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Issue 45 • July 2022
Veterans of Future Wars
edited by Deborah L. Davitt

Table of Contents

Editor’s IntroductionDeborah L. Davitt

[war memorial] • Andrew J. Wilson
Concerning the Fallen Soldiers in Orbit Around Sagittarii Prime • Brian Hugenbruch
Remember the Basin • Tony Daly
As If • Gerri Leen
The Battle Monument Over Tessain III • Daniel Ausema
Heroes Returning • David Barber
Only Times • Beth Cato
Human In The Loop • N. Jed Todd
Foxholes and Foxgloves • Gretchen Tessmer
Old Soldier, New Love • Vince Gotera
Arrival Time Uncertain • Hilary Biehl
Military Wife • Laura Beth Ramsay
The Way Forward is a Maze • Dawn Vogel
Committee Hearing on the Gliese 581c Strike • Michael Perry
Service Day, 35th Jubilee • R. H. Nelson
Evocatus • Oliver Smith
All You Need to Know • Ann K. Schwader
Sestina for a Lost Planet • Abi Marie Palmer
Song of the Cyborg Drop Pilot • Angus McIntyre
Check Your Balance • T. M. Tomilson
Duty • RK Rugg
Natural Forces • William R. D. Wood


war memorial—
some comrades’ names are engraved
in binary code

—Andrew J. Wilson

Concerning the Fallen Soldiers in Orbit Around Sagittarii Prime

Lasers slash across the vacuum
empty save for the rage of searing heat
and the splintered light of wanton carnage

metal ships and shorn limbs
fall asymptotically toward the dark
like shattered glass

that will never hit the ground.
They reflect the moment’s furious fireworks
until hearts and suns burn out.

—Brian Hugenbruch

Remember the Basin

Oppression struck beneath the surface—
biological weapons circulated through
air vents into mining tunnels
honeycombing Hellas Impact Basin.
We died in blood and puss,
prematurely buried in the same red soil
many of us had tread since birth.
We died from viruses sent from Earth.

We rose from craters
like vengeful wraiths.
We rose with anger.
We rose with fear.
We rose with munitions
commissioned by our motherland
and her overlords.
We rose.
We stood our ground
—and we fell.

No more—Mars.
No more fearful restraint.
No more bending.
No more bowing.
No more measly scraps
from Mother Earth’s abundant table.

Rise against tyranny.
Rise from Planum Boreum to Planum Australe.
Rise Arabia Terra.
Rise Amazonis Planitia.
Rise like Olympus Mons slicing
through the dust devils
barring us from heaven.
Rise with memories of The Basin
firing your hearts—
steeling your resolve.
Rise and remove your leashes
from the hands of your oppressors.

—Tony Daly

As If

You think I’m screwed up, don’t you?
You pretend your call is just
A family thing, what one sister does for another
You’d never say that the war
Left an indelible mark
And I’ll never get over it
That PTSD is inevitable
Depression and anxiety
Sleepless nights and groggy days at work
Where my supervisor eyes me
With distaste because I had such promise
He knew me when I was a kid
Thought I was such a nice girl
Gave me a chance at a job I’m
Probably not even qualified for because
He was a friend of our parents
And because he probably thinks
Women like me don’t do well in war
Especially when the enemy is as brutal
As our adversaries were
Especially when our blood and theirs mixed into
This godawful orange color
Different than a traffic cone—quit
Trying to compare what I saw to
The things you see—you don’t know
No, I’m not mad
I’m fine
I keep telling you that
Yes, I’m taking my meds
Yes, the assistance dog is great
No, I’m not having nightmares
Every night
Orange-tinted hellscapes
Of bodies that don’t stay dead
And have three rows of teeth
Why would I dream about that?
I was a soldier
I was proud to be a soldier
I did what we had to do
Fight, kill
Yeah, and die: the lucky ones
No, of course I don’t mean that
No, I get it, bad joke
No, I didn’t buy another gun
Who told you I did?
Yeah, okay—talk to you tomorrow

—Gerri Leen

The Battle Monument Over Tessain III

After the fighting, all that remained—
the flotsam of a thousand ships shattered—
formed a ring of deadly debris.
Survivors and orphans beneath—
a mingled mix of victors and foes,
their sides forgotten in the crush to survive—
had no way to commemorate the fighting
on location.
The space junk too dangerous, the
weapon residuals too unpredictable.
Makeshift memorials popped up,
windblown letters of regret, longing.
Nothing permanent to externalize
the fears and angers and weight of experience
on the planet floor.

