Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Issue 65
Coachwhip and Wade, Hex-tamers for Hire
by Tony Pi and K.G. Jewell
Gods of War
by Steve Pantazis
'Til Devil Do Us Part
by Jamie Gilman Kress
IGMS Audio
'Til Devil Do Us Part
Read by Alethea Kontis
InterGalactic Medicine Show Interviews
Vintage Fiction
Yuca and Dominoes
by José Pablo Iriarte
Bonus Material
The Story Behind the Stories
by Tony Pi and K.G. Jewell
The Story Behind the Stories
by Jonathan Edelstein

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-   -   -   -   P   r   e   v   i   e   w   -   -   -   -

Gods of War
    by Steve Pantazis

Gods of War
Artwork by M. Wayne Miller

Part 1

I tell my nephew Blake to hold perfectly still as I train my shotgun on the unholy hell of terror wriggling on the ground in front of us. The centipede-like machine is designed to dig into the back of some sorry sack, wrap its blades around the spinal column, and sever the connection to the nervous system. To see a snapper still functioning after all these years has got me a fit of the heebie-jeebies. Fortunately, it's damaged and floundering on its back, razor-sharp claws pawing the air like a roly poly. Probably was dormant until its sensors picked up our heat signatures.

It rights itself on the dirt, whipping its cockroach antennas. There are no eyes, just claws and black metal made for gutting flesh. It doesn't think, it just does.

It props up on its claws, shifts its head back and forth between us with a churn of gears. There's something intelligent about it, not just robot instinct. The antennas are rigid, as if listening. Its eyeless head faces us, like it's being told what to do, but that don't make sense.

The snapper bunches up, its segments pushed together.

I pull the trigger.

The shotgun kicks with a loud blast. The air fills with the acrid scent of gunpowder. Half the wiggly demon claws one way, the rest the other way. The gears whine. A second shot has it on its back again, raking the air like a crazed lobster. The third takes out the antennas. It twitches one last time and goes still.

Blake is shaking. He ain't ever had an up-close-and-personal experience like this in his life, and he's twenty-three years old. I've seen more mechanical monsters than I can count. This one was a rogue critter, stuck out in the middle of nowhere, a remnant from the War. Had we never come along, it would have probably gotten buried with the rain and mud over time. But if a child had stumbled on it . . .

I don't let my mind go there. It's a fluke. At least we found it, and not some unarmed idiot.

"Come on," I tell Blake, resting the shotgun over my shoulder. "I'll buy you a drink."

Little Mason is only five, but he thinks he's twenty, grownup determination tattooed on his small face as he runs around the yard with his arms out like he's flying under the sun-kissed June sky. His twin sister, Maryann, is the shy one, watching her brother while sitting on an upside-down milk crate. They both have blond hair, but their eyes are like their daddy's, God rest his soul, brown as carnival toffee. Their mother, Sharon--a cousin from my mother's side--lets me watch them now and then, especially when she heads into town. Besides Blake, they're all the family I've got, and I'm grateful for that.

"You a hawk again?" I ask little Mason. We're gathered in the shade outside my barn, the air pungent with the odor of hay. A pair of mares are in the paddock, swishing the flies with their tails.

"No way. I'm an eagle," he says.

Sometimes I ask Mason if he's a fighter jet, but he's never seen one. The only planes I've seen after the War were prop planes, scavenged from old crop dusters and what not, and the occasional drone. There hasn't been a commercial or military flight since Isaac commandeered the airspace and turned our crafts into kamikazes, and it's been quite a while since I've seen anything in the sky. All those cities wiped out, all because that sumbitch gained control over flight navs and whatnot. Mason's father, Pete, was in the Corps with me, another grunt mech thumper in the fight against ole Isaac. Got taken out clean by one of Isaac's walker bots in an ambush. Shot to the head. Probably didn't even feel it. That's the way I'd want to go. There ain't nothing worse than getting taken down and torn apart, tortured or devoured by Isaac's monstrosities. No, sir. I get the jitters just thinking about it.

But what am I talking about? The War's over. We won.

It's all fuzzy now, though, like a bad memory you can't tell was real or just a dream. Sure, the Texan Mech Corps was there, and I was with what was left of them. Our big boss, Colonel Matheson, insisted on talking to Isaac, man to machine. Why in hell would you want to talk to something without a soul? He chatted it up with ole Isaac. And guess what Isaac said? Yep, the creepiest thing I'd ever heard. He said it ain't over. That it would never be over. And next time, we'd wish we were all dead.

Even in the June heat, I've got the shivers. Fifteen years of looking over my shoulder. Little Mason doesn't know about ole Isaac and his promise. But we can never forget, those of us still standing. The War is over, they say. Over for good.

I watch little Mason soar like an eagle.

I want him to grow up in a new America and never know the ungodly horror that came down on us. I want to believe he'll get some good schooling, learn to fix things like his uncle, and someday meet a girl, settle down, and add to our bloodline. And when I fade to dust, there will be a Mason Junior to learn from his daddy that this world is good and right after all, and we can make it as a species.

It's a good dream, ain't it?

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