The Books - the AGFL Series and more...
AMERICA'S GALACTIC FOREIGN LEGION is a fast-paced, satirical, military space opera featuring the adventures of compulsive gambler, Joey Czerinski and his involvement with a host of alien species. There's enough politically incorrect cross-culture humor to satisfy just about everyone.
BOOK 1: FEELING LUCKY begins with Czerinski trying to escape Old Earth to avoid a fatal run-in with bad-ass loan shark Bubba Jones and Associates. Desperate to get some fast cash, Czerinski foolishly accepts a loan from a snarky Foreign Legion ATM and quickly finds his luck changes when he's shipped off to join the United States Galactic Federation Foreign Legion.
Available now at http://www.penumbrapublishing.com, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and smashwords.com.
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AMERICA’S GALACTIC FOREIGN LEGION
Book 1: Feeling Lucky
A sweeping military space opera told in the grand satirical tradition of Catch-22...
One more roll – that’s all habitual gambler Joey Czerinski needs to get himself off Old Earth and away from the bad-ass loan shark hunting him down like a mongrel to be euthanized. But a sneaky ATM looking to fill its Foreign Legion new recruits quota has something else in mind for Mr. ‘Big Spender’ Czerinski. When he agrees out of desperation to take a loan from the crazy ATM, all bets are off.
War is hell, and hell comes knocking when it’s time for Czerinski to pay up. Forced into the Legion by the tricky ATM and an unscrupulous lawyer, Czerinski finds himself deeper in trouble than he’d ever imagined. But what’s one more roll for a perennial rule-bender? If Czerinski can survive what’s thrown at him amid galactic war against a spider-like enemy that could spell doom for the human race, maybe ... just maybe ... he’ll manage to come out alive in this grisly game of shoot-’em-up – if his luck holds out.
AMERICA'S GALACTIC FOREIGN LEGION
Book 1: Feeling Lucky
Licensed and Produced through
Copyright 2009 Walter Knight, All rights reserved
EBOOK EDITION ISBN/EAN-13: 978-1-935563-11-2
PRINT EDITION ISBN/EAN-13: 978-1-935563-12-9
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, planets, asteroids, alien species, evil empires, galaxies far, far way, or future events and incidents, are the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons or aliens, living or dead, events or locales including those on Mars and New Colorado, is entirely coincidental.
The bright and seedy United States Galactic Federation Spaceport & Casino was noisy and busy as usual, crawling with typical characters I’ve come to recognize. The lonely, the bored, the desperate, the broke, and of course the addict needing another gambling fix. I’ve come to know them all because they are all me, in some way or another. But that wasn’t my concern tonight. Tonight, the good ol’ United States Galactic Federation Spaceport & Casino was gonna be my ticket off Old Earth.
And what was my big hurry to get outta Dodge? Loan shark Bubba Jones has signed affidavits to have me picked up for not paying back my loans. Jones also paid the $25,000 needed to allow lethal force should I resist arrest. With Bubba, it seemed like everyone resisted arrest. The man holds a grudge. It didn’t seem right, but it was all legal, signed by the judge and notarized. Anyway, what do I know, I’m not a lawyer. If there was any good news about the fix I was in, it was that the warrant for my arrest was civil in nature, and only bounty hunters could arrest me. The police wouldn’t get involved in the whole sordid affair.
I would not be trapped on Old Earth like some rat in a maze, scrambling about with no money. No money means your life is nothing, and that was not how it was going to end for me. I had a plan. It cost $100,000 to take a shuttle to Mars, $50,000 more if I wanted to be beamed to Mars. I had $50,000 in my pocket, and I was halfway there. I was on a win streak, playing craps at the casino. How could I lose? By making ‘field’ bets, and increasing my bet whenever I lost, my progressive betting scheme was finally paying off. Dice rolls of 2 (pays double) 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, and 12 (pays triple) were winners, while 5, 6, 7, and 8 won for the Casino. How many times could I lose in a row if I kept doubling my bet? Eventually I’d have to win. Right? But it seemed like a losing streak always had a way of sneaking up on me. Now, with only $25,000 left, and all of it out on the table, I was getting real nervous. My pulse pounded, and I was soaked with sweat. The dice rolled…
Five? No! No, no, no! Why does this always happen to me?
I was broke and still on Old Earth. I looked around frantically. The couple sitting next to me laughed garishly, reminding me of evil clowns. I pushed away from the table.
Now what? Get more money from an ATM? Sure. Why not? I was already screwed – why not go all in? I found a Galactic Technologies Corporation ATM to borrow another $50,000. Approved! Outstanding! My credit and good name were still intact. Of course, if I didn’t pay the money back, I’d be working on an assembly line for the GT Corporation for the next two years. But that would never happen. I’d skip out first. Anyway, gamblers are a naturally optimistic lot. It’s our weakness. It’s my weakness.
I put all $50,000 down on a craps field bet and the dice rolled…
Six? Six! No one could have this much bad luck!
My shoulders slumped. I had to get out of here. No! I can’t handle this! I staggered, my knees weak, but I had to get it together. I couldn’t let Bubba find me.
Then a voice called out, “Psssssst, psssssst! Hey you, Big Spender. Need some money?”
“Who said that?” I looked around, but didn’t see anyone. I patted the gun under my coat for reassurance.
“Who do you think? Look over here. If I was a snake, I would have bit you.”
I spied the ATM tucked away in the corner by the cashier’s cage. A surge of optimism coursed through me as I read the lettering on the ATM: ‘United States Galactic Federation Foreign Legion.’ “Are you for real?” I asked.
“Of course I am for real,” said the ATM. “I am the last ATM you will ever need.”
I snorted derisively.
“I’ll extend you $100,000 credit. Right now. On the spot. What do you say? It’s so easy to make your financial problems go away.”
“I don’t think so. I’m no fool. I heard there was a war about to start somewhere.”
“There is always a little war about to start somewhere,” the ATM responded. “What are you, chicken?”
“Don’t call me chicken. I know how this works. If I don’t pay back the loan, it means I just enlisted in the U.S. Foreign Legion.” I was ready to walk away. “Do you think I want that?”
“Come closer and read the details. I will give you a written contract. You can pay the money back anytime you want – this month – and spend it any way you want. Who knows, Big Spender, you might get lucky at the craps table,” added the ATM.
“You know about that? Craps is my game.”
“I know a lot of things. I know you owe the GT Corporation $50,000. You owe Bubba Jones another $50,000. I know Jones is upset and will be here in about thirty minutes,” said the ATM, smugly.
“What do you mean Bubba will be here in thirty minutes?” I asked, my suspicion growing.. “How do you know that?”
“I called him,” replied the ATM.
“You did what?” I reached for my automatic pistol, wanting to shoot the ATM. That wouldn’t be practical in a crowded spaceport. I quickly calmed myself, looking about to see if anyone had noticed my little slip of temper. I seemed to be invisible to the revelers and staff.
“Vandalism will not help your situation, Mr. Czerinski. Bubba and his thug bounty hunters will be here very soon, and you still have some tough financial decisions to make.” A tray extended from the ATM. “Put your thumb on the pad. Take the money. It’s only $100,000. You can pay me back anytime this month.”
I put my thumb on the extended pad, and a pin prick drew blood, splattering it over the glass pad. “Ouch!” I drew away, holding my thumb. “Was that necessary?”
“Enlisting in the United States Galactic Foreign Legion is a serious matter. But you are right. Signing your contract in blood was a bit dramatic. Politicians came up with that idea to test your sense of humor. You have about twenty minutes before Bubba Jones gets here.”
“Aren’t you the least bit concerned Bubba might catch up and kill me?”
“Of course I am concerned,” the ATM said with seeming genuine feeling. “That’s why I keep telling you Bubba Jones is coming. My recruitment quota for the month will be set back if Bubba Jones kills you.”
“You’re facing quotas?” I did some quick calculations and realized I might end up short-changed. “Well, I want twice that. I want $200,000.”
“You are not worth that much,” said the ATM. “I have to justify the expense if the Legion gets stuck with you.”
“Haven’t you heard of inflation?” I argued. “A hundred thousand dollars will hardly get me anywhere these days. And it’s just a loan. I’m not actually enlisting. I’ll pay it back.”
“So you say.” The ATM sounded a bit sarcastic.
“I have lots of military training. I’m worth the extra $100,000.”
“Military records indicate you have some prior experience,” conceded the ATM. “You were in the Arizona National Guard back in the day?”
“Yes. They’re a rough and tough outfit.”
“I’m sure,” said the ATM. “Records show you did not earn your Infantryman’s Badge. How did you manage to avoid combat along the
“I saw combat,” I insisted. “It’s just that my captain was too lazy to do the paperwork, and my remaining enlistment was too short for me to care. I just wanted out.” “I do not believe your explanation,” challenged the ATM. “Among other faults, you are a compulsive liar.
“It’s the truth. Let God Almighty strike me down with lightning if I’m lying.” Just as I swore this oath of truthfulness, a baggage handler slammed a cart into a railing with a loud crack. I flinched and ducked down, thinking for a second that God had called me out. I looked around. All was still good in the world. There were no lightning bolts, yet.
“Your company commander, Captain Hill, described you in an evaluation report as resourceful, but not a team player. He said, and I quote, ‘Corporal Czerinski never sees the big picture.’ What did Captain Hill mean by that?”
“All officers talk that way,” I said, dismissively. “I was a corporal. Corporals aren’t supposed to see the big picture. We are just supposed to keep ourselves and our men alive for the day. You know, take cover and don’t get shot.”
“Your psychological profile says you may have a drinking and gambling problem. Is that true?”
“Gambling problem?” I asked. “No way. It’s not a problem as long as I win. Are you going to loan me the money or not? There are plenty of other ATMs out there who want my business.”
“I know your type,” said the ATM. “You like to take short cuts. I am going to lend you more money than you are worth, just to make a point. You will squander your money trying to show everyone how smart you are. Then you will be mine.”
“I’m smart enough to stay out of the Foreign Legion,” I challenged. “That’s all that matters. I’m feeling real lucky. I can’t lose.”
“I am going to enjoy watching you crash and burn,” said the ATM. “It will get ugly.”
“What kind of an ATM are you? You have a screw loose? When was the last time you had your diagnostics checked?”
“As long as my recruitment quotas are up, everyone is happy,” bragged the ATM. “I do not need my diagnostics checked. I feel fine. Take your money.”
* * * * *
* * * * *
I settled for $100,000 from the ATM. With cash on my card, I rushed to the craps table. “I’m back,” I announced.
“So you are,” said the craps pit boss, smiling. She was pretty, but she was a snake-eyed, bloodsucking, viper bitch from hell. “I hope your luck is better this time Joey,” she said too sweetly.
“Me too.” I plugged in my card. That ATM was right about one thing. I had some tough decisions to make. I didn’t think I should bet it all at one time like I did before. “$25,000 on the field.”
“The field bet is a fool’s bet,” the gambler next to me said. The pit boss and casino staff all nodded knowingly. The dice rolled…
I don’t believe it!” I cried. “If it wasn’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have any luck at all.” I put all my remaining money, $75,000, on the field. The dice rolled…
Twelve. Twelve? Twelve! I won! Twelve on a field bet pays triple. I won, what was it … $225,000? I did the math while everyone around me was either gaping or trying to congratulate me with high-fives. I had $300.000 total. That was enough to pay off Uncle Sam, pay off GT Corporation, pay off Bubba, and I’d still have $100,000 for the trip to Mars. I needed to get off Old Earth now. There were still some nasty people here who didn’t like me. But that didn’t leave me with much walk-around money. I would starve on Mars without walk-around money. Screw Bubba. I was not paying him. That would leave me with about $50,000 for walk-around money, but it still wasn’t enough. It’s never enough, is it? I stopped daydreaming and returned to the land of the here and now. “I’ll bet half of it, $150,000 on the field.” The dice rolled…
Two! That pays double! “I’m cashing out! Put the money on my card! Hurry up. I’ve got places go and people to see.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to let your $600,000 ride?” asked the pit boss, giving me her best sexy smile. It was her bloodsucking casino viper-from-hell, make-one-more-bet smile. “Luck is with you today, honey. Who knows how lucky you might get?”
“Positive. I’m getting the heck out of Dodge.” I grabbed my card and ran through the crowded spaceport casino to the ticket cage. I arrived out of breath. “Ticket to Mars. Next available flight. Belay that. Beam me there. I’ll pay the extra charge.”
“Is this a business trip, sir?” asked the ticket agent.
“What do you care?”
“You might be eligible for a discount if you are a frequent flier,” advised the ticket agent. “Those points add up.”
“Yes it’s business!” I said. “Did I say I was in a hurry?”
The ticket agent took my card, but he still did not seem to appreciate the urgency of the situation. The man moved in slow motion. “One moment please,” he said. “The computer indicates there are problems with your card.”
“Problems? What problems.? There are going to be a lot of problems if you don’t beam me up.” I looked over my shoulder again. You would not believe how many shifty-looking people pass through a spaceport in one day. There was no sign of Bubba, but anyone could be a bounty hunter. I reached for my gun as a rough-looking character sauntered up behind me at the ticket cage.
“Your card is good, Mr. Joey R. Czerinski, but you have some liens on it that you must pay before leaving Earth. I can take care of them for you, if you wish,” volunteered the ticket agent.
“Do it,” I replied. “Hurry up.”
“GT Corporation, $50,000 paid. United States Galactic Foreign Legion, $100,000 paid. Bubba Jones & Associates Incorporated, $75,000 plus interest–”
“Wait!” I ordered. “I’m not paying that. It’s a civil matter still being contested. I’ll pay it later.”
“These are all civil matters,” said the ticket agent. “They need to be paid.”
The scruffy guy in line grabbed my shoulder and asked, “You know Bubba?”
My gun was out in a flash and pressed against his gut. “What’s it to you?”
“Nothing man, I’m sorry!” cried the bum. “I just wanted to borrow some spare change. Please, I have a family. I’m on disability. I have a lot of troubles.”
“Yeah right. If you could kick the person responsible for most of your troubles, you wouldn’t sit for a week. Take a hike!” I shoved a few scrip dollars at him – they weren’t worth the paper they were written on, except at local food vendors – and turned to the ticket agent. “Are you getting a commission on collecting debts or what? I’m not paying Mr. Jones. Is that clear? Now beam me up!”
“No reason to get angry about it, sir. I guess Bubba Jones & Associates Incorporated can wait. Here is your ticket, Mr. Czerinski. I hope you enjoy your vacation on Mars.”
“It’s a business trip, remember? Put me down for the extras.”
CHAPTER 2 There was no better feeling than being on Mars with money in my pocket. Mars, the Red-Light Planet, was a wide-open den of iniquity where anyone with money could buy anything. If you were broke on Mars, you’d die, because everyone pays a tax for air, and vagrancy is not tolerated. But with money, Mars, baby, is the place to be. First things first, I needed a place to stay. A suite at Harrah’s Casino on the Strip fit the bill for a man of my newly acquired means. As I entered the hotel lobby, I was greeted with, “Hello Mr. Czerinski. Welcome to Mars.”
I froze. No one knew me on Mars. “Thank you for your prompt payment. I hope we may do business again,” added the United States Galactic Foreign Legion ATM. “You going to snitch on me to Bubba again?” I asked.
“Of course not,” replied the ATM. “You are a valued customer. You might even give me a good reference to some of your associates. You scratch my back, I will scratch yours.”
“You bet. I’ll send lots of business your way,” I said, as I walked away. At the hotel desk, I addressed the check-in clerk, “Sir, I want a suite. And not just any suite. I want the suite with the huge gold-tipped crossed elephant tusks in the window overlooking all the tiny people scurrying about below.”
“Yes sir,” said the clerk as he took my card and ran it. “We have only the very best here at Harrah’s Hotel & Casino. But I’m afraid we don’t have any crossed elephant tusks.” “Get the manager. Now! I want to talk to someone about this outrage! I saw crossed elephant tusks on a travel brochure and in a movie, and now you are holding out on me? If someone else has my room, kick them out! Move it boy!” I ordered. This was not normally how I talk to people, especially minimum-wage types. If the clerk was a food-server, he would have surely spit on the underside of my steak and smiled while he delivered it. But I was feeling full of myself and putting on airs. I figured what harm could the clerk do me? I’d tip him later after I had my fun, figuring it was okay to be rude as long as you tipped well. I’d give him a good tip after I won some more money.
The manager came out to talk to me. “Sir, I am so sorry the room you wanted was taken by the King of California, and we just cannot kick him out. Can I interest you in another suite?” asked the hotel manager. “So, you do have a suite with crossed elephant tusks? That means he lied to me. I expect this idiot to be reprimanded,” I said, pointing my finger at the clerk. “I’ll fire him immediately, sir,” the manager promised. “Can I interest you in a suite with a stuffed grizzly bear in the window?”
“I like the sound of that,” I replied. “My very own grizzly in the window. I’ll take it. And about your boy, don’t fire him yet. I think he has management potential. Lies with a straight face. Very smooth.” “Yes, sir, I’m sure he will be relieved to be keeping his job,” said the manager. “And for your inconvenience in this matter, Harrah’s Hotel & Casino Resort will comp your first night.” “Outstanding!” I said. “You will be happy to know I will be doing a lot of gambling tonight. I’ll drop your name with the pit bosses.”
“Good luck and good gaming,” said the manager, as he left to attend other matters. He motioned for the clerk to come over and finish checking me in.
“Sir, thank you so much for saving my job,” said the clerk. “I really need this job. I live from paycheck to paycheck, and with the high cost of Martian air taxes these days, it can be a real hassle.” “Think nothing of it,” I said. “What would they do if you run out of air money? Throw you out of an airlock?” I smiled jokingly. “Yes sir,” replied the clerk. “That is exactly what they would do.” “Oh come on. It’s been a while since I’ve been up here. Don’t they still have welfare on Mars? Some kind of safety net? What if I ran out of money?” “No welfare on Mars,” the clerk answered somberly.
That thought shook me for half a second, then I remembered something I wanted to take care of. “By the way, there is something you need to do for me,” I said, in a low conspiratorial voice. I slid my pistol across the counter. “You see that ATM in the corner near the front door?” “Sir?” asked the clerk. “This isn’t a robbery, is it?”
“Don’t be silly. You saw my card. I’m a guest. I don’t need to rob anyone yet. In fact, I am going to give you two thousand dollars. All you have to do is one little favor for me.” “Sir, I don’t like guns,” said the clerk. “Guns are frowned upon here on Mars. Our laws are harsh.”
“Yes I know,” I said. “It’s un-American. But since I saved your job, and because of that you are still able to pay your air taxes, you are going to take this gun and do me a tiny little favor. You are going to pick a time of your own choosing and fire the whole clip into that ATM.” “Please,” begged the clerk. “I can’t do that. I don’t know anything about guns.”
“Oh sure you can,” I said. “This pistol is simple and easy to use. Just pull the trigger and don’t shoot yourself. I want you to wait until it’s late, sneak up on the ATM from the side, and shoot its guts out. There is no risk as long as you aren’t scanned by the ATM’s face recognition camera. I suggest you point the hotel cameras away from the front door too. You can do it. I have faith in you.” “Sir, please. I hate guns.”
“When you are done, take my gun up to my room and put it under the bed pillow. I’m going gambling.” I gave the clerk $2,000 up front to sweeten the deal, and walked out. I love Mars. On the way to the casino, I bought $25,000 worth of gold chains and put them all around my neck. I walked to the craps table, feeling invincible with $400,000 on my card. I’d lose $20,000, win $30,000, lose $10,000, and win $25,000. The money just started to add up. Then my luck changed. I bet $10,000 on a craps field bet and lost. The two sixes faced up for just a second, then one of the dice hit a stack of chips and came up seven. I bet the field again, lost again. Bet $40,000 and lost. I bet $60,000 and lost. Down to my last bet. Numb from betting such large amounts, I bet $250,000. The dice rolled… Twelve! Yes! I am invincible! Twelve on a field bet pays triple, so I had one million dollars on my card. Just then, shots rang out at the far end of the casino. Everyone ducked or ran for cover. I kept a straight face and said, “Please cash me out. I’m going to retire for the evening.”
I had a drink first. Then I stopped by a computer chip store. “Got anything good to buy?” I asked the tech clerk. He seemed bored and not interested in my business. “Sir, the enhancements and chips we sell here are strictly high-end. You can’t afford to even walk in the door. Please leave.” “I’m on a winning streak. Show me the good stuff,” I insisted, sliding my card across the counter. “Pardon me sir, but maybe I can help you after all,” said the tech clerk as he checked my card, seeing lots of dollars. “I’ve heard rumors about a Fountain of Youth chip,” I said. “Do you have one?”
“Interesting you asked that question,” said the clerk in a hushed tone. “Yes sir, we have the Fountain of Youth chip. And I’ll make you a special deal, considering the Feds are about to make it illegal. You’re not a cop, are you?” “No. What do you mean illegal?” I asked. “Why would they want suppress such fantastic technology?” “Over-population,” replied the clerk. “A special few will still be able to buy the chip. The plan is to make immortality available only to those who have special skills, merit, or money.” “That makes no sense. Are you sure that’s all there is to it?”
“There are also some health concerns holding up FDA approval,” advised the clerk. “Risks of an enlarged heart and stress to your liver and kidneys. But I think the upside potential far outweighs the downside.” “Does it really work?” I asked. “It’s not being old that upsets me as much as being fat and old.”
“It will make you look twenty years old again by regenerating and organizing your cells. How old are you? Sixty? The chip does not really make you young. Nothing can do that. The Fountain of Youth chip merely directs your body to run at peak efficiency. You will feel and look great, as long as you don’t have a heart attack or suffer from any pre-existing ailments that would kill you anyway. Are you in good health? You don’t drink a lot do you?” “I’m in great health. And I am not anywhere near sixty,” I lied. “I’ll take it. How much?”
“$400,000, and that’s at a discount,” the tech clerk answered. “I’m telling you. It’s now or never. And for $100,000 more, I’ll throw in a Sexual Enhancement chip, a Fast Learning Training chip, and an Enhanced Vision and Reaction chip. What more can I do to make this deal happen?” He was making a good pitch for a big sale, but he had me at the door. “OK, it’s a deal,” I said. I held out my arm and the tech clerk shot four chips into me. Nothing happened. I felt the same. I reached for my gun, but it wasn’t there.
“Whoa tiger, it takes time,” said the tech clerk, sensing my anger. “Would you be interested in our five-year limited warranty for only $25,000 more?” “Yes.” I held out my arm as he scanned in the five-year limited warranty particulars and fine print. “Now go home and have a good night’s sleep. You will literally be a new man in the morning.” * * * * * I walked out through the shopping mall adjacent to the casino and through the hotel lobby with a nice bounce to my step. I was feeling good about my prospects. The police had put up barrier tape and were taking photos of the shot-up ATM. I heard a beep as I walked by the crime scene. I was being scanned. My back stiffened as I stopped to talk to the officer. “Is it dead?” I asked. “Very,” the officer answered. “Nothing but a pile of junk now.” “What was that beep I just heard?”
“Just a spasm of death,” the officer explained. “Maybe static electricity. They will bring in a replacement tomorrow. It’s nothing but scrap metal now.” “Who would shoot an ATM?” I asked innocently. “Any suspects?” “How did you know it was shot?” asked the officer, eyeing me with suspicion. “Are you kidding?” I quickly answered. “You could hear the shots clear across the casino.” “Oh, quite right,” said the officer. “It was probably peace activists. They are a violent bunch.”
“I’m sure you’ll catch them,” I said as I strode to the elevator. As I opened the door to my room, I was greeted by Bubba Jones. Shit, some days just aren’t worth getting up for. “Welcome to Mars, Czerinski,” said Bubba, smiling. Then he shot me in the head.
There was no better feeling than being on Mars with money in my pocket. Mars, the Red-Light Planet, was a wide-open den of iniquity where anyone with money could buy anything. If you were broke on Mars, you’d die, because everyone pays a tax for air, and vagrancy is not tolerated. But with money, Mars, baby, is the place to be.
First things first, I needed a place to stay. A suite at Harrah’s Casino on the Strip fit the bill for a man of my newly acquired means. As I entered the hotel lobby, I was greeted with, “Hello Mr. Czerinski. Welcome to Mars.”
I froze. No one knew me on Mars.
“Thank you for your prompt payment. I hope we may do business again,” added the United States Galactic Foreign Legion ATM.
“You going to snitch on me to Bubba again?” I asked.
“Of course not,” replied the ATM. “You are a valued customer. You might even give me a good reference to some of your associates. You scratch my back, I will scratch yours.”
“You bet. I’ll send lots of business your way,” I said, as I walked away. At the hotel desk, I addressed the check-in clerk, “Sir, I want a suite. And not just any suite. I want the suite with the huge gold-tipped crossed elephant tusks in the window overlooking all the tiny people scurrying about below.”
“Yes sir,” said the clerk as he took my card and ran it. “We have only the very best here at Harrah’s Hotel & Casino. But I’m afraid we don’t have any crossed elephant tusks.”
“Get the manager. Now! I want to talk to someone about this outrage! I saw crossed elephant tusks on a travel brochure and in a movie, and now you are holding out on me? If someone else has my room, kick them out! Move it boy!” I ordered. This was not normally how I talk to people, especially minimum-wage types. If the clerk was a food-server, he would have surely spit on the underside of my steak and smiled while he delivered it. But I was feeling full of myself and putting on airs. I figured what harm could the clerk do me? I’d tip him later after I had my fun, figuring it was okay to be rude as long as you tipped well. I’d give him a good tip after I won some more money.
The manager came out to talk to me. “Sir, I am so sorry the room you wanted was taken by the King of California, and we just cannot kick him out. Can I interest you in another suite?” asked the hotel manager.
“So, you do have a suite with crossed elephant tusks? That means he lied to me. I expect this idiot to be reprimanded,” I said, pointing my finger at the clerk.
“I’ll fire him immediately, sir,” the manager promised. “Can I interest you in a suite with a stuffed grizzly bear in the window?”
“I like the sound of that,” I replied. “My very own grizzly in the window. I’ll take it. And about your boy, don’t fire him yet. I think he has management potential. Lies with a straight face. Very smooth.”
“Yes, sir, I’m sure he will be relieved to be keeping his job,” said the manager. “And for your inconvenience in this matter, Harrah’s Hotel & Casino Resort will comp your first night.”
“Outstanding!” I said. “You will be happy to know I will be doing a lot of gambling tonight. I’ll drop your name with the pit bosses.”
“Good luck and good gaming,” said the manager, as he left to attend other matters. He motioned for the clerk to come over and finish checking me in.
“Sir, thank you so much for saving my job,” said the clerk. “I really need this job. I live from paycheck to paycheck, and with the high cost of Martian air taxes these days, it can be a real hassle.”
“Think nothing of it,” I said. “What would they do if you run out of air money? Throw you out of an airlock?” I smiled jokingly.
“Yes sir,” replied the clerk. “That is exactly what they would do.”
“Oh come on. It’s been a while since I’ve been up here. Don’t they still have welfare on Mars? Some kind of safety net? What if I ran out of money?”
“No welfare on Mars,” the clerk answered somberly.
That thought shook me for half a second, then I remembered something I wanted to take care of. “By the way, there is something you need to do for me,” I said, in a low conspiratorial voice. I slid my pistol across the counter. “You see that ATM in the corner near the front door?”
“Sir?” asked the clerk. “This isn’t a robbery, is it?”
“Don’t be silly. You saw my card. I’m a guest. I don’t need to rob anyone yet. In fact, I am going to give you two thousand dollars. All you have to do is one little favor for me.”
“Sir, I don’t like guns,” said the clerk. “Guns are frowned upon here on Mars. Our laws are harsh.”
“Yes I know,” I said. “It’s un-American. But since I saved your job, and because of that you are still able to pay your air taxes, you are going to take this gun and do me a tiny little favor. You are going to pick a time of your own choosing and fire the whole clip into that ATM.”
“Please,” begged the clerk. “I can’t do that. I don’t know anything about guns.”
“Oh sure you can,” I said. “This pistol is simple and easy to use. Just pull the trigger and don’t shoot yourself. I want you to wait until it’s late, sneak up on the ATM from the side, and shoot its guts out. There is no risk as long as you aren’t scanned by the ATM’s face recognition camera. I suggest you point the hotel cameras away from the front door too. You can do it. I have faith in you.”
“Sir, please. I hate guns.”
“When you are done, take my gun up to my room and put it under the bed pillow. I’m going gambling.” I gave the clerk $2,000 up front to sweeten the deal, and walked out. I love Mars.
On the way to the casino, I bought $25,000 worth of gold chains and put them all around my neck. I walked to the craps table, feeling invincible with $400,000 on my card. I’d lose $20,000, win $30,000, lose $10,000, and win $25,000. The money just started to add up. Then my luck changed. I bet $10,000 on a craps field bet and lost. The two sixes faced up for just a second, then one of the dice hit a stack of chips and came up seven. I bet the field again, lost again. Bet $40,000 and lost. I bet $60,000 and lost. Down to my last bet. Numb from betting such large amounts, I bet $250,000. The dice rolled…
Twelve! Yes! I am invincible! Twelve on a field bet pays triple, so I had one million dollars on my card. Just then, shots rang out at the far end of the casino. Everyone ducked or ran for cover. I kept a straight face and said, “Please cash me out. I’m going to retire for the evening.”
I had a drink first. Then I stopped by a computer chip store. “Got anything good to buy?” I asked the tech clerk. He seemed bored and not interested in my business.
“Sir, the enhancements and chips we sell here are strictly high-end. You can’t afford to even walk in the door. Please leave.”
“I’m on a winning streak. Show me the good stuff,” I insisted, sliding my card across the counter.
“Pardon me sir, but maybe I can help you after all,” said the tech clerk as he checked my card, seeing lots of dollars.
“I’ve heard rumors about a Fountain of Youth chip,” I said. “Do you have one?”
“Interesting you asked that question,” said the clerk in a hushed tone. “Yes sir, we have the Fountain of Youth chip. And I’ll make you a special deal, considering the Feds are about to make it illegal. You’re not a cop, are you?”
“No. What do you mean illegal?” I asked. “Why would they want suppress such fantastic technology?”
“Over-population,” replied the clerk. “A special few will still be able to buy the chip. The plan is to make immortality available only to those who have special skills, merit, or money.”
“That makes no sense. Are you sure that’s all there is to it?”
“There are also some health concerns holding up FDA approval,” advised the clerk. “Risks of an enlarged heart and stress to your liver and kidneys. But I think the upside potential far outweighs the downside.”
“Does it really work?” I asked. “It’s not being old that upsets me as much as being fat and old.”
“It will make you look twenty years old again by regenerating and organizing your cells. How old are you? Sixty? The chip does not really make you young. Nothing can do that. The Fountain of Youth chip merely directs your body to run at peak efficiency. You will feel and look great, as long as you don’t have a heart attack or suffer from any pre-existing ailments that would kill you anyway. Are you in good health? You don’t drink a lot do you?”
“I’m in great health. And I am not anywhere near sixty,” I lied. “I’ll take it. How much?”
