More Than Simple Steel
By Aimee Ogden
Micah misses the adults most when he wakes up each morning. Part of him is still waiting for the buzz of an alarm clock and the smell of toaster waffles to coax him up from sleep. But it's been four years, and there is no mother to nudge him awake.
He sits up on his mattress and scratches crust from his eyes. The bedsheets smell like sweat and grass; is it laundry day today? He's the closest thing to an adult under the roof of Grand Avenue Elementary, and if he says it's laundry day, then it will be.
Clothes on, shoes on. Everyone has to wear shoes all the time. That's the rule, ever since Marco got tetanus last year and they all thought he was going to die. It was the worst sickness they'd seen since the flops cleared out all the adults. Micah doesn't know what he'll do when something worse sweeps through.
The door of the teachers' lounge--he can't stop thinking of it as the teachers' lounge, even though there are no teachers here and not much time for lounging--clicks quietly shut behind him. Then he moves down the hallway, opening doors, calling names. "Fabián, garden. Jack, laundry. Vee, babysitting. Carrie, fishing."
The Anatomy of Miracles
by Filip Hajdar Drnovšek Zorko
For half a song every evening, the sunsets reminded the miracle worker of home. The hills were reddish-brown in daylight, but when the two suns, one after the other, slipped below the horizon, they came alive with purple highlights. He could almost pretend the hills were blue, instead, that the sea in the distance was true water and not liquid methane. On those occasions, he leaned back on his rear limb-pairs and, from a great distance, heard the timekeepers singing time.
He didn’t know what the window was made of. He couldn’t have said there was a window there at all, but for the fact he didn’t suffocate. He understood why his masters always sent him to inhospitable planets. His work was imprecise. It was safer that way. But this was the first planet that had been beautiful, the first that had brought the old songs ringing back. It was different. He felt it in his bones.
By first dawn, the hills were red again, and he was merely an old man who had not seen home in a long, long time.
By T. R. Siebert
The first thing you need to understand is that you don’t have a body. You are a body.
They pulled you from your mother, kicking and screaming, and you haven’t found silence since. You are too much.
Too much to handle, too much to hide. They tell you as much, with words and in a myriad of other ways. Too large to overlook, too obscene to see. You fold yourself into yourself and cannot escape the confines of it.
The ship wasn’t built for you like you were built for it. In most hallways you have duck to not hit your head on the ceiling. You avoid chairs with arm rests because you know you won’t fit. You haven’t slept comfortably in a bed since you were ten years old. Back then, you had nightmares in which you never stopped growing until you pushed against the hull of the ship, bursting through it into the never-ending void of space.
You move, and the world breaks around you.
Flash Fiction Contest Winners 2020
Our stories this week are the winners of the contest, as chosen by you: our listeners and readers. All four stories are Escape Pod originals. Out of 224 stories, the top four stories were:
“Butterfly” by Drew Czernik, narrated by Hollis Monroe
“In Roaring She Shall Rise” by Rajiv Moté, narrated by Katherine Inskip
“Death Poems of the Folded Ones” by Carol Scheina, narrated by S. Kay Nash
“The Day the Sun Went Out” by Hannah Whiteoak, narrated by Tina Connolly
Now, get ready to explore new worlds of space, time, and relationships, because it’s storytime.
Flash from the Vault
Host commentary by S. B. Divya
Hi there and welcome to the third and final term of Escape Pod's Summer School, where we post some of our favorite flash fiction from the vault with a new perspective. I’m Divya, co-editor of the pod, and your instructor for this class. This episode also concludes our Summer Flashback series. We'll be back next week with the best in original and reprint science fiction.
Today, I bring you three flash episodes from long, long ago. First up is "Standards," by Richard K. Lyon, then we have "Paradox," by Scott Janssens, and finally, "Stuck In An Elevator With Mandy Patinkin," by Kitty Myers.
The ’76 Goldwater Dime
by John Medaille
I started in 1962, that’s when I became a numismatist. You know what that is? It’s the study of... well, it’s not the study of anything. It’s coin collecting, is what it is.
I was ten in 1962, and Christmas I got my first coin album. I didn’t actually get it. My father gave it to my brother. It was, you know, you’ve seen them, a sturdy cardboard folder with slots punched out that you put the coins in. Behind the slots, the empties, it had a backing of blue felt, I remember that. My dad gave it to my brother, I guess maybe thinking it would straighten him out. But coins, you know, they don’t really have that power. He wasn’t interested. He gave it to me. Me, I was interested.
The album was for Lincoln pennies, 1909 to 1959. I had five cents in the world then and each of the five fit in the slot. It only took me five more days to get the other forty-five. I would do anything for those pennies and slot it in its slot. Anything, anything. When I got my last penny, wow. It was a 1943 steel mint penny, a ‘steelie.’ They had to use steel instead of copper that year cause they needed the copper for all the bombs. I was so proud.
