Summary: The Science Fiction Podcast Magazine. Each week Escape Pod delivers science fiction short stories from today's best authors. Listen today, and hear the new sound of science fiction!
By Ferrett Steinmetz Read by Mur Lafferty Discuss on our forums. Originally appeared in Asimov’s All stories by Ferrett Steinmetz All stories read by Mur Lafferty Rated 15 and up for violence “Run,” Bakri Says By Ferrett Steinmetz “I just want to know where my brother is,” Irena yells at the guards. The English words are thick and slow on her tongue, like honey. She holds her hands high in the air; the gun she’s tucked into the back of her pants jabs at her spine. She doesn’t want to kill the soldiers on this iteration; she’s never killed anyone before, and doesn’t want to start. But unless she can get poor, weak Sammi out of that prison in the next fifty/infinity minutes, they’ll start in on him with the rubber hoses and he’ll tell them what he’s done. And though she loves her brother with all her heart, it would be a blessing then if the Americans beat him to death. The guards are still at the far end of the street, just before the tangle of barbed wire that bars the prison entrance. Irena stands still, lets them approach her, guns out. One is a black man, the skin around his eyes creased with a habitual expression of distrust; a fringe of white hair and an unwavering aim marks him as a career man. The other is a younger man, squinting nervously, his babyfat face the picture of every new American soldier. Above them, a third soldier looks down from his wooden tower, reaching for the radio at his belt. She hopes she won’t get to know them. This will be easier if all they do is point guns and yell. It’ll be just like Sammi’s stupid videogames. “My brother,” she repeats, her mouth dry; it hurts to raise her arms after the rough surgery Bakri’s done with an X-acto knife and some fishing line. “His name is Sammi Daraghmeh. You rounded him up last night, with many other men. He is – ” Their gazes catch on the rough iron manacle dangling from her left wrist. She looks up, remembers that Bakri installed a button on the tether so she could rewind, realizes the front of her cornflower-blue abayah is splotched with blood from her oozing stitches. “Wait.” She backs away. “I’m not – ” The younger soldier yells, “She’s got something!” They open fire. Something tugs at her neck, parting flesh; another crack, and she swallows her own teeth. She tries to talk but her windpipe whistles; her body betrays her, refusing to move as she crumples to the ground, willing herself to keep going. Nothing listens. This is death, she thinks. This is what it’s like to die. # “Run,” Bakri says, and Irena is standing in an alleyway instead of dying on the street – gravity’s all wrong and her muscles follow her orders again. Her arms and legs flail and she topples face-first into a pile of rotting lettuce. The gun Bakri has just pressed into her hands falls to the ground. Dying was worse than she’d thought. Her mind’s still jangled with the shock, from feeling all her nerves shrieking in panic as she died. She shudders in the garbage, trying to regain strength. Bakri picks her up. “What is your goal?” he barks, keeping his voice low so the shoppers at the other end of the grocery store’s alleyway don’t hear. Why is he asking me that? she thinks, then remembers: all the others went insane. She wouldn’t even be here if Farhouz hadn’t slaughtered seventeen soldiers inside the Green Zone. It takes an effort to speak. “To – to rescue Sammi.” “Good.” The tension drains from his face. He looks so relieved that Irena thinks he might burst into tears. “What iteration? You did iterate, right?” “Two,” she says numbly, understanding what his relief means: he didn’t know. He’d sent her off to be shot, unsure whether he[...]
By N. K. Jemisin Read by Mur Lafferty Discuss on our forums. Originally appeared in Weird Tales All stories by N. K. Jemisin All stories read by Mur Lafferty Rated 15 and up for language The girl was perfect. Her framing, the engine at her core, the intricate web of connections holding her objects together, built-in redundancies… Meroe had never seen such efficiency. The girl’s structure was simple because she didn’t need any of the shortcuts and workarounds that most of their kind required to function. There was no bloat to her, no junk code slowing her down, no patchy sores that left her vulnerable to infection. “She’s a thing of beauty, isn’t she?” Faster said. Meroe returned to interface view. He glanced at Zo and saw the same suspicion lurking in her beatific expression. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Meroe said, watching Zo, speaking to Faster. “We don’t grow that way.” “I know!” Faster was pacing, gesticulating, caught up in his own excitement. He didn’t notice Meroe’s look. “She must have evolved from something professionally-coded. Maybe even Government Standard. I didn’t think we could be born from that!” They couldn’t. Meroe stared at the girl, not liking what he was seeing. The avatar was just too well-designed, too detailed. Her features and coloring matched that of some variety of Latina; probably Central or South American given the noticeable indigenous traits. Most of their kind created Caucasian avatars to start — a human minority who for some reason comprised the majority of images available for sampling in the Amorph. And most first avatars had bland, nondescript faces. This girl had clear features, right down to her distinctively-formed lips and chin — and hands. It had taken five versionings for Meroe to get his own hands right. “Did you check out her feature-objects?” Faster asked, oblivious to Meroe’s unease. “Why?” Zo answered. “Two of them are standard add-ons — an aggressive defender and a diagnostic tool. The other two we can’t identify. Something new.” Her lips curved in a smile; she knew how he would react. (Note: We secured only audio rights to this story, so there will be no website version.)
