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The vid screen is dark and ominous, as if it holds secrets that is not for the likes of men to know. John Poldeck, a middle aged, balding man of forty-eight steps forward toward screen and console to activate the beast, this oracle of silicon, plastic, and glass. Today John is hoping for word of his son Kirk, of whom nothing had been heard of since he left for UNDF Marine Corps training at Camp Lejune, South Carolina, a beacon for the phony tough and crazy brave looking for ill conceived adventure and glory.
At least that was John’s opinion on the matter. As a mid level market analyst for the transnational ABSCOM John was used to battles fought with market shares, balance sheets, and stock options. For the forty years since the birth of the revamped United Nations war and the conductors of war, the military, had been a dying business. John could still remember the eager look on Kirk’s face when his son had uttered words like, duty, honor, patriotism, words which seemed as alien to John as the worlds the UN exploratory fleet claimed to have found.
“For Christ’s sake John will you turn on the damn console? What the hell is wrong
with you today?”
John glanced at June, his wife of twenty years and counting. Her dark skinned face was a sharp contrast to his pale complexion, and anger, tinged with concern for her son, clouded and darkened her visage even more. He looked at his wife without comprehension.
June sighed, and then in a kinder tone, “The console John. I know you’ve been angry ever since Kirk left for the Marines, hell you’ve been mad ever since he first brought up enlisting. A fool’s errand you called it. Perhaps you’re right. All I know is that he might have sent us a letter today.”
A fool’s errand. I remember when I said that John thought. That had been a nasty episode, one of many that had occurred during one of the endless fights he had had with Kirk over this business of enlisting. Try how he might he could never convince his son that business was where the opportunities were. Kirk had then coldly informed his father of his contempt for the Transnationals that now ran everything on Earth, including the UN, and his contempt for anybody connected to them.
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Glancing at his wife again he saw that she was slowly getting impatient with him, his moping, and his remorse over having lost a son to ideals that no one, no one on Earth anyway, gave a damn about anymore. Out of the corner of his left eye John could see Sarah, his daughter of seventeen working on her micro laptop. Her long black hair hid her face from him but he knew that she was secretly waiting for news of her brother and listening in on the ongoing conflict between her parents.
With resignation John turned to the vidscreen. “Console on.”
“Download messages and play any from Kirk Poldeck.”
“PLAYING MESSAGE NOW”...
In an instant all noise in the Poldeck family apartment had ceased. All eyes were focused on the image appearing on the screen, as if magically from some fantasy world. The emblem of the UNDF Marine Corps, a gold anchor covering earth against two crossed black swords on a blue background, blazed across the screen for an instant, and as quickly as it was there it was gone, replaced by Kirk Poldeck. Kirk was a handsome, light skinned, brown haired boy of 18. He looked to be a good twenty-five pounds lighter than when John had last saw him, but the most noticeable difference,..
“Oh my god,” Sarah gasped, “What did they do to his hair!”
Kirk’s bald headed, grinning face spoke before anybody could say anything else.
“August 12th, 2083
Dear Mom, Dad, and Sis,
I hope you guys get this message, what with the postal net being what it is these days. First of all I’m sorry I haven’t sent any vidletters before this but things have been quite busy here at Camp Lejune. In fact I think the sole purpose of basic training here is to make us as tired as possible as quickly as possible. Don’t worry though I seem to be getting enough sleep.
In general I’m doing pretty well here and I’ve made some pretty good friends in the time I’ve been here. One friend of mine is Suresh and he’s from Sri Lanka. I swear he’s a genius with money. Get this, we get paid 500 credits every two weeks and Suresh invests them, but not in stocks and whatnot. He buys candy, beer, steak, and then sells them to guys in our company. How he gets it past the MPs I don’t know but he’s making a fortune.
Anyway training is going ok. We do the usual exercise stuff every day at 6 a.m. and then go on to learn how to pilot a jump pack or shoot a pulse rifle. The drill sergeant said that I was pretty good with a pulse rifle, and if I shoot well enough I may make marksman. We are also learning self defense and next week we’re going up to Luna base for three weeks to learn zero-G stuff. I can’t wait. I’m sure you wouldn’t like it though Dad because you always get sick on the transports you take to Mars when ABSCOM make you go there.
