The sound of artillery was thunder, earthquakes, and every bad dream he had ever had as a child rolled into one. A sound more felt than heard, it made his bones ache as the vibrations poured through him. He had never particularly wanted to be a soldier, but when you are a young man with no prospects in a nation at war it’s hard to avoid the front lines.
Sy had no real conception of the enemy – he had rarely left the settlement where he grew up before joining the army and the natives were invisible behind the wall. The land had been barren, inhospitable, and it was only when the Settlers had arrived that the desert started to bloom. They had fled fear and persecution in a hundred lands and come here looking for peace, only to find themselves attacked and locked in an endless war. Growing up he had heard the stories so many times he knew them all by heart. They had won this land with their blood sweat and tears and he had no intention of letting some barely-civilized savages take it from them.
Watching the shells fly overhead and slam one after another into the wreckage of the city ahead, Sy felt himself growing more and more certain that he was doing the right thing. The alternative was not even worth considering – no matter what those softhearted fools in the Korridge party said. How could they preach disarmament in the middle of a world that wanted nothing more than to drive them all back into the cold dark of space to wander for who knows how many years until they found a new home? And while the war might be messy, it was nothing compared to the damage humans had inflicted on this world in the centuries before the Jorn had arrived – it would take decades to undo the damage these primitives had done to the ecology. They didn’t deserve a planet like Earth, their actions had proven it. This world would be a new homeland for the Jornish people, and if the Humans didn’t like it they could go somewhere else!
Outside the walls, Caleb huddled in the wreckage of a hospital and watched the shells come down, pounding the remnants of the city into rubble. Houston had never had the most hospitable climate, but with those alien bloodsuckers sucking all the water into their settlements and poisoning everything else, farming was impossible and the travel restrictions on human movement made trade almost impossible. In order to eat, humanity was left scavenging from the wreckage of human cities or from the waste of the Jornish settlements that had displaced them.
America had first welcomed the refugees – those damn liberals had insisted that it didn’t matter whether they were human, they were sentient beings in need of shelter and their technology and know-how could only make the nation stronger. But the refugees kept coming, and when congress had tried to limit the influx they had ignored the rules. Worse, there was no way to stop them coming – how can you stop immigrants who can simply drop from the sky and land anywhere they like at any time? The air force had gotten involved and – after one too many confrontations – someone had opened fire at a Jornin dropship. The response was instantaneous.
Within an hour every capital city in the world was in ruins, bombarded from space by the warship no one knew was waiting there. Within six hours the governments had fallen apart, military installations turned to rubble. Within six days the Jornin militias, armed with weapons from their ship, had wiped out all organized resistance. Still, the human spirit is strong and in the 60 years since, the disorganized resistance had never yet let up.
They had no real hope of winning. What can guns and improvised rockets do against plasma cannons and artillery that can level entire city blocks? But they were going to keep fighting anyway, make the monsters pay for every inch. Maybe if they made them bleed enough, made it hard enough, they’d eventually give up and go back wherever the hell they’d come from and let humanity rebuild. It was a ridiculous notion, no one seriously believed it, but “Drive them back into Space” had been the rallying cry of the resistance since long before Caleb had been born and he wasn’t about to try and change it. He was too busy killing Jorns.
Caleb leaned into the scope of his rifle and took aim. It was a strange sort of weapon, cobbled together from salvaged Jornish tech and human ingenuity but it worked well enough. They were preparing for another ground offensive, lured out from behind that damned wall by the humans home made rockets. The rockets couldn’t do much harm – nearly all of them were intercepted before they could hit anything, but it made the bastards angry and when they got angry they swarmed. He signaled his men to take up positions around the bluff and waited for the enemy patrol to approach.
They were silent. Hours passed. Finally, the Jorns moved into range and the trap was sprung. Rifle fire picked off the two rearmost in the column before their friends realized they were even under attack. As the second body fell with a thud, they realized they were under fire and rushed deeper into the ravine to escape the enemy they thought was firing from outside. Caleb hit the detonator and a home-made mortar pointing out from the back of the ravine ripped through the enemy squad as his snipers rained fire down on the enemy below. It was a bloodbath, perfectly executed. As they last Jornin soldier fell and his men cheered and rose from their positions, Caleb took a moment to reflect on a job well done.
The enemy artillery shell took him entirely by surprise.
Sy looked down at the human trooper, pinned unconscious under the rubble and kicked it in the head. How could anyone seek peace with monsters like this? These humans had no empathy, no souls, they deserved no mercy. Captain Mek had been a hard ass but he was a good man, a soldier of Jorn, and he had helped Sy pull it together when he was a new recruit who didn’t know his cleck from his blaster. And now this good man lay dead, surrounded by the bodies of his men. And this human – the sole survivor of the shelling that had followed the rapid extinction of A squadrons life monitors, was responsible.
Sy kicked him again, and again, first in the groin and then in the face. The savage stirred.
The world was black, no light, no sound, only pain and the deafening ringing of his burst eardrums. Caleb had the faint idea that he was being kicked, but that couldn’t be right. No one can kick you when you’re dead, or at least if they do you’re not supposed to be able to feel it. The blow to his face sent ripples of pain through his wrecked body, and he decided he must somehow still be alive. He looked up at the alien raining blows down on him and cursing in that weird clicking language of theirs. If his jaw hadn’t been shattered he might have smiled.
“For god and country, for earth” – he’d decided on the last words years ago but couldn’t form them with his face in tatters. Instead he settled for extending a single middle finger on his unbroken left hand and activated the explosives in his vest.
The explosion ignited the vests on his squadmates corpses, leveling the canyon and every Jorn in it. If he’d still been alive to hear it, Caleb might have smiled.
The cold silence of the desert rang out across the blasted ravine, with no one and nothing left alive to hear it. A defeat, a victory, a moment of peace.