After a generation the first true memorial rose,
a sculpture of melted, melded parts,
unrecognizable after reentry, but
together a clear image of a glorious ship
patrolling the skies;
or, seen from another angle,
of a ship in mid-explosion.
Both images as real and vital to how
those below meet and remember and
see through the past.

The survivors and vanquished above,
build their monuments quick,
anchored digital beacons scattered
among the debris, each one
demarking a tiny portion of the fighting.
Their historians dissect the reports,
study the trajectories and memories as if
either were reliably true,
and assign each region to this micro-battle or that.
Perhaps they believe memory so fractured
will minimize the pain, the guilt, the horror.
Instead each amplifies each until
the ring calls out to the stars, howls its loss.

When the first pathway at last opens,
threading through microparticles into
the darkened atmosphere below,
all they see in the two-sided statue and
all they see in the history of that time
is the angry, exploding ship.

—Daniel Ausema

Heroes Returning

Brought home by the peace,
scarred by worlds aflame
and weapons so terrible
they snuffed out suns,

the slippage of years
travelling near c became
the reason the future shunned us:
not being safely dead

like history. We came back
to monuments of shame,
crowds protesting what we did,
alien envoys looking on.

Even the language changed,
our names new words for blame,
and a hero what they call
murderers now.

—David Barber

Only Times

I only remember Grandma’s arm
activating one time, ever,
and that was when I was about ten

we’d gone to the park that spring
a mean swan kept coming after us
even though we hadn’t gone near
the water where eggs might be
Grandma’s voice was calm as ever
but all of a sudden lights flashed
through the cloth of her sleeve
her hand retracted and a gun emerged
we both stared at it in shock

with a nervous laugh Grandma said,
“It’s not supposed to do that,”
and hurried us further away from
the swan, from other people
the gun withdrew
her prosthetic hand returned
she asked me, “Are you okay?”
I nodded

most of the time I forgot she’d lost
her arm and leg in the war and had
cybernetic replacements so she could
still fight
mom had told me to never, ever
ask Grandma about the war
or her time in space
I never did

“There’s no ammunition in my arm
I couldn’t have hurt that bird
or you,” Grandma said, her voice rattling
in a way I’d never heard before
I hugged her then, and she cried
the only time I saw her cry
other than at Grandpa’s funeral
“It’s okay, Grandma,” I said
words I understood to be a lie
but knew I still needed to say

—Beth Cato

Human In The Loop

Swarm scars and tics still haunt me
From a war I could not fight alone

I dream a swarm’s dream, suffer swarm trauma
Relive swarm error and by my gut reduce it
I am the ghost in the machine, the human in the loop
And as I fought the Swarm War, I became the Cloud

A thousand eyes and a thousand guns
A hundred thousand racing pulsing data links
And a human in the loop to guide her
But no man breathes out the Cloud without first breathing in

We choke on our hubris

They grounded us good pilots, told us we’d fly the Swarm
That human in the loop was OODA-true
The Swarm was but our hands and feet
But any pilot knows a checklist--even when it’s them

Threw away my log-book, traded for nights at home
A turtle armored in the desert sand, trailer for my shell
Dreaming I could be a swarm of swallows
Pretending still a hawk in flight

Pretending I could taste the wind

But Swarm Eyes are not like our own
A thousand flashes do not paint a scene
I can check my list against the Threat I knew
But not against what I thought was not

Swarm off-course by spectral fog
Arrow searching for a target
Floating over a park at peace
I dreamed of bloody battle

Fly-by-Wire Munitions look something like a kite

In search of what was not there
I found an Enemy alone unguarded
Took out the brains behind the loiter
High-fived a child’s death

Not the first, no more the last
No war without collateral cost
And the toll, in truth, was low
But tell it to a mother’s tears