Well I have to go. Other guys have to use the vid. I’ll try to write more often.
I miss all of you a lot.
Storm clouds hovered outside the Poldeck’s 120th story window , effectively matching the atmosphere people conducted their business in. As John looked at the black, writhing, rain soaked masses outside the family apartment he couldn’t help but think of the news that had just broke over the newsnets a couple of days before.
Two days ago, or so the newsnets say thought John, an Earth exploratory vessel named the UNSS Albatross had disappeared on the border of Dakota system. Not unusual in and of itself due to the dangers of spacefaring, but the Albatross was the fourth ship to disappear in that system in three weeks. The news said fleet command was sending a squadron into the system to investigate but people remained nervous. Cautious whispers spoke of panic high up in the government and of secret transnat board meetings going on very, very late into the night.
Albatross. What kind of name is that for a ship? John wondered. Why not name it Hawk, or Condor, or why not even Sparrow? Anything but Albatross. Leaving the mysteries of naval ship naming behind for the moment John glanced over to the vid console to see if the company mining figures on Mars had come in yet. Not seeing the elusive figures he checked for other messages. At the bottom of the list was one from Kirk.
He had promised June not to read their son’s messages as she had wanted to read them together, but succumbing to curiosity he activated the vidletter. The by now familiar Marine Corp emblem flashed upon the screen to be quickly replaced by his son.
I can’t believe how much he has changed, John thought. My little boy is gone never to return. Instead I have this stranger on the screen, someone who seemed to sneak up and kidnap my Kirk away from me before... Before what though? Before I could tell him I loved him? Before I could get to know him? Work was all consuming and John could remember the many times it had forced him away from his family, driving a wedge between him and his son.
“November 18th, 2083
Dear Mom, Dad, and Sis,
Hey guys! I know my last letter to you guys was just a couple of days ago but I got word from my CO that we’ll be shipping out pretty soon for Bismarck. That’s the capital world of Dakota system. My unit will be going out on the battle carrier Marathon along with the entire 3rd Division. Scuttlebutt around here is that we’re shipping out due to some sort of disturbance near the border of Dakota system. Some guys have even said that the navy has made contact with some aliens, and that the aliens aren’t friendly. Suresh says that more than likely some colonists on Bismarck are getting restless under UN rule and are sending the Federated Assembly a message. Who knows is what I say. Whatever it is I’m pretty sure that the third will be able to handle it. We’re the best division the UN has.
Anyway I just wanted to clue you guy in on where I’ll be. Don’t know when my next letter will be as I’m sure I’ll be pretty busy on Bismarck, whatever the trouble going on there is.
“Can you believe it John? Can you,” June asked in a hushed, concerned voice.
John started to answer but his wife began again before he could say anything.
“An alien race. No correction. An aggressive alien race. How prideful we must be to have assumed no one else was out there. Oh sure some people believed that there was, Aunt Carolyn for example, but no one with any power whatsoever believed in such nonsense. Now where are we?”
“I don’t know dear,” John replied. “I’m sure the situation may seem bad, but hopefully things will turn out all right.”
John usually played the devil’s advocate when discussing things with his wife, being pessimistic when she was optimistic and vice versa, but now he wasn’t too sure if what he had just said had any truth to it at all. The news just seemed too incredible, too fantastic to believe. An alien race that just seemed to appear out of nowhere
But did they just “appear out of nowhere”? That was a question that needed some scrutiny applied to it. When the president had gone on the vids last night and announced the discovery of this “new race of sentient beings” on the border of Dakota system and their aggressive intent toward humanity he had been as shocked as anybody else. After thinking for a bit on the matter, however, John began to have doubts about the veracity of the government.
Dakota system had been colonized some twenty years ago under corporate auspices. In fact John could remember the adds promoting the planet on the vids. “Come and start a new life on beautiful Bismarck with insert company name here.” How could we have a colony in Dakota system for twenty years and not have discovered this race before now? It seemed impossible.
