As I've mentioned previously, my new book of short stories is available via Amazon Kindle. Below is a free sample--the complete title story.
It was 2053, nine years after PolitiCor had issued the required—by penalty of death—impact suits.Mark Bannister sat at his desk, remembering how bad things had been before the super suits (as he liked to call them): when car crashes killed thousands of people each year, when angry words and simple hand gestures could lead to blood in the streets, and when a sting from a wasp or a scathing comment from a loved one burned like wildfire.
Now, thanks to the spandex-like suits, which were made from a special nanotechnology fabric, it was virtually impossible to harm or offend anyone, either physically or psychologically. Mark gulped a mug of blazing-hot coffee like it was fraternity beer. The coffee passed through the sensor-enhanced translucent material stretched over his mouth, cooling it to an innocuous warm.
A former used bookstore owner, Mark set the coffee mug on his desk, opened the right hand desk drawer, and pulled out a tattered copy of the King James Bible. Leaning back in his chair, trying to make the most of his ten-minute break, he turned to the story of Noah.
It seems Noah and his family and their pets—two of every kind of animal—were onboard a luxury liner, soaking in the warm sunshine. A rainbow stretched from one horizon to the other, neatly dividing the cloudless sky. An occasional yacht would float by, filled to the brim with smiling, clean-shaven men, beautifully adorned women, and cherubic, almost angelic children. Invariably, they would wave at Noah, yelling words of thanksgiving for his warnings regarding the flood.
Mark set the book aside, secretly embarrassed for indulging his hobby with such a sacred tome. Over the years he had developed a fascination with comparing his memories of pre-impact suit reading material, art, movies and music with the suit-revised versions of same. Like a heroin addict, Mark hated himself for his filthy habit. He hated himself not because of his interest in collecting and enjoying various forms of entertainment media, but because of his blatant hypocrisy.
Initially, like millions of others, Mark had loathed the impact suits and bitterly opposed them. He despised the idea of censorship (at his bookstore, he always promoted frequently banned books, such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the “Harry Potter” series), and the suits were terribly uncomfortable. It was hard to breathe naturally and easily through the rubbery mesh material, and scratching an itch was next to impossible.
Like most everyone else, however, Mark grew to tolerate and even appreciate the impact suits. They made life safe and largely painless, but what Mark really liked about the suits was their sheer cleverness. He was fascinated by the way the sensors translated offensive material, how they could instantly transform any type of art, communication or physical contact into sanitized pabulum.
Alterations of best-selling books, such as the Bible, had been preprogrammed into the impact suits, but the straight-jackets (as some people called them) were also good at modifying lesser known works on the fly. Mark remembers reading a murder mystery written by a friend of his years ago, but in the story no one died or was even wounded. That one was pretty boring, he had to admit. It was much more fun to read the classics and spot the differences.
Mark startled from his reverie and looked up from his desk to see Richard Hanking grinning from ear to ear and holding a letter opener in his hand. Richard worked down the hall in accounting. He was a hairy, nervous little guy who called everyone “boss” and “pardner.” Like a rat, his eyes were close together.
Mark watched as Richard began stabbing the knife-like instrument at his stomach, neck and wrists.
“Ummm…what are you doing?” Mark asked.
Richard threw the impotent stainless steel implement to the floor. “I am my suit! It fits me like a glove! I am my suit! I am loving it again!” Like a toddler who doesn’t like his jammies, Richard pulled and yanked at his impact suit until his face turned red.
Mark frowned, trying to make sense of the translation. The suits weren’t perfect. They did manage to filter out and alter most offensive material, but sometimes they made a mess of certain phrases spoken in haste, especially if said phrases were nonsensical in nature. And they weren’t sophisticated enough to control body language (at least not yet).
Mark assumed that Richard wasn’t really “loving his suit again,” but that he was fed up and frustrated—out-of-his-mind angry, cussing a blue streak. This wasn’t the first time that Richard had complained about his form-fitting suit. Trying to calm his coworker and friend, Mark said, “It’s been almost ten years. You’ve got to learn to accept how things are. There’s nothing you or I or anyone else can do about it.”
Richard stopped tugging at his suit. His shoulders slumped, and he slunk down in the chair across from Mark’s desk.
Mark leaned over and spoke in a hushed tone. “Richard…you’ve got to understand…underground scientists have labored night and day for years trying to find a way to remove the suits, and nothing has worked. They’re years away from a solution, and before they even come close, government scientists will have upgraded the suits, or at least reconfigured the sensors.”
Richard looked down at the floor, clawed at the back of his neck, trying to scratch an itch, and said, “I know, I know. I’ve heard it all before. But I just can’t live like this anymore. The darned thing is driving me crazy. I can’t taste my cigarettes. I miss chewing my food—that liquid stuff the government doles out tastes terrible. And when I’m with my girl, I feel like my whole body is wrapped in a condom.”
“You haven’t already forgotten the car wreck you were in last summer, have you?” Mark asked. “Your impact suit saved your life. Mine saved my life, too.”
Richard rolled his eyes, took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “I know, I know. I’m just…What do you mean your life? What happened?”
“Hunting accident,” Mark lied. “Remind me to tell you about it sometime.”
Richard nodded, nervously pulling at the transparent layer of second skin covering his hands.
“Hey,” Mark said, his eyes lighting up. “Why don’t you come with me to my next bouncer club meeting? You can have some fun with your suit.”
“You know, bouncing. Surely you’ve heard of it.”
Richard rubbed his chin, shrugged his shoulders.
