Posts Tagged ‘assassin’

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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 622: Anna and Marisol in Time and Space


Anna and Marisol in Time and Space

By Tim Pratt

The big day came, and Anna was tempted to tie up Marisol and stash her in the closet just to be safe, but instead she put on her makeup and her pale blue gown (it was prettier than she remembered) and called, “Marisol! Are you making a whole new dress from scratch in there? We gotta go!” just like last time.

Marisol emerged from the bedroom, sliding a dangly earring into place, and even with everything on her mind, Anna stopped and stared and took her partner in: those pale green eyes so striking against the darkness of her skin, her long black hair, her dress patterned with tiny flowers and ruffled at the hem, made elegant both by Marisol’s craftsmanship and because she looked good in everything, basically. How many hours had Anna spent staring at photographs of that face? “Oh my god, let me get a picture.”

Marisol rolled her eyes. “I thought you were worried about being late?”

“It’s not my fault you look this good. I didn’t account for a hotness delay.” Marisol snorted laughter, and Anna’s phone snapshot caught her at the perfect candid moment: happiness frozen forever in pixels. Anna looked at the screen. The picture wasn’t exactly the same, but it was probably okay—

Marisol tapped her on the arm. “I’m flattered, babe, but you can gaze upon my splendor later.” They grabbed the wedding gift bag and pelted down the stairs and out the lobby door to the street. Their timing was perfect, anyway: the car Anna had summoned pulled up, shiny and black, just as they reached the curb. They slid into the back, adjusting hems and getting comfortable: it was about a twenty-minute ride to the park where Del and Kelsey were getting married.

“The first of the college cohort to fall,” Marisol said. “How much do you want to bet they set off a domino chain reaction thing among the guests? We’ll probably have to go to ten weddings next summer.”

Better than ten funerals, Anna thought. Or thirty. She checked her purse for the thousandth time. She knew it was in there, and she knew it worked—she’d tested it extensively—but she couldn’t help but worry. You only got one second chance. (Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 593: Planetbound


Planetbound

By Nancy Fulda

There’s a moment that comes, the first time you step on the rim of a planet, when you suddenly realize how breakable you are. When you finally understand that despite the bone density treatments, despite the braces cradling your back and legs, despite the half-dozen hands that support your first faltering steps down the hallway, you will never be more than a hair’s breadth from disaster. A false step, an unexpected nudge, even the tilt of your own head could send you toppling. It’s worse – much worse – than you expected, and for five panicked heartbeats you consider retreating. It’s not too late to grab a flight back to the orbitals, to float again in those serene, majestic habitats. But no. There is something to be learned here; something important. Something that cannot be understood except through the eyes of a floater. And so you grit your teeth and slide your foot awkwardly forward, into this strange new existence.

It is a perilous reality, chaotic and unintuitive. Cloth leaps in strange directions. Objects zip away if you release them. Even the sounds are different. It’s like someone has erased the laws of the universe and written the equations anew.

On the next step something goes wrong and you jolt sideways. Shouts. Hands beneath your shoulders. Your arm flails outward and knocks a vase from a table. It clatters to the ground and stays there, water clinging to the tiles like a living creature.

(Continue Reading…)

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.

(Continue Reading…)

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Escape Pod 446: The Way of the Needle


The Way of the Needle

by Derek Künsken

I

The ancient pulsar’s lighthouse beam of microwaves and radio waves spun twice per second. Within the bloom of its magnetic field orbited the single planet that had survived the long-ago supernova, at the cost of its crust and mantle. An atmosphere of carbon dioxide had congealed around the little metallic world, producing oceans of iron and nickel carbonyl, dotted with thickets of steel needles that fanned to catch the microwaves. On the largest islands, the growth of the needles had been coaxed into towers, pedestals, and martial walls. Prickly metal creatures held together by strong magnetic fields scuttled in these towns and forts, on eight articulated legs of steel spines. Their fine quills caught the flashing microwaves, generating the electricity for their quick, agile movements.

One of them, whose fame would not be made for many years yet, was uncomfortable in a disguise. Mok was a Follower of the Needle, an order of martial priests. Whereas other Followers and fighters-at-arms bore large metal claws high on their forelegs, Mok now scurried with only small, shameful servant claws. No one recognized him and no one complimented him. Nor would he earn any compliments from this mission; he’d been sent by Master Hac not as a warrior to fight under the full shine of the pulsar, but as an assassin.

Mok tried to fan his steel quills wider, but the road was too crowded. Fussing builders swung long rods culled from faraway orchards, patching the palisaded walls that lined the streets. Shabby, short-needled monks stood where the upturned points of the streets were overlaid with rusted garbage and sniped at each other with pinching claws and philosophical recriminations. Mok paused at a stall where a thinly needled elder showed off processed snow paste.

Mok hadn’t stopped for the snow paste. He wasn’t hungry. He’d stopped for the view of the Ban estate. The Ban family had consolidated an immense estate on the south road during the clan wars. Its high noble gate showed sprouting buildings and growing towers within the palisade. Slow mercenaries controlled the gate. To the side, at a narrow opening, flowed the swarmers, servants and merchants, short-needled and small-clawed.

(Continue Reading…)