If that was all there was John would have left it alone but there was more. On a hunch he had checked company records on metal sales for the past twenty years and found that the government had been purchasing large amounts of heavy industrial metals annually, with large meaning enough metal to build a city, or an armada of ships. After consulting with some of his contacts in other transnationals John had also discovered that there were similar government purchasing patterns for chemicals, electronics, machinery, medical supplies, food, fusion power systems, and even toilet paper.
Where had all this stuff gone? John, like everyone else, had heard rumors of secret government bases on Mars, Ganamede, and in the asteroid belt and had chalked these rumors up to overactive imaginations Now, though, he wasn’t so sure. Could the government, with high level transnat support, have constructed a fleet in secret? It seemed ludicrous to even suggest it but what else could all those raw materials bought by the government been used for?
John could see that two plus two was four, and somebody, more than likely somebody very high up in the government, had known about the aliens. They had known for quite some time. Why the secrecy though? Why not come out and tell people about it and build a fleet in the open? Two plus two was four all right but something just didn’t add up.
Lost in thought John hadn’t noticed when June had turned the vid on and logged onto the newnet. Now brought out of his contemplation of events he watched as some newsnet anchor reported news without saying anything new.
“Very little is known about the aliens as of yet, although preliminary analysis released by the government has shown that they appear to be a mammalian race similar to felines in appearance. Technologically the aliens appear to have ships roughly equivalent to our own ships but this has yet to be confirmed by military sources. No direct action has taken place between UNDF fleet forces and the aliens, although given the lack of communication with the aliens and the hostility shown them, combat is expected daily.
In related news the president of the Transnational Eurocorp Inc. stated that his conglomerate was prepared to take immediate orders for war material and equipment by the government. Similar statements were also quickly issued by the CEOs of Praxis, ABSCOM, and Moyarishi. UN president Geraldine Maxim thanked the CEOs for their offer but stated quote ‘We have the situation well in hand’
For an analysis of the crisis we turn to.....”
“Do you think they’ll attack John,” his wife asked.
“I really don’t know. Perhaps they will. I just hope to god that Kirk’s unit doesn’t get involved in this mess. I know that his division is on Bismarck but if the fleet deals with these aliens then there’s no reason for the Marines to get involved.”
“I hope your right John. I really hope your right.”
Holding his wife close to him John looked out the window, into the dark night sky as devoid of answers as he was. Twinkling in the blackness were the stars of Orion and the Big and Little Dippers. Usually they held him spellbound with their beauty, their cosmic enormity in the scheme of things. Now, however, they symbolized fear, dread, and perhaps death as well.
Things here on Bismarck are not going well at all. Jump ships are transporting troops in and civilians out daily and the brass are getting seriously nervous. Nobody knows anything at all about these damn cats. Some of the guys call them space cats, but to me that sounds like some stupid kids cartoon vid. I’d be lying to you guys if I said that I wasn’t afraid. Afraid for myself, my buddies, and what might happen to earth and you guys if things hit the fan here in Dakota system. Don’t get me wrong I’m still glad I enlisted. It’s giving me the opportunity to serve and that’s what I came for, but what I’m really concerned with is how I’ll act if we get into combat.
We train here every day, preparing for something that we can never truly prepare for. In training I know that we won’t get killed. It isn’t real. What will I do when the guns on the other side are really trying to kill me. I don’t know. I just don’t know.
I’m sorry if I’m depressing but the situation here is kind of harry. We’ve heard what the newsnets have to say about the crisis but they don’t tell the half of it. I can’t tell what exactly they aren’t reporting because the security freaks will be on my butt if I do but I can tell that you that something big is going to happen. I’m pretty sure of it.
Suresh is pretty sure of it too. In fact he’s set up a betting pool betting what that something big is going to be. Of course he got it organized in such a manner that whatever happens he makes a killing. Sorry that was really bad. Anyway Suresh himself is sure that the brass are itching to attack but I’m not so sure if he’s right.
I’ll end with this. Try not to worry about me. If the diplo boys do their stuff then we won’t have to fight, which is what I’m hoping for. If worse come to worse though I’ll do what I have to do. I’ll survive. I love and miss you guys.
