For Services Rendered

Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

The place never failed to depress me. You can’t polish a turd. The walls of the waiting area were painted off white and they had made an effort to buy a superior quality of cheap, shabby furniture. Around the corner it was different. The walls were an institutional green. The mortar was falling off the cinder block walls. The VA hospital had been built sometime in the last century and looked it. The patients looked it too.

My arm had been acting up again. It was probably older than I was. I often wondered about the guy who had it before me. It was an artificial black. I was a natural white. Not a good match, but what the hell do they care.

Most of the people waiting in the “lounge” as they called it were quiet. Some sleeping. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were homeless and had been awake somewhere all night and came here to sleep when the doors opened in the morning.

A quadriplegic sat down next to me. I could see the framework of his aluminium and carbon exoskeleton underneath his grimy nylon track suit. A lead from the suit snaked up from a collar around his neck and jacked into the port behind his right ear.

His limbs vibrated slightly as the skeleton tried to make sense of the random firings of the brain at rest. He’d been plazed. He raised a paper cone of coffee to his lips. I expected him to spill half of it over himself, but he handled it with great aplomb.

Normally I keep my mouth shut. I just want to get in and get out so I can head back to my shitty flat and get drunk. This time I didn’t. I wish I had.

“Luna,” I asked.


“Corps?” Mars was fairly crawling with Marines since the insurrection.


“No shit. I was Army too. I got this beauty on Europa.” I tried to lift my mechanical negro arm. It whined noncommittally and failed to move. He turned his head to look me in the eye. His limbs shivered harder from the mixed signals it was receiving.

“You always talk this much?”

“No, I… um…,” I shut up.

“It’s okay. You felt like you had to talk to me, right?”

“Yeah, it’s weird because…,”

“Because, you just want to get your nigger arm adjusted, go back to your pathetic shit hole of an apartment and drink yourself to death.”

“Hey, who the fuck are you…”

“Relax, you know who I am.”

I thought for a moment. “No. No. Oh God, No!”

“Good for you. Give the boy a cigar. It’s time for reveille. Wakey wakey, eggs and baky…”

I awoke just in time to feel the nurse yank the lead from the port behind my right ear. Doctor Mayerson stood at my side. “I’m sorry Sergeant. The nerve attenuation from the plasma blast is incompatible with the fractal rate of the exoskeleton available to you. I’m sorry; we can do nothing for you now. Perhaps, if you have civilian insurance… No? Too bad you weren’t an officer.”

I looked down to where my arms and legs had been and screamed.


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Send in the Clowns

Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

They had been walking for weeks. They could easily pick their destination at night, or rather avoid a destination from the bluish glow low on the horizon that signalled a radioactive crater where a city once lived.

They were hungry, very hungry. The two men were perched atop a barren ridge overlooking a small town in a valley below. One of the men glassed the town through the Leopold scope mounted atop his H&K 91.

“Bill, what do you see,” Ronald Jenkins asked in a whisper.

“Nothing, the town’s abandoned. I don’t see anything moving, no cars, no people… What the hell?” Bill Gaines dropped the rifle and retrieved his binos for a better look.

“What is it? What do you see?”

“The circus is in town.”

They made their way down the ridge. After a hike that left them both exhausted and famished, they stood before a red and white striped circus tent that had been erected in what was presumably the town square.

“Creepy, ain’t it,” opined Ron, “where’s the sound of people, children laughing, animals?”

Bill scowled. “Let’s see if there’s anything to eat.”

Inside the tent, though the animals were long gone, the smell lingered upon the air. Little food was to be found. Popcorn lay crushed in the footprints of quickly departing patrons. Here and there lay the rotting remains of candied apples.

“Not much here, I guess they took whatever… did you here something,” Bill asked cocking his head to one side. “It sounds like…”

“Someone crying,” Ron finished.

Towards the far end of the tent, in the direction of the mysterious sound, a flap hung partially open revealing a smaller space within. “Let’s go,” Bill whispered, slipping the safety of his rifle off.

In a small addition to the big top, they found a man, a clown actually, sobbing uncontrollably. His heavy tears had caused his makeup to run terribly, giving the two the unrelenting combined feelings of revulsion, disgust, pity and a need to defecate that only a clown can engender in a human.

“By the ghost of Emmett Kelly… AN AUDIENCE,” the clown exclaimed jumping up and embracing the men, leaving red and white smears on their ragged clothing.