“$400,000, and that’s at a discount,” the tech clerk answered. “I’m telling you. It’s now or never. And for $100,000 more, I’ll throw in a Sexual Enhancement chip, a Fast Learning Training chip, and an Enhanced Vision and Reaction chip. What more can I do to make this deal happen?” He was making a good pitch for a big sale, but he had me at the door.
“OK, it’s a deal,” I said. I held out my arm and the tech clerk shot four chips into me. Nothing happened. I felt the same. I reached for my gun, but it wasn’t there.
“Whoa tiger, it takes time,” said the tech clerk, sensing my anger. “Would you be interested in our five-year limited warranty for only $25,000 more?”
“Yes.” I held out my arm as he scanned in the five-year limited warranty particulars and fine print.
“Now go home and have a good night’s sleep. You will literally be a new man in the morning.”
* * * * *
I walked out through the shopping mall adjacent to the casino and through the hotel lobby with a nice bounce to my step. I was feeling good about my prospects. The police had put up barrier tape and were taking photos of the shot-up ATM. I heard a beep as I walked by the crime scene. I was being scanned. My back stiffened as I stopped to talk to the officer. “Is it dead?” I asked.
“Very,” the officer answered. “Nothing but a pile of junk now.”
“What was that beep I just heard?”
“Just a spasm of death,” the officer explained. “Maybe static electricity. They will bring in a replacement tomorrow. It’s nothing but scrap metal now.”
“Who would shoot an ATM?” I asked innocently. “Any suspects?”
“How did you know it was shot?” asked the officer, eyeing me with suspicion.
“Are you kidding?” I quickly answered. “You could hear the shots clear across the casino.”
“Oh, quite right,” said the officer. “It was probably peace activists. They are a violent bunch.”
“I’m sure you’ll catch them,” I said as I strode to the elevator. As I opened the door to my room, I was greeted by Bubba Jones. Shit, some days just aren’t worth getting up for.
“Welcome to Mars, Czerinski,” said Bubba, smiling. Then he shot me in the head.
AMERICA'S GALACTIC FOREIGN LEGION continues with the next book in the series...
BOOK 2: REENLISTMENT follows Joey Cerinzski and his legionnaire pals though their ups and downs and continual serendipitous surprises in the ongoing satirical, politically incorrect military space saga...
The story of this lucky gambler turned soldier turned casino boss picks up as Czerinski and his business partner, Manny Lopez, find themselves broke and devastated after their business holdings are completely destroyed by continuing spider insurgent activity. Hidden deep underground, beneath the rubble of their once profitable casino, is a big, big secret that could solve their sudden financial problems, but neither Czerinski nor Lopez can figure out how to drum up the manpower and funding to unearth it.
Forced to find a quick source of money for a loan, Czerinski and Lopez are lured back to the Legion by their old friend, the slick-talking legionnaire-recruiting ATM. And then the real trouble begins.
Excerpt follows ... Read text below or click on Adobe Reader link. (Requires Adobe reader, use browser back button to return to this page.) Enjoy!
My name is Joey R. Czerinski, retired hero of the United States Galactic Foreign Legion, and owner of a string of upscale hotel casino resorts that stretch across the galaxy. Maybe early retirement from the Legion made me complacent. And why not? I was filthy rich, and had an insurance policy in the form of a high-tech alien starship buried deep under my casino on New Colorado, a trophy of the last human / spider war. But I was alert now. Mafia types make me nervous. Little did I know the mobster seated across from my office desk would set off a chain of events that would turn my life upside down...
* * * * *
“How you doing, Mr. Czerinski? My name is Guido Tonelli. I am an associate of Lou Nelson. Lou told me he has done business with you, and that you might be interested in doing business with me.”
Sitting behind my desk, I scowled at the wise guy, recalling how the Mafia had tried to muscle in on my casino action here on New Colorado. It took a small bloodbath to convince them I wasn’t interested in a ‘partnership’ with them. “I doubt you’ve got anything that would convince me to want to do business with you and your bunch, considering our recent history.”
Guido Tonelli shifted in his chair. “I regret any past unpleasantness. My business associates now have only the highest respect for you and your organization. I come in good faith to make an honest transaction.”
I snorted. Who let this salesman in? It’s so hard to get good help these days.
“I can sell you a computer chip that will allow you to read the minds of alien spiders, ants, and beetles.”
Despite my mistrust, that opportunity sounded intriguing. “I might be interested,” I said dryly. “How is Nelson these days? Is he still on Mars?”
“No. Lou is working in marketing out on the beetle frontier. He owns an import-export business and is doing very well.”
“Did he go into any detail about our past business relationship?”
“No, Mr. Czerinski. Lou says his business dealings with you were discreet. I respect that. I assure you that any business between you and me will also be discreet.”
“It had better be,” I warned. “What did he tell you? What do you know? Don’t lie to me.”
“Lou told me nothing. I know only rumors,” said Guido, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. “There has been talk of a Fountain of Youth chip. But who would believe such a fantastic tale? If there ever was such a chip, the technology has been lost.”
Yes, lost on purpose by the government. I was lucky to get one of the last before they were yanked from the market. “You can be a king or a street sweeper,” I said. “But everybody dances with the Grim Reaper.”
“I agree, but you do look very young and healthy for your age. Do you take vitamins?”
“Don’t go there,” I warned. “I assume your new chip has all the anti-theft protocols programmed into it. If someone cuts off my arm, the chip will know I am dead and self-destruct?”
“Of course,” said Guido.
“You want a guarantee, buy a toaster.”
I frowned at Guido. “My technicians will examine your chip. My doctor will do the procedure. I don’t want to be assassinated by a Mafia virus. You will be a guest of the casino until I am satisfied.”
“I understand,” said Guido. “So, we have a deal?”
“This new chip had better be for real,” I said. “What kind of money are we talking about?”
“Only five million dollars. That is a rock bottom price offered to a select few.”
“When I first built my casinos, I had to kill a whole bunch of you Italians for trying to muscle in on my gaming action,” I said. “If you are messing with me, I will throw you off the roof.”
“I understand your apprehension. My organization has nothing but the utmost respect for you, Mr. Czerinski. You are a decorated war hero of the Legion and obviously have a keen eye for business. All we are interested in is doing business with you.”
“Why aren’t you selling this chip to the military? Wouldn’t you make more money? Wouldn’t that make better business sense?”
“Maybe,” said Guido. “Eventually the government will have this technology. But before that happens, our chip is worth a lot more money to private enterprise. Governments can’t keep secrets. You know that. Once word of the chip gets out, the bugs will develop counter measures, making the technology worthless.”
“I still think the military would be interested in this,” I said, giving the matter some thought. “I might even sell it to them myself. Am I missing something?”
“The military is not going to buy this technology until certain legal, ethical, and political issues are resolved,” advised Guido. “Research and development on this chip involved a few deaths. We don’t want to deal with those distracting issues. We want sales to begin now.”
“We had to kidnap a few bugs for experimental research and development,” explained Guido. “They all died.”
“Is that all?”
“Some humans died, too. The authorities might call it murder. We think of it more as just the cost of doing business. The Legion would call it collateral damage.”
“And it’s perfectly safe now? You’ve worked all the kinks out?”
“Yes, Mr. Czerinski. It would be bad for business to sell an unsafe product.”
“And bad for your health,” I added. “Still, five million dollars is a lot of money. From a business point of view, how does it pay for me to put out that kind of money for something I don’t really need?”
“Poker games with aliens alone will pay for the five million,” explained Guido.
“I doubt that. If I started winning big time, no one would play me.”
“As you well know, Mr. Czerinski, the frontier is a dangerous place,” said Guido patiently. “In a place where every green spider out there has a war-surplus nuke hidden under his bed, information is the key to survival. Being well informed has an unlimited value.”
“I see your point. How does this chip work?”
“All the bug species have antennae,” explained Guido. “Bugs have evolved away from use of their antennae, and now verbalize to communicate. But their subconscious still broadcasts messages through their antennae. A receiver in these sunglasses,” he said, holding up a seemingly ordinary pair of sunglasses, “monitors bug frequencies and intercepts bug thought waves, translating them for the wearer. As you can see, the glasses are quite stylish and–”
I waved him off. “I don’t care about style. How does it work?”
“A micro-computer translates the messages into English and prints them out on a screen on the inside of your sunglasses. Your eye movements are gauged to target specific individuals within a fifty-foot range. If you look at a group of bugs, the glasses will gather and translate all their thoughts in the order received. Additionally, the glasses are shielded to prevent observers from seeing anything but your eyes through the lenses, and the print on the inside is visible only to the wearer with the imbedded chip. And as an added feature, the lenses automatically darken or lighten, depending on surrounding light, to optimize your visual range and protect you from UV and other harmful rays.”
I thought for a moment, trying to imagine talking to a roomful of bugs and keeping up with reading a screen inside the glasses while pretending to be involved in the conversation – and with regular box translators broadcasting what the bugs were saying. “Seems like reading thoughts would get confusing in a hurry.”
“Our research testing showed that many subjects found reading a printout too distracting and disorienting. Also most wearers couldn’t keep up with more than three different translation sources at once. You can elect to receive audio translation only through the transceivers built into the earpieces of the glasses. Either way, only you can see or hear the translated thoughts, and only you can access the computer through your imbedded chip.”
I thought it over for a second. What was there to think about? “You have a deal.”
* * * * *
To test my new chip, I asked Amanda, a longtime friend and business partner, to come to my office. I figured that, being a spider, she would be perfect for a test of the mind-reading technology. I had dated her once. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.
“You have never invited me to your office before,” said Amanda. “At least, not without a chaperone.” I wonder if this means you are interested in more than that one-night stand we had, she thought to herself.
I could hear her thoughts! My whole body tingled with excitement and a healthy dose of fear. Amanda was not one to be trifled with in the bedroom. “Have a seat, Amanda. How is our cash flow these days?”
“Very good, Joey. The money is pouring in. I have record books you can review at my Waterstone casino. Come by anytime, and I’ll go over them with you, darling.” Yes, come by. If I get you alone in my soundproof office, I’ll rape you like you’ve never been raped before. I can’t wait, babe.
I cleared my throat, trying to get past her secret intentions. “I might send Lopez by to see the books. I’m too busy here. Better yet, just E-mail the numbers to me.”
“Lopez?” Amanda objected. “That hairball bundle of puss? Lopez won’t do. If you want something done right, you should do it yourself. I’ve heard you say that many times.”
“I’m getting older,” I lied. “Now I believe in delegating.”
Amanda came around the desk. I should just make love to you right now, while I have the chance.
“Stop!” I shouted. “Do it now.”
He says stop, but he means go! He is such a tease. “You humans are so cute and adorable.” It turns me on being this close to someone so rich and powerful.
Amanda put a claw on my thigh. I drew my pistol as I fell backwards. “Not this time, Amanda. I’ll shoot you where you stand. I warned you about this once before.”
“Your human foreplay is so violent. It makes me so hot. Come closer. I must have you now.”
I shot Amanda in the arm, nicking the outer shell. Green goo oozed out.
“Ouch!” cried Amanda, grabbing her wounded appendage.
“Next round goes through your head.”
“It’s a good thing my limbs grow back, or I might be really upset with you, Czerinski.” Maybe if I pretend to lose my balance, he will lower his guard, and then he will be mine. All mine for the next hour to do with as I please, yum yum.
I cocked my pistol. “I mean it, Amanda. Back off.”
“You should not lead a girl on so. It’s rude.”
“Leave my office,” I ordered. “I’ll talk to you about our cash flow later.”
“Is that a date?” asked Amanda, hopefully. I know he wants me. It’s just that humans have such weird and violent mating rituals. “I’ll see you later, love.”
“One more thing,” I said. “Put the word out that I want a high-stakes poker game against non-humans.”
“You want to play poker? You humans can’t keep a straight face. You twitch too much. Every facial muscle gives away your every thought. They will know what cards you hold just by looking at you.” And your facial muscles say you want me. Where do you get the will power to resist, my lovely? Humans are so repressed.
“I will be wearing these sunglasses,” I said. “It will help mask my facial expressions. Please set up the game. I’ll owe you one.”
Amanda ambled to the door, still clutching her wounded appendage. And I’ll collect what is owed to me, too. I won’t be denied. “Anything for you, darling.”
* * * * *
Sitting across the casino poker table was the Lieutenant Governor of the spider side of planet New Colorado. His pet monitor dragon was leashed to a table leg by his side. Next to the Lieutenant Governor was General James of the Coleopteran Federation. Funny how the beetles all took human names after we liberated them from the ants. Also seated was Prince Tuk, an ex-ant commander who now was a captain in the Galactic Foreign Legion.
We had millions of dollars worth of poker chips stacked in front of us. I folded a lot, letting them win small hands while I read their minds. At first it was hard to concentrate on their chaotic thoughts, possibly because they had been drinking. Now, however, it was time to take their money.
“I’ll raise you one hundred thousand dollars,” said the Lieutenant Governor. He was holding two aces.
I took his money with my three jacks. Then General James tried to bluff me with a half million dollar bet. I took his money, too. But then I started picking up more sinister thoughts. They weren’t just thinking about poker.
Go ahead and celebrate, human, thought Prince Tuk. The destruction of Formicidae will be avenged at the stroke of midnight.
“You don’t seem happy, Prince,” I said. “What’s on your mind?”
“I couldn’t be happier,” answered Prince Tuk. “Life is good.” Too bad yours will end soon.
“You were given a commission in the Foreign Legion and command of a starship,” I commented. “Considering your species was defeated after planning a cowardly sneak-attack on Earth, I think our terms were very generous.”
“Yes, I agree. Most generous,” said Prince Tuk. “I have no complaints, other than your elevated poker play tonight.”
The galaxy will never be safe from human oppression as long as Earth wields power over all of us, thought General James. See how arrogantly Czerinski brags about defeating us. That smile will be wiped off his ugly face at midnight. “I will raise you ten thousand dollars.”
“You are not happy either?” I asked General James. “Even after humanity saved your sorry beetle butts from slavery?”
“I am forever grateful to the United States Galactic Federation for freeing us from the Formicidaen Empire,” said General James. It’s so galling how he lords that over us now.
“How about you?” I asked, turning to the Lieutenant Governor. “You have a chip on your shoulder, too?”
“I don’t have a shoulder,” said the spider Lieutenant Governor. I should let my dragon tear you apart.
“Do you know what happens at midnight?” I asked, trying to draw out answers from their thoughts. All three bugs tensed up. “I turn into a pumpkin. I’ve had too much to drink, so I think I’ll retire to my bed early.”
At midnight, thermal nuclear destruction will rain down on the human pestilence side of Inhabited Planet #6, thought the Lieutenant Governor. At midnight the ants will mutiny and seize or destroy the human star fleet. We’ll destroy the ants later. At midnight the beetles will attack all of the new human colonies on their frontier. “I am all in, with ten million dollars,” said the Lieutenant Governor. Not only will I kill you tonight, I will take all your money, too. Try to beat two pair, jack high.
“I’ll match your bet,” I said. “Obviously you have made a lot of money since becoming Lieutenant Governor. Now you are thinking about pissing it all away? For what? To settle old grudges? Power? Is that it? Have you gone insane?”
Can he read my mind? wondered the Lieutenant Governor. No, of course not. “You human pestilence are so arrogant. You think it is your manifest destiny to rule the lesser species of the galaxy. And you consider all species to be lesser. That is unacceptable. Show me your cards.”
“Four jacks,” I said, flipping over my cards. I then drew my pistol and shot the monitor dragon under the table, shot the Lieutenant Governor, shot Prince Tuk, shot General James, and shot all their assistants. I then sounded an air raid alarm siren, causing everyone in the Demilitarized Zone to jump down into their spider holes for shelter. The door to my air raid shelter was in my office. It took me deep underground. I sent General Kalipetsis an urgent E-mail warning him of the plot and explaining my actions. General Kalipetsis was skeptical about the mind-reading technology, but still put the star fleet on alert. A spider fleet was soon detected and intercepted coming out from its hiding place on the far side of the moon. The spiders were easily wiped out, but not before New Colorado took some hits, and all of my casinos were destroyed. I found out later all of my casino franchises on the beetle frontier were lost, too.
* * * * *
Being hit by a nuclear blast is like being attacked by a tornado that’s on fire. Afterwards, nothing much is left. Picking through the rubble with my partner, Manny Lopez, I could just cry. Smoke still rose from the debris, and the devastation was complete. An airburst tactical nuke had flattened everything. “Now what do we do?” I asked.
“I told you we should diversify,” said Lopez. “It’s Economics 101. But you never listen to me.”
“I did listen to you. We put casinos on more than one planet. We got partners. And we stole the ant ship.”
“The starship! It’s worth a billion dollars,” said Lopez. “We can sell it and get back on our feet.”
“Except it’s buried about a mile deep under all this rubble. Maybe we can raise the money to dig it out.”
“That’s too much trouble,” said Lopez. “Just tell the government where it is and let them dig it out.”
“That only works if they don’t throw us in jail and take the ship anyway,” I said. “The feds might consider that war profiteering or whatever. No, we need to get the ship out and then negotiate from a position of strength. Otherwise, we get screwed.”
“Maybe I can help you raise the needed funds,” a familiar voice called out. It was a battered but still powered ATM.
“He takes a licking, but keeps on ticking,” said Lopez, laughing. “La ATM es dura.”
“Not tough enough,” I said, drawing my pistol and shooting the ATM. “That machine is evil.”
“Wait a minute,” said Lopez, knocking my gun hand aside. “You loco? Let’s hear what the ATM has to offer. It helped us before. We can always say no.”
“Fine,” I replied. “But no good will come of it.”
“You will loan us money?” asked Lopez. “Enough to help us get back in business?”
“I will loan you a half million dollars,” said the ATM. “To Czerinski I will loan one million dollars.”
“Discrimination rears its ugly head again,” commented Lopez. “Always the gringos get more. There is no way Czerinski is worth twice as much money as me.”
“Czerinski was a brevetted general. You were his Lieutenant. If either of you fail to pay back your loan in thirty days you will both be enlisted into the United States Galactic Federation Foreign Legion,” explained the ATM. “Czerinski will go in as a captain. You will be a first lieutenant. I am including a bonus for both of you because you are both highly decorated war heroes. A million and a half dollars for the two of you is a fair offer. Take it while I am feeling generous.”
“We don’t need that much money to clear the debris and get a small casino up and running again,” I said. “We’ll put up a big tent at first, if we have to.”
“All your bank accounts have been frozen and seized by creditors,” said the ATM. “You owe taxes on your land. If you fail to pay those taxes, you will not only forfeit your land, but also all property on it. That includes any hidden treasure buried under it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked. “We’re not pirates. There’s no buried treasure under our land.”
“I think the ATM knows about the Formicidaen starship,” said Lopez. “How does he know about the Shenandoah?”
“If you talk too much, it could be unhealthy for you,” I warned the ATM, placing my hand on my sidearm.
“If nukes can’t kill me, why should I fear you and your puny pistol?” asked the ATM. “Put your thumb on the pad and we will have a contract. You can trust me. Think of it as just doing business.”
We enlisted in the United States Galactic Federation Foreign Legion. No one can earn a million dollars honestly. I shot the ATM one more time before leaving.
AMERICA'S GALACTIC FOREIGN LEGION continues with the third book in the series...
BOOK 3: SILENT INVASION finds Joey Cerinzski and his legionnaire pals trying their best to thwart the Arthropodan Empire's plan to take over planet New Colorado in the ongoing satirical, politically incorrect military space saga...
Double-crossing friends and adversaries on both sides, out to make a buck, put the Legion at the mercy of spider forces whose careful planning and military strategies seem to ensure Arthropoda will gain control over more territory in a campaign of silent invasion.
As the situation deteriorates for the human occupation, Czerinski realizes he can’t trust anyone, not even his past business partner and constant cohort in mischief, Lieutenant Manny Lopez. The wolves are literally at the door, and Czerinski finds himself backed into a corner, wondering what he can possibly do to save the day and restore the Legion’s control of planet New Colorado. With the odds against him, maybe the only thing Czerinski can do is take a dive and throw the fight – literally.
Excerpt follows ... Read text below or click on Adobe Reader link. (Requires Adobe reader, use browser back button to return to this page.) Enjoy!
My name is Captain Joey R. Czerinski, hero of the United States Galactic Foreign Legion, currently assigned to the City of Finisterra, Planet New Colorado, where I am fighting a growing alien insurgency. A recent second battle between human and Arthropodan factions has resulted in the United States Galactic Foreign Legion holding the planet New Colorado as human territory, despite the growing civilian population of spider-like Arthropodans on the planet. As we try to maintain order and control on New Colorado, I fear our position is deteriorating.
* * * * *
The Emperor of the Arthropodan Empire wanted the riches of New Colorado. Gold, oil, and uranium were discovered by the human pestilence after the last war. It grated on the Emperor that humanity’s windfall was at the expense of Arthropodan effort. A large spider population still lived in the Northern Hemisphere of New Colorado. Immigration was adding to that population. Did not the spider species need the protection of the Arthropodan Empire against continued abuse from the human pestilence? Of course it did.
An Arthropodan fleet of starships bullied its way into orbit around New Colorado. By order of the Emperor, the Fleet secretly provided arms and advisors to a growing insurgency fighting for independence against the United States Galactic Foreign Legion. The Emperor did not necessarily want war with the United States Galactic Federation. At least not yet. The last two wars had gone badly. The Emperor wanted merely to use intimidation and the local insurgency as bargaining chips to negotiate a new treaty annexing the northern part of New Colorado back into the Arthropodan Empire, giving Arthropoda its rightful share of the planet’s wealth. The Emperor’s general staff and advisors encouraged even stronger action, but that was why they were not the Emperor! All comes to those who wait patiently.
We have the larger space fleet,” advised the Imperial Fleet Commander. “Most of the Legion’s starships are guarding the Coleopteran Frontier on the other side of human space. Our main problem is that the human pestilence may have developed stealth technology that completely hides their starships. Already we have suffered isolated losses that cannot be explained.”
“On the ground they are weak, too,” advised Marine Special Forces Commander #1. “The human pestilence are trying to defend New Colorado with local forces and their Foreign Legion. Again, this is because their main military assets are on the Coleopteran Frontier. We should just take the planet while we have the human pestilence at a disadvantage.”
“The humans have a huge military industrial complex,” said the Emperor. “We are lucky their military might is not pointed in our direction. We need to keep it that way, while seizing our fair share of New Colorado.”
“The human pestilence have an applicable axiom of law: possession is nine-tenths of the law,” commented Special Forces Commander #1. “We will land troops, hold our ground, and negotiate for peace and reasonably stable borders. We will not even need to use nukes.”
“Invasion might provoke a nuclear response,” warned the Fleet Commander. “Humans love to use nukes. They have done so many times.”
“So have we,” said the Emperor. “But if we use restraint, so will they. The human pestilence have to be more cautious about the risk of nuclear war because of the growing population.”
“You can not be sure of that,” said the Fleet Commander.
“New Colorado is a prize,” said the Emperor. “It will not be destroyed with nukes. Not by us.”
“I will land Marine Special Forces troops at strategic points in the North,” said the Special Forces Commander. “Not armies or divisions at first, but small mobile units. They will link up with and arm the insurgency. The human pestilence can’t use nukes against small mobile units. We will explain that our fleet remains in orbit to deter more genocide and the well-documented abuse by the Legion. The Fleet will also deter the Legion from using strategic weapons.”
* * * * *
After a brief but heated skirmish, the Legion lost the eastern half of Finisterra across the river. I shook my head in dismay.
“Captain Czerinski, initial reports from East Finisterra indicate that heavily armed insurgents have attacked and captured Pizza Hut,” advised Lieutenant Manny Lopez. “Our troops are falling back to the Bridge.”
I could see smoke rising from East Finisterra. We still held the downtown area near the bridge, but all outlying areas had been abandoned. “How did they get so strong so fast?” I asked.
“I am receiving a radio message from the insurgent commander,” said Lieutenant Lopez. “He says he wants to negotiate a truce and establish a permanent border at the river. Do you want to talk to him?”
I snatched the radio. “This is Captain Czerinski of the United States Galactic Federation Foreign Legion,” I said. “We do not negotiate with terrorists.”
“I am not a terrorist,” replied the insurgent leader. “I am the voice of the new government in East Finisterra. Be reasonable. All we want is peace and our own side of the river ... and Pizza Hut.”
“Forget it,” I shouted. “There will be no peace with terrorists. Today you want Pizza Hut, tomorrow you will want Taco Bell!”
“I took Taco Bell five minutes ago!” boasted the insurgent commander triumphantly. “And I am about to seize KFC.”
“Can we verify that?” I asked, turning to Lieutenant Lopez.
“After we capture your three major food distribution centers, you will have no choice but to surrender East Finisterra or starve,” said the insurgent commander.
“You know nothing,” I countered. “We still hold McDonald’s here on the west side of the river. Your plan is flawed.”
“Tell him we hold a Subway Sandwich Shop, too,” said Corporal Williams. “We will never surrender!”
“Shut up!” I ordered. “I’m being overrun by idiots and junk food bandits.”
“Come on, Czerinski,” urged the insurgent commander. “How long do you think you can survive on just Big Macs and Quarter Pounders? The grease alone will kill you.”
“He’s got a point there,” cautioned Lieutenant Lopez.
“Legionnaires are resourceful and resilient,” I replied defiantly. “Plus we have a Subway Sandwich Shop.” I nodded at Williams.
“Take that, you punk!” shouted Corporal Williams, letting out his famous rebel yell.
“Bologna won’t stop the inevitable,” warned the insurgent commander. “Father Winter will be here soon.”
I turned to Lieutenant Lopez. “Take a column of tanks across the bridge and blast that fool,” I ordered. “Where is our air support?”
“New ground-to-air missiles are keeping our Air Wing at bay,” said Corporal Kool. “And the Space Weapons Platform T. Roosevelt is in a standoff with the Arthropodan Fleet.”
* * * * *
I watched Lieutenant Lopez lead three tanks across the Finisterra Bridge. Immediately the lead tank was hit by an anti tank missile. The tank caught fire. Corporal Williams dragged badly burned Lieutenant Lopez out the rear door. After firing several volleys into East Finisterra, the other two tanks retreated off the bridge.
“Radio Sergeant Green to pull out of East Finisterra,” I ordered, hoping to save my remaining legionnaires. “We will hold at the river.”
“We’re giving up KFC?” asked Corporal Williams. “Those bastards.”
“What we need is a nuke to show the insurgents who the top dog is around here,” I commented. “Do we have any nukes left?”
“General Kalipetsis took all our nukes when the war ended,” answered Corporal Kool. “We don’t have permission to use nukes anyway. Not unless a real war breaks out.”
“This is a real war!” I complained, slamming my fist into the wall as I paced.
“Corporal Tonelli has a nuke,” said Corporal Williams. “I saw it.”
“What?” I asked. “How would Tonelli get his grubby hands on a nuke?”
“It’s an old Arthropodan Air Wing nuke he found when we were fighting in the tunnels of New Disneyland. He kept it, hoping to make some money on the black market.”
“I’ll shoot him,” I mused out loud. “After I get his nuke.”
* * * * *
Sergeant Green got the order to pull back from KFC. He was about to retreat anyway. The insurgents seemed to be everywhere, and they were better armed than usual. Mortars were now falling on his position. Sergeant Green ordered the KFC ovens booby-trapped. His platoon loaded into the armored car and raced for the Finisterra Bridge. Sergeant Green used the cannon and machine gun to cover their retreat. At the top of the bridge, they rammed a burning tank and knocked it out of the way. He watched with fascination as it fell off the bridge, splashing into the water. On the far side of the bridge, they picked up Lieutenant Lopez. Molten metal from the blast splattered Lopez’s face and shoulders, and he was moaning in pain. Corporal Tonelli pulled him up into the armored car.
Medic Ceausescu immediately started an IV, trying to ease the pain and prevent shock. Corporal Tonelli’s trained attack monitor dragon Spot tugged at his leash as Lieutenant Lopez was set down beside him. Smelling blood, the dragon whipped his tongue out. Spot took a tentative nibble of Lieutenant Lopez’s shoulder.
“Get your lizard off me!” yelled Lopez as he drew his pistol and shot at the dragon. “That monster bit me!”
“Bad Spot! No biscuit!” said Corporal Tonelli, jerking the dragon back. Spot still tugged at Lopez’s shoulder. Medic Ceausescu grabbed the pistol from Lieutenant Lopez as another bullet ricocheted off a bulkhead. The round struck Corporal Washington in the arm. Finally Private Tonelli struck his dragon on the snout, breaking its grip.
“No harm done,” announced Guido as he pried Spot loose. “Spot just thought you smelled like a tasty grilled steak burrito.”
“Burrito this, you spaghetti for brains New York trash!” yelled Lieutenant Lopez, struggling to get his pistol back.
“He shot me in the arm!” complained Corporal Washington, regaining control of his driving. The big spider legionnaire was usually even tempered, but he was hot now. “I will get you back for that!”
“Just drive,” ordered Sergeant Green. “Get us out of here before they fire another missile. Your arm will grow back.”
* * * * *
At the command center, Corporal Tonelli and medic Corporal Ceausescu unloaded Lieutenant Lopez. A medical helicopter was called to transport Lieutenant Lopez to the hospital at New Memphis.
“Guido my friend,” I greeted warmly as they entered. “I heard you have a nuke hidden somewhere that you were going to sell on the black market. I want it.”
“Who have you been talking to?” asked Guido. “Just because I’m Italian, you automatically think I’m selling stuff on the black market? I’m tired of being picked on!”
“Not just stuff. You have a nuke,” I said. “I want it to fight off the insurgents.”
“General Kalipetsis won’t go for that,” replied Guido. “You won’t get permission to set off nukes in town or anywhere else.”
“General Kalipetsis isn’t here.” I smiled. “It’s not a big nuke is it?”
“It takes two people to lift,” advised Guido, admitting his guilt. “It’s pretty big.”
“It doesn’t matter. We have to show the spiders who is the big dog on the block. It’s us!”
“If you blow up East Finisterra, you will blow up the Singh Mining Corporation’s gold mine and wreck the whole economy,” warned Guido.
“The insurgents wrecked it all anyway. I can’t think that far ahead. I just want to survive the day. Where is your nuke?”
“It’s in a crate in storage at the brothel. How much are you going to pay me for the nuke? I need a return on my investment. I have partners to keep happy.”
“I was going to have you shot for treason, but I will delay that if the nuke still works,” I promised. “Take the armored car and bring the nuke here. Corporal Williams will assist you.”
* * * * *
Guido stared at Williams as they left. “I’ll bet you’re the cheese-eating rat snitch who told Captain Czerinski about my nuke,” accused Guido. “Do you know how much money you cost me?”
“What do you care? You’re rich,” said Corporal Williams dismissively. “That nuke may save all our lives.”
“That beat up rusted old spider nuke will probably blow up and kill us when we try to move it,” complained Guido.
“Quit being a cry-baby,” Corporal Williams said. “We need the nuke to win this war.”
“We are not officially at war. Anyway, it’s a matter principle. I trusted you, and you snitched on me. That’s just not done and cannot be forgiven.”
“Sorry,” said Corporal Williams sheepishly. “How can I make it up to you?”
“Just make sure you ignore all the other stuff I have in storage,” said Guido. “Pretend you didn’t see any of it, and don’t snitch on me again.”
