a voice of authority, deep like a luchador’s, strong like a drill sergeant’s, calm like his abuelito’s. It slides in just under his ARgog’s selectively amplified environmental audio. 450 bonus points if the contact is completed without violence, calculates the Handbook, 900 if there are no deaths. Each death harms the public image of the Kingdom, the Handbook tells him. Paulo nods agreement. Way better to spread the faith on the no-kill difficulty setting.

Still, Paulo is not stupid, so he pauses to load Rambo, his ancient and lovingly modded M4A1 Carbine, before slinging it across his back. Looking bad-ass is his favorite violence prevention technique. The Handbook says nothing about tear gas, and he decides not to mention the CS smoke grenade in his left pocket. His last couple of leads had ended with tense stand-offs. Goddess, yo creo, he prays silently. Help my unbelief. He fingers his mala of Robusto beans, sniffing hard to catch its fading aroma.

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Escape Pod 554: Captain Drake Learns His Lines


Captain Drake Learns His Lines

By Amy Sisson and Kate Suratt

So I was sitting there minding my own business and trying to choke down the rotgut Rick passes off as whiskey, when who should come sailing through the door but Jeanne Bixby –- yes, the Jeanne Bixby, the biggest telewave starlet this side of the galaxy. She’d covered that famous red-gold hair with a gauzy green scarf and wore sunglasses, but she had to take them off because the bar was so dim she nearly tripped over the Candalubian dozing on the floor just inside the doorway.

Candalubians can sleep anywhere.

Anyway, I knew it was her the minute she took the glasses off, but I couldn’t figure out what the hell she was doing in Rick’s Bar. She didn’t even have her contingent of red-carpet bodyguards with her, just a single H’Rak’tin wearing brass knuckles on all four hands.

On second thought, maybe that was enough. H’Raks are famous for what they can do with brass knuckles.

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Escape Pod 551: The Most Absurd Dance at the End of the Worlds


The Most Absurd Dance at the End of the Worlds

By Holly Heisey

It was the end of the worlds, and Mr. Jamison and I were arguing over peas. Not the mush you get in a cafeteria, but peas that smelled like grasshoppers and summer. Real, in the shell, peas.

Mr. Jamison detached his monocle and peered down at the pea pods on my outstretched hand. He made a huffing sound that poofed his drooping moustache. He looked like a side character in an old John Wayne movie, stuffed into fussy clothes.

“It is an altogether sensible looking vegetable,” he finally said. “But how will they help us to program the Back Button?”

He motioned to the collection of brass pipes and gauges that hulked on the sturdy worktable. Afternoon sunlight slanted from the warehouse windows and gave the Back Button a purposeful glint. If we could figure out what that purpose was, we could save the worlds.

I picked a pod off my hand and held it to the sunlight. “I think this pod is like the shape our worlds are taking now. The brane that contains the one hundred and nineteen realities is stretched thin and long, and our worlds are lined up inside of it.”

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Escape Pod 546: Recollection


Recollection

by Nancy Fulda

The dream is always the same. You are a tangled mass of neurons, tumbling through meteors. Flaming impacts pierce your fragile surface, leaving ragged gouges. You writhe, deforming under bombardment, until nothing is left except a translucent tatter, crumbling as it descends. Comets pelt the desiccated fibers. You fall, and keep falling, and cannot escape the feeling that, despite your lack of hands, you are scrabbling desperately at the rim of a shrouded tunnel, unable to halt your descent. Glimmers crawl along the faint remaining strands, blurring as you tumble…

You awaken to warmth and stillness. Gone are the soulless tiled floors of the seniors’ home. Sterile window drapes have been replaced by sandalwood blinds. Fresh air blows through the vents, overlaying faint sounds from the bathroom and from morning traffic on nearby canyon roads. You clutch the quilted blankets, stomach plummeting. This cozy bedroom, with its sturdy hardwood furnishings, should be familiar to you; but it isn’t. Two days, and still nothing makes sense. You feel as though you’re suffocating. Tumbling…

Your wife has heard you gasping for air. She comes running, nightgown flapping behind her. Her face is creased in overlapping furrows. Your mirror tells you that the two of you are a match: the same fading hair, the same shrunken hollows along the eyes. Laugh lines, she calls them, but you cannot manage to see them as anything except deformities, in your face and hers both.

“Elliott?” She grabs your hand and kneels at the bedside to look in your eyes. “It’s me, Elliott. Everything’s fine. Everything’s going to be ok.”