The screen went blank as John clicked off the vid. This had been the second message they had received from Kirk since he had arrived on Bismarck. The first had been a hurried affair that merely informed them that he was all right and that he had made planetfall. In this second letter his son had tried to show confidence, to reassure his family that things would turn out all right and he would be ok.
John new better though. He had to be a judge of character in order to function well at ABSCOM, and his son screamed fear even if he didn’t really show it on the outside. John tried to imagine what his son must be going through. To John it was inconceivable. Try as he might he couldn’t imagine functioning in an atmosphere where one faces death every day. To be sure the corporate pressures that he was under every day were extreme, but nothing compared to the stress of battle or of waiting for battle. Fear under the conditions his son Kirk was facing was understandable, even expected.
Which was why John was slowly coming to the realization that perhaps he had been wrong about the Marine Corps. He still resented the fact that Kirk had chosen the military over a career in business, and with the current crisis he the dangers of the job had been made bluntly apparent. Even with these facts John could begin to see that the military made special people. People willing to give up their lives for everyone else.
All alone in the apartment John walked over to the kitchen to scrounge up some left overs for dinner. In the midst of his not so wizardly attempt at preparing a meal for his soon to be home family the autodoor to the apartment opened and vomited his daughter, home early from school, into the living room.
“Sarah what are you doing home so early?” He asked.
“Don’t you know?”
“It’s started Dad. They announced it at school over the address vids. Then they let
us go home. Can you believe it? Do you think that Kirk is ok?”
Her worried face struck John out of incomprehension with the force of a slap. Hurrying over to comfort his daughter he kept the same feelings she was feeling from showing on his face. If her father wasn’t strong, if he didn’t keep the raw emotions of panic and fear for his son under wraps then there would be no way he could begin to comfort her.
“Come on lets go over to the sofa and see what’s going on. The more we know about what’s going on then the less we have to fear.” He knew it was a lie but there was very little else he could say to make the situation any better.
Leading his crying, frightened daughter over to the couch he clicked on the vid and surfed the newsnets. On every channel officials dressed in government business suits or military uniforms were giving briefings to wolf like reporters. One channel seemed as good as another so he left a PNN news briefing on.
A black man in the dark blue uniform of the navy, a captain by the looks of his stripes and command pips, was answering some question on jump engine performance as John slowly calmed his daughter down.
Sniffing and brushing tears out of her eyes she nodded.
“Good. I know you’re afraid. We’re all worried about Kirk, but I know that he’ll be ok. I know that he’ll make it through all this.”
“To sum up the situation,” the black navy captain was gone, replaced by a news anchor, “in face of repeated failed attempts to make contact with the aliens by standard means of communication, and unconventional means as well, President Maxim with the consent of the High Senate ordered the fleet units around Bismarck by jump radio to move into alien space on a retaliatory mission at 12:00 noon Greenwich Mean Time. At 2:00pm GMT elements of the fleet were engaged by what appears to be elements of the alien fleet in meeting engagements all along the border. Preliminary reports are sporadic but it appears that the fleet has pushed through this resistance and is preceding into alien territory, target unknown or at least unknown to the members of the press.”
Turning to someone off camera the anchor nodded and then turned again to the camera. “In an exclusive PNN coup we have obtained video transmitted via jump radio from the UNSS battleship Potemkin narrated by our field correspondent Xian Chin.”
On the vid the picture changed to something that seemed out of a movie. The image was from the bridge of the Potemkin and it looked out over the bridge crew to a 130 degree view of the battle in front of the starship. The soft voice of a woman was narrating the chaos.
“This is Xian Chin reporting for PNN from the battleship Potemkin approximately twenty AUs into alien space. In front of you is the bridge of the Potemkin which is captained by captain Johann Wienman. Ahead of the bridge is the battle and the cold vacuum of space. The three large diamond shapes ahead of us are the cruisers Atlanta, Zurich, and Indomitable.”
From this position John could see the bright flashes of explosion surrounding each of the mentioned ships. They were pinpricks of lights bursting into being and just as suddenly extinguishing as vacuum sucked air out of the explosion. From the portion of the bow that John could see sticking out in front of the Potemkin’s bridge, pulse guns were firing at large cylindrical objects in front of the ship. One guess as to what those were.
