Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer
The music was deafening. New wave fusion jazz. Whatever the fuck that is. I had an “appointment” with Vinnie “The Fag” Scarpacci. Most men would have been pissed to have a moniker like that. Some would kill you for even whispering it. Not Vinnie. He loved it. He embraced it. He flaunted it by hanging out in shitholes like this. Places that would make the most prissy nancy boy cringe. Weird thing is, the Fag wasn’t even gay. I didn’t care, I was here to collect and one way or another, Vinnie was going to pay.
I found him in a corner booth playing his part to the hilt surrounded by fawning tinkerboys heavily rouged with three inch lashes. “You, you and you, MOVE,” I ordered, jabbing a calloused finger in their simpering faces. They vamoosed like rainbow leaves in a hurricane.
“No need to be rude, Max. Please have a seat. Can I get you something?” He raised a deco style martini glass to his lipsticked mouth. It was filled with a light green fluid. An appletini most likely. The guy sure played it to the hilt.
“Cut the act Vinnie, you know why I am here,” I pulled the lapel of my duster aside to show him the Desert Eagle I carried in a shoulder rig. Even for a guy my size it was hard to conceal that cannon.
All emotion dropped from his eyes. I saw the look that made lesser men shit themselves in fear. I had forgotten about Vinnie’s other nickname, the “Belt Butcher”. He earned that title when he was jumping claims in the asteroids. “Listen you little shit. I can have you chopped into little pieces and fed to your fucking family right before I have molten lead poured into their eyes and ears. Capisci?
He couldn’t scare me. I told him so. He talked pretty tough for a faggot. I told him that too. He didn’t know I had another piece under the table aimed at his fat gut. This I also told him.
“There is something you don’t know, you filthy Russian pig fucker.” He pulled up his sleeve to reveal the phone tattooed on his forearm.
“What are you going to do, call for a shining night to come to your rescue, Princess? Call in your goons to kill me,” I sneered
“I wouldn’t kill you, Max. I like you to much.” He jabbed a button on his hairy arm with a perfectly manicured finger.
The last thing I saw before I blacked out from excruciating pain was a smile that would have made a shark piss itself.
“Max? Wakey Wakey.” Vinie’s words sounded like they were coming from within my skull.
No, I wasn’t. I couldn’t get my eyes to focus. From one eye I saw Vinnie’s bloated face, from the other I saw the door of a strange room. I couldn’t get them to focus on the same spot. I felt like I was cross eyed and under water.
“How do you like your new home?”
New home? What was he talking about? I tried to speak but couldn’t. “I’m paralyzed,” I thought.
“Want to see?”
Vinnie held up a mirror. All I could see were two eyes connected to a naked brain suspended in… “Oh shit.”
“See Max, I told you I wouldn’t kill you. You’ll live a long, long time,” he laughed as he walked away. “Oh, there is one other thing,” he said turning back. “Your mother, your father and your sister? They quite enjoyed their meal before… Well, you know.”
Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer
For the hundredth time, I glassed the area. Nothing on visual, nothing on thermal. I bumped the gain until individual grains of sand stood out in stark detail a thousand metres up the broken road. Nothing. Winter was setting in and game was scarce.
I clicked my teeth and subvoked. “Rover, move out. Keep two hundred metres fore and South of me.” A cheerful, synthetic bark sounded in my aural ‘plant.
Through the binos, I could see Rover. Though massing 90 kilos, he moved with enough grace and stealth to shame a snake. Had I not known his location, I couldn’t have spotted him. I shouldered my gear, slung my rifle and made off.
I tell myself that I wrapped Rover in faux fur to mask his metallic frame. To blend in better. The truth is I miss dogs. After the supermarkets had been looted of their last scraps, pets were the first things on the menu.
I had been off planet when it happened. I didn’t get the news through military channels. It came from my wife. Somehow she had managed to cut through the military blackout and reach me. “John, everybody’s dying. Earth is quarantined. I…” The message ended. My wife’s last words still keep me awake some nights.
