“Hey, Captain Mustard.” A jocular voice called to Marcus Sears (Capt. USCA, ret.) from across the American Legion bar.

“So much for my night.” Marcus acted oblivious and sipped his sake. He tried to lose himself in the fruity tang of the liquor and the redolent cigar smoke of the bar. But the tall, lanky form kept coming towards him. Marcus grit his teeth and answered in a resigned voice, “Hey Spooky. How’s it been?” He then signaled the bartender for a refill.

“Been good, Mustard, doing a little consulting work for some concerns down in Oklahoma. How about you? Still doing the semi-retired thing?”

Marcus didn’t answer; he pulled at his rice wine as he pulled inward, thoughts drifting back over the decades.

After a pause of ages, just as Spooky was ready to move on to someone more talkative, he answered, “Yeah, still doing the occasional protection job. But mostly beating around.”

Spooky leaned on the bar. “Fuck man, being a hired muscle at your age? With your background?”

Marcus hunched his shoulders. “It’s extra cash, easy enough work, even if it takes some stomach. Why?”

“Why!? Why!?” Spooky crossed his arms in front. “Because you were a commanding officer of one of an important irregular artillery battery during the war. The goddamn Butcher of Philadelphia, the Pacifications of Brooklyn, Baltimore, and D.C. All the way to the Inland Campaign and L.A.

A fucking Dragon Gun working as a small-fry rent-a-cop!”

Marcus’ face pulled upward in a sneer. “That’s the past. And as much as I’m a hero to some, I prefer to forget that shit. Slinging mustard gas and phosgene is a lot nastier than riding in the belly of an AC 130 gunship and turning commies into dog meat.”

Spooky took a seat and motioned the bartender over. “Whiskey on the rocks.”

“All I got is corn whiskey,” the bartender said.

“It’ll do,” Spooky said.

His drink served, Spooky bolted it down and let out a satisfied sigh. He signaled for another and turned to Marcus. “Big things are happening in the Plains Confederation. 20 years—think about it, 20 years—Texas and Louisiana have been a Mexican narco state. Well, the Confederation would like to get their products to the international markets without having to pay exorbitant levies on the Mississippi Delta.”

Marcus laughed a dry laugh. “Well, they have the West Coast ports.”

“And what? Get screwed and give business to the People’s Republic of Portlandia?” Spooky leaned in closer and lowered his voice to a hard whisper. “I know you’re a good guy, tight-lipped, mind your own business. I’ll be straight with you: they’re building a fleet of AC-119s. Not quite as good as the AC-130, but with upgraded avionics, those miniguns and Vulcan cannons can chew up a fuckton of real estate.”

Marcus sipped his sake, played the cloudy straw colored liquid around his mouth, and swallowed. “And you think they could use a chemical cannoneer to consult on urban operations.”

“Got it in one, Captain Mustard,” Spooky said and slapped Marcus on the back.

Marcus glared back at Spooky.

A smile broke out on Spooky’s face. “You still have it. That old bloodlust. It never leaves, does it? Sometimes you just bite your tongue hard enough to taste that coppery taste one more time. Even if all the dreams of torn up bodies make it hard sometimes.”

Marcus looked away. “I remember blistered corpses, blue and white bodies piled up. I still remember those first dead fish.”

Spooky’s smile got wider. “I remember the first. When we did Seattle. You’re right; viewing assholes get chunked through FLIR isn’t up close and personal. A bit too Call of Duty. But let me tell you…”


Staff Sgt. Chad “Spooky” Dean watched the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone float across his screens. The white heat signatures of the people, generators, trash fires, and other sundry sources relayed to him circling 7,000 feet above in an ovidal orbit.

Circling hour after hour through the dark and cloudy Seattle sky. Waiting for the Cheeto Chimp in the White House to do something, to give the order.

The captains and lieutenant were having a pow-wow when Spooky saw mass movement on his screens surging towards East Pine.

“Captain Tompkins, you better check this out. I have a huge crowd gathering at the Bobby Morris Playfield.”

The fire control officer stood over Spooky’s shoulder and said, “Well, fucking look at that shit. Is that what I think it is? Get me a close up on that.” Captain Tompkins pointed to a solitary figure that seemed to be the center of the crowd’s attention.

A few bodies lay splayed in growing pools of white.

Spooky zoomed in on the figure.

Tompkins laughed. “Looks like someone is about to get lynched again.”

Someone wound up a spiked bat and swung, sending white spray into the air.

“Sir,” Spooky asked, “should we confirm with ground elements?”

“I’ll do it,” Tompkins said and returned to the cockpit.

Spooky watched, fascinated, as someone sawed off the victim’s head and held it up. The mob tore the rest of the body to pieces.

Some of the heated discussion from the forward compartment filtered back.

“…Time to move…”

“…They’re on board…”


The minutes passed as Spooky continued to watch. The mob took turns pissing on the corpse. More fights broke out.

Spooky reported the latest developments, “Captain Tompkins, the crowd is growing more agitated. They’re beating the shit out of each other again.”

Five minutes passed; the only answer he received was, “Standby.”

The minutes played out as standby orders were relayed for the better part of an hour.

Then, “Cleared to fire. Target the crowd and the crack house on 11th.”

“Soften them up. Equalizer and Bofors only.”

Spooky and the rest of the enlisted hesitated, then loaded. His heart disappeared within his chest. His body dropped away into the abyss.

Spooky worked the cameras as the gunners fed the cannons.

The 25mm Equalizer tore into the crowd.

