A View from the Trenches

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A View from the Trenches is an article from the Defiance News dated November 24, 2024.

Overview

The city's dark. Someone cut the power almost three days ago. Then, suddenly, a single red flare shoots up over the horizon, accompanied by a siren's wail. Scattered gunfire rings out, followed by a series of dull explosions. And then, silence. We listen for a sound—of survivors, the enemy... anyone. A voice cries out in pain. Medics jump to their feet. The streets are so clogged with debris that they're forced to leave their ambulance behind. They shoulder their packs and disappear into the night. I wish them well. Because, you see, this isn't Afghanistan or Jakarta or New Cairo. This is Oklahoma City. Good ol' U.S. of A.

I’m standing in the forward operational command center of the EMC's 9th Division. That's the fancy name they've given to this bombed-out drug store. Two days ago, Votan forces rolled in along I-40. Thousands died in that first wave, until EMC forces pushed them back and managed to erect a barricade. Here in the drug store, communications officers bark into portable radios, relaying orders given by a grim Commander, who stalks back and forth like a caged animal, idly kicking bottles of old medicine that litter the floor. He tells his people not to lose faith, though I can see in his eyes he's got a few doubts himself.

Just then, a young soldier rushes in, gives the Commander a crisp salute and hands him a scrap of paper. He informs the Commander that half his squad was killed in that last volley, including their XO. The Commander sighs, takes stock of this young man. Scrawny, tired. Little more than a boy. He might as well be the face of the entire Earth Military Coalition.

"What's your name, son?" "Private First Class Joshua Nolan, sir."

"You look like hell, kid. Grab some grub before you head back."

"But, sir..."

"That's an order. You'll need your strength for the next push… Corporal Nolan."

Corporal Nolan salutes and heads out. I turn to the Commander and ask why he just did that. "Battlefield promotions are a dime a dozen these days," he tells me. "In all likelihood, Delta Company won't last the night. If he lives, he'll have earned it. If not? Well, at least he'll have something nice to think about before the end comes."

I find Corporal Nolan outside and congratulate him on his promotion. He scoffs, "What good's a title when you're not around to use it?" He offers me a tin of freeze-dried peaches, and we hunker down. I notice he barely chews his food—he's anxious to get back to his buddies.

I wince at every bomb that goes off in the distance. Nolan doesn't. I ask him why. Turns out, Nolan's been fighting this war for a little over a year. Like so many others on the front line, he's just 21 years old, which means he was only 10 when the Votans first arrived on Earth. A lot's happened since then. Years of anger followed by a single bullet that set the world ablaze. He was present at the Battle of St. Louis. I ask him what happened to his family. He looks away and murmurs, "Lots of things." I ask him to elaborate, but he won't. Other than to say he's never going back there. Ever.

Nolan sighs, carrying a weight that's far beyond his years. He's already got that look in his eyes, the one Marines used to call the thousand-yard stare. I ask if he's going to be okay. He just shrugs. The sound of gunfire resumes. Nolan stands, handing me his half-eaten tin. "I have to get back," is all he says. Then he walks away. I wish him well, wondering if he really will last the night. I wish them all well.