“We meet downtown every other Sunday when all the businesses are closed,” Mark said. “There’s about fifteen of us, including a couple of guys who worked for me at the bookstore. We jump off buildings and rebound safe as basketballs off the sidewalk. We bounce around like idiots, laughing hysterically. It really is a lot of fun. And amazingly therapeutic!”
Richard frowned, shook his head and said, “I don’t know about all that. Sounds kinda dumb.”
“Think about it, will ya? The super suits aren’t so bad when you learn to take advantage of all they can do.”
Richard looked like he was going to cry.
“You know you can’t beat the security of these things,” Mark said, patting his chest. “I’d feel naked without my suit. Vulnerable. Exposed.”
Richard nodded unconvincingly.
Mark smiled, trying to lighten Richard’s mood. He shuffled some papers on his desk. “Gotta get back to work. Maybe later we can grab some lunch. I hear Bentley’s over on seventh has killer beef broth and excellent shakes.”
“What’s the use?” Richard asked. “The stupid suit filters out all the flavor—the fat, the sugar, most of the salt—everything good.”
As Richard left Mark’s office in disgust, Mark flipped on his computer. While waiting for it to warm up, he leafed through a copy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet—the story of a young married couple who lived happily ever after. Grinning, Mark shook his head. “Ole Shakes would roll over in his grave.”
“Welcome to Cloud Nine,” the feminine computer voice said. “You’ve got messages.”
Mark set the book aside and scrolled down the screen. Nothing but junk mail. He told the computer to delete the mail and began composing an email of his own.
How about those guys down in Houston? That was a close one. Those rascals at NASA are pretty bright. Ahem, were pretty bright. LOL. Anyhow, there’s a little weasel down the hall from me named Richard Hanking. I think he’s about to crack. He’s mostly just a number cruncher, but he does have some technical expertise—in college he majored in computer science and minored in engineering. And I believe he has connections at the University. Anyway, it’ll probably come to nothing, but you can never be too sure. Even the Suit Riots from a couple of years ago had to start somewhere small. Let me know if you want the situation taken care of. I think I’ve still got a couple of those PolitiCor-issue suit-piercing bullets somewhere around here.
P.S. Next time you’re at PolitiCor South, say hey to Judy for me.
Mark pushed back from his desk, tired from the boredom of hardly doing anything all morning. He had some virtual files to go through, but he figured they could wait until after lunch. He opened the right hand drawer of his desk, reached inside, grabbed a copy of Frankenstein and began reading about the adventures of a happy scientist and his grateful creation.
Later, during lunch, Richard seemed to be in a pretty good mood. Without complaint, he slurped his strained potato soup through the stretchy material covering his mouth. He told Mark he would come to the next bouncer meeting, but Mark was skeptical—he felt like Richard, who seemed entirely too chipper, was lying.
The following morning was Saturday, and only Mark and Richard were scheduled to work. Mark arrived a few minutes early, but noticed that Richard’s car was already in the parking lot. Mark, thinking it odd that Richard beat him to the office, shrugged his shoulders and let himself in through the front door, locking it behind him.
Mark frowned as he went by Richard’s office. The door was open, and the light was on, but Richard wasn’t there. Mark continued down the hallway to his office, passing by a decidedly different print of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Beneath a clear blue sky, the figure was smiling, his teeth shining brightly.
Mark stuck his key card in the door to his office, but the lack of a beeping sound betrayed the fact that it was already unlocked. He nudged it open with his briefcase. As he stepped in, he flipped on the light. He froze in his steps.
Richard was sitting at Mark’s desk, fidgeting, squirming, looking nervous and uncomfortable in his impact suit.
“Richard! You scared the shoot out of me! What the heck are you doing in my office? Why are you sitting here in the dark?”
Richard pulled a gun from his lap and waved it in the air. “Just being nosy.”
He pointed the gun at Mark.
“Your email never made it to this Steve guy. Must’ve been a problem with the server.”
Mark laughed nervously. “Haven’t you forgotten something? My impact suit will…”
Mark suddenly recognized the gun. It was his own, taken from his locked desk drawer. And it was loaded with suit-piercing bullets.
Richard, slowly standing up, said something that sounded like “You friend! I’m going to like you. You friend!”
Beads of sweat appeared on Mark’s forehead, dampening the fabric stretched over it. “Richard, buddy, let me explain. I didn’t mean—”
“Keep talking!” Richard seemed to say.
Mark felt as though his impact suit were shrinking a size a second. His scrotum followed. He closed his eyes and reached out as though to he could ward off the bullets with his hands.
Mark heard the shot ring out, but he felt no pain. Maybe I’m in shock, he thought. Maybe Richard missed. Mark slowly opened his squinting eyes.
In his state of extreme anxiety, Mark hadn’t heard Richard’s body crashing over the desk and to the floor. Richard’s impact suit had sprung a bloody leak over the newly created hole in his forehead.
A pool of blood began to appear on the floor, a sight that Mark hadn’t seen in years, not even in the movies. The blood was a filtered gray in color, but still quite shocking to see.
Shaking in his suit, Mark realized he had been holding his breath and let out of an audible sigh. He was relieved to be alive, but angry at his “friend” for scaring him witless and making a mess. After texting the police, Mark powered up his computer, his busy mind already composing a new email to Steve.
While waiting for the computer to connect to Cloud Nine, Mark mindlessly flipped through a copy of The Unabridged Friedrich Nietzsche. He settled on a single line of text, frowning. It read: “God is alive.”
Mark put his head on his desk and began to sob.
The crying sounded like laughter.
You can order Filtered Future and Other Dark Tales of Science Fiction and Horror here.