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Escape Pod

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!

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 EP560: Run | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 0:24:04

AUTHOR: C. R. Hodges NARRATOR: Eden Royce HOST: Alasdair Stuart Run is an Escape Pod original. Discuss on our forums.  For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia Thank you for visiting us on Facebook and Twitter about the author… C.R. Hodges writes all manner of speculative fiction, from ghost stories to urban fantasy to science fiction. Twenty of his short stories have been published in markets such as Cicada and EscapePod (EP356: “Three-Quarters Martian”), and he is a first prize winner of the 2016 Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Awards. When he is not writing or playing the euphonium, he runs a product design company in Colorado, where he lives with his wife, dog, and no ghosts that he knows of. about the narrator…  Eden Royce is descended from women who practiced root, a type of conjure magic in her native Charleston, South Carolina. She’s been a bridal consultant, reptile handler, and stockbroker, but now writes dark fiction about the American South from her home in the English countryside. Eden is one of the founders of Colors in Darkness, a place for dark fiction authors of color to get support for their projects and is the recipient of the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Diverse  Worlds grant for 2016. 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. In the beginning, back in fourth grade, we used pulsed lasers with computer translators operating at one megabit per second. But now that’s cheating too. The club rules are clear now: lasers are allowed, but only with hand modulation. I use a thermal tile, painted pink, scavenged from the silly dollhouse Mom built for my fifth birthday. Sally uses a kayak paddle. Means we can only communicate when it’s dark on both worlds, and here on the moon it takes literally a fortnight for the stupid sun to set. I make it back to our family’s module with two minutes to spare. Facing the video feed from the twelve-inch telescope I’ve positioned outside in the cold vacuum, I watch the abrupt nightfall as the terminator line passes overhead. While the telescope is slaved to my computer and can track automatically, I’m equally adept at tracking via joystick. I find the bright lights of Denver, then scroll west to the tiny mountain town of Frisco, lit up as well. A nudge east to a small hilltop overlooking the lake, with only one house on it. Gently scrolling as the Earth turns beneath us, I wait. It’s an hour past dusk Colorado time, the earliest we can see each other’s signals. “H-e-l-l-o,” I code, waving the tile between the penlight laser and the viewport. I’ve put an anti-reflective coating on the glass but the reflection still illuminates the interior bulkhead of my sleeping module. Di di di dit. Dit. And so forth. No nineteenth century Western Union operator would have quaked in her boots about losing her job to my blazing speed, but I am the reigning lunar champ. I’m not directly signaling Earth, of course. A homebuilt sensor duct taped to the telescope detects my dots and dashes and feeds the code into an industrial laser mounted coaxially with the telescope. I’m also the club’s chief engineer. Originally the rules required me to stand outside in a moon suit waving the tile, but Mom nixed that one. After some par[...]

 EA Metacast, January 2017 | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 0:15:20

A look back at 2016 and what’s in store for Escape Artists — and for you — in 2017. Also, a full list of 2016 award-eligible 2016 Escape Pod first publications follows, along with links to episodes, for those who couldn’t make it through the marathon audio version: “Brain Worms and White Whales” by Jen Finelli “In Their Image” by Abra Staffin-Wiebe “Singing to the Stars” by Alanna McFall “MySpace: A Ghost Story” by Dominica Phetteplace “Bioluminescent Memory” by Victorya Chase “Windows” by Beth Goder “Among the Living” by John Markley “The Hunter Captain” by David John Baker “Divided By Zero” by Samantha Murray “City in the Wound” by Michael Buckley “Bend Back the Shadows” by Michael Reid “Saints, Beasts, and Zombies” by Gary Kloster “Bona Fide” by Ben Hallert “Shopping for the Perfect Battle Mount” by Laura Davy “Disc Stutter” by Brian Trent “Joolie and Irdl” by Sandy Parsons “Bluejay” by Edward Ashton “Prophet to the Dogs” by Bethany Edwards “The Starsmith” by Jonathan Edelstein “Squirrels, Foxes, and Other Fine Specimens” by Gareth D. Jones “As Travelers in Sky Boats” by Kristin Janz “The Hungers of Refugees” by Michael Glyde “Murder or a Duck” by Beth Goder “Ride the Dragon” by Bojan Ratković “The Battaile of the Mudde” by Anthony Tardiff “The Most Absurd Dance at the End of the Worlds” by Holly Heisey “Captain Drake Learns His Lines” by Amy Sisson and Kate Suratt “Monstrance of Sky” by Christopher Mark Rose

 EP559: Vegetablemen in Peanut Town | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 0:36:03