I swiped the smallest skiff I could find to escape detection. It was small, no torch drive, so I fit it with a stasis couch. No hurry, I just wanted to get home. I should have stayed away.
The Christers, in an attempt to wipe out their ancient enemy and hasten the return of their slain god, had released a virus in New Medina. They didn’t care if they died in the ensuing pandemic as long as the ‘godless towel heads’ died as well.
The virus targeted the brain, destroying the higher functions. Billions died within weeks. The few million survivors, the Afflicted, were hollow shells of humanity. Mindlessly they ate, slept and fucked. The virus itself was no longer communicable. By chance or design, it had mutated into an endogenous retrovirus. It was now only passed through parentage. I was safe.
I topped a rise in the road. I lifted my binos, scanning the plain below. The trees had thinned here. Success. I knew prey would be more plentiful in the lower regions. You could always tell the Afflicted by their shambling gait. I could never figure out how they managed to move fast enough to catch something to eat.
“Rover,” I spoke aloud, not bothering to subvoke, “close in 25 metres, fore and South.”
Casually I walked into their camp. They had constructed rudimentary shelters from whatever detritus they could cobble together. They were gathered in a tight cluster to retain body heat. The gift of fire was lost to them.
Their dull eyes fell on me as I approached. Slowly rising to their feet, they regarded me warily. They shuffled towards me, hunger in their eyes. They were a pitiful lot. Threadbare clothing hanging from emaciated frames.
In a blur of polyester fur, stainless steel teeth and literal razor sharp claws, Rover bounded in and dispatched the group of twenty or so with efficient violence. Not one for excessive force, Rover broke off his attack and returned to my side after the last creature was dispatched.
“Good boy,” I said, running my fingers through the matted synthetic fibres covering his head.
I had hoped for a grouse, maybe even a deer. But an Afflicted will do in a pinch and I was hungry. Not much meat on the bones, but the brains are tasty.
Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer
Captain William Dietz shuddered in revulsion every time he mounted his aircraft. It was a tiny lifting body. Its short, sleek swept wings blended seamlessly into the fuselage halves. He lay ventrally in an exact Dietz shaped depression in the lower fuselage while the upper half, complete with a Dietz dorsal impression, was lowered atop his naked form. The two halves sealed together leaving no trace of suture.
Thousands of tiny needles penetrated his body, relaying his neural output to the fighter’s airframe and weapons system. Longer probes penetrated the speech and optic centres of his brain “This really sucks,” Dietz thought to himself.
“What was that, Cap?”
“Nothing. Just talking to myself.” He had forgotten that he was plugged into the squadron freq. He could hear the rest of the fighters being prepped for launch by the flight deck officer.
“White One Ready?”
“White Two, ready?”
The sound of the artificially generated voices of the pilots always bothered Dietz as his squadron called out their level of readiness. They sounded emotionless, dead.
Finally. “White Leader, Ready?”
“Ready. SQUADRON,” he thought bellowed, “To tyrants,”
“We’ll not yield,” they replied in dry unison.
Ten tiny matte black fighters, nearly invisible in the blackness of space, were ejected from the aircraft carrier Jefferson Davis and screamed down through Jupiter’s dense atmosphere.
A plasma shield projected before the ships allowed them to slice through the nearly liquid atmosphere with ease. Dietz slipped into a barrel roll, silently alerting his men that he had the target on instruments and visual.
Bobbing gently before them, dangling from an aluminium buoyancy compensator, a ‘balloon’ filled with vacuum, hung the battleship U.S.S. Sherman. A combination of their small size and the plasma shield rendered the flight virtually invisible to the ships sensors.
“YeeeeHAW,” yelled 1st Lieutenant Stuart, an Atlanta native.
“Maintain Silence,” Dietz snapped, though he smiled inwardly at the young mans enthusiasm.