Or to my Killer’s Heart
I bear with me Swarm Sins

—N. Jed Todd

Foxholes and Foxgloves

in the whole universe
there aren’t any foxes left

not for a long time
as they went the way of polar bears
and saber cats

but in the deep-space trenches
they still call them foxholes

where the hull of a life-ship
shakes violently in white-knuckle explosions
rattling the bolts
stressing steel seams

(hands over her ears, screaming)

when my sister came home
we couldn’t wash the alien blood
from her clothes
and the smell of fuel and fire
lingered in her hair

the red dirt
caked beneath her fingernails

even if we can’t see it
mixed with garden soil now
the kind that tulips, pansies
and pretty foxgloves thrive in

“the foxes are gone,” she tells me
“but that doesn’t mean we don’t remember them”

—Gretchen Tessmer

Old Soldier, New Love

(an abecedarian)

Aliens! Fought them when I was younger.
Bug hunt … that’s what we used to say.
Carapace and stick legs, green ooze for blood.
Damned if they didn’t just swarm all over us,
Every man jack, sometimes, and we would
Fire the lasers embedded in our arms, full auto.
Giant cockroaches, six feet tall, chittering and
Hissing. The cybernetic mechavision and radar
Implanted in our foreheads used to light up
Just like fireworks within our freaking brains.
Killing, killing, killing … no end to it, it felt
Like. The war ended, strangely enough, with
Men, women, and aliens in diplomatic councils.
Never thought the damn bugs could even talk!
Over time, we were brought back to Earth, the
Prosthetic armaments extracted. The weird
Quiet in my brain then was unnerving: empty
Reverberations and echoes. I went crazy for
Some time … could not interact or even just
Talk with anybody. Every civilian felt to me
Unfamiliar, unknowable. Like aliens! I was
Very much alone till I met an amazing, lovely
Woman. Well, not exactly. Not a human, but a
Xenomorph. Like the enemy, back in the war!
You won’t believe how smart and cute she is.
Zukola[click]mia, she’s called. And I love her!

—Vince Gotera

Arrival Time Uncertain

Year-round, at various hours, she can be seen
walking in the direction of downtown.
She never seems to make it there. Her son
is taller than she is but would have been

in kindergarten when she served. He walks
slowly beside her, making noises like
a spaceship, arms spread out, prepared to take
flight any minute. Neither of them talks.

Their clothes are clean and neat, if slightly faded.
They have no shopping cart, no sleeping bag.
You’ve never seen her hold a sign to beg
for anything. How they survive unaided

is a mystery you’d rather not explore.
They’ve never set foot in the shelter. But
you know about her from another vet
who fought in the first transgalactic war.

Everyone’s heard of soldiers who lost touch
with time, or time lost touch with them. You didn’t
quite believe the tales, however strident
their narrators grew. A limb is much

simpler to see the loss of; nightmares, blows
to the imagination can be grasped.
But when chronology itself has lapsed –
what then? Can scattered temporal crumbs compose

a life? Look up. The scarf over her hair
is gold now. It was blue an hour ago.
You’ve watched her walk this stretch three times since you
sat down. She walks, but you can’t fathom where.

—Hilary Biehl

Military Wife

He swore himself to me before they came
To claim his flesh and heart and soul was theirs.
Against nine billion, I could not hold my claim,
and surrendered him to many-blooded affairs.

They sent his body back no longer mine,
With thoughts and memories he can never share
I trace the foreign curves inside his mind
And count the parts of him the engine spared.

Dear Earth, I can forgive you almost all,
But not how my husband answered your call.

—Laura Beth Ramsay

The Way Forward is a Maze

It’s a muddle in the suburbs
after years with the fleet.
All curving streets and paths,
instead of ramrod straight corridors.
And it’s good to have something to do,
but it’s hard to have something without purpose.

And you know the neighbors are watching.
They know what you did, everyone does.
There’s no hiding the past.
You could tell them it was a different time,
that you only knew what you knew,
but it sounds like excuses.

And it doesn’t matter
that the enemy was alien,
because once you’ve shown
what you’re capable of,
how are they to know
you won’t do it again?