“The cylindrical craft to the front of us have been designated by fleet command as Pepsi class light cruisers. Most of the opposition so far has consisted of these types of vessels. Much smaller fighter craft have also been encountered but they have in the main failed to breach fleet fighter nets protecting UNDF capital ships.”
The image shook as an explosion from some unseen quarter shook the Potemkin like a rag doll. Bridge personnel were thrown about and for a moment bridge lighting dimmed as emergency systems switched on. The uniformed man designated as Captain Wienmann was screaming profanely for information that no one was apparently giving him.
“God damn it people what are the positions of the Midway and the fighter squadron dispatched by command to cover us? Communications have you managed to contact the Cairo? Yes. Good. Tell her to move on up on our ports side and provide covering fire for the Atlanta.”
As Weinmann was giving orders to the crew a crimson point of light appeared on the lead alien cruiser and shot out toward the cruiser Zurich. For a moment the camera was out of focus as it superzoomed on the hit cruiser but then the image was clear again and it showed a beam of pure crimson gutting the ship like a hog. Flame, like blood, poured out of the sides of the ship. To John, safe at home on his sofa, it seemed unreal, as if it was more of a movie than an actual battle taking place. In what was a second but felt like an eternity the ship shook and twisted, belching out it’s insides as the beam of crimson death cut into it, and then in one agonizing instant the ship blew apart.
Back on the bridge the camera was focused on Captain Wienmann’s unbelieving face as he took in the destruction of the Zurich. “What the bloody piss fuck was that? What the hell was that thing.” Now in a near frantic voice, “Target all pulse guns and fusion torpedoes on that enemy cruiser and blow it out of the fucking sky. Do it!”
Turning to the camera and seeming to see it for the first time the good captain winced. “Turn that camera off. Turn it off now! Marine! Turn off the camera and place her and her crew in the brig!”
“Wait you can’t do this. People have.. Wait!” In a pleading voice the reporter begged to keep shooting but a muscled marine guard used the butt of his pulse rifle to smash in the camera. The screen went blank and the PNN news anchor, with his manicured face and fixed look of seriousness, began to talk again.
John had had enough. “Console off.”
Holding his daughter and looking into the blank vid John wondered at the horror he had just witnessed, and was frightened by what was sure to come.
“We shall overcome this enemy, whatever the cost, whatever the price. Our fleets have struck deep into Xolb space with a ferocity that will sweep away all opposition to our dominion. As I speak our ships are closing in on the alien’s homeworld. When we reach their word, when our ships surround that cruel planet and blot out their sun they will know fear, and will regret having provoked us and our wrath.
In order to bring that great day closer this administration has asked the High Senate to pass numerous war laws with the aim of organizing ourselves to better defeat the enemy. These proposed laws have received some criticism, but they are desperately needed. We need conscription to bring our military fully up to strength. We need the proposed espionage laws to ensure that our fighting men and women aren’t stabbed in the back at home. We need.....”
The president’s voice seemed to blur after that as she droned on and on about the so called “war laws” that were being discussed in the High Senate. John believed that most of them were ill conceived, and crafted more out of fear than out of genuine need. In the several weeks since the war had begun panic had mostly subsided although it lingered here and there as people reported alien ships which turned out to be military craft or more mundane civilian sky haulers.
After PNN’s scoop the military had cut back on the media’s access to information. That was fine as far as John was concerned. The image of the Zurich being destroyed plagued John’s dreams, and sometimes he would dream that Kirk was on that ship. When that happened he would wake up in a cold sweat next to June, his heart racing, and his entire being filled with fear for his son.
Kirk’s letters had been infrequent and hurried since the beginning of the war. So far his son hadn’t seen action as the war had in the main consisted of fleet engagements. Now though, with the discovery of Xolb space maps, the fleet was approaching planets and moons which would need to be taken in order to secure flanks and supply lines. What would happen when the first Marine stepped onto a Xolb world was anyone’s guess, but the experts on the news said that most of the landing would be mop ups preceded by massive planetary bombardment from space. Yeah right, and I’m a Xolbian.
