Tonight’s intro story is a continuation of my previous Four Apes intro story:
… Ape-proof steel doors slam shut across the exits, trapping us inside.
I scan the upper walls and ceiling until I spot a security camera, then face it. “Quit screwing around, Director. The Bad Guys are up to some bad stuff, and you need our help to stop them.”
The director’s voice is calm over the speakers. “The situation has changed, my former low-ranking underling. Congress funded a new Department of Agriculture strike team … with one stipulation: their first mission would be your destruction. Ah, but what kind of host am I? Introductions are in order.”
One of the steel doors rises, revealing a beluga whale in a tank of water. I don’t remember the water being there before.
The Director’s voice takes on a darker tone. “You’re now face-to-face with Balto, the DoA strike-team lead.”
“Yeah … I can tell you’re using your physical intimidation voice, but I’m not really picking up on the exact nature of the threat.”
“It is no surprise that you fail to recognize how dire your situation is. The testing computer placed Balto’s IQ in the high hundreds. He’s either the smartest thing to ever exist on this planet, or he squeak-programmed the computer on the fly. But, as I remember, you’re not the cerebral type. Let’s see how you feel about facing … the ghost of Charlton Heston.”
Another steel door rises, revealing an empty hallway.
I look at my watch. “Nothing’s happening. In fact, I don’t think Charlton Heston is even dead.”
The Director’s voice takes on the irritated tone I’m most familiar with. “Of course he’s dead! How else would he be striking ghostly terror into your entire team at this very minute? If the spiritual world has no hold on you, perhaps you will grasp the impending threat of metal and horsepower — our most powerful H.E.R.B.I.E supercomputer, in the body of a racing machine.”
The next steel door rises, revealing a white, new-model Volkswagen beetle with the number “53” painted on it. The car is too wide for the doorway — smoke and the smell of burning rubber spill into the room as the car’s tires spin.
The Director coughs and blasts some muffled curses at technicians in the control room before addressing us again. “Let’s see if you’re so smug when you’re facing … world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking.”
Sam whispers into my ear. “I think I’m more scared of the whale.”
The next steel door doesn’t rise on its own. A pair of metal claws smash through the tile and cement of the floor and hurl the door upwards. The ground vibrates as Hawking’s powered exoskeleton stomps into the room. His monotone, synthesized voice is far more intimidating than the Director’s. “It’s time … to make some apes … take up less space.” He clacks his metal claws together.
Sam screams in my ear. “Holy %@#*&—$%*& #*$# in a *^&#@# $&#&.”
I rub my ear and raise an eyebrow at her. I’m pretty sure what she just described isn’t physically possible.
The Director laughs. “Finally, a glimmer of understanding. I could have Hawking crush all of you by himself, but that would leave nothing for … Bruce Lee clone number four.”
An opening door reveals Bruce Lee twirling a set of nunchuks in each hand. He stops the twirling, lets the nunchuks fall limp, and faces the security camera. “Number four? What happened to number three?” He looks down at the floor for a moment before looking back up at the camera. “Hey, what happened to number two?” He scratches his head with the nunchuks. “Hey, what happened to number one?”
The Director sighs. “I don’t have time to explain to each Bruce what happened to all of the previous Bruces. Fortunately, I will save time because my next team member needs no introduction.”
Vladimir Putin stands shirtless, flexing his muscles behind the opening door.
I point at the security camera. “Hold it. That makes absolutely no sense. If Putin works for the Department of Agriculture, then why did I almost get killed on that mission to—”
“You have always failed to grasp the big picture. A flaw which is not shared by my remaining team members: Hollywood actor Keanu Reeves and Sumo champion Ichinojo Takashi.”
Our final two opponents step through their doors. Sam gives an appreciative whistle. If we survive this, I’m going to ask her which one she whistled at.
[To be continued…]
The Deaths of All We Are by Liz Colter. A wistful story, which is about life being cyclical and/or pointless, I guess.
Seraph by Ian McHugh. The residents of a castle must defend it against a magical ice-bear.
The Enemy’s True Name by Mark Silcox. A retired hero is recruited to stop an invasion. The reluctant hero trope is pretty common these days, but I felt this story painted a believable picture of it, especially in such a short format.
Hard Crossing at Luhinmov Ford by Adrian Simmons. A female champion must hide her pregnancy and win a duel. I really liked the cultural setup, where a female champion made sense in a hand-to-hand combat setting. I’ve seen too many other authors write female hand-to-hand champions, their only explanation seeming to be “because I’ll get more female readers”.
I didn’t write much about this magazine’s stories, partially because you can read all of them yourself, for free. I almost didn’t read fantasy-only magazines for my quest, as my original goal was to locate a reliable source of good science fiction stories. However, two of the four stories in this issue gave me something I was missing in my other reading, so I’ll drop this spoiler on you: HFQ will make it to round two of the quest.
Tonight’s guest stars, in order of appearance:
Charlton Heston (Disclaimer: due to limited financial resources in the casting department, Charlton Heston did not actually appear in tonight’s episode.)