From then on it was just coins for me. My life was coins. I was hooked. They had their hooks in me, boy.
When I was just seventeen I moved by myself down to Washington, DC, cause I got a job there in a coin shop. That was my education. I lived in a one room dungeon in a crumby neighborhood, I loved coins that much.
By Aliette de Bodard
In the morning, you’re no longer quite sure who you are.
You stand in front of the mirror–it shifts and trembles, reflecting only what you want to see–eyes that feel too wide, skin that feels too pale, an odd, distant smell wafting from the compartment’s ambient system that is neither incense nor garlic, but something else, something elusive that you once knew.
You’re dressed, already–not on your skin, but outside, where it matters, your avatar sporting blue and black and gold, the stylish clothes of a well-traveled, well-connected woman. For a moment, as you turn away from the mirror, the glass shimmers out of focus; and another woman in a dull silk gown stares back at you: smaller, squatter and in every way diminished–a stranger, a distant memory that has ceased to have any meaning.
Quy was on the docks, watching the spaceships arrive. She could, of course, have been anywhere on Longevity Station, and requested the feed from the network to be patched to her router–and watched, superimposed on her field of vision, the slow dance of ships slipping into their pod cradles like births watched in reverse. But there was something about standing on the spaceport’s concourse–a feeling of closeness that she just couldn’t replicate by standing in Golden Carp Gardens or Azure Dragon Temple. Because here–here, separated by only a few measures of sheet metal from the cradle pods, she could feel herself teetering on the edge of the vacuum, submerged in cold and breathing in neither air nor oxygen. She could almost imagine herself rootless, finally returned to the source of everything.
Most ships those days were Galactic–you’d have thought Longevity’s ex-masters would have been unhappy about the station’s independence, but now that the war was over Longevity was a tidy source of profit. The ships came; and disgorged a steady stream of tourists–their eyes too round and straight, their jaws too square; their faces an unhealthy shade of pink, like undercooked meat left too long in the sun. They walked with the easy confidence of people with immersers: pausing to admire the suggested highlights for a second or so before moving on to the transport station, where they haggled in schoolbook Rong for a ride to their recommended hotels–a sickeningly familiar ballet Quy had been seeing most of her life, a unison of foreigners descending on the station like a plague of
Author : Octavia Butler Narrator : Amanda Ching Host : Alasdair Stuart Audio Producers : Summer Brooks and Mat Weller Discuss on Forums This story originally appeared in the May 1987 issue of Omni (available for free here), and was previously published on Escape Pod in February 2015 Contains one curse word, one brief reference […]
Flash From the Vault
Hello and welcome to Escape Pod Summer School, where we post some of our favorite episodes from the vault with a new perspective. I’m your assistant editor and teacher for this class, Benjamin C. Kinney, and I’ve got three flash episodes from long, long ago. We bring you “Paul Bunyan and the Photocopier” by Larry Hammer, “Beachcomber” by Mike Resnick, and “Semi-Autonomous: or, For Whom the Warranty Tolls” by Jim Kling.
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Leonardo says that the Americans are going to fire some rockets and free us from the tyranny of the aliens and I say: who gives a shit. Lemme tell you something: It wasn’t super-awesome around here before the aliens. At least we get three meals every day now.
I used to live in a cardboard house with a tin roof and collected garbage for a living. They called my home a ‘lost city’ but they should’ve called it ‘fucked city.’
Leonardo talks about regaining our freedom, ‘bout fighting and shit. What damn freedom? You think I had freedom in the slums? Leonardo can talk freedom out his ass because he had money before this thing started and he saw too many American movies where they kill the monsters with big guns.
I’m not an idiot. The cops used to do their little “operations” in our neighborhood. They’d come in and arrest everyone, take everything. They weren’t Hollywood heroes out to help people. They were fucking assholes and I don’t see why they would have changed. As for American soldiers saving the day: You think they give a rat’s ass ‘bout Mexico City? You think they’re going to fly here in their helicopters and save us?
I say fuck that shit. I never had no freedom. Leonardo can go piss himself.
By Aaron Gallagher
It took concentration to perform delicate work in the cumbersome gloves of the suit. The rounded fingers were metal-tipped, and bulky. Elise painted the tips of her gloves with luminous paint for ease when working outside.
The octopus found the wires and shorted the alarm. The device glowed green and she triggered the manual release. The door popped, expelling a breath or two of oxygen.
Elise slipped into the airlock and closed it behind her, shutting the door on the endless black of space. The inside porthole looked into the cargo hold. She glided through the cargo room with three kicks.
The head-up on her helmet showed schematics in blue. She found the environmental control room.