* * * * *
When the medical helicopter landed, medic Ceausescu loaded Lieutenant Lopez. Corporal Washington went along to assist with the stretcher and to have his damaged arm attended to. The arm was about to fall off, and I was concerned he needed medical treatment. Spiders usually do grow back missing parts, but I wasn’t sure. There is only so much the medics can do with duct tape.
Guido and Williams loaded the nuke. The pilot complained about all the extra weight, but I told him tough. He complained more when I told him he was taking a detour.
As a precaution, I radioed the insurgent commander and asked him not to shoot at our medical helicopter because it was full of wounded. He agreed, saying he was watching us closely from KFC. The insurgent commander complained about Sergeant Green blowing up the ovens at KFC, saying it showed a lack of good faith on our part. But he was above such pettiness and would let the medical helicopter pass. I could see hundreds of insurgents across the river waving and dancing. They were celebrating their victory. I was determined to put an end to that! The rest of the city seemed deserted. The local population of spiders and humans had either evacuated East Finisterra or gone underground into the mines.
The helicopter lifted off, taking a sharp turn toward East Finisterra. Guido set the timer on the nuke and dropped it out the side door over KFC. Then the helicopter darted southwest toward New Memphis. A ground-to-air missile arced up from East Finisterra, took a severe turn towards the helicopter, and hit with the force of a hammer. The helicopter dropped quickly, spinning out of control as it went down.
Lieutenant Lopez braced himself as he looked up at medic Ceausescu. “Elena, I am sorry for anything mean I may have said to you.”
“Screw you!” replied Corporal Ceausescu.
“We’re about to die, and the last words on your lips are screw you?” asked Lieutenant Lopez frantically.
“Screw you and fasten your seat belt!” added Corporal Ceausescu.
“Puta,” responded Lieutenant Lopez as he clicked his restraining harness into place just before impact.
The helicopter bounced off trees before twisting to the ground. Medic Ceausescu pulled Lieutenant Lopez from the wreckage. The pilot died. Guido and Williams stumbled out of the helicopter unhurt. Spot tagged along. With Corporal Ceausescu’s assistance, Lieutenant Lopez led them away from the crash. It started raining as darkness set in.
“Some days just aren’t worth getting up for,” commented Lieutenant Lopez, still leaning on Ceausescu. “Thanks.”
“Drop dead,” replied Corporal Ceausescu.
“I probably will.” Lieutenant Lopez let go of the medic. “I can walk just fine.”
Suddenly the dark sky turned to bright light. They all shielded their eyes and dove for cover as they heard the sonic boom from the nuke they’d dropped on East Finisterra. The rain turned to mud from the fallout. Everything was coated with wet clay that came down like snow.
“Take your radiation tablets,” advised medic Ceausescu as they walked through the muddy forest. “I think that nuke was larger than the Captain expected.”
“We just turned East Finisterra into glass!” shouted Corporal Williams, giving a rebel yell and shaking his fist to the east. “Awesome, baby! That’s what happens when you mess with the Legion!”
“Where are we going?” asked Guido as they trudged along.
“If we keep going west, we will reach the highway,” answered Lieutenant Lopez. “We can hitch a ride from there.”
“This place creeps me out,” complained Guido. He could hear wolves howling up on a nearby ridge. “They’re stalking us.”
“I heard that the wolves seeded on New Colorado are smarter and larger than normal wolves,” said Corporal Williams. “They plan their attacks. It’s genetic engineering gone wild. I heard the wolves even wiped out a whole company of spider special forces.”
“Nonsense,” said Lieutenant Lopez. “El lobo only seeks out the weak. Maybe they smell my blood.”
“You have nothing to fear,” said Corporal Washington. “Fear of man is a survival instinct bred into all wild animals of Old Earth. It is me the wolves are stalking. They hope I will lag behind.”
“I told you they liked to eat spiders,” said Corporal Williams. “Don’t worry, Washington. We won’t let them eat you. I say we blast them.”
“Don’t waste your ammunition,” ordered Lieutenant Lopez. He thought he glimpsed a wolf off to the side. Then it was gone, hidden by the underbrush. “If there are insurgents out here, we don’t want to give away our position.”
“I just saw the biggest damn wolf there ever was!” shouted Corporal Williams as he fired full automatic into the forest. “I think I got him!”
Corporal Williams charged off into the forest. The others followed. They found nothing, not even a blood trail.
Finally losing interest in wolves, the legionnaires walked for miles until they reached the North Highway. The wolves followed.
* * * * *
I looked out the slit windows of the command center bunker. The mushroom cloud still drifted over East Finisterra. I had seen nuclear explosions before, but this one close up seemed larger than usual. The devastation across the river was complete. West Finisterra was flattened, too. I expected the course of the New Mississippi River to change. The paperwork from the environmental impact statement would be extensive. Damned paperwork!
Miraculously, the Finisterra Bridge was still standing. Civilians were popping out of their spider holes and wandering about the rubble. The mines and the tunnel system remained intact. Radiation levels were high, and dust was settling everywhere. The spiders weren’t much affected by radiation, but it was something to be avoided by humans. Refugees needed to take radiation tablets before fleeing south to New Disneyland or north to Camp Alaska.
“General Kalipetsis is on the radio,” announced Corporal Kool. “And he doesn’t sound happy.”
“He never is,” I replied, taking the radio. “What?”
“Lose that attitude real fast, mister,” said General Kalipetsis. “Did you explode a nuke?”
“No sir,” I said. “It must have been the insurgents.”
“Don’t lie to me,” shouted General Kalipetsis. “I need to rely on my commanders to tell me the truth.”
“Is this a secure frequency?” I asked. “Never mind! You took all my nukes. Remember? Besides, our tactical nukes aren’t that big. It must have been a spider nuke.”
“I will not tolerate your deception,” advised General Kalipetsis. “Give me a reason not to relieve you of command.”
“Because my sector is the only place in the North that no longer has an operational insurgency,” I replied. “We killed them all.”
“Insurgents are attacking all the county seats,” said General Kalipetsis. “Be ready to move out toward either New Disneyland or Camp Alaska. And don’t set off any more nukes!”
“I did not explode that nuke,” I argued. “It must have been the insurgents who accidentally blew themselves up.”
“A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself to be a liar,” said General Kalipetsis.
“Spare me,” I replied.
“I’m warning you,” continued General Kalipetsis. “No more surprises. No more nukes. No more lies.”
“That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”
“You lie so easily. I need reliable information. Don’t you know a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its boots?”
“All I know is we are facing more than just insurgents,” I answered. “There were thousands of heavily armed Arthropodan marines in Finisterra. We need air support. We have one medical helicopter carrying wounded missing south of here, shot down by a SAM. I expect more casualties from the radiation. We have a lot of digging out and rebuilding to do. Fortunately the miners up here are good at digging.”
“Did you blow up the Singh Gold Mine?” asked General Kalipetsis. “The biggest mother load on the planet, and you nuke it. How am I going to explain that to Congress?”
“I have not been across the river yet, so I don’t know about the Singh Mine,” I said. “Are you going to do something about the spiders landing marines down here?”
“I’ll be talking to the Commander of the Arthropodan Fleet later today,” said General Kalipetsis. “They deny landing any troops. He says they are only in orbit to protect the local spider population and to prevent more genocide. Quite frankly, you setting off a nuke on the spider side of Finisterra is not going to help negotiations.”
“Threaten to blow their Fleet out of orbit,” I suggested. “Threaten war. That will get their attention.”
“No one wants war,” said General Kalipetsis. “I can’t make threats like that. We need to contain the fighting.”
“War is a horrible thing,” I said. “Let’s keep it that way so you don’t grow too fond of it. War can’t be contained. It needs to be unleashed.”
* * * * *
“What went wrong in Finisterra?” asked the Arthropodan Fleet Commander. “You assured me the human pestilence would use restraint. Instead, they used a nuke on their own city. Are they insane?”
“It might just be a local commander using excessive force,” said the Special Forces Commander. “Or possibly our team leaders gathered too many troops in one place, providing an irresistible target.”
“Local human pestilence commanders are allowed to use nukes that big?” asked the Fleet Commander.
“Maybe,” replied the Special Forces Commander. “We are looking into it.”
“I thought your Special Forces units would stay dispersed,” complained the Fleet Commander. “You were supposed to assist the insurgency and use hit and run tactics. Instead, you group up inside the city”
“I ordered my ground units to stay dispersed,” explained the Special Forces Commander. “But the insurgents prefer urban combat. My team leaders report that the locals are afraid of the forest. They complain of monsters.”
“What idiocy is this?” asked the Fleet Commander, losing his temper. “What monsters?”
“There are wild animals that attack in packs at night,” said the Special Forces Commander. “We have killed several. They are just another beast native to Earth’s forests, put on New Colorado to control pests.”
“What are they, monitor dragons?” asked the Fleet Commander. “I hate dragons.”
“I brought a picture,” advised the Special Forces Commander, pulling out a photograph of a dead wolf. “We shoot them on sight.”
“It is hideous,” said the Fleet Commander. “Are the human pestilence training these beasts to attack our soldiers?”
“No,” said the Special Forces Commander. “The monsters are dangerous to humans, too.”
“Good,” said the Fleet Commander. “I will show this photo to the Emperor when I give report. The Emperor will not be happy if you deviate from the original plan. You are to fight a guerrilla war from the forests so that the Emperor can deny direct involvement. You are not to provoke the human pestilence with large-scale engagements again. Our goal is to negotiate a joint occupation of New Colorado without going to war.”
BOOK 4: DEMILITARIZED ZONE Decorated war hero Captain Joey R. Czerinski of the United States Galactic Foreign Legion faces new challenges when he and his platoon are ordered to planet New Colorado’s New Gobi Desert to guard the demilitarized zone dividing human-occupied territory from areas claimed by the Arthropodan Empire.
A new alien spider commander – and nephew of the Arthopodan Emperor – creates more headaches for Czerinski with his strict policies and competitive attitude. In the wake of his many ill-formed decisions, a young local militia hero emerges, giving Czerinski and his platoon even more trouble to deal with. But it is all water under the desert as Czerinski takes everything in stride and plays a deadly game of tit-for-tat and one-upmanship with the spider commander to maintain order in the volatile DMZ.
With chupacabra, Walmart, and McDonald’s thrown into the mix, the fourth installment of this politically incorrect military space opera aims straight for the funny bone.
The United States Galactic Federation Foreign Legion Missile and Gunboat Predator patrolled the New Mississippi River all the way up to New Memphis. Past New Memphis lay the Arthropodan Empire. A demilitarized zone partitioned the planet of New Colorado since the last war, but New Memphis was a human enclave that existed north of the DMZ. It was the Predator’s mission to maintain humanity’s right-of-way on the river to New Memphis. Spider insurgents had threatened to blow up the Predator with suicide bombers riding in speedboats, but no attempts had occurred yet on this trip. Until now.
It was late at night, but I could see the profile of the approaching speedboat. Night vision technology allowed me to see much farther than the insurgents, even in the night fog. I ordered Corporal Williams to fire a cannon shell across their bow as I broadcast a warning on the PA system. “This is the United States Galactic Federation Foreign Legion Gunboat Predator!” I announced. “Turn off your engines and prepare to be boarded! Failure to comply will force us to take countermeasures to ensure our safety and the safety of other river traffic!”
“They are still approaching,” advised our radar technician. “They’re coming straight at us!”
“Blow them out of the water,” I ordered. “Hit them with everything we have. The Legion does not pay you to bring ammo home!”
I am Major Joey R. Czerinski, hero of the Legion, and regional commander along the DMZ here on Planet New Colorado. I am more accustomed to ground fighting, but this section of the New Mississippi is also my responsibility. I arranged a ride-along to familiarize myself with riverboat patrol. A good commander learns the jobs of everyone serving under him.
Captain Gregoire let me take command of his boat as a courtesy. I felt I was doing everything by the book. The insurgents were warned. They had no one to blame but themselves if we sent them to the bottom of the river. Corporal Williams fired two missiles. I tracked the missiles on radar. Both hit, destroying the enemy. Our ship then ran aground, bottoming on shallow rocks.
As the fog cleared, it became more apparent I should have stayed on dry land where I belonged. Not only had I run the Predator aground, but I had also destroyed an automated lighthouse onshore. Dismayed, I put a fishing line off the bow of the Predator, and waited for the worst. My riverboat days were over. Captain Gregoire angrily approached me, carrying gear. I spoke first to cut off another tirade. “How long until we get off this sand bar?” I asked. “I don’t want to be stranded too long.”
“Sand bar? You ran us onto rocks!” shouted Captain Gregoire. “Thanks to your incompetence, my ship is ruined!”
“Does that mean it will be a while?” I asked, annoyed. “I’m late, for a very important date.”
“The Predator is gutted!” fumed Captain Gregoire. “This ship is not going anywhere.”
“Can’t you call a tug boat to tow us home?” I asked. “Isn’t anyone coming to get us?”
“It’s a total loss,” growled Captain Gregoire. “Helicopters will lift us out eventually. I will see to it you are busted back to private, if it’s the last thing I ever do!”
“Whatever,” I replied, adding under my breath, “Annapolis Naval Academy asshole.”
“I heard that! You will show proper respect!”
Helicopters soon arrived, landing legionnaires to protect the Predator during salvage operations. I took command of a smaller riverboat that brought more supplies, and I proceeded up river at a leisurely pace to New Memphis. Captain Gregoire hitched a ride, sitting at the back of the boat, brooding. Every once in a while his eyes widened as he jotted down a note about how terrible a commander I was, and how it was all my fault his prized boat was gutted, and how I should never be allowed on the New Mississippi River again because I was a menace to commerce and everyone around me. I ignored the old duffer, concentrating instead on the speed and maneuverability of my new riverboat. This boat hauled ass!
About half way to New Memphis I saw a couple spider insurgents pop out of a spider hole along the bank of the river. One insurgent was aiming an RPG directly at me. The other had an old-style AK47. At first I did not react to the danger. It just seemed incredulous that someone other than Gregoire would want to kill me on a peaceful beautiful river like the New Mississippi. As Corporal Williams began firing his machine gun, I made a hard left and sped at the insurgents. The RPG went over us, landing harmlessly in our wake. As the insurgents ducked back into their hole, I smashed the boat onto the soft sandy bank and through the high grass. The boat bounced a few yards and came to rest next to the spider hole. I jumped off, firing my assault rifle into their hole. Then I dropped a grenade down the hole. When the smoke cleared, Corporal Williams went down the tunnel and retrieved spider bodies and equipment. It felt good to finally have something go right.
The good feelings ended when I explained on the radio to General Kalipetsis how I managed to beach two boats in one day. Also, in the confusion, Captain Gregoire had fallen overboard and was now missing in action. He had already been leaning left, scribbling his venomous notes, when he was lost overboard as I made the hard turn. No loss there, but it looked bad in my report.
* * * * *
General Kalipetsis was waiting for me at Legion Headquarters. “The spiders say we owe the Arthropodan Empire $235,000 for destroying an automated lighthouse! What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Lighthouses don’t cost that much,” I argued. “Don’t let those spiders cheat you. I’ll bet the Predator alone costs much more. At least I didn’t destroy the second boat. It was just stuck in the sand.”
“You think this is funny?” asked General Kalipetsis. “The money will come out of your paycheck!”
“Now that is funny.”
“I know you have millions on your card,” said General Kalipetsis. “How does a mere major become a millionaire on Legion pay?”
“Lucky at cards?” I suggested. “All you have to do is tell those spiders that insurgents blew up the lighthouse. They can’t prove anything.”
“What about the Predator?” asked General Kalipetsis.
“We needed a new riverboat anyway,” I said. “That rust bucket was due to be scrapped. Order a new one. Only this time get one of those slick new hydrofoil boats. They’re fast. Bigger is better, you know.”
“You will never find out how fast they are,” said General Kalipetsis. “I received a report of seismic readings in Sector 27 along the DMZ. Go check it out. It might be spider insurgents digging more tunnels.”
“Sector 27?” I asked, checking a map. “Isn’t that in the middle of the New Gobi Desert? There is nothing out there but sagebrush and rattlesnakes.”
“Good,” said General Kalipetsis. “You won’t be able to break anything. Let that be a lesson to you.”
“I killed at least two insurgents,” I protested. “Doesn’t that mean anything? There might have been insurgents in that lighthouse, too. In fact, I’m sure of it.”
“Insurgents in the lighthouse is not in your report or anyone else’s account of what happened,” said General Kalipetsis. “Take your sun-block. I hear the New Gobi Desert is very hot this time of year.”
* * * * *
As ordered, I took a company of legionnaires to Sector 27. We were airlifted with our armored cars and equipment. After the planes left, it seemed so quiet. The only sound was a desert breeze through the sagebrush. There were no landmarks for miles around, just sand, sagebrush, and a dirt road.
“Every time you screw up, we get posted somewhere awful,” complained Captain Lopez. “What did you do this time?”
“Shut up and start pitching tents,” I ordered. “Find the border markers. They should be giving off a beacon signal.”
“Sir!” yelled Corporal Williams. “I see a spider!”
Sure enough. Through my binoculars I too could see a spider guard shack at the crest of the next hill. A spider marine was waving at us. I drove our armored car over to investigate.
“Welcome to Hell,” said the spider guard. He seemed happy to see us. “Who did you piss off to get assigned here?”
“None of your business,” I said. “What is this? What are you doing here?”
“I am monitoring border traffic,” said the spider guard. “Can’t you tell?”
“There is nothing but lizards out here,” I said.
“Exactly,” said the spider guard. “And I am watching and counting every lizard that goes by. I was watching you land, earlier. If you human pestilence are invading the New Gobi Desert, I surrender! You can have it.”
“We landed here to investigate seismic activity,” I explained. “Are you digging tunnels?”
“To sneak across the border?” asked the spider guard. “Yes, that is it. You caught us!”
“I am serious,” I said. “I know you have been digging. What are you up to?”
“We have been drilling a well,” answered the spider guard. “I’m thinking about building a nice cool swimming pool. In a few hours, it’s going to be over 135 degrees out here. I suggest you find some shade.”
“Where?” I asked, looking about.
“Anywhere but here,” said the spider guard. “This shack is mine.”
“Is there any insurgent activity in this area?” I asked.
“What?” asked the spider guard. “No one is interested in this area. It is too hot. Insurgents are city dwellers. They would not last five minutes out here.”
In despair, I walked back to the armored car. At least it had air conditioning. Corporal Tonelli lingered by the guard shack. “My name is Guido,” said Corporal Tonelli. “Is there anything valuable out here?”
“Like what?” asked the spider guard. “Rocks? Do you want to dig for gold?”
“I have a case of vodka in the armored car,” said Guido. “Do you have anything worth trading for?”
“How about a cannon?” offered the spider guard. “RPGs?”
“Sorry,” said Guido. “I already have several of those. How many soldiers are in your unit?”
“That is top secret,” said the spider guard. “But bring over your case of vodka. I’ll give you the VIP tour.”
They walked beyond the next hill, where about a hundred spiders were camped. A well-drilling rig was digging through the dirt and rocks, throwing dust everywhere. So far, the spiders had not reached water. The spider guard introduced Guido to his commanding officer. Guido handed the officer a bottle of vodka.
“Thank you,” said the spider commander, happily pouring them all a drink. “Normally I would beware of human pestilence bearing gifts, but I will make an exception this time.”
“This is Guido,” announced the spider guard.
“Why has the human pestilence and its Mafia come out here?” asked the spider commander, eying Guido with all eight eyes.
“Mafia?” asked Guido. “What do you mean?”
“You are Italian, are you not?” asked the spider commander, checking his database notepad computer. “I am well aware that all Italians are members of the Mafia. Your human sub-category Italiano runs all the rackets and gambling in New Memphis. Do you deny that? Are you planning to build another casino way out here? Or are you a smuggler?”
“I am a legionnaire,” replied Guido. “I go where I am ordered to go.”
“The Legion heard our drilling equipment and thought we were digging a tunnel,” explained the spider guard. “There is a whole mechanized infantry company on the other side of the hill.”
“I know that,” said the spider commander, pouring another drink. “I saw them land, too.”
“Have you been out here long?” asked Guido.
“It seems like forever,” said the spider commander, sighing. “How did you get chosen to come out here and spy on us?
“We’re on a top-secret mission,” said Guido. “They chose the best of the best.”
“You pissed someone off?” asked the spider commander.
“Not me,” said Guido. “It was Major Czerinski.”
* * * * *
At the end of the day, I radioed a report to General Kalipetsis. “There is a whole company of spiders out here. They say the seismic activity we detected must have been caused by drilling.”
“They’re drilling for oil?” asked the general. “That’s ridiculous. There is no oil out there.”
“Water,” I corrected. “They say they want to build a swimming pool because it’s hot out here.”
“You believe them?” asked General Kalipetsis.
“They’re right. It is hot.”
“No!” General Kalipetsis yelled. “I mean, do you believe they are building a swimming pool?”
“Of course not,” I answered. “They must be up to something else.”
“I agree. I am sending you a company of engineers to build permanent barracks and to establish a secure border. Be alert. The spiders are up to no good. I am also sending our own drilling equipment to take some core samples. If there is anything valuable under the New Gobi Desert, I want to reach it first.”
“That’s a good idea. Send some Geiger counters, too. Maybe they’re looking for uranium.”
“The engineers will be escorted by another company of mechanized infantry,” advised General Kalipetsis. “I want to be able to reinforce the DMZ before the spiders do the same. When the engineers are done building your new home, start them to work on a permanent paved road. I want to be able to truck supplies to you on a regular basis.”
“Can I have a swimming pool too?” I asked. “The spiders had a good idea about drilling a well. You would not believe how hot it gets in the desert.”
“What?” asked General Kalipetsis. “No! This is the Legion, not a country club. Focus on the job at hand. Find out why the spiders are interested in New Gobi.”
BOOK 5: INSURGENCY Decorated war hero Colonel Joey R. Czerinski of the United States Galactic Foreign Legion - also known as 'The Butcher of New Colorado' by his enemies, faces escalating hostilities as he and his division try to quell a citizen uprising and foil an insurgency plot to assassinate the spider Arthropodan Emperor and his lovely wife, Queen Rainbow.
Suspicion and mistrust, based on misinformation, threaten the stability of Legion command, while Czerinski deals with personal issues arising from an online tryst with a long-gone marine. A cameo appearance by a new and dangerous megalomaniac further complicate things for Czerinski and his surly band of misfits. Through it all, the laughs keep coming.
AMERICA’S GALACTIC FOREIGN LEGION
Book 5: Insurgency
by Walter Knight
My name is Colonel Joey R. Czerinski, hero of the United States Galactic Federation Foreign Legion, Butcher of New Colorado, and commander of garrison troops at the border crossing at New Gobi City, planet New Colorado, where I face both a growing human and spider alien insurgency. That Butcher of New Colorado label is unfair. I get a lot of bad press. It’s not my fault. It is all just a big misunderstanding caused by the fog of war.
A new company of United Stated Galactic Federation Foreign Legion recruits arrived at New Gobi City. They were led by a newly minted second lieutenant named Laika Barker. Barker, recently graduated top in his class from Officer’s Candidate School at the West Point Extension Campus here on New Colorado. The extension program was designed to commission homegrown officers for the Legion.
Barker stood at attention in front of my desk and saluted. His gold-plated teardrop sunglasses were an exact duplicate of mine. Due to manpower shortages, the Legion recruiters were recruiting and enlisting just about anyone, but this was ridiculous. Barker and I had a history.
“At ease,” I ordered, returning the salute. “How in the hell did you ever get in the Legion, let alone manage a commission as an officer?”
“I filled out an application,” replied Lieutenant Barker. “God bless America for giving me the opportunity to prove myself.”
“Should I shoot him now or later?” asked Captain Lopez, my military intelligence officer.
“Now,” I answered, drawing my pistol. “It is a severe security lapse for a known terrorist like Barker to be recruited into the Legion. At the very least, you will be locked up until your credentials can be checked.”
“But Colonel Czerinski, I graduated top in my class in tactics,” argued Barker, handing me his orders. “General Kalipetsis ordered that top priority be given to recruiting local talent so we natives have a chance to succeed in the Legion. Give the General a call if you don’t believe me. I can be a valuable asset for you and the Legion. I am honored to serve under your command, sir! Please, let time heal old wounds.”
“It seems like just yesterday you tried to kill me with a grenade. But it has been a long time,” I admitted. “I see you have filled out a bit.”
“And you have not aged at all,” replied Lieutenant Barker. “Are the rumors true? Do microchips embedded in your bones really keep you young? Or have you found the Fountain of Youth?”
“I have no secret micro chips,” I lied. “The secret to survival out here is to stay in the shade and avoid skin cancer. Don’t ask stupid questions like that again.”
“Colonel Czerinski doesn’t share his secret with anyone,” complained Captain Lopez. “Spreading rumors about illegal microchips can get you killed.”
“Lots of things in the desert can get you killed,” added Lieutenant Barker. “But I’m still alive after all this time in the New Gobi.”
“A young man like you doesn’t need the Fountain of Youth,” I added. “Besides, you will be dead soon. I bet that the bookies in New Memphis have already established a line on when the New Gobi kills you.”
“You can bet on a legionnaire’s death?” asked Lieutenant Barker. “Is that legal? What’s the line on you, sir?”
“No bookie would dare take that action,” I boasted.
Captain Lopez made an inquiry into the database. “The line is even money Lieutenant Barker will not make it one year. I’ll bet the odds will change once they find out that Czerinski is your commanding officer,” commented Captain Lopez. “I could get rich betting on you.”
“How would you bet?” asked Lieutenant Barker. “I don’t think I like this!”
“There will be no betting on the death or survival of legionnaires,” I said. “It would be a conflict of interest for us to wager anyway.”
“But we could influence the outcome,” argued Captain Lopez.
“We’ll talk about it later,” I said. “My main concern is undoing the mistake that allowed Barker in the Legion in the first place. Somewhere there is an ATM Recruiter that needs to be replaced.”
“The United States Constitution guarantees a legionnaire’s right to a new name, identity, and life,” insisted Lieutenant Barker. “You cannot violate my contract. It’s the law.”
“Maybe,” I conceded. “But if I find you to be disloyal, I will shoot you myself. That is the law, too.”
“I expect nothing less. I swore the same oath to serve my country, as did you and Captain Lopez. I will honor that oath as long as the Legion honors its side of it.”
I read through Barker’s orders. They were signed by General Kalipetsis. A special note added by the general stated that Lieutenant Barker had a lot of promise and potential, and that I was to teach the young man everything I know.
“I will assign you to the most remote post I can find. Dismissed!”
“It might be a mistake to place Barker where you can’t keep an eye on him,” warned Captain Lopez, after Barker left. “Always keep your enemies close.”
“You’re probably right,” I replied. “For now I will assign him to a local company here in New Gobi. It will be your job to make sure he stays out of trouble and doesn’t murder me in my sleep.
BOOK 6: CULTURE WAR The military science-fiction saga takes a new turn as Colonel Joey R. Czerinski and his division of legionnaires, just trying to maintain peace in planet New Colorado’s New Gobi Desert, find themselves in the midst of more skirmishes with their spider alien foes.
The spider Arthropodan Emperor declares war on American culture, hoping to preserve Arthropodan traditions and avoid cultural contamination from the American way of life. Tasked with carrying out the Emperor’s new strategy, the spider Governor of the North Territory takes his responsibility seriously by ordering the spider marine commander in the New Gobi sector to put a halt to interspecies trade. The spider commander complies by confiscating all incoming US merchandise flowing over the border between Legion-controlled and spider-controlled areas of the Demilitarized Zone.
Despite the spider commander’s best efforts, the new generation of Arthropodan citizens on New Colorado have already adopted many American cultural icons, including the Nike Swoosh and skateboarding. Addicted to Starbucks coffee, the spider commander can’t see he’s a victim of cultural contamination as well.
As the cultural war escalates, Czerinski deals with everything in his own unique way – by overreacting and alienating those closest to him. But this conflict is bigger than even Czerinski suspects, and the revolution grows stronger while the laughs keep coming.
Blue powder immediately impacted the Arthropodan Empire upon first contact with humanity. Even before diplomatic relations were established, traders were importing the drug. Drug addiction was a foreign concept before contact with humans. Now, drug addiction and alcoholism was commonplace in the Empire and a part of the culture. The Arthropodan Emperor declared drug and alcohol addiction even more dangerous to the fragile social fabric of Arthropoda than the human pestilence and their satellite TV.
Nowhere was the American contamination of the Arthropodan culture more pronounced than on the shared colony of New Colorado. Even the planet’s name had been corrupted by the human pestilence. After several wars, the Arthropodan Empire and the United States Galactic Federation divided New Colorado at the equator, but the contamination spread north anyway.
During peacetime, commerce flourished between the spider North and the human South. Citizens of the Empire consumed large amounts of blue powder and endangered their health by eating fast food from Taco Bell, KFC, and McDonald’s. The high cholesterol rates among spider youth were staggering. University students, drunk on Coors (cowboy) beer and spurred on by mind-numbing human pestilence music, demonstrated in the streets, calling for reckless concepts like democracy and an end to the Empire. Brain damage and hearing loss caused by the American music threatened the health of an entire spider generation.
The Emperor was convinced that militarization of the DMZ could at least slow down the American contamination from the South, with the ultimate goal being complete separation of the two species and cultures. A quarantine of the human pestilence would be implemented in increments. Even if it took generations, the Emperor was determined to purge Arthropoda of all human pestilence influence. It would not be easy. First, businesses would have to be weaned from free trade. Tariffs would be a good start in that direction. Immigration of humans to the North would be stopped. The Emperor realized public support was essential. To merely impose Imperial will would only fuel discontent, driving citizens to the increasingly popular Independence Movement and the growing Insurgency.
An incident was needed to garner public support against human pestilence contamination of Arthropodan culture. That would be easy. Satellite images showed large drug-producing poppy fields in the hills of the human pestilence South. In spite of numerous diplomatic efforts, the United States Galactic Federation seemed unwilling or unable to eradicate those fields. In fact, the poppy fields were still not illegal in the South. From an Imperial viewpoint, this was an inexcusable provocation.
The human pestilence lack of concern about the poppy fields would be their undoing. If the human pestilence refused to take action, then Arthropodan marines would be given the job of eliminating the blue powder menace. That would bring America’s Galactic Foreign Legion into the fray. It would be easy to pick a fight with the Legion. The Legion was predisposed to fight. It would not have to be a big fight. There was no need for nukes. The battle would be just big enough to create an incident, and a pretext to close the border. There would be no more Big Macs or Walmart Super Stores. With public support, the Emperor could send tanks and the Air Wing to get rid of casino gambling run by the human pestilence Mafia. Combating Mafia infiltration would be an even tougher fight than the Legion. Strategy dictated one fight at a time. Patience was the key, and the Emperor knew it.
The Emperor drank another cappuccino as he daydreamed of victory over the evil human pestilence. A triple shot of coffee in the morning gave the Emperor the boost he needed during these trying times. Giving his attention to that thought, the Emperor made a note to nationalize all Starbucks restaurants. The human pestilence would be given no quarter!
