The hospital room isn’t clean enough for Heaven, but not dirty enough for Hell, so I guess I’m still alive. I close my eyes again and sleep. When I wake up, the captain is there, showing his badge to the nurses and telling them he won’t stay too long.
He sits in a chair next to my bed, while four men in business suits wait by the door. “Good, you’re awake. The doctors said you might have some memory loss. What can you tell me?”
“How far back you want me to go?”
“As far as you think you need to.”
“I finished my mental-health leave, then joined the department’s anti-terrorism task force.” I don’t mention that I joined it so I could use task force resources to track Talking Chicken. “Decoding a cryptic message which the masked vigilante placed in Cirsova magazine’s classified ads, I located the terrorists’ bomb factory. I was spotted, and couldn’t wait for backup. I went in. Dropped three Chechens as they ran for the explosives. Turns out, there were four of them.”
“Yeah, we figured it was something like that.”
“Blast took out the whole building?”
“Whole city block. You remember anything after that?”
“I remember being scraped into an ambulance, and wondering why the EMTs were even bothering.”
The captain takes a deep breath and lets it out. “Yes … that brings us to the other reason for my visit. It took a lot of surgery to put you back together, and there’s physical therapy in your future. The problem is, the department’s workers’ compensation plan has a six million dollar limit per incident. It wasn’t enough to cover all the costs.”
I reach down, feeling to see if my legs are still there.
“No, it’s not that. We … elected to cover the costs by volunteering you as a test-bed for new law-enforcement tech. I’ll let these gentlemen explain.”
One of the suits steps forward. “William Davidson, AireCalor Solutions.”
I still hear a constant ringing sound. “Did you put something in my ears, so I can listen in on terrorists’ cellphone calls?”
“No, much better than that. We’ve installed governors in all your major muscle groups. When you exert yourself too heavily, your muscle activity will throttle down, significantly reducing your output of CO2.”
“You made me better by making me … slower … weaker?”
A second suit steps forward. “David Williamson, Cyclopean Technologies. We’ve installed a set of digital filtering lenses in your corneas.”
“Now that’s more like it! Walk in on top of a flash-bang, take the bad guys down before they know what’s hit ’em!”
“Not exactly. Our company recognizes that the greatest challenge facing modern law enforcement is the mental health of its officers. Our lenses filter out violent and disturbing scenes, for the officers’ protection.”
“So I wouldn’t see someone who was stoning a woman to death, or someone chopping off a captive’s head?”
“Oh my, no. That sounds terribly disturbing. I’m sure our lenses would filter that out.”
“So I’m slow and weak, and now I’m fighting INVISIBLE terrorists?”
“Sir, I don’t think you’re seeing the big picture.”
“Maybe you made it INVISIBLE!”
The Sealed City by Adrian Cole. A hero with a laser rifle goes into the desert to find out what’s been making people disappear. This story may be related to the author’s “Dream Lords” series of novels.
Hoskin’s War by Brian Lowe. Revolutionary war colonials are planning to ambush redcoats, but run across more dangerous opponents.
Squire Errant by Karl Gallagher. A monster terrorizes a village and kills the knight who tried to protect it, so the knight’s squire is put in charge.
The Water Walks Tonight by SH Mansouri. Vikings pay for their sins.
Shark Fighter by Michael Tierney. A diver is stranded in the water with a tiger shark. The story had too much pondering and reminiscing for me, and I didn’t buy into the physics of one scene.
Images of the Goddess by Schuyler Hernstrom. I found the main character in this story interesting. A young man, who has lived his entire life in a monastery, cheats to win two competitions and go on a mission in the outside world. Of course, thinking outside the box and cheating are exactly the kinds of behavior that make him a good candidate to succeed outside the monastery.
He makes friends with another adventurer on the outside, gets captured by slavers, escapes, and travels down a jungle river. For me, the story lost focus near the end, as it quickly ran through a series of unrelated SFF elements: giants, ape-men, a deadly four-armed assassin, the zombie crew of a crashed spaceship, and maybe some other things I’ve forgotten. It wasn’t quite Emperor Mollusk Versus the Sinister Brain, but it was headed in that direction.
A third suit approaches my bed. “John Aaronson, with Parthenal Systems.”
“What did you do?”
“Our company recognizes that women in the community may not feel comfortable approaching male officers if those officers view them as potential romantic partners.”
“You made me gay?”
“No, our technology is much more sophisticated than that. We implanted a device which is capable of detecting increased blood flow to the male reproductive organ, a typical physical response in the pre-arousal stage. When this occurs, our device releases a miniscule amount of liquid nitrogen directly into the affected area. The entire process is nearly painless.”
“Well, almost nearly-painless.”
“OK, how do I turn it off?”
“You can’t turn it off. That would defeat its purpose. We want the the female community to feel comfortable around law enforcement.”
“You’re missing my point. Let’s say I meet a nice young lady … we go out for a fancy dinner … she comes back to my place …”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought about that. Let me look in the operations manual.” He scrolls through a file on his phone. “Um … um … I think I’ll need to have tech support get back to you with an answer on that.”
I point at the fourth suit. “Do I even want to know what you’ve done?”
He backs out the door. “It’s … something with your digestive system. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” He disappears around the corner.
War in a Way That Suits You by Michael Michaels. A mercenary fights against flower people. No, not those flower people, literal flower-people.
The Lion’s Share by JD Brink. Space pirates capture an unexpected cargo.
Blood and Bones : Caribbean 1645 by Jim Breyfogle. A pirate ship (with mages) attacks a Spanish Galleon (with mages).
The Mad God’s Scepter by Edward McDermott. A sea voyage takes a detour to an unknown world as it runs away from pirates and is blown off-course by a storm.
The End of the Golden Age by Tyler Young. A pirate story where those parrots on the shoulder aren’t just decorative, they have magical powers.
Othan, Liberator by Kurt Magnus. A mercenary is hired to rescue a rich man’s daughter from a cult, but it turns out she’s running the cult.
The Space Witch by Schuyler Hernstrom. The last survivor of an army killed by the space witch can’t kill the witch because chivalry won’t let him strike a woman. Did I get that right?
Clock’s Watch by Michael Reyes. On Coney Island, a sea creature possesses a young woman and makes her live under the sand. A leprechaun hunts demon-infested raccoons with a crossbow. I think it’s fairly obvious what happens after that.
The Wooing of Etroklos by J Comer. Soldiers are ambushed by bandits, but the adventures don’t end there.
I hope you enjoyed my intro story, The Six Million Dollar Man adjusted for inflation and brought up to modern-day standards of problem-solving.
It will be a while before the medal ceremony for the winners of my magazine quest, but Cirsova looks like it’s on track to be somewhere on the platform.