Amy Waitz nervously pointed the gun at Todd Stanky’s heart, her finger twitching against the trigger. Stanky stared at her in mock fright, six feet away. His unruly hair and prematurely lined face made him look like a clown with an agenda.
“Maybe you should say something melodramatic,” Stanky said. “Like ‘Todd, you’ve lied to me for the last time’ or ‘This is going to hurt me more than it does you.’”
“Why can’t you fire it?” Amy asked. The gun needed to be pointed at its target to scan and lock in on its victim, but after it did that, the sensors in the bullet took effect. It could be fired at any time, from any place.
Stanky relaxed and laid his mitt-like hands on her slender shoulders. “Do you trust me?”
It was a loaded question. From a scientific standpoint, Amy had nothing but admiration for Stanky’s ability, work ethic, and dedication. From an emotional standpoint, however, she didn’t trust him at all. They’d worked together on this slow bullet project for eleven months. During that time Stanky had shown unmistakable indications of inappropriate affection toward her. When confronted, Stanky balked, insisting the only time he’d thought of her unprofessionally was when ensconced in his home, the door locked, and the lights out. As they often worked in his home, that didn’t reassure her.
Closing her eyes, Amy pressed the trigger. The gun emitted an unimpressive click. Her shaking arms drooped. The gun appeared to have jammed. After a few seconds, however, the tip of a bullet emerged from the barrel, like an amorous slug. Stanky’s face cracked a smile as the tiny projectile disengaged from the downward-pointing gun and hung in the air. The two scientists watched spellbound as the bullet adjusted its direction, inching upward at a 150-degree angle, toward Stanky’s chest. Amy fingered the recall lever on the gun.
“Not yet!” Stanky hissed. The bullet climbed until it brushed against Stanky’s shirt. He laughed.
“Are you all right?” Amy demanded.
Stanky chuckled. “I’m better than all right.” He gasped, as if jabbed. “Press the recall.”
Amy did. The bullet reversed direction and inched back into the gun barrel.
Stanky’s eyes lit up as if he’d just hit a hole in one. “Now for part two.”
“What did he mean by part two?” asked Emilio Petrus, owner of “Jungle Gym – Hartford’s Favorite Workout” and Amy Waitz’s lover. He sat on a bench, pulling against a two-handed tensionizer. Amy frequented the gym herself and, though she was comfortable using its equipment, she always thought people straining against wireless weights looked ridiculous. It didn’t bother some of the shapely, young women who snuck glances at the buff gym owner, however.
“I don’t know, but he’s always maintained that if this slow bullet was a success, he’d make a real woman out of me.”
Emilio scowled. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
“He does. He’s said it several times.”
Emilio grunted, placing the tensionizer on the floor. “And what was your response?”
“That my heart belongs to a certain gym owner, who has ready access to other parts.”
“Maybe it’s time you looked for another job.”
“We’re presenting this slow bullet to Advanced Weapons Systems next week. I have mixed feelings about the weapon, but after we get credit for it, I’ll be able to write my own ticket.”
Emilio nodded his head of bristly dark hair. “Just make sure he doesn’t write it first.”
As Amy walked out of the gym, one of the regulars walked in, a muscular young woman who could give Emilio a run for his money in arm wrestling. Amy glanced back at her lover.
“Don’t you find this place distracting?”
Emilio flashed his photogenic smile. “I only have eyes for you, my dear.”
He was so trite. That was what she loved about him.
Stanky and Amy demonstrated their slow bullet in front of five seated officials.
“Could you explain how it works, in layperson’s terms?” asked the head of AWS, a bristly-haired, middle-aged woman named Powers.
“Certainly,” Stanky said. “The slow bullet is made up of millions of nanorobots, its sensors tuned to its target. It looks and acts like an old-fashioned slug, only slower.”
Powers shook her head. “We normally prefer faster weapons with bigger bangs.”