* * * * *
I am Colonel Joey R. Czerinski, hero of the Legion, Butcher of New Colorado, and commander of the Legion garrison stationed on planet New Colorado at the New Gobi City border crossing. After several intergalactic wars, the United States Galactic Federation and the Arthropodan Empire are at truce, sharing colonies on planet New Colorado. The new commander from the spider side met me at the border checkpoint. He seemed upset, but spiders these days are always upset about something.
“Why are we meeting on the street?” I asked. “What is so important it could not be discussed later at poker tonight? The game is still on, right?”
“Colonel Czerinski, thank you for meeting me on such short notice,” said the spider commander. “There will be no more Saturday night poker parties. The Emperor appointed a new governor, and he is a real tight-ass. The governor just decreed there will be no more fraternization with the Legion. That means no more gambling parties or drinking together.”
“What’s his problem?” I asked. “No more gambling? That’s un-American!”
“Exactly,” said the spider commander. “I am not even allowed to shop at Walmart. I have to send a team leader to get in on the Thanksgiving pre-Christmas sales. I’m expecting a boycott of Pizza Hut any day now.”
“So the poker games are cancelled permanently?” I asked, unable to accept what I was hearing. “Is that all you wanted to talk about?”
“I am not worried about the poker game,” said the spider commander. “I am sure the new governor will forget about that directive after a few weeks, and things will go back to normal. This always happens when a new boss comes in and tries to impress everyone with how he is in command.”
“Then what is on your mind?” I asked. “It’s hot out here. Right now I could be in my air-conditioned office, watching the World Series on TV.”
“The real problem is all those poppy fields you allow growing in the hills,” said the spider commander. “Either you weed your garden, or I will do it for you.”
“What?” I asked. “Poppies? What do I care about poppies? The stuff grows wild. You want to get rid of poppies? Lots of luck.”
“Your farmers are cultivating poppies used to manufacture blue powder,” accused the spider commander. “It’s an issue the new governor raised today. Drug addiction is causing untold harm to our population. All the poppy fields are on your side of the border. Spray them, or there will be serious consequences.”
“The key to fighting illegal drug use is education,” commented Major Lopez, my aide de camp and military intelligence officer. “On Old Earth, the copa del ora is just a harmless flower. If you spiders stopped snorting blue powder, you wouldn’t have this problem.”
“Who is he?” asked the spider commander. “McGruff the crime dog? I am giving you a heads-up that there will be serious difficulties along the border if you human pestilence continue to provide a sanctuary for illegal drug manufacturers and smugglers.”
“We do not protect drug smugglers,” I insisted. “It’s just that there is no law against poppy cultivation. Besides, it’s a police matter. I am not a cop, and I don’t want to be a cop. What can the Legion do?”
“The governor does not want to hear your lame excuses,” advised the spider commander. “He wants results. Destroy the poppy fields, or I will close the border.”
“You can’t do that,” I said. “The trucks would be backed up for miles. Besides, you would upset the Teamsters Union big time. Do you want that?”
“The Teamsters Union?” asked the spider commander. “What do I care about Teamsters? Drug dealers are attacking the Empire from the South. Drug addiction threatens our culture. It’s a war. Our sovereignty is threatened. Our border will be defended!”
“You will care about the Teamsters when you wake up in the morning with a horse head under the blankets,” I said.
“Horse head?” asked the spider commander. “What’s a horse?”
“Okay, maybe they’ll use a dragon head,” I warned. “What’s the difference? My point is, you are going to upset a lot of powerful special-interest groups. Your governor doesn’t realize the kind of heat he is going to draw.”
“The Empire will not be intimidated,” said the spider commander. “Those poppy fields will be destroyed one way or another.”
“Just make sure you do not cross the border,” warned Major Lopez. “More military adventurism by you spiders will not be tolerated."
* * * * *
After the meeting with the spider commander dispersed, Corporal Guido Tonelli approached the spider guard shack across the Military Demarcation Line. The spider border guard came out to greet Guido.“Did you hear any of that?” asked Guido. “Are they serious? No more poker nights?”
“It gets worse,” said the spider guard. “The ‘no fraternization’ order puts the Angry Onion Tavern off-limits to all Arthropodan military personnel. The governor thinks the Angry Onion is a bad influence on us, just because it’s a biker bar.”
“He’s right,” said Guido. “It is a bad influence. That’s why we go there! Plus the biker babes are hot.”
“Because I won’t be there, I’ll be missing the ball game on the big-screen TV,” complained the spider guard. “I want to place two hundred credits on the Yankees over the Red Sox. New York is going to kick butt tonight!”
Guido recorded the wager into his communications pad. “If anyone else wants to place a bet, just send them here,” said Guido. “I’ll be doing a lot of business right here in my guard shack, since I’m going to lose half my business at the Angry Onion. I should sue your new governor.”
“We need to do something about all that blue powder coming across the border,” said the spider guard. “That’s what started all this nonsense. It would all be good if we got rid of the blue powder menace.”
Guido reached down and patted his monitor dragon Spot on the snout. The dragon hissed affectionately. “What can we do?” asked Guido. “Spot has sniffed out so much blue powder from smugglers, I think he’s addicted to the stuff. You spiders have already made drug dealing punishable by summary execution. If that won’t deter the smugglers what will?”
“I don’t know,” replied the spider guard, getting depressed. “Change my bet to five hundred credits on the Yankees. You know I’m good for it.”
“Bet responsibly,” cautioned Guido. “You’ve been living life on the edge a lot lately.”
“The governor is going to close down all sports gambling in New Gobi City,” said the spider guard. “I have to make my money while I can. I’m going all in!”
“Don’t worry,” said Guido. “I heard your commander say this will all blow over in a few months. Then business will be back to normal.”
# # #
BOOK 7: ENEMIES The military science-fiction saga twists like a snake trying to bite its own tail in this seventh installment. Even the paranoid have enemies. Colonel Joey R. Czerinski knows this, being both paranoid and having enemies himself, some of whom he even calls friends. While he goes about his usual routine as local Legion commander at the DMZ on planet New Colorado, he also is busy fixing football and baseball games, placing outrageous bets, cheating others, mocking the media, weaseling out of trouble with his superiors, and generally pissing off everyone around him. Foes new and old do their best to exact the revenge they believe he fully deserves. This only confirms Czerinski’s motto ... Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you. To complicate matters, the appearance of a new alien species on the galactic horizon threatens to make life even more difficult on planet New Colorado. Can human and spider enemies make a tentative pact to work together and beat back this new threat, as they did the marauding ants? Or is New Colorado doomed to be overrun and exploited in yet another violent contest of superiority?
American technology enabled humanity to colonize space. There was no United Nations effort to reach the stars. Russia, China, and Japan never built starships – they couldn’t even get to Mars. Anyone who wants to travel the galaxy, does so on American starships.
And of course, only American military might is capable of defending humanity from the alien empires out there. The first line of defense for humanity is volunteers from the United States Galactic Federation Foreign Legion. The Legion is posted to the very edge of humanity’s frontier.
After a series of wars with the Arthropodan Empire, a peace treaty allowed humans and spiders to share the distant planet of New Colorado. To further interspecies harmony, coexistence, and trade, spiders were now allowed to immigrate to humanity’s half of the planet, and were granted U.S.G.F. citizenship. Spiders were even encouraged to enlist in the Foreign Legion. The Arthropodan Empire reciprocated.
Although the two cultures often clash, similarities are striking. Both spiders and humans love fine dining at McDonald’s Restaurants, shopping at Walmart, getting a jolt in the morning at Starbucks, gambling at casinos, drinking beer, riding Harleys, playing and watching football, and viewing Satellite TV.
Someday all of New Colorado will be Americanized, but until that day happens, it is my job to face down the Arthropodan Empire across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). I am Colonel Joey R. Czerinski, hero of the Legion, Butcher of New Colorado, and nemesis of the Anthropodan Empire and all spiders.
The only thing worse than a spider terrorist is a human terrorist. After all, humanity invented terrorism. We know how to do it right. Fortunately, I have already killed most of the human terrorists here on New Colorado. The last significant human leader of the insurgency in my military sector was Danny Jesus Grant. I shot Grant in the head and personally buried him in one of my cemeteries. (A while back, I had invested in upscale high-tech cemeteries. It seemed like a good investment at the time.)
However, informants tell me that Danny Grant is still alive and causing trouble. I don’t see how that can be, but I guess rumors are much harder to kill than men.
Grant, a Legion deserter turned drug dealer and bank robber, was particularly dangerous because he was a natural organizer and recruiter. A great public speaker, Grant was loved by all who listened to him. He could mesmerize any crowd. Everyone listening thought Grant’s message was directed especially at them.
Perhaps that explains why people are refusing to believe Grant is really dead. Maybe I should not have buried Grant so fast. I should have put him on display and let the desert flies and maggots nibble on him. Grant was no Messiah. He was just a thug and a deserter, and I killed him. Let the dead stay dead. Good riddance.
* * * * *
Danny Grant did not die. He could hear familiar voices coming from aboveground. Someone even called out his name. Grant pushed a fist up through the soft dirt to the fresh air. A rat, startled by the sudden displacement of dirt under its burrow, scrambled to get away. Grant snatched the rat as it fled across his face, and bit into its soft belly. The warm wet flesh brought renewed strength, but Grant needed more. Now sitting still half covered with dirt, he looked about, seeking help.
“Danny!” exclaimed Al Turner, one of Grant’s former insurgent cohorts. “You’re alive? But the Legion executed and buried you! How could you come back from the dead?”
“It’s no big deal,” answered Grant, still shivering from the cold ground and spitting out dirt. “I feel fine, except that I’m real thirsty.”
“It is a big deal,” insisted Turner, handing Grant a water bottle. “You rose from the dead just like Jesus. It’s a miracle. God has touched you.” Turner dropped to his knees.
Robert Acosta, another insurgent, backed away and crossed himself. “He is a blood-crazed Night of the Living Dead zombie,” accused Acosta, holding out a small gold crucifix from a neck chain for protection. “Stay away! Chupacabra!”
Grant gave the miracle angle some thought as he finished gulping down the bottled water. It was more likely that an embedded human growth hormone microchip in his brain prioritized bodily resources, and made repairs from unneeded tissue. Grant would not be surprised if he no longer had an appendix or ear lobes as his body found sources for replacement tissue. He touched his ears to check. His steel stud and ears were still present. Or, maybe the bullet just bounced off his thick skull. Grant could see how others might think they had witnessed a miracle. How might their superstition be useful? he thought. Grant ran his fingers over the lettering of his tombstone. ‘DANNY JESUS GRANT: Killed by the Legion.’ For sure, Grant knew he was not a blood-crazed zombie like Acosta suggested. He would put an end to that speculation now.
“The Legion buried me alive,” said Grant. “Colonel Czerinski shot me and buried me alive. Both will pay dearly for this atrocity!”
* * * * *
“Someone vandalized the grave site of your old nemesis,” commented Major Lopez, as he drove our jeep to the cemetery. “I thought you might be interested.”
“Which nemesis is that?” I asked. “I have killed so many.”
“Danny Grant,” replied Major Lopez. “Someone dug him up and stole the body.”
“I knew I should have buried him deeper or cremated the fool. That’s what I get for being cheap. No wonder there are so many rumors about Grant still being alive. It was probably insurgents wanting to make an imprint memorial of his brain. Ha! Too bad for them. They waited too long to dig Grant up. The brain is decayed and eaten by worms by now.”
“It might have been coyotes or wolves scavenging for food,” suggested Major Lopez as we walked to the grave site. “We found fresh blood on the tombstone, and the entrails and tail of a rat in the dirt.”
“No,” I reasoned. “Scavengers would have left messy body parts. The whole body is missing.”
“But insurgents only need the head for an imprint memorial. Maybe it was medical students. I hear cadavers are worth a lot of money these days.”
“There is no shortage of fresh cadavers on New Colorado. Maybe the insurgents were just squeamish about cutting off the head. Or maybe it was just souvenir hunters. Grant’s body will probably turn up in someone’s freezer or in the trash.”
“Or in one of those ‘See the Thing’ roadside tourist attractions,” offered Major Lopez. “Are you sure Grant is dead?”
“Of course Grant is dead. No one can survive being shot in the head. I killed him myself. Grant was cold, decaying meat when I put him in the ground. End of story.”
Major Lopez stared incredulously at the scar on my forehead. I ignored his stare and refused to recall my own miraculous recovery from death on Mars after being shot in the head by loan shark Bubba Jones. My resurrection was the result of recently having a longevity chip imbedded in my body. I was sure Grant could not have had a similar chip imbedded, because shortly after my acquisition, that technology was banned by the government.
“But look at the grave,” Major Lopez insisted. “The dirt looks like someone pushed their way up. No one dug up this grave.”
I studied the tombstone’s inscription, ‘DANNY JESUS GRANT: Killed by the Legion.’ “Grant did not rise from this grave. Someone dug him up. It may even have been grave robbers, or cemetery employees looking for jewelry. Some drug addicts will do anything for quick cash. I’ll talk to the cemetery manager to see if anyone suspicious has been hanging around, casing the place.”
Major Lopez collected the rat’s tail as evidence. He also collected a blood sample for DNA from a hand print left on the tombstone. The DNA would be checked against citizenship files. Lopez photographed the bloody fingerprints and entered them into the Galactic Database. The prints matched Grant’s.
“It’s just not possible,” I objected. “When I kill someone, they stay dead.”
* * * * *
Even paranoid people have enemies, but I don’t worry that much about my many enemies. It’s my friends that worry me most, because friends are close enough to kill me at any time. If Danny Grant is not dead, fine. I will kill him later. But what shall I do about Major Lopez? I suspect that Lopez spies for the spiders. But how do I prove a decorated hero of the Legion has turned traitor for money? The matter is further complicated by the fact that Major Lopez is my best friend, my most competent commander, and a close business associate. For now, I manage Lopez by keeping him close and keeping him busy. I suspect I will still have to shoot him someday, but for now I would rather postpone that unpleasant task. Besides, shooting Lopez isn’t so easy, and could be hazardous for one’s health. If I try it, I’d better not miss.
“I want Colonel Czerinski killed,” fumed the spider commander of the New Gobi Desert military sector. “Czerinski is responsible for arming human insurgents, and his rogue activities have to be stopped.”
“Czerinski stopped arming insurgents a long time ago,” commented Major Lopez, deciding not to add that the activity had been his personal pet project, not Czerinski’s. “The Legion now hunts them down. There is no reason for you to hold a grudge for so long.”
“No longer arming the insurgents? Ha! What about Danny Grant?” asked the spider commander. “The Legion had Grant in custody, and Colonel Czerinski assured me the terrorist would be executed. But you let him go! Just today I reviewed a surveillance video of Grant brazenly robbing a bank right here in New Gobi City. Explain that!”
“Colonel Czerinski shot Grant in the head and buried him,” answered Major Lopez. “I saw it happen. I was there.”
“Your own words admit complicity in allowing Grant to escape imperial justice,” accused the spider commander. “Your lies are unacceptable.”
“The matter is being investigated,” explained Major Lopez. “I have been personally looking into it. If Grant is still alive, which I doubt, I will find him. Grant is an enemy of the Legion, too.”
“I still want Czerinski dead!”
“I will not kill Czerinski,” said Major Lopez. “I don’t mind passing along information to you once in a while, but murdering my commanding officer is way too risky for what you pay me.”
“With Czerinski gone, you would be promoted to take his place,” advised the spider commander. “Think of how much graft and corruption you could bring in then. Besides, Czerinski has been holding you back because you are a threat to his authority. You are a hero of the Legion. You should have been considered for promotion to general a long time ago.”
“I will not kill Czerinski,” repeated Major Lopez.
“Fine!” said the spider commander. “Just give me Czerinski’s daily itinerary, and I will kill him myself during one of his troop inspections along the DMZ. It shouldn’t be that difficult.”
* * * * *
“Let’s go inspect the troops,” I suggested.
“I thought you weren’t going to do that until this afternoon,” replied Major Lopez. “The quartermaster is expecting you at the warehouse right after breakfast.”
“The supply geeks can wait,” I said. “I want to tour the border-crossing checkpoints to make sure legionnaires are watching for Danny Grant, should he attempt a crossing. Did you know Grant robbed a bank on the spider side yesterday?”
“Yes, I heard,” said Major Lopez. “Mind if I skip the inspection? I have a lot of paperwork to catch up on, and I plan to use all morning to do it.”
“How did you know about the robbery?” I asked. “It’s not common knowledge yet.”
“I am your military intelligence officer. It’s my job to know everything.”
“Screw your paperwork,” I said. “You are coming along with me for a surprise inspection of the checkpoints. Bring that stack of Grant’s photos along for distribution to the guards.”
We walked from Legion Headquarters to New Gobi City’s main border crossing. Corporal Guido Tonelli was supervising searches of trucks. His monitor dragon, Spot, was sniffing for drugs and Big Macs. At the same time, Guido was receiving calls for his thriving sports bookie business. He had managed to get financial backing from an arm of the Bonanno family repatriated to New Memphis after the spiders executed vice kingpin Saviano Juardo.
Perennial favorite Seattle Seahawks were the eight-point pick to beat the Miami Dolphins in next week’s Super Bowl. “Guido, put me down for five thousand on Miami,” I said, as I returned his salute. “This is going to be easy money.”
“Are you crazy?” asked Guido. “Everyone is betting on Seattle to three-pete. Even the spiders are betting heavy on Seattle.”
“What do spiders know about football?” I motioned for Guido to follow me inside the air-conditioned guard shack. “I’ll take the eight points and Miami any day.”
“We don’t have time to be hanging out at Guido’s shack all day,” complained Major Lopez, staying outside. “There is a lot of ground to cover if we are going to check all the border crossings before lunch.”
“If you want to stay out in 110-degree heat, go ahead. I’m going to be enjoying Guido’s new air-conditioner. Sometimes I think you’re wound way too tight, Lopez.”
I handed Guido a photo of Danny Grant robbing the First Arthropodan Bank of New Gobi City. Grant had not even bothered to wear a mask.
“Grant might try to cross to our side of the DMZ,” I explained. “Make sure your squad is alert and watching for him.”
“I already got the memo on Grant,” replied Guido, as he answered another gambling call on the communication device in his ear. “Seven thousand credits on Seattle? You haven’t paid up on last week’s losses. Do I have to break your thumb to get you current? I’m not a credit agency.”
“Focus Guido!” I said. “Get off the phone. It is important we catch Grant. The spiders are real upset that he escaped our custody.”
“The spiders are going to be upset if they don’t get their bets in on time,” commented Guido. “I thought Grant was executed. How did you let him get away this time?”
“Just keep a close eye out for him!” I ordered.
“Don’t worry, sir. Grant won’t pass through here.”
* * * * *
Atop the Marriott Hotel on the Arthropodan side of the border, a spider sniper team was alerted to watch for the Legion commander at the crossing below. The spider sniper could see two Legion officers talking to the border guards, but the Legion commander would not stay still. Also, a guard stood in front of the Legion commander, obscuring a clear shot. The sniper thought about punching a hole in the guard, too. A high velocity round could easily go through the guard, killing them both.
But the guard was Guido. The sniper had just placed seven thousand credits with Guido on the Seahawks to win the Super Bowl. It would not do to shoot the only bookie in the DMZ.
“What are you waiting for?” asked the spotter. “Shoot!”
“I cannot get a clear shot,” replied the sniper. “I might hit the guard instead of my target.”
“So?” complained the spotter. “Waste them all! What difference does it make? We will not get another chance like this to kill the Legion commander.”
“But that is Guido blocking my shot,” said the sniper. “They just went inside anyway.”
“Oh.” The spotter sighed. “You’re right. We cannot shoot Guido. Not yet, anyway. I still need to make back the money I lost on last week’s game. I borrowed ten thousand credits, and I’m betting it all on the Seahawks this time.”
“Good move. That’s where the smart money is.”
* * * * *
As I talked to Guido, I watched Major Lopez pacing back and forth just outside the guard shack. He was sweating profusely from the heat.
“If you aren’t careful, spider snipers might pick you off,” I called out to Lopez. “You should come inside.”
“Snipers?” asked Major Lopez. “What do you know about snipers?”
“I know they would love the chance to nail a Legion officer,” I commented.
“Nonsense,” said Major Lopez. “We are not at war. Hostilities have ended.”
“They might mistake you for me,” I added. “Some of those spiders are still upset. But they won’t get me. I’m too careful.”
“Paranoid bastard,” mumbled Lopez as he entered the guard shack.
I watched him scan the rooftops on the spider side. The Marriott Hotel was a prime location to position a sniper. But the tinted windows of the guard shack provided cover. Maybe.
Lopez ducked down behind the cement wall of the shack and found a chair. “No one wants to start another war.”
“As long as Danny Grant is still alive, we are at war,” I responded. “If he is not dead, we need to find him and finish the job.”
“Maybe you’re right,” said Major Lopez. “Let’s take the tunnel to the next checkpoint. I don’t like how exposed we are here.”
“And you call me paranoid!” I teased, laughing. “I will not be a tunnel rat.”
“We will take the tunnel,” insisted Major Lopez. “It needs to be inspected, anyway.”
BOOK 8: ALLIES The latest war between the United States Galactic Federation and the Arthropodan Empire is over, and humans and spiders are now allies bound by a treaty. Before anyone can enjoy the tentative time of peace, the scorpions reappear with a vengeance.
In response to the treaty agreement between the new allies, Colonel Joey R. Czerinski and his band of miscreant legionnaires are sent on a side trip to a terraformed Arthropodan asteroid to help the spiders battle the scorpions. With their usual serendipitous screw-ups, the legionnaires manage to convince the scorpions to surrender. Those who were enemies become allies, and vice-versa.
Another alien species makes a cameo appearance, and the return of a feared nemesis puts everyone on alert as the laughs continue in this eighth installment of the military space saga gone wrong.
After the total defeat the combined forces of the United States Galactic Federation Foreign Legion and the Arthropodan Empire delivered to the invading scorpion race, the scorpions retreated to the nether regions of the galaxy to lick their wounds. In theory, our victory forged a temporary alliance between the USGF and the Arthropodan Empire, but on the ground, everyday tensions still existed.
I am Colonel Joey R. Czerinski, hero of the Legion, Butcher of New Colorado, and nemesis of the Arthropodan Empire and all spiders. Here on planet New Colorado, America’s Galactic Foreign Legion takes nothing for granted – and neither do I. Although spiders and humans live and work side by side on planet New Colorado, and the two races are currently considered military allies, I’m still watching the Demilitarized Zone in the New Gobi Desert, ready for any underhanded or outright hostilities.
* * * * *
Tony the Toe Garcia lost his job as a bookie when Bonanno & Associates went out of business. He tried to get a job with the new sports betting cartel, but all business was now automated through ATMs.
These new business concepts will never work, thought Tony. Loan-sharking is an important aspect of being a bookie. Can an ATM break someone’s thumb? No! You need people skills to be a successful bookie.
Tony went to New Gobi City to see his old friend Corporal Guido Tonelli of the United States Galactic Foreign Legion about job prospects.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” said Guido. “We are in the age of the computer. All betting and collection enforcement is automated.”
“Can I borrow some money until I get on my feet again?” asked Tony.
“Sure,” replied Guido, putting two thousand dollars on Tony’s card. “If you want more, there is an ATM just down the street at the bank.”
“Thanks. I’ve been trying to avoid ATMs, but I might just do that.”
Tony the Toe was naturally leery of ATMs. ATMs were the enemy – they’d put him out of work. Besides, loan terms sometimes amounted to nothing more than slavery (or worse) if you failed to pay the money back. Tony could end up in the Legion like Guido, if he wasn’t careful. But the lure of easy money was always a draw to Tony the Toe. He walked up to the United States Galactic Federation Foreign Legion Recruitment Center ATM, telling himself convincingly it was just to look at the brochures.
“Hello, Tony the Toe Garcia,” said the ATM. “A fine day we are having today, don’t you think? Are you still looking for work? I hope you haven’t been reduced to borrowing money from friends, like so many of your associates.”
“How did you know that?” asked Tony.
“There is not much I do not know,” said the ATM, smugly. “I used to do business with your former employer. Too bad about his sudden demise. I understand there are now arrest warrants out for Mr. Bonanno, for wire fraud and income tax evasion. Are you interested in joining the Foreign Legion?”
“I don’t want to join the Legion,” replied Tony. “I heard something on the news about a war about to start.”
“Nonsense,” said the ATM. “Do you see any bombs dropping from the sky? All looks peaceful to me. How much money do you need?”
“Fifty thousand dollars,” admitted Tony.
“Is that all?” asked the ATM. “No problem.”
“I only need enough to get started.”
“I understand,” said the ATM. “One should always be very careful about accumulating too much debt. If you are not careful, credit card debt has a way of creeping up on you until it is out of control. What is your plan? What will you use this money for?”
“I’ll find an investment somewhere,” said Tony. “I always do.”
“You might be able to double your money at the casino,” suggested the ATM. “If you pay me back tonight, I will not even charge you interest. After all, goodwill between friends is important to me.”
“You would do that? I’ll take your deal. You are a true friend. Put the money on my card.”
“The money is yours for twenty-four hours,” said the ATM, making the transaction and printing out terms. “If you do not pay me back, you will have enlisted in the United States Galactic Federation Foreign Legion. Put your thumb on my slide pad. It is purely for identification purposes.”
“I won’t lose the money,” said Tony, putting his thumb on the pad. A pin pricked him, drawing blood and inserting a tracking chip. “I’m feeling too lucky to lose.”
Tony the Toe went straight to the Blind Tiger Casino and placed all fifty thousand on a spin of the Roulette wheel (red). He won!
Not the type to press his luck, Tony ran directly back to the ATM to pay off his loan. “Take your blood money,” he told the ATM, inserting his card. “I’m paying you off in full.”
“That was fast,” said the ATM. “You were right. Luck is with you tonight.”
“Well?” Tony demanded when his card immediately popped back out of the slot. “Take your money! Quit playing games. I know where you live.”
“I can assure you I do not play games when it comes to money and recruiting quotas,” said the ATM. “A lot has happened in the few minutes since we last talked. America is at war.”
“So? That’s all the more reason for me to pay you back. I don’t want to be in the Legion or on this side of the border when the shooting starts.”
“Do you not have a sense of duty for your country?” asked the ATM.
“I am a citizen of the United States of New Colorado,” explained Tony the Toe. “The USGF can fight its own wars without me.”
“The USMC has joined the allies,” said the ATM. “We’re now an army of one.”“Just take the money back,” insisted Tony the Toe. “And quit jerking me around!”
“Not so fast,” said the ATM. “Did you read the fine print of your loan enlistment contract? Of course you did not. You wise guys never do because you think you know it all. You remind me of Colonel Czerinski. He didn’t read his contract the first time either. Do you know of Colonel Czerinski?”
“Sure I do,” Tony said, getting angry. “Czerinski is the reason Bonanno & Associates went out of business, and I lost my job. Somehow Czerinski fixed games, and Bonanno went broke.”
“Colonel Czerinski is your new commanding officer,” advised the ATM. “You are now in the Legion for the duration of the war. It’s all written in the fine print of the loan enlistment contract you agreed to.”
“I refuse!” shouted Tony the Toe. “You are not conning me into joining the Foreign Legion. You can’t force me to do this. Who are we at war with?”
“Do I understand you to say you wish to contest the terms of your contract?” asked the ATM. “Because of some complaints, there is a review process in place for malcontents like you, to make sure I have been fair. Press the appeal button on the pad if you wish to make a formal appeal of your enlistment status.”
Tony the Toe immediately pressed the appeal button. He was pricked again. Tony angrily wiped the blood off his thumb. “Was that really necessary?” he complained.
“Your appeal of your enlistment status has been recorded, reviewed, and denied,” announced the ATM. “Welcome to the United States Galactic Federation Foreign Legion. You will report tomorrow evening at 1900 hours to the USGF assault ship Moon Demon of the 438th Transport Carrier Group for immediate deployment. The Moon Demon will be waiting for you and other recruits in the Walmart parking lot. Eat first. I am told the MREs are horrible.”
“You call that being fair?” protested Tony the Toe. “Hell no, I won’t go! You can’t force me. You are nothing.”
“I am curious,” said the ATM. “Why are you called Tony the Toe?”
“None of your business,” answered Tony.
“Oh, come now,” objected the ATM. “After all we have been through, and you can’t tell me a simple little secret?”
“I lost my toe in an accident. What’s it to you? Will that disqualify me for enlistment for medical reasons?”
“You cannot avoid your service commitment,” said the ATM. “When I pricked your finger the first time, I inserted a tracking device. The Legion will hunt you down if you go AWOL. The second time I pricked you, I inserted a small exploding device into your thumb. Fail to report for deployment, and I will blow your thumb off. A Mafia type like you should enjoy the irony. Luckily the Legion has excellent medical coverage and can – should the need arise – surgically replace your missing appendage with a new metal thumb. Then we can call you Tony the Thumb.”
“This is inhumane!” argued Tony the Toe. “You can’t do this to me!”
“The explosive device will dissolve sometime after you complete your basic training,” said the ATM. “I am not completely without compassion. After all, you are now a part of a fighting elite. Be proud, be brave, be a legionnaire. You finally have the chance to do something worthwhile with your life. Do not blow it.”
* * * * *
Tony the Toe pounded his fist on the ATM in frustration. What else could he do? He ate a big meal and reported for duty at 1900. The Moon Demon was huge, taking up most of the Walmart parking lot. A long line of Legion recruits and veterans waited to enter. Tony the Toe was given a uniform, boots, and a loaded M26A assault rifle. He sat down on a long row of seats already crowded with legionnaires. Tony the Toe slumped in his seat, reconciled to his new life as Private Garcia.
“Why so glum?” asked Private Walter Knight, sitting next to him. “You look like a condemned prisoner. We’re off for the adventure of a lifetime!”
“Speak for yourself,” said Private Tony (the Toe) Garcia. “Why did they issue me a loaded gun I don’t even know how to use? Do you think we’ll see combat soon?”
“Oh, I know we’ll see lots of combat,” Private Knight assured him. “I have it from a reliable source that it’s practically written in stone that we will be in the thick of it very soon.”
“Are you sure? How can anyone know that for sure?”
“This is the assault ship Moon Demon,” explained Private Knight. “Our mission is to drop behind enemy lines and disrupt their command and control centers and logistics.”
“We are landing on a planet?” asked Private Garcia.
“We are in the infantry. Where else would we land?”
“What planet? Where are we going?”
“That’s top secret,” whispered Private Knight. “We don’t have a need to know. But, I think it is one of the Arthropodan terraformed asteroids.”
“Who are we at war with?” asked Private Garcia. “No one will tell me.”
“I heard it was the scorpions. Hoards of scorpions have invaded Arthropodan space and burrowed into their asteroid belt. Now that the spiders are our allies, we are assisting in the extermination. Don’t worry. I heard it will all be over soon.”
Private Garcia sighed. “That’s what I am afraid of.” He looked around at the other troopers sitting in the ship’s bay and could see he wasn’t the only one who was nervous. “Did you say it was our mission to go behind enemy lines? That sounds like suicide.”
“Stick with me,” said Private Knight. “I’m lucky. Nothing bad can happen to me or my friends. I’ll keep you safe.”