Her name, you recall, is Grace. She told it to you two days ago, and is irrationally elated that you are able to repeat it to her upon demand, any time she asks. You feel like a trained puppy, yapping for treats, except there aren’t any treats.

There’s just Grace, and this room. And before that, the seniors’ home. And before that…? You’re not sure. You flail at the bedside for your notebook, thinking it might offer continuity. But there are only a few shaky scribbles, beginning the day before yesterday.

Grace pulls you upright, propping pillows against your spine. She fusses over you, adjusting your hair, prattling off questions. She seems to think you’re in pain, but you’re not. Not any more than you’d expect of a man with joints and bones as old as yours. She tries to kiss your forehead, and you recoil.

It’s a cruel gesture, pulling away like that, but you can’t help it. She’s a stranger, and despite the anguish in her eyes, it feels wrong to pretend otherwise. You can’t feign love. You won’t. Not to please her, not to please anyone.

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Escape Pod 545: Murder or a Duck


Murder or a Duck

by Beth Goder

George called out, “Mrs. Whitman, you have a visitor.”

Mrs. Whitman strode from her workroom, her white hair skipping out of its hairpins. She straightened her work skirt, massaged her bad knee, then hurried down the hall.

“George, what’s happened to the lamp with the blue shade?”

“To which lamp are you referring?” George smoothed down a cravat embroidered with tiny trombones. Improper attire for a butler, but George had never been entirely proper.

Mrs. Whitman examined the sitting room in further depth. The blue lamp was gone, as were the doilies, thank goodness. An elegant table sat between the armchair and green sofa, which was infused with the stuffy smell of potpourri. Behind the sofa hung The Roses of Wiltshire, a painting that Mrs. Whitman had never cared for, despite its lush purples and pinks and reds. And the ficus was there, too, of course.

Mrs. Whitman pulled out a battered notebook. George’s trombone cravat indicated she was in a timeline where he was courting Sonia. A good sign, indeed. Perhaps, after six hundred and two tries, she’d finally landed in a timeline where Mr. Whitman would return home safely.

Consulting her charts, she circled some continuities and crossed out others, referring often to an appendix at the back. The notebook was worn, its blue cover faded. And it was the twelfth one she’d had since starting the project.

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Escape Pod 544: Only Human


Only Human

by Lavie Tidhar

There are four Three-times-Three Sisters in the House of Mirth, and five in the House of Heaven and Hell, and two in the House of Shelter. Four plus five plus two Three-by-Threes, and they represent one faction of the city.

You may have heard tales of the city of Polyphemus Port, on Titan, that moon of raging storms. First city on that lunar landscape, second oldest foothold of the Outer System, or so it is said, though who can tell, with the profusion of habitats in those faraway places of the solar system? A dome covers the city, but Polyport spreads underground – vertical development they called it, the old architects. And its tunnels reach far into the distance, linking to other settlements, small desolate towns on that wind-swept world, where majestic Saturn rises in the murky skies.

There are two Five-times-Six Sisters in the House of Forgetting, and five Eight-by-Eights in the House of Domicile. We who are a ones, and will one day be zeros, we cannot hope to understand the way of the Sisterhoods of Polyphemus Port, on Titan.

Understanding, as Ogko once said, is forgiveness.


Shereen was a cleaner in the House of Mirth in the day, and in the evening in the House of Domicile. It was a good, steady job. On Polyport all jobs connect to trade, to cargo. A thousand cults across space arise and fall around cargo. In the islands of the solar system cargo achieves mythical overtones, the ebb and flow of commerce across the inner and outer systems, of wild hagiratech from Jettisoned, best-grade hydroponics marijuana and raw materials from the belt, argumentative robots from the Galilean Republics, pop culture from Mars, weapons from Earth, anything and everything. Polyphemus Port services the cluster of habitats that circle Saturn, and links to the Galilean Republics on the four major moons of Jupiter. It links the inner system with the wild outposts of Pluto – with Dragon’s World on Hydra and Jettisoned on Charon, and the small but persistent human settlements beyond Saturn, in the dark echoey space that lies in between Uranus and Neptune.

People are strange in the Outer System, and the few Others, too, who make their homes there. Some say the Others, those digital intelligences bred long ago by St. Cohen in Earth’s first, primitive Breeding Grounds, have relocated en masse to the cold moons of the outer system, installing new Cores away from human habitation, but whether it is true or not, who can tell? Whatever the truth of all this is, it suffices to say that all jobs on Polyport, directly or indirectly, are linked with the business and worship of cargo, and that some jobs are always in demand.