So you let yourself get lost
in the greenbelts and wilderness,
where you can be nameless,
unknown to passers-by,
just like the enemy was to you,
just like you were to them.

Letting the confusion
of the winding paths
consume your focus,
making it its own task,
keeping you from dwelling
on what comes next.

—Dawn Vogel

Committee Hearing on the Gliese 581c Strike
Testimony of General (Ret) REDACTED

Cut the grass before it gets too long.
Pull the weeds in front of home.
The threat matrix has never been wrong.
Strike commands just reached the drones.

We all rip out weeds in front of our homes—
even the smallest life can be a threat.
My strike commands just reached the drones,
shadows circling red dwarf-lit sheds.

Even small life forms can become a threat.
I can’t look at the grayscale images again.
Shadows under red dwarves. Living in sheds.
Digging for water. Air growing thin.

I can’t look at the blurred images again.
The threat matrix ingested them, tabulated
that, digging for water, air growing thin,
they’ll likely fight what is fated.

The threat matrix ingested the data, tabulated
(the threat matrix is never wrong)
they will grow strong fighting what is fated.
We simply cut the grass before it got too long.

The beginning and ending lines reference Sensor Operator Michael Hass in “Former Drone Pilots Denounce ‘Morally Outrageous’ Programme,” an NBC News Dateline segment first aired in December 2015.

—Michael Perry

Service Day, 35th Jubilee

“Thank you for your service.”
The thanks always sounded
more like obligation
than appreciation;

a by-rote mantra
civilians offer to soldiers
when having no idea
what else to say.

For what did they thank him?
For watching comrades,
burned through by xeno lance guns,
fall from the sky to dent the earth?

For the neural taps
bored into his spine
so he fit, socket-like,
into a titan interface?

He never asked for recognition.
Not in war or peace. Not even on Service Day
as he once again performed the duty
expected of veteran pilots.

Back aching, he stood
on the Lawn of Heroes
in the shadow of an old
Icarus battle titan and waited

to accept praise from those
who had never known war,
to answer each thank you
with a slow, solemn nod.

But as people moved on
he was left wondering,
would they be thanking him
if the war had been lost?

—R. H. Nelson


We have roused from out the shadow too late;
we button our old fatigues, yet we find
half-crossing that threshold, we hesitate

to leave our love, our wine, our gold. Our fate
binds us to the flux and flood of distant tides
we have roused from out the shadow. Too late

radio beacons call. We fling wide the gate
to a path beyond these darkening skies.
Half-crossing that threshold, we hesitate,

at the stars rage. Should we bear this weight
and stuff our ears with wax, close tight the eyes
we have roused from out the shadow? Too late,

no more are we young, we have not their grace,
only longing for those things we leave behind.
Half-crossing that threshold we hesitate,

to fly again into the teeth of bitter night
while the hearth-gods whisper, “stay warm inside,
we have roused from out the shadow.” Too late,
half-crossing that threshold, we hesitate.

—Oliver Smith

All You Need to Know

They aren’t like us. That’s all you need to know.
Our officers were clear in every case:
to keep our planet safe, they had to go.

We only saw them armored. Helmets showed
the merest slit of … something. Not a face;
they aren’t like us. That’s all you need to know

about the fighting out there, hard & slow
& strange as war can only be in space.
To keep our planet safe, they had to go,

which sent us out as well to die below
a distant sun in some far nameless place
not meant for us. That’s all you need, to know

their world—our outpost—only wants to throw
you back into the void without a trace.
To keep our planet safe, they had to go,

& now they have. No one remembers, though;
not with new species threatening our race.
They aren’t like us. That’s all you need to know.
To keep our planet safe, they’ll have to go.

—Ann K. Schwader

Sestina for a Lost Planet

Colossal clanking giants of the law
Arrive in droves to seize their daily spoils
While Molgaloth extends a clockwork claw
Directing flesh and bone toward our toil,
A penance for a long-forgotten war
Erased from books but written in the soil.

Our land of living green and gold was soiled,
Destroyed to serve the logic of the law.
Awash with mossy treasures, then the war,
So ravenous for trinkets, took its spoils.
I dream of daffodils to ease my toil
Under the shadow of the clockwork claw.