AUTHOR: August Marion NARRATOR: Trendane Sparks HOST: Norm Sherman Vegetablemen in Peanut Town is an Escape Pod original. Discuss on our forums.  For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia Thank you for visiting us on Facebook and Twitter about the author… August is a native of Detroit who now lives in the Pacific Northwest, and works in the tech industry. When he isn’t designing and programming very small computers, he writes stories, and wanders aimlessly (usually not at the same time). about the narrator… Originally born in Texas, Tren eventually escaped and wound his way through a mystical series of jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area where he has worked as a software QA Tester for both graphics drivers and video games, a freelance mascot performer, and several jobs on a PBS kids’ show. For most of his life, people have told him that his voice is a pleasure to listen to. But since being a werewolf phone sex operator can get boring, he decided to use his powers to entertain a broader audience.     Vegetablemen in Peanut Town By August Marion Otto scanned the grassy countryside for any sign of marauding vegetables. The steeple he and Darby were in wasn’t quite thirty feet tall, but it was taller than any other building in Peanut Town, so it offered an unobstructed view of the surrounding farmland. There were acres and acres of genetically engineered, perambulatory peanut plants shuffling around in scattered groups, probing the rich soil for nutrients with their roots. Everything looked perfectly safe. Peaceful even. “Hey, genius.” Darby said acidly. “North is that a way.” “Oh.” Otto said, as he turned around. He refocused the binoculars he was using, and then he saw them: vegetablemen. The same strain that had so annihilated Manhattan that even the rats had given up on the place. There were about three dozen of them scattered over the gently rolling hills. They lumbered toward the town slow and heavy on their long, stout, green stalks. They were still far off, but he could tell from the coloring of the peels around their thoraxes that they were the same cultivar that the king had sown on Manhattan. Otto lowered the binoculars. He swallowed hard. “Well?” Darby asked. “Is them the ones from Manhattan?” “Those are they, yes.” Otto confirmed, as he tugged at his collar. He hated hot weather. It didn’t fit his wardrobe. “We’re going to have to fight them.” Darby grinned madly. When word had arrived that the vegetablemen had been spotted near the county line, the whole town had evacuated. Only Darby had stayed behind to defend the town alone. Otto thought Darby seemed a little too excited about the prospect to be sane. Personally, he would rather go toe to toe with a hailstorm of disease-carrying nuclear warheads. Unfortunately, they were trapped. The last car carrying the last drop of gasoline had rolled out less than an hour before Otto and his group had coasted in on fumes. Otto handed the binoculars back to Darby. “I already told you we aren’t going to fight. We aren’t warriors. We’re restaurateurs.” He said, and started down the ladder. The ladder led down to a kitchen rather than a chapel, as Darby had had apparently been converted to a diner years before. Aria and Griselda were waiting in the kitchen. “Well?” Aria asked. “It’s them.” Otto replied. “The same strain from Manhattan. Do you have the grease?” Aria read the order ticket. “You ordered one can of bacon grease carrying the scent of fresh, young love on a dewy spring morning with plenty of dry-aged red meat and smoked cheddar with no loss of its bacon-esque essence.” “That’s what I ordered.” Otto confirmed. Aria handed him a can. Otto opened it, and inhaled deeply. “Fabulous.” He remarked. It was exactly what he had asked for[...]

 EP558: Holding the Ghosts | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 0:24:05

AUTHOR: Gwendolyn Clare NARRATOR: Dionne Obeso HOST: Tina Connolly Holding the Ghosts was originally published in Asimov’s March 2015. Discuss on our forums.  For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia Thank you for visiting us on Facebook and Twitter about the author… Gwendolyn Clare is a New Englander transplanted to North Carolina. She holds a BA in Ecology, a BS in Geophysics, a PhD in Mycology, and swears she’s done collecting acronyms. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, Analog, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among others. about the narrator… Dionne Obeso is a freelance editor and a writer of science fiction and fantasy. Her awesome flash fiction can be found at SpeckLit.com and Daily Science Fiction. When she isn’t adventuring in fantastical worlds, exploring alien environs, or trekking through the high Sierras, she returns to her home base in the California Bay Area to remind her husband what she looks like. She has purple hair, a secret identity, and a strong position on the Oxford comma.     Holding the Ghosts By Gwendolyn Clare Abby was in control of the body the first time a glitch occurred.  She was “home from college for the long weekend”–that’s what the imprinted memories showed, at least–and her mother was pouring dollops of blueberry pancake batter onto the sizzling cast-iron griddle. Her father had found an excuse to go into work on a Saturday morning, as he often did ever since Abby “went off to college.”  She assumed this was her father’s strategy for coping with empty nest syndrome and tried not to feel hurt by his avoidance.  Her interpretation wasn’t entirely incorrect, but of course she did not comprehend exactly how empty the nest was. When Abby stopped living with them full time, the body stopped being Abby full time.  Leasing the body was quite expensive, so this was the only logical decision.  But Abby’s father could not reconcile himself to the idea that Abby only existed on the weekends when they rented the body, never mind that the techs would fabricate memories for her so that she believed she had experienced all the intervening days. The body shouldn’t have known this.  The body should only know what Abby knew. “Do you want another one?  We’ve still got some batter here.” Abby looked up from the purple-and-amber swirls of blueberry juice and maple syrup she was prodding with her fork.  “Um… no thanks, Mom.  I think I’m full.” “I wish you wouldn’t worry about the freshman fifteen,” her mother fussed.  “If anything, you look like you’ve lost a few pounds this semester.” “I’m not your daughter, you know.  I’m just carrying her ghost for a while.” Abby’s mother went very still.  “What did you just say?” Abby frowned and rubbed her temples, though it did little to alleviate the dull throbbing of her nascent headache.  “Sorry, Mom.  I don’t know why I said that.” # The doctors were not pleased.  Abby’s mother showed up at the facility, threatening to file a formal complaint if they didn’t meet with her immediately.  Words like “misrepresentation” and “breach of contract” were used. Dr. Sankaran brought Abby’s mother into a clean beige room with plush couches.  Abby was not occupying the brain at that particular time, so the body could not respond to their arrival. “Abby?”  When she received no response, Abby’s mother turned to the doctor and snapped, “What exactly is going on here?” “Mrs. Whitfield, you reported that Abby’s surrogate broke character, so I thought it would be informative to introduce you to the surrogate body.  This,” he said with a gesture, “is Baby Martinez.” The lips could not say hel[...]

