Sea Of Rust by C. Robert Cargill – A Book Review

Though I enjoy the science fiction genre, I often have trouble finding actual science fiction books that hook me. A friend thought Sea Of Rust by C. Robert Cargill might do the trick, and my friend was spot on!

The premise is not necessarily anything new. There’s been a robot uprising. Humans are the virus. Certain factions of robots band together and begin warring with one another. The landscape as we know it is obliterated. We’ve seen that kind of thing before.

What truly sets Sea Of Rust apart is the narrator–Brittle. Brittle is a scavenger. A robot bent on survival at all cost. A character willing to do almost anything for her own benefit. But what happens when that character is finally faced with something possibly more important than even herself? Of course, “possibly” is the key word there. Additionally, she’s got a great voice and is just incredibly engaging.

Furthermore, Sea Of Rust is a fast-paced, action-packed page turner. I flew through the last 25% of the book in a matter of hours because I simply had to know how it ended.

Of course, you know I’m going to be a little bit critical. My only issue with the book-and it’s a small one at that–is that while it’s science fiction in name, I felt as though this story could have fit virtually any genre with a few tweaks. Realism, fantasy, horror–any of them could have worked. I say that because Brittle and the rest of the robots are so very … human. Cargill is careful to include technological aspects and code jargon, but in the end, all of the characters seemed like what we think of as “human.” This obviously made them very relatable, but it also struck me as a little subversive in regards to the genre. Upon reflection, that’s likely why I enjoyed Sea Of Rust so much!

If you’re looking for a good science fiction book–or any good book, for that matter–I highly recommend Sea Of Rust.

Hanging Around With Neil Gaiman

I took my ten-year-old daughter to the Bloomington, Illinois, Barnes and Noble today so that she could use her hard-earned money to buy a Hermione Granger replica wand.  I live in Bloomington-Normal and actually did a signing at this store recently, so I thought I’d take a look in the science fiction section just to … you know.

First all, imagine my joy when I saw several copies of Andropia sitting on my local Barnes and Noble’s bookshelf.  That was pretty cool.

Then, to make it even better, I saw one of my literary heroes–Neil Gaiman–on the shelf below me.  To see my book in proximity to his work … it gave me chills.

Of course, while Neil Gaiman seems incredibly polite and genuinely kind, I’m sure his excitement regarding this occasion would not match mine.  I’m definitely getting the better deal out of all this.

Take a look at the picture below.  Cool, right?

By the way, my daughter was not impressed by any of this.

Ah, to be humbled.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)

Star Wars: Light of the Jedi (The High Republic) – A Book Review

I must admit that I wasn’t that excited to hear about “The High Republic” campaign. This new Star Wars onslaught is set 200 years before the prequels and explores the Star Wars galaxy at a time when the Jedi were at their most powerful and the Republic was at its most efficient. I call it an onslaught because “The High Republic” includes novels, young adult novels, children’s books, comic books, talk shows, video games, and presumably a Disney+ event.

Personally, I enjoy moving forwards in terms of story, not backwards. I thought it was a mistake to do a “pre-prequel” storyline across so many mediums.

Frankly, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I checked Star Wars: Light Of the Jedi out from my local library. Within the first twenty-five pages, I returned it and then bought a copy of my own. That’s how much it instantly captured my interest. Before I got anywhere close to finishing it, I wanted it on my bookshelves.

The premise involves a catastrophe regarding hyperspace that scientifically (in Star Wars’ reality) shouldn’t have happened. The book first executes the disaster, then explores the aftermath of the disaster, and then sets the stage for the ramifications of the disaster.

Furthermore, it introduces a whole new batch of Jedi and dives deeply into both the characters and their connection to the Force. The author, Charles Soule, presents a new philosophical take on the Force that I found both groundbreaking and riveting. I won’t spoil it too much, but he details how each Jedi interprets and uses the force differently, both in everyday life and in battle. These nuances were such thoughtful, fresh perspectives on the Force–it truly fascinated me.

I also consider the format of the book a real victory. It begins as a countdown of sorts and then reverses that format and introduces a build-up. It also alternates chapters between several different characters as they deal with the disaster and then the fallout of the disaster. Each chapter was relatively short, which made a fast paced plot move even more quickly.