By George R. Galuschak Read by Mat Weller Discuss on our forums. Originally appeared on Strange Horizons All stories by George R. Galuschak All stories read by Mat Weller Rated 15 and up for language Counting Cracks By George R. Galuschak Four of us, jammed into my sister’s Ford Festiva, going to kill the monster. Sylvia drives. The Hum has left her untouched, so she’s the only one left in town who can drive. My sister licks the palm of her hand, touches it to her nose and bumps her forehead against the steering wheel. Then she does it again. “Today would be nice, sis.” I say. I’m in the back seat with June, a twelve-year old girl clutching a teddy bear to her chest. “I’m going as fast as I can,” she tells me. “It’s bad today.” “The Shop-Rite has three hundred and fifty-seven ceiling tiles,” Michael tells me. He’s a little kid, nine years old, sitting up front with Sylvia. “I counted them.” “Inpatient oranges creep handsome banisters,” June says, rolling her eyes. “Good for you,” I say. My left leg hurts, which I guess is a good sign. My left arm feels like dead weight except for the tips of my fingers, which are tingly. “Do you count tiles, Mr. Bruschi?” Michael asks. “No. I counted cracks on the sidewalk. When I was a kid.” A sparrow collides with the windshield. It bounces off and skitters to the pavement, where it thrashes. I haven’t seen a living bird in days. It must have flown into the Hum. “Swill,” June says, pointing at the bird. “Maraschino cherries. Skittles. Cocktail weenies.” “All right. I’m ready.” Sylvia twists the key, and the car starts. We back out of the driveway. “The streets are so empty,” she says. “That’s because everyone is dead,” Michael tells her. “They listened to the Hum and went into their houses and pulled the covers over their heads and died. I had a hamster that died, once. It got real old, so it made a little nest, and then it laid down in it and died.” “We’re not dead,” I say. “Not yet,” Michael corrects me. “Give it time.” # It started a week ago. Tuesday morning, hot day, storm clouds gathering like bad thoughts. I walked out to my car. I was going to work, the way normal people do. I’m not normal, but I’ve gotten good at pretending. I saw a robin fluttering its wings on the sidewalk. At first I thought its back was broken, but when I came closer it squawked and ran onto the lawn. It gave a little hop, flapping its wings, and then hopped again. I put my hands to my temples. My head hurt. I hadn’t slept well the night before, and I could feel the beginnings of a migraine forming. I looked at the robin, hopping and flapping its wings on my lawn. It didn’t look injured; it looked like it had forgotten how to fly. I shrugged and walked away. The bird’s behavior was strange, but I needed to get to work. So I went. When I drove home that evening the sidewalks and streets were covered with birds, all squawking and flapping their wings. The bird story made the nightly news. The newswoman stood in Buehler Park surrounded by a flock of distressed pigeons. She talked too loud and stumbled over her words. Her voice sounded a bit slurred, like she was drunk. “Put something else on,” my wife said. We were eating dinner in front of the TV, the way we did when things were good between us. “All right.” I shrugged and switched the channel. We watched a movie, and I forgot all about the birds. The next morning my wife went blind. # We pull into Shop-Rite’s parking lot. Normally it’s jam-packed. They average three fender-benders a week, because the designers of the lot made the lanes too small, the spaces too tight. But today we drive right in. “This is far enough[...]
By Jay Lake Read by Josh Roseman Discuss on our forums. Originally appeared on Tor.com All stories by Jay Lake All stories read by Josh Roseman Rated 13 and up for content The Speed of Time by Jay Lake “Light goes by at the speed of time,” Marlys once told me. That was a joke, of course. Light can be slowed to a standstill in a photon trap, travel on going nowhere at all forever in the blueing distance of an event horizon, or blaze through hard vacuum as fast as information itself moves through the universe. Time is relentless, the tide which measures the perturbations of the cosmos. The 160.2 GHz hum of creation counts the measure of our lives as surely as any heartbeat. There is no t in e=mc2. I’d argued with her then, missing her point back when understanding her might have mattered. Now, well, nothing much at all mattered. Time has caught up with us all. # Let me tell you a story about Sameera Glasshouse. She’d been an ordinary woman living an ordinary life. Habitat chemistry tech, certifications from several middle-tier authorities, bouncing from contract to contract in trans-Belt space. Ten thousand women, men and inters just like her out there during the Last Boom. We didn’t call it that then, no one knew the expansion curve the solar economy had been riding was the last of anything. The Last Boom didn’t really have a name when it was underway, except maybe to economists. Sameera had been pair-bonded to a Jewish kid from Zion Luna, and kept the surname long after she’d dropped Roz from her life. For one thing, “Glasshouse” scandalized her Lebanese grandmother, which was a reward in itself. She was working a double ticket on the Enceladus Project master depot, in low orbit around that particular iceball. That meant pulling shift-on-shift week after week, but Sameera got an expanded housing allocation and a fatter pay packet for her trouble. The E.P. got to schlep one less body to push green inside their habitat scrubbers. Everybody won. Her spare time was spent wiring together Big Ears, to listen for the chatter that flooded bandwidth all over the solar system. Human beings are — were — noisy. Launch control, wayfinding, birthday greetings, telemetry, banking queries, loneliness, porn. It was all out there, multiplied and ramified beyond comprehension by the combination of lightspeed lag, language barriers and sheer, overwhelming complexity. Some folks back then claimed there were emergent structures in the bandwidth, properties of the sum of all that chatter which could not be accounted for by analysis of the components. This sort of thinking had been going around since the dawn of information theory — call it information fantasy. The same hardwired pareidolia that made human beings see the hand of God in the empirical universe also made us hear Him in the electronic shrieking of our tribe. Sameera never really believed any of it, but she’d heard some very weird things listening in. In space, it was always midnight, and ghosts never stopped playing in the bandwidth. When she’d picked up a crying child on a leaky sideband squirt out of a nominally empty vector, she’d just kept hopping frequencies. When she’d tuned on the irregular regularity of a coded data feed that seemed to originate from deep within Saturn’s atmosphere, she’d just kept hopping frequencies. But one day God had called Sameera by name. Her voice crackled out of the rising fountain of energy from an extragalactic gamma ray burst, whispering the three syllables over and over and over in a voice which resonated down inside the soft tissues of Sameera’s body, made her joints ache, jellied the very resolve of the soul that she had not known she possessed until that exact moment. Sameera Glasshouse shut down her Big Ears, wiped the logic blocks, dumped the memory, then made her way down to the master depot’s tiny sacramentarium. Most p[...]