 EP557: Impossibility Crow | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 0:35:13

AUTHOR: Remy Nakamura NARRATOR: Roberto Suarez HOST: Alasdair Stuart Impossibility Crow is an Escape Pod original. Discuss on our forums.  For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia Thank you for visiting us on Facebook and Twitter about the author… Remy Nakamura grew up in Greece, Japan, and the San Francisco Bay Area and currently resides in Southern California. He is obsessed with backpacking and hacking his own neuropsychology. He believes in the life-saving power of brightly-colored sticky notes. He is a Clarion West graduate and his short stories can be found in a number of anthologies. You can find him online on twitter as @remymura and at mindonfire.com. about the narrator… Roberto lives in Portland, Oregon. By day he works as a community college student advocate and recruiter. By night he geeks out on all things fantasy and science fiction, comic books and board games. He produces and co-hosts “A Pod of Casts: The Game of Thrones Podcast” ( http://apodofcasts.com/ ) and is a proud monthly supporter of all “Escape Artists” productions. Roberto is a father of four younglings being raised in The Ways of The Force and is married to Barbara, his Sun and Stars. Personal Website: robertosuarez.me         Impossibility Crow By Remy Nakamura The Kingdom Coffee Missionary Handbook tells Paulo that he should always put his guns away during a door approach. He’s heard this hundreds of times before, but the Handbook speaks with a voice of authority, deep like a luchador’s, strong like a drill sergeant’s, calm like his abuelito’s. It slides in just under his ARgog’s selectively amplified environmental audio. 450 bonus points if the contact is completed without violence, calculates the Handbook, 900 if there are no deaths. Each death harms the public image of the Kingdom, the Handbook tells him. Paulo nods agreement. Way better to spread the faith on the no-kill difficulty setting. Still, Paulo is not stupid, so he pauses to load Rambo, his ancient and lovingly modded M4A1 Carbine, before slinging it across his back. Looking bad-ass is his favorite violence prevention technique. The Handbook says nothing about tear gas, and he decides not to mention the CS smoke grenade in his left pocket. His last couple of leads had ended with tense stand-offs. Goddess, yo creo, he prays silently. Help my unbelief. He fingers his mala of Robusto beans, sniffing hard to catch its fading aroma. Paulo sweats his way towards the gutted husk of a Newport Beach mansion. The ruin looks abandoned, but the Goddess has nudged him this way. This hill overlooks the ocean, a bay (the Upper Newport, according to ARgog’s text overlay), and a blackened canyon wildfire corridor. A crow scolds him from a scrub oak and flaps away, making him jump and swear. Sorry, he thinks. Paulo is an emissary of the Kingdom, the Handbook tells him. He must be courteous at all times. Tattoos should be covered, piercings removed beyond one in each earlobe. Swearing is sinful and may result in reprimands and loss of points and even levels. He approaches the roofless house up a path paved of uprooted concrete, scanning for danger. A crow scolds him from a charred post and flaps away. Shit, he says, to no one, and then apologizes. But the repeated crow is unusual. Real life coincidence? A glitch in his goggle OS? Or Goddess, a virus? Shit, he says again, tense now. Was that a shotgun being cocked? His headset chimes. It paints a glowing red circle over a broken door. Zooming in reveals a double-barrel muzzle. Awesome, he thinks. He won’t spook the residents. 900 points, he thinks. 900 points closer to forgiveness. Like a mantra. “Buenos dias,” he shouts. “Traigo un mensaje de paz, amor y cafe.” A bearded man steps into the doorway, gun aimed at Paulo. An Anglo. If not the children or grandchildren of the original homeowners, someone in hiding. Cuidado Paulo, he thinks. The Handbook is quiet now, but in his mind he can hear i[...]

 EP556: In a Manner of Speaking | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 0:45:43

AUTHOR: Charity Tahmaseb NARRATOR: Amy H. Sturgis HOST: Tina Connolly In a Manner of Speaking was originally published in Selfies from the End of the World: Historical Accounts of the Apocalypse, September 2015, DefCon One Publishing. Discuss on our forums.  For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia Thank you for visiting us on Facebook and Twitter about the author… Charity Tahmaseb has slung corn on the cob for Green Giant and jumped out of airplanes (but not at the same time). She’s worn both Girl Scout and Army green. These days, she writes fiction (short and long) and works as a technical writer. Her short speculative work has appeared in Flash Fiction Online, Deep Magic, and Cicada. about the narrator… Amy H. Sturgis holds a Ph.D. in Intellectual History and specializes in the fields of Science Fiction/Fantasy and Native American Studies. She lives with her husband, Dr. Larry M. Hall, and their best friend, Virginia the Boston terrier, in the foothills of North Carolina, USA. 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. “Hello?” My voice warbles and I leap back, as if something might spring from the speakers. Nothing does, of course. In fact, nothing happens at all. It takes more than one try to reach the world. “Hello? Hello? Is anyone there? Can you hear me? I would like to talk to you.” Perhaps I should try another frequency–or try a little patience. If someone is out there with a radio, might they right now be cranking a handle to charge a battery, or sleeping, or adding wood to their fire? This last is something I must do and soon. The embers grow a bright orange, but the chill has invaded the edges of the room. That means venturing outside. Of all the chores, I like this one the least. The trek to the shed is short, but nothing lights my way. The dark is just that: dark. While the cold is fierce, I know nothing can lurk outside my shelter, waiting to pounce. And yet, every time I collect wood, it’s as if a predator stalks me. I anticipate claws digging into my shoulder, sharp teeth at my neck, my spine cracked in half. But the only thing outside my shelter is the cold. But it is the cold that will take me in the end. So in a sense, I am its prey and it is stalking me. With my parka buttoned tight, I clip myself to the rope between my shelter and the shed. Wind tears at me, and I plod to the shed. I pat the pile of wood, reassured that yes, it is substantial. For now. With my arms full, I push against the wind and spill into the shelter. It’s then I hear something. At first, I don’t recognize it because it’s been so long since I’ve heard that sound. Then the notion of it lights my mind. I fly across the room, wood spilling from my arms, the wind banging the door behind me. It’s a voice. I grab the mouthpiece, my thumb clumsy through wool mittens. “Hello! Hello! Are you there? Can you hear me? H[...]