The characterization proved engrossing, the storyline captured my interest, the structure and format of the book made reading it a pleasure, and the hints at things to come piqued my curiosity, which guaranteed my return for book two.

Despite my initial doubts, The Light Of the Jedi should be considered an unmitigated success. I highly recommend it to any and all Star Wars fans.

Dune by Frank Herbert – A Book Review

I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never read Dune. With the new movie on the way, I figured I better rectify that omission. Believe it or not, I started reading Dune in early October and only just finished it in late December. So, did I like it? More importantly, do I recommend it?

To answer the first question, yes, I did like it. I liked that it took its time building a world, a culture, an entire existence within many, many pages. I liked that it proved a fully immersive experience, created very real characters, and allowed the story to unfold at a thorough pace. I liked that Frank Herbert developed a new language, a synthesized religion, and a unique ecology specific to the planet in which Dune occurs. I liked Dune’s intelligence, daringness, and ingenuity.

That being said, I’m in no hurry to read the subsequent additions to the plight. I’m an impatient reader. I want to read as many books as possible, and so I often naturally gravitate to smaller, faster reads. I can’t remember the last time I spent three months reading a single book.

Even so, I do recommend Dune. It is one of the few books out there that actually make you feel as though you’ve fully lived the characters’ lives. It is epic in every sense of the word, and, most impressively, it predates such sci-fi stalwarts as Star Trek and Star Wars. I can’t imagine Dune was quite like anything else at the time it was published, and though it’s obviously been often imitated, it still struck me as completely unique. To read Dune is to find yourself in an utterly familiar yet astoundingly innovative world.

Though it’s a tremendous time investment, I’m glad I finally read Dune.

By the way, the afterward by Herbert’s son, Brian, proved to be my favorite part of the entire book.

My Short Story, “Besieged,” Now Available At Podbean

I’m pleased to announce that “Besieged,” my short story, is now available for your enjoyment at Podbean. Simply click HERE to pay it a visit.

Careful with that spider you’re about to step on. You might just end the world.

Stasis: A Short Story

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I’m standing in our dining room, looking out of the picture window. Honestly, that’s not true. It should be our dining room. It’s actually our kids’ toy room. 

I like to see what’s going on out there. Usually, the answer is “not much.” We live on a cul-de-sac, and now that it gets dark early and the cold is here, there’s rarely anything to see. But it’s either look out the window or watch Lizzie McGuire reruns with my eight-year-old—her nighttime show—so I opt for the empty street. 

Here comes some action. A walker is approaching from the other side of the cul-de-sac. It’s hard to tell who it is with all of the winter wear. I generally recognize everyone in our subdivision, but we sometimes have strangers pass through. I notice this person is eyeballing my “Biden-Harris 2020” yard sign. Maybe a fellow fan?

Maybe not!

The guy just tore my sign out and tossed it into the street!

“Brisa!” I yell as I head to the mudroom. 

“What?” Brisa calls back from the TV room.

I pull on my heavy coat while saying, “When your mom gets out of the shower, tell her I’m going on a walk.”

“But it’s too cold, Daddy,” Brisa says.

After putting on my stocking cap, I next slide into my tennis shoes. I’m not going to let some Trump supporter get away with this!

“I’ll be back in a minute,” I say while making my way to the front door. 

“What are you doing, Daddy?”

I ignore Brisa’s question as I shut the door behind me.

Our neighborhood is beautiful in that it’s a series of sidewalks weaving through yard after yard. The covenants don’t allow privacy fences, so everything is wide open. I just catch sight of the walker at the far end of the sidewalk leading into the next cul-de-sac. I see him turn left, which means he’s heading towards the elementary school.

It’s only eight o’clock, but it might as well be midnight. There isn’t a soul out here except for the walker and me. As I trot after him, I feel the frigid air bite into my lungs. We could be in for some very serious trouble if it’s already this cold in late October. Like 2020 hasn’t been bad enough already. Between Covid-19 and Donald Trump … But better days can’t be too far off now, right?

