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Gods of War
by Steve Pantazis
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
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
"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
"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?