The Front Line

An essay by General Penelope Hartman, as provided by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
Art by Scarlett O’Hairdye


First of all, I want you to forget every single word that they told you at the recruiting office. No, just stop, I don’t need to hear it. It’s all lies.

Stand right up here with me and take a look around. This is the front line. No, that is not a euphemism. War’s not normally neat with straight lines and easy-to-understand strategies but here, we have a line. It’s that trench right there. Don’t get too close to the edge.

The Sporians disintegrate about four of our people a day. Your ship came in with 10 crates of supplies and 500 raw recruits. You do the math. Don’t make friends.

Listen: We don’t need you to wear uniforms or learn to shoot a gun or do anything but be here and drink cod liver oil and die. That’s the reality.

Nah, I’m joking. It’s not actually cod liver oil. It’s worse. It smells like something the dog shat out and tastes like rancid butter. You’ll learn to ignore your gag reflex and force it down, just like the rest of us.

That’s one of the few things we know. We don’t know how to fight them. We don’t even know if they are intelligent. But every time we give up and leave the rock to them, they move in closer. Your job is to stand around like you might want to get infected. Don’t get infected. That’s it.

You won’t know if you get infected. You just zombie off looking for high ground and a few hours later, a stalk grows out of your head and explodes. Neon orange spores scatter everywhere, looking for a new home. See, that’s why we like this trench right here. You see one of your mates acting like a zombie, push him in. Fast.

The Front Line

You won’t know if you get infected. You just zombie off looking for high ground and a few hours later, a stalk grows out of your head and explodes. Neon orange spores scatter everywhere, looking for a new home. See, that’s why we like this trench right here. You see one of your mates acting like a zombie, push him in. Fast.


To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Summer 2014 collection.


General Penelope Hartman was commissioned in 2019 as a distinguished graduate of California State University Long Beach ROTC program. General Hartman began her service as a fighter pilot with over 5,000 logged hours in command of the the F-36. She saw active duty in on both Earth and Mars and is currently stationed at asteroid trojan 1998 VF31. General Hartman holds various decorations and awards, all of which are lying at the bottom of the trench.


Sylvia Spruck Wrigley was born in Germany and spent her childhood in Los Angeles. She now splits her time between South Wales and the Costa del Sol, two coastal regions with almost nothing in common. She has been nominated for a 2013 Nebula Award for her short story, “Alive, Alive Oh.” Sylvia’s most recent short stories can be found in Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, and Nature’s Futures. You can find out more about her at http://www.intrigue.co.uk/


Scarlett O’Hairdye is a burlesque performer, producer and artist. To learn more, visit her site at www.scarlettohairdye.com.


This story originally appeared in Nature’s Future, April 2013.

Follow us online:
This entry was posted in Fiction and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Front Line

  1. debs says:

    I just love this story. What a great voice.

Comments are closed.