Twin rail guns dropped from the craft as they orbited the main body of the ship several kilometres below the balloon. Standard firing procedure dictated that the guns fire alternately. One gun loaded with iron/tungsten projectiles to puncture hard armour, while the other fired a nanosecond later to plunge singularity devices through the hole the armour piercing round made.
“Stuart,” Dietz called abandoning radio silence, “care to take point?”
“Boo-Howdy. Yes Sir.” Despite the emotionless quality the neuro translator imparted, Dietz could hear the almost palpable enthusiasm of the young Lieutenant’s thoughts. The lieutenant buzzed the ship one more time before breaking hard right and streaking straight up.
“White One, what the hell?”
Before Dietz could finish his sentence, the young pilot opened up on the ships BC. Opened up with only one gun. The left gun. The armour piercing ammo. The thin aluminium float imploded and the Sherman began slowly, very slowly, to sink.
“Why the hell did you do that, Stuart? Why didn’t you use an SD? Now they’ll just sink to… The Confederate captain’s words trailed off as sudden realisation dawned. Dietz could imagine the grim smirk on the young officer’s face.
“Yeah…,” Stuart said, finishing his captain’s thought, “to crush depth. Slowly. I reckon about four weeks. Plenty of time for them to think.”
Lieutenant James Ewell Brown, “Jeb”, Stuart’s laughter echoed across the ether.
Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer
It wasn’t much. A rocky asteroid honeycombed with branching tunnels and storage chambers. Though predominantly a rocky body, it contained enough nickel and iron to shield its twelve inhabitants from hard radiation.
Though not the most distant of the Confederation’s outposts, this was by far the loneliest. The men were volunteers, carefully picked. They had no families. No living relatives. They possessed unswerving loyalty. They knew this assignment was a one way ticket.
The men had gathered in Assembly Hall, so called as it was the only chamber large enough to accommodate all of them at once. Though their grey uniforms were threadbare and patched in places, they were still kept clean and pressed. Despite the isolation of their posting, they maintained strict military discipline. All had undergone full depilation. While not official regulation, it was convenient and widely adopted by soldiers of the fleet.
Colonel John Davidson regarded his men with a rueful smile. All were highly trained and dedicated soldiers; a terrible waste, but the opportunity to save millions, perhaps billions, outweighed their existence. “Gentlemen, you already know the content of the message I received.” They nodded in unison. “It is becoming too costly in men and equipment to pursue the enemy throughout the system. We already knew that. That’s why we’re here.” The Colonel smiled. A grim chuckle rippled around the men.
“Captain Sokolov, I don’t have to ask if you have checked the mass drives.”
“The men and I just made an inspection fifteen minutes prior to this meeting. All components and systems have been checked. Mass payload has been checked. All is in order.”
“Of course it is Yuri. As it has been for the past five years.” This project was Colonel Davidson’s brainchild. After his family was killed in the first wave, he conceived the idea to smash an asteroid into Japan.
It hadn’t been hard to convince the Council to adopt his plan. “It will be considered an act of God. They won’t be able to blame us. If we launch out of Jupiter’s shadow, by the time they see us, it will all be over. Even if they manage to launch a warhead, it will be too little too late.” The plan was sound, cheap and easy. A perfect weapon.
“Gentleman, at 13:42 hours, we begin. You know the drill. Any final questions?”
A deafening, “Sir, no Sir,” roared from eleven throats. Never had men been so ready to lay down their lives.
The asteroid shuddered as thousands of tonnes of carefully prepared nickel/iron blocks were magnetically launched from the asteroid. No sooner had one projectile left the kilometre long barrel than another took its place. The constant launchings set up a vibration that resonated unpleasantly in the teeth of the men.
After thirty seven minutes, the firing ceased. The extraterrestrial bullet was Earth bound. Honshu, its final destination.
“Yes Lieutenant, what is it?”
