“A Neurological Study on the Effects of Canine Appeal on Psychopathy, or Rio Adopts a Puppy” and “An Examination of Collegial Dynamics as Expressed Through Marksmanship, or Ladies’ Day Out” are stories set in the universe of S. L. Huang’s Cas Russell novels.
This is a world in which semi-plausible superpowers exist. Superheroes? Supervillains? This world is grey rather than white and black. Neither Cas Russell nor her mentor Rio are heroic. “Terrifying monsters” may be closer to the mark.
Rio and Cas are trying to be good people … or at least less bad. Rio has a clearer idea than Cas of what a good person should be like, though the way his mind works doesn’t make it easy to live up the ideal. Cas, in contrast, tries to avoid her worst excesses because her friends object. She doesn’t have a little voice in her head telling her to hurt people, but it’s surprising how much homicide can be generated by a utilitarian approach that places no value on human life. You probably wouldn’t want to hire either Rio or Cas to babysit.
These stories were a bit shorter than I expected (though I was so absorbed in reading them that I didn’t pause to check the word count). I don’t consider that brevity a flaw. Both stories are just as long as they need to be. They are amusing tales about people I should not like as neighbors.
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“Rio Adopts a Puppy” is available here.
If you need bad people killed in unpleasant ways, Rio is your man. Note that there is a risk that if you try to hire him, he may decide that youare a bad person. Which would not be so great for you. Rio is a sadistic psychopath. He realizes that and has decided that he can safely turn his destructive urges towards the slaughter of bad people.
Starving puppies are not bad people. Rio understands this, so when he meets a desperate dog, he does not kill it. Instead, he sets out some water for the puppy and allows it to stay with him, at least for the time.
However, this presents Rio with a dilemma: find a home for the puppy, a task that will demand time from his busy schedule of being an unstoppable engine of ruthlessly applied justice — or keep the dog with him as an ongoing test of how long he can resist his urge to harm other beings.
Nothing bad happens to the puppy once Rio adopts it. I assure you.
“Ladies’ Day Out” is available here.
Cas is a marvel of applied mathematics. Usually, the application to which her mathematics is applied is calculating the optimum ballistic path between her firearm and her target’s head. Recently, however, Cas has very reluctantly decided to become a better person. She is doing her best to be less homicidal.
Teaching her friend Pilar how to fire a gun safely seems a positive use of her skills. After all, safety is a good thing and who Pilar happens to point her gun at is a matter for Pilar. As it happens, when the abusive ex of a friend of Pilar’s drops by to terrorize his ex, Pilar’s training is both well timed and something that leaves Pilar conflicted over carrying a pistol. Since Cas is within spitting distance of being a sociopath, the issues involved remain obscure to her.
Not that Cas may have much time to consider the matter. A client has decided not to pay Cas for services rendered. The client is fully aware of Cas’ reputation. 1+1 = 2 so clearly Cas has to die to keep the client safe.
Cas’ universe not only features superpowers. It contains bad people who think that Bond-villain-style monologues before offing assassins is a good idea. It’s not. At least not when they’re dealing with Cas.