Private Garcia sized up the tall, skinny legionnaire. “You have combat experience?”
“No,” said Private Knight. “But with any luck, that will change, soon.”
“What?” Private Garcia glared at this idiot in disbelief. “I’m not following you anywhere.”
“It’s true,” commented Corporal John Iwo Jima Wayne, a large spider legionnaire in the next seat. “There is something lucky about Private Knight.”
“I don’t even want to sit next to this goofy bendaho, let alone follow him into combat,” said Private Garcia, getting out of his chair to find a new seat. “Glory-hound fool!”
As Private Garcia stood up, he was shoved back down in his seat by a firm hand. “Sit down and shut up, private!” ordered Master Sergeant Green. “We’re blasting off, and I don’t need you getting killed before we even get there. I want your death to mean something!”
“Where are we going, Sarge?” asked Private Garcia.
“We are going to war!” yelled Sergeant Green. “That’s all you need to know!”
“He doesn’t know,” whispered Private Knight. “I guess you’re stuck with me. Don’t worry. We’ll make it out alive.”
“He’ll be the first killed,” commented Private Krueger, in the seat across. “Knight knows nothing. He told us he used to be a world-famous science-fiction writer, but he don’t even have an agent.”
“What do you know about anything, shorty?” Private Garcia demanded of Krueger, who looked like nothing more than a kid. “How did you even get in the Legion?”
“Oh, you think you’re tough, do you?” Krueger baited. “At least I’ve seen combat. You will wish you were as short as me when you’re trying to find cover from being shot at.”
“Right on,” added Private Camacho, seated next to Krueger. He gave Krueger a high-five. “And you’ll wish you were as thin as me. I’m so thin, when I turn sideways, the bullets will just whiz right past me and hit you, newbie.”
“You want to settle right now who is tough enough to be in the Legion?” challenged Private Krueger.
Private Garcia sat back into his seat, not wanting to antagonize these legionnaires any more than he already had. He might depend on them to save his life soon enough, and he didn’t like the odds of them all jumping him.
“I didn’t think so,” Krueger grumbled, satisfied.
The Moon Demon blasted off, en route to Arthropoda’s asteroid belt, to land on one of the larger terraformed asteroids.
BOOK 9: SCORPIONS The Scorpion Queen takes a special diplomatic tour of planet New Colorado, with a secret recipe - er, plan - in mind for the surviving Mantidae. All she has to do is find them. Amid a buffalo drive, Czerinski falls victim to a mysterious illness with a nasty green rash that threatens his life. The Mantid matriarch makes a final bid for vengeance against the scorpions for decimating her race. And, in a strange turn of events, Czerinski gets a new CO as the laughs and absurdity continue in this ninth installment of the seriously screwy science fiction space saga.
Angry crowds of scorpions appeared in front of the American Embassy in the Scorpion Kingdom capital. They carried preprinted signs saying, ‘Free The Lost Colony!’ This was in reference to the million scorpions living on planet New Colorado under human rule. The United States Galactic Federation granted defeated survivors of a scorpion invasion fleet USGF citizenship, and they seemed to be prospering. However, His Majesty the King wanted his subjects back. The humans would not be allowed to steal his best and brightest citizens and soldiers so easily.
Nervous USGF marine guards looked on as demonstrators chanted in unison. Eerily, the scorpions seemed to move as one, chanting, rocking, even breathing in unison. All knew this was not going to end well.
USGF Ambassador James Yamashita busily burned documents in anticipation of being overrun by the scorpion mob. Fearing retaliation, he ordered the marine guards not to use deadly force if the gate and walls were breached. Marines were to fall back to the main embassy compound. From there, all staff would escape through a tunnel to the Arthropodan Embassy across the street.
A tunnel had been built long ago by paranoid USGF legionnaire Colonel Joey R. Czerinski. Ambassador Yamashita disliked Czerinski, but now privately thanked the legionnaire for his paranoia. The spiders offering sanctuary at the end of the tunnel were not the best of allies, but Yamashita had cultivated a good working relationship with the Arthropodan ambassador. Now, the spider ambassador gladly offered his protection should the crisis outside the American gates become untenable.
As if on cue, protesters en masse suddenly scaled the walls. Marine guards fired warning shots as scorpions cut the chains on the front gate. The mob poured inside. As planned, marines fell back to the main embassy office complex. A grenade was thrown, followed by automatic weapons fire and scorpion screams. The crowd, already frenzied by success, now became enraged by casualties. After smashing down the embassy doors, the scorpions found the ‘nest of spies’ abandoned. They vented their fury by tearing up office furniture and destroying property. Several small fires were started.
The embassy’s foundation shook as marines set off explosives deep underground to block the tunnel behind them. Embassy staff reached safety, courtesy of the Arthropodan Empire. How long would that last? Yamashita wondered. The scorpions would surely figure out where they went. No matter. Rescue was coming.
* * * * *
Legion mechanized infantry surrounded the Scorpion Kingdom Embassy in New Phoenix, Planet New Colorado. From atop an armored car turret, I spoke into a public address system. “This is Colonel Czerinski of the USGF Foreign Legion. Your embassy has been declared in forfeit. You are directed to immediately surrender yourselves and all property and documents. Failure to comply will be at your peril!”
* * * * *
“We should surrender now,” suggested the scorpion military attaché officer, peering out an upstairs window at the Legion armor. “We will surely be repatriated for the hostages we hold from their embassy on our home world.”
“I do not have confirmation yet that their embassy has fallen,” commented the scorpion ambassador. “We will hold in place. The Legion will not dare attack us.”
“They are a very unpredictable species,” cautioned the military attaché officer. “It is not wise to provoke them for very long.”
“This embassy is the sovereign territory of the Scorpion Kingdom!” retorted the scorpion ambassador out the window. “Any violation of the sanctity of these premises will be considered an act of war!”
“Oh, that should scare them,” commented the military attaché officer. This fool will get us all killed for sure, he thought to himself in dismay.
* * * * *
“Your diplomatic immunity status is revoked!” I yelled back on the loudspeaker. “If harm comes to you or any of your staff during forceful eviction, you will have only yourself to blame! I will hold you personally and criminally liable for any Legion casualties!”
“He is bluffing,” fumed the scorpion ambassador. “He would not dare incur the wrath of the Scorpion Kingdom.”
“That is Colonel Czerinski,” warned the military attaché officer. “He is the Butcher of New Colorado. Do not put him off too long. He has a reputation for being very unstable.”
“I heard he just gets bad press,” scoffed the scorpion commander. “I am afraid of no human.”
“Look, he’s waving at us,” replied the military attaché officer, eagerly waving back. “We should negotiate. I do not want to be eaten.”
* * * * *
“Fire a warning shot through a top floor window,” I ordered, still gesturing at the scorpions with a one-fingered salute.
“Yes sir, colonel,” responded Sergeant Green, elevating the armored car cannon and sighting in.
“Wait!” insisted Major Lopez. “Through the window? What kind of a warning shot is that? Any attack will be a direct provocation of war.”
“Whatever,” I replied. “The scorpions attacked our embassy on their home world. This is payback. General Daly ordered me to take the scorpions into custody. It’s not my fault they are resisting arrest.”
“General Daly is suffering from radiation sickness from the last war,” advised Major Lopez. “All his hair fell out, and a few teeth too. Maybe you are suffering from the same malady.”
“Not me,” I replied, checking my receding hairline. “Damn!”
“Our every move is being broadcast live on Channel Five World News Tonight, and on the database,” added Major Lopez. “The galaxy must not witness us firing the first shot.”
“Well?” asked Sergeant Green. “Do I shoot or not?”
“You’re right,” I answered. “The Legion cannot be seen firing the first shot. Thank you for your sound advice, Major Lopez. That is why I keep you around.”
“I’m glad you are seeing reason.” Sighing, Major Lopez left to tell other legionnaires to stand down. Negotiations would resolve this standoff soon.
“Call in an air strike,” I ordered. “We will let the Air Force take the blame if something goes wrong.”
Sergeant Green called for an air strike. The USGF Strategic Space Weapons Platform T. Roosevelt, in orbit around New Colorado, dropped a two-thousand-pound load of cement on the scorpion embassy. The kinetic bomb was designed for pinpoint destruction of targets, minimal collateral damage and casualties, and required no environmental impact statement, being it was manufactured from ‘green’ eco-friendly materials. However, two thousand pounds of cement dropped from space causes a lot of damage, a lot more than I expected. It was like bringing Armageddon down on the scorpions. There were no survivors. The main building was a total loss. Later, I wrote in a memo to General Daly, ‘Maybe the Air Force used too big a bomb. Those bastards. I was just trying to get the scorpions’ attention with a warning shot.’
Ambassador James Yamashita was stunned to hear of the massacre at the scorpion embassy in New Phoenix. Once again that hotheaded fool Colonel Czerinski, the Butcher of New Colorado, was responsible. “What a screw-up!” he fumed. The fate of Yamashita and his staff was tied to the fate of the scorpion embassy on New Colorado. It was their last negotiating chip. Already a scorpion general was on the phone demanding all Americans surrender, to be interned until Colonel Czerinski was placed under arrest and extradited for a war crimes trial.
“Surely you cannot hold us responsible for the actions of a loose cannon like Colonel Czerinski so many light years away,” argued Ambassador Yamashita. “I cannot control what a local commander does way across the galaxy on New Colorado. Your demand is illegal. I will not surrender. I demand safe passage for myself and all embassy staff off this planet, which is my right under diplomatic status.”
“If Colonel Czerinski is not given over to us on a platter, you will stand trial and be eaten in his place,” warned the scorpion general. “Do I make myself clear? Your government will be held accountable for this atrocity. If you refuse to come out, I will come in and get you!”
“I have a nuke!” replied Yamashita, in desperation. “Colonel Czerinski left it here. Attack, and I will destroy your capital city and all in it!”
“Does the Arthropodan Ambassador know of this?” asked the scorpion general.
“It doesn’t matter!” said Yamashita. “I’ll kill everyone!”
“How dare you bring a nuclear weapon here and threaten terrorism,” accused the scorpion general. “You would kill yourself? For what?”
“Just back off!” warned Yamashita. “I mean it!”
“How do I know you really have a nuclear weapon?” asked the scorpion general. “You could be bluffing.”
“You don’t know me!” shouted Yamashita. “I don’t bluff!”
* * * * *
The scorpion general turned to His Majesty the King for instructions. “What do we do if he really does have a nuclear device,” he asked.
“Surely Ambassador Yamashita is not suicidal,” replied the King. “What do we know of Yamashita?”
“Before this posting, he was the Director of Tourism on New Colorado,” advised the general, checking the human database for more information. “He belongs to the subspecies American Japanese. Japanese have a long history of fanatical violent suicide attacks in battle. They like to play with swords. It says here kamikazes riding bombs hurled themselves at enemy carriers. It appears these Japanese are even more dangerous than the American Italians.”
“More dangerous than the Mafia?” exclaimed the King. “Is Yamashita a kamikaze?”
“From his suicidal threat to use a nuclear bomb, that appears to be a very real possibility,” advised the general. “I believe Yamashita might be insane.”
“Yes, I too believe Yamashita is unstable,” agreed the King. “But surely he would not resort to irresponsible nuclear destruction of an entire city. That human is still a trained career diplomat.”
“There is a notation on the database that the Japanese home islands suffer from high levels of radioactivity,” cautioned the general, continuing to read. “Some islands have been uninhabitable for over two hundred years.”
“Calm him down!” ordered the King. “How dare the Americans appoint a kamikaze to be our ambassador! Yamashita and his wife seemed so pleasant at tea, too.”
The scorpion general picked up the phone again. “Ambassador Yamashita, are you still there? Is it true you are a kamikaze?”
“What kind of stupid question is that?” asked Yamashita. “I demand safe passage off this planet now, or else!”
“Calm down and be reasonable,” continued the general. “How do we know you really have a nuclear bomb?”
“You will know soon enough when I set it off!” shouted Yamashita. “Quit stalling!”
“Please do not hurl yourself in a suicidal banzai charge at us,” pleaded the scorpion general, trying to stay calm. “Think of the innocents around you. We can negotiate a reasonable solution to this.”
* * * * *
“What is this fool talking about with all that banzai and kamikaze stuff?” asked Yamashita, his hand palmed over the phone. “The fool is beginning to irritate me.”
“He thinks you are some kind of samurai,” his wife Lulu said, laughing. “Maybe he has been watching old satellite TV war movies. I think it’s kind of cute, you big tough guy.”
“Samurai?” asked Yamashita. “I don’t even own a sword.”
“Play to his fears,” suggested Lulu. “You scared him by threatening to set off a nuke. If you convince him of your kamikaze tough-guy nature, maybe you can intimidate the scorpions long enough for us to be rescued. Talk like a samurai. Be macho, dear.”
“That’s a good idea,” replied Yamashita, picking up the phone again. “Yo Dog, listen up! Keep yo punk-ass troops no closer than five hundred yards from the Arthropodan Embassy, or I will shove this nuke up your honky ass!”
“You can’t call him a honky,” said Lulu. “He’s a scorpion. I think maybe you should get one of our marines to coach you on how to talk like a samurai.”
“Nonsense,” argued Yamashita, now pumped. “I have samurai blood running through my veins! I’m one bad dude!”
“But, dear, the marines really are samurai,” advised Lulu. “They invented trash talk, and can back it up.”
“Do you hear me mother-fucker!” shouted Yamashita into the phone. “I’ll shove that nuke up your asshole!”
* * * * *
“What did he say?’ asked the King. “Is he calming down?”
“I do not think so,” replied the scorpion general. “Yamashita sounds very agitated, and even more unstable. He just made suggestive sexual comments about my mother, and threatened to shove the nuclear bomb up my excrement hole.”
“And the humans call us perverts,” commented the King. “I agree with your assessment. He’s gone nuts. Evacuate the capital and the palace. You alone will stay and continue negotiations. Try to establish a rapport with Yamashita and calm him down until we can develop a strategy to disarm that nuclear bomb. Offer him drugs.”
“You are leaving the capital, Your Majesty?” asked the scorpion general.
“Oh hell, yes,” said the King. “You’re damn straight I’m getting out of town. Only a fool would stay here with that crazy Yamashita holding his finger on a nuclear button. But don’t worry. I’ll be watching your every move on video. I’ll be with you one-hundred percent of the way.”
* * * * *
“How could you destroy the Scorpion Kingdom Embassy?” asked General Daly. “The press is calling it another massacre by the Butcher of New Colorado!”
“Sir, I did not know the T. Roosevelt would drop such a big bomb,” I explained. “I thought the T. Roosevelt was just going to drop a load of cement. Besides, the scorpions burned our embassy to the ground. I call what I did payback.”
“Big bombs are all that the T. Roosevelt drops,” advised General Daly. “It’s what they do! That’s why it’s called a strategic weapons platform. It uses strategic weapons. Now, without hostages, how are we going to get our embassy people back?”
“Negotiate?” I suggested.
“You blew up our only negotiating position,” fumed General Daly. “Someone has to go to the scorpion home world and start negotiations all over again. How about I send you?”
“I volunteer Major Lopez,” I suggested. “He’s a real people person, and expendable.”
“We’re not negotiating with people!” said General Daly. “But okay, I’ll send him. We will have a war on our hands if something isn’t done real soon!”
“I doubt it,” I replied. “The scorpions have limited objectives. They only provoke us just enough to see how far we can be pushed.”
“I have reports of scorpion commandos landing near Scorpion City and burrowing in,” said General Daly. “If that’s true, they will be a real bugger to get rid of.”
“For quite some time the Scorpion Kingdom has been demanding that we free the scorpion colony,” I commented. “The colony is mostly autonomous anyway. Why don’t we pull out and grant them independence?”
“We cannot let the Kingdom use the colony as a base for more adventurism,” explained General Daly. “The Legion’s First Division will occupy Scorpion City and hold it. I am putting you in charge of the advance team. America will not give up the scorpion colony. The scorpions there have become Americanized, and we promised not to abandon them to the Kingdom.”
BOOK 10: PEACEKEEPERS Czerinski and his ragtag band of legionnaires are now sporting blue as peacekeepers between the spiders and scorpions, but that's like wearing a target painted on their backs. It's SNAFU - situation normal, all f****d up. But everything will be OK as long as Taco Bell and Pizza Hut keep their doors open. The laughs continue in this 10th installment of the seriously silly space opera.
“You will paint your helmets blue,” ordered Colonel Lopez, addressing his men. “You are still legionnaires, but you are also now peacekeepers.”
“Blue?” I asked.
“Captain Czerinski,” replied Colonel Lopez, lording over us with his new rank, “do you have something to add?”
I commanded the garrison troops at the border town of Scorpion City, Planet of New Colorado. Scorpion City used to be nothing but a radioactive hot spot in the road along the DMZ, but had grown. Even Walmart had moved to town.
I used to command the whole New Gobi Desert Military District before I got demoted. Now Lopez was in charge, and he was not above rubbing it in. I intended to rub back! “Blue stands out,” I argued. “Why don’t we just paint big targets on our helmets for the snipers?”
“Your nose is a big target,” commented Colonel Lopez, sarcastically. “How about I paint a big target on that?”
“I worry about my nose getting shot off, too,” I continued. “That is why I don’t stick my nose where it does not belong. Why are we getting involved between the spiders and the scorpions in the first place? Let them fight it out. And while we are on the subject, how come your helmet isn’t blue?” My legionnaires grumbled and nodded in agreement.
“Because it is you who will be working at the border,” answered Colonel Lopez. “Not me. The blue helmet is meant to make you conspicuous. Being identified as a peacekeeper will protect you by garnering respect from both sides. Your job is to keep the scorpions and spiders from fighting. Most bugs respect that. Peace on the border is in everyone’s best interest.”
“Where will you be, sir? Will you be joining us?”
“Are you kidding?” scoffed Colonel Lopez, speaking just to me in a lower voice. “It is going to get dangerous here on the border, especially if you are wearing those goofy blue helmets. I will be back at my air-conditioned office at Headquarters, with my feet up on my desk, sipping iced tea.”
“Your brutal honesty is moving, sir. I have served with you since we were both privates. This is undoubtedly the stupidest idea you have come up with yet.”
“You think so?” asked Colonel Lopez, keeping his calm, but I could tell he seethed. “Tell me about it. Blue helmets are General Daly’s idea, so deal with it. You will follow orders, just like everyone else!”
Colonel Lopez left abruptly, tossing me a package of matching blue arm patches. Lopez was not happy with me smarting off in front of the men, but we had too much history for him to do much about it. Deal with that! Lopez had it coming after that ‘iced tea’ comment. I tried to read whether Lopez was really upset, but he had become increasingly stoic lately. He was still a punk. Oh well, life goes on ... for most. I picked up my helmet and starting painting it turquoise blue, with broad sloppy strokes. What else could I do? Other legionnaires followed suit.
* * * * *
During the last war, the spiders retreated all along the Northern Frontier, except at Scorpion City. Here, they dug in and fought like fanatics against the Scorpion City National Guard. Possibly the reason for the spiders’ tenacity was the fact that the scorpions ate their captives. Old-time honored habits and traditions died slowly, even though the Americanized scorpions were now a semi-autonomous part of the United States Galactic Federation. Also, the spiders were determined to fight because of recent valuable oil discoveries.
Scorpion separatists were equally determined to extend their control north of the border. A recent terrorist bombing destroyed Walgreen Drugs, rocking the spider side. Everyone knew retaliation was imminent. Most citizens were keeping off the streets. Their fears were justified. The Arthropodan Governor of the North Territory already agreed to a punitive strike by the local militia, thus avoiding direct involvement and the risk of a strain on diplomatic relations with the USGF. Construction on the scorpions’ new Walmart south of the border was nearly finished, and that human pestilence abomination would make a fine target.
* * * * *
The sign at the border-crossing checkpoint read, ‘Welcome to Scorpion City, An All-American Town.’ A sign facing the other direction warned, ‘You are entering the Arthropodan Empire. Obey All Laws.’ In between the signs, two guard shacks ominously faced each other. Barbed wire and a barrier lift-gate restricted movement to this narrow checkpoint.
Newly promoted legionnaire Corporal Guido Tonelli sat in his air-conditioned guard shack, savoring the relief from the stifling desert heat outside. His respite would be short-lived. Truck traffic across the border was constant, and it was Corporal Tonelli’s job to check and search all border traffic. A spider border guard interrupted Tonelli’s break with an abrupt knock on the big plate-glass window.
“Hey, Guido! I love those pretty blue helmets you human pestilence are wearing,” teased the spider guard. “Blue is a definite fashion statement. It is you for sure.”
“What do you want?” replied Guido, annoyed. “You better get over to your side of the border before you start another war. This place has enough radiation without that. One more war, and we’re all cooked. Read the no trespassing sign. There are no spiders allowed. You need a travel permit!”
“Aren’t you a stickler for the rules today,” taunted the spider guard. “I don’t need no stinking permit. Are you taking bets on the game yet?”
“No,” answered Guido. “The database is down. Are you spiders jamming our satellite signals again?”
“Probably,” said the spider guard. “I will check on that for you.”
“You guys are really becoming a royal pain.”
“I’m getting off-duty in an hour. When your computer is back up, I want to place five thousand credits on the Yankees for tonight’s game.”
“Anything else?” asked Guido, making a note on his pad. Business was slow these days, even with the playoffs approaching.
“Not now,” said the spider guard. “But what is with the helmets? Are you celebrating Christmas already? Sorry, I did not get you anything.”
“I’m a peacekeeper now,” explained Guido. “So don’t be messing with the scorpions, or I’ll call in air strike. Capise?”
“It is going to take a lot more than blue helmets to protect those scorpions,” warned the spider guard. “Those scum-suckers need to be exterminated. That terrorist bombing at Walgreens Drugs was the last straw. I will try to give you about five minutes warning when our Air Wing strikes back.”
“Thanks,” said Guido. “You’re a real pal. I hope you realize how bad for business your feud with the scorpions has become.”
“They started it,” insisted the spider guard as he left for his side of the border. “Just between you and me, I would not shop at Walmart all this week.”
* * * * *
Major Desert-Sting of the Scorpion City National Guard personally inspected the surface-to-air-missile (SAM) battery being deployed next to Walmart. The scorpion officer addressed his guardsmen just prior to activation of the site.
“Captain Czerinski of the Legion Peacekeepers just advised me that due to the imminent threat of spider attack, the air space over Scorpion City is restricted. All flight violations of our air space are to be considered hostile and dealt with accordingly. We know the spiders are coming, we just do not know when. Do your duty!”
Desert-Sting flicked on the radar activation switch. Immediately an unidentified aircraft was detected, inbound from the border directly towards Walmart. Without hesitation, Major Desert-Sting fired two missiles, shooting down Colonel Lopez’s shuttle as it left Legion Headquarters from the border.
The automated public address alarm system pleasantly warned, “Attention Walmart shoppers. Evacuate the building as soon as possible. Run, but do not panic. The spiders are attacking. Drop down the nearest tunnel bunker located for your convenience in the front parking lot. Sam’s Club members can use membership cards for quick entry. Thank you for visiting Walmart, home for all your one-stop shopping needs. Have a nice day.”
* * * * *
I visited Colonel Lopez at the hospital. His whole body was in traction, and he was bound up like an Egyptian mummy. I checked his medical chart in disbelief that so many bones could be broken and not cause death. Damn! I placed a wrapped present by Lopez’s bed to cheer him up.
“Who shot me down?” he asked, disregarding the box. “What happened to my shuttle?”
“You were accidentally shot down by the Scorpion City National Guard,” I explained. “Shit happens. I don’t know why. They had just activated the SAM site when you lifted off. There’s a possibility you strayed over restricted air space.”
“Accident?” asked Colonel Lopez. “I flew out the same route I flew in. Don’t they get proper training before we turn those fools loose with SAMs? Who was the officer in charge?”
“It was Major Desert-Sting,” I replied. “I gave him a factory field instruction manual that was so easy to follow, even a national guardsman could do it.”
“What’s in the package?” asked Colonel Lopez, still not accepting my explanation, but letting the matter drop for now.
“I salvaged it from the wreckage,” I said. “I thought it would cheer you up.”
“You will have to open it. With this body cast, I can’t even scratch my ass, let alone open that.”
I opened the present, placing Lopez’s Legion helmet by his pillow. I had painted it bright blue. “Just for you,” I commented.
“What is this? You think this is funny?”
“Sorry, sir. I did at the time, but I can see now that maybe it was inappropriate. Please realize humor can be a difficult thing. This is proof.”
“Humor!” shouted Colonel Lopez. “You want to know what I think? I think you are responsible for shooting me down! That’s what that blue helmet proves! Get out of my sight! I don’t want you in my room, or even anywhere near this hospital!”
Lopez began thrashing about painfully, still restrained by the traction devices. He screamed for the nurses.
“Sir, you need to calm down, or you’ll hyperventilate,” I advised. I pinched the oxygen tube, causing Lopez to thrash about even more. Oops. Alarms started beeping, causing two scorpion nurses to rush in.
“What have you done?” asked one of the nurses, shoving me away from the IV tree.
“He’s trying to kill me!” shouted Colonel Lopez. “That bendaho tried to kill me!”
“What is a bendaho?” asked the nurse, checking her translation device for proper calibration.
“I’m not sure,” I answered. “Obviously Colonel Lopez is delirious from pain. You should increase his morphine drip.”
“Get him out of my room!” shouted Colonel Lopez. “Czerinski is a cold-blooded psycho murderer. He always has been!”
“You’re a fine one to talk about being cold-blooded,” I replied, increasing his morphine drip with the turn of a knob.
“Sir, you need to stop touching the equipment,” ordered the nurse. “Perhaps you should leave. Your presence only seems to agitate Colonel Lopez.”
“We have served together since we were recruits,” I said. “Lopez and I are best friends. He must be in shock. I’m sure he’ll be glad to see me when I visit tomorrow.”
“No!” insisted Colonel Lopez. “I want security posted at my door! Czerinski is to be barred from the hospital!”
“It seems that we can add paranoia to his delusional symptoms,” commented the nurse, increasing the morphine drip again. “Captain Czerinski is your friend.”
“Paranoia was a preexisting condition,” I added, trying to be helpful.
“Czerinski is an assassin!” insisted Colonel Lopez, before finally nodding off.
“Do you have psych meds you can load him up with?” I asked. “Lopez self-medicates, but I think he needs some structure in his medication regimen.”
“Scorpion medications are stronger than what you humans take, but are basically the same,” commented the nurse. “It is just a matter of getting the right dose. I will consult with the doctor when he makes his rounds again.”
“That will be fine,” I said. “The more psych meds, the better.”
“Assassin!” yelled Colonel Lopez, jolting upright, then falling back into slumber, mumbling something about assassins and untrustworthy Polish traitors.
* * * * *
Klaxons rang out as Major Desert-Sting tracked the cruise missile fired from the hills held by spider militia across the border. The missile circled around town, occasionally dipping below radar detection. As the cruise missile reached south by the spaceport, it darted directly north towards Walmart. Desert-Sting fired two SAMs. Immediately the cruise missile cut loose decoys. Taken by surprise, Desert-Sting fired more SAMs in desperation. Multiple targets were hit, but the bogeys kept coming. Debris rained down on the neighborhood, including a decoy that crashed harmlessly in the Walmart parking lot.
“Those cowardly spiders target innocent civilians!” shouted Desert-Sting, shaking his claw triumphantly to the north. “But this time we were ready!”
Cheering shoppers emerged from the Walmart bunkers and mobbed their scorpion National Guardsmen. A couple cars burned in the parking lot, but everyone was safe.
“Attention Walmart shoppers,” announced the public address system. “Walmart is pleased to announce our first bombing clearance sale. All electronics are marked at half price. All items from our gardening department are seventy-five percent off. Please shop responsibly and remember to shop Walmart first for all your one-stop shopping needs.”
The crowd rushed the doors, fighting over shopping carts and limited available music sound systems and electronic devices. Agitated scorpion housewives snapped their claws and wickedly swung their stingers as they jostled for position down narrow isles and in long lines. A greeter was trampled before nearby National Guard units finally restored order. Will Walmart ever learn?
I met with my military counterpart across the border at his office to discuss escalating tensions between the spiders and scorpions. We held these informal talks once a week.
“Why are you wearing a blue helmet?” asked the spider commander. “Is it Easter already? The kids love that holiday of yours. Searching for hidden eggs is a real hoot!”
“We are peacekeepers now,” I advised. “I’m wearing blue so I won’t get shot at.”
“I do not think that will work,” mused the spider commander. “Blue helmets look odd even by your human pestilence standards. They will draw attention.”
“I am here to discuss the missile attack on Walmart,” I said. “The Legion will not tolerate such terrorist attacks on civilians.”
“That missile was fired by the militia,” replied the spider commander. “I will issue a strong letter of condemnation about the attack.”
“You will arrest the militia leader,” I insisted. “I want the militia leader extradited to face terrorism charges.”
“I will not extradite anyone,” replied the spider commander. “Even if I wanted to, it would be physically and politically impossible to dislodge the militia from those hills. They are dug in too well for it to be worth my while.”
“I don’t want excuses,” I warned. “These missile attacks must stop. If you harbor terrorists, you will be held personally responsible for their actions. Do you want to face a war crimes trial?”
“Do not make threats,” advised the spider commander, agitated. “What about the bombing of Walgreens? You harbor your own terrorists. We should be working together to exterminate the scorpions. I know you don’t trust them. I’ve heard you say it many times. Both our species were here first. They are invaders and vermin pests. The scorpions will revolt at the first chance when they no longer have a use for Legion protection. Do you want to be stabbed in the back? No, of course not. Join me. We can burn the scorpions out now while they are still weak.”
“The scorpions are USGF citizens and registered republicans,” I said. “You will not plot their extermination.”
“They are cannibals!” said the spider commander. “And their terrorist attacks against the Empire will be dealt with harshly.”
“How are your new oil wells coming along? Getting rich yet? That’s what this is really all about.”
“Production will be online shortly. And the pipeline will be completed by next month.”
“If you refuse to resolve this border tension, your pipeline will be the next target. I’ll bet the scorpions have already dug tunnels under it.”
“There are plenty of industrial targets on your side of the border. You keep your pet scorpions on your side, or else. Happy Easter!”
* * * * *
Spider militia commander Mountain Storm looked on as Arthropodan marines delivered five more cruise missiles to his militia stronghold. “Very nice,” he said. “Now we can get serious about those vermin scorpions.”
“Keep your missiles under the camouflage netting,” advised the marine Special Forces lieutenant. “The Legion has a spy in the sky.”
“We will make good use of them,” promised Mountain Storm. “The Legion cannot stop us.”
“Last time you missed Walmart,” complained the lieutenant. “How do you miss a target that big?”
“The missile was shot down by a SAM,” explained Mountain Storm. “That is why you are delivering five more. Now I cannot miss.”
“You had better dig in deep,” advised the lieutenant. “The scorpions and the Legion are going to hit you hard for this.”
“I am not worried about scorpions,” replied Mountain Storm, dismissively. “Unlike you marines, I am not afraid who knows I am responsible. You just use us to do your dirty work.”
“I do not get involved in the politics,” said the lieutenant, shrugging. “But, you are right. Plausible deniability is all the generals worry about these days.”