 EP555: Monstrance of Sky | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 0:36:06

AUTHOR: Christopher Mark Rose NARRATOR: Alethea Kontis HOST: Norm Sherman Monstrance of Sky is an Escape Pod original. Discuss on our forums.  For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia Thank you for visiting us on Facebook and Twitter about the author… Christopher Mark Rose is a fledgling writer of speculative fiction. His story “A Thousand Solomons” won first place in the 2015 BSFS Amateur Writing Contest. He participates in the Baltimore Science Fiction Society Critique Circle, and has finished a first draft of a novel. He hopes to write stories that are affecting, humane, and concerned with big questions. His day job is in the JHU Applied Physics Laboratory, where he designs flight firmware for NASA missions. His work is flying now in NASA’s Van Allen Probes, and will be in the soon-to-be-launched Solar Probe Plus spacecraft. about the narrator… Alethea Kontis is a princess, author, fairy godmother, and geek. Author of over fifteen books and contributor to over twenty-five more, her award-winning writing has been published for multiple age groups, across all genres: science fiction, fantasy, horror, humor, contemporary romance, poetry, graphic novels, Twitter serials, non-fiction…the works. A former child actress, Alethea hosted over 55 episodes of “Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants” on YouTube, and continues to host Princess Alethea’s Traveling Sideshow every year at Dragon Con. She enjoys audiobook and podcast narration, speaking at middle schools across the country (in costume, of course), and one day hopes to make a few more movies with her friends. Alethea currently resides on the Space Coast of Florida with her teddy bear, Charlie.   Monstrance of Sky By Christopher Mark Rose Aerbello — the shape one sees in the movement of wheat, blown by wind. The shape of wind, written in sheaves.   I left me, without really leaving. Well, not I myself, but Eva. She told me she was leaving me, as we made love in our bedroom. It was clear she didn’t mean immediately.   Cova — any place a crow could be. A crow-sized void, unoccupied by an actual crow.   She said we weren’t good for each other, we weren’t helping each other to grow. She said my God obsession had gotten to be too much. She said her presence in my life was redundant.   “Please don’t go,” I said. “If you go, my heart will be a cova.”  I couldn’t understand, and it hurt me. It felt as though I had swallowed a razor blade, without realizing.   Monstrance — a vessel, in Catholic tradition, in which the consecrated Host is placed, to be exposed for the adoration of the faithful.   Without knowing why, I had started making a list of words that meant God, or related to worship, or words I thought could describe God. I found I was transcribing large portions of dictionaries, encyclopedias. I couldn’t explain it, I just felt compelled. I was probably obsessed. I wasn’t a believer but neither an unbeliever then.   Eva was my clone. Not a clone of myself, Evelyn — we were both cloned from the DNA of some original Eve we had never known. We had met in an ichthyology class, dissecting. We were both human women, electively bioluminescent but otherwise normal. Everyone needs bioluminescence below ten meters, and we were far below that.   We lived then in a submerged sea colony, a tubey maze of intertwined grottos of plasma-sintered spinel, transparent and pure, our anonymous neighbors’ lives as exposed and untouchable as our own. It was like a Habitrail for attractive young marine scientists. Everyone was a swimmer then.   Groache — a drug of uncertain purpose and properties — something one takes as a blind escape, unsure of the outcome.   Eva was the kind of clone that would reprogram other women’s robots unasked. Competent and helpful. I was the kind of clone that baked pies then gave them t[...]

 EP554: Captain Drake Learns His Lines | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 0:46:04

AUTHORS: Amy Sisson & Kate Suratt NARRATOR: Christopher Cornell HOST: Alasdair Stuart Captain Drake Learns His Lines is an Escape Pod original. It is the first story in the short story series The Misadventures of Captain Drake. Discuss on our forums.  For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia Thank you for visiting us on Facebook and Twitter about the authors… Amy is a writer, reviewer, librarian, and crazy cat lady. Her work – including the “Mr. Featherbottom” series – has appeared in numerous anthologies and publications, including Abyss & Apex, Daily Science Fiction, Toasted Cake, and Podcastle. Kate Suratt is a flash fiction author, novelist, and NASA program analyst. Her short fiction has appeared in Splickety Prime magazine. about the narrator… Christopher Cornell is a writer, musician (no, not that one) and software developer in Northern California. He is also the producer and co-host of the Unreliable Narrators podcast and creator of the upcoming audio drama series, E’ville. Also a film buff, foxhound wrangler and occasional editor. Skeptical of real estate shysters.             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. Rick came out from the kitchen and stopped, surprised. “J,” he said, talking to her but glancing at me. “Long time no see.” I made a show of studying my drink, but inside I was reeling. Rick knew Jeanne Bixby? “Hi, Rick,” she said. She looked around and apparently decided that none of the half dozen people in the bar, myself included, were a threat. “I need a ride. My usual pilot is indisposed. I know it’s short notice, but….” “Oh hell, Jea– J,” Rick said. “Practically every pilot I know is booked taking fares to what’s-it-called, that festival on New Cannes.” I coughed discreetly. “Every good pilot I know,” he amended. I glared, less discreetly this time. He went on, a mean little smile on his face. “I mean, the trustworthy ones, the ones you can really count on, those guys are all booked up.” Well, that hurt. I swear, you accidentally release a couple million tons of hydrachromazine into the atmosphere of a new colony planet and you never hear the end of it. On the other hand, at least Rick still let me in his bar, which is more than I could say for most of his competition on this dusty rock. “Please, Rick,” she said. “I have to get there.” “To the festival?” She nodded. “Before the opening ceremonies.” He wiped his hands on his apron and pondered. “Okay,” he said. “Let me make some calls. You want a drink while you wait?” “Antarian fizz,” she said. “Make it a double.” “That bad?” he said. “That bad,” she said, with a tired smile. Rick pulled out a bottle of butterscotch-colored liquid that shimmered in the bar[...]

