One Last Hero

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Chapter 1

The Krall

As I stare onto the wolf which approaches – its gnashing teeth preparing for their feast, I understand that I, too, am a wolf. My own survival and the survival of all of humanity depends upon my ability to fight off this extraterrestrial predator which has come for our planet. Therefore my courage will never falter. This beating heart in my chest and this very capable battle rifle in my hands are now instruments of survival. Be it through total victory or in heroic death – I will be free.

-Earth Defense Force Pledge

They came one cold and poetic December morning. Everything about the month and its effect on my farm in North Carolina was consistent with the years gone by. There was a bit of standing snow on the ground and the air around it cut through to the bone of any man without proper attire for the elements. We’d soon learn that early December morning would change our way of life forever.

The Krall arrived to our planet, not in ships of their own, which had been the topic of so many stories of fiction – they arrived with a planet of their own. Slightly larger than Earth, the Krall’s homeworld was a mixture of brilliant reds and yellows which swirled beautifully while consuming most of our skies above. The sun was still present throughout part of the day, as was the moon at night, though the homeworld, also known as The Scope, filled a sky which used to hold billowing clouds and twinkling stars.

The Scope brought with it catastrophic weather as the tides shifted to levels we’d never before experienced. Places that once were considered paradise because of their pristine waters and beaches of pure white sand – gone. They now rested beneath the rising tide, as did the hundreds of thousands of lives that once called such placed home.

A large mechanical device orbited the Scope, which seemed to allow the Krall to move their planet as they wished. The Scope, which was in fact the mechanical device in question, had led our people to adopt the name universally for both fixtures which now called our skies its home. We thought of them as one in the same and cursed the day they’d arrived.

Gone was the opportunity to admire God’s work above…and gone were the days of peace. Immediately and without any hint of warning, the Krall began attacking our planet with a ruthlessness that is indescribable. It was never their intention to make peace with humanity or learn of its technological advances. The Krall wanted our planet, or, better said – its water. Their own society was powered by a very strange compound which emitted an orange glow and was predominately water-based. Everything from their mighty warships to the standard rifle of a grunt was powered by the eerie substance, as were the breathing devices they needed in order to survive on the surface of Earth. They had expected to swoop in like thieves in the night and take water as they wished.

What the Krall hadn’t expected was how technologically advanced we were. In fact, their initial attacks lasted for several weeks before we finally pushed them back. We had hoped that this horrible race would simply move along and learn from its mistake. We’d soon realize how badly they needed our water. A second assault commenced and nearly broke the back of humanity in the process. Earth had once been fractured by racism and religion. None of that seemed relevant enough to fight about any longer. Now, we were a single race doing what it could to survive. Humanity against the Krall.

They were a bit taller than our tallest soldiers and they were stringy in appearance, though very, very strong. Several breeds of Krall seemed to exist, but they all shared the same pale yellow skin with eyes that burned with resplendent yellow. Their teeth, though very elongated, seemed very similar to that of a wolf preparing to strike. In fact, that had become their trademark of sorts. Often times, our race referred to the Krall as wolves. Part of it stemmed from fear, I suppose. While some of our bravest used the term in dominant fashion. Wolves could be killed, as could the Krall. For all of their intimidation and undeniable prowess in battle, a dead Krall was nothing more than a dead lump of something that used to be feared. Much like the wolf. It helped us continue the fight.

I wish I could tell you how this story ends, but I can’t. Not yet, anyway. There’s plenty more dying to be done on both sides of this war between two planets. There’s still so much that we don’t know about the Krall and, to their displeasure, humanity is not the weakened race they believed us to be. We’ve learned the art of war by killing each other for thousands of years. Most importantly, there’s something both primitive and intricate about being thrust into a situation where you must fight in order to live. Survival is something we’ve proven ourselves damned good at so far.

The Krall invasion began in December of 2126, but, nearly four years later, humanity is still clinging to this rock we call home. We may be losing, but I often wonder if the Krall have it within them to fight a war that could last for centuries. I don’t-”

Chapter 2

The Crew

Never understood why you did that shit.”

Jalen smiled wide as Tony glanced up from his journal. The flickering of light brilliantly cascaded itself off of Tony’s rugged-looking face just a bit. He was unshaven and carried the black soot on his face that is normally associated with war. Jalen’s was a bit cleaner, though just as black. He was human first – African American second.

I write in my journal so that people may one day know what happened.” Tony replied with aggravation.

You could hear the heavy Italian fight in his voice. Though he was quite shorter than Jalen and certainly not as muscular, Tony Alessi was a fighter. Much like his squad-mate Jalen Locke, Tony had seen five complete years of service. He’d been a farmer in the hills of North Carolina before the Krall invasion, whereas Jalen had been a fitness trainer…or some shit like that. Certainly nothing close to the lifestyle of farming, which was brutally tough and rewarded with happiness more than it did money. Living without a lot of spendable cash had introduced Tony to the passion of reading. Writing in his journal had come along shortly after.