I enter the adjacent cul-de-sac and see the guy at the end of it, crossing the street. He takes the sidewalk between two houses that leads to a trail around a big field that the neighborhood school uses. On such a clear night, I don’t think I could lose him once he reaches the field, but I increase my pace nonetheless.

What will I do when I catch the guy?

I have no idea.

I think I’ll start with just telling him that I saw what he did and that I didn’t like it. 

I reach the edge of the field just as he’s made it almost halfway across. Our subdivision ends along the west side of the field, the side I’m entering. Houses line the entire length of it. A retirement community resides on the east side of the field, with the school on the south side. 

The cold grass crunches under my feet as I try to catch up. I’m pretty sure the guy has no idea he’s being followed. Was he just walking around messing with Biden signs? How sad is that?

Without warning, the man stops. I mean, he’s frozen in place—mid-stride. 

I mumble, “What the hell?” 

Then, I scream.

A beam of light shoots out from the sky and surrounds the guy. Within seconds, I see his feet leave the ground. 

Still screaming, I dive onto my belly. 

I watch as the man goes up higher and higher towards the starting point of the light. 

But there’s nothing there! What’s shining the light? There’s nothing there!

Other than my screaming, there isn’t a sound. The man doesn’t move—not a muscle. He still appears as if he’s about to take another step. 

And then …

He’s gone. 

He’s just gone. 

The light’s gone. 

Everything is quiet again. The whole thing probably took five seconds.

What the hell did I just see? 

I’ve got to get out of here!

I jump to my feet and start sprinting. Sidewalks be damned, I’m cutting between houses!

I cross the street and race through my neighbors’ yards. I’m looking up at the sky for any sign of the light, but all I see are the stars. It’s like nothing happened at all!

After bursting through yet another yard, I spill out onto my own street and run towards my driveway. I’m so close! 

I step on the Biden sign and start to slide, but I manage to regain my balance. 

Almost there!

My front door is just within reach when I freeze.

I can’t move; I can’t scream; I can’t do anything. 

God, no! 

Light—the light—it’s surrounding me!

I feel the ground let go of my foot and I float upwards. 

No! No! This can’t be happening!

I move my eyes downward and see the top of my daughter’s head far below.

She’s asking for me—calling out my name. 

Thank God, she isn’t looking up. 

Please, God, don’t let her look u—

______________________________________________________________________________

Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Code 8 – A Movie Review

code-8-2019

Have you noticed a movie on your Netflix Top Ten list called Code 8? Know anything about it? No? I didn’t either.

In fact, it wasn’t until I read an article over at Wired that I even became aware of Code 8. This movie has a fascinating history, one that prompted me to see the film

In short, this was a crowd-funded independent film that began as a short, then had a limited theater release, and is now part of Netflix’s Top Ten. That’s quite a story in and of itself!

Starring Robbie Amell and his cousin, Stephen Amell, Code 8 is about a city full of super powered beings who are treated as second class citizens. Despite their power, they are discriminated against, hated, and treated less than human. These are not super heroes–these are just regular people trying to squeak out a living. When the mother of Robbie Amell’s character desperately needs expensive medical treatment, he turns to Stephen Amell’s character and a life of high-paying crime in order to save her. But how high of a price is he willing to pay, even if for his mother’s life?

If the name “Stephen Amell” sounds familiar to you, it’s because he played Oliver Queen on the CW’s Arrow. His cousin, Robbie, also played a smaller role on the CW’s Flash. I’d like to say that it was refreshing to see Stephen Amell playing a different kind of character. There were plenty of similarities, to be sure, but Stephen definitely has a “star” quality. And, frankly, so does Robbie. Both men more than carried Code 8.

Speaking of which, is Code 8 actually any good?

Yes, it is. At just over an hour and a half, it’s full of action, has some cool special effects, and it knows how to tease us with the captivating robotic police officers called “Guardians”–they give us just enough of these things to satisfy, but definitely leave us wanting more.

However, Code 8 didn’t quite stick the landing for me. I felt that the last five minutes were a little awkward and inconsistent with the rest of the film. Generally speaking, though, Code 8 kept me entertained, and what more can you ask for during these difficult days?

If you enjoy action, sci-fi, fast-paced movies, or just simply the Amell cousins, I recommend you give Code 8 a chance.

