Genres:

Cast of Wonders 130: The Phobos Monolith


The Phobos Monolith

by Preston Dennett

True to her nature, Vasia ran without fear or caution across the Martian landscape.  She leaped in huge graceful arcs that any dancer would envy. Naira did her best to keep up, but because of legs, and she quickly fell behind.  How she wished she could rid herself of the cursed robo-walker that encased her legs so she could run like Vasia. Her sister’s body was strong and healthy.  Naira, unfortunately, wasn’t as lucky. It was a miracle that their parents had even let them outside, considering how protective they were.

“Hurry up, Naira!” Vasia yelled.  “Wait ‘til you see. It’s just a little farther.”

Naira huffed along at a steady pace.  Vasia wanted to show her a patch of crystals she had found.  They would, Vasia said, make a nice addition to their collection.

Seeing that Naira was catching up, Vasia turned and began running again.

Naira watched as her sister soared upwards.  Then she landed and disappeared into the ground.  A small puff of dust geysered upwards and settled instantly.

“Vasia!”

Naira increased her pace and knelt down where her sister had disappeared.  There it was: a small black hole in the ground, just large enough to swallow Vasia.
(Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Cast of Wonders 128: Robots Don’t Cry


Robots Don’t Cry

by George Edwards

I walked alone down a road with farms on all sides, cowboy hat on my head.

“Where am I Marco Polo?” I knew where I was, of course, but Marco Polo could see better.

He fed me all the data he could. He was one of the few satellites still orbiting earth after years of neglect.

“Thank you sir,” I said after his transmission ended. He gave me my exact location. I walked for hours.

A pick-up truck rambled up the road behind me, an odd noise for times like these. I stuck my thumb out.

The truck slowed and cracked its window. A grizzled old man was behind the wheel said, “Where ya headed?”

Using the friendliest voice in my bank I replied, “East, sir, to Auburn.”

He leaned over and opened his door for me. “Hop in,” he said.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Cast of Wonders 125: The Clasp


The Clasp

by Jarod K. Anderson

Our tribe didn’t have a word for the huge, winged race of reptiles who shared the cliff-faces with us. They were just “The Clasp.” Same as us. One tribe. One name. One shared livelihood as old as the great butte.

When I was young boy, before I knew better, I asked my grandmother if we were pretending to be like the big, scaly tribesmen or if they were pretending to be like us. After all, we didn’t look anything alike. When I finally made her understand my question, I hated the way she looked at me, like she’d tasted something bitter.

“There’s no ‘they’ or ‘us,’” she said. “We eat the same plants and insects, don’t we? We drink the same water, don’t we? All The Clasp warms our blood on the southern face and shelters from storms in the red caverns, eh?”

As we spoke, I remember a big male, in the gray raggedness of his shed, ambled along the ceiling of the cave where we sat. A curled sheet of semi-translucent skin fell between us, but I knew better than to mention the difference. I had learned. We would all be the same through sheer will and stubbornness.
(Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Cast of Wonders 124: Old People Rules


Old People Rules

by Holly Schofield

So I’ve figured it out. There are eight rules for old people.

Rule #1: Old people try too hard

I didn’t think anything was wrong until Milanda hit ‘upload’. The app’s progress bar had crept almost all the way across the hologram before I noticed the target website was Dad’s.

The icon I’d designed, a grinning 3-D dragon, began blinking its large eyes, showing my app had activated my spyware.

“Hey, it really worked. Uber-crystal, Fran.” Milanda said. She shoved back her chair and turned to face me.

I was sprawled on her bed, painting my nails. “Swing Me Hard, Girl” by BlueLulz surrounded us—Milanda’s new bedroom wall paint, with  nano-speakers embedded right in, was super-crystal. I’d love to design something like that. Some day.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres: , ,

Cast of Wonders 120: Master Madrigal’s Mechanical Man


Master Madrigal’s Mechanical Man

by Scott C. Mikula

I tried to shut out the crowd’s roar, but the thunder of a thousand feet pounding above us in the arena stands rose until I could feel the breastplate of the mechanical swordsman vibrate beneath my touch.  Master Madrigal gestured with his palsied hand for me to replace the automaton’s helmet, but I hesitated to examine the delicate inner workings. Just one small adjustment

A cuff to the back of my head arrested my motion.  “We have spoken of this, Cetta,” said Madrigal. “There is no problem with the balance.”  He crossed his arms, tucking his useless right hand out of sight beneath his sleeve.

I persuaded my mother to send me to her uncle Madrigal after his illness, when I was just twelve years old.  The word apprentice was never used. Girls did not apprentice to craftsmen like Madrigal, and I don’t think he would have taken an apprentice in any case.  He referred to me as his hands. My deft fingers did the work his no longer could.
(Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Cast of Wonders 119: Pictures in Crayon


Pictures in Crayon

by Elizabeth Shack

At recess the Arks dot the sky like unwinking stars. Ally and her friends aren’t supposed to talk about it, eyes wide above the breathing masks that muffle their voices, but they do. Where they’ll go, what they’ll bring. Every kid Ally knows has a suitcase packed, just in case they win. Hers has photos from the zoo and a birthday card her little brother Rafe drew in red crayon. He called the scribble Mars.