Or was it Xolbite? Shaking his head, John walked out of his wife’s and his bedroom and into the living room. Matching his movements the apartment’s computer turned on the living room vid and switched off the one in the bedroom. Lights turned on to their preprogrammed lighting levels and coffee was being prepared by the kitchen breakfast program.
The president’s face disappeared on the vid as the apartment computer began networking with ABSCOM’s master system. In two seconds John was lost in thought as he drank his coffee, poring over company data on Martian durasteel production. Government orders were up, but not up that much considering humanity was at war.
“Xolbian or Xolbite? Xolbian or Xolbite?”
“Huh?” Looking up John saw that his wife had emerged from the bedroom and was taking a plate with eggs from the food preparer.
“You were mumbling Xolbian or Xolbite. I remember the newsnets saying that it was Xolbian the day after the military released the name of the aliens to the press. You should do more to remember such things dear.”
“At least we know what to call them now. We have a name for our enemy and that’s better than nothing.”
“What do you mean?”
“If we didn’t have a name for them then it would be easier to kill them. Easier to wipe them out. When we give something a name we give it existence, and when we say ‘Xolb” we acknowledge that the aliens exist. In effect we have to deal with the fact that they are an advanced race, and not a mere annoyance that needs to be destroyed.”
“You philosophize too much.”
“One of the reasons you married me, remember? If it wasn’t for me you would never think about such things. You would spend all of your time looking over reports, memorandum, and market reports. You...”
Cutting off his wife, “would be doing something practical, useful, and productive.” He watched her smile, she had been doing very little of that with the war on, and then went back to his work data. June was the philosopher in the family, he was the accountant. Why she stayed with him was beyond John’s intellect. He was just glad she did.
Sipping the hot coffee in a manner that wouldn’t burn him he went back to his work while June started the holographic aerobics program and began to do her morning exercises. Try as he might John couldn’t concentrate on his work. The numbers seemed to blur and combine into combinations that defied comprehension. After awhile John tired of this tediousness and shut off the program.
“So what are you up to today?” John said as his wife finished her workout.
“Nothing much. I’ve got to finish grading exams but other than that my day is free.”
“Sarah won’t be home till this afternoon.”
June flashed a wicked smile at her husband. “And just what do you propose we do during this free time.”
“I’m sure I can think of something.”
Work schedules and parenting duties had in the most part put a damper on any intimacy the two could have had during the last several months, and the stress caused by their mutual worry for their son had also posed a barrier. Now though, as John drew his wife to him, they had plenty of time to catch up on lost opportunities. As they embraced a high pitch wailing noise began to permeate the room. It went from high to low several times before they noticed it.
“What the hell is that?” June asked.
“I don’t know. It seems to be coming from outside.”
“What noise could reach all the way up here?”
“I’m going to go over to the window and see if I can see anything.”
Getting up, John hurried over to the window. Even though they were very high up in the building he was hoping he could at least see if there was any commotion going on outside. On the ground he could see nothing, but looking up into the sky he saw three crimson points of light. Wondering for a moment he stood there staring up at them, then realization dawned on him.”
“June! We have to get out of here!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t argue with me just get out of here, the...”
Before he could answer the three points of light turned into searing crimson beams, striking the earth with a primal ferocity, as if they hated the very ground they were in the process of destroying. Looking down, John could see huge fireballs erupt where the beams struck. Buildings, vehicles, people all turned to flaming ash as the beams cut into the city.
A frozen look of terror had come over June’s face. “What’s happening! What’s going on?”
“It’s an attack June! I don’t know how they got here but the Xolbians are attacking the city. We’ve go to get out of here. Now come on!”
“Where will we go?”
Dragging his wife out of the apartment he saw other residents struggling to make their way to the ground level. Many were hauling personal possessions out into the hallway, clogging it up with inanimate, worthless obstacles. Chaos was everywhere. John saw three, no four women in hysterics and at least two men doing the same. It was a writhing, panicked mass of humanity. Explosions were now shaking the building, making every step to the elevators a circus trick requiring a keen sense of balance and acrobatic dexterity.