“The beauty of the SB is its difference,” Stanky continued. “Most bullets are not edifying to the people they’re aimed at. If they hit their target, end of story. If they miss, it’s over so fast the target doesn’t have time to think about it. With the SB, all he has is time…to make mistakes, lead us to places he doesn’t want us to discover, and wear him down to the point he’ll do anything to rid himself of his relentless pursuer.”
“An interesting concept, but what if during the course of this pursuit, someone else gets in the way?” asked a man whose round bald head resembled a balloon.
“The SB homes in only on its target. For any obstruction it automatically adjusts, avoiding collateral damage.”
“What if the target goes into a room and shuts the door?” Powers asked.
“It has been programmed to hang outside the door until it is opened. If the target goes out another door, the SB resumes its pursuit.”
“If the bullet is so slow, why can’t its target simply encase it in an iron box and toss it into the ocean?” asked a pasty-faced, short-haired third person of indeterminate sex.
“When the SB senses entrapment, it divides into tiny component particles, slips out, and resumes its pursuit. The point is, this is a psychological bullet. It wears down its target to a state of total intellectual and emotional surrender.”
“Does it ever stop?” Powers asked.
“Of course. You press the recall button and the nanosensors summon it back into the gun.”
Powers scratched her scalp. “I’m intrigued, but first I’ll have to form an independent committee to study the slow bullet’s applications.”
“What’s this?” Stanky asked, motioning at the group of five seated people.
“This is the standing committee,” Powers said. “I can see how you might have misread the situation.” Smiling, she signaled and the group stood. “Keep up the good work.”
“Powers is an idiot,” Stanky said in the taxi. “She thinks she’s funny. What’s funny is, she wouldn’t recognize a paradigm shift if it danced on her lap. “
“All innovations need to follow a process,” Amy said. In truth, she was relieved at AWS’s caution. Though the slow bullet was mainly Stanky’s innovation—she’d been primarily a researcher and gofer—it unnerved her that that she might bear any responsibility for a sea of SBs floating in the air. “In the meantime, we can work on something else.”
“Perhaps you’re right.” He gave her an evaluative look. “Amy Waitz, will you marry me?”
The question hit her like an unexpected roundhouse right. “You’re proposing to me in a cab?”
“A cab is but a means to get from point A to point B. A symbol of mobility, progression.” His eyes narrowed. “If I proposed somewhere else, would you more likely say yes?”
Stanky’s crest fell. “That’s blunt, a quality with positive applications.”
“Todd, I admire your work ethic.”
“Amy, I want you to admire more than my work ethic.”
“I don’t feel comfortable discussing this.” She leaned toward the cab driver. “Let me off here.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Stanky said. “We’re in the middle of the freeway.”
“I don’t care.” She’d care later, when she discovered her cell was dead and she had to walk ten miles to her apartment, but at the moment, it was more important to make a clear statement.
Todd Stanky brooded. He’d heard absence made the heart grow fonder. Gazing around his Amy Waitz-less home, clearly he had the “absence” down pat. He feared, however, the object of Amy’s fonder heart might continue to be that greased Neanderthal, Emilio. How could he use his strengths to tip the scales to his favor? In hindsight, his proposal in the cab had been too sudden and direct. Like the slow bullet, he should pursue his target with such relentlessness that, in the end, she would gratefully collapse into his waiting arms. He felt better, until the phone rang. It was Emilio, asking if Amy was there. Stanky was so taken aback at the audacity, the presumptuousness, the lack of scientific method in the guy’s voice, that he just stammered, “She’s not here.”
Afterward, just thinking about his rival made him doubt everything. Despite the technology, had he really done anything besides slow down an existing weapon? He needed to put his personal stamp on this. He got an idea. A certain adjustment of the nanosensors could show Powers, Amy, and Emilio once and for all. It would take some time but…then he got another idea. What if for good measure he squeezed off the new and improved slow bullet at Emilio Pietrus? That would give his rival something to think about besides Amy’s pliant body. One of Stanky’s inner voices whispered, “This isn’t the scientific way.” It was drowned out, however, by visions of Amy coming to him on her knees, begging him to call off the bullet, saying, “I’d do anything…”