The Science Fiction War


The Science Fiction War

There is another flash and bang.  This time the seconds between the two are nearly absent.  Death is dancing on heavy feet around me, and I sit hunkered down in the mud in a trench listening to the rain falling, listening to the deluge, listening to one hell of a storm, listening to hellfire and water and brimstone fall from the sky like crazy.  What a day.

            Strangely, I am more bored than scared.

            The enemy is moving not far away and none too quietly near me.  But more than anything else, I just want to get this whole damned thing over with.  It seems as if I’ve been here forever, endlessly waiting for something, anything, to happen, sitting precariously on the forward cutting edge, dull from idleness.

            Above me, my ceiling is a green plastic poncho stretched between four poles and sagging in the middle.  It’s filling with rain.  Somewhere in it, there is a pesky hole.  In the slick trodden mud, where the grass is trampled and broken, uprooted beneath my shuffling my feet, there is a puddle, a puddle that is swelling, growing, fed slowly, drop by drop from the pesky hole, filling it up.

            It’s been raining since I arrived: sometimes violently, sometimes drizzling, sometimes misting--but always raining, always wet, always saturating everything.  It’s dreary in this place--cloudy, foggy, smoky, soggy--and all of these cheerless things seem to run together in one big, mean pack, like rabid dogs.

            Looking around, there isn’t much that remains to be seen, not much except the fires.  In the gray and the gloom there are hundreds of little fires, fires that are burning red hot, glowing in the night, streaking bright in the dark, then extinguishing, going out, flaming out like little, tiny shooting stars, screaming.  And going out.  And still, more jerk up in their place, burning, blazing, raging.  Then, they too go out.  This place is a meteor shower.  And yet, despite the fires, this is still the most dim and turbid of places, dark.

Often, you can't see anything at all.

            Through this ordeal, I’ve learned that to lose one sense sharpens another.  With the loss of light, you lose color.  Then, to take its place, sounds step up their tempo and tone and gain in power and position. We can learn to listen skillfully.  Here you must.  And when you learn to listen, really listen, even something like a cricket rubbing its legs together in the dark can become a symphony.  It could be a beautiful thing, crickets chafing their legs together in the night.  But there are no crickets here.  They’ve gone.  They’ve been replaced by the distant rock and roll of machinegun fire, the bass thump of heavy mortars, the steady drum tapping of the rain. Then, as if this really is all just some ill-composed, horribly gone wrong rock and roll song, someone discharges an impromptu vocal into the night, staccato screams that fade to distant thunder.  It’s heavy metal.  The chorus is yet to come, I think.

            And sometimes, it’s just quiet.

            It’s quiet now.  It’s quiet except for the water splashing into the puddle from the hole in my poncho.  I'm not sure which is worse, the plop, plopping of endless water dropping when it’s quiet, or the boom, booming of endless bombs falling when it's not.  Probably neither is the better and neither is the worse, not in the end.  It all depends on how you look at it.

            There are many ways to look at things.   How you focus on something dictates how you perceive it, how you perceive it dictates how you feel about it.  At first, my focus was on the bombs meandering all around me, screaming, roaring, shaking the ground, sending shudders up my spine, rattling my teeth, my nerves, my wits, booming.  None have found me yet, so I'm learning to ignore them.  If you don't, they will steal your sanity.  And even thunder and lightning will lose their power after a while without a bite occasionally.  Things need to be put into their proper perspective.

            Not long ago I began to focus on the noisy dripping water, the constant, ugly, plop, plopping of the stuff.  It started to remind me of some brutal form of torture.  And I suppose it could be torture, and just as effective as death, not unlike the bomb that blows you up or the bullet that invades your brain.  It gets inside you and ruins you.  Ends you.  That terrible dripping rainwater, the plop, plopping of it, was beginning to drive me insane.

            Suddenly, I began to change my focus.  I began to wish I could be one of those drops of rainwater--ready, set, jump--falling into the pond, never coming out again, swallowed by the whole, rejoining with it after a big leap of faith.

            As I thought about it, the ripples in the pond began to take on a new and dream-like significance for me.  Now I see them as lovely, just simply beautiful.  And as each new drop plummets into the pond, the whole thing vibrates gorgeously, exquisitely.  It shimmies and shakes like jello.

            I watch, and the headlong plunge of a single drop, made straight down into the center of the pond, causes the rest of the water to break into a tiny swell, a swell that rolls out in a Lilliputian wave, a wave that pushes gently and quietly outwards, causing the whole thing to grow.  Then the water rolls back in upon itself, greeting its newest and now suddenly fallen comrade, espousing it into the whole.  Such lovely and exquisite little ripples roll in the tiny pond my footprint has made in the mud, and it’s growing drop by drop.  If only I could do that.  If only I could become like the water and drop into the pond, make it ripple and grow, unite with it.