The 40mm Bofors reigned down explosive shells.

The vibrations shook the fuselage.

He watched bodies fly through the air kicking before falling limp to the earth.

“Moving on Raz’s distribution center, ready high explosive for the 105,” Captain Tompkins ordered.

The massive AC-130 closed in on Raz’s operation, bearing down like a great white shark.

“Cleared to fire.”

The gunship rocked in the air.



The four story crack house blew outward in a white fiery spittle, streaks on Spooky’s screens.

Spooky reported to the Captain, “Captain Tompkins, hostiles on the roofs of the adjacent buildings are shooting small arms at us.”

Captain Tompkins said, “Light ‘em up with all you got. We’re going home empty, boys!”

It became a mad minute in the sky.

Lines of fire streaked from the heavens into the CHOP.

“Target any structure over three stories.”

Brick and mortar turned to dust in the blink of an eye.

Human forms reduced to meaty red chunks.

Some, for reasons incomprehensible, took refuge in tents and port-o-lets.

Through the gunship’s monitors, Spooky registered all this.

Everything fell away until Spooky was a pair of eyes floating in the darkness of the fuselage.


“There wasn’t even a park bench left. Some heavy shit for one small part of a nationwide counterstrike over the next two days.” Spooky jangled the ice in his glass for the bartender to get him another.

Marcus looked at his half empty sake glass and motioned for a topper. “I remember. The next morning, I woke up to the news all over cable TV. Couldn’t get anything off Twitter since their servers were turned into ash. Quite a surprise to see things like half of Northern Virginia blown off the map or all the bridges and tunnels leading out of Manhattan destroyed.”

Holding his glass, Spooky pointed at Marcus. “So now you get it, Captain Mustard. Fighting a war is one thing. Starting one is another.”

Marcus smoothed his salt-and-pepper hair back. “Oh, I get it. The whole antebellum notion of a ‘fair’ fight stuck around long after. The only thing that matters is winning and I know I wasn’t slogging it out in some MOUT bullshit. We had fire superiority, they didn’t.”

“Fuck ‘em,” Spooky said. “Here’s my card if you want to reconsider advising hayseeds how to drop hot sauce on tacos.” He slid Marcus his business card over the bar.


Chad “Spooky” Dean (Colonel, USCAF reserves) left the oppressive atmosphere of the American Legion bar. Thick with smoke and regrets, he was glad for the open night air. He let his feet carry him through an alley that bisected the block. Two men in leather trenchcoats joined him.

“Where to, Colonel?” the larger man asked.

“Sergeant Wells, I feel like taking a long walk to the overlook, if you and Sergeant Diaz don’t mind.”

“Colonel, we’re always up for a walk. Though this section of the city isn’t the safest after dark.”

“I know, I know.”

They passed a group of junkies hanging out on a derelict stoop. A beast with two backs slipped in and out of oily shadows. Spooky cast a glance at the two trannies rubbing dicks. A shiver ran up his spine when one of the junkie she-hes saw them and shouted, “15 reals to watch, 30 to join in.”

He kept walking, much to the relief of his protective detail.

A dirty, grime-matted skell lurked in the doorway of an abandoned shell of a building. His eyes locked onto the fancy men coming his way. He pulled his knife to his chest, waiting for the three men to pass before he struck.

The adrenalin spike heightened his PCP high. Savage images coursed through his brain, slashing the old man, plunging his knife into the old man’s butt boys over and over, until he felt an almost sexual compulsion launching him forward.

Diaz’ nickel-slicked 1911 was out of its holster and on target in a flash. In another flash, a 230-grain hardballer slug transected the skell’s brain.

The body hammered face first into the ground.

Spooky regarded the corpse for a second.

In his mind’s eye, he could see an aerial thermal image of the scene: the other creeps and losers slinking away into even darker recesses.

They ascended a slope of cracked and weathered asphalt into forever, until, at last, they reached the overlook.

Few lights burned in the city below. Those still lit on the streets and in the residential windows were dim and ethereal. Corpse lights on a blasted heath. Winds off the river carried the distance smells of fires and rotting garbage heaps.

“Colonel, if I may ask a question?” Sgt. Diaz said.

“Shoot, sergeant.”

“Every visit to this city you make a trip up here. Why?”

Spooky looked at the man 30 years his junior. “Diaz, you got a girl? I don’t mean a hump, like what some old-fashioned folks would call ‘the one.’”

“Yes, sir. Something like that.”

“Before the war, I had a girlfriend. She lived in this city, back when it was a real city. Lights as far as you could see, bright as day. The population then was more than a million people, if you can believe that.”

Diaz gave the old man’s words consideration.

Spooky went on, “Well, before my last deployment with the former U.S. Air Force, we had a nice date night. Actually went to a restaurant, drank wine, we were actually able to have a fun time during the pandemic. And then at the end of the night, when we were all shit-faced and feeling good, we ended up here and I proposed.”

“I see, sir. What happened after that?”

“Nothing. I never saw her again. Never found out what happened to her. For all I know, she could be at the bottom of the river.”

Diaz nodded and Spooky turned back to the overlook for a little while longer.

Later that night, he dreamt his recurring dream. Down there in the ruins, he is hiding when he hears the world tremble under the turboprops of the AC-130s on a gun run. The rumbling grows in intensity, the gunships dropping altitude, the people around him crouch deeper, until finally 25mm rounds tear through the living room.

Everyone dies screaming in fear and panic.

Deep in the night, dreaming this dream, Spooky smiled.