They were losing.
Thousands were homeless, millions were dead and many more missing in action. The Alliance’s most recent defeat at Passchendaele had left a wide swath open into the heart of their territory. The 3rd fleet had been responsible for holding that territory and had lost many ships in doing so. However, they had also made the enemy pay for each and every inch of territory that they had taken with the blood of thousands of bodies on both sides.
For now, the trenches lay filled with corpses both seemingly pristine as well as horridly mangled in a symphony of death. There were still resistance fighters there… few and far between; people made of steel.
Far away on the distant shoreline on Passchendaele the staccato of machineguns broke the silence as a Marine opened fire on an unwitting group of Hierarchy soldiers. A sharp crack sounded the death of another as the sniper peeled open the ugly carapace atop its head and sent it crashing to the ground… though it still twitched and tried to get up to attack. And in the distance the scent of burning ozone, flesh and cooked armor boiled into the air as plasma swept a grassy surface and left behind nothing but burned and blackened ashes in its wake as the Hierarchy swept yet another world. For a long while, the sight of the destruction might have caused many to think that man had simply gone insane.
But on Virginia… where the Alliance was and had rapidly been assembling reinforcement fleets… there stood the heroes of the generation; the ones that were to bring about a time of peace and tranquility to stop the madness. A brand new ship was being given the finishing touches as men and women were yanked from their beds, had a rifle shoved into their hands and were marched out towards the fields for impressment. There was little that anyone had to say about the matter. Many of them were terrified that they were going to die at the hands of an alien menace but many already knew… there was no such thing as surrender against such a threat. There was only fight... or die.
No one had chosen this war. No one had wanted things to have ever come to this. No one had wanted to be drafted. No one had wanted to be killed in a manner so cruel that it marked the very loss of humanity and the very souls of the people that they were sworn to protect.
Precious few of the people standing in the crowd had been properly trained. Most of them were merely conscripts who had never even seen a rifle before today. Yet the Empire of Virginia, part of the newly founded United Systems Alliance, had seen fit to put them into a phalanx to stand in the rain in their new uniforms as barbers shaved their heads while they stood there and doctors quickly did their physicals.
The raindrops fell in a staccato that the veterans of Passchendaele were going to find rather eerie as they struck the large leaves around them and caused a sound akin to a pitter patter of machineguns in the distance. And soon enough joining them was the sound of the machineguns echoing into the dying light of the dusk air. Merely a few miles away they could hear the sound of thousands of soldiers engaging in a conflict that they would never have any closure for. They were never going to know if those brave men and women out there were going to be victorious… if they were going to be enslaved… or dead. It wouldn’t have been surprising to see family members on the other front as what would come to be known as Virginia’s Great Invasion began to come into full swing. Still… they could hear the shrill, ear-splitting whistles that announced another charge to take place where radios were jammed. They could hear the booming crackle of thunder and lightning that signaled the artillery strikes. They could hear the sounds of the soldiers nearby screaming… and many of them never being granted the opportunity to come home again.
“Last two ranks! Get your asses out there to that front line!” shouted a man near the front of the formation as he walked along them. “Go on then!” he shouted, letting everyone present take a note of his thick Irish accent. Solemnly the final two rows of people in the formation made their way towards the chaos that had enveloped the majority of the world and threatened to swallow it whole. They were marching, if anyone dared to look, towards the sight of gasses that filled the lungs of the people there. And fire… fire everywhere.
The shuttles flew down from overhead and opened their doors as they descended with terrified pilots glancing upwards more often than not at the amount of flak that was filling the skies as more and more Hierarchy ships drifted out of orbit and began to hover above them.
“Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion; inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself. Amen.” – Catholic prayer for God’s Mercy
Some draftees were praying. Others were weeping as they clutched their weapons. Others were stone faced and unyielding among thousands of expressions. “Front rank! Prepare to board!” shouted the commander of the formation as four shuttles descended and slammed into the dirt hard enough to send dirt skittering forwards. The moment the shuttles were filled they were airborne yet again. “Second rank! Another dropship! Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!” the commander shouted in their ears. He seemed to have it all together… but it was far from the truth. Almost everyone present knew they were going to die at the hands of their invaders. The second group of shuttles took to the skies and almost immediately a swarm of Hierarchy fighters zipped past them, shot one of the shuttles to pieces and flew off as the pieces slammed into another shuttle and sent both of them crashing to the ground.
By that time most of the formation had been scooped up… and if they hadn’t then the last dropships were there to pick them up. “Last rank! Let’s move! Get aboard!” shouted the commander as the sounds of the fighting on the nearby front began to die off. It wasn’t a good sign… the Hierarchy didn’t simply surrender and humanity didn’t have that luxury. To make matters worse… the sounds of fighting were moving closer towards the group of newly drafted shipmates rather than away. “Last load! Get aboard!” shouted the commander as he ‘assisted’ others into the shuttles by shoving them in if they were unwilling or paralyzed by fear.