She flipped open the airtight seal on a container holding a large slab of green gel. She snapped open a metal vial sprayed dark liquid onto the slab. She sealed the container, turned the machinery to full, and crouched by the door out of sight.
At thirty minutes, Elise headed upstairs for the cockpit. Empty. She looked for the captain’s cabin. In the cabin’s refresher, she found his body slumped in a large rubber bag.
Great. He passed out in the shower.
Women of Our Occupation
by Kameron Hurley
by Alasdair Stuart
This is absolutely an alien invasion story three different ways. The first is the familiar alien every child’s world is filled with. Vast tree-trunk legged adults making their way through life with seemingly no more concern for us than the dinosaurs had for those cute little mammals that would one day inherit the Earth. Everything is too big, too wide, too loud. The world turned upside down and you with it.
The Nightmare Lights of Mars
By Brian Trent
Before discovering the moths, Clarissa Lang stumbled blind in the Martian sandstorm and admitted she was about to die because of a painting.
Granules of sand flew past her head at 90 kph and crunched between her teeth. The storm hissed around her ears, a terrible insistence that she hush forever. There was no excuse for this death, Clarissa thought. Weather advisories had been in place for an hour. Her death would become a digital footnote, filed under foolishness, for all time.
She staggered blind and tacked through the needle-spray. Red sand piled around her neck and shoulders, grew around her mouth like exaggerated lipstick.
“Overlay!” she shouted — tried to shout — but her mouth instantly filled with gritty particulate. She panicked then, the first moment of true mindless panic. But the Martian Positioning Satellite had heard her cry: Maureen’s property map sprang up in her left eye, drawn scarlet against each blink.
The house was thirty meters northwest. Upwind.
Clarissa tucked herself into a protective ball and scuttled sideways, like a crab. The sand struck her exposed hands and face in a shifting, relentless wave.
I’ll never make it.
Flash From the Vault
Hi there and welcome to Escape Pod Summer School, where we post some of our favorite episodes from the vault with a new perspective. I’m your co-editor and teacher for this class, Mur Lafferty, bringing you three flash episodes from long, long ago. We bring you “Taco” by Greg van Eekhout, “Get me to the Job on Time” by Ian Randal Strock, and “Hibernation” by Madge E. Miller.
To the Knife-Cold Stars
By A. Merc Rustad
When Grace opens his newly crafted eye, the first thing he sees is wire. Thick cords of braided wire snaking like old veins up the walls. It’s dim inside the surgical unit, but for all the black metal and mesh shelves, it feels clean, even in the heat. The air still has the unfamiliar taste of crude oil. Sweat sticks the borrowed clothes to his skin. He blinks, a flicker of pain in his head as the left eyelid slides down over cool metal buried in the socket.
He’s awake and he’s alive.
The anesthetic hasn’t worn off. It’s sluggish in his blood, an unpleasant burn at the back of his throat. It blurs the edges of his thoughts like too much bad wine. But it doesn’t dull the deep-etched fear still unspooling through his gut. He survived the demon, survived his own execution. It’s a hard thing to accept, even days later. He wants to touch the new eye, this machine part of his body, the forever-reminder what happened. Doesn’t dare, yet.
“Back with us, eh?” says a raspy voice muffled by a respirator.
Grace turns his head, slow and careful. He dimly recalls the wire-tech mumbling about whiplash in his neck and the horrific bruising along his ribs and back where the welts are still healing. “Guess so.”
The tech is a small man dressed in heavy surgical leathers that are studded with metal sheeting. Old blood speckles the apron and gloves; the metal and rivets are spotless. Only the skin on his forehead is visible under thick embedded glasses and a breather covering nose and mouth. “Nearly died on us, you did. Venom went right into the blood.”
The demon’s venom. Grace doesn’t reach to touch his face where the sunspawn’s claws took out his eye and split flesh to bone. He doesn’t look down, either. A new shirt and worn jeans cover whatever scars the demon left on his belly and thighs. He shivers in the heat. He doesn’t know if he can ever look at himself again; what will Humility think–
Grace trembles harder. Humility will never see him again.
by Brad Hafford
West London was, as always, abuzz. Even at 4:00 AM on a chilly November Tuesday, electric motorcars whirred down Kings Road, zipping people along, early to work or late from parties. The residential side streets, however, were quiet. Lined with parked cars, occasional street lamps, and darkened flats, they dozed peacefully. Ornate houses huddled in gracefully curving queues, awaiting the sunrise with little attention to the two figures loitering outside their narrow, iron-fenced entryways.
“There it is, innit?” the scrawnier figure said, pointing to a parked car. “D’ya see?”
The taller man stared intently at the vehicle. “See what?” he said, his breath misting in the frosty air.