* * * * *
After the marine lieutenant left, Mountain Storm called Corporal Tonelli on his phone. “Guido! It’s been a long time! This is Mountain Storm. I want to bet big on the Yankees.”
“You are a bandit,” replied Guido. “You have no cash or credit. You don’t even pay taxes. Or did you rob a bank I don’t know about?”
“I have four Arthropodan cruise missiles,” advised Mountain Storm. “They are worth about one hundred thousand credits apiece. The missiles are brand new, still in their crates. I want to go all in on tonight’s Yankees game.”
“Are you out of your mind?” asked Guido. “What would I do with four cruise missiles? It’s not like I can just keep them in the back of my guard shack.”
“Sell them on the black market, for all I care,” replied Mountain Storm. “Sell them to the Greens. Those traitorous spiders have lots of money and are always buying arms.”
“No,” said Guido. “Sorry, I have no use for the cruise missiles, should you lose the bet.”
“I also have a small nuke,” boasted Mountain Storm. “It fits nicely atop any of these missiles.”
“I am suddenly interested,” advised Guido. “Let me make a few phone calls. Move that ordinance up to the border so we can move fast to make this happen. You had better not be jerking me around.”
* * * * *
Guido called me. I called Colonel Lopez. Lopez called his CIA pals, who passed Guido’s news on to the Director of the CIA. The director took the matter to the President. For once, shit rolled uphill.
“Mr. President, are you still joining Mr. Steinbrenner for tonight’s game?” asked the CIA Director.
“Yes,” said President Miller. “We will be cheering the Yankees from the owner’s box suite. Finally I get to have some fun in this thankless job.”
“We have a situation on the New Colorado Frontier,” advised the director. “We need an East Coast fix on tonight’s game. For national security reasons the Yankees must lose to the Angels.”
“You have some explaining to do mister,” replied the President. “Steinbrenner is not going to be happy.”
* * * * *
“What!” shouted Steinbrenner. “Throw the game? This isn’t Chicago or Boston. I own the Yankees. We wear pinstripes. That means something. It means we are a cut above the rest of that rabble. You expect me to lower myself to the level of those gutter-dwelling gambling scum that live on the fringes of society in the cheap seats? The Yankees have been owned by my family for generations! I’ll tell you what. I’m voting Democrat in the next election! And you can forget about any campaign contributions, too!”
“Vote Democrat?” asked the President, horrified. “You wouldn’t.”
“What do I care about nukes out on New Colorado?’ asked Steinbrenner. “Do they have a baseball team? No! The spiders and scorpions can both blow themselves up, for all I care. This is a matter of the integrity of the game. I will not soil the Yankees by throwing a game.”
“You have no choice,” said the CIA Director. “For national security reasons, we can order you to throw the game. Bad things will happen if you don’t.”
“What does he mean by that?” asked Steinbrenner. “Oh, never mind. I get the picture. You can call off your attack dog. I’ll call Coach Wolke, but he’s not going to take this well.”
Steinbrenner went down the clubhouse to talk personally with Coach Wolke. President Miller settled into his chair in the owner’s box. He gave a nod to one of the secret service agents, who immediately passed on a coded message. “PODUS says tonight will be a heavenly night,” whispered the agent into his headset. “There are Angels in the outfield. Go all in.” A bookie at the other end recorded and placed the wagers.
* * * * *
Interest and gambling on tonight’s Yankees-Angels baseball game was unusually high. Guido set up a big-screen TV at the border so guards still on duty from both sides could watch. Colonel Lopez was up, and wheel chaired to where he could see the game on a big screen, too. Even the Spider Commander had canceled his original bet on the Yankees and was all-in on the Angels. Rumors get around. The only one who didn’t have a clue was Mountain Storm. He monitored the game intently from his hilltop stronghold, wearing a Yankees hoodie sweatshirt.
In a surprise move, Yankees Coach Wolke started a rookie pitcher, Mickey Cruz, who had only seen limited action in the bullpen. Coach Don Wolke, a genius at evaluating and developing new talent, must have seen something special in Cruz. The kid pitched no-hit ball for the first five innings before leaving the game with a pulled muscle. Cruz gamely argued he could continue, but according to Coach Wolke, it would have been foolish to risk aggravating an injury for such a bright pitching prospect. Coach Wolke masterfully brought in seven pitchers, all throwing no-hit ball, giving the Yankees to a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning. Coach Wolke gathered his players for a pep talk and final secret instructions. They charged confidently out onto the field. However, in a total meltdown of concentration, the Yankees committed five errors in the top of the ninth to lose the game in a heartbreaking 3-2 decision.
* * * * *
Guido took possession of the four cruise missiles and the tactical nuke. Mountain Storm was visibly shaken by the loss. Guido tried to comfort him. “Better luck next time,” advised Guido. “You gave it your best shot. The Yankees should have won that game. It’s just not fair.”
“Life is not fair,” cried Mountain Storm, still not believing his beloved Yankees’ meltdown.
“You’re exactly right,” said Guido. “If life was fair, Elvis would still be alive, and all those impersonators would be dead.”
“Who?” asked Mountain Storm. “Guido, I need a big favor. I’m in a real bind.”
“Sorry, but I can’t extend you any more credit,” said Guido. “You don’t have any more nukes do you?”
“You do not need to know that,” replied Mountain Storm. “What I need is for the Legion to bomb my base up in the hills. I have one cruise missile left. I will set it up and let you bomb it. Then I will spread the debris around to make it look like the Legion destroyed all five of my missiles. Don’t worry, I will have all my militia safely out before the attack.”
“I don’t get it,” said Guido.
“I need to cover up my gambling loses,” explained Mountain Storm. “If the Empire finds out what I did, they will not give me any more missiles. In fact, they will probably kill me.”
“Because you are a friend, I will help you,” said Guido. “I will call in an air strike from the Space Weapons Platform T. Roosevelt. You have one day to clear out.”
“Thank you, Guido,” said Mountain Storm. “You are a real pal.”
“Yeah that’s me,” said Guido. “Remember, in the future, gamble responsibly.”
* * * * *
AP News Release:
Captain Joey R. Czerinski, spokesperson for the USGF Foreign Legion in Scorpion City, Planet of New Colorado, announced that last night Legion air strikes hit a terrorist training camp run by the notorious militia leader Mountain Storm. Using advanced satellite surveillance, the Legion spotted five cruise missiles about to be launched from the hilltop terrorist stronghold. The Space Weapons Platform T. Roosevelt dropped numerous large smart bombs on the terrorists, destroying all five cruise missiles and inflicting heavy casualties. The attack was in accordance with Legion policy to attack terrorists wherever and whenever they may be found. Mountain Storm is believed responsible for last week’s attack on Walmart. The Legion has already contacted Arthropodan authorities, demanding the arrest and extradition of Mountain Storm. The local Arthropodan military commander issued a curt formal protest, accusing the Legion of adventurism and of violating the Empire’s territorial sovereignty. The spider commander also questioned whether legionnaires should be used as peacekeepers.
BOOK 11: CEMETERY CITY Colonel Lopez returns to planet New Colorado with an agenda - mining rare metals used in communications and weapons technology on which the USGF is so dependent. The only problem is, the ore vein is located across the border in Arthropodan territory. But Lopez has a plan to get around that little technicality, and it involves Major Joey R. Czerinski's chain of cemeteries. The spider commander takes offense at the Legion's claim-jumping, and Lopez gets caught in the middle of the fracas as the absurdity continues in the eleventh installment of the seriously screwy science fiction space saga.
I am Major Joey R. Czerinski, Hero of the Legion, Butcher of New Colorado, and garrison commander of United States Galactic Federation Foreign Legion troops on the distant planet colony of New Colorado. My good friend and longtime business associate, Colonel Manny Lopez, made a special trip from Old Earth just to talk to me. Since promotion to a cushy Military Intelligence staff job, Lopez thinks he knows it all, but he's still a punk. I don't trust him.
“Geologists discovered huge deposits of rare metals in the Blue Rock Valley of the New Gobi Desert,” advised Lopez, tapping excitedly on a large map display with his pointer stick. “There are enough rare metal deposits at this site to supply the needs of the entire galaxy. That is in stark contrast to the current rare metals shortage we now suffer. Our technological advantage over the spiders is acutely threatened by these shortages. The Blue Rock Valley is literally the United States Galactic Federation’s savior.”
“You’ve discovered gold and silver?” I asked. “That’s great. Another gold rush will help colonization along the border. We need more humans to offset the spider immigration of New Colorado.”
“Czerinski, I am not talking about gold or silver,” explained Colonel Lopez. “I mean the elemental rare metals combined with other substances to create the alloys used in all our high-end technology for weapons, communications, and space travel. These metals go into everything we use, from batteries to computers to spaceship engines. Humanity wants and needs those rare metals. You are going to get them.”
“Sorry, but I am not a miner,” I protested. “I did not join the Foreign Legion to dig holes in the ground, or to babysit miners. The Legion can’t be everywhere. If you are having problems with bandits, a private security company can easily handle a few bandits.”
“You joined the Legion for money,” commented Lopez dismissively. “Our problem is ownership of the land where the deposits are located.”
“You want the Legion to jump someone’s claim?”
“There is a cloud on the title. The deposits are located fifty miles north of the border.”
“What? The site is in the Arthropodan Empire? There is no cloud on the title. The spiders own that land. End of discussion, unless you want to start another war. Is that what you want me to do – attack first?”
“The spiders do not know about the deposits,” explained Colonel Lopez. “Special Forces were inserted at Blue Rock with geologists this summer. Core samples were secretly drilled.”
“When the Emperor discovers you intend to steal his rare metals, he will be pissed,” I warned. “The spiders are real sensitive about trespassing. Territorial imperative is ingrained into their DNA. The Emperor will send a battalion of marines to defend Blue Rock Valley, even if it was worthless.”
“Not if we negotiate a border variance,” suggested Colonel Lopez. “If the spiders give up claim to Blue Rock Valley before they know its value, it’s ours forever.”
“I told you before, they won’t give up Blue Rock even if it is worthless. To spiders, trespassing is as serious as murder. You don’t tread on their land without causing a serious problem in the neighborhood.”
“Our lawyers and negotiators think we have a solution that will, at least initially, sooth the spiders’ sensibilities to the trespass issue,” insisted Colonel Lopez. “Border variances have been agreed upon before. There is plenty of precedent. For example, the spiders recognize the law of possession. If you establish possession, ownership is assumed. Look at New Memphis. New Memphis is an enclave of humanity deep inside spider territory.”
“New Memphis is all about casino gambling and secret bank accounts. There’s nothing in Blue Rock Valley to give us an excuse to establish ownership.”
“Not yet. All we need to do is move in and apply for a variance.”
“The only border variances I know of are those based on geological obstacles, such as mountain peaks and river bed changes,” I advised. “Do you want me to divert a river to alter the border?”
“Can you do that?” asked Colonel Lopez.
“No. There is no water in the Blue Rock Valley. We cannot just go in there and set up camp.”
“We can if we have a credible reason,” insisted Colonel Lopez. “An excuse so important, even the spiders will back off for fear of offending humanity’s national or cultural sensibilities.”
“In the Blue Rock Valley? Are you going to declare the Blue Lizard an endangered species?”
“I never thought of that,” replied Colonel Lopez, making a note on his pad. “Is there really a Blue Lizard? Never mind. I have a better idea. Military Intelligence has come up with the perfect pretense for occupying the Blue Rock Valley. I understand you own a chain of high-tech upscale cemeteries all across New Colorado.”
“So?” I answered, defensively. “It’s just another investment, of which I have many. So do you. Retirement is just around the corner.”
“You aren’t old enough to retire,” commented Colonel Lopez. “But there is a lot of money at stake in this project that could pad an early retirement, so at least listen to my plan. We want to establish a national cemetery at Blue Rock. Certain senators have already written a minor earmark into the budget to establish the Blue Rock National Cemetery. Even the President has signed off on the idea.”
“I can understand Military Intelligence coming up with such hair-brained stupidity, but how did you get Congress and the President to go along?” I shook my head. “Never mind. I can see it. They’re idiots, too. But still, you can’t just build a cemetery anywhere you want, especially on spider land.”
“We can if we sneak the coffins and bodies in,” advised Colonel Lopez, in a hushed conspiratorial tone. “That’s where you come in. Being a big cemetery mogul and all, you must have lots of extra bodies lying about that we can slip in right under the spiders’ noses. You have monuments, too. We can scatter monuments, bodies, and coffins all over Blue Rock, burying them in the sand dunes. The Legion will bring in archaeologists who will claim that Blue Rock is the site of a long-lost colonial cemetery from before the First War. The spiders already know about our sensibilities and rituals of tending to our dead. They won’t dare object when we send legionnaires to protect the cemetery. Once we establish ourselves, we negotiate for a border variance. The spiders will resist at first, but we will move in colonists, start mining, and build a Walmart and McDonald’s. Once it becomes clear to the spiders we are permanently established, the law of possession will take effect. Our lawyers will argue their legal system recognizes ‘possession’ as established law. We may need to pay a small amount in compensation, but it will be worth it. I’ll even bet those greedy spiders will readily accept our cash if they think we are just buying worthless alkali flats in the middle of nowhere. The spiders will laugh all the way to the bank about our desert cemetery, but the final laugh will be on them.”
“It might work. You were saying something earlier about money and my retirement plans? What is my cut?”
“How can you think of money when serious national security issues are in play? Czerinski, you are one mercenary son of a bitch.”
“I know, I disgust myself sometimes,” I conceded. “However, secrets are hard to keep, especially when a lot of money is involved. Legionnaires love to talk. How do you expect to keep this quiet long enough to establish ownership? The spiders are going to be upset when they find out. In fact, some humans are going to be upset when they discover we moved bodies from other cemeteries. My cemeteries do not have extra bodies just lying around. I run a respectable business.”
“Congress has authorized payment to the Legion of five percent of profits commensurate with each legionnaire’s rank and involved risk,” relented Colonel Lopez. “Are you satisfied now?”
“Holding out on me, eh?”
“We are partners, as always.”
“Fine. Let’s do it. Let’s wake the dead and move them out!”
“You really think we can pull this off?” asked Colonel Lopez, now having doubts. “Secrecy and timing will be everything.”
“We will roll the dice,” I answered enthusiastically. “Planet New Colorado has been a lucky lady to us so far. What’s the worst that can happen? We get kicked out? Start another war? I’ve been kicked out of better real estate. You only die once – well, maybe twice,” I amended, thinking of some of my earlier mishaps. “Let’s get it over with.”
“You will be the Mayor of Cemetery City,” commented Colonel Lopez, crossing himself. “That is quite a heady responsibility.”
“Sir, no more dead jokes. It’s bad luck.”
* * * * *
AP News Report:
Colonel Lopez, spokesman for the USGF Foreign Legion in New Phoenix, announced the discovery of a huge colonial cemetery in the Blue Rock Valley. The lost cemetery, uncovered by shifting sand dunes, was long forgotten since the First Galactic War.
Because of looting by spider prospectors and bandits, a small Legion expeditionary force occupied the cemetery site during negotiations with Arthropodan territorial officials. The sacred burial site is located fifty miles north of the border, in a worthless region of the New Gobi Desert.
Except for its value as an important cultural Mecca for humanity’s first colonization attempt of New Colorado, the Blue Rock Valley is home only to the rare and endangered Blue Lizard. Hunted to near extinction in their natural migration habitat by spider poachers, the Blue Lizard is trying to make a comeback, aided by an information campaign from the National Forest Service.
Already, colonists are applying for and being granted colonial travel permits to visit Blue Rock to search for long lost relatives murdered during the first spider invasion, and to get a precious rare glimpse of the endangered Blue Lizard so endeared to the first colonists.
Major Czerinski, famed Hero of the Legion and commander of the expeditionary force guarding the sacred graves of victims of the spider invasion, advised, “There are too many grave sites to find and exhume them all. The Legion, as usual, will do its best under difficult physical and emotional circumstances. There will be no more looting by the spiders. I promise that. I hope a permanent memorial can be established here. When I close my eyes and listen to the wind, I can almost hear the cries of those lost souls thanking us for coming to their rescue. This is a very emotional and spiritual moment for my legionnaires, for humanity, and for all of New Colorado.”
Limited excavations at Blue Rock are already underway. The isolated site lies along the meandering Blue Rock River, a dry riverbed that used to mark the area’s border during early Frontier days.
* * * * *
“You say Major Czerinski is in charge of legionnaires trespassing at Blue Rock, on Imperial land?” asked the recently assigned spider commander. “I’ve heard of Czerinski – The Butcher of New Colorado, Joey the Toe – and I smell a rat. If Czerinski is involved, the human pestilence are up to something. It is our job to find out what. The governor is extremely upset about their blatant trespass, but does not want to cause another intergalactic incident. You know how volatile the human pestilence get about their burial rituals. There is no reasoning with them on the subject. The governor wants us to investigate this matter and report back to him before taking action.”
“Our geologists surveyed the Blue Rock Valley long ago for oil and gold,” commented the Military Intelligence officer. “They found nothing. Perhaps they missed something.”
“Maybe,” said the spider commander. “Find out! And what about this business, accusing us of poaching migrating Blue Lizards? Are they edible?”
“I suppose you could eat a Blue Lizard if you were desperate,” replied the Military Intelligence officer. “But they taste like shit. Our scouts report the Blue Lizards are everywhere. They are a nuisance. Our troops can’t help but to run them over in the roadway because there are so many. Already one vehicle slid into the ditch because the tires were greased with Blue Lizards.”
“What?” asked the spider commander, incredulously. “That is exactly the kind of intergalactic incident the Governor is concerned about. Order all troops to be careful and mindful not to harm any Blue Lizards until our scientists can investigate the lizards’ status on the Endangered Species List. Drivers are to keep their speeds low enough to avoid Blue Lizard fatalities. Any Blue Lizards that are run over are to be removed from the roadway and secretly buried in the bushes.”
“Yes, sir,” replied the Military Intelligence officer. “Satellite photos show the human pestilence are frantically digging holes everywhere, and that skeletal bones and coffins are stacked all about. Truck loads of new human pestilence are arriving every day for unknown reasons.”
“We will travel to Blue Rock to investigate this nonsense for ourselves,” announced the spider commander. “This outrageous trespass must end!”
* * * * *
The spider commander led a column of Arthropodan marine armored cars to a roadblock established by the Legion at the perimeter of Cemetery City. A sign above the guard shack manned by legionnaires warned, ‘Caution! Blue Lizard crossing. $1,000.00 fine for harming any endangered species.’ Corporal Guido Tonelli strode up to inspect the spider commander’s tires. His leashed monitor dragon, Spot, padded silently along. Using a small pen knife, Corporal Tonelli extracted a small lizard foot and claws from the tire tread.
“Look at what you have done!” accused Guido, holding up the small dried foot. “This is exactly the kind of reckless behavior that has put the Blue Lizard on the Endangered Species List. You monster!”
“Shut up you fool!” replied the spider commander. “Those stupid lizards are no more endangered than the fleas you human pestilence carry in your fur.”
“So you don’t buy any of that Blue Lizard bullshit on the news?” asked Guido. “I thought I had you on that one. Please don’t tell Czerinski, or I’ll be in big trouble.”
“I did not believe one bit,” said the spider commander. “In fact, I don’t believe anything you claim to be doing here. Take me to Major Czerinski at once! I assume from your press report that he is still in charge?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Guido, saluting. “Only one vehicle may enter at a time because of the danger of running over Blue Lizards. Sorry, sir, those are my orders.”
“Fine!” said the spider commander, as the gate arm lifted.
Guido drove his jeep past rows of coffins and legionnaires busily moving the coffins from one stack to another. They stopped at the command center tent. Spot jumped from the jeep, pouncing on a Blue Lizard, crunching noisily as he ate. Across from the command center tent was another sign, ‘Welcome to the future building site of Cemetery City’s new Walmart Super Store, home of all your one-stop shopping needs. Join Sam’s Club now to take advantage of special opening-day discounts.’
* * * * *
“Greetings commander,” I said, opening the reinforced framed tent door of my makeshift command center. The translucent tent material let in diffuse light but was fairly good at keeping out the heat. “Come on in. Please close the door after you so those damn Blue Lizards don’t sneak in. They’re a real pain in the ass.”
“What is this all about?” asked the spider commander. “Why are you trespassing on Imperial territory?”
“If you want, I will give you a tour of our new digs,” I offered. “It’s quite an archaeological discovery from the first colonial days before you spiders invaded New Colorado. You remember the invasion, when you originally trespassed on all of New Colorado, our property.”
“A treaty has settled all that!” replied the spider commander, dismissively. “We have established borders now, and you are trespassing. I demand an inspection of your so-called digs as part of my investigation. I brought scientists with me who want to take DNA samples and conduct date testing from soil samples, coffins, and artifacts.”
“Impossible!” I argued. “You spiders have looted and desecrated our dead long enough! I have orders to keep you away from all artifacts. It’s bad enough you run over Blue Lizards in complete disregard to their status on the Endangered Species List. But now, you want to rummage through the coffins of the deceased? Not on my watch.”
“Your story about a lost cemetery is as full of shit as your Blue Lizard tale,” commented the spider commander. “There are Blue Lizards everywhere!”
“Yes, but there are two species of Blue Lizards,” I explained. “There is the everyday variety of long-tailed Blue Lizard. And then there is the rare and elusive short-tailed Blue Lizard. Scientists insist the two do not interbreed, but they do have some sort of social or symbiotic relationship.”
“You claim to be protecting a mutant lizard?” asked the spider commander. “Do you ever tell the truth about anything? Next you will be claiming snails need protection!”
“Are you questioning my credibility?” I challenged, feigning anger. “I always tell the truth.”
“You even lie about your lying!” accused the spider commander.
“No reason to get testy about it. I’m only following orders, just like you. The politicians will ultimately decide the fate of our sacred cemetery and the Blue Lizard. Would you like some iced tea?”
“Thank you,” said the spider commander, accepting a tall glass. He drank heartily. “I appreciate a drink in this worthless desert. Tea won’t grow on Arthropoda. Not enough water.”
“We still import our tea and coffee from Old Earth,” I commented. “The climate here is also wrong for tea cultivation.”
“Great stuff,” commented the spider commander, relaxing and accepting a second glass. “Do not think you have distracted me from my mission! I will get to the bottom of your trespass and treachery before I leave Blue Rock Valley!”
We left the command tent, passing a stack of coffins, approaching a group of legionnaires taking a break from the hot sun. “You, there!” said the Spider Commander. “Did you just dig these coffins up? Where did they come from?”
“None of your business,” replied Private Krueger. “Are you the lizard killer I heard about from Guido? You disgust me. I have nothing to say to you.”
“Order this human pestilence to talk to me,” requested the spider commander, turning to me. “I demand cooperation for my investigation. Remember, you are all trespassing on the Arthropodan Empire and are all subject to our laws.”
“Krueger, I order you to cooperate,” I said.
“Yes, sir,” replied Private Krueger, giving the spider commander the one-fingered salute. “What do you want to know?”
“Where did all these bones and coffins come from?’ asked the spider commander. “Do not tell me they came from here. There are not enough holes dug for that. This is a fraud!”
“So, you confess to running over Blue Lizards?” asked Private Krueger.
“I confess to nothing,” shouted the spider commander. “It is you who will confess!”
“Guido found a Blue Lizard foot squished into your tire treads,” accused Private Krueger. “You’re guilty. I can see it in your beady little eyes, all eight of them!”
“Is this legionnaire retarded or what?” asked the spider commander, turning to me.
“Quite possible,” I conceded. “Standards have been modified because peacetime recruitment has fallen off since the economy picked up.”
The spider commander noticed another legionnaire, a fellow spider. “Traitor!” he exclaimed, pointing at Sergeant Wayne. “You! What do you have to say for yourself? You are assisting the human pestilence in this fraud?”
Sergeant John Iwo Jima Wayne, one of the most decorated and worst-tempered spider legionnaires in my command, put down the coffin he was carrying and addressed the spider commander. “You accuse me of deceit before I even say a word?” He drew a large jagged combat knife and neatly sliced off the tip of the spider commander’s claw.
Legionnaires swarmed on Sergeant Wayne, dragging him away from the spider commander. The spider commander staggered back to his armored car, still clutching his bleeding claw.
“Someone build a jail and put Sergeant Wayne in it!” I ordered. “I am so sorry. Your claw will grow back won’t it? I hope this unfortunate incident will not in any way affect ongoing negotiations or the warm and friendly relations enjoyed between our two nations. Still friends?”
“You all will pay for this outrage!” shouted the spider commander, as his armored car carried him back to the checkpoint. “This is war!”
“I think he’s upset,” I commented. I turned to Sergeant Wayne as he was being dragged away. “You’re busted back down to private again! What were you thinking? What was I thinking, making you a sergeant?”
* * * * *
We dug in and braced for an expected spider attack that did not come. Instead, the spider commander’s Military Intelligence officer sent me a note, saying, ‘Major Czerinski: My commander regrets the earlier incident and the flaring of tempers. Your legionnaire, true to his Arthropodan roots, was adequately provoked into action and should not be blamed for responding as he did. My commander also realizes you wear a metal prosthetic hand and toe, and that, in comparison, his slight injury and the temporary loss of his claw tip is nothing to your losses. Further inspections will continue until we determine the true intent of your trespass in Blue Rock.’
I crumpled the note with my metal hand. “We have just begun to butt heads,” I commented out loud. I sent helmet camera video footage to Channel Five World News Tonight, showing Blue Lizard parts being scraped off the spider commander’s tires by Corporal Tonelli. I also sent video of the spider commander’s confrontation with Sergeant Wayne, describing it as an unfortunate cultural misunderstanding between fellow spiders, but evidence of frayed tempers. The video also showed the stacks of coffins in the background. I then sent a top-secret message to Legion Headquarters, suggesting our scientists investigate the possibility of protecting a rare snail species rumored to dwell in the Blue Rock Valley.
BOOK 12: THE ARK General Lopez returns once again to planet New Colorado with another top-secret mission for Colonel Joey R. Czerinki and his trusty (or not so trusty) legionnaires. A huge spaceship has been detected deep underground, right under the desert oasis of croc-infested Caldera Lake. Czerinski's task is to reach the ship and strip its technology before the Arthropodan Empire finds out what's going on. But as soon as the Legion arrives and starts digging around, the spiders come right behind to start their own tunneling. It's a race against absurdity and a battle of witlessness as the two teams squabble - while progress (Walmart, a couple casinos, Starbucks, and Taco Bell) pop up around them. Tourists, hearing of an ancient ark discovered buried deep beneath the sand, flock to Caldera Lake by the busloads to see this new wonder in the twelfth installment of this seriously silly science fiction space saga.
I am Colonel Joey R. ‘The Toe’ Czerinski of the United States Galactic Federation Foreign Legion, assigned to planet New Colorado. They call me ‘The Toe’ behind my back because my big toe was bitten off during combat by an alien, earning me another Purple Heart. The truth is that the incident did not take place during combat, but rather during a compromising situation I prefer not to discuss, because I don’t remember that much about it. While I’ve sustained plenty of injuries, not all of them in combat, I’ve endangered my life enough that the Purple Heart commendation is deserved – just not for the incident of record.
After several wars, New Colorado remains divided at the Equator between humanity to the South and the spiders of the Arthropodan Empire to the North. Vast stretches of border are uninhabited, covered with desert dunes. The desert is where I find myself now...
* * * * *
I was ordered to investigate a weak alien distress beacon, of the type found on some starships. It emitted a signal from the vicinity of Caldera Lake, a long narrow oasis straddling the border a thousand miles from civilization. Caldera Lake was formed centuries ago from ancient glacial ice trapped atop a volcano buried by shifting sands. The oasis and its palms were a stark contrast to the miles of surrounding desert. Standing in the shade of a Legion shuttle for relief against the stifling heat, I gazed out at the calm waters of this odd isolated lake.
“There’s nothing here,” I complained. “This mission is a waste of time.”
“The New Gobi Desert tourist guide says Caldera Lake has fish,” advised Lieutenant Perkins, checking the database on his pad.
“Is the water drinkable?” I asked, stripping off my uniform for a swim. As always, the New Gobi Desert temperature was at least 110 degrees. “There is nothing here for us to find, unless something crashed and is hidden in that lake.”
“The water is slightly salty,” advised Lieutenant Perkins, still reading. “We need to filter the water before drinking. There may be unknown parasites.”
“Whatever,” I said, jumping in. “The water is great! It’s warm, but soothing.”
Lieutenant Perkins frowned as he continued reading. “Sir! It says something about crocs!”
At first, the word ‘crocs’ didn’t quite register in my brain. “Crocs?” I asked. “What do you mean crocs? Are you talking about those big water lizards in the tropics, with all the crooked teeth?”
“Sir! Get out of the water! Do it now!” Lieutenant Perkins began firing his assault rifle over my head into the ripples behind me. I treaded water as fast as possible, looking back but seeing nothing.
“What was that all about?” I asked upon reaching shore. “There are no crocs here.”
“False alarm,” replied Lieutenant Perkins. “I just shot up a log floating just below the surface.”
“Don’t ever do that again,” I ordered. “I can’t even get a good swim without you ruining it for me! Damn rookie butterball lieutenants!”
As I cursed Perkins, another shuttle landed on the next dune, just across the border. Spider marines poured down its ramp, smartly establishing a secure perimeter. An Arthropodan officer strode up to me like he owned the place.
“Czerinski! You and your human pestilence are trespassing!” announced the spider commander. “Leave now!”
“We are on our side of the border,” I replied, still dripping wet from my swim. “The Legion will leave when it pleases us to do so, not before!”
The spider commander pulled a small electronic device from a pouch. Holding the device over his head, he shot a red light beam along the ground, east and west for fifty yards. The beam extended across the dunes, and even across my bare feet.
“This line shows the exact location of the border!” explained the spider commander, still holding the device aloft. “You will not trespass even one inch on Imperial territory!”
I took an exaggerated step back. “Are you happy now?”
“No!” replied the spider commander. “I am never happy when you show up. What are you human pestilence doing out here? Stealing our water?”
“We’re busted,” I said. “I drank some of your precious water a few minutes ago. Do you want it back?” Already naked, I urinated across the red line. The light flickered and went out as the spider commander jumped back to avoid being doused. “This place is worthless anyway.”
“I ought to cut your hose off!” shouted the spider commander, drawing a large jagged combat knife. “Tell me the truth! What treachery is the Legion up to now?”
“I am scouting this beautiful beachfront property to determine its suitability for building a new hotel casino resort,” I confessed. “So far, I love the view, and the fine swimming. You should consider investing. There will be a substantial real estate boom. Soon, this whole beach will be lined with casinos and condos.”
“You better remember the North Shore is ours. There will be no human pestilence casinos or condos on the North Shore!”
“Of course,” I agreed. “I was just giving you a heads up because you are my friend. I intend to buy five-acre lots as soon as possible. If you snooze, you lose when it comes to real estate investments.”
“Why are you naked? You human pestilence are ugly enough with your clothes on. Without clothes, you are disgusting. Get dressed immediately. You will stay clothed at all times when visible from the Empire.”
“Did I tell you our new casino resort will be a nudist colony?” I asked. “Naked gamblers from across the galaxy will flock to this very oasis for carefree fun and frolicking.”
