Posts Tagged ‘Norm Sherman’

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Escape Pod 518: Brain Worms and White Whales


Brain Worms and White Whales

by Jen Finelli

My name isn’t Spaceman Spiff, and if you call me Ishmael I’ll knock the chewing gum right out of your mouth.

Actually, can I get a piece of that? We don’t get gum up here.

Thanks. I know you’re new here—service droid, right?—so take a look around before I explain why I called you into my office. Heads up, it’s because you did something bad. See this pose? My boots on my desk, arms crossed, limitless backdrop of space out the window behind me as ignored in all its glory as a homemaker whose husband works overtime for secretary kisses? Yeah, this pose, this clean wooden desk, this suitcase full of old Colt firearms behind me, they all mean something.

They mean I’m a man with a past and I like to shoot things.

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Escape Pod 517: Budo


Budo

By Tade Thompson

“Being desirous, on the other hand, to obviate the misunderstanding and disputes which might in future arise from new acts of occupation (prises de possession) on the coast of Africa; and concerned, at the same time, as to the means of furthering the moral and material well-being of the native populations;”

General Act of the Berlin Conference on West Africa,
26 February 1885

There is a story told in my village about the man who fell from the sky. The British also tell this tale in their history books, but it is a mere paragraph, and they invert the details.

In October 1884 I was a Yoruba translator for a British trading outpost. This man from the sky, we called him Budo. He was in the custody of the English, who questioned him. They tortured him with heat and with cold and with the blade, but they did not know what answers would satisfy. I know this because I carried their words to him, and his silence back to them. His manner was mild and deferent at all times, but they held him in isolation. For good reason they considered him dangerous. I will explain this later.

One afternoon while most of the English were sleeping a white man arrived at the gate demanding admission. One of the Sikh sentries told me he was a scout, and appeared bruised, half-naked and exhausted. He was too out of breath to speak, although he seemed keen to give his report. Kenton, the NCO of the military contingent, asked one of my brothers to bring water while he soothed the scout. The man took two gulps, splashed some on his face, then looked up at Kenton. He said one word.

“French.”

The scout vomited over the floor.

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Escape Pod 515: The Winter Festival


The Winter Festival

By Evan Berkow

The morning of the Winter Festival, I woke to the dull pounding of hammer on nail on wood. The Michigan winter made the sounds thick and sluggish, as if even noises needed to keep bundled.

My brother Joe was already up, tugging idly at his eyebrow ring and staring out the window.

“You keep pulling that, it’ll get infected.” I corrected myself. “More infected.”

Joe laughed. “Thanks for the warning, little sis.”

I swiveled out from under my covers and tested the bedroom floor. Even with footie pajamas it was frigid. I danced over icy wood to my brother and stood beside him at the window.

We lived in a February Town miles north of the Detroit ruins. Our home was just townhouse in a larger block, about twenty of them arranged in a ring facing outward against the world. The block was a closed loop, a circle of wagons defending a raggedy little park where a swing set slumped in trampled winter grass.

The park was full that morning, the block parents all working together to prepare for the evening’s festivities. I immediately made out our father. He was hunkered over a long slice of lumber in a way that seemed impossible given his chubbiness, his thick padded coat making him look like a yellow marshmallow. He was hammering a series of wooden triangles, like dragon’s teeth, into the plank. His face was flushed from exertion and the bite of the lake wind.

Other parents were equally busy. Some were painting slats, others were assembling a great iron skeleton in the middle of the park. No way to make out its shape, but it seemed so familiar, like something out of an almost-remembered nightmare. It made me shiver.

There were other faces in windows. My friends staring out at the work being done from the backs of their houses. I could see Kelly, a shy girl whose crush Joe tolerated with a cool reserve, making a tight ball of herself in a rooftop crook. She was recognizable only for the bright red hair that burst from beneath her cap. I tugged on some strands of my own mud-brown frizz, feeling just as jealous as every other time I saw her.

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Escape Pod 512: The Semaphore Society


The Semaphore Society

by Kate Heartfield

Gia blinks twice to drop the keyboard-display down. She doesn’t want to talk to her mom anymore and that’s the quickest – and, if she’s honest, the most satisfyingly annoying – way to make that clear.

“If you won’t let me help –” her mom says. Her fingers grip the back of Gia’s wheelchair so hard that it shudders, and the monitor screen mounted to one arm of the chair shakes.