 EP553: Water Finds Its Level | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 0:35:45

AUTHOR: M. Bennardo NARRATOR: Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali HOST: Norm Sherman Water Finds Its Level was originally published in Lightspeed Magazine. (May 2013) Discuss on our forums.  For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia Thank you for visiting us on Facebook and Twitter about the author… Matthew Bennardo lives in Ohio. He co-edited the science-fiction anthology Machine of Death, which was a #1 bestseller on Amazon in 2010. He is a partner with Ryan North and David Malki ! in Bearstache Books, the imprint which publishes Machine of Death. A second volume in the series was published in 2013 by GCP. Matthew has also sold short fiction to markets such as Asimov’s Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed Magazine, and Shimmer.   about the narrator… Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali lives and works in Houston as an oncology nurse. She is married and the mother to three brilliant artistic children. She writes because she loves to and also because she has a story (or two, or three…) to tell.         Water Finds Its Level By M. Bennardo “Would you still love me if I were exactly the same,” he’d ask, “but was a Civil War re-enactor?” “Shut up,” I’d say. “What if I were exactly the same,” he’d say, “but refused to eat anywhere except McDonald’s?” “Shut. Up.” “Or what if I greased my hair with pomade and went tanning every week?” That’s when I would give him the death-ray glare. “If you want me to stop loving you right now,” I’d say, “you can keep asking those stupid questions.” “You know why.” “But it doesn’t work like that,” I’d say. “You can’t do those things and still be exactly the same in every other way. If you did those things, you’d be somebody else. So just shut up because I don’t want to think about it.” # When people asked where I met Roger, I always told the truth. “We met in the Collision,” I’d say. Then they’d give me that look that people used to give you when you told them you met somebody online. The look that said you must be reckless or naive or desperate, and that no good would come of it. It got better over time, of course, once more people understood. Once they had to understand. By the time it was all over, I was the weird one–still living a single life, still just one of a kind. And Roger–I guess they understood him better. # It started in the kitchen of my apartment, like a thin spot in the wall or an echo coming through the ventilation ducts. I didn’t think anything of it at first since it was the kind of thing you hear in apartments all the time–someone else’s private life bleeding through into your living space. Usually it’s a murmur at most, a background drone. Sometimes it’s suddenly and uncomfortably clear–a laugh or an angry shout that’s hardly muffled at all. I just ignored it. It was just somebody who had moved in next door–somebody on the other side of my walls, somebody who had brought their own new sounds that would become partly my sounds too. I knew how it worked. If ever we passed in the hall, we would pretend we didn’t hear each other. I wasn’t the sort to complain. The walls were thin. My kitchen had an echo. That was all. # That was all, at least, until the day I was pulling a casserole out of the oven, singing some Cher to myself. Too loud, I guess, because suddenly and without warning a man’s voice was at my ear. Not through the wall, not above the ceiling, but in the kitchen, at my ear. “All right,” it said, in tones of exasperation. “Is somebody there?” I dropped the dish, and the casserole exploded into shards of glass and soggy macaroni. I bolted for the living room, heart poun[...]

 EP552: RedChip BlueChip | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 0:33:46

AUTHOR: Effie Seiberg HOST & NARRATOR: Tina Connolly RedChip BlueChip was originally published in Crossed Genres (June 2015 issue). Discuss on our forums.  For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia Thank you for visiting us on Facebook and Twitter about the author… Effie Seiberg is a science fiction and fantasy writer living in San Francisco. Her short stories have previously appeared in PodCastle, Analog, and Lightspeed, among others. By day she’s a marketing and strategy consultant in Silicon Valley. She likes to make sculpted cakes and bad puns. You can read many of her stories at effieseiberg.com, or follow her on twitter at @effies.     about the narrator… Tina Connolly is the author of the Ironskin fantasy trilogy from Tor Books, and the Seriously Wicked YA series from Tor Teen. Her novels have been finalists for the Nebula and the Norton. Her stories have appeared in Tor.com, Lightspeed, Analog, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily SF, and many more. Her first collection, On the Eyeball Floor and Other Stories, is now out from Fairwood Press. Her narrations have appeared in Podcastle, Pseudopod, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, John Joseph Adams’ The End is Nigh series, and more. She co-hosts Escape Pod and runs the Parsec-winning flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake.     RedChip BlueChip By Effie Seiberg The AdChip technician’s rubber-gloved hand was cold on my chin. “Now hold still, Mi-kay-la.” “It’s Mi-KEE-la,” I grumbled. My mother, leaning on the beige metal door, didn’t look up from her smartpad. “Right.” He nodded, uncaring. “This is going to sting a bit, but don’t you worry. It’ll be over before you know it.” He didn’t know how right he was – it would be over soon, once Sivvy found out. He pushed my chin to the side, exposing my left ear, then swiped an alcohol-infused gauze in the soft area behind the star-shaped earring I’d bent from a paper clip the other day. “Now, do you want to be BlueChip or RedChip?” He busied himself with the metal tray of instruments sitting next to me on the ugly green table. An enormous syringe-like tool lay there next to two tiny Chips and a graft gun. Both Chips were black – I guess the color names weren’t literal. “Shouldn’t my papers already tell you that? Haven’t you already decided everything for me?” There were posters on the walls advertising Coke and Pepsi and IBM and Apple and Honda and Toyota. Stuff for each Chip. My mother finally glanced up. “Mikila, be nice.” “Oh it’s fine,” he said with plastered-on cheer. “The papers are only for backup, in case you don’t choose. We just want you to be happy!” “OK, fine. I’ll choose not to have a Chip at all – that’ll make me happy. Can I go now?” I hopped off the green metal table and moved to grab my worn messenger bag. He moved to block. “Ha ha.” His smile stiffened on his face. “A funny one!” I imagined punching him and running, but I knew I wouldn’t. Besides, he’d probably mark that down as being RedChip behavior or something. “Mikila…” my mom’s eyes narrowed in warning. Ugh. I made a face but got back on the table. “Okeedokey!” He grabbed one of the two identical Chips and loaded it up in the big syringe. Another quick grab of my chin to expose the ear, and he jammed in the needle behind it. It burned, but no worse than getting my eyebrow pierced. His face was close enough to mine that I could smell his breath. Who the hell eats tuna fish for breakfast? Gross. “OK Mikayla-” “It’s Mi-KEE-la,” I grumbled, adding “asshole” under my breath. “Right. So your care instructions have been messaged to you.” The graft gun sizzled when it hit my skin. “There’s not much to do. Just leave it alone for a few days, and keep your hair and earrings away from it as best you can.” Hair wouldn’t be an issue – that half of my head was shaved. “And my preferences?” I asked. “You won’t feel anything unnatural. Any brand preferences will[...]