           My rifle sits near me.  It’s smooth and cool to the touch of my wet, soiled and cracked fingertips as I caress it.  It’s made of cold black steel: molten earth poured into molds by clever smithies that have made clever casts of the same stuff they pour.  Dipped in cool water to harden, then beaten into mechanical perfection, it becomes a tool shaped by its maker, shaping its maker.  Steel pours from giant vats a gooey liquid, red-hot and ready to take whatever form smithies can imagine.  That form, good or bad, becomes a part of our lives.  As we learn to change the molds, improve on them, we can transform and improve ourselves.

            My rifle is a marvel of engineering: it’s strong, simple to use, feels comfortable in my hands; it is my best friend--or so I’m told.  And when you spend quality time with your best friend, the relationship becomes comfortable; at least until one of you finally out grows the other.  And my rifle can send a tiny piece of lead hissing across the landscape at nearly the speed of light.  That’s important.  Some of the guys have given their rifles names.  They’ve given them glorious and powerful sounding names like Slayer, Bone-Cruncher, Hell Raiser, Butcher.  I’ve never given mine a name.  And I don't suppose I ever will.  It’s just a tool after all.  As I look at it now, laying in the mud, it doesn’t look very powerful.  It doesn’t look very glorious.  It just looks like an extra piece of baggage, something that’s hell to carry around.

            Hell is a lot of things.

            This is hell.  I can’t ignore it.  I can’t forget it.  I remember it every time the ground shakes and explodes in red, white and blue and burns red-hot.  And when that happens, you can see, in your mind, the devil leaping out of the flames at you, leering with a pitch fork turned into a blazing machinegun.  He looks like a soldier.

            People make a place heaven or hell.  We've made this place a hell, each and every one of us.  And, as if there weren’t enough people here already, we insist on dragging in more.  There's a new load due in tomorrow.

            "Welcome aboard boys, here's your rifle and here's your shovel," good old Sarge will tell them.  I can hear him now, "Keep your heads down boys, keep your mouths closed… do what you're told and you'll be okay.”

            Welcome aboard boys.

Home is where you hang your hat, here is where you sit on it, getting ugly, getting bloody, getting dirty, getting filthy and foul deep down in the sludge, digging the ditch that we all started to dig a long time ago.  Welcome home boys.  Welcome to the war.

            I wonder why I bother writing this.  Maybe I’m finally rising to a greater good.  But don’t look to me to be a hero.  Don’t look to me to be a saint.  I’m immobilized.  Consider my options: If I fight, I kill somebody; if I don't, I let everyone down and get them killed.


            Decision, indecision, and no decision are not the separate things we like to believe them to be.  They are in fact, one and the same thing.  I haven’t had the luxury of making decisions lately.  Others have been making them for me.  The last decision I made was in allowing that to happen, and that can get you into some troublesome spots.  Now I'm a soldier.  Soldiers follow orders.

            Steinbeck wrote in East of Eden, "The humilities are piled on a soldier... in order that he may, when the time comes, be not too resentful of the final humility--a meaningless and dirty death."

            Well, Mr. Steinbeck, here I am, humbler now than I could ever have imagined.  I’m eating mire and muck and sleeping whenever I can, rolled up in a wet and soiled blanket with nowhere warm and dry to be, living not so differently than the homeless in the streets back home.  Worse though, people back home simply ignore the homeless--step over them, go around them, mutter insults while walking by--hoping the homeless will somehow go away, get back into the fold of things somehow.  Here, people don’t step over you.  And they don't go around you.  Not unless you’re dead.  And if you aren’t dead, they actively seek to make you that way.


            I’ve always wanted to be a writer and to write meaningful, powerful and important stuff like Steinbeck.  I read somewhere that "the writer writes in order to know himself."  Steinbeck wrote a lot.  I guess he knew himself.

            I guess it’s time I got to know myself.  Maybe that’s a first step.  We all have to crawl, then take baby steps, before we can walk, before we can grow.  It’s never too late, right?  But maybe this time it is.  Where would I begin?  I feel caged, bordered in, trapped like a rat with his tail caught in the jaws of a hungry cat, scratching out a hole in the dirt trying to get away.

In reality, borders are nothing more than lines drawn on a map, but the border I‘m sitting on redraws itself every day, changing and leaving in its path an inferno, a conflagration that consumes everything around it with a hungry mouth, a ravenous set of jaws biting and ripping and tearing everything apart.  I could be gobbled up any second now.  And good old Sarge didn't say anything about packing up and leaving anytime soon.