Her mother never stops trying to make it all better. Gia is so goddamn sick of it. And she’s itching to log in to the Semaphore Society. Maybe Manon will be back today; she left so abruptly last night. Any conversation that isn’t about therapy or the power of positive thinking would be a relief.

The screen reflects her mom’s slight frown. Her face always looks like that when she worries about her daughter, which is most of the time. She must have worried before, when Gia was a kid, but Gia can’t remember seeing that precise expression before the day she collapsed on her high school’s stage halfway through the opening performance of Pippin.

The first time Gia can remember seeing that expression was later, when Gia woke up in the hospital, when her dad explained that they had found a tumour, that they were going to treat it, but that the bleeding in her brain –

The blinking pattern that pulls up her eye-tracking software is a lot like the blinking that stops tears.

Up it pops, Gia’s blank slate. Her mom hates this flickering-snow screen; it gives her migraines. But she can’t argue against it. It is so much easier on Gia than the keyboard-to-voice interface, with Gia staring at each letter, blinking in frustration to make choices when the eyetracker doesn’t catch her pupil dilation. (A QWERTY keyboard, for God’s sake. It’s not like her finger positions matter. Hands on home row! Her Grade 7 typing class won’t help her now.)
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Escape Pod 511: The Lone and Level Sands


The Lone and Level Sands

By Marco Panessa

I don’t know how they found us. Beneath this eternal torrent of dust, our dulled marble shells should be hidden forever; and furthermore, it occurs to me to wonder how they even found this planet. But as the shining ship descends from the stars, my brother and sister and I look on in amazement before turning to one another.

Saphida’s voice is a hoarse whisper, her words echoing down my empty corridors and fading away in the false treasure chambers and dead ends full of traps. She says, “Why do they bother us? We have so much to do.”

“They should bow down in our presence!” Kalesh’s voice shakes dust from my ceilings. “Unworthy, lowly creatures–”

“We never reached other stars.” My voice silences his rage at once. “Whoever they are, they achieved far more than we managed to do. Be quiet. Reserve judgment.”

Beneath a sky of sand and a million years of silence, we await our visitors tall and proud. To my left, Saphida rears in defiance of the stars, her gargantuan funeral runes weathered to illegibility in the constant blast of grit. Her tomb faces the wind in death like she did in life, and she breathes sand as she once breathed the hot foundry air. Every so often a windstorm deposits a pebble or two at her golden gates. Enough time has passed that fifty men could not tunnel their way through to her sealed doors.

To my right, Kalesh broods. A column in his neoclassical portico has fallen down, taking a corniced chunk of marble with it. The lost marble weathered into dust a long time ago. His outlying temples and shrines are all worn away now, like mine and our sister’s. Behind the crumbling façades, the wind has whittled us all down to hemispheres with radii equal to the range of our repair nanorobots. Within this range, they’ve expunged every trace of erosion with fanatical precision. Beyond, there is only the sand. I can hardly see my siblings, a few hundred meters away through the grit.
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Escape Pod 508: A Day Without Sunshine


A Day Without Sunshine

by E. Saxey

I don’t waste time. I study, I work hard, and when I go out I can squeeze a month of clubbing into one night. Tonight I’m squeezing it in a nasty place in Peckham, South London: no air, and the walls are sweating. I can’t get drunk–I’ve got a lecture tomorrow morning–so I’m dancing myself stupid, twisting my head so quick that my braids twat me in the face.

But across the delirious dance-floor, in the far corner, there’s a pool of stillness. Nobody dancing, everyone chilling, and you, leaning on a wall. You’re a little guy with lush brown eyes, gazing all around you.

I fight my way through the dancers to get to you. I get tangled in arms, fingernails up in my face, but I finally reach you.

“I’m Michelle. I’m doing law. You a student?”

You’re Hesham, twenty-eight, from Cairo. Not studying anything.

As I look at you, my skin tingles. Then I hear a police siren wailing past–of course, we’re next to the fire exit. That’s why there’s a pool of coolness round you.

“This is all excellent,” you say, waving an overpriced beer bottle at the terrible club. I laugh.

“You must be on some good stuff, fam.”

“I’m not! I like places where everyone’s having, oh, as much fun as they can.” You sound shy, formal. My Ma would call you “well brought up”.