 EP551: The Most Absurd Dance at the End of the Worlds | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 0:26:29

AUTHOR: Holly Heisey NARRATOR: Andrea Richardson HOST: Alasdair Stuart The Most Absurd Dance at the End of the Worlds is an Escape Pod original. Discuss on our forums.  For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia Thank you for visiting us on Facebook and Twitter about the author… Holly Heisey launched their writing career in sixth grade when they wrote their class play, a medieval fantasy. It was love at first dragon. Since then, their short fiction has appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show, The Doomsday Chronicles, Clockwork Phoenix 5, and Transcendent: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction, and has been translated into German and Estonian. A freelance designer by day, Holly lives in Upstate New York with Larry and Moe, their two pet cacti, and they are currently at work on a science fantasy epic.       about the narrator… Andrea Richardson is a British singer and actress. With extensive stage and film performances to her name, she began narration and voice over work in 2015, and really enjoys using her existing skills in a different way. She lives in London and has a busy social life with amateur dramatics and working with her jazz band, Jazz Mondays.           The Most Absurd Dance at the End of the Worlds By Holly Heisey It was the end of the worlds, and Mr. Jamison and I were arguing over peas. Not the mush you get in a cafeteria, but peas that smelled like grasshoppers and summer. Real, in the shell, peas. Mr. Jamison detached his monocle and peered down at the pea pods on my outstretched hand. He made a huffing sound that poofed his drooping moustache. He looked like a side character in an old John Wayne movie, stuffed into fussy clothes. “It is an altogether sensible looking vegetable,” he finally said. “But how will they help us to program the Back Button?” He motioned to the collection of brass pipes and gauges that hulked on the sturdy worktable. Afternoon sunlight slanted from the warehouse windows and gave the Back Button a purposeful glint. If we could figure out what that purpose was, we could save the worlds. I picked a pod off my hand and held it to the sunlight. “I think this pod is like the shape our worlds are taking now. The brane that contains the one hundred and nineteen realities is stretched thin and long, and our worlds are lined up inside of it.” Mr. Jamison took the pea pod gingerly. He looked up at me as if for permission, then went ahead and slit the pod down the middle with his thumbnail. I didn’t tell him that the best way to shell a pea was to snap it in half. He studied the five round peas inside the split pod. “But that would make our brane a very long pod,” he said. “I don’t think so. I think our brane is exactly that long, and it’s trying to fit one hundred and nineteen peas inside of it. I think that’s why the worlds are getting squashed together.” He grunted, not entirely in character. “Well, it is certainly a different way of looking at it. I congratulate you, Miss Pritchett, on finding the most inane way to re-explain a theory that came after the practical application thereof.” I felt myself blush. If his character was wavering, I was too much in character in this confining simulation. I pursed my lips into a more suitable indignation. “I think we need to shell the pea. I think we need to remove ourselves from the confines of the brane altogether.” “Impossible,” Mr. Jamison huffed. “Well, and twenty years ago, would you have thought the collision of worlds was possible?” He paused. I didn’t know how old he was. Most of the worlds had similar inhabitants, with similar lifespans to those on Earth. We of all the worlds had gotten along in the best fashion that people of Earth-nature could. That is to say, we ended the war last year because it was killing us faster than the collision of worlds. “Would I have thought all this possible twenty years ago? Perhaps not,” he admitted. I di[...]

 EP550: When They Come Back | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 0:28:07

AUTHOR: Natalie Theodoridou NARRATOR: Ibba Armancas HOST: Tina Connolly When They Come Back was originally published in Crossed Genres (Issue 22), in October 2014. Discuss on our forums.  For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia Thank you for visiting us on Facebook and Twitter Help support the Pseudopod Kickstarter to support pay for narrators (… and get this awesome Tiki mug with a donation of $40 or more). about the author… Natalia Theodoridou is a media & cultural studies scholar currently based in Exeter, UK. She is also the dramaturge of Adrift Performance Makers (@AdriftPM). Her fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Nature, Daily Science Fiction, and elsewhere. Find out more at her website or follow @natalia_theodor on Twitter.     about the narrator…   Raised by swordfighters and eastern European freedom fighters, Ibba Armancas is a writer-director currently based in Los Angeles. Her darkly comedic genre sensibilities are showcased in two webseries and a feature film forthcoming later this year. One day she will find time to make a website, but in the mean time you can follow her projects and adventures on Twitter or Instagram.   When They Come Back By Natalia Theodoridou   They were called Maria, and Michael, and Siobhan, George, Elise, and Sarah, and Violet, Daisy, Jasmine, Rose– no, perhaps these were not people names, these were flower names, weren’t they?– and Gabriel, Raphael, Bacchus, Athena, Io, Muhammad, but these were mythical names, and god names, and prophet names, so hard to tell them apart all these years after the– all these years after they– and Natalie, Vasilis, Dmitri, Ousmane… # The angel is rotting. He’s leaning against the trunk of an olive tree. I examine his body but avoid his eyes, as always, just in case. I would like to have been a man, he’d said once, so I always think of him as one, no matter what his body looks like. Today he has a mane of dark curls that reach all the way down to the roots of his wings. No beard. No breasts. No hair on his body except a little around his crotch. His skin has turned the colour of a fresh bruise. It won’t be long. “What will it be like when they come back?” I start our little game. Our ritual of remembering and bonding. And hoping. Or at least that’s what it used to be. I check myself in the time it takes him to reply. Skin, a little dry. Sub-optimal. Heartmech, optimal. Brainmech, sub-optimal. Energy levels, as good as can be hoped under this sky. I move my limbs one by one and they respond with a low whir. My hands feel especially stiff. I haven’t touched anyone, anything, for so long. Nothing to be done about that. He stirs. His voice sounds as if it’s coming from behind a stormy cloud or from the dark bottom of a lake. “When he comes back, I will be waiting for him in the kitchen of his old home. I will be sitting on top of his cupboards, like a bird, or a gargoyle, and so I will be looking at him from above. He will walk in through the front door.” The angel pauses and licks his lips. “His clothes are dusty. His footsteps leave behind small piles of dirt. He doesn’t see me at first.” He suddenly turns to look at me and I avert my eyes just in time. A city is smoking in the distance. We always avoid cities. They crucify angels in the cities. My kind do. “Then he feels me watching over him,” he continues, “he raises his eyes to look at me and so I storm down and wrap myself around him. ‘You are back,’ I say, and he is mine to protect, and so I breathe him in as deeply as I can. He smells of earth and humanity.” The angel inhales slowly, as if he can still smell his human. “Then I make him some tea.” “Tea? Really?” I say, studying the black smoke that is rising over the horizon. I wonder w[...]