“Get off,” Ron growled, shoving the pathetic jester to the ground.

“I’m so sorry, it’s just that I haven’t seen another person in weeks. I’m so lonely.”

“What happened to the rest of the freaks,” Bill asked, trying to shake off the clown as it desperately attempted to attach itself to his leg.

“They left Sir, they left as soon as the bombs began falling.”

“Why didn’t you go with them,” Ron asked, kicking the clown in the stomach in an attempt to dislodge it from his companions leg.

“Ooooofff! They wouldn’t let me on the bus Sir. They hated Chancre they did Sir.”

“Wait, Chancre the Clown?”

“That’s me Sir.” He honked his nose twice for emphasis.

“C’mon Bill, let’s get out of here.”

“Please Sir, take Chancre with you.”

“Get the fuck off my leg or so help me I’ll kill you.”

“That’s just what they said Sir.”

The rifles report was deafening within the canvas confines of the small enclosure.

Later that evening, Ron and Bill had made camp and were eating a short distance outside the little town.

“Give me another piece, will you Ron?”

Ron cut a strip of meat from the joint spitted over the cheery fire and handed it to him on the point of his knife. As Bill chewed thoughtfully, he asked, “Hey Ron, does this taste funny to you?”


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Starry Night

Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

“Hell? Hell is what you carry in your heart. All your regrets. Things you should have done but didn’t. Things you did but shouldn’t have. That’s Hell. You carry Hell with you.” Without another word he stood and walked out beyond the reach of the light from the small campfire. The report from his pistol as he blew his brains out sounded faintly hollow in the crisp desert air. The four remaining men continued to stare into the dying flames.

“Seen it before, Mars’ll do that to ya.” Tom Marten was an old trail hand and a third generation Martian.

“Why’d he do it?” Henry Curry briefly turned his eyes in the direction of the departed man, but just as quickly turned away. He was young, just eight years Mars Standard.

“It’s the planet. She knows we’re strangers. She doesn’t want us here. A man stays out here too long he hears things. She talks to ya. Get‘s under your skin like.”

“Who talks to ya, Mr. Marten,” Henry asked as a cold shiver thrilled his body.

“Mars,” he said, “she knows we’re here. She doesn’t like it.”

“You’re full of shit,” remarked Bill Fryer, getting to his feet and dusting himself off. “I’m going to bed.” He crawled into his single sleep bubble.

“Think I’ll turn in too. Don’t scare the boy too much now, Tom. This is his first drive. Can’t have him shittin’ himself at every shadow. G‘night.”

“Night,” they replied in unison.

“What were they like Mr. Marten?”


“The Martians… the real ones I mean… no offence.”

“None taken, son. Well, they were tall. Taller than us. Very slim. Bird bones. The lower gravity you know. They built the crystal…”

“No, what were they like? I mean really like?”

“Nobody really knows. They were gone thousands of years before we got here. They were ancient before man walked on two legs. They don’t want us here, I can tell you that much.”

“How do you know?”

“They talk to me. Their ghosts anyway. I hear them all around me.”

Henry shivered again. The cold night air of the desert he rationalized to himself. He looked to the sky. The stars barely twinkled in air still too thin for much refraction despite nearly a century of terraforming. Phobos was a disk smaller than Earth’s moon. Tiny Deimos was barely distinguishable from the surrounding star field. It was an indescribably beautiful starry night.

Something brought Henry’s attention back to the moment. Glancing across the fire, he thought for the briefest moment that the pupils of Tom Marten’s eyes had gone from round to vertical slits. For a fleeting instant it looked as if his face had become elongated and his skin had taken on an ashen pallor.

He shook his head and blinked several times to clear his mind. When he looked again, kindly old Tom Marten was staring back at him. He removed his revolver from his holster, checked the loads, spun the cylinder and replaced it. Nearby, a horse, grown from tissue brought from Earth, whinnied nervously.

“Think I’ll go for a walk.”

“Good idea. You do that.”

Henry walked into the darkness. In the thin air, the blast from his weapon failed to echo off the nearby cliff face.

Tom Marten smiled. A smile that failed to reach his oddly slitted eyes.


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Ruffles and Flourishes

Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

“… as well as outstanding valour…”

He stood unmoving before the division. His dress blues, marking him as a Master Gunnery Sergeant of the Northern Confederacy’s elite Marine Corps, stood out under the brilliant lights against the muted grey of the NCS Carpathia’s hanger bay.