“We’re not going to make it John. We’re not going to make it. God I hope Sarah’s okay. Do you think she’s all right? God I hope so.” Tears of terror turned her words into indecipherable sobs.
“We’re going to make it out. Sarah’s okay. Let’s head for the stairs instead. The elevators can’t take everyone down quick enough, and if our building gets hit they will turn into coffins. Come on.”
More explosions shook the Poldeck’s building, each tortuous tremble of the building bringing an anguished cry from the crowd. With a Herculean effort John shoved open the stairway access door and threw his wife and himself inside. Glancing back into the hall John saw a bright crimson light rip into the wall at the end of the hallway. People screamed as durasteel and hardened super concrete melted. The building power, for a long time struggling to keep the lights on, finally flickered one last time as the lights went out for good. The crimson beam more than made up for the lost light as it filled the hall with the fiery, doom filled light of the damned. That fiery light, combined with the screams of torment and fear from the hallway, nearly sent John mad as he looked upon a scene that must have surely come from hell.
Clutching his wife with animal ferocity he headed down the darkened stairs before the beam could cut further into the building. As he made his way down he tripped over some unseen obstacle and tumbled with his wife down the stairs to the next platform. A jarring pain announced that he had broken his arm and silence from June meant that she was either unconscious or worse.
This is it John thought. I am going to die. My wife is going to die. My children will be left without parents. John continued to fight against the darkness that was tingeing his senses, but pain, terror, and now exhaustion defeated him. As his eyes closed John reached out with his good arm to touch his darling June one last time.
When I finished your letter I cried straight for three days. I could just not believe that my sister was dead, killed in the Xolbian strike on Earth. I could deal with the fact that both of you were injured, or that the home that I had known for 18 years was now mostly reduced to charred lumps of metal and heaps of ash. Injuries can be healed or a new home can be found, but death... Death is something that can never be healed.
I never realized how much I cared for her, all of you, until I joined the Corps. I joined because I had wanted to get away, to be independent, to go on a great adventure. When I was at my lowest point in basic training I would think of you guys. Dad’s love of baseball, Mom’s cooking, and Sarah’s groans or laughter when someone told a joke. It was those thoughts, thoughts of hearth and home, of family, that got me through. I gained a news sense of love and appreciation for the very people I had wanted to get away from.
Now my sister is dead and the only feelings I have are of rage, a desire to strike out and kill the creatures who killed her. The Marine Corps instilled in us the moral necessity of what we were doing. We were protecting earth, all of humanity, against outside forces. Now I have a greater mission. Revenge is my motivator. Suresh says that it isn’t healthy, but I can see the it in his eyes too. He lost a brother and a baby cousin in Cairo when the Xolbians torched it along with New York, Hong Kong, London, Bombay, Chicago, and Rio de Janeiro.
When I went into combat the first time on some god forsaken Xolb colony a week ago my rage came out. My platoon was in a heavy fire fight with retreating Xolb ground troops and I lost control of myself. I pumped round after round of highly charged energy bolts into the fleeing enemy. I didn’t care. I must have killed ten of them before I came to my senses. When I did everybody was looking at me, each a little afraid of what I had done, but somewhat envious too. The lieutenant said what I had done was incredibly brave and that he would see to it that I would get a medal. I told him I didn’t care about the medal, I just wanted to kill the creatures that had slaughtered my sister with no reason or justification.
Every day we strike deeper into Xolb space. Their fleet is falling before us. Scuttlebutt is that we’ll be preparing for an attack on their homeworld within a month. Who knows. All I know is that anybody who can somehow get into our space undetected, to earth no less, is hardly beaten. When the order comes for a landing I’ll gladly go.
I hope you two are doing ok, or as well as you can given the situation. I hope you can get back on your feet quickly. If you need me to send back my pay or anything like that let me know.
Well I have to get going. Got guard duty in twenty minutes.
I Love both of you very much.
Kirk’s face disappeared from the vidscreen to be replaced by the MSMCI logo. A long line of people were waiting to use the public vid so John moved as quickly as he could out of the way before someone cursed at him for holding up the line. Walking down the street toward the refugee shelter he was amazed at the relative lack of destruction in this area of the city. Few building were damaged, let alone piles of melted rubble like the city center.