 EP549: The Battaile of the Mudde | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 0:00:01

AUTHOR: Anthony Tardiff NARRATOR: J. J. Campanella HOST: Adam Pracht The Battaile of the Mudde is an Escape Pod original. Discuss on our forums.  For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia Thank you for visiting us on Facebook and Twitter Help support the Pseudopod Kickstarter to support pay for narrators (… and get this awesome Tiki mug with a donation of $40 or more).   about the author… Anthony Tardiff punches sharks while walking through high desert away from towering explosions, and he doesn’t even look back. He is married to the most beautiful woman in the world, and has three very young boys who are honestly rather cute because they take after their mother. He is an instruction librarian at a university library in the beautiful Inland Northwest, and he contemplates mountains on his daily commute. (Mountains speak profundities.) He is also a science fiction writer.   about the narrator… Campanella is a scientist, teacher, and writer who lives in beautiful Northern New Jersey with his family and collection of singing potatoes. He has been a well-known story narrator and scientific voice-of-reason on the StarShipSofa Podcast for the last eight years. He has his own story website as well — Uvula Audio– where he narrates different books in the public domain, as well as tales from his own specially touched brain-pan. by Anthony Tardiff “Dude, can you come over?” “I’ve got homework,” I said, staring at the mounds of it spread across my desk. “It’s kind of urgent.” I sighed and swapped my phone to my other ear. Vincent’s voice had that edge-of-panic quality I’d come to recognize. “Don’t tell me,” I said. “You melted your mom’s toilet again.” “No.” “You turned Mrs. Nedry’s gardenias fluorescent again and she called the UFO hotline.” “No.” I closed my eyes and groaned. “Your homework ate your dog again.” “No. Worse.” Worse? My eyes popped open. It had taken us three hours to hunt down and kill the homework. His mom had not been happy at what the chase had done to the house. She still wondered where Brandy had gone. What could be worse? “It’s” — Vincent’s voice dropped to a hoarse whisper — “a girl.” “You created a girl?” I knew Vincent had trouble talking to girls, but this was ridiculous. Besides, he had a massive crush on Melissa Kells, the head of the drama club. I couldn’t imagine him even thinking about a different girl. “I didn’t create her,” Vincent hissed. “I brought her.” “You bought a girl?” “No! Sheesh, Dave. Listen, why don’t you?” “How can I when you’re hissing like that?” Vincent raised his voice a little. “I brought her. Forward. In time.” My hand gripped the phone. This was a new one. It’s not the easiest thing, being best friends with a mad genius. I suppose I should be happy that Vincent’s version of mad is not the “Mwa ha ha, watch me blow up the world” kind, but the “Why do you think bombarding my dissection frog with gamma rays is a bad idea?” kind. His mind works very, very well — along a very narrow track. He can calculate as fast as any computer I’ve ever seen. He can infer the relationships between diverse scientific concepts and theories, making connections no one has ever thought of before. He just thinks differently than everyone else. Unfortunately that applies not only to science, but to everything. His mind lacks the usual little checks and balances that make other people think, “Maybe creating glow-in-the-dark flowers in my neighbor’s yard is not the most useful application of a brand new energy technology.” Vincent creates astonishing things, but what he does with those things is astonishing in a whole other way. “Okay,” I said, using my patient, do-not-panic voice. “Tell me what happened. Start at the beginning.” “Well, I heard Melissa talking the other day.” I sighed. Melissa was mostly oblivious to Vincent, but that didn’t stop him scheming and planning to get her to notice him. It was only luck — and timely i[...]

 EP548: A Prayer at Noon | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 0:24:09