 

Phasks™: My Short Story Of the Week

PHASKS

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She lifts the Phask™ to her face, holds it nearer and nearer her skin until it connects with her Tempts®, and then exits her apartment. As she heads for the elevator, she tells her quarters to lock up before also hailing a DrUber©.

While riding down the elevator, she dictates a few messages to her friends, confirms the weather, and watches a cat video her sister sent. It’s hilarious.

Her building is an older one, practically historic by the city’s standards, and it hasn’t yet been outfitted with exterior ports. Keeps the rent down, but definitely an inconvenience to actually have to ride an elevator.

After exiting her building, she finds her DrUber© waiting at the curb. She climbs in and takes the only empty seat available. It’s at the front, on the left. There are five other people.

DrUber© flashes a message across her visual welcoming her and then prompting her to confirm the destination. She does so, and it next merges seamlessly into the city’s ever-flowing traffic.

A call pushes through. She sees it’s Alejandra and quickly answers.

“Hey, Alejandra!” she greets.

“Hey, Zee! Just wondered when you’re going to arrive?”

“Hold on, let me check …” Zee asks for an ETA. Her DrUber© messages that it will be three and a half more minutes—they have to drop off one more passenger first. “Just a few,” Zee informs.

“Cloo,” Alejandra says. “That’s about the same for me, too.”

“I’m so excited,” Zee says.

“I know!”

“How many people do you think will be there?” Zee asks.

“Well, fourteen confirmed, so let’s hope we have at least that many, right?”

“I never dreamed we’d get enough people together to start a Jill Thompson fan club!”

“I know! I loved looking at my dad’s copies of her graphic novels when I was a kid, especially Wonder Woman: The True Amazon. She’s such an amazing artist. This is going to be so much fun!”

Zee’s nose suddenly tickles. “I’ll see you there, Alejandra. I gotta go—I think I’m going to sneeze!”

“Get your Phask™ off! You’ll gross it!” Alejandra cries.

Zee disconnects her Phask™ just in time to hold her finger up to her nose and belay the sneeze. “Whew!” she says. “That was close.”

Before replacing her Phask™, Zee waits to see if another sneeze threatens. She relaxes while enjoying the slight hum of the vehicle. The three remaining people surrounding her—two men and a woman—all wear Phasks™ and, judging by their hand motions, seem to be carrying on fairly animated conversations. That, or they could be gaming. Maybe both.

Now alone in the front seat, Zee slides to the right side of the vehicle so she can look out the window at the few people walking. It always amuses her to see all of the adults wearing their Phasks™—No Two Ever Alike—and their children walking alongside them, barefaced. Kids are too little for Tempts®, so they have to make do with handheld devices. She remembers when her doctors said she could finally get a Phask™—it was the best day of her life.

One pedestrian catches her attention. He wears no Phask™, has no device in his hand, doesn’t seem connected at all to anything or anyone. In fact, Zee thinks he looks a little horrified.

Confident her sneeze has completely abated, she puts her Phask™ back on and G-Scans the guy.

No matches. Weird. She can’t remember a single time that’s ever happened.

The DrUber© reaches her destination, attaches to a lift, and then ascends. Even though she’s received thirty-two messages during her sneeze dilemma, she pauses all the activity on her visual and marvels at the parked cars sliding to and fro in order to make way for her DrUber© as it climbs the building. It reminds her of the ant farm she loved as a kid.

“Hey, it’s me again,” she says to Alejandra. “You there?”

“Yeah,” Alejandra replies. “Did you sneeze?”

“Sneeze avoided.”

“Cloo.”

“You know it!” Zee giggles.

“Hold on,” Alejandra says. “I’m talking to Eve. She says Jill Thompson might drop by!”

“No way! That would be fantastic. Makes sense; she does live in Chicago and all …”

“Give me two secs,” Alejandro says before cutting out.

The DrUber© docks at the 201st floor, unloads an occupant, then travels to the 218th. After docking again, the DrUber© alerts its occupants that they can safely exit the vehicle.

Zee double checks her evite to verify the apartment number when Alejandra breaks back in by saying, “Hey, I’m here!”

“Me, too!” Zee responds.

“At the party?”