Later, you sneak into my sweaty arms. You’re shorter than me and kind of delicate, but you don’t make me feel clumsy. Just strong, as though I could scoop you up.

Like I said, I don’t waste time. “Are you going to invite me back to yours?”

I reckon you’ll get ripped off by the flaky minicabs hovering outside. But you find us a proper black cab. We sit on opposite sides of the big back seat. Up the mangy Old Kent Road we go, across the dark river with both banks twinkling. Past the City, castles of light.

The taxi metre ticks up and up. “Hesham, I can’t split the fare on this!”

“Oh! I should have said. I’ll get it.”

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Escape Pod 507: The Call of the Sky


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.

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Escape Pod 500: The Man Who Lost the Sea


The Man Who Lost the Sea

By Theodore Sturgeon

[EDITOR: This was originally released as audio-only, and we don’t have the rights to post the text of this story. It’s widely available online by searching.]

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Escape Pod 499: Sounding the Fall


Sounding the Fall

by Jei D. Marcade

Sometimes, Narae can almost convince emself that the AI’s Voice was a dream. Some kind of minor stroke misremembered, a neurological glitch retroactively given recognizable shape.

But sometimes–less frequently of late, but still, sometimes–Narae wakes to find emself sitting up in the dark, jaw slack, a sustained, atonal note spooling from the back of eir throat.


Narae steps through the open archway of the southwestern gate, bare toes curling in the cool blades of real grass with which the temple grounds are seeded. The lotus-shaped lanterns hanging from the eaves go dim as the sun activates, and from its single-tiered pagoda at the top of the hill behind em, the morning bell tolls.

The alms left anonymously against the outer wall in the night include a couple bolts of inert grey fabric, some bags of rice, and a stack of real tea bricks. Upon hefting the rice, Narae’s eyebrows inch toward the shadow of eir hairline at each bag’s weight: not synthetic either, these. Something that is part bemusement, part nostalgia tugs at the corners of Narae’s mouth, and ey shakes eir head as ey piles the bags and bolts into the bottom of the wheelbarrow before turning to gather the rest.

There, on the topmost tea brick, tucked along the raised edge of an elaborate curlicue that must have gone overlooked when the temple’s faceless benefactor hastily scraped off the embossed logo, is a perfectly rolled joint.

Narae plucks the thing up by one tip and crosses the outer lawn, ready to cast it over the rail that wraps around the temple grounds and down along the winding stone staircase to the lower levels.

Steady as a heartbeat, the temple’s morning drum begins to sound out. When its reverberations subside, they leave an even deeper reservoir of silence behind them.

Narae falters at the edge of the lawn. Ey brings the roll of rice paper to eir nose, gives it a tentative sniff, and releases an explosive sigh; Narae would bet a week’s worth of chores that it’s real–none of that backstreet synth hash with its foul aftertaste. Muttering a guilty prayer, ey palms the joint.

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Escape Pod 496: Falling Through Creation


Falling Through Creation

by Mark Robert Philps

HD 168443 b — Extra-Solar Terrestrial Planet, Silicate Core, Active Plate Tectonics

We drift in warm lighted liquid and dream of a home that we have never known. Below us the dead world hangs in space, its mantle loose and wrinkled like dusty grey skin. We fire probes, watch as they arc towards the planet in long loops of light.

We wonder if this planet is our planet. Will we find some trace of our people here?

The probes have laser cutters and diamond drills and they burrow deep into the planet core. We collect samples from the surface and test them. This had once been a lush world, a garden in a droplet of water, trembling in the void. Now it is dead, the atmosphere a noxious soup, and we can feel only its past in the rocks that remain.

This world is not our home.

We play cards while the probes do their work. You always win. Remember how Father would drift above us–a short man, even for a human, pudgy, bald and smiling, some kind of Buddha in a wetsuit–teaching us how to play? How he would laugh as we pincered the oversized polymer cards between jet-black mandibles. Now the cards are slick with the residue of our feeling for him.

We play for a long time. Days, weeks, months–it is easy to forget that time moves differently for us, faster than it does for Father and the other humans.

They are liars. They use us. You share this once, many times.

They let us leave, I reply. They could have killed us.

I don’t remind you that it was because of your anger, your frustration, your rejection of ignorance, that we are out on the edge of the void, alone and separated from Father and the Star-City where he raised us. I don’t care about these things. Besides, you are the mercurial one. The stronger one.

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