The only time they don’t talk is after the monthly drawing, when no one can bear it. Some kids, somewhere, were chosen, but it’s not anyone they know. At recess no one looks up. Those nights, Rafe crawls into her bed. He doesn’t understand–at four he’s barely old enough to enter the lottery–but he knows something’s wrong. Their parents are crying, and Ally will keep him safe.

Ally lies awake with her arms around her little brother. In the morning she repacks his suitcase for next month and tells him stories about Mars.
(Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Cast of Wonders 118: Perihelion

Show Notes

Today we present Vajra Chandrasekera’s story, Perihelion.

You may know that we usually pay our authors using PayPal. We were amazed to discover that it is not possible to receive PayPal payments in Sri Lanka! There are many individuals and small businesses that provide online services like web development, graphic designing and more in Sri Lanka. But Sri Lanka not supporting PayPal has become a barrier for them to continue and progress in their careers. If you’d like more information about this and to help support creative people like this week’s author, please go to https://sites.google.com/site/ppforsrilanka/enable-receiving-money-to-sri-lanka-through-paypal.


Perihelion

by Vajra Chandrasekera

Hold on tight, we’re coming around again.

This thing crumbles a little every time we hit perihelion. Almost lost my footing again. You okay? Good. We’ve got a moment to catch our breath, except we don’t breathe any more. Words stick in language like vestigial tails in the womb. Not that we have either of those any more, either.

We still have eggs, though. And if you’re ready to leave yours behind, now would be a good time. We’re about as far from the sun as we’re going to get.

No? It’s okay, it’s okay. Take your time. You’re all right, I got you. Don’t worry, all right? If you can’t bring yourself to make the jump, I’ll carry you. I just think you’ll like to look back later and remember your first time flying.

We’re all afraid the first time.
(Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Cast of Wonders 114: Now Cydonia (Staff Pick 2013)

Show Notes

Now Cydonia ran as Episode 71 back in March of last year. One reason I’m personally so proud of our win is the story’s author, Rick Kennett. Although I’ve never met him, he’s from my home town of Melbourne, Australia and I love that a fellow countryman writes such kick-arse stuff. I narrated one of his ghost stories for Pseudopod, the immensely creepy The Dark and What It Said which is flat-out the best evocation of how spooky and lonely the Australian bush can be. Rick is a talented writer and I’m always happy to hear his stories when they appear in the pod-o-sphere.


Now Cydonia

by Rick Kennett

Cadet Cy De Gerch bounced forward into the desert darkness, raised her arms in a defensive posture and, as best as a fourteen year could, barked, “Halt! Who goes there!”

There was no one there. There never was.

Cy jumped back, a slow leap in the low gravity, to her original position on the perimeter, her vacsuit moving easy like a second skin, to watch and wait and break the boredom as best she could until relieved. Out there was the desert she had trekked the past two years with her section of Martian Star Corps cadets. Out there was the countryside of Mars – cold and red and a billion years dead, littered with rocks, pocked with craters, filled with myths and ghost stories, most of which Cy didn’t really believe. Sergeant Kreeng – Old Get-It-Right – had known what he was doing when he’d set them perimeter guard duty consisting mostly of doing nothing. It was, she knew, a discipline of the mind.

(Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Cast of Wonders 113: The Malthus Alternative (Staff Pick 2013)


The Malthus Alternative

by Jamie Mason

13.

“The gantry or the gallows.” Father chuckles. “When I think of all the money wasted on this –” (he gestures through the tinted windows of the limousine at the ruined space-port beyond) “– garbage it makes me sick – sick, I tell you! Colonize space? Mankind would have done better creating space on our own world, not blasting off in search of others!”

I hold my tongue – a necessary job skill when working for Father. My childhood dreams of a career in theater or publishing have given way to the reality of a senior management position with Global Confinement Solutions, Father’s flagship concern. GCS is a place where arguing with Father is accounted (like live theater or literature or space travel) a complete waste of time. And the team at GCS should know. Because time is our business.
(Continue Reading…)

Genres: ,

Cast of Wonders 109: Nuclear Family

Show Notes

Today we present Alex Shvartsman’s story, Nuclear Family. Alex has been here several times before — welcome back Alex! Thanks for gracing us with an inventive seasonal story.


Nuclear Family

by Alex Shvartsman

Daddy said we couldn’t have a real tree this Christmas.

At first I was sad, but then Mommy said we would im-pro-vise.  I liked learning a big new word. It means use things we have in the house. Mommy and Daddy improvise all the time, ever since we couldn’t go outside anymore.

Daddy went upstairs to find some things to improvise with. I wanted to help, but Daddy said we all have to stay in the basement for a very long time, so we don’t get sick. I hate the basement. There’s nothing to do here. Mommy or Daddy go upstairs once every few days and bring things back down with them. Usually it is food and toilet paper and things, but sometimes they get a few books and toys and games from my room.  They run up and down the stairs as quickly as they can, because when they are upstairs they can get sick too.