“When were these calculations last updated?”
“They’ve been checked repeatedly since we left Earth.”
“Sir, were the tidal forces of Jupiter and Mars taken into account?”
“Yes, of course.”
“The impact of millions of infinitesimal objects over a period of time?”
“Simulations showed it wouldn’t matter significantly. Why?”
“We’re going to miss, Sir.”
“Miss? Well, even if we hit the sea, the resultant Tsunami should still do…,”
“We won’t hit the Sea of Japan, Sir.”
“Mainland China? That’s okay. There isn’t a square inch of China that isn’t populated.”
“Not China, Sir.”
“Well, where then damnit?”
“Sol, yes Sir.”
“The big glowey thing Sol?”
“Yes Sir. That Sol.”
“Hmmm… Well… That sucks.”
Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer
“Curfew, curfew. Off the streets. Curfew, curfew…,” the recorded voice droned from a passing tank. The accent was oriental. Korean? Japanese? He didn’t care. As long as he could order a beer in Japanese, biro, he didn’t care. It was all the same.
He shrugged deeper into his duster. It offered scant protection from the sticky water blasted from below the tanks inflated skirt. A bum in a faded Army field jacket shuffled up. The jacket caught his attention. The camouflage no longer worked. The patterns buzzed randomly, intermittently.
“Sensei. Can you spare some for an old vet?”
“Don’t call me Sensei,” he snarled. The bum shrank visibly, abject fear in his eyes. The man felt a twinge of… something.
“Sorry.” He shoved a few plastic bills at the bum. The holographic chrysanthemums on the money danced. He walked on. Emotion rose within him. Sadness and frustration gave way to anger. Anger became rage.
With a grunt, he spun on his heel. The bum was well down the street, scampering for the nearest liquor machine. The man’s loping stride ate the distance between them. His black, leather duster flew in his wake.
He reached out and grabbed the bum’s shoulder. He threw him against a crumbling brick wall. “Where did you get this jacket?”
“It’s mine Sensei,” the bum squeaked, “I didn’t steal it.”
“I told you not to call me that. Where did you get it?” He straight armed the man against the building; the bum’s toes barely touched the broken slidewalk.
“Look mister, I don’t want no trouble. I just want to get a drink, you know? I didn’t mean nothing’ mister.”
With his free hand, the man grabbed the patch on the jacket’s shoulder and ripped it free. The patch was that of a white birds head. In measured words, the man asked; “Where, did, you, get, this?”
“Like I told ya mister, I’m a vet. I was in the war.”
He shoved the patch in the bum’s face. “This was your unit? Your division?” The words leapt out in a strangled hiss. He slammed the bum into the wall.
“Yeah man. Yeah,” tears left clean tracks down the bum’s grimy face, “look man, I didn’t do nothing’, why don’t you leave me alone. Please mister.”
All emotion drained from the man. Carelessly he threw the bum aside. With silent sobs he slid down the decaying façade. “Is this what we’ve become? Is this what we’ve been reduced to?”
“You,” he gestured at the bum slipping in the oily muck, “what happened to you? You let them do this to you. You let them. They broke you. All of us.”
The bum cautiously approached. “Look, mister, if you want your money back…” He held out the wad of colourful bills. “See mister? I just wanted a drink is all. I just…,” The words were interrupted by the roar of a second tank.
Regaining his dignity, the man rose to his full height. “I’m going to do you a favour,” the man said. He smiled at the bum. He took the filthy, tear streaked face in his scarred, calloused hands.
“That’s okay. Really mister, that’s okay. I don’t want no favours. I don’t need no drink. I…” There was a sharp crack. The bum slumped to the oily pavement.
The man regarded the bum sadly. He stepped over the body and into the street. He faced the tank.
A heavily accented voice burst from the floating behemoth. “You are in violation of curfew.”
The darkened street was momentarily lit from the muzzle blast of twin heavy machine guns.