By Ursula Pflug Read by Christiana Ellis Discuss on our forums. Originally appeared in Anthology Series: Tesseracts # 3, 1991 All stories by Ursula Pflug All stories read by Christiana Ellis Rated 13 and up for language This episode has been brought to you by Audible. Visit http://AudiblePodcast.com/escapepod for a free trial membership*. Audible® Free Trial Details * Get your first 30 days of the AudibleListener® Gold membership plan free, which includes one credit. In almost all cases, one credit equals one audiobook. After your 30 day trial, your membership will automatically renew each month for just $14.95, billed to the credit card you used when you registered with Audible. With your membership, you will receive one credit per month plus members-only discounts on all audio purchases. If you cancel your membership before your free trial period is up, you will not be charged. Thereafter, cancel anytime, effective the next billing cycle. See the complete terms and policy applicable to Audible memberships. The Water Man by Ursula Pflug The water man came today. I waited all morning, and then all afternoon, painting plastic soldiers to pass the time. Red paint too in the sky when he finally showed; I turned the outside lights on for him and held the door while he carried the big bottles in. He set them all in a row just inside the storm door; there wasn’t any other place to put them. When he was done he stood catching his breath, stamping his big boots to warm his feet. Melting snow made little muddy lakes on the linoleum. I dug in my jeans for money to tip him with, knowing I wouldn’t find any. Finally I just offered him water. We drank together. It was cool and clean and good, running down our throats in the dimness of the store. It made me feel wide and quiet, and I watched his big eyes poke around Synapses, checking us out, and while they did, mine snuck a peek at him. He was big and round, and all his layers of puffy clothes made him seem rounder still, like a black version of the Michelin man. He unzipped his parka and I could see a name, Gary, stitched in red over the pocket of his blue coverall. I still didn’t have a light on; usually I work in the dark, save the light bill for Deb. But I switched it on when he coughed and he smiled at that, like we’d shared a joke. He had a way of not looking right at you or saying much, but somehow you still knew what he was thinking. Like I knew that he liked secrets, and talking without making sounds. It was neat. Seemed to me it was looking water–a weird thought out of nowhere–unless it came from him. He seemed to generate them; like he could stand in the middle of a room and in everyone’s minds, all around him, weird little thoughts would start cropping up–like that one. My tummy sloshing I looked too, and seemed to see through his eyes and not just mine. Through his I wasn’t sure how to take it: a big dim room haunted by dinosaurs. All the junk of this century comes to rest at Synapses; it gets piled to the ceilings and covered with dust. If it’s lucky it makes a Head; weird Heads are going to be the thing for Carnival this year, just as they were last, and Debbie’s are the best. Her finished products are grotesque, but if you call that beautiful then they are; the one she just finished dangles phone cords like Medusa’s hair, gears like jangling medals. Shelves of visors glint under the ceiling fixture; inlaid with chips and broken bits of circuitry, they hum like artifacts from some Byzantium that isn’t yet. Two faced Janus masks, their round doll eyes removed; you can wear them either way, male or female, to look in or out. Gary was staring at them, a strange expression on his face. Like he wanted to throw up. “Do you think they’re good?” I asked, to stop him looking like that. “Good enough,” he said, “if you like dinosaurs.” “I like them. They are strange and wonderful.” “But dinosaurs all the[...]
