by Carlos Hernandez
I realise I’m putting this up at Christmas Day when all the world should be hankering for peace. So shoot me for being contrary, but here’s a story set in the middle of a future war that not only reminds us why war is insanity, but that it also warps our — we hope — normally sane minds.
Carlos and I first crossed virtual paths (we still have to meet in the flesh, and the first drink will be on me!) at the old — now defunct — message boards of Creative Guy Publishing. CGP head honcho Pete Allen has published such talents as Adrienne Jones, Jack Mangan, Marlo Dianne, Carlos Hernandez, Kaori Praschak and me (OK: I’ll leave it up to others to decide if I’m a talent) in his Amityville House of Pancakes series from 2004 onwards. I have very fond memories about the discussions we had on that forum.
So I was quite chuffed when Carlos sent me a couple of stories for Interzone later on, of which two were published: “The Macrobe Conservation Project” in IZ #202 (sharing a ToC with CGP mate Jack Mangan) and “Exvisible” in IZ #211. And while Carlos also had stories printed in literary magazines like Written Word Magazine and Cosmopsis, and in a mystery anthology called Hit List, the Best of Latino Mystery, he also kept writing speculative fiction, and his contribution to Interfictions 2 — “The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria” — is a doozy (effortlessly mixing magic realism, SF, fantasy and Cuban voodoo rituals), while his Futurismic story — “Homeostasis” — is a must-read, not only because it’s a thought-provoking piece about how tomorrow’s medical technology can change your very being and identity (with philosophical zombies and Searle’s ‘Chinese Room’ thrown in for good measure), but also because “Fembot” takes the premise of “Homeostasis” a step further, and into the battlefield. And while you can go read “Homeostasis” with the click of a mouse, it is not strictly necessary as “Fembot” (like “Homeostasis”) can be read fully stand-alone. Also, this is Carlos at his very (so far, I hasten to add: he just gets better and better) best, and most humane.
Because this is, even if it’s set in a very dirty war zone, a story about love: how it can blossom in the harshest of places and survive even the strangest of transitions…
As we approached the Folk Hotel, a dog emerged from the entrance, loping happily toward us. So I looked at Travis, and he leveled his rifle and shot it. One yelp and it fell.
It didn’t explode. That was disappointing. If the dog explodes, everything’s clear, everything’s right. But dogs don’t explode too often. Most of the time, the bullet goes in through the head and comes out the ass, dragging half the mongrel’s guts out with it. But even that feels a little bit good. And sometimes, not often, but way too often, a dog explodes. Then you’re justified. Then you sit there and watch the carcass burn and say, “Sorry buddy, it was you or me.”
A dead dog will rot in no time during the Changma. Rains nonstop, and even if it does stop it’s like it didn’t: instead of obeying gravity, the rain just hangs in the air like someone hit the pause button. I wondered if some local would find the carcass in time to harvest the meat. And then I wondered how many of my squad wouldn’t mind being the ones doing the harvesting. We had 22 Chicken à la King MREs to split between the seven of us — plenty of food if we made it back to our FOB on schedule. But if we were detained even a couple of days, things could get dicey. So, starting now, we had to eat like things would get dicey. If we each ate half an MRE a day, we’d have food for a week. We’d be starving — half a Chicken à la King MRE will give you about 650 calories — but we’d make it.
So I knew we’d be starving, and here was a fresh kill in front of us. If we didn’t eat it, someone else would. We’d have to make sure the dog wasn’t diseased, or that it wasn’t an IED — a single bullet won’t always set off a gutbuster. But if it wasn’t either of those things, we’d be fools not to eat it.
I signaled the rest of the patrol to cover me. But as I started to make for the dog, Ludmilla said, “Don’t to be stupid, Sergeant. Send the Fembot.”