Their eyes were fixed on a car sitting at the curb of a constricted street in Chelsea, part of the fashionable Kensington district. It was a brown cabriolet with a weather-worn faux leather top. An aging example, its low-light number plates showed it to be registered ten years previously. Its MOT and inspection were up to date, but its bonnet was dented and its windscreen cracked. Such an automobile did not belong in Chelsea. But neither did the two men examining it.
The smaller of the two impatiently tugged on the grey flatcap he wore. “Pay attention, Mik,” he sniped. “We in’t got all night.” Clipped words and rounded vowels marked his speech. The bells of St. Mary’s were ancient history and the East End had long since been gentrified, but he was retro-Cockney.
“I’m paying as much attention as I’ve got, Artie. More, really. I just don’t see it.”
“It’s a slight vibration, see. An ’ologram shift called glitching. The generator keeps the image dynamic, right. So it has to refresh at a specific rate.” He tapped his nose, a signal that he was imparting secrets. “Oy, there it goes again!”
“I still don’t see it.”
“And you fink you got what it takes to be a Techno-Rat?”
By Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali
“Orani, tell Boris what is wrong.”
I told Boris about Enoch and our shared dreams, about how he abandoned me.
“He said I was frigid,” I confided, my head on Boris’s shoulder, his hand stroking my back.
Boris nodded, “What else?”
“He said that for all the credits in the system, I would never learn how to love.”
I’d been drowning in loneliness when I contracted Boris to help me recover from losing Enoch. After two years of long distance communication, Enoch had traveled from Earth to be with me, only to later decide it was a mistake. “You’re not the human being I thought you were,” he said, which was rich because he wasn’t a human being at all.
When I was spent of energy and tears, Boris lifted me into his arms, like steel support beams, and carried me to the bathroom. He undressed and washed me. He kissed my tearful eyes. He rubbed my skin with oil. With Boris I finally felt warm and safe.
“Orani, you are worthy and lovable. I want you to know this,” he murmured to me as he carried me back to bed. “I want you to feel like a little baby.”
“I don’t remember what that’s like,” I told him.
by E. Catherine Tobler
Sita Balachandran found the bone on her forty-first birthday, its pale wind-scoured point emerging from the dry Martian floodplain like the splintered stalk of a flower. At first, she thought it was a stone, the floodplain a riot of similar, jagged debris, but the shape and color told her otherwise. A fossilized rib bone, she was sure.
The Martian atmosphere was well-known for the tricks it would play, even the earliest collected images of Mars calling to mind familiar shapes. A rock that resembled a crouched squirrel. A swirl of dark dust that took on the shape of a mourning woman. People sought what they understood, preferring the familiar rather than contemplating what they did not know. Especially when it came to distant worlds. But archaeologists couldn't afford to look away; they had to look at everything from a new perspective, in order to assemble the broken past.
No matter how Sita looked at the bone, no matter how she tried to see it from a new perspective, it remained a bone. Beneath the shadow of the ancient, excavated Pathfinder lander shell, a bone.
By Brian K. Lowe
When I was seventeen, class president, and a year from the Space Force Academy, Dad fell into an antique gun rack at work, dead from a stroke before he hit the floor.
I had been helping him in the pawn shop after school, partly to make some tuition money and partly because it looked good on my Academy application. After he died it was either take over the shop, or let Mom work it and my brother Rey raise himself while I ran off to the Academy. I opened up two hours after the funeral.
Every night, I’d sweep the floors, dust the shelves, double-lock the front door, and walk upstairs after a 12-hour day of trading in things that people had once thought they couldn’t live without, but now couldn’t live without selling.
But while I was scratching out a living buying and selling second-hand guitars, the real money was in things that had gone Out There. Tools, spacesuits, uniform patches… And when it came to interstellar travel, stuff that had been to another star… Years before I was born, the first guys to come back from Proxima Centauri had gotten rich selling their underwear. The best part was that, thanks to time dilation, they were still young. They'd been able to retire in their thirties.
At Her Fingertips
by Jason Kimble
Ten fingers, ten toes. That’s the baseline for a healthy kid, right? You’d have thought I’d be a bonus, what with eighteen fingers. Guess they all have to function before you count them.
As Deficiencies go, mine’s not so bad. The Skew was a hell of a thing, and everyone on the Rim’s still feeling it. I knew a guy once had a fully formed jaw down around his nuts. I only wish I was kidding. On the upside, the hinge didn’t work, or it would’ve been a nightmare sitting down.
So, yeah, I have extra digits grown out from the top of my primary knuckles. You get used to working around them, though. Makes some things tenser for me when I’m elbow-deep in an engine than it does for people without them, but it only took once or twice pinching them before my reflexes amped up. And, like I said: could be worse.
Case in point: I could have a mouth that doesn’t close all the way like my boss, Harvey. He literally never shuts his trap.
“Acaja, get the hell over here!”
No matter how much I wish he would.