Shereen apprenticed as a cleaner in the landing port beyond the city, a vast dust-bowl plane where RLVs like busy methane-breathing bees rise and fall from the surface to orbit, there to meet the incoming and outgoing space-going vessels to ferry people and cargo back and forth. She was seconded to Customs inspections slash Quarantine, scouring ships’ holds for unwanted passengers, the rodents and bacteria, fungus and von Neumann machines; from there she moved dome-side, abandoning her public sector job in favour of the private. She cleaned houses both above- and under-ground, until at last she settled on the dual work for the House of Mirth and the House of Domicile, a work associated, after all, with cargo and religion both.

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Escape Pod 542: The Hungers of Refugees


The Hungers of Refugees

by Michael Glyde

I. Generation One

Our grandparents always said, “Take care to remember the first generation.” They came from fresh, from sunlight, whirling winds, and butterfly fields. They came from Hunger.

Generation One came from six different nations. Six nations? How long ago was this that six nations could exist, all at once? That’s what we’d ask our grandparents. They never answered satisfactorily.

Ship 13c smelled iron like death. White LED lighting glared off the walls. And it was warm, but an uncomfortable, mechanical sort of warm.

When Generation One boarded the ship, their children spent days waving and crying as Earth receded from view. To those children, loss was an old trick—that’s what their parents wrote of them in the ship’s log. They cried because they remembered their tiny fishing villages, their college towns, their cities that counted among the oldest on Earth.

The parents celebrated leaving the Camps. Finally escaping foreign soldiers quick to kill, food rations too small for mice, and the oppressive, endless heat, they laughed at their pain.

“Good riddance,” they said, “to all that.”

And that first night, a tradition began: all of Ship 13c’s residents crowded around the glass globe that overlooked the reactor core. Like campers around a fire, they told stories of their homes. How strange, how awkward, trying to tell stories everyone would understand. Which of the four languages did the most people speak? What prohibitions differed between these six cultures?

But that night they silently agreed to become one people. A people hunting for a new home.

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Escape Pod 540: The Right Answer


The Right Answer

by James Miller

While I certainly didn’t plan on an alien encounter, my life had been in such a downward spiral that I had gotten used to expecting the unexpected.

Cheryl, my wife, and Ryan, my friend and boss, had been spending some extra time together without me – nights mostly. I handled this by 1) punching Ryan in the mouth, twice, then 2) spending the rest of the day drinking lunch, and 3) picking up dinner at the liquor store. On the way home, my car expired on the freeway, by spewing steam and smoke then finally bursting into flames. I did, however, manage to rescue my bottle of dinner vodka before its fiery demise, but somehow forgot my personal laptop was in the back seat. I eventually reached home only to find Cheryl had gone. Judging by the amount of stuff she had taken with her, it was for good.

I surveyed what little remained in the house. In the living room there was carpeting with clean spots where the furniture had been, and a TV stand with no TV. In the kitchen I was left with one red plastic cup, an unopened box of flexible drinking straws, and a bag of pretzels. In the bedroom I saw a bed frame with no mattress or sheets, wire hangers, and a torn Sports Illustrated. I grabbed the pretzels from the kitchen and made my way out onto the patio to get away from the heavy absence of my material items. I was considering which lawn chair I might sleep in, when I noticed a little green creature standing in my back yard. It took a while for my senses to come into agreement; I was looking at Fonzie. Yes, Fonzie, the character played by Henry Winkler on Happy Days.

He didn’t look at all like Fonzie in the face, or even his body type. In that regard he was as stereotypically expected: green, about four feet tall, three long fingers on each hand, comically big eyes, with no nose to speak of, and a very tiny mouth. It was the leather jacket, pinch rolled jeans and perfectly greased jet black hair that gave the general appearance of the Fonz.

The creature leaned coolly against my fence, holding one finger of each hand in the air. I assumed those were the closest thing he had to thumbs.

“Aaaaaaaayyyy.”

