a red sun was fading and setting in the black armageddonic sky.
rick rogers trudged along, alone.
rick was a regular guy but he had seen and done things too terrible to be described.
all he had ever wanted was to be free, but now all he wanted was to sleep.
he wanted time to stop.
but with his luck it probably would not.
he saw a light up ahead.
i have walked this way before, he thought. and been to this place before.
it was just a place. in the middle of nowhere.
just a shack.
one small window, blocked, with only a little pale light around its edges.
one door. rick pushed it open.
there were three people inside.
he had never seen them before but he knew them, and they knew him.
a floozy was behind the bar.
a clown and a mighty barbarian sat together at one of the two tables.
there was a pinball machine in a corner and a foosball table beside the bar but no one was playing on either one.
the floozy, the clown, and the mighty barbarian all stared at rick when he entered.
one sign above the bar read - tea - 2 rupees. another read - coffee - 1 drachma.
rick only had a few pesos and 2 yen in his pocket.
“got any beer? whiskey?” he asked the floozy. “i only got some pesos and yen.”
“nobody cares what you got,” the barbarian said. the clown laughed.
the floozy eyed rick. “those signs are out of date,” she told him. “we actually got whatever you want - coffee, tea, beer, whiskey. even cognac or absinthe, if that’s what you like.”
behind rick the clown and the barbarian laughed again.
rick ignored them. “how much?” he asked the floozy.
“nothing,” she said. seeing rick’s surprised expression, she added, “that is, nothing if you sign up.”
even though he knew the answer, rick asked, “sign up for what?”
“sign up to kill some in-sur-gents, what did you think,” the barbarian.
“the captain will be here pretty soon,” the clown added.
rick had been here before. the clowns, the barbarians, the floozies, the insurgents - and the captain.
“what about the recruiting sergeant?” rick asked the floozy.
“he’s already been here and gone,” she told him. “he recruited everybody when the war was on.”
“and the war’s still on,” the barbarian said. he picked up the glass he had in front of him.
i can believe that much, rick thought.
“what’s your name, cowboy?” the clown asked rick.
rick hesitated. “rick,” he said.
“had to think about it, huh?’” the clown laughed. “you look like a regular - an old regular space corps man.”
“that’s just about right,” rick agreed.
“i’m fuckup, by the way,” the clown said. “and this here is bigdick,” pointing to the barbarian.
the barbarian just grunted. he gave rick the evil eye.
“and what’s your name?’ rick asked the floozy.
“glenda, what else would it be?”
“so how about it, my friend,” the clown continued, “you going to get on board when the captain gets here? going to kill you some insurgents? some rebels against the empire?”
rick shook his head. “no, i don’t think so.”
“no!” all three said at once and looked at him in astonishment.
“there’s been enough killing already,” rick said. “i’ve had enough killing.”
“there’s never enough killing,” the clown laughed.
“you might as well say there’s never enough drinking,” the barbarian said. he picked up his glass - of whiskey? - again.
“or enough loving,” glenda the floozy added.
“that’s right,” the clown told rick. “it’s nature’s way. you got to burn down the old trees so the new ones can grow.”
rick shook his head again. “i don’t think so.”
“does that mean you don’t want nothing to drink?” glenda asked.
“give him a drink,” the clown told her. “it will clear his head. an old regular spaceman not wanting to kill insurgents! who ever heard of such a thing?” and he laughed again.
“but look here,” said the barbarian. “if he don’t want to kill insurgents, what is he going to do? what good is he?”
“i know,” said glenda. “he can stay here and mind the store. and i can finally fulfill my dream of going off with you guys to defend the empire.”
the clown and the barbarian shook their heads doubtfully.
“i guess,” said the barbarian. “if that is what he wants. if he’s really such a sorry creature as that.”
“we’ll let the captain decide,” said the clown.
and so it was decided. when the captain and the recruiting sergeant arrived later with a ragtag crew of filthy lowlifes, the clown, the barbarian, and the floozy joined them and they all sailed off into the black yonder to do their part in the final defense of the empire.
rick was left alone in the shack. he took inventory of what he had.
some liquor and coffee left in the bar. a radio. a pair of binoculars. an old-fashioned blaster - with a broken meter so he could not tell how much charge there was in it. and an even more old-fashioned machine gun and a little ammunition.
a case of whiskey and a pile of cases of spam and s-rations.
and peace and quiet.
but the peace and quiet did not last long.
when the sun started to come up he saw some movement on the horizon.
he stepped outside and scanned the sky and the skyline.
what he saw chilled him.
hordes of giant rats! and behind them, giant ants and scorpions!
it took him a while to get anybody on the old radio.
the trooper on the other end sort of laughed. “i don’t know what we can do for you right now, hoss. we are spread kind of thin here ourselves. but i will pass your information along. just hang on as best you can and we will get back to you - maybe.”
the radio went dead.
rick looked outside. the rats were now visible to the naked eye.