Zee answers, “No, I’m in the hall, walking to the apartment.”

Zee abruptly feels a tap on the back of her shoulder. She spins around to see one of her fellow passengers standing behind her, removing her Phask™.

“Zee?” the person asks.

Flinging off her own Phask™, Zee questions, “Alejandra?”

“Yes!”

The two women hug while laughing hysterically.

“Oemgee!” Zee shouts. “Did you just get out of that DrUber©?”

“Yes! We’re such itzes! We’ve been together the whole time!”

“Ha! My dad would have a field day with this!”

Alejandra agrees, saying, “Oh, man, don’t even.”

“Well,” Zee continues, “it’s nice to meet you, Alejandra.”

“Yeah, like, in person and for real,” Alejandra says with a grin.

The two women resume walking, side by side, with their Phasks™ by their sides.

“So,” Zee begins, “is Jill Thompson actually coming?”

They reach the apartment.

“This is it,” Zee says. “Let me put on my Phask™ and I’ll let them know we’re here …”

“Girl!” Alejandra chides.  “Just knock!”

Zee raps against the door a few times, then repeats, “So? Is she here or what?”

Alejandra smiles brightly at Zee as the door opens. She says, “Just you wait, Zee. I think you’re going to like what the future holds.”


Copyright © 2017 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Actual Reality: My Short Story Of the Week

ACTUAL REALITY

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Captain David took cover behind a burning transport vehicle. His combat armor could easily withstand the flames, but the heat played havoc with his infrared display. Intelligence reported that his primary target remained hidden within the bunker seventy meters north of his position. Unfortunately, he couldn’t determine what kind of resistance awaited within the bunker.

“Command,” Captain David said into his communication link. “I have reached the location. About to infiltrate. Potential enemy combatants unknown.”

“Copy,” Command replied into his earpiece. “Proceed.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Though no one shot at Captain David in particular, artillery flew in every direction as he powered across the open ground. His fellow soldiers had different objectives at other locations, and he could see them zigzagging every which way. Some were bursting into other bunkers, some were being cut in half on the battlefield, and some were simply kneeling in place. He couldn’t afford to stop moving, not if he wanted to succeed with his mission.

A light round bounced off his armor. He glanced in the general direction from where it came, but didn’t see anyone. Between the glare of the flames, the dark of night, the spasmodic shadows, and the general chaos, it was hard to discern much of anything other than his intended objective.

He squeezed off a series of rounds at the door frame ahead of him before shouldering his way through. As the door toppled, he next saw Goga Sedov–the Russian Razor. Sedov had left the Russian Armed Forces in order to become a mercenary. His methods were so good that terrorist cells were hiring him as their strategic officer. Because of the Russian Razor’s global threat level, Captain David had been ordered to eliminate him.

“Target in sight,” Captain David huffed into his microphone.

“Fire at will,” Command replied.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Captain David continued to move forward, closing the distance between them. Just as he began to trigger his artillery gauntlets, he realized that Sedov did not raise his own weapon.

Captain David glanced down as Sedov grew nearer and nearer only to realize that he held two children captive. They were set up as a human barricade. Because Sedov kept his guns trained on the kids, he appeared to count on Captain David halting.

Captain David never stopped moving. Instead, he leapt forward with his arms outstretched. His right hand pressed the fire button; his left hand knocked Sedov’s weapon away from the hostages.

The children burst into tears, but they were safe.

Sedov, now bisected, lay strewn upon the floor.

“Target mitigated,” Captain David said as he knelt to the children and wrapped his arms around them.

“It’s okay,” he said to them. “He can’t hurt you.”

Command replied: “Drone shows two civilians on the premises.”

“Affirmative, ma’am,” Captain David replied. “Diverted enemy fire away from them. Both are alive and well. Comforting in process.”

“Well done. 250 commendation points awarded for target elimination. 250 points awarded for valor.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

As Captain David hefted the children from the ground, one in each arm, he requested: “Permission to escort civilians to refugee extraction point.”

“Granted,” Command replied. “Note: you are 750 points away from achieving Major.