By James L. Cambias Read by Mur Lafferty Discuss on our forums. Originally appeared in All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, edited by David Moles, 2004 All stories by James L. Cambias All stories read by Mur Lafferty Rated all ages. Zeppelins! The Eckener Alternative by James L. Cambias The Hindenburg swung gently on the mast at Lakehurst as the sky over New Jersey turned to purple twilight. All the passengers, the reporters, the newsreel men were gone. A couple of sailors stood guard beneath the big ship to enforce the no-smoking rule. John Cavalli waited until the watchman below had turned away, then slid down the stern rope to the ground. He hunkered down next to the big rolling anchor weight for a couple of minutes, then hurried off into the darkness beyond the floodlights. Once he was clear, Cavalli stopped to peel off the Russian army arctic commando suit he’d been wearing ever since the Zeppelin had lifted off from Frankfurt-am-Main. It had kept him warm as he hid among the gas cells with his IR goggles and fire extinguisher, but now in the warmth of a spring evening it was stifling. He hit the RETURN button on his wristband and disappeared. # “You can’t make big changes,” said the instructor the first day of Temporal Studies class. He was a very laid-back physicist recruited from California in 2020s. “That’s the most important rule. The folks we work for are the result of a particular set of historical events. Change history too much and their probability level drops below 50 percent. If that happens, all this” — his gesture encompassed the Time Center — goes away and we’re out of a job. If we even exist anymore.” A student in the row ahead of Cavalli raised his hand. “What about making little changes?” “Little changes are fine. We make little changes all the time. Most of them are things like making long-term investments, buying up art treasures for safekeeping, keeping species from going extinct, that kind of thing. You’re going to learn all about gauging the effect of changes, avoiding heterodynes and chaotic points, and when it’s okay to step on butterflies.” Cavalli was listening, but in the margin of his notebook he was doodling airships. # The timegate stage was dark and the control room was empty, just as he’d left it. The Coke can was still on the console. Was it maybe a little further to the left than he remembered? He stepped off the stage and took a drink. Still tasted the same. It would take a pretty big timeshift to change the flavor of Coca-Cola. Cavalli locked the door behind him with his purloined master key (the Time Center used mechanical locks because they were a bit more resistant to minor time-shifts) and headed for the library. He found a book about Zeppelins he didn’t remember and skimmed the pages. Hindenburg served safely until 1939; scrapped when WWII broke out. No postwar Zeppelins. The usual “return of the airship” speculations. Damn. It hadn’t worked. He had hoped erasing the vivid image of the Hindenburg fire would have been enough to keep passenger airships alive, but the war still marked the end of their era. # “So why don’t we stop things like the Holocaust or the firebombing of Dresden?” It was a relatively quiet dorm room party with half a dozen trainees blowing off steam after the first written exam. Cavalli didn’t see who asked the question, but he sounded drunk. Anna Kyle, the third-year trainee, answered. “Too big. The models predict major shifts in the 21st Century if there’s no Holocaust. You lose the Cold War and the whole Jihad era. We just stay away from World War II if we can help it. Rescue a few things from museums before they get flattened, take some videos for historians, that’s all.” “Why not stop the whole war?[...]
By Craig DeLancey Read by Rajan Khanna Discuss on our forums. Originally appeared in Analog All stories by Craig DeLancey All stories read by Rajan Khanna Rated 15 and up for language, drug abuse Asteroid Monte by Craig DeLancey “You don’t look like an omnivore.” I was supposed to spend the next several years working side-by-side with this bear monster thing from an unpronounceable planet, and the first words she speaks to me are these. “Excuse me?” “Your teeth are flat,” she hissed. “Like a herbivore’s.” I had been waiting in the tiered square outside the Hall of Harmony, main office of the Galactic police force officially called the Harmonizers, but which everyone really called the Predators. Neelee-ornor is one of those planets that makes me a believer. Cities crowd right into forests as thick as the Amazon, and both somehow thrive with riotous abandon. It proves the Galactic creed really means something. Something worth fighting for. Something that could get me to take this thankless job. So I waited to meet my partner, as I sat on a cool stone bench under a huge branch dripping green saprophytes. The air was damp but smelled, strangely, like California after the rain, when I would leave CalTech and hike into the hills. I almost didn’t want her to show, so I could sit and enjoy it. I really knew only three things about her. She had about two e-years under her belt as a Predator. She was a Sussuratian, a race of fierce bearlike carnivores evolved from predatory pack animals, only a century ahead of humanity in entering Galactic Culture. And she was named Briaathursiasaliantiormethessess. God help me. I rose awkwardly every time a Sussuratian passed, only to sit again after it walked on. Finally I gave up, and then a moment later a Sussuratian bounded out of the passing crowds, and addressed me with this comment about my eating habits. I sprung off the bench and bowed slightly. “I am Tarkos.” We were talking Galactic. But my Galactic is pretty good, really. Better than hers, I was betting. Her name, however, was a Sussuratian name, and in that language a human larynx was hopeless. Well, here goes. “I am honored to meet you Briaathursiasaliantiormethessess.” She was about six feet long, with short dark fur that had black and green and gold patterns in it reminiscent of a boa. She was a quadraped, and walked on all fours, her claws clicking. Now she sat back on her haunches and put her front hands together, threading the seven claws on one hand through the seven on the other. The effect was a Kodiak holding a bouquet of knives. Her four eyes — two large green ones set below two small black ones — fixed on me. “I am called Briaathursiasaliantiormethessess,” she said. I bowed slightly again. “Yes. I apologize for my pronunciation.” I took a deep breath and tried again. “Briaathursiasaliantiormethessess.” “No,” she said, speaking now very slowly. “It’s Briaathursiasaliantiormethessess.” For the life of me her pronunciation sounded exactly like mine. Except with a bunch of hissing involved in all the S’s. “Can I just call you Bria?” Her small black eyes closed. I knew that expressed something – impatience? Disgust? Chagrin? I couldn’t remember. It’s hard to learn emotional expressions from a crash video course. “This assignment is of great importance and could be perilous,” she said. “I told them I didn’t want to work with a human.” “Well, thanks for your honesty.” She ran her long, dark-red tongue over fangs longer than my fingers. Maybe she understood human sarcasm, because this 300-kilo carnivore then offered an explanation: “You’re dangerous. I fear you.” I nodded. “Yeah. I hear that a lot.” _____ I didn’t[...]