AUTHOR: John Shade NARRATOR: Amber Pracht HOST: Norm Sherman A Prayer at Noon appeared originally in Triangulation: Parch (Volume 7) edited by Stephen V. Ramey.  Discuss on our forums.  For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia Thank you for visiting us on Facebook and Twitter Help support the Pseudopod Kickstarter to support pay for narrators (… and get this awesome Tiki mug with a donation of $40 or more). about the author… John Shade was born in Central America and grew up all across the U.S. as a Navy brat. He received a B.A. in creative writing from the University of Houston, and an MFA from the University of Southern Maine. He is also a graduate of the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop on Martha’s Vineyard. His work has appeared in Gold Dust Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and Giganotosaurus, among others. He writes short stories, novels, and comics, and now lives in Houston, Texas, with his wife, daughter, a cat, and a dog. He tries to stay out of the sun’s way when summer comes around. about the narrator… Amber Pracht has bachelor’s degrees in American history and print journalism. She enjoyed a brief career as a copy editor, and she is currently keeping busy taking care of her three young children and their many activities while volunteering in her community. She lives with her husband, Adam, and their children and many pets in Lindsborg, Kansas. A Prayer at Noon by John Shade It was a day into the third sun when the patchwork man rode into town. I remember the dust scrabbling at my eyes, and the folk that had gathered on the sidewalks to watch him plod past on a chugging, nearly-spent machine horse. As he came to me, the stitched segments of his face shifted into a new configuration, a hinted smile or frown, and his torso swung around, my breath seized. I’d been around men before, but he was something different. Something more. He was ugly, though, with a wiry frame and a large head set on top, wads of crusted hair sprouting between the seams across his skin. He rode toward us, confident as anything. I braced as he reached down, but he plucked my little sister, Ester, from the crowd instead. The town went silent but for the constant shuffle of wind-blown sand. With his god-strength, the patchwork man tossed Ester into the air like an aerialist, and set her down to swelling applause. The dread was broken. Our prayers had been answered at last. As the patchwork man continued to the town center, folk whispered between themselves whose prayer had brought him here. For years they had defied the desert, old men and women volunteers moving their brooms back and forth down the sun-stained road, humming the same tunes that had sustained futility for a generation. Those of us with younger eyes knew it’d never be enough. The desert always won, as it had again and again since the time of progress, when the factories were touted as our salvation. There was nothing left to do but pray and hope that whatever answered was what we wanted. You rolled the dice with prayer and sometimes things came up bad, but we thought this’d be different. This’d be pure. This’d be good. This’d set things right. # Papa’s gun shop, where my sister and I scratched a living, was wedged along the border where the market rows used to stand. As the last stop for those traveling into the desert we attracted treasure hunters, scholars, military men, cartographers, convicts, hucksters, and thrill-seekers drawn by the lure of the dunes and tales of buried factory cities. We were taught never to go into the desert, but some just couldn’t listen, or were desperate enough to try. The gun shop shelves were filled with every type of weapon imaginable: strange, twisted guns with metallic, clattering timers; guns grown from blast gardens, magical jars, and fungal tattoos. There was no make or model unrepresented. Mixed among these were Ester’s inventions: syncwyrms, sawdust dancers, bone tethers, a[...]

 EP547: Ride the Dragon | File Type: audio/mpeg | Duration: 0:33:45

AUTHOR: Bojan Ratković NARRATOR: Steve Anderson HOST: Norm Sherman Ride the Dragon is an Escape Pod original. Discuss on our forums.  For a list of all Escape Pod stories, authors and narrators, visit our Wikia Thank you for visiting us on Facebook and Twitter about the author… Bojan Ratković is a writer from Serbia, now living in Ontario, Canada. His work has appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Great Lakes Review, Fiction Vortex, and on the World SF Blog. He is pursuing a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Western Ontario.   about the narrator… Steve Anderson has been acting on stage for more years than he cares to admit, and has worked for 10 seasons at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire–most memorably, selling pickles. These days, his main acting job consists of performing one-man shows and storytelling programs with his touring series, Great Tales Live. He’s fascinated by Civil War history, and has led almost a thousand walking tours in Gettysburg. He performs as a living history interpreter along the Civil War Trails. He lives in central Pennsylvania with his beloved wife Rhonda and a varying number of cats. Ride the Dragon by Bojan Ratković We were a band back then, in the bat-shit Wild West days of the game. We held our court at the Gentleman Boozer, the loudest pub on the big map. It was Haru, Flygirl, Black Boris, and me. And we had floaters, part-time comrades. Mostly kids who wanted to be like us, who did us favors. But Tony Rem was there too, the one that rode the dragon. It’s hard to believe now just how big it was, when they launched True-Fantasy. It was the first MMORPG with MaTRiX immersion headgear―it jacked you in, made you really live it. Most of the players were funboys―kids who played for fun―and they paid the bills. But you could make RL coin if you were good enough―real life currency―and the rest of us wanted a cut. Punchers punched the clock, putting in RL hours to work as barkeeps and innkeepers and helpdesk clerks. Gougers sold rare items for RL cash; there was a big black market and bigger gray area, and you could make a killing. We were glitchers―beta testers, top players. Exposing glitches in the game was our business, and admins paid top dollar to help them fix whatever bugs we could find. But it wasn’t about the money. All the top glitchers, the real cowboys, were after big scores. We proved ourselves by exposing the wildest glitches, the ones that got the map talking. There was a group of mercenaries in the Boozer the day Tony came to us about the dragon. They sat across from us, up by the stain glass windows. They were the wrong kind of mercs, cutthroats. They helped the funboys on their quests, for a fee, but then they’d turn on them, cut their throats and take their items. And poof, back to beginner’s village. It wasn’t exactly legal, but they used proxies, rented avatars. Admins kicked them, they came back. Tony strolled in like a breeze, letting the doors clap shut behind him. He walked over to the back and took the chair Haru wasn’t using, on account of his horse’s ass. Haru’s avatar was a centaur with a black leather jacket and shades, and his game was speed. He made his name by galloping vertically along the walls of the White Palace as the whole map watched. It took less than an hour for the admins to fix the glitch that allowed Haru to defy virtual gravity, but the stunt made him famous. “I got the ticket, boys,” Tony spat out like he’d been holding it in for days. “The big one.” Tony was flashy. He wore a white long coat with golden chainmail underneath, and his hair was a custom job that made him look like a Japanese rocker. He had a lot of custom work, not all of it legal. I liked the guy. “Fuck off, Tony,” Flygirl said, but he just laughed it off. Flygirl was the only femme in our group, a horned elf with pale skin and a golden horn poking out of her forehead. She was the best fighter in the group, ruthless and effective.[...]

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