“For debauchery, you mean!” accused the spider commander. “There will be no frolicking in public view. You human pestilence are all a bunch of perverts! Don’t think I don’t know how you lost your toe. I saw the video on the database of you having sex with a scorpion.”
“Not another word! You slander me at your own peril! Do you want to start another war?”
“Yes!” answered the spider commander. “I’ll fight you any place, any time!”
“Now listen here,” I replied, the voice of reason. “We both have a mission, so let’s not makes things more difficult. Caldera Lake could be a cushy assignment, and we need to make the best of it. For example, I just got out of the water from a swim. The water is great! It’s so relaxing. Research indicates the high mineral content has medicinal qualities. You should try swimming. A swim might help lower your high blood pressure.”
The spider commander peered suspiciously at the calm lake water, still keeping several eyes on me. “Are there indigenous creatures inhabiting that lake?”
“The fishing is great. There are small water lizards that frequent the shallows. They’re quite friendly. Crocs are a favorite pet among children of Old Earth. The crocs like to bump against your leg while you wade. Don’t worry. If they get too aggressive, just swat them on the nose. If that doesn’t work, poke the croc in the eye with your bloody stump!”
“Your Old Earth pets have no business out in the wild. They are like their masters, an invasive nuisance species always sticking their snouts across the line where they do not belong!”
* * * * *
At midday, the temperature soared to 120 degrees. The spider commander and his new Military Intelligence officer waded cautiously deeper into the lake. With Arthropoda being a dry planet, swimming was a novel and refreshing experience. Maybe Czerinski was finally telling the truth about something. The spider commander kneaded his foot claws in the mud, contemplating the medicinal qualities of the so-called mineral water.
The spider commander spied a croc slowly drifting closer like a log. Its nose and eyes appeared just above the water’s surface, leaving a small ripple in its wake. Closer, closer. “Old Earth vermin!” shouted the spider commander, swatting the croc on its snout. The croc lunged its huge head out of the water, snatching the spider commander’s claw. The croc violently pulled the spider commander under, beginning its death roll. The spider commander was saved only when his claw snapped off, allowing his escape to shore.
* * * * *
“That monster was never a child’s pet you lying, treacherous human pestilence!” accused the spider commander, shaking his bloody shredded stump at me across the lake. “I’ll get you for that!”
“Quit whining!” I yelled back. “Your claw will grow back! You’ll be okay when the pain stops! Did you poke it in the eye?”
* * * * *
The spider Military Intelligence officer accessed ‘crocs’ on the Intergalactic Database. “The human pestilence nearly hunted crocs to extinction on Old Earth to make boots and wallets from hides. It is true that baby crocs were once sold to children at pet stores, but the crocs often were flushed down toilets as they got larger. Abandoned, the crocs survive by eating floating turds in sewers under major USGF cities.”
“That monster was never anyone’s pet!” repeated the spider commander, firing his pistol at a ripple in the water. The croc dived out of sight.
We still received a weak signal from the crashed alien starship. “It’s here,” advised Lieutenant Perkins. “We are right on top of it. We must dig!”
Sensors indicated the alien distress beacon was buried directly below my command center tent. To ensure secrecy, I ordered a border boundary fence built and tents erected to conceal as much excavation equipment as possible. I established a single checkpoint at the border for traffic. The spider commander responded with his own fences and placed buoys and cable across Caldera Lake to prevent ‘naked human pestilence perverts’ from floating across to the Arthropodan side.
Legion engineers advised that seismic readings indicated a very large metal craft deep below ground. Estimates were the starship was about one mile in length, and about eight thousand feet down. The starship must have crashed at the base of the volcano before being buried by centuries of ash and sand dunes. This suggested the spiders’ presence on New Colorado predated USGF colonization and terra-forming.
Now my mission was clearer. All I had to do was tunnel to the starship and steal its treasure before the spiders discovered what we were doing. Half the starship rested on the Arthropodan side of the border, but that should not be a problem. We had a head start.
* * * * *
Harrah’s Hotel Casino Resort Corporation business agents David Silva and Mickey Romo flew to Caldera Lake on a specially chartered shuttle, just to visit me.
“Colonel Czerinski, I will get straight to the point,” advised Silva. “Sources tell us you are contemplating building a destination casino hotel right here on the shores of Caldera Lake. Harrah’s Corporation finds your plans totally unacceptable. The entire Eastern New Gobi is our territory. No one is allowed to build a casino here but Harrah’s!”
“We were just trying to confuse the spiders,” I explained.
“It is you who is confused, if you think you can continue with your plans,” replied Romo. “We hear you are buying valuable beachfront property to build condos. Bad things will happen to anyone who tries to muscle in on Harrah’s turf!”
“You work for Harrah’s?” I asked. “Somehow I doubt that. Harrah’s is a respectable gaming corporation. You two resemble Mafia thugs. Are you threatening me?”
“Yes indeed,” answered Silva. “One word from us, and a gaggle of corporate lawyers the likes you have never imagined will descend on your world. I will bury you in litigation!”
“This camp will look like a lawyers’ convention,” added Romo, his chest puffed out. “You will be ruined.”
“I don’t know who you two think you are, but legionnaires are immune from lawsuits,” I commented, dismissively. “It’s the law, even written somewhere in the Constitution.”
“Do not try to quote business law to me,” advised Silva. “I earned my MBA from Harvard.”
“Whatever. You’re a fool.”
“My MBA is from Stanford University,” added Romo.
“No!” I replied, horrified. “Not Stanford! Can’t we work something out?”
“You are in big trouble, mister,” warned Romo. “No one messes with Harrah’s and lives to tell about it. Be afraid. Be very afraid!”
“Did you really graduate from Stanford?” I asked, upset. “You don’t have blond hair or a California tan. I didn’t mean that crack about you two being Mafia. It was just a joke.”
“I’ll excuse your indiscretion this once,” replied Romo. “But, do not let it happen again. Harrah’s owns destination hotel casinos across the galaxy. We intend to build here at Caldera Lake, too. The Harrah’s management likes the tropical beachfront theme concept. Sorry, but the nudist gamblers idea was a bit over the top for us. It won’t work. Flying dice and sharp cards might incur too much civil liability.”
“That’s too bad,” I replied. “I really thought I had something special there.”
“It is my understanding that you have prior casino ownership experience,” commented Silva. “You owned a string of casinos, but they all got bombed or confiscated during the wars. I remind you that’s what happens when you play with the big boys. Did you notice the spiders didn’t nuke even one Harrah’s hotel resort casino?”
“I did notice that,” I replied. “That’s not fair. Does Harrah’s have juice with the Emperor?”
“I know him personally,” bragged Silva. “The good news for you is that you, as local Legion commander, are entitled to a percentage of the gaming cut set aside for local officials. We expect prompt signing of all necessary business and gaming permits. That’s the law. Are you willing to play ball with Harrah’s?”
“It would be good for your continued good health to do so,” threatened Romo.
“I can play ball,” I agreed. “I’d love to play ball with Harrah’s.”
“Great!” exclaimed Silva. “The first thing you need to do is move your headquarters tent. This exact spot is perfect for the new golf course we’re building. Work begins immediately, and I want that unsightly hole filled in.”
“What hole?” I asked, innocently.
“The hole you are trying to hide under that big circus tent next door,” advised Silva. “You didn’t think we saw that? What is it with you legionnaires? It seems like you people are always digging the ground up! You are worse than gophers, prairie dogs, and moles combined.”
“You’re worse than termites,” added Romo, trying to be tough.
“The digging will continue,” I replied sternly. “But, I will clean up the mess. Perhaps we can disguise the excavation to look like hotel casino construction.”
“Colonel Czerinski, have you not been listening?” asked Silva. “This is the new home of our five-star golf course. That God awful hole to Hell is too big for a PGA regulation sand trap. It needs to be filled now!”
“Caldera Lake is full of crocs,” I advised. “You two fools will be croc food if you interfere with my hole.”
The two Mafia wannabes stepped aside and began whispering, apparently not realizing I could still hear them.
“The neurotic sounds serious,” rasped Romo. “Should I threaten to sue him again?”
“He’s hiding something,” replied Silva, whispering back. “Maybe the Legion is digging missile silos. The Legion have always been a bunch of fanatical warmongers, you know.”
“I heard that!” I complained. “I am not building missile sites, yet. I have my reasons for continuing the dig. It’s top secret. Just humor me on that issue. Okay? Otherwise, I can be quite difficult.”
“He’s like a little kid in a sandbox,” whispered Romo. “Let him make his sand castles or whatever he’s doing in that hole.”
“We can tolerate one hole,” announced Silva. “But you will need to sign and initial an addendum to our contract stating you will not dig any more holes!”
“A wise decision,” advised Silva, shaking my hand. “We were advised doing business with Joey The Toe would be difficult, but I find you most reasonable.”
“I do not like that nickname any more than I like the Butcher of New Colorado slander the media hangs on me,” I advised, placing a hand on my pistol holster. “Don’t do again, or my attorneys will be in contact with your attorneys.”
“Sorry, no offense intended,” replied Silva, visibly shaken by the mere mention of my attorneys. “Did you say something earlier about crocs in Caldera Lake? Do you mean crocs, as in large ugly crocodiles with big yellow gnarly teeth?”
“There’s just a few.”
“Crocs would be bad for water sports,” Silva remarked. “No one water skis with crocs lying about, making a nuisance of themselves. Can you kill them?”
“No,” I answered. “It would be a game violation to poach crocs. The Forest Service would be real upset. Perhaps you can put up a net?”
“A swimmers beware sign warning of crocs should be enough to avoid any frivolous civil liability to Harrah’s,” advised Silva.
“That’s a good idea,” I commented. “That’s why you MBA guys get paid the big bucks.”
BOOK 13: SALESMAN FROM MARS A new star rises in this 13th installment of the whacky military space opera. Donald Crisp III, a born salesman from a long line of salesmen, finds himself down on his luck and short of money. He moves to planet New Colorado in hopes of finding new opportunities. Sales of 'croc-repellent' result in cash flow but don't turn out especially well for him. Crisp and new buddies James Pierce, a former Microsoft engineer who likes recreational drugs, and Shaky Jake, a young spider miner, find themselves in a terrible fix. The Legion's Butcher of New Colorado, Colonel Joey R. Czerinski, comes to their rescue - but not without a price. Suddenly enlisted in the USGF Foreign Legion, Crisp and crew chill at the South Pole then make a big splash in croc-infested Caldera Lake. Sergeant Green, ever vigilant for the Grim Reaper, finds Crisp unusually helpful in battling this old foe. Ghosts from the past, semi-sentient penguins, and biting Blue Lizards all make life interesting for Crisp in the Legion as this seriously silly science fiction space saga continues.
My name is Donald Crisp the Third. I never thought I would end up in the United States Galactic Federation Foreign Legion, but sometimes life spins out of control. I am a salesman and come from a long line of salesmen. My dad was a salesman, as was my granddad, my great granddad, and my great-great granddad. They got rich selling habitat domes on five-acre lots during the Martian real estate boom. I got nothing. They spent my inheritance long ago. All I got was a family legacy of salesmanship.
With this proud lineage of sales in my blood, I was confident my future was bright, and I could make my fortune anywhere, no matter how distant or barren the planet. However, sometimes reality does not match dreams.
Broke and desperate, I borrowed money from my dad and booked fourth-class passage to the frontier planet of New Colorado. Truth be told, my dad was glad to see me go. I had no money on my card, but hey, a good salesman does not need money. All I needed was something to sell, and suckers to sell to. Unlike my dad, an honest man of great integrity, I had no problem casting about for suckers.
The New Phoenix Spaceport terminal on Planet New Colorado was crowded with soldiers, tourists, and business people. Occasionally, a hideous spider-like alien scampered by. They hissed at each other, but I picked up bits and pieces of English from my translation device. Most spiders lived on their own half of the planet to the north, but commerce was increasing. The United States Galactic Federation and the spider Arthropodan Empire shared New Colorado. Their armies faced each other in a fragile truce across the Demilitarized Zone. A few spiders emigrated south and became USGF citizens. Many traveled freely, conducting business and trade across the border.
“How smart can aliens be?” I asked myself, following two spider soldiers. They appeared primitive. I eavesdropped on their conversation by following close. They talked about an infestation of crocodiles at a resort called Caldera Lake. How odd. My clandestine surveillance ended suddenly when I got too close. Wouldn’t you know it, the damned spiders have eyes in the back of their head! I abruptly slammed into the larger spider soldier, the one with all the impressive medals and ribbons on his uniform. Obviously he was a commander. He grabbed me by the front of my shirt and lifted me up for a better examination.
“Human pestilence, what do you want?” shouted the spider. “Are you another pickpocket? We have laws for your sort here on New Colorado. Your days are numbered!”
“My fine sir,” I replied. “I do beg your pardon, but I am no common thief. I did not mean to accost you, nor was I attempting to pick your pockets. It is just that I was overhearing your problems with crocodiles. You know, we don’t have such problems on Old Earth.”
“Is that so?” asked the spider commander, setting me down abruptly. “You’ve killed all the croc vermin on Old Earth? It is about time!”
“Oh, indeed no, general, sir. Crocodiles are on the Endangered Species List. They cannot be hunted or molested in any way. Excuse me, but my name is Donald Crisp the Third. My friends call me Don. It’s fortunate you ran into me. This is your lucky day.”
“You ran in to me!” corrected the spider commander. “It is never a lucky day to be accosted by you human pestilence rabble!”
“I can solve your crocodile problem,” I advised, reaching into my backpack.
“Not likely,” scoffed the spider commander. “Those crocs are a protected species here on New Colorado too. At Caldera Lake, tourists from the hotel casino resorts go out for a swim, and what happens? The crocs eat them! One death roll, and you have one less cash-paying tourist. I am telling you, the crocs are getting fat, and the game warden refuses do anything about it!”
“That’s not good,” I commented. “Don’t you use anti-crocodile repellent? We all pack croc repellent with sun blocker when we go to the beach back on Old Earth.”
“There is such a thing?” asked the spider commander. “Now I find out about croc repellent? Look at my claw. It still has not fully grown back from my first swim at Caldera Lake!”
“I just happen to have some croc repellent on me,” I said, producing two large tea bags from my backpack. “These anti-croc bags are guaranteed to ward off crocs, or your money back.”
The spider commander snatched the bags and sniffed them. “It smells like tea,” he commented, checking the label. “The Lipton Company manufactures croc repellent?”
“Yes, these bags do have a pleasant smell,” I agreed, maintaining my salesman smile as I took the tea bags back. My perfectly capped teeth were an asset I was always quick to show off when doubted. “I am glad you warned me about the crocs. These are my last two anti-croc repellent bags. Obviously, I will need them when I go for a swim.”
“Where can I purchase more anti-croc repellent?” asked the spider commander. “I have never seen this product advertised on your human pestilence Satellite TV.”
“New Colorado does not have croc repellent yet,” I advised somberly. “Now that I see the need, I think I am going to make a fortune importing it. I am in your debt for pointing out the need. How can I ever repay you for providing this valuable information?”
“How about giving me your last two anti-croc bags?” asked the spider commander.
“Give?” I asked. “I don’t think so. I am a human pestilence of limited means. But, I’ll tell you what. Because you are a personal friend, I will sell you my last two bags of anti-croc repellent for five hundred dollars.”
The spider commander drew a large jagged combat knife from a sheath, holding it to my throat. “You would cheat me?” he asked.
“No,” replied, hastily. “Whatever do you mean?”
“I will not pay a penny more than two hundred dollars,” insisted the spider commander.
“Two hundred and fifty dollars is as low as I can go,” I insisted. “These are the only two anti-croc repellent bags on the whole planet. The price is only so low because you are my first customer and a dear friend. Networking is the key to marketing. I am counting on you to inform all your friends and associates of my fine product. I’ll even give you a ten-percent kickback on any database business you send my way!”
“Deal,” agreed the spider commander, snatching my tea bags. He swiped his card on my notepad, completing the transaction.
“Would you be interested in buying a limited warranty?” I asked. “You will get your money back if the croc repellent does not work.”
“What?” asked the spider commander. “I do not need no stinking limited warranty. You already promised my money back if it does not work.”
“Quite right. You are a shrewd business spider. I can see I am going to have to keep on my toes around you spiders.”
Our business concluded, we shook hand and claws and parted.
* * * * *
I sat at the spaceport bar, celebrating my newfound good fortune, ordering drinks and my first decent meal in quite some time. All was good in the world. Those spider rubes were easy pickings. A dusty young spider sat down beside me. Another rube, I figured, and nodded politely. “My name is Donald Crisp the Third,” I announced cheerfully, all smiles. I extended my hand. “I am in sales. What business are you in?”
“I just got back from prospecting in the North Territory,” advised the young spider. “My name is Shaky Jake.”
“An interesting name,” I commented. “I believe ‘Shaky Jake’ to be a proud drinking man’s name from Old Earth! How did you come by it?”
“I was named after my dad’s stubborn mule from back in the day,” replied Shaky Jake. “That is me all over. I am too stubborn to stop prospecting for gold, even though the Mother Load was likely mined out years ago.”
“Can I buy you a drink?” I asked.
“Yes, of course,” answered Shaky Jake. “I never turn down free drinks.”
“You have mules on New Colorado?” I asked, conversationally. “Sounds like you have all the comforts of home.”
“Almost all your human pestilence vermin have been seeded here on New Colorado,” advised Shaky Jake. “But why you brought anything as stubborn as mules across the galaxy, I will never figure out.”
“Mules are independent and hardy, a trait most fitting our adventurous pioneers and the pioneer spirit,” I advised. “Did you say there is gold up North? Tell me about the gold.”
“Do not get your hopes up,” cautioned Shaky Jake. “Prospecting up North is cold, hard, thankless work I would not wish on anyone. Most of you gold bugs are killed during the first winter.”
“I’m going anyway,” I announced. “I am not afraid of Father Winter. My motto is ‘always follow the money.’ But I need a guide to show me around. Are you going back?”
“How much would you charge to drive me North?”
“It is a rough road, that North Highway,” commented Shaky Jake. “But I spent all my gold nuggets, so it’s about time to go back. You can hitch a ride with me for one hundred dollars.”
“All I can afford is fifty,” I replied.
“Seventy-five,” countered Shaky Jake. “I usually don’t like company, but you seem a decent enough sort for a human pestilence.”
“Deal!” I exclaimed. We shook hand and claw.
Crossing the border into the Arthropodan Empire was uneventful but ominous. A large sign at the border crossing stated, ‘The Emperor welcomes you. Obey all laws or you will be shot. Have a nice day.’ The smiley face drawn on the sign had spider fangs. Down the road, a smaller sign warned, ‘Do not pick up human pestilence hitchhikers. 25 credit penalty per human pestilence for first time offense.’ Another sign advised, ‘Do not feed the wolves or make unnecessary stops. Carry a sanitation bucket if you have to relieve yourself.’
The North Highway passed through a long stretch of thick forest. Scattered along the way were the remnants of destroyed Legion armored vehicles and tanks from a battle long past. Obviously these woods were once fiercely contested. I assume the spiders won. We did not linger. The woods spooked me. We drove all day, finally stopping at a small diner and inn at a wide spot in the road called Battle Creek.
“Aren’t you two an interesting sight?” commented an old spider grill cook. “A human pestilence and a spider traveling together? Did you just bail out of jail together or what? You two look like a felony about to happen. Maybe I should call the sheriff.”
“This is one of my dad’s pals, Battle Creek Dick,” advised Shaky Jake, making introductions. “He is a smart-ass, and older than the North Highway itself.”
“I am hitchhiking north to make my fortune,” I advised, shaking hand Battle Creek Dick’s claw.
“Crisp paid for the ride,” corrected Shaky Jake. “Of course he is not really a hitchhiker. That is illegal.” Shaky Jake smacked me with his claw. “What are you doing, spreading rumors like that? Trying to get me into trouble?”
“Sorry,” I replied. “Can I have some water with my burger?”
“Nope,” answered Battle Creek Dick. “The well went dry. I have to either drill deeper, or dig a new well.”
“Don’t forget to water-witch before you dig,” I advised. “It will cost you to get an experienced water-witcher, but in the long run you will save time, aggravation, and expense.”
“Water-witching?” asked Battle Creek Dick. “I have heard rumors you human pestilence can do that, but I thought it was all made up lies and stories.”
“We take our dowsing quite seriously,” I advised. “It takes a special skill just to select a proper divining rod, and to use it properly. Since you’re a friend of Shaky Jake, and a friend of Shaky Jake is a friend of mine, I’ll make you a proper divining rod that I guarantee will locate pools of underground water.”
“How much?” asked Battle Creek Dick, suspicious. Obviously he did not want to part with his hard earned credits easily.
“For free of course,” I replied, feigning shock at the thought that I would charge a friend in need. “Free, as long you let us stay at your motel, and eat this meal for free.”
“That seems fair,” replied Battle Creek Dick, still sounding hesitant.
“Fair? It’s more than just fair. It would cost hundreds of dollars to get a certified county-approved water-witcher up here on such short notice. They charge union rates! And then there’s permits and fees. Your Emperor wants his due, does he not? Besides, the good water-witchers are always booked up for months. You never know who is really good or bad until it’s too late. But because you are a friend in need, I’ll find you water for free. And after I find your water, I’ll even let you keep the divining rod so you can find water for your neighbors too. You’ll actually be making money after I throw in the free divining rod, because you can charge your neighbors for finding water.”
“I do not have neighbors,” advised Battle Creek Dick. “That is why I moved to Battle Creek, to get away from the crowds!”
“I don’t much like crowds either.”
Soon we were outside looking for a proper stick. I took a knife to a willow branch, splitting it down the middle to form a ‘Y.’ Immediately upon taking hold of the two ends, the divining rod jerked violently, pulling me on a direct course to the back yard of the diner. At the tree line, the divining rod plunged into the ground.
“Right here!” I announced. “There is lots of water down there, I guarantee it!”
“That is exactly where I was going to dig anyway,” advised Battle Creek Dick, disappointed.
“Well, that just goes to show you have naturally good judgment. I commend you for that. It’s rare these days to find someone with your good common sense. The cities are full of educated fools, but you didn’t let going to school interfere with learning common sense. You were born with common sense!”
“That is true,” commented Battle Creek Dick. “I hate schools, too confining.”
“Take us to our rooms,” I ordered, changing the subject. “We need two rooms. Shaky Jake snores, and I need my beauty sleep. Do you have TV?”
“Yes, we even have Cable,” boasted Battle Creek Dick.
“I thought Cable TV was illegal,” I said in a hushed voice. “Friends don’t let friends watch Cable.”
“Not in the Empire,” advised Shaky Jake. “The Cable Guy provides us spiders with all the Cable TV we want.”
“That’s dangerous stuff,” I commented, wanting to drop the matter. “Give us an early wake up call. We don’t want to dawdle. The gold fields of the North are calling us!”
* * * * *
Just before we reached the gold fields of Finisterra City, we stopped for a break to stretch our legs. It seemed stretching legs was especially important to spiders. Shaky Jake creaked and groaned with every move as he stretched and adjusted his exoskeleton segments. He went through a whole series of limbering exercises. I spent my time cutting branches and making more divining rods.
“You are wasting your time doing that,” advised Shaky Jake. “The New Mississippi River runs right through the middle of Finisterra. They have no water shortage.”
“I am a salesman,” I boasted. “I can sell sand in the desert if need be. You will see!”
“I am just saying.”
“I know. I didn’t mean to snap. Don’t worry. I have a plan. I will sell my divining rods, or my name isn’t Donald Crisp the Third. And, you will help.”
* * * * *
I stood up on the roof of our vehicle and called out to passersby. “Gold-witchers for sale! Get your gold-witchers now while the limited supply lasts! Get yours now for only five hundred imperial credits, guaranteed or your money back!”
“Gold-witchers?” scoffed Shaky Jake, loudly, as a crowd gathered. “There’s no such thing!”
“Technically they’re called gold divining rods,” I advised. “I’ve noticed over the years there is always a Doubting Thomas in every crowd that has to be proven ignorant of what Old Earth science has to offer! Gather around folks while I prove gold divining rods can make you rich beyond your wildest dreams. All that gold is out there just begging for you to find it!”
“There is more than one doubter,” remarked another spider prospector, unslinging his assault rifle. “We have laws for your sort. Undesirables and vagrants are illegal here on New Colorado.”
“Someone call the sheriff!” yelled a spider from the back of the crowd.
“Get a rope!” added a human miner.
“He is a crook,” yelled a female spider. “He is the kind who would piss on your leg and tell you it is raining!”
“You would squander your chance at untold riches even before giving me the chance to prove myself?” I shouted back as the crowd pressed in around the vehicle. “You! The original Doubting Thomas. Take this stick. Hold on tight with both hands! Claws! Whatever!”
Shaky Jake hesitated until a nearby spider nodded. “Sure, why not? I will play along!” Shaky Jake said loudly enough for everyone to hear. “We can hang this human pestilence crook after I prove him a fraud and a fool!”
Immediately after gripping the divining rod, Shaky Jake was pulled across the street and down the block. The crowd excitedly followed. Shaky Jake continued around a corner to the county courthouse, where the divining rod abruptly turned downward into soft dirt. The crowd gathered around, pushing and poking one another to get a better view. The divining rod was stuck in a freshly planted rose garden by the sheriff’s office.
“Luck is with you!” I exclaimed, catching up. “Not only have you found gold, but you are already at the courthouse, so you can file your claim!”
“I haven’t found anything yet,” groused Shaky Jake. Another prospector handed him a shovel. Shaky Jake immediately began digging, rose bushes flying to the side, dirt balls splattering the nearby windows. Soon, a big pot-bellied spider sheriff came bounding down the Courthouse steps to confront Shaky Jake.
“Now, see here!” bellowed the spider sheriff. “There’s a whole passel o’ vandalism goin’ on here. Who do you think you are, destroyin’ my roses like that? What is this mob? There is no hangin’ scheduled today. Yet, looks like to me a whole bunch o’ disorderly conduct goin’ on!”
“I’m rich!” announced Shaky Jake, producing gold nuggets, and holding them out for the sheriff and all to see. “I just dug these gold nuggets up! I am hereby declaring this my claim, pending filing!”
The other miners excitedly began digging up the courthouse lawn. The sheriff snatched the nuggets and examined them up close. They were indeed small, smooth gold nuggets. “This gold came from a stream bed,” announced the sheriff, but no one was listening. “See how worn smooth by water they are?”
“You can keep those nuggets Sheriff,” replied Shaky Jake, nervously. “Have a few more. I have plenty. I am rich!”
“Don’t think I won’t be lookin’ into this funny business,” advised the spider sheriff, snatching the rest of Shaky Jake’s gold nuggets. “There’s a whole lot of funny business goin’ on here. Attention everyone! Stop diggin’! You are all trespassin’ and committin’ acts of vandalism. Trespassin’ is a capital offense here in the Empire, especially on government property! Disperse now!”
“He just wants the gold for himself!” complained a disgruntled prospector as the crowd moved across the street.
“Not to worry!” I shouted, following the crowd. “I have a hundred more divining rods in my car. There is enough for everyone! I’ll sell them for ... a thousand credits apiece!”
“You promised only five hundred credits apiece earlier,” argued a spider carrying an assault riffle. “Are you trying to cheat us?”
“No, sir!” I answered. “You are quite right. Thank you for correcting my mistake. I did offer these divining rods for only five hundred credits, and I will stick to my original offer, even if it cuts sorely into my meager profits. You are a sharp cookie! I can tell it will be tough doing business with such an intelligent and worldly species as you spiders.”
“Damn straight!” said the armed spider, waving his five hundred credits as a line formed.
“Do you take VISA platinum?” shouted a spider trying to cut in line.
“Oh, hell, no,” I said. “Do I look like a credit card company?” Everyone laughed at the card holder.
“Take your platinum card and get to the back of the line,” someone sniped.
“It’s all a fraud!” announced a human prospector from across the street at the sheriff’s office. “Don’t trust that crook! He’s a con man.”
“Shut up human pestilence!” replied Shaky Jake. “You human pestilence just want to steal our gold for yourselves like you always do! I am on to your evil ways!”
“He is right!” added another spider, jostling for position in line. “Those human pestilence are always stealing our gold, but today they do not have the Legion here to help. Finally we have an honest human pestilence who will sell us the divining rods we need!”
I quickly sold all one hundred divining rods. That added up to a lot of credits. I stashed the cash in my fur cap and paid off Shaky Jake for his excellent acting. We prepared to skedaddle out of town. One of the spiders followed me down the street.
“Hey you, salesman!” he called out. “Want a job?”
“Nope,” I said. “I’m going on vacation.”
“I can give you a job that will take you quickly out of town,” advised the spider. “I know that interests you, especially after ripping off all those dumb miners. At least, you better be interested in getting out of town quick.”
“I’m listening,” I replied, nervously. “Those divining rods have a money back guarantee you know. I wouldn’t cheat anyone.”
“Whatever. The job is simple. I own a long haul truck and trailer. All you have to do is drive across the New Gobi Desert to Lopez Farms, pick up a load of oranges, and transport them to Scorpion City for sale. We will split the profits 50-50.”
“Scorpions eat oranges?” I asked. “I don’t think so.”
“Marketing research indicates scorpions love oranges,” advised the spider. “They all have sweet fangs. This will be the first delivery to the scorpions. I will be rich!”
“What’s the catch?” I asked. “Why don’t you drive?”
“I am a spider,” he explained. “The scorpions do not like spiders. I would draw too much attention. They are just as likely to eat me as the oranges. The spiders won’t hassle you human pestilence at the border. So, what do you say? Are you ready to make some easy money?”
“Are you sure scorpions don’t eat humans too?” I asked.
“No way,” I decided. “I don’t even know how to drive a truck.”
“I do!” advised Shaky Jake. “I even have a driver’s license. We are partners.”
“That sheriff is going to be hunting you both real soon,” cautioned the spider. “If he does not arrest you for selling those phony dowser rods, he will pick you up for the wanted posters I saw at the Post Office.”
“What wanted posters? I’m not wanted!”
“Don’t worry,” advised the spider, in a hushed conspiratorial tone. “I tore them down for you. We are friends in business, remember?”
“I don’t even know you.”
The spider handed me a wanted poster. It had my identification card photo on it, announcing in large print, ‘Donald Crisp III, wanted dead or alive, preferably dead, for selling defective products, to wit: life endangering defective anti-croc repellent. Said human pestilence and felon Donald Crisp III is to be considered armed and dangerous, and presumed willing to use deadly force to resist arrest. Do not take chances. Kill him!’ The Imperial Warrant was signed by the Supreme Commander of the New Gobi Desert & Caldera Lake Military District.
“I’ll take the job,” I announced. “We will leave now!”
“Good choice,” advised the spider. “Next they would have put your picture on the postage stamps. You do not want postal employees looking for you.”
“I’m driving first,” advised Shaky Jake. “Remember, we are partners!”