People already know what the fuck happened here. We’ve been getting our asses kicked for half a decade now.” Jalen replied.

Speak for yourself, big man. I’ve got 114 wolf kills to my credit and my dick’s still swinging, so I would call that anything but getting my ass kicked.”

Gentlemen?” their lieutenant asked as he slid into the cold, hard ground where their foxhole rested in the bewilderment of night.

I was just asking Tony why he continues to write in that goddamn journal of his.” Jalen admitted.

As their fourth and final squad member, Amanda Quinn slid easily into the foxhole, the sniper glanced to her commanding officer. She could see the friction building between the two men and honestly didn’t know who would win a fight among them. Amanda hoped her lieutenant would step in and deescalate the situation – which he did.

Because I can, that’s why.” Tony scoffed.

Yea, we’ll it’s fucking annoying!”

Then sit there and be fucking annoyed, you big oaf of a-”

Men,” Ryan said with authority. “Tie it up. Tony, there’s no need to get so hostile about it. Jalen’s just bothered by your writing because the war’s leaning on him a bit. That’s all. It’s leaning on all of us. Jalen, you need to understand that we all have a thing that we’re clinging to while hoping to get through this shit. Myself included.”

Oh yea, like what LT?”

Huh?” Ryan asked with surprise.

What are you clinging to?”

I was just using myself as an example.” he said quickly.

Well, LT, if you’re going to mention it, you should at least give us the rest of the story.” Amanda said with a grin.

Well…” he began. “I’d like to make it to the finish line so I can open up a pub. You know? A classy place. Not some run of the mill-”

A pub?” Amanda asked with a giggle.

Yea,” he defended. “A pub. A place where a man can go in and grab a cold beer and some wings, ‘ya know? Maybe swap stories on how we kicked the shit out of the Krall. Yep, I’d call it Ryan’s Place.”

Sound like the fucking place to be.” Tony admitted.

I’d love to be a teacher,” Amanda said. “Something that involves education and not killing for a change. To think I went through four years of college to hold a rifle.”

Sounds nice,” Ryan admitted. “Even if you’re one hell of a shot. What about you?” he asked with a probing voice.

What about me?” Jalen asked.

What are you clinging to?”

Me?” Jalen asked once more. “I’m clinging to this lawn mower right here. Fuck the wolves. Y’all talking about your dreams coming true – I was living mine. The Krall took my dream away. Now me and this big son of a bitch right here are on a mission.”

Holding up his lawn mower, which was EDF slang for a mini-gun, Jalen put the question to rest once and for all. He only longed to kill and kill – every fucking wolf he saw for as long as his arms could hold the mammoth gun to the ready. The lawn mower took the might of both of Jalen’s arms, along with a thick nylon strap which hoisted over his right shoulder. Still, the payoff was worth it. With up to 6,000 rounds of fire per minute, the mini-gun was fed by large metal hose which attached to a backpack filled with compressed air. It gave the 20mm gun just enough thump to chop down a decent-sized aircraft if the situation called for it – or a horde of Krall soldiers and their fucking alien screeches. He’d owed it to them. Jalen had went from a life in which he clocked into a local gym every day and helped clients, many of them attractive women, shed a few pounds. He could still remember the smells of tanning oil and perfume. Now all he smelled from the time he woke up until the time he went to sleep was the scent of death and destruction. Burning homes and expended gunpowder, that was his life now.

Amen, brother.” Tony replied.

With a nod, the two men were on good terms once more.

As usual, they had rotated shifts during what sleep could be had. It was hard on each of them, as it was for every human being who had somehow managed to survive through the first handful of years following the invasion.

There were no longer any countries in terms of boundaries. Just our territory and the territory of the wolves. Rather than see a front form on land between two massed armies, the front had become the skies above us. Humanity had the ability to travel through space at short distances, which was certainly enough to strike the Krall on their homeworld, The Scope. It was rarely seen though. We’d been on the defensive for far too long and the Krall had dropped hundreds of thousands of their wolves onto us. If there is a battlefield, it is Earth. Our heroes of the sky try to keep them at bay so that we are not completely overwhelmed – though we remain on the brink of it.

A war so engrossingly hard wears down even the best of men. As Ryan sat there, watching the area around them while taking a moment here and there to glance to the skies, he indeed found himself worn and weary. For all of its majestic beautify from afar, the war between battling ships in orbit ended with real loss of life. While it looked like nothing more than elegant shooting stars zipping across what little skies we had left, Ryan understood that they were, in fact, ships filled with soldiers just like him. Men and women who fought their guts out to remain free.