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“Hold on,” Captain David said to the children. He then rushed out the door and raced across the battlefield. Explosions erupted all around Captain David as his legs pounded as fast as possible. The added weight of the children slowed him down more than expected. Furthermore, his primary weapons–the gauntlet guns–were rendered useless.

He needed to find cover, to rest a moment, and to strategize. Simply running across the combat zone would get them all killed.

An upended tank came into view. It would provide the protection he needed. However, when he reached the vehicle and rounded its corner, an enemy soldier lurked. The soldier had an M240 machine gun trained right on him. Captain David spun and dropped to his knees as the soldier opened fire. At first, the bullets ricocheted off his armor, but at that range it was only a matter of time before the ammunition pierced his gear.

Then, without warning, the gun’s thunderous discharge ended.

Captain David turned to see the enemy fall in a heap. He then looked around and observed a low-ranking ally, a Lance Corporal, running away. “75 pts.” flashed in bright blue above the Lance Corporal’s head for a few moments.

“My thanks …” Captain David said into his link before casting it to the fellow soldier.

“10 points awarded for gratitude,” Command informed. “And another 250 points for selflessness–you shielded those children from ordnance.”

“Davey!” a voice called out from above.

“Did you say something?” Command asked.

“Negative, ma’am,” Captain David replied. “Background noise. Disregard.”

“Davey! Can you hear me?”

Captain David looked in the direction of the refugee extraction point. If he could get the children there, he’d easily make Major. His visual display read 450 meters–over a quarter-mile. Such a trek seemed impossible, but it was well worth the risk.

“Hold on, kids,” Captain David said. “I’m going to get you out of here or die trying.”

“10 points awarded for reassurance.”

“Davey! Why aren’t you answering me?”

Captain David broke into a sprint. Explosions ignited all around him and sent debris banging against his visor. The children shielded their faces against his gauntlets, but he could see the chunks of metal and earth pelting their bodies.

“Hold on!” he yelled at them. “We’re going to make it!”

“Davey! It’s time for your dinner, honey. I made your favorite–fish sticks!”

Command inquired: “Who’s voice is that? Have you been compromised?”

Captain David continued running as he shouted, “No ma’am!”

“Davey!”

He’d covered 300 meters …

“Can you hear me, Davey? Are you still playing that silly game?”

“Your vitals suggest distraction, Captain David,” Command reported. “Do you need a break?”

“Negative, ma’am!” Captain David screamed. “I can do this!”

The whine of the missile appeared moments before the projectile itself.

“Game over,” Command informed. “Please try again.”

“Davey! Your food is getting cold. Get up here!”

David flung off his headset and screamed, “Mom, you fat witch–you just made me lose!”


Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental to the story

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

Thumb War: My Short Story Of the Week

THUMB WAR

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She took her seat at the round, wooden table and placed her elbow upon the vinyl pad. Gawking people of every financial tier surrounded her in the basement of a disreputable bar with rotten lighting. As she stared down her opponent, she flexed her fingers and thumb.

The man across from her looked like the plume of smoke after a volcanic eruption. Huge—pervasive—but shapeless. His hands, though … they were the biggest she’d ever seen. He could probably engulf her entire head in one of those things ….

An averaged sized woman, Hannah Cane had been winning tournaments for months. She eased her way onto the scene but quickly dominated with such efficiency that those who cared about the sport nicknamed her “The Machine.” She may have been the smallest competitor, but her intellect, improvisation, and unrelenting willpower put her over the top time and again.

The men didn’t understand how she did it. Most of them were former premier athletes. Once upon a time, some were even professional arm wrestlers. Injury, in one way or another, ruined their hopes and dreams. Their thumbs proved the only part of their body still pain-free. As athletes, they admired “The Machine’s” passion and brains, but those attributes shouldn’t have matched the fact that their thumbs were unilaterally bigger and exponentially stronger than her thumb.

Though clandestine, the underground thumb wrestling competitions paid well. The crowds loved to see their former sports idols up close and, to be honest, a little desperate. The audience betted big, and so the competitors won big. Hannah actually lived off her earnings. After she won the next match, she would be set for months.