BOOK 14: EMBASSY WAR Colonel Joey R. Czerinski's back and assigned to the Arthropodan home world for USGF Embassy guard duty and to spy for General Lopez and the CIA. Salesman and legionnaire Quartermaster Sergeant Donald Crisp proves helpful in attempting to flood Arthropoda with American technological and cultural junk while trying to steal spider technology. The Grim Reaper makes another surprising appearance, and things take a bizarre turn when Czerinski and crew are reassigned to an island on New Colorado known as Quenaudenville. Don't miss the laughs in this latest (14th) installment of this mind-damaging military science fiction saga.
PART I – Embassy War
I am Colonel Joey R. Czerinski, hero of the Legion, Butcher of New Colorado, former casino owner, and commander of a Foreign Legion garrison tasked with security of the United States Galactic Federation Embassy on Arthropoda. The spiders of the Arthropodan Empire are not happy that I am back in their capital. I have been assured that I am protected by diplomatic immunity, but I have doubts.
Today I meet with spider spies to sell top-secret private-sector human technology. Being a spy, a double agent, and more is all part of my job description. Do not think me as a traitor. I have certain self interests and business partners to look out for when I patiently explain to spider techs complicated operating systems to our latest electronic devices.
* * * * *
“You put the Wonder Bread in these top slots and push down the lever until it clicks into place,” I instructed. “In about a minute, the bread pops up toasted!”
“Wow, amazing,” gushed the spider spy. “What about maintenance? A device this intricate must be a nightmare to maintain.”
“How do you keep the cheese from gumming up the works?” asked another spy.
“Turn the toaster upside down and rap on its bottom,” I continued, ignoring that last fool. “Most crumbs will fall out. Be sure not to make toast while taking a bath. It could be shocking.”
“Can you guarantee toaster durability?” asked the spider spy skeptically.
“Of course. This appliance will outlive both of us. I guarantee it. A limited warranty is issued with each toaster.”
“How can you guarantee illegal, unlicensed, and untested technology like this?” asked the spider spy, always suspicious of human pestilence promises and boasts. “Your limited warranty is not worth the scrap of paper it is printed on.”
“If you are not interested, I have other buyers,” I replied, making an exaggerated show of getting up to leave, but not going anywhere. “These toasters are cutting-edge, state-of-the-art technology from the General Electric Corporation.”
“We will buy a thousand toasters,” advised the spider spy, impressed. “What else does your General Electric have to sell?”
“I just received a million electric toothbrushes, guaranteed to clean pearly white the nastiest yellow fangs of the Empire. For half price, I also have the latest fang-care accessories, including tooth paste and much needed extra-strength mouthwash. I can see you are in dire need of mouthwash, so to show goodwill, I am giving you a complimentary bottle of Scope with each purchase.”
“More guarantees?” scoffed the spider spy, holding the bottle of magic green liquid up to the light. “Why would I want to mask my breath? How do you expect me to attract females if they cannot smell my breath from a distance? Your mouthwash destroys the aroma.”
“Exactly. At least I hope so.”
“The mouthwash will help you attract females,” I insisted.
“You are a fool,” replied the spider spy, tossing the Scope aside. “You know nothing of our females. This is worthless!”
“You can also use Scope to scrub toilets,” I suggested, still smiling assuredly. “Did I tell you this is the New & Improved Extra-Strength Scope?”
“Our business is concluded.”
“Not yet. I want to buy the blueprints to your new portable atomic generator.”
“Ha!” hissed the spider spy, obviously annoyed at what he felt was human pestilence naivety. “If you want one of those pieces of junk, all you have to do is go to the Walmart Superstore and purchase it. They’re on sale all week. I hope it explodes in your face!”
* * * * *
“What am I going to do with a hundred thousand bottles of mouthwash?” asked Quartermaster Sergeant Donald Crisp as we walked to the front gate of the embassy. Sergeant Crisp was a born salesman and taught me all about marketing. But he constantly complained, letting inconsequential details upset him. “You promised Scope would be a sure thing on Arthropoda.”
“It should have been,” I replied. “Spiders have terrible breath, but just don’t care. All is not lost. We just need more marketing. That’s your job. I have more important responsibilities to worry about, so handle it!”
“What could be more important than a multi-million-dollar mouthwash deal?” asked Sergeant Crisp. “This debacle is costing money!”
“General Lopez only permits our little deals if we work on his CIA projects, too,” I reminded Crisp. “There is a lot going on here you don’t see.”
“Yeah, like Lopez getting a cut of our action,” complained Sergeant Crisp. “I know how that works. Lopez needs to start carrying his weight instead of shaking us down for a percentage.
* * * * *
At the front gate, we were confronted by early morning spider demonstrators protesting American contamination of Arthropodan culture. Frivolous complaints were another unfortunate part of doing business on Arthropoda. I delegated most complaints to Crisp. The protest leader, waving a ‘No Walmart’ sign, presented a list of grievances.
“Not you again!” I sighed, accepting the list. “I thought we resolved all differences on Walmart. The Teamsters will be allowed to organize employees, and shoplifters will no longer be vaporized.”
“You have been vaporizing shoplifters?”
“Walmart is just the tip of the claw!” shouted the spider protest leader. “Americanizing our culture is the main problem.”
“Go tell the Emperor your problems,” I suggested. I knew this particular protester well. We called him Barney because of his dyed purple exoskeleton. A real troublemaker. “Stop disturbing my peace!”
“It’s illegal to protest at the Emperor’s Palace,” advised Barney. “So I am stuck protesting at your Nest of Spies. Our grievances will be addressed, or else!”
“Bring it on!” I replied, dismissing Barney as a fool. I slammed the embassy gate. I glanced at the grievances, about to walk away. Barney and his followers rattled the bars, chanting, ‘Yankee Go Home!’
The grievance list complained about Walmart insensitivity, McDonald’s hamburgers being too dry, Taco Bell using cat meat and road kill in their burritos, human pestilence Satellite TV contaminating Arthropodan culture by corrupting youth with gratuitous violence, porn, and reruns promoting scary purple dinosaur toys marketed to babies, and Fox News not being fair and balanced.
“This is ridiculous!” I fumed, wadding the list into a small ball and tossing it aside. “I have a mind to file a defamation complaint against all of you! There are no cats on Arthropoda, so there can be no kitties in the tacos!”
“We have lab results proving otherwise,” exclaimed Barney, triumphantly waving documentation.
“The spiders have been importing cats as pets,” whispered Sergeant Crisp.
“I thought you spiders were dog lovers,” I commented. “Why all this sudden concern for cats?”
“Of course I am a dog lover,” replied Barney, rattling the gate with his claw. “Dachshunds rule! That is not the issue. The issue is dietary fraud! Today Taco Bell serves up cats, tomorrow it will be our beloved doggies.”
“Cat tastes like chicken,” added Sergeant Crisp, trying to be helpful.
“Does not!” insisted Barney.
“Remind me not to eat at Taco Bell anymore,” I told Crisp, in a hushed tone. “This is a bunch of rubbish!”
“I’ll show you rubbish!” shouted Barney.
I was startled by the metallic thunk of a toaster crashing nearby, followed by more toasters. Electric toothbrushes sailed through the air like arrows. Soon the embassy yard was raining toasters and toothbrushes. Legionnaires scrambled for cover. A shot rang out. The entire incident was recorded by multiple video cameras and immediately broadcast over the Intergalactic Database.
My communications pad rang before I scrambled to the safety of the Embassy Administration Building. It was General Lopez, shouting, “What the hell are you doing? I turn on the news, and you’re already making a spectacle of yourself, dodging my black market toasters! Why are you always creating bad press for me and the Legion by provoking those damn spiders? Can’t you go one day without a riot?”
“It’s not my fault,” I replied defensively. “You think it’s easy running a nest of spies? No one appreciates the job I’m doing here, especially you. If you think I’m screwing up, send me home! I’ll be glad to leave this place!”
“Those are my toasters they’re throwing over the wall!” fumed General Lopez. “Do you realize how much this debacle is costing me?”
“Forget about the cost,” I advised, flinching as toasters cracked against the shatterproof embassy windows. One of those spiders had a hell of an arm. “We have a chance to deal the spiders a crippling blow, and you’re concerned about costs? I’ve got the spiders right where I want them, eating out of my hand.”
“This had better be good!” said General Lopez doubtfully. “Tell me what you have.”
“The spider public is demanding the Teamsters unionize all Arthropodan heavy industry, and they think it was their idea. The Emperor is helpless to stop us now.”
“At least there is some good news. What’s all this nonsense on TV about Taco Bell? I’ve got the CEO of Taco Bell on hold, wanting to know why his new upscale restaurants are being persecuted by spider health inspectors.”
“I’ll pay someone off,” I replied, trying to placate Lopez.
“Not with my money you won’t!” fumed General Lopez, disconnecting.
I looked out the window again. Legionnaires were retreating to the reception lobby, firing shots into the air. Several spiders scaled the front gate, teetering at the top, undecided about whether to drop down into the embassy yard. More shots rang out. One of the spiders perched atop the gate dropped back into the crowd – more sensational news for the Intergalactic Database.
* * * * *
Arthropodan Intelligentsia State Security Police arrived and cleared the streets of protesters. A litter bearer removed a dead spider found at the gate. I greeted the ranking Intelligentsia officer through the front gate grill.
“The Emperor is going to be upset about this,” he commented.
“Sorry about the mess,” I replied. “That rioter was trying to breach the front gate.”
“Shoot as many trespassers as you want. It is that purple pest I am concerned about. Why could you not shoot him?”
“You mean Barney? Barney is harmless.”
“Barney does not know when to shut up,” insisted the Intelligentsia officer, annoyed at the mere mention of Barney’s name. “The Emperor has noticed that purple traitor and is not happy. There are important trade deals being negotiated, and public support is important. We do not need these agitators rioting in the streets.”
“So arrest Barney,” I suggested. “Who will care?”
“Freedom of speech is another new concept you human pestilence have infested the Empire with. It is all your fault. They read your Constitution drivel on the Galactic Database. Believe me, I long for the good old days when I could just throw malcontents like Barney into the mulcher.”
“Mulcher? Do you have a surplus mulcher I can buy?”
“What, your gulags are full again?”
“We don’t have gulags,” I replied defensively. “Our gardener has some pruning to do.”
“Sure, like I believe that.”
I shrugged, satisfied there would be no serious political repercussions caused by the front gate incident. As I left, Corporal Guido Tonelli hung back to talk to the spiders.
* * * * *
“Is the game still on?” asked Corporal Tonelli, waving tickets at the Intelligentsia officer. “I got front row seats just for you. You’re not going to let one little riot cancel the game, I hope?”
“No way,” answered the Intelligentsia officer, snatching the tickets. He scanned the tickets, reading the human pestilence writing with his translator. “The Harlem World Trotters. Are they any good?”
“They’re average,” advised Guido. “Care to place a bet that your all-stars can beat them?”
“How many points can you give me?”
“It’s a straight up bet,” insisted Guido. “After all, this is a home game for you spiders. You have home planet advantage.”
“Put me down for fifty thousand credits on our all-stars to beat your World Trotters.”
“Whatever,” said the Intelligentsia officer, swiping his card to record the bet. “Others may be placing wagers, too.”
“Not a problem,” advised Guido. “I can handle all the action you bring.”
“Just remember, I get a percentage of all action I send you.”
* * * * *
I briefed Ambassador James Yamashita. He was concerned about fallout from the riot. This was my second assignment with Yamashita. In my opinion, he was a worry-wart, but he seemed to be a professional, competent diplomat.
“Was it really necessary to shoot that spider demonstrator?” asked Ambassador Yamashita. “Did you know the President saw the whole thing on TV and called me personally about it?”
“We’re still reviewing helmet camera downloads,” I advised. “Maybe that spider had a heart attack or something.”
“He was shot off his perch at the front gate! Everyone saw it on the database news.”
“That has not been confirmed. There was a lot of confusion, and we do not know for sure he was shot. We were ducking toasters. I plead self-defense. It’s a jungle out there.”
“There will be no more incidents,” warned Ambassador Yamashita, pacing about his office. “I worked hard to get this plum appointment to Arthropoda. Do not screw it up for me, or else!”
“Why are the spiders throwing toasters, of all things? Have they gone crazy? Or is this a result of more games by you and your CIA buddies? Why was I not informed the spiders toasted their bread!”
“They don’t. That’s the problem. That, and a few malcontents and agitators. It’s nothing to worry about.”
“Security is getting lax,” complained Ambassador Yamashita. “I expect you to be more diligent.”
“Are you going to the Globetrotters game?”
“I don’t have tickets yet.”
“Neither do I. You tell Guido I expect front-row seats for two behind the American bench!”
The Emperor and his Americanized wife, Queen Rainbow from planet colony New Colorado, sat in a deluxe box seat high above the basketball arena.
“How come I have to sit way up here?” asked the Emperor, pointing unhappily at the basketball court below. “Look at that. Even that fool Barney has a front row seat!”
“Oh!” shouted Queen Rainbow. “Ambassador Yamashita and Lulu have front row seats, too. Do something! Everyone has front row seats but us!”
“Your Majesty, this deluxe box is necessary because of security concerns,” replied the Intelligentsia officer. “It is unsafe for you to sit among the peasants.”
“But the rabble have a much better view!” complained the Emperor.
“That reminds me,” said the Intelligentsia officer. “The game is about to start, and I have to get down there. My wife gets upset if I am late.”
“You have front row tickets?” asked the Emperor.
“Someone has to keep an eye on that anarchist Barney,” explained the Intelligentsia officer. “He has devious ways.”
“Give me those tickets!” demanded the Emperor, snatching the Intelligence officer’s stubs. “The queen and I will be sitting courtside.”
“But Your Majesty, it is not safe. What about security?”
“That is why I have Imperial Marines. It is about time they started earning their pay!”
“But my wife will be upset. I will get the silent treatment for weeks.”
“Tough! It’s about time I got out among my loyal subjects. An Emperor needs to be seen and to make his presence known. Otherwise, the peasants get restless.”
“It’s so nice of you to give up your tickets!” exclaimed Queen Rainbow, kissing the intelligence officer on his mandible, and excitedly following His Majesty down the stairs to courtside. “Everyone who is anyone is here. Oh honey, I’m so happy to be out of that box! Go Globetrotters!”
“We are cheering for the home team,” admonished the Emperor. “Remember your position.”
“Yes, dear,” answered the Queen as she ran off to greet and hug Lulu.
The Emperor let Queen Rainbow run amuck. Better she give Lulu an earful than him. A marine security detail chased after her. The spider all-stars, having finished their warm-ups, were seated directly in front of the Emperor. He leaned forward and tapped one of the players on the back. “I expect you to win this game, or else!” threatened the Emperor. “I have money riding on you.”
“We will try,” replied the startled spider player. “But you know the human pestilence Globetrotters have won over ten thousand games in a row.”
“What? That is impossible. If this game is fixed, heads will roll!”
“It is their ball handling,” explained the spider player. “Globetrotters pass the ball at the speed of light.”
“We shall see about that,” commented the Emperor, upset. “Speed of light indeed! You have eight hands and feet. You have eyes in the back of your head. Your superior evolutionary exoskeleton design gives you a distinct advantage. I expect superior ball handling and passing, or else. Do your Empire proud!”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
* * * * *
* * * * *
Skyhook Johnson captivated the crowd with his skilful dribbling and quick ball handling. An artist with a basketball, Skyhook was the de facto leader of the Globetrotters. He relished the spotlight, and all eyes were on him as he put on another fine performance for his fans, literally running circles around the spider all-stars.
Skyhook waved to the adoring crowd as he dribbled. With the lead secured, the Globetrotters now performed their antics. Skyhook grabbed the jersey of the spiders’ team captain, stretching the fabric several feet until the referee finally called a foul. As the spider player stood at the foul line, preparing for a free-throw shot, Skyhook snuck behind and pulled down one of the spider’s socks.
Annoyed, the spider player kicked at Skyhook but continued concentrating on his free-throw attempt. Skyhook darted in to pull down another sock. This time the spider player turned to confront Skyhook, chasing him past the three-point circle. Skyhook was too quick to be caught, taunting the spider player from afar. The crowd loved it, cheering loudly.
The spider player returned to the free-throw line. This time he kept one of his eight eyes pointed at Skyhook. The shot was up ... and missed! Skyhook clapped his hands, edging closer to the spider player. Skyhook rushed forward to grab the spider player’s sock again, but this time grabbed the his shorts, pulling them down. The spider player was furious, taking a vicious swipe at Skyhook with his claw. Skyhook avoided injury by deftly dancing back. He turned his back on the spider and waved again to the crowd.
The spider player threw the basketball at Skyhook, striking him in the back. Both benches cleared, followed by a lot of shouting and shoving. When order was restored, the spider basketball player returned the free-throw line.
Skyhook made a great show of apologizing to the spider player, extending his hand to shake hand to claw. They both publicly made amends, and play resumed. Skyhook tossed the basketball to the spider player. However, the ball fell short, bursting into a million ceramic pieces in front of the spider player.
Having switched the basketball for a ceramic ball, Skyhook now waved to the cheering crowd, celebrating his latest gag. The referee was not amused, and called a technical foul on Skyhook for delay of game.
Seeming out of character, Skyhook became enraged at being cited with a technical foul. He picked up a bucket from the bench and threatened to douse the spider referee with its contents. Mortified, the ref ran in the opposite direction, with Skyhook chasing close behind. They ran the entire perimeter of the basketball court, fans on each side cheering as they passed.
Suddenly the referee angled toward the spider all-stars’ bench. Arthropodan marines jumped up, forming a barrier protecting the Emperor. Annoyed, the Emperor yelled in displeasure, “Sit down you fools, I cannot see the show!”
“Your Majesty, that human pestilence intends to throw a bucket of water,” responded a spider officer. “We will not allow royalty to be assaulted by the human pestilence.”
“Nonsense!” replied the Emperor. “I have seen this show on human pestilence Satellite TV! It is just a gag for our amusement. The bucket only contains harmless paper confetti. Sit down, or else!”
As the spider marines lowered their guard, the referee ran straight toward the all-star bench. Skyhook, close on his heels, threw the bucket contents. Green Gatorade missed the referee and doused His Majesty.
A dozen spider marines rushed forward, grabbing Skyhook, knocking him the floor, and stomping the Globetrotter into unconsciousness. Skyhook was kicked so hard, his diamond stud earring popped out and skittered across the floor. Globetrotters, along with human fans and armed legionnaires from the honor guard, raced to save Skyhook. Several shots were fired, dispersing the crowd surrounding Skyhook. Sensing another riot about to take place, the spider Intelligentsia officer grabbed a microphone, trying to calm the crowd and establish authority. “By order of the Emperor, order will be restored immediately! By Imperial Decree, the human pestilence ‘World Trotters’ basketball team forfeits this game for unsporting and uncivilized-like conduct! The offending Skyhook is under arrest for assaulting the royal personage of His Majesty, and will be tried and executed at dawn! Go home. The show is over!”
Corporal Tonelli, who until now had been quietly watching and counting his profits, grabbed the microphone from the Intelligentsia officer. “Oh no you don’t!” yelled Corporal Tonelli. “You can’t fix this game!”
“The Emperor’s Decree is law!” replied the Intelligentsia officer. “Our all-stars win. Your human pestilence World Trotters lose. I win my bet! Pay up. Do not try to worm out of it. I will collect my due!”
“Not likely,” responded Corporal Tonelli. “All bets were registered and bonded through Bonanno Bookies and Associates of New Memphis. This matter will go to binding arbitration before any payouts are authorized.”
“You cheat!” accused the Intelligentsia officer, poking his claw at Corporal Tonelli. “Guido, you will not get away with welshing on our wager! You will be arrested if you do not pay up!”
“Read the fine print on the back of your receipt,” advised Guido. “Disputes are handled by binding arbitration. It’s the law. I think it’s even in the Constitution, somewhere in the Bill of Rights.”
“You will join Skyhook in front of a firing squad!”
“You want a war? Mess with me, and I’ll have the Mafia on you!”
“There is no such thing as the Mafia,” scoffed the Intelligentsia officer. “I have heard you say that a million times!”
“I lied. The Mafia is everywhere, and they will invoke the Vendetta if anything happens to me!”
The Intelligentsia officer paused, looking about, half expecting to be rushed by a mob of human pestilence sub-category Italiano. Not seeing any swarthy human pestilence about, he brightened. “You bluff. Your Mafia is a paper tiger, just like your Foreign Legion and your Uncle Sam!”
“You don’t know what are talking about,” warned Guido. “You better watch your back.”
VAMPIRE IN THE OUTFIELD All Johnny Black wants to do is play baseball in the major leagues. He wants that so badly, he's willing to do anything, even make a deal with the Devil. And it seems he's gone to Hell and done that when he arrives in Mexico to try out for the winter league playing for the Diablos. But despite bulking up with steroids, he plays lousy and fears he'll be cut from the team. But his luck seems to change ... for the worse ... when he goes to a cantina to drown his sorrows and meets a beautiful mysterious woman.
Baseball hasn’t changed much in the three centuries since that first officially recognized American game was played June 19, 1846, in Hoboken, New Jersey. However, pretty much everything else has changed since then. People now live on distant planets throughout the galaxy, and humanity has even fought wars against alien civilizations. There are urban legends rumoring aliens live right here on Old Earth, but that’s not some hokum I’m eager to buy into.
My name is Johnny Black. I am a nineteen-year-old from Tucson, Arizona, and I have always dreamed of playing major league baseball. I would do anything, even sell my soul to the Devil himself, to get to the Big Show. However, there is no such thing as the Devil, so I went with Plan B – steroids. That, and traveling to Mexico to play in the winter leagues. I have talent, just not enough. I’m planning to kick the steroids once I hone my skills and get in shape. All I need is a break. If I could get noticed by a major league scout, I would do the rest on pure talent alone.
A friend got me a tryout with the Sonora Diablos, so I headed on down to Mexico, waving at the soldiers as I passed the border checkpoint. I liked Mexico, but I wasn’t so sure Mexico liked me – everything under the desert moon stings, pokes, or bites. The upside is the year-round warm weather. I can cruise comfortably in my ride, the windows rolled down day or night.
At the tryouts, I had put on lots of muscle, but still struck out a lot. I could feel my dream slipping away. The Diablos were my last chance. Rumor had it that Coach Morales would cut me any day, leaving me washed up at twenty. I don’t have a Plan C. I went all in, blowing through my savings early on. I am even low on steroids right now.
After the game, depressed from sitting all night on the bench, and still wearing my Diablos uniform, I staggered into a cantina, the Chupacabra. Drinking tequila, I eyed a dark-haired beauty sitting a couple stools down the bar, giving her my best major-league smile. She nodded back, and I slid over to buy her a drink.
“I love baseball players,” she gushed, placing her hand seductively on my bicep. “And you are so strong, too. Are you a star for the Diablos?”
“For now,” I bragged. “It’s just temporary while I get in shape, or until the scouts notice me.”
“Then what?” she asked, stroking the back of my neck. “You will leave me to become a rich American baseball player in New York City? You will be like the immortal Alex Rodriguez?”
“Exactly, but I would never leave you, sweetheart.”
“My name is Anita. I have met lots of rich Americans, and they are not so special. But I sense you are different. You are special, and destined for great things. What is your blood type? O-negative?”
“How did you know that?” I asked, the hairs rising on the back of my neck. I shook off a premonition of doom and of striking out with Anita. Keep up the conversation, I told myself. Be smooth. I could sense my luck was changing, at least in love. “My name is Johnny.”
“Johnny, a proud baseball name!” exclaimed Anita, casually placing her hand on my knee. “You want to be a major league player? I think I can help you get a two year no-cut contract.”
“No more steroids,” I replied abruptly. “All that hype about steroids being a wonder drug is bull. I don’t need drugs for stamina and strength. It’s not the size of your bat that counts, it’s how you use it.”
“Keep telling yourself that,” scoffed Anita, still smiling. She had a beautiful smile with perfect white teeth accented by her dark sun-kissed skin. She had movie star good looks. “Come to my home, my macho baseball player. You won’t strike out with me. You won’t ever strike out again. I will help you score big time in the major leagues. We will be partners.”
“You don’t have to ask me twice,” I said, chugging down my drink and eagerly following her seductive hips out the door. My eyes swayed back and forth, almost hypnotized, as I chased after her. Back and forth, back and forth. It’s a guy thing. We have no control.
I could not believe my good fortune. This sort of thing never happens to me. I glanced both ways as we left the cantina, half-expecting to be mugged in the alley. Good luck with that, I thought, smirking. I’m broke! But tonight it looked like I was going to hit a home run. ‘My, oh my, fly away,’ as they still say in Seattle.
Anita walked up hill effortlessly in her stiletto heels, while I followed panting and out of breath. She took me up narrow streets atop a hill overlooking the town. Her home was painted up high class, just like her. Red tiles and blue painted brick, it looked down on the mere shanties below.
Anita led me by the hand through the doorway, upstairs to her bedroom, never bothering to turn on the lights. No chitchat, no more drinks, straight to bed. My kind of girl.
“Tonight, I give you a gift,” promised Anita, as we quickly shed our clothes. “And a curse.”
“Curse?” I asked, startled. “No way. I brought protection.”
In the dark, as I fumbled clumsily through my wallet for a condom, Anita caressed and kissed my neck ... and then ripped out my throat! What kind of shit is that? The bitch grew fangs and tore out my throat with her teeth – just like that, quick and neat. I just stared back at her in disbelief, a reflection of her next meal in her beautiful brown moonlit eyes. Damn, you know, some days just aren’t worth getting up for.
* * * * *
I died that night ... sort of. There was no funeral. I woke up on a wooden table in the city morgue, naked, splinters in my ass, with a tag tied to my big toe. Morgue workers approached from down the hallway, but in an instant I was gone, out a window. I flew like the wind, toe tag flapping in the breeze. I needed no explanation. I knew what had happened. I was killed by a vampire, and now I was one. This sucks!
How does a vampire support himself? I wondered. Crime? Murder and mayhem? Get a night job stocking shelves at Walmart?
No, not drugs.
The sound of a bat, the cheer of the crowd. I turned to see the familiar lights of Diablo Stadium. Of course! I am still on the team, still a Diablo. Can a vampire hit? Play baseball? I don’t see why not.
I ran faster toward the stadium, still naked, toe tag still flapping. I stopped. My senses were heightened. Such power. Such speed. I could be a lead-off hitter. I would never get caught stealing second base. But I needed clothes. I couldn’t play baseball naked. I passed a bum and, in a blur, snatched his clothes. His shoes did not fit.
The bum just stood there naked, crying, not knowing what happened. He looked down at the toe tag I left. “What the hell?” The bum shrugged, took another swig from his bottle, and staggered away.
The bum’s clothes itched. I could feel lice crawling everywhere. And the smell. I dismissed it. My newfound power was intoxicating. In an instant, I was in the stands. Fans all around cheered as the Diablos prepared to bat in the bottom of the first inning.
“Aye, you’re blocking my view. Find a seat,” snarled a burly fan as I gazed down at the field.
He had popcorn in one hand, a beer in the other, and wore a Diablo team shirt. Reflexively, I snarled, baring my teeth. Anita had given me a gift, but I was not wasting it killing the likes of this fool. In an instant I snatched his Diablo shirt and the popcorn. The popcorn needed more butter and salt, but the shirt fit perfectly. I leaped over the dugout fence and into the company of my teammates.
“You’re off the team,” shouted Coach Morales, noticing my disheveled appearance, blood still on my neck. “Get out or I’m calling the police. You’re nothing but a drunk!”
“I’m pinch hitting,” I demanded, snatching a bat from the on-deck hitter. “Don’t mess with me, Morales. I know where you live!”
Morales backed off, crossing himself as I snarled and bared my teeth. I strode confidently to the plate. The umpire took of his mask to confront me, pointing to the ground.
“Where are your shoes?” he asked. “You cannot play without shoes!”
“Didn’t you ever watch Field of Dreams?” I snarled. One of my fangs glistened from the stadium lights. “You remember Shoeless Joe? I’m Shoeless Johnny!”
“Crazy gringos,” relented the umpire, nervously turning his back to me and donning his mask. “Play ball!”
The pitcher, Miguel Dominguez, only threw fastballs. I knew I could easily hit off him. But the bright reflection from a cross dangling from his gold chain blinded me. I put my hand up to shield my eyes as the first pitch was thrown.
“Time out!” I shouted, backing out of the batter’s box. I trotted over to third base. The fans booed. I snatched the third base coach’s sunglasses and returned to the plate. The glare from the cross was still too much. The next pitch, up high and inside, brushed me back and into the dirt. “That bastard,” I snarled, rushing the pitcher’s mound. Both benches cleared, but I was to the mound first, snatching Dominguez’ gold chain and throwing it to the stands. It burned red hot in my hand. Steam rose from my blisters. I recoiled.
Diablos tried to save me from the other team. Maybe I was just a crazy gringo, but damn it, I was their crazy gringo, and no one from Nogales was going to kick my ass and get away with it. Being a home game, the fans were with me, cheering wildly and throwing beer bottles. One fan, shirtless and drinking a beer, caught Dominguez’ gold chain. He waved back at me like a long lost friend, holding the chain up for all to see, like a trophy of war.
After much shoving and shouting, the players settled back to their dugouts. The umpire allowed me to stay in the game because I snarled at him again, and because we were the home team.
The next pitch, another fastball, was in my sweet spot. CRACK! I easily hit the ball over the left field fence. That’s what I’m talking about! This vampire thing is going to work, I told myself as I rounded third base, headed for home, and returned high-fives and congratulations from Morales and my teammates.
Cameras flashed. Video ran. I would be all over the local news tomorrow. I hit three more home runs and ended the night with a bunt just to show off. A scout from the Seattle Mariners was waiting for me in the locker room after the game, with a two-year no-cut contract in hand.
“That was a hell of a game, son,” exclaimed Ronald Hassle. “Call me Ron. I see a bright future for you in the Seattle Mariners organization.”
“Seattle?” I asked. “Does Seattle have a domed stadium?”
“Oh, don’t worry about the rain,” insisted Hassle. “It’s hardly noticeable, once you get used to it. Think of it as moist Washington air. It’s good for the skin, too, and you don’t have to worry about getting cancer from sun spots.”
“It’s the sunlight that bothers me,” I replied. “I hate sunlight.”
“No worries there,” replied Hassle, pushing the contract across a table for me to sign. “The sun never comes out in the Pacific Northwest.”
“What about day games?” I asked, as I read the fine print. It’s all in the details. “Do I have to play the California Angels? I hate that ‘Big A’ with that stupid halo on top.”
“Of course we play the Angels,” advised Hassle. “Now, see here. What kind of question is that? Do you have a history of mental illness? Have you ever been institutionalized?”
“Never,” I said, quickly signing the contract. “Is that it? Am I in the major leagues now?”
“You might have to play for Tacoma a short time, but I see no problems,” promised Hassle, just now noticing the blood on my neck and shirt. “You are a natural. If you pass your physical, and the blood test, you’re in!”
“Blood test?” I asked.
“It’s just a formality.”
“Great!” I replied, shaking Ron’s hand. “I thought I would never get noticed. I was so desperate, I almost joined the Foreign Legion. Ron, you saved me from a fate worse than death!”
Remember, we are partners, announced Anita, her voice all around, but only for me. I looked about, but the vampire vixen was not to be seen. Partners for life, she repeated, my soon-to-be rich American baseball player!