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Escape Pod 534: Joolie and Irdl

Show Notes

At the end of the show, there were excerpts from a speech given by President Barack Obama 4 days after 49 people were executed in a shooting rampage in Orlando, FL, USA which you can see in full here: https://youtu.be/QMvxpyeq6xU


Joolie and Irdl

By Sandy Parsons

The first time Irdl heard Joolie sing his pollinators stiffened under their leathery sheath. He’d had to switch from his walking legs to his squatters to remain upright. She was oblivious as he fell in behind her. She sang a human song, logical enough, being a human. He recognized the words, even though she added extra syllables, as if she’d sucked the words down her windpipe and divided them into their component parts before sending them back on achingly sweet vibrations formed from her full lips. As she sang, she plucked dry bits of moss from the grassy wall and disappeared around a corner.

He began to look for her after that. He’d catch sight of her hair first, because it rose above her. She carried a basket and a small set of silver tools, tweezers and scissors and a scoop, and he soon realized that he was jealous of them, for they were caressed by her dark fingers. He did a little searching and discovered that her job was to maintain the moss that kept the station’s gas balance in check. He petitioned Pung to let him change his lunch hour so that he might better align his schedule with hers. She didn’t always sing as she clipped and tugged and sprayed the furry walls, but the damage had been done. Irdl was smitten.

He squeezed in behind her on a gyro-shuttle. The shuttle was full, so the usual rules about personal space could be forgiven a little. He let one of his overhanging appendages rest so that the tip floated amongst her crown of wiry ringlets. She turned around, more inquisitive than annoyed.

“Excuse me.” He intoned the words with as much human inflection as his mandibles allowed, and retracted the arm. She nodded as if mollified and started to turn back. He added, hastily, “Your dreadlocks are lovely.”

“I don’t have dreadlocks.”

“Pl- Please forgive me. What do you call them, then? I am unfamiliar.” He winced inwardly at playing the alien card, at least so soon. He usually waited until he got them back to his hammock.

“It’s just my hair.” She gave her mane a little shake, and the flesh of her arms and the swell of her breasts shook where they were not confined by her cleensoot. She must have seen something in his gaze, although he couldn’t be sure what, or even hope, but she said, “You can touch it if you want.”

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Escape Pod 531: Bend Back the Shadows


Bend Back the Shadows

By Michael Reid

Month 669, Day 10

When I was a little girl, Grandma used to tell me scary stories about the day the lights went out on Earth. Back then, she said, there were lots of people on our station. People would come and go from Earth all the time in little gray capsules. And then, one day, the capsules had stopped coming. Soon after that, the messages had stopped coming on the radio. Everyone on the station had hovered by the windows like ghosts, watching day after day as plumes of smoke erupted from the hearts of the cities, their trails snaking across the continents.

“But that wasn’t the worst of it,” Grandma would tell me. “Not by a long shot.”

“What was worse?” I asked her once, between lessons on medicine and aquaponics.

Grandma looked away when she spoke. “The worst part was watching the night sweep across the Earth and seeing that the darkness was empty. No more lights. Just shadows.”

Grandma used to live down on Earth, a long time ago. She was a doctor–a brain doctor. She said that one of the reasons she came up to the station was to see Earth from space with her own eyes. She loved the day side with its browns and greens and blues, but I think she loved the lights on the night side even more. I’ve seen pictures from back then, back when the whole Earth was covered with cities that glowed yellow at night. The pictures reminded me of the diagrams of neurons Grandma used to show me on her slate: nuclear cities connected to dendritic suburbs, all bound together by axonal highways. Then the end had come. Night after night, the web of neurons had disintegrated, like a brain consumed by Alzheimer’s. Grandma and the others had watched it all happen, watched each city flare brightly for a few seconds, then disappear forever.

Our station orbits Earth once every four hours: two hours over the day side and two hours over the night. Grandma said that, every time the station caught up to the night, she would go to a window and pray that there would still be lights. One orbit, she had gone to the windows and there had been only one light left on the whole dark side of the planet. One tiny light, smack in the middle of the big continent–Africa, it was called, when there were still people on it. Orbit after orbit, she watched for that spot, prayed the whole time it was in daylight that it would still be there when the night returned. She would wish on it like an ember, praying for it to spark and spread. But one day, less than a year after the last capsule had come to the station, darkness swept over the place where the light had been and the light was gone.

Grandma said that was the single worst day of her life. Worse than leaving Grandpa behind on Earth. Worse than watching the city where he lived go dark. Worse than watching all those plumes of smoke circling the planet. She said watching that last light be engulfed by the shadows was more fearful than losing all of the rest combined. “But it won’t always be this way,” she told me. “Someday those lights are going to come back. Someday you’ll see just the tiniest flicker down there, but that one tiny flicker will spread and soon it will bend back all those shadows.”

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