Herman is the first to break the standoff. He charges into Balto’s tank, cracking it open, spilling the whale out and taking Herman off his feet in a rush of water. As gorilla and whale wrestle on the slippery floor, I remind myself to work with Herman on threat-recognition.
Ice is a fan of Sumo, and performs its traditional pre-match ritual across from Takashi, who reciprocates. The two of them crash together with a thud, and push each other back and forth.
Individual combats break out all around me. Ob-ob dodges, weaves, and rolls as Stephen Hawking tries to hammer and stomp him using the powered exoskeleton. This isn’t Ob-ob’s fighting style — he always goes for the throat, without any hesitation. I understand what he’s doing when Bobo leaps onto Hawking’s protective cage — Ob-ob was the distraction. Bobo reaches through the metal bars and shoves the suit’s control levers back and forth. Other combatants separate to avoid being crushed as the suit lurches and spins around the room.
Sam yells, “Cixi, no! Don’t look directly into his eyes … ooooo …”. I turn to find both her and Cixi mesmerized by Keanu.
I spin as I hear the voice of Charlton Heston behind me, calling someone a “damn dirty ape.” Probably the Director playing with the sound system. Yeah, that’s definitely what it was.
A Bruce Lee clone cartwheels in front of me. He whips his nunchuks at my head and groin, but I block with my forearms and shins. It hurts. I punch and kick at him, but he blocks by hitting the insides of my arms and legs, which also hurts. I punch and kick harder, making his blocks hurt worse, which makes me mad, so I swing HARDER, which–
Three deafening gunshots echo in the enclosed space. Putin stands shirtless on a table, holding Fu by the throat with one hand, his other hand pointing a Dragunov sniper rifle, cut down to pistol size, at the ceiling. “Gentlemen, conflicts cannot be resolved through physical violence¹. Mutual respect and cooperation is the only path open to us.”
Accepting the wisdom of Putin’s words, we immediately stop fighting. Via the intercom, we overhear the Director calling for MPD SWAT, FBI HRT, and other initials I don’t recognize. We’d have to fight our way out of the city. But, that is another story.
¹ Just ask the next Carthaginian you meet.
Short Stories, issue 233
Across Pack Ice, A Fire by Marissa Lingen. A sorceress’ husband is killed by a magical plague. She uses magic to unleash something even worse on the country that created the plague: communist revolution.
Gallows Girl by Mel Kassel. Gallows Girls transfer a bit of their innocence to criminals at hangings, so the criminals have a chance in the afterlife. The setting is western, but in a west where giant sloths, giant armadillos, and terror birds still exist.
Short Stories, issue 232
Red Bark and Ambergris by Kate Marshall. A young girl is kidnapped and forced to be an apprentice on an island. She has the choice of two careers, one of which is to be a poison-mitigator (my term, not the author’s) for the queen, whose body contains three fatal poisons from three past assassination attempts. There are a couple of nice plot twists near the end.
No Pearls as Blue as These by Benjanun Sriduangkaew. A lot of fantasy-world details, but basically a non-story until the very end, which is a non-ending.
Short Stories, issue 231
Deathspeaker by Stephen Case. The premise has some similarity to the Japanese manga/anime “Death Note”. There is a girl who can kill anyone by speaking their name. A king keeps her in a dungeon, passing her the names of people he wants dead. She escapes (with some help), but instead of running away, runs to the king’s archive, where she starts reading out loud from the family genealogies and tax records, wiping out the ruling class of the kingdom. She then sets herself up as empress.
She then faces a rival emperor, who can make anyone immortal by speaking their name. His beaten-to-pieces undead soldiers follow him because anyone who refuses is buried alive to go insane forever through sensory deprivation. Some of the undead soldiers desert and give their name to the empress, who is able to kill them. The story ends inconclusively, which seems to be a bit of a trend for BCS.
The Broken Karwaneer by Jeremy TeGrotenhuis. A post-apocalyptic world filled with raiders, slavers, and sorcerers.
I had low expectations going into this. I generally prefer science fiction to fantasy, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies also has a reputation for stories that are heavy on setting and description, but light on plot and action.
So, I was surprised when I ended up giving two of the six stories a four-star rating (out of five), and only one of them a rating below three stars. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but it is high enough to place BCS among the top finishers in round 1 of my magazine quest, and give them a good shot at a medal if they continue to perform in rounds 2 and 3.