Posts Tagged ‘space’

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Escape Pod 564: Trusted Messenger


Trusted Messenger

by Kevin Wabaunsee

Dr. Thaddeus Begay had been expecting a dying child in the exam room, but no one had said anything about a woman half-dead from starvation. He stepped inside and muscled the door shut—like the rest of the clinic, it was made from metal reclaimed from the original dropship, and like everything else in the colony, it didn’t quite fit right.

“Good morning,” Thad said.

“Hello there,” the woman said. Her tone was probably meant to be cheerful, but to Thad, it sounded like it took significant effort.

Thad frowned. His nurse must have made a mistake. A woman had burst into the clinic without an appointment, the nurse had said, demanding help for her sick child.

But the woman sitting on the examination table with her child was thin to the point of starvation. Cheeks deeply sunken; the outline of her ribs and collarbone sharp through her tank top. Her hair, like her shirt, was thin and plastered against her flesh with sweat. On her lap sat a little boy of about a year and a half, had jet-black hair and deep brown eyes, and cheeks that were flushed with a painful crimson rash. Still, he looked healthier than his mother.

Thad dragged a stool over to her. It squealed across the faint outlines of the struts and tie-downs and internal dividing walls that had once honeycombed the massive storage container that now served as the colony’s clinic.

He glanced back at the chart—her name was Suzanne Buenaventura. He glanced at her vitals, and nearly gagged when he saw her records from the colony ship. She’d been more than 215 pounds when the dropships had landed. Sitting on the exam table, she didn’t look like she’d top 110. “And what seems to be the problem this morning, Mrs. Buenaventura?”

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Escape Pod 562: Meltwater


Meltwater

by Benjamin C. Kinney

My beloved waits for me in the flooded church. She’s died one time too many, and I can’t get her back without her help. At least, at last, it gives me a reason to see her again.

The church lies at the edge of the Mediterranean fracture, below cliffs barely eight thousand years old. Glacial melt pours down the precipice, filling the air with a fine frigid mist. Rime ice coats the façade, making the church look like a sharp-clawed hand locked in melting wax. Another fork drops me off in a flier, leaving me alone in the valley with my pack and what few memories I can carry.

Boulders and high water have turned the entrance into a scramble over icy stone. My lungs heave against thin cold air as I catch my breath in the nave atop a half-submerged pile of boulders. There’s just enough dry space for me to stand upright. I wish I’d taken a different body, but for this task—for me—only the traditional shape will do.

I first spot Emlune as a glowing line of blue. Her primary lamp cuts across the chamber, and the air glimmers with frozen mist. She clings to the vaulted ceiling with eight articulated limbs. Smaller lights spangle her teardrop-shaped chassis, as if she had swum in water rich with bioluminescent algae.

I cup my hands in front of my mouth. “Emlune!”

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Escape Pod 560: Run


Run

By C.R. Hodges

The claxon blares three times: all clear. We file out of the underground shelter and up the serpentine lava tube. Our semi-annual hibernation drill, bureaucratic gibberish for run down to the emergency shelter and hide, is now monthly. I’m all for avoiding nuclear annihilation, but I wish the drills weren’t scheduled so close to lunar sunset.

I jostle my way toward the front of the long line headed for the surface modules. It’s been fourteen Earth days since I’ve talked to my best friend. Sure we could have emailed or texted, even from two-hundred and thirty-nine thousand miles away, but that would be cheating. We’re the Interplanetary Morse Code Club. Sally is President, Earth District; I’m Vice President of Lunar Operations. It’s a small club.

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Escape Pod 556: In a Manner of Speaking


In a Manner of Speaking

By Charity Tahmaseb

I use the last of the good candles to build the radio. I still have light. The fire burns, and there is a never-ending supply of the cheap, waxy candles in the storeroom. I will–eventually–burn through all of those. My fire will die. The cold will invade this space.

But today I have a radio. Today I will speak to the world–or what’s left of it. I compare my radio to the picture in the instructions. It looks the same, but not all the steps had illustrations. This troubles me. My radio may not work.

I crank the handle to charge the battery. This feels good. This warms my arms, and I must take deep breaths to keep going. I shake out my hand and crank some more. When buzz and static fill my ears, I nearly jump. That, too, sounds warm. I am so used to the cold. The creak and groan of ice, the howl of the wind. These cold sounds are their own kind of silence. They hold nothing warm or wet or alive.

I decide on a frequency for no other reason than I like the number. I press the button on the mouthpiece. This, according to the instructions, will let the world hear me.

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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 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 541: As Travelers in Sky Boats


As Travelers in Sky Boats

by Kristin Janz

My sister blames the Travelers.  Before they came, she says, we were content within the small world we knew.  No one wondered what lay beyond the flat blue horizon where ocean met sky, or who journeyed between the stars.  Children never complained that there was an easier way to mend fishing nets, that they did not like the taste of seaweed.  Men did not abandon responsibilities to pursue the impossible fantasy of becoming Travelers themselves.

One rainy night, when both she and the water leaking through our roof were keeping me awake, I told her that she sounded like a Traveler when she spoke that way.  Who was she–or they–to tell me how I should live, what I could know or not know?

She did not speak to me the rest of that night or most of the day that followed.  I did not enjoy her silence as much as I had expected to.

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Escape Pod 535: Bluejay


Bluejay

By Edward Ashton

Micah steps from the shuttle and onto the tarmac, eyes slitted against the hard north wind that whips across the empty runway. The sky is a flat, leaden gray, with high thin clouds too light for snow, but too thick to let the sun come through as anything more than a vague, diffuse glow near the southern horizon. Micah hunches his shoulders against the bitter cold, ducks his chin to his chest, and pulls his coat tight around him. He hesitates, glances up at the desolate stand of dead trees at the far end of the runway, then walks slowly toward the terminal building.

A sense of uneasiness, which has lurked deep in his belly since he boarded the shuttle, grows steadily as it becomes increasingly clear that he’s alone here. He hadn’t expected an honor guard, but he’d expected… something. As he reaches the terminal entrance, he looks back to see the shuttle wheel around and accelerate back down the runway. He pauses with his hand on the door. He can see through the glass that a half-dozen bodies are sprawled on the floor inside, perfectly preserved. He takes a deep breath in, then lets it out slowly as he enters the building. The scream of the shuttle’s engines fades as the door swings shut behind him.

As he climbs the frozen escalator to the arrivals lounge, Micah remembers the last time he passed through this airport. It was years ago, and he’d been on his way to visit a distant cousin in the North Country. He remembers stopping for a drink before heading to the rental car counter, intending to stay only long enough to take the edge off before a four hour drive, but instead spending most of the afternoon drinking crappy domestic beer and trading double entendres with the bartender. She was tall and lean and blonde, not young, but not yet old either, and her smile caught and held him long after he should have been on the road.

She’s dead now, of course. Lake Ontario was the epicenter. When the strike came, it was twelve thousand miles in any direction from here to safety.

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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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