The explanation given by the government as to how the Xolb could have penetrated this far into human space without warning had consisted of vague references to surveillance gaps and not enough patrol ships to cover both enemy occupied and human space. It had been deemed unlikely that earth would be target. Too far away, no chance of returning to base. Those were the reasons stated. Word on the street whispered of secret weapons, cloaking devices, and government incompetence. No one really knew and the government had assured an outraged populace that it would never occur again. Security would be heightened they said.
The attack itself would go down as one of the most disastrous moments in earth military history. Six Xolb battleships had dropped out of jumpspace outside the solar system and had proceeded post haste to Earth. With the element of surprise on their side the Xolb managed to punch through solar system defenses with little difficulty. Upon reaching Earth they went into orbit and bombarded major population centers with fusion bombs and beam weapons. Millions had died. Only the timely arrival of the third fleet from Proxima had prevented the Xolb from completely destroying more than seven cities and inflicting heavy damage on a half dozen more.
After about ten minutes of walking John came to the refugee center. It used to be a sports complex but now it housed 3,000 people made homeless by the attack. Conditions were crowed and unpleasant, but it was better than being without food or shelter. Their allotted space was on the second floor, next to the bathrooms, and using the stairs he quickly made his way to his wife.
When he reached her he saw that she was asleep, but not a peaceful sleep. Her face was pinched and she moaned at times as some image from her dream disturbed her slumber. The initial attack had taken a lot out of her, and the news of Sarah’s death had nearly killed her. June had just sat there in dumb shock for two days, staring at the wall, and then on the third she had cried. She had cried and weeped tears of grief and rage, grief over her loss, and rage at those who had killed her daughter. He had tried to help, tried to comfort her, but was of little help as he was lost in his own pain. Now they were both recovering.
Today was his day off from ABSCOM. John had to marvel a bit at the company. With all the destruction and general mayhem caused by the Xolbian attack one would have expected that the company would have been severely hurt. ABSCOM had proved him wrong when company personnel had come looking for him after the attack, wondering what had happened to him. After explaining the situation to them they had given him several weeks off and had assured him that the company would find another apartment for him. He didn’t expect much but after a few days the company had contacted him again and said they had found a place that had been lightly damaged, i.e. it was still standing, and that they would be able to move in when it was rebuilt. In the meantime ABSCOM had gotten a place for John and his wife here at the shelter.
A commotion in the corner of the room, over by the vids, caught John’s attention. A small crowd had gathered and people were talking excitedly to each other as they watched a newsnet broadcast. Soon a person from the crowd broke off and headed in John’s direction. Waving at him John succeeded in flagging him down.
“What’s going on?”
“You haven’t heard?”
“No. Is it something good?”
“Hell yes! We’re bombing the Xolb homeworld.”
“What? How is that possible? I just got a letter from my son and he said that a landing wouldn’t take place inside a month. How can we be bombing them so soon?”
“The newsnets said that we just won a big battle where we succeeded in cutting off and destroying maybe half or more of their remaining fleet forces. They’re calling it the Battle of Calstock because it was fought outside some nebula named Calstock. They’re calling it the greatest victory in human military history since General Cartwright’s victory over the Chinese in the third world war. They say that it might be over within two to three months.”
“Two to three months?”
“Yeah can you believe it?”
“Why so long. If we’ve reached their homeworld why no just land now and get it over with?”
“A military spokesperson said that they want to soften it up and secure their supply lines. They’ve got pictures of the planet being bombed on the net. I guess if the military lets the newsnets broadcast that then we’ve got the Xolbian homeworld pretty much surrounded. Frankly I don’t care if they land at all. They can reduce the place a smoldering lump of rock for all I care. I hope they kill every one of those sons of bitches for what they done here on Earth. It’s a great day isn’t it?”
John looked up at the madly grinning man as he took delight in the death of the Xolb. I should be happy, John thought, but I’m not. The war will soon be over. We will win, but my daughter is dead. Why? Meeting the grinning man’s grin with a blank stare he replied in a robotic, monotone voice that was a stark contrast to the grinning man’s animated one.
“Yes. Yes it is a great day.”