The massive creature across from her had once been a lineman in the NFL—Virgil Dunn. He played for the Patriots. No one told her this; she recognized him. She remembered the game in which he got his arm torn out of its socket. Until her own injury, it had been the most gruesome thing she’d ever seen. The television cameras cut away as soon as it happened, but because she wielded a flag on the sidelines, she got an up close and personal view.

“Hey,” she said to him. “I’m Anna.” Of course, her name was not “Anna,” it was Hannah. She couldn’t risk using her legal name anymore.

“I don’t care about your name,” he growled.

The referee approached, which prompted the crowd to grow silent. He leveled both competitor’s hands, made them lock fingers, and then personally lifted the individual thumbs.

As Hannah expected, nothing struck the referee as unusual.

“Let’s a have clean match,” the referee said. “Remember, winner takes all. Must hold the opponent’s thumb down for a three-count. This is not a ‘best-of.’ Again, winner takes the purse upon the first pin.”

“Good luck, Virgil,” Hannah said.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the promoter droned into his microphone, “now is the final moment to place your bets! The match begins in ten seconds. If you’d like to place a final bet, I have assistants throughout the establishment. Are you ready, ref?”

“Ready!” the referee shouted. “Wrestlers!” he yelled. “Get ready!”

The referee paused a moment until both competitors nodded at him. He then shouted, “One! … Two! …Three! … Four! I declare a thumb war!”

º

Hannah studied the specs for weeks before she started tinkering with the prosthetic. With a degree in mechanical engineering and a searing rage at the indignity she suffered, it took all of her patience to review the apparatus thoroughly before attempting any sort of customization.

The doctors taught her the basics regarding the new appendage. They told her everything she needed to know in order to use it to its fullest potential; they gave her a list of items to troubleshoot should any malfunctions occur; they drilled her on how to keep the port clean for the thumb’s remote uplink to her brain. Though the titanium rod connecting the thumb to her hand could possibly get contaminated, the port leading to her somatosensory cortex posed the greatest likelihood of infection.

Once she felt as though she understood the device, she detached it from the rod, peeled back the synthetic skin, popped out the imitation muscle, and then got to work on the motors.

Her commanding officer warned her against doing any such thing—he knew her well. In private, he told her that the Marines were happy to pay for the experimental prosthetic, but if she altered it in any way, they were no longer responsible for the cost of upkeep—a price that would surpass millions of dollars during the course of her life.

She connected both the thumb and the remote sensor to her computer, picked up her tool as best she could with only four fingers, and then stared at the largest motor housed in the thumb’s base. It measured only ¼ of an inch. The motors in the middle and tip of the thumb were even smaller. Limitless opportunities abounded for her to screw this up in no time at all. The minute she touched those motors, the United States government was financially off the hook.

She whispered her favorite motto: “Improvise. Adapt. Overcome,” before getting to work.

º

Hannah utilized her routine strategy against Virgil. She first avoided any contact at all with his thumb. This went on for several minutes. She learned early on that the longer she made a match last, the higher the bets tended to be at the next match. The audience grew to trust that she would always give them an exciting, lengthy bout, and so they placed their bets confidently.

Next, she let Virgil pin just the tip of her thumb in such a way that the slightest squirm would set her free. The crowd loved these escapes, and it typically bolstered her opponent’s confidence. She didn’t necessarily need them overconfident—she needed no mental advantage to secure a victory. The heartbreak in their eyes after being sure they had her beat, though … it never failed to make her heart flutter.

The crowd’s enthusiasm for the partial pins usually dictated how long she would let it go on. Once it seemed they tired of it, she would move the match into its third phase. This involved allowing her competitor three or four pins that would get all the way to the two-count before finally pinning him herself for the impossible win.

Of course, there was nothing “impossible” about it.

Her thumb, a prototype, looked and felt realistic in every way. The government would pay for it on behalf of the United State Marine Corps if Hannah agreed to be the test subject. After what happened, she considered it too good to be true. Of course, she obviously felt no obligation to the Marines or her government after the attack, and so she went underground the minute they turned their backs. They had a habit of doing that to her—turning their backs.

The prosthetic initially exerted the average amount of force consistent with a woman her size. The lab rats took into account her muscle mass, the length of the thumb—it involved a lot of calculations and calibrations. She quadrupled their settings. If she wanted to, she could thrust her thumb through a thin slab of concrete.