By James L. Sutter Read by Wilson Fowlie Discuss on our forums. Originally appeared in Apex Magazine in December, 2009 All stories by James L Sutter All stories read by Wilson Fowlie Rated 15 and up for language, drug abuse Overclocking by James L. Sutter They’re waiting for him when he comes out of the tank. Whether plainclothes or just another pair of clockers, he can’t quite tell, but the way they avoid looking in his direction tips him off in a heartbeat. When Ari Marvel walks by, you _look_. They start drifting idly in his direction, and that clinches things. Reaching down into the lining of his pocket, Ari palms the whole batch and trails his hand over the edge of the bridge railing. The brittle grey modsticks crumble with ease, and by the time the two have dropped their cover and made the sting he’s moved smoothly into position, hands against the brick and legs spread wide. The pigs don’t even thank him for being so efficient. The patdown’s rougher than necessary, but after a minute they throw their hoods back up and move off down the street. Ari runs his hands through his faded blue-green spikes, then takes the stairs down to the tube. A beginner might have lingered at the railing and thought about all the time and money now floating down the culvert, but Ari doesn’t look back. Necessary expenditures. Expected losses. It’s just business, baby. # Back at the pad, Maggie’s waiting by the door. She looks like hell: hair in ratty dreads, shirt stained with god-knows-what. Crust in her eyes. “Hey, Ari,” she says. Ari slides his keycard into the lock, checking first to see if the hair he put over the swipestripe has been moved. Still there. It doesn’t mean that nobody’s been there, of course–just that if they have been, they’re good enough that there’s no point in worrying about it. You win some, you lose some. Inside, it looks like he’s won. Maggie plops down on the couch, worrying a hangnail that’s started to bleed. Her foot taps on the coffee table. “Hey,” she says again. He drops his coat onto the chair and moves into the kitchen to get a soda. She picks up the remote and begins flipping rapidly through the channels, then turns the set off again. Eventually he leaves the can on the counter and comes back into the living room, sitting down on the coffee table across from her and taking her hands. “Maggie, look at me.” She does–or, at least, as well as she’s able to at this point. “I’m only going to say this once. You’re welcome to crash here, but you’re not getting a fix. I won’t have that in my house. You understand?” She nods–those wide doe eyes the color of egg yolk–then goes back to gnawing at her thumb. He stands and leaves her there, entering the bedroom and closing the door. Once it’s locked, he jimmies loose the bottom drawer of the dresser and flips a wad of sweaty bills into the crudely carved hollow. Then he drops fully clothed onto the mattress and covers his eyes with his forearm, blocking out the ruddy afternoon light that still filters in through heavy curtains. Out in the apartment, he can hear her moving about restlessly. He’s doing it again. It doesn’t matter that he knows how it’ll end, that he knows how it _has_ ended more than once. It’s simply a given: she’ll show up. He’ll let her in. Things will proceed accordingly. He bears down with his arm until the muted red of his eyelids turns to black, and then to stars. The worst of it is that even through the filth, he can still see her. Inside the shell of those dreads, her hair is still gold verging on white, so fine as to be almost intangible. Behind the bruises and bags, her eyes would still crinkle upward if she smiled. And if he opened his arms, she might still flow into them like water, sparkling and warm and full of life. Ari is not a stupid man, but Maggie is an exception. Eyes clenched tight, Ari curls up on his side and falls asleep. # Any idiot wi[...]
By Ferrett Steinmetz Read by Dave Thompson Discuss on our forums. An Escape Pod Original! All stories by Ferrett Steinmetz All stories read by Dave Thompson Rated 15 and up for language, brief sexual imagery, brief violent imagery Devour By Ferrett Steinmetz “I want some water,” Sergio says. The bicycle chains clank as he strains to put his feet on the floor. Sergio designed his own restraints. He had at least fifteen plumbers on his payroll who could have installed the chains – but Sergio’s never trusted anything he didn’t build with his own hands. So he deep-drilled gear mounts into our guest room’s floral wallpaper, leaving me to string greased roller chains through the cast-iron curlicues of the canopy bed. “You’re doing well, Bruce,” he lied, trying to smile – but his lips were already desiccated, pulled too tight at the edges. Not his lips at all. I slowed him down; I had soft lawyer’s hands, more used to keyboards than Allen wrenches. Yet we both knew it would be the last time we could touch each other. So I asked for help I didn’t need, and he took my hands in his to guide the chains through what he referred to as “the marionette mounts.” Then he sat on the bed and held out his wrists while I snapped the manacles on – the chamois lining was my idea – and we kissed. It was a long, slow kiss that needed to summarize thirty-two years of marriage. And it should have been comforting, but his mouth was a betrayal. His lips had resorbed from their lush plumpness. His tongue had withdrawn to a stub. His kiss still sent flutters down my spine. I pressed my hands against his back, moving towards making love, but Sergio pushed me away. ”We don’t know how transmissible this is,” he said. Then he tugged on the chains to verify he could lie down and sit up, but not leave the bed. I pressed the keys into his palm, trying to burn the feeling of his skin into mine forever. He snipped the keys in half with a bolt-cutter, then flung it all into the corner. “That’s that,” he said, and rolled away from me to cry. My arms ached - still ache – from not being able to hold him. Six days later, I’m still here. And Sergio is still leaving. “I want some water,” he repeats now. Louder, more insistent. Too angry to be really Sergio. “You never wanted water before,” I say, keeping a careful distance from the bed. ”You like orange juice.” Sergio tries to put his head in his hands. The chains pull him short. “For Christ’s sake, Bruce,” he says. ”I’m dying. There are going to be changes.” “Yes,” I say guardedly. ”There are.” “And it’s apple cider I like. In a chilled glass. From the local guao yan, no, orchard – and not that sugared crap you like. Don’t try to trick me, okay? It’s just insulting to.” He almost says to us, but then shudders. “I’m not going to do anything crazy with water,” he begs. ”I can’t turn it into. what’s the word? Flamethrowers. It’s water. I’m just. thirsty. I’ll fight with you about the things that matter, but. “Just get me some damn water!” he barks. I stare at him, knowing the old Sergio never yelled, wondering how much is left. Because I can see the traces of a young Sergio within the thing trapped in the four-poster right now. Sergio always had that perfect, youthful mix of good cheekbones and lean muscle. Now, his thighs and biceps are swollen like a hormone-stuffed steer – but aside from that, Sergio would be the envy of any plastic surgeon. His crow’s feet have been pulled from his skin, his collagen replenished. His hair, once a brilliant mane of salt-and-pepper curls, has turned a lank black at the roots. It looks like some horrid[...]