My ancestors knew nothing of the claw,
But flourished from the kindness of the soil.
To tend each living being was their toil,
To intricately cherish nature’s laws.
They owed no debt, were beggared of no spoils
Until the sudden ravages of war.

My children have no memory of the war,
Conceived, extracted, raised under the claw,
Their bright eyes sour like milk left out to spoil,
Their young hopes wilt like flowers in dry soil,
Their stolen careless moments loathed by law,
Whose every end and only hope is toil.

Our skeletons mutate to bear the toil,
Our forms too foul for love, too weak for war
And mechanised to carry out their laws,
Our minds excised and doctored by the claw.
One day, they will return me to the soil,
But not before they’ve seized their treasured spoils.

I will not idly watch as our world spoils
Nor make this drudgery my only toil.
I will not bow as metal monsters soil
Our world again with instruments of war.
Who else survives to rage against the claw
That putrefies the remnants of our law?

We are the spoils of this forgotten war.
My toil will be to fight them hand to claw
Til lawless forces toss me to the soil.

—Abi Marie Palmer

Song of the Cyborg Drop Pilot

A networked unit fights as one
Exchanging updates in encrypted code
But something more than data leaps the gap
And memories and dreams flow node to node
Finn had a girl with hazel eyes
On some stray moonlet by Procyon’s rim
Lopez, a family, Diehl, four wives
Excessive, you might say—but not for him.
A Q-beam burned the shuttle, only I survived
The crash. Now I will neither stop nor rest
Till Finn is with her girl, Lopez, his kin.
Each comrade back with those who loved them best.
My hull is Charon’s barge, my drives his poles
My storage laden with uploaded souls.

—Angus McIntyre

Check Your Balance

They gave us pogs,
digital money that means
nothing outside of a war zone
and half of nothing within one.

A joke made of a gesture at morale.
But I do laugh, finding my pog balance later,
tucked away in a forgotten account.
Useless numbers except if
they send me back out into the black

To carry my pogs with my mind split between
hope of peace but also the adrenaline,
the pulse and beat of battle, and the flash of light,
unfamiliar dawn becoming quickly more familiar,
more well-known than an open window back home,
overlooking the streamlined city without the light of the stars.

But there, despite the clash, the air was fresh.
The skyline only broken by cerulean mountains,
the whisper talk of the tall grass in the wind,
the quiet ticking of your heart.
In those moments, you were not on an alien battlefield
but something less sharp—the comfort of a possible home—
the recognition of beauty in a place you shouldn’t be
but are because of humanity’s need to push, push, push.

But the pogs remain. If you go back beneath the armor, you’ll want
the pogs to trade at the canteen on
a different planet maybe, a different patch of space, but the base is always
the same shape.
Familiar no matter the change in name or in gravity.

—T. M. Tomilson


My oath-sworn siblings in arms; shoulder to wingtip, we.
No civilians were at the border between space and the sky—
Our lives spent circling the planet above land and sea,
Encased in glass and steel, a phalanx of humanity and machine on high.

There were no civilians at the border between space and the sky
Where we twinkled in the heavens. We were Earth’s glorious defense,
Encased in glass and steel, a phalanx of humanity and machine on high.
But silently acknowledged, never spoken, the truth … it was all a pretense.

Oh, yes, we twinkled in the heavens, Earth’s ‘glorious’ defense.
But we understood we could only slow—not stop—that threat from another star.
We silently acknowledged, and you never spoke, the truth of the pretense;
Soldiers who held fast, bought time, while the citizenry escaped, scattered afar.

We slowed—even if we couldn’t stop—that threat from that distant star.
Our lives spent, circling the planet above land and sea,
We held fast and bought time, while you escaped and scattered afar,
My oath-sworn siblings in arms, shoulder to wingtip with me.

—RK Rugg

Natural Forces

You cannot fall in the absence of gravity
When there is no mass to bend space
When there is no time to stitch points to themselves
You can only float
Static in solitude
Affirming the observation
A moment on both sides of the reticle
You cannot fall in the absence of gravity

—William R. D. Wood