This time Daddy was gone for almost five minutes, but he brought down a whole bunch of stuff. He put a tall coat rack in the middle of the basement to make the tree trunk and taped on some unwound wire hangers to make branches.  He gave me a green tablecloth and said to cut it into long, thin strips. Then we glued the strips on to the wire and put up a few ornaments. It didn’t really look like a tree, but Mommy said to use our imagination. I didn’t mind. Decorating the coat rack gave us something fun to do.

Then all of us had to take our radiation pills. I dropped mine and Daddy got really mad. He said that we already didn’t have enough to last us until it was safe to go outside and that we couldn’t waste any. He made me pick it up and eat it off the floor. Eww.

On Christmas Eve we moved the table next to the pretend tree and ate a holiday meal. Mommy made a big pot of spam stew and everyone was allowed to have seconds because it was such a special day. We even had sliced peaches for dessert. Mommy and Daddy didn’t eat very many, saying that it was a special treat for me. But they did try some because it was the last can and Daddy said he wasn’t sure when we would ever taste peaches again. Mommy shushed him. Then we sang every holiday song we could remember.

When I woke up in the morning Daddy was gone. Mommy said that he had to leave for a while but the way she was crying I didn’t think he was coming back. I got scared and Mommy told me to go open my presents.

There was some stuff under the pretend Christmas tree, but it was all toys from upstairs that I had from before. There was also a little box with Daddy’s share of the radiation medicine. Daddy is silly. Who wants pills for a present?

Genres:

Cast of Wonders 104: Captain Cleveland Grackle’s Galactic Cabaret vs. The Goblins of Vishnu 6

Show Notes

As you’ll hear in the outro, Jamieson’s inspiration for this story is the episode art for this week, a fair-haired young girl piloting a large mechanical fish. This arresting image was created by the exceptional artist Jasmine Becket-Griffith. You can find her work online here. Please go check it out! It’s well worth your time, and she has our thanks for allowing us to use the piece as this week’s episode art.


Captain Cleveland Grackle’s Galactic Cabaret vs. The Goblins of Vishnu 6

By Jamieson Ridenhour

Load-in is always a bitch on a gas giant gig, but the moisture off the methane sea on Vamana really played havoc with my drum heads. The city, Upendra, was a big, domed thing with old-school terra-forming and flora-powered atmos that amounted to a human-made jungle in the midst of the rocky moon. We were playing the Municipal Amphitheatre, a screamingly Corporate name that was typically boring and grandiose all at once. That we got booked at all is probably due more to the backwater status of Vishnu 6’s fifth moon than any real thought about whether we’d be a good fit—we were a hell of a lot cheaper than the big CorpMuses who played closer to Earth.

Not that any of this mattered, mind you. A gig’s a gig, and this one was if anything a little bigger than we usually pulled. I’m just saying that for the all the “professionalism” of the local staff and the “modern ease” with which the intra-dome transfer was supposed to run, we might as well have been playing a dive bar in the Pleiades. But we did get the equipment set up, ‘cause you always do, and we did get what could technically be called a sound-check before we were hustled off the stage so the other two bands on the roster could do the same.

I’m telling the story like I’m a veteran, but truth be told that gig was only my third or fourth with Cleveland Grackle’s Galactic Cabaret, even though the Neverending Tour was a full decade old by that point. This is right after they started using the mechanical fish during “Nearer to Land,” the one Kimmy would pilot out of the wings on invisible filaments when Peter began his guitar solo.
(Continue Reading…)

Genres:

Cast of Wonders 103: The View from Stickney Crater


The View from Stickney Crater

by Rick Kennett

Five minutes later they were in the airlock, ready to jump. Dr Ben Norsk at a hundred and three was the oldest member of Utopia Plain’s crew, while Lieutenant Cy De Gerch at seventeen was the youngest.

“How’s the headache now, Miss De Gerch?” asked Norsk, trying to sound calm over his vacsuit’s intercom.

“Gone,” she said. “Should stay that way as long as fire control remains off-target.”

Captain Brown loud in her helmet earpiece said, “Cy, do you still hear Wiltchie’s voice?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well. Go.”

They went, the doctor first, De Gerch following, swept out of the lock on a beam of gravity. At its focus up ahead lay the dead hulk of the troop transport Mariner Valley, drifting as a gigantic, jagged shadow against the sunlit side of Cue Ball. Opposing starships had swarmed around the small white moon a day before, leaving behind such wreckage. Both Norsk and De Gerch knew, as they arrowed between ships, that the battle might soon return.

De Gerch did a half somersault to watch Utopia Plain shrink into the darkness. Too late. Black on black, the frigate was already impossible to make out, save where eclipsed stars betrayed her outline.

The voice in her head said, **Cy, are you here yet?** As always it spoke with no pain, no urgency, no fear.
(Continue Reading…)