As the cold Siberian winds of Russia whipped across him for several moments, feeling as though it was slicing to the bone; he grabbed both sides of his military jacket and pulled it just a smidgen tighter. Ryan understood that he wasn’t the only one suffering.

He often grew tired of eating the dried wheat noodles which sparked themselves to life with fabricated meat-flavored seasoning and hot water. They all grew tired of them. It had become the staple food across all EDF fronts because of its portability and shelf-life. Still, Ryan knew that many folks were out there with far less to eat. And, though all of the killing and surviving while enduring cold seasons and the fatigue of war, Ryan found his biggest challenge to be combating the longing inside of his soul for the touch of Amanda’s soft hair through his fingertips. Not a single minute passed that he wasn’t thinking of her to some capacity. He’d lied about his desire to open a pub when it was all finished. He’d told his soldiers what they needed to hear from him. In truth, he only wanted to survive the war and all of its horrors, many of which he’d seen with his own eyes. Ryan wanted Amanda to survive it, too. He dreamed of a life with her beyond killing and surviving, not that she was the least bit wise to his desires.

He wanted to be with her. From the nearly frostbitten skin on his body to the rough brush of his hand through hair that had grown stiff and grimy with battle, Ryan wanted Amanda. He found it increasingly hard to fight off the urge to tell her how he felt. Largely in part to the fact that romance between a commanding officer and those under his command was forbidden by EDF regulations. Most of all, though, he feared that Amanda wouldn’t feel the same for him. Without officially asking, the possibility of being together still existed within his own mind. That scenario was why he continued to fight. That’s what Ryan found himself clinging to, night after night. His love for Amanda.

Glancing over to her, Ryan watched carefully as she breathed easily in her sleep. She’d earned the rest. Amanda had become one hell of a sniper, but even more, she was a great person. Her sense of optimism always brought the best out in folks, even her LT.

Smiling just a bit, he watched her slumber and wondered what must be taking place inside of that beautiful head of hers. Suddenly, Ryan saw movement above her in the distance. It was subtle, yet enough to alarm a seasoned-veteran. Lowering himself to the ground a bit, Ryan eased the stock of his rifle in the indention of his arm and continued to watch. Slowly, he made his way over to the rest of his squad as they slept.

Suddenly, Ryan came to realize that the movement had been a Krall scout and that a large group was moving past them, only meters away from their position.

Fuck.” Jalen whispered as he was the next to wake.

Shh-” Ryan said as he extended a finger to his lips. Let them pass. His lips moved the words, yet no sound escaped in order to remain as quiet as possible.

Reaching over, Ryan cupped the mouth of Amanda, who was the last to wake. It certainly took her by surprise and she wondered, momentarily, if Ryan was finally prepared to act on his feelings for her. She’d known for a while. Not that he’d admitted them, of course, but women had a way of picking up on the details of things. Amanda felt the same for Ryan. He was a good man and virtuous by every standard imaginable. He was a damn good soldier, too, and his toughness appealed to her greatly.

We’ve got wolves passing. I need you to lay here quietly, OK?” Ryan asked.

Amanda nodded with understanding, though secretly she felt as though a huge opportunity to act on their love had passed. Still, there were a few very long moments of quiet as he covered her – his face rested above hers by only inches. Their eyes held a conversation all their own as the slayers of mankind walked past.

There were at least a hundred of them and they were well-armed. At the rear of the formation were two humans in chains, EDF soldiers from the look of their clothing. Ryan felt for the both of them as he understood their ultimate fate. They’d be conditioned, which was the chosen word of the Krall. Each of the men would be forced into a specialized machine which would pull the water from their bodies and dispose of the rest. Their fluids would be removed within seconds, bringing along with it an excruciatingly painful death following bouts of torture to gain any strategical information that could be pulled from the prisoners.

Amanda-” Ryan said. The mere sound of his voice brought shudders up her body, even under such conditions. “As they pass, I need you to laze them. Can you do that?”

She understood that it would take the Krall a few minutes to distance themselves enough for a strike without hitting her own squad. Shaking her head, Amanda let him know that it was doable, given the time.

But our men…” she began.

Nothing we can do to save ’em. You know I would if I could.”

Amanda nodded. She trusted him with everything she had.

Only way to end this well for the EDF is to laze the group and let our birds do the rest.” Ryan said.

OK.” she replied softly.

Soon after, Amanda began bolting a small laser designator onto the top of her sniper rifle. She was but the instrument of war following orders. That’s what she’d told herself each time killing needed to be done. Her finger remained on the push button of the small scope which tracked the Krall as they made their way past and to a safe enough distance.

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