By Keffy R. M. Kehrli Read by Mur Lafferty Discuss on our forums. Originally appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show. All stories by Keffy R. M. Kehrli All stories read by Mur Lafferty Rated 13 and up The Ghost of a Girl Who Never Lived By Keffy R. M. Kehrli I am Sara’s second body. My first memory is of Sara’s resurrection in a room that smelled of cotton balls and hydrogen peroxide. “That’s funny,” a man said. The world felt raw, sore, and new. Under my back, my butt, my fingertips, I could feel every thread in the sheets beneath me. The blanket over my stomach scratched. Padded straps crossed my arms. “What’s funny?” This voice was a woman’s. “Got another error message,” the man answered. “Have you ever seen that one before?” I felt the sheets with Sara’s fingers, and the texture conjured memories I didn’t have. I should have known where I was and what I was there for, but I couldn’t catch hold of the fleeting thoughts. In the dim light of the room I could only see the ceiling. “Let me see.” I heard a frenzied clicking. “It failed twice?” “Nothing copied the first time, so I started over. It got about halfway through, and then it gave me this.” “Error two-one-five-two. Copy error,” the woman said. “I’ve never seen that before. I’ve never even seen an error in the middle of a transplant. Did you check the manual?” “It didn’t list this one.” The woman sighed and said, “The only thing I can think of is if we wipe everything back out and start over.” Operating tables, and the anesthetician’s face. Tissue paper examining tables, candles in a church. “She’s conscious, though,” the man said. “When the machine aborted, it sent the Copy Completed code. Don’t look at me like that! I don’t know if I ought to mess around with it anymore, or…” The woman interrupted, “You know we can’t do that without contacting the parents. Come on, we might as well go see what the damage is.” They stood over me. The man was the younger of the two, and he looked down at me from behind thick glasses. He held his clipboard tight against his chest like a shield. The woman stood closer to me; her hair was light, either blond or grey. She frowned like it was my fault. “Can you hear and understand me?” she asked. The man wrote something on his clipboard. I could hear graphite rubbed free, caught in the paper. My mouth felt dry, and my lips did too, as though if I tried to speak they would break apart. “Yes,” I managed. She unhooked the straps on my arms. I lifted my left arm and looked at the fingers, hand, wrist. Clean, and smooth, unmarked. Cat-scratch scar near my first knuckle, angry red and faded pink. “Do you know why you’re here?” I wanted to say the right thing, but I didn’t know what that would be. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t.” “She’s coherent,” the woman said. “We’ll have to call the parents.” The man nodded, and he was still writing. Scratch scratch scratch. He didn’t answer her. The woman disconnected something that slid out from under the skin of my scalp, and I didn’t like how it rubbed against my skull. “Make sure you tell them that we won’t require the final payment until we get this sorted.” “Copy error,” I said. “Is that why I don’t know where we are?” “Yes, Sara,” she said. “I think.” # I walk until I find a cabin in the woods, the windows broken out by tree branches, by wind and rain and thrown rocks. The door hangs far on its hinges. Shotgun shells, wet with rain. Raccoon droppings. These are the things that litter the floor inside. I step over them in Sara’s boots, into a [...]