            No, he just drove hurriedly back to friendly lines.

            He hates to come out here.  He's never said that.  But you can see it in his hasty movements, his quick and darting eyes.  And you can hear it the rapid, shifting and grinding of jeep gears when he leaves.

            Why am I here?

            A good question is always a good place to start when looking for answers.  But the answer to my question nobody seems to know, not really.  It may have been some high roller misunderstanding.  Maybe somebody pissed somebody off.  Maybe somebody wanted the price of gas to go up, stay the same, or go down.  It could be any number of stupid reasons.  Maybe just because.  In the end, it doesn't really matter.  I'm here--if that matters to anybody but me--and the economy is back-on-line and in full swing.  The industrialists are growing fat, the banks are lending money, the military industrial complex is churning out product, the pharmaceutical companies are making drugs, the newspapers are selling out, politicians are being bought and sold, capitalism is bulldozing forward.

And the kings are empire building.  And the emperors feel empowered.

Fall in formation, follow your Centurions, they will tell you, those kings, those emperors.  The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, they say.  Society's needs outweigh those of its separate citizens, the Commander and Chief says.

Now there’s a good one.  Do not believe that, Commander and Chiefs don’t.  Kings don’t.  Emperors don’t.  Their needs always outweigh yours.  That’s what happens in stratification: an oligarchy by any other name is still a hierarchy.  And in any pecking order, the King Cock's concern is not the young rooster's needs.  It is his own needs with which he is concerned, and that you fall in line and do not challenge him.

But back to hell.

            Each of us must pass through our personal hells, however large or small en route to heaven.  Through this one I’m afraid, quite a few have yet to pass.  To that end, we have concocted ourselves quite an effective little hell.  Many people are now en route to heaven.  I hope that they’ve learned something.  But the people that really need to learn aren’t even here, and neither are their children.  And that’s the real shame of it--And I'm afraid that even those that are here, aren't learning.

            Hell, we are going to be here for a while.

            "Hell,” what a concept.

            Hell is a state of mind caused by our concern for outer stimuli.  True, you could consider angry guys with rifles and mortars some pretty good outer stimuli, along with the bombs, the bullets, the fire.  And they can get you down, saturate you with some real poison.  They can fill you up with some stuff that will kill you.  But that is not the worst of it.  The worst of it is in being besieged by your inner storms, which are caused by your outer stimuli, wherein the real hell is to be found.  You see, it’s all in our own fucked up heads.  We give ourselves hell and then we give it away freely to everyone else.  Doesn't it make you feel better to know that you have plenty of company when things are really hell?  Misery doesn’t love company.  Misery loves miserable company.  That’s something we need to grow out of.

            But I’m leaving all that behind.  I’m done with it.  I’ve decided that I, for one, have had enough of hell.  The secret you know, is just to remember that you--the spirit inside--is so much more than anything that could ever possibly happen to you on the outside.


            Something must happen now.  It must happen straightaway, even if I have to make it happen.

I’m left wondering if I will be missed.  No.  Not me.  I’m just a pawn.  Just a tool.  I’m just a soldier.  I’m just a guy crouching down in the muck of it all, hunched down in the shit of it all, living in the asshole of it all, fighting a science fiction war for the fuck of it all.  Still, I can’t help but believe I could be something more.

 And perhaps I could be more.  Perhaps I could be one of those little drops of rainwater, rainwater falling into the pond, drop by drop, swallowed up by the whole, rejoining with it after a big leap of faith, plop, plopping into the pool that a single footprint has made in the mud.  Maybe I could be one of the many uniting against the few.  Maybe I can be… me.  And you.

Donald Dean Mace

Donald Dean Mace is an artist, poet, guitarist and freelance writer living and working quietly in Yuma, Arizona.  He has travelled the world extensively (Europe, Africa and Asia) and in the 1980’s and 1990’s lived and worked in Germany for a total of 10 years.  He has retired twice, once from the US Army and once from US federal service, both careers were in law enforcement.  He is currently working on a novel.  He has been published by Ariel Chart, the Yuma Daily Sun, the Arizona Western College Literary Magazine, his poetry was featured in a public service broadcast, he is Pushcart nominee for poetry, and he was recently a guest on Mark Antony Rossi’s podcast, Strength to be Human.


  1. About daggone time we got some sci-fi in this saloon. Real worthy read. We need more.

  2. I agree with Emmett, you guys need more sci-fi up in here.

Previous Post Next Post