Pinning down anyone’s thumb offered no problem at all.

After beating Virgil, the crowd exploded. The promoter instantly handed her a cheap trophy and a lucrative check. Hannah flung the trophy at Virgil, tucked the check into her back pocket, and then started to weave her way through the crowd.

She noticed all of the cell phones recording her—a typical occurrence. This would necessitate the need to change her routine. If someone cared enough to study tape of her, they could figure out she’s doing the same thing every match. If suspected of cheating, this gravy train could come to an end.

“Hey!” Virgil yelled.

Hannah turned and faced him.

“You’re a fraud!”

º

Hannah responded to the three lieutenants cornering her, “I earned this fair and square, guys. No tricks. No alterations. No accommodations. I passed the course.” She tightened the towel around her.

“No way. There’s no way a woman could do it. They want the good publicity,” one of them said.

“Maybe,” Hannah agreed, “but I still passed the course. I’m going to be an infantry officer, and there’s nothing you boys can do about it.”

“The Marines have never had a female infantry officer,” another said.

“There’s a first time for everything,” Hannah replied. “If we’re being honest, you guys sound a little jealous. I take it you all didn’t pass.”

At the conclusion of her statement, one of the lieutenants shoved her against the wall. Hard. It didn’t hurt, but it told her they weren’t there only to talk.

“Look,” she said. “I just got out of the shower. I know I’m the only woman left, but this is still the female barracks. You guys can’t come in here without first announcing yourselves. You’ve broken protocol in a number of ways. I’m warning you—you need to leave. We can finish this in the field.”

“Maybe we should make sure you never make it to the field,” the other lieutenant said. “Be a shame if some kind of an injury got you discharged.”

Hannah narrowed her eyes before hissing, “Maybe you should stick your thumb up your ass.”

The lieutenant pulled out his knife as the other two pinned Hannah’s arms against the wall. Her towel came loose and fell to the floor.

“I think we’ll stick your thumb up your own ass,” he snarled.

º

The surrounding crowd silenced. Hannah sensed tension filling the air as Virgil approached her.

“I don’t know how you’re doing it,” Virgil said. “But you’re cheating.”

Hannah noticed a few guys she’d pinned in previous rounds appearing behind Virgil. It looked like they’d been comparing notes.

“It’s all in the technique, guys,” Hannah said.

“No woman—or man—has a thumb that strong,” Virgil replied.

“Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?” Hannah said with a laugh.

The promoter got between them while outstretching his arms. He tried to make it look like he addressed the crowd, but everyone understood he actually spoke to the thumb wrestlers. He said, “Winner takes all, folks. No questions asked.”

“Oh, I’m asking questions, Jack,” Virgil seethed. “No way a little girl like this could out-muscle us.”

Hannah smirked before saying, “First of all—that’s belittling and I take offense. Secondly, I’m hardly out-muscling you. We’re talking about thumbs, here.”

“I want that money,” Virgil said. “And I’m going to split it with the other guys you cheated.”

The crowd collectively gasped. They were in for an even better show than they anticipated.

“No!” the promoter shouted. “This is not happening. The cops have looked the other way, but this could shut us down. No fighting—especially with a woman!”

Hannah walked up to the promoter, placed her hand on his shoulder, and said, “It’s cool, Jack. How about this, though? Let’s give the people a chance to place their bets. Winner takes fifty-percent of your profit.” She next turned to the spectators before thundering, “Sound good to you, folks?”

They roared their approval.

“What about it, Virgil?” Hannah asked. “Me against you and your two friends. Think you can take me?”

“Damn straight,” Virgil uttered.

“Jack?” Hannah asked the promoter. “You down? I hope you say ‘yes’—I could use the extra money.”

The promoter saw Hannah wink at him and his nerves disappeared. He’d never seen such confidence in a person. “What the hell? Let’s do it. Place your bets!”

Hannah immediately started loosening up. She jumped in place while jabbing her arms around. All the while, her discerning eye assessed the enemy.

To escape any suspicions, she’d have to avoid using the prosthetic.

Shouldn’t be a problem. After all, she took down three Marines without a thumb.


Copyright © 2018 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental to the story

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.