Click here for the epub version. Hello everyone, Can we talk about Fringe for a second? It’s somehow managed to survive to a fourth season on Fox, which is a feat in and of itself. But it’s also managed to keep the monsters of the week new and interesting, even when they’re new iterations of the same monsters of the week because we’re now in a slightly more adjacent parallel universe than the one we’d gotten used to. And when the new monsters are the old good guys. It’s also notable for surviving because we’re kind of awash in fantasy on the (American) teevee right now. Grimm, Being Human, and Once Upon a Time are the new-ish ‘genre’ shows, and SyFy, which some of you elderly folks may remember as the SciFi channel, doesn’t have a science fiction series that isn’t imminently headed for the grave. Which is kind of a show of how fickle the fates of TV production is, and how swiftly the tide can shift away once a new shiny happy fun ball enters the room. But Fringe continues to turn in the solid mediations on the endless strange that lurks in the corners of space-time, while keeping you caring about characters even as many of them permutate as the show moves from universe to universe. This month we bring you a trio of stories from Judith Tarr, Randy Henderson, and Zachary Jernigan. They contain dinosaurs, a future of literature or at least novels, and the souls of Earth — in a convenient travel cube. —Bill Bill Peters Assistant Editor Escape Pod
By Zachary Jernigan Read by Matt Franklin of Fly Reckless Discuss on our forums. Originally appeared in Asimov’s, April 2011 All stories by Zachary Jernigan All stories read by Matt Franklin Rated 17-and-up for violence, language, and sexual imagery. Pairs by Zachary Jernigan I had been practicing turning myself into a knife. Between star systems I gathered and focused my particles into a triangle, a sharp shape. Hurling myself against the diamond-hard walls of my small ship, the point of the weapon hardened. I honed myself. You see, I had decided to murder my employer. I had studied his weaknesses and come to believe myself capable of the act. I did not know when and where, nor did I know what would trigger it. I simply knew it had to happen. On that day I would either die or buy myself a measure of freedom. Originally, this was the extent of my plan: To serve myself. My name is Arihant. I am one of two humans still inhabiting a physical form, diminished though it is. Outside the walls of my ship, I am in form a faintly translucent white specter, strong and powerfully built—an artist’s anatomical model. Over the years it has become difficult to remember what my face looked like, and thus my features are only approximately human, my head bare. My eyes glow the color of Earth’s sun. I am quite beautiful, Louca tells me. On more than one occasion she has run her hands over the ghostly contours of my body. “I wish you were solid,” she once said. “Oh, Ari. The things I would do to you.” Louca is the one I am forced to follow and observe. Her name means crazy—an appropriate name. She is the second human possessing a body. Technically, her body is a black, whale-shaped ship one hundred meters long, but her avatars take the forms of anything she imagines. Very rarely, she is human, and never the same person twice. More often, she wears the bodies of flying animals. She dreams of flying, which is appropriate. Our profession is transport. For three centuries we have hauled the disembodied souls of Earth—each stored in a projection cube—from star to star to be sold. They are quite expensive, I am told, but I have no understanding of the means of exchange. Nearly everything is hidden from me, and Louca sees nothing. The reason souls are bought varies. Often they are kept as curios. Sometimes they are used to attract customers to the buyer’s business. My employer used to goad me on these points: “Is it not wonderful to know your people are put to such good use? Imagine how happy it must make them!” But I know the truth. Even without physical bodies, men become lonely. They despair and I feel it. Surely Louca feels it; she goes crazier and crazier in such close proximity to ghosts. Before the events of this story, only the luckiest souls were bought in pairs or groups, a rare occurrence. Now, because of Louca and I, it is the rule that souls must be sold in pairs. It is my one accomplishment, making men marginally less alone. Still, I arrange nothing—I have no power over the situation. I follow Louca from a distance of one hundred thousand kilometers, never any closer, and report anything unusual. I need not watch very closely. Louca’s duty is to dream violent dreams, to defend and deliver her payload. Hopefully, her capacity for violence will never be tested. She is categorically insane—a fact that, my employer insists, makes her uniquely suited to the job of protector. Employer. Job. The terms are ridiculous, for Louca and I are not paid. Our terms of service are not negotiable. I am no one’s employee, but I prefer not to use the word slave. Or master. I cling to life. I value it, though what value it has is measured in a mere handful of molecules. I possess no unique or useful knowledge, only memories. My ship, small though it is, has several lifetimes’ worth of entertainment files. [...]
By Randy Henderson Read by Roberto Suarez Discuss on our forums. An Escape Pod Original! All stories by Randy Henderson All stories read by Roberto Suarez Rated 13-and-up for language. Surviving the eBookalypse by Randy Henderson I entered the City Public Library wearing my plastic replica chainmail and sword, and my suede “book jacket” with a laminated author’s license clipped to the collar. Before me stood a fully automated checkout kiosk for scheduling author recitals. The library floor beyond that was filled with neat rows of author cubicles, each with a desk and chair. Most were occupied. The air was filled with the soft tickity-ticking of keyboards, and the smells of coffee, “New Book” scented air fresheners, and Cup o’ Soup. Heads popped up over cubicle walls in response to the clacking of the door, then disappeared again when they saw I was no customer or potential patron. I understood their disappointed expressions too well. This was not at all where I thought I would be two years after publishing my first e-book. A woman’s smile caught my attention. It was like cherry-haloed sunshine, floating between her neon blue hair and her black lace dress. She emerged from a cube in the Romance section, walked up to me, leaned in close and sniffed at the air. Then she said with the hint of a Mexican accent, “I smell a transfer from Bainbridge library, no? An MFA boy, if I’m not mistaken?” “That obvious?” I asked. “Lucky guess.” She laughed, and flicked my author’s license. “Says so right here.” “Oh. Yes.” I felt the fool. I glanced at her author’s license. “Myra Sweet.” “That’s me,” she said. “So, the great literary novel didn’t work out like you thought it would, eh?” “You’ve heard of my book?” “No, but it’s the same old story. Follow me. I’ll show you around.” She turned and walked away. I followed in the wake of her sugary perfume, and my eyes were drawn down to the swaying of her hips. There lie danger, I felt certain, but tempting danger. On the back of her black suede book jacket were reviews of her work. “Myra Sweet’s recital style would make an audience in Antarctica sweat.” – Romance Recitals Monthly “Sweet lives up to her name with The Bride Wore Pistols. This one has to be heard to be believed.” – Jenna Johnson, Amazon-Random House “Myra Sweet blends sex and action so seamlessly her work deserves a new genre – sextion? Sacxy? Whatever, she’s smoking hot.” – Phoenix Jones I wondered if the reviews were real. I hoped they weren’t. If someone with reviews like that didn’t have a patron supporting her, what chance did I have? I reached back to make sure the blurb for my own book, “Magic Daze and Dark Knights,” was still Velcroed securely to the back of my jacket. We walked past the row of thriller authors, almost exclusively men with crew cuts dressed in various colored jumpsuits and bomber-style book jackets. A few of them gave me an informal salute or a cursory nod as we passed, and their musk cologne made me cough in response. We passed the row of horror authors, with their all-black clothing, red or black hair, and pale skin. Most of them arched a single eyebrow at me, or stared at me until I looked away. Further off I saw cowboys and cowgirls, Renaissance-garbed folks, and business-casual attire. Seeing so many authors of the same genre together just reinforced my opinion that “dressing to genre” was not a good idea for everyone. One man’s mustachio was another man’s weasely whiskers. One woman’s ghostly was another woman’s sickly. It reminded me to straighten my posture and suck in my modest gut. At the back of the library was a “timeline of books” displayed across the wall. We walked along it,[...]
