The Assistant Director only makes me wait twenty minutes outside his office, so I know there’s a crisis.
He motions for me to sit. “We’re shutting down your program.”
“Twenty-seven successful missions. No friendly casualties.” I decide not to mention that I’ve been letting Fu do all the mission planning.
“Doesn’t matter. One of the congressmen on the committee saw the latest ‘Planet of the Apes’ movie and freaked out.”
“Fine, I’ll stick them in a zoo somewhere til this blows over.”
“And what will I tell the congressman when one of your apes kills someone?”
“Fu’s smart. I’ll just explain things to him. Herman doesn’t want to fight, he just wants to be the 800-pound gorilla in the room, which is pretty easy since he’s actually an 800-pound gorilla. Gorilla, steroids, and weightlifting is one hell of a combination.”
Bobo … yeah. If Bobo decides “the enemy” is a local street gang … or the fire department … or a girl scout troop ….
Before I can think of a response, the assistant director slides a whopper of a pistol across the desk to me. It looks like someone welded a pistol grip onto an artillery piece. “I need you to tie up loose ends. The allotted time for this briefing is over.”
I put the pistol in my briefcase and stand to leave. “What about Bubbles?”
“Who the hell is Bubbles?”
“Border Collie. We use her for pre-mission recon.”
“This is a clean burn. Everything associated with the program disappears forever.”
I leave the assistant director’s office, not paying enough attention to his words.
I pull up to the “Department of Agriculture” facility. No other cars in the lot. Just me, a pistol, and four animals behind bars. Shooting fish in a barrel? At least fish would have water between them and the bullets.
I slide my security card at the front door, cross the lobby, and climb the stairs. I draw my pistol and take a deep breath before stepping onto the catwalk above the animal habitats. Not an animal in sight. Open doors everywhere.
I run downstairs, then out an open door marked “fire exit”. Fu is at the edge of the woods. He puts his thumbs to his ears, making moose antlers in my direction, and blows a flatulent noise at me. I dive back inside. Bobo might have found one of the tranquilizer-dart rifles.
This is like one of those mission-gone-to-hell training scenarios. How did we beat those? Slip out the other side of the building, circle around, take the enemy in the flank. But … that was Fu’s plan. Herman and Bobo are probably waiting for me there. I take several deep breaths and get a running start out the fire exit, heading straight for Fu.
He disappears into the underbrush, and my pursuit slows as I listen for him. I hold the pistol in both hands, keeping my elbows bent and the weapon close to my chest. I swivel-neck, watching every direction on the ground and above me in the trees.
I track Fu deeper into the woods, but between the setting sun and the denser vegetation, I’m losing daylight fast. I don’t see Herman in the shadows. He rushes me from behind, grabbing my entire head in one massive hand. I whip my arm up for a one-handed snap shot over my shoulder. I never make the shot. Bobo is here, and he wrenches the gun from my grip. Herman swings his other arm forward, but doesn’t crush my skull. He points through a clearing, back towards the building.
Two Apache helicopters circle the facility once, before unleashing a shrieking noise that blows out every window. They follow up with a salvo of Hellfire missiles that level the building. Herman lets go of my head as Fu joins us.
I roll my neck from side to side. “Where’s Bubbles?”
Fu makes a sweeping gesture, indicating a long distance in an unknown direction. He hands me a stack of papers.
The first piece of paper is a for-sale listing of a big rig with a large sleeper cabin. Fu has written a note on it, which I read out loud. “Vehicles of this nature are ubiquitous on the American highway system. A cargo trailer may be outfitted with sufficient amenities to provide a reasonably comfortable living environment for the various members of our team. You can trust my judgement in this matter. Fu Manchu.” I look at Fu. “I don’t have this much money in my pocket, and there’s no way I’m accessing my bank account.”
Fu nods at the stack of papers.
The second page has a commercial driver’s license clipped to it, with my picture and an alias I’ve never used before. The next pages are bank statements, with enough money to purchase the truck and custom trailer. I look at Fu again. “The government is going to follow a financial trail right to us.”
Fu nods at the stack of papers.
I read the last page out loud. “Government financial auditors are known to follow a checklist system, rather than employing sound investigatory techniques. I endeavored to procure copies of their checklists. I ensured that not a solitary one of my financial transactions would meet any criterion for discovery in the event the checklists should be followed. You can trust my judgement in this matter. Fu Manchu.”
… and that’s the story of how the Four Apes ended up on the road in an eighteen-wheeler. At the time, we didn’t know the government was testing the latest generation of covert hunter-killer drone nearby. They were concerned how the drone would behave if its targets had already been blown up, and decided to find out by setting it on our trail. But, that is another story.
Catskill Dragon by Stephen Power. An Adventurer tries to capture (another) dragon for his zoo. I want to call this story steampunk, even though there are no steam contraptions or zeppelins or whatever. Maybe Victorian or Neo-Victorian would be a better term.
Her Glimmering Facade by Eleanor Wood. I can’t write anything about this story without spoilers, so I’ll just say that it’s the author’s take on a common SF trope.
Claimed by the Sea by Beth Powers. A magic user on the run meets another magic user in hiding.
From the Clay of His Heart by John Brown. A villager has a pet kleptomaniac golem.
Gretel and Hansel by Charity Tahmaseb. Self-explanatory.
Thorns by Eldon Thompson. A plot to assassinate a Roman slave-owner.
Deep Magic promotes itself as the place for “Clean” SFF, stories without sex, cursing, and “graphic violence”. I seem to remember a good bit of violence in some of the stories, but can’t remember specifics. I’m also not sure exactly where I’d place the boundary between violence and graphic violence.
I hope you enjoyed my Four Apes origin story. Whenever I try to write the origin of a person/creature/thing, it always comes out as “escaped from a secret government laboratory.” Maybe I need to google “repressed memories”.