“… facing overwhelming numbers…”

His great-great grandfather had watched as flamethrowers were used to rid the caves of Guadalcanal of their Jap defenders during the Great Patriotic war.

“… facing not only an entrenched enemy…”

His lips twitched into a barely perceptible smile as he mused over the delicious irony of history’s repetitiveness. He himself had used a similar device, a plasma projector, essentially a plazer with broad band dispersal. Not particularly useful on hard targets, but remarkably effective against battle suited combatants in methane ice caves.

“… the distant shores of Europa…”

He nearly lost his military bearing as the thought of the Jap soldiers of the Asiatic Alliance spilling out of the ice cave after his initial blast. He almost laughed remembering how the environment suits dissolved from the bodies, how the flesh was rent from the bones leaving behind nothing but a carbonized skeleton.

“… saving the lives of not only his own men, but the lives of hundreds of colonists…”

Saving lives my ass, he thought to himself. He just enjoyed mowing down those soldiers.

“… a contingent of Japanese on Europa…”

“Fuckin’ Nipos,” he muttered under his breath.

“It is my honour and privilege to present the Medal of Honour…”

Clearing his thoughts, he straightened his back, and stood even taller. The epicanthic folds of his eyes becoming more pronounced as the angle of the light changed on his grave face.

“…bravery and fortitude far above and beyond what a proud nation can expect of any of her sons. Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests and dignitaries, please allow me to present; Master Gunnery Sergeant Chiang Kai-shek III.

The four star general and commandant of the Marines fairly glowed as he applauded the slight man who stepped off with his left foot and took the podium.

“Sir, thank you so much. I don’t know what to say… I guess it’s just a family thing.” He beamed.

The assembled crowd rose to their feet as one, roaring their approval.

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The Witness

Author : Roi R. Czechvala, Staff Writer

It didn’t bother me at first. Killing them I mean. They had come to our home world with plans of conquest. I can’t even dignify what happened by calling it a war. They claim we fired first, which was true, but nobody asked them to just zip into our atmosphere without knocking first. Besides, you’d have thought that the orbiting mines of the PLeiaDeS, the Planetary Defence Satellites, would have made them change their minds.

They were like hydras. Strike one down; two more appeared in their place. They were relentless, always moving, never slowing, always onward, crusading. Spreading like a great plague.

We are pacifists my family, but even my sainted grandmother hugged me the day I took my oath and joined the Corps. She told me to “be good” and to “kill every last one of the bastards.”

I’ll never forget my first combat drop. I nearly shit my pants when I leaned out the open hatch and saw them below us. It was impossible to make out individuals, there were so many. It was as if their army was just a vast undulating sea. With no more individuality than a drop of water.

If I was scared then, it more than doubled when we hit the deck and engaged. I unslung my rifle and laid into them with a green ribbon of plasma. Still they came.

We were confused by their intentions at first. They were unarmed, so we were hesitant to fire at first, but we soon learned that they had weapons far more devastating than our mere blasters and pulse cannons.

They could enter our minds.

It was one thing to fire into the faceless hoard, vaporizing them in mid stride. It was altogether something different when the faces became friends, family… my wife. The bastards got to her too, and I was the one who had to reduce my own beautiful bride to an unrecognizable lump of charred meat. Later things got so bad; I would have eaten that burnt flesh. I vomited until I passed out.

I was miserable for days, but had to push on. We had the weaponry, but they had ever growing numbers as more and more of our people were overcome by their sinister power. One year flowed into two. We no longer fought their onslaught; we fought to stave off the inevitable. The mindless smiling faces of the ones whom we loved. We mowed them down, believing that in death they escaped a living horror. Towards the end we resorted to singularity Turing devices. Too little too late.

It became a war of attrition. Our men abandoning their posts, some took their own lives; the worst fate was to become one of them. A mindless grinning drone.

Finally they found me. Hiding like a coward in the basement of an abandoned farmhouse shitting myself in fear. I knew there was no way out. I stuck the muzzle of my blaster against my chest. There was a faint whine and a whiff of singed hair. The power cell was totally drained.

I curled up in a tight ball, expecting a rain of cruel merciless blows. Instead, I felt gentle hands pulling me to my feet. They talked to me, they talked and they talked. They took me back to their ship. They cleaned me up. They fed me. They weren’t so bad after all.

After spending time with them I now understand what they want. I understand.

“I’m sorry to wake you… Would you like to buy a copy of The Watchtower?”

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