By Judith Tarr Read by Mur Lafferty Discuss on our forums. First published in DINOSAURFANTASTIC from DAW edited by Mike Resnick and Martin H. Greenberg, 1993 All stories by Judith Tarr All stories read by Mur Lafferty REVENANTS by Judith Tarr Janie wanted to pet the pterodactyl. “Here’s the auk,” I said. “Look how soft his feathers are. Look at the dodo, isn’t he funny? Don’t you want to give the quagga a carrot?” Janie wouldn’t even dignify that with disgust. It was the pterodactyl or nothing. Janie is four. At four, all or nothing isn’t a philosophy, it’s universal law. A very intelligent four can argue that this is the Greater Metro Revenants’ Zoo, yes? And this is the room where they keep the ones that can be petted, yes? So why can’t a person pet the pterodactyl? No use explaining that everything else was inoculated and immunized and sterilized and rendered safe for children to handle. Everything but the pterodactyl. They’d just made it, and it was supposed to be pettable when they were done, but not yet. There’d been plenty of controversy about putting it on display so soon, but public outcry won out over scientific common sense. So the thing was on display, but behind neoglas inlaid with the injunction: No, I’m Not Ready Yet. Look, But Don’t Touch. Janie reads. I should know. It’s one of the chief points of debate between her father and me. She could read the warning as well as I could. “So why can’t I touch? I want to touch!” She was fast winding up to a tantrum. I could stop it now and risk an injunction for public child abuse, or wait till it became a nuisance and we were both shuffled off the premises. Inside its enclosure, the pterodactyl stretched its wings and opened its beak and hissed. Neoglas is new, about as new as revenants; it’s one-way to sound as well as sight. The pterodactyl couldn’t see us or hear us, which was lucky for Janie. I wished we couldn’t see or hear it, either. It wasn’t particularly ugly, just strange. One whole faction of paleontologists had been thrown out into the cold when the thing came out of its vat warm-blooded and covered with soft silvery-white fur. Without the fur it would have been a leathery lizardlike thing with batwings. With the fur it looked like a white bat with a peculiar, half-avian, half-saurian head, and extremely convincing talons. Janie’s fixation and the thing’s furriness notwithstanding, it didn’t look very pettable. Its eyes were a disturbing shade of red, with pinpoint pupils. I wondered if it was hungry, or if it wanted to stretch its wings and fly. Janie had stopped whining. She was going to howl next. Something bellowed in the bowels of the building. Janie’s mouth snapped shut. “There,” I said. “Look what you did.” If that got me cited, let it. It cut off Janie’s howl before it started. “They’ve got something big down there,” somebody said. “Probably the aurochs,” said somebody else. “Mammoths trumpet like elephants.” “Maybe it’s a T. Rex,” said a kid’s voice. “They don’t have one of those yet,” said the one who knew it all. “They’d need a bigger enclosure than they can afford to build, with a stronger perimeter field. So they’re bringing back later things, because they’re smaller.” “But if they’ve got the mammoths—” “Mammoths don’t have teeth as long as your arm. They don’t eat people.” Janie’s eyes were as big as they can get. I got her out of there before she decided she wanted to howl after all. Ice cream distracted her. So did a pony ride in the zoo’s park—the pony was a Merychippus, a handsome little dun that looked perfectly ponylike except for the pair of vestigial toes flanking each of its hooves. By the time we picked up our picnic and headed for the tables by the mammoths’ pit, I was starting to breathe almost normally. If you haven’t got your kid license yet, you can only imagine you know what it’s like to take the qualifying exam. Studying for it is hell, and the practicum’s a raving bitch. Then when you pass and get the kid, six times out o[...]
Poppies and Chrome by Sylvia Hiven Rabbi Aaron Meets Satan by Tim Lieder Fine-Tuning the Universe by Merrie Haskell narrated by Mat Weller, author Richard E. Dansky, and Mur Lafferty Discuss on our forums. Appropriate for teens and up due to erotic imagery and language.