Journal of Renee Kirby

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Journal of Renee Kirby is an article from the Defiance News dated December 25, 2030.

Overview

Taken from the journal of Renee Kirby, a survivor of the Battle of Defiance

December 25, 2030

These things I've seen here will stay with me for the rest of my life. I don't know how to explain them. I don't fully understand them. But I have to try. People have to know.

It's been almost a year since I buried my heart in an unmarked grave outside Spokane. My baby girl, not even five years old, taken far too soon. She never got to go to school, never experienced her first kiss—all those things we took for granted, those of us who remember the world that used to be. I'd been traveling with a group of refugees from city to city. Seattle to Portland, Salem to Sacramento. I was so blind with grief that I didn't even realize where they were taking me: The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. That's how I ended up in a war zone.

The Bay Area was a wreck, just like the rest of the West Coast. Ravaged by terraforming. It was a miracle the building was standing at all, situated on a little patch of land surrounded by weird alien flowers. Some other displaced refugees had taken up residence, boarding up the openings and turning the rotunda into a makeshift shelter. The moment I stepped inside, I froze. Not just humans, but aliens as well. Like some weird hippie commune. Seeing them all living together, working together... it made my stomach turn. I mean, it was the Votans who took away my world. Took away my baby. They tried to be nice to me, offering dry ramen and some Vienna sausages in a can. But I refused. I just couldn't look past my own grief. My rage. I wasn't ready to accept them. Not yet, at least.

We stayed there for almost two months. Eventually hunger won out, and I took what the Votans gave me. But I stuck with the other humans. There was a father and daughter, Amelio and Rosa, who seemed nice enough. They said I should be more tolerant of the Votans, but I wouldn't listen. They didn't understand. How could they? We scavenged the surrounding buildings by day, listened to distant gunfire at night. Every night, the shots got closer and closer. Soldiers would come by sometimes, telling us we couldn't stay here. Something big was coming, and we weren't safe. A guy named Burgess, our self-appointed "leader," told them to piss off. We weren't going anywhere. Some idiot even spray-painted an old sheet and hung it outside like a flag. "Fort Defiance," it said.

Then one day, this other group of soldiers showed up. Part of the 9th Division—the "Iron Demons" they called themselves. Captain Cooper, Lieutenant Nolan... the Geist brothers, Ben and Jered. You could tell by the look in their eyes these weren't men you wanted to mess with. Too much time out in the world, I guess. They'd been fighting the Votans for weeks. They told us that two different armies had converged in San Francisco—a group of alien badasses called the Ekaru Kome had come up the peninsula, where they were met by the 9th Division EMC from the North. We were surrounded. It was only a matter of time before the battle landed on our doorstep. What were we supposed to do, Burgess argued? A lot of the refugees were sick. Moving would kill them. They argued for hours. Finally, the Iron Demons agreed to give us the night to get ready, but come morning we'd have to clear out. Until then, all we could do was wait. So I just sat there, thinking about my little girl and all the things that could have been.

The gunfire started just after sunset. The Demons had barricaded the rotunda, but you could still see through slits between the boards and metal plates. The sky was mesmerizing, lit up by tracer fire and alien energy beams. I watched until one of the Iron Demons — Eddie Braddock, I think — pulled me away from the barricade and told me to get down. They fired back at the enemy in the darkness. It seemed to go on for an eternity, but eventually the shooting stopped. Cooper shushed his men, and we all listened. I never thought my ears would stop ringing.

Then, suddenly, a cry outside broke the silence. A baby's cry. Braddock couldn't keep me from the barricade. I saw a flash of white moving in the distance. "There's a woman out there!" I told them. We watched as she ran across the no-man's land, a shawl over her head, carrying a bundle in her arms. All of us, the soldiers, the civilians, started shouting to her. Over here! Hurry, hurry! She made a beeline for the rotunda, stumbled... but kept to her feet. Until a shot rang out—the one that cut her down. We all jumped as she slipped, landing in the mud, the bundle ripped from her grasp. She just lay there, unmoving. We all looked at each other. What were we supposed to do?

We couldn't just leave her there, I found myself saying. Nolan and Cooper agreed. They started to move a loose board aside when some of the others chimed in. You can't go out there, they said. You'll be killed! Cooper and Nolan traded a look. Something passed between them, that kind of nonverbal thing you develop from years in the trenches, I'd guess. They raised their weapons over their heads and walked out to the fallen woman. We watched, terrified, waiting for them to get shot, too.

They reached the woman and knelt beside her. Cooper picked up the baby. They were saying something to each other, we couldn't make out what, when another figure stepped from the darkness behind them. It was one of those big aliens — a Sensoth. He had the drop on them with this thing that looked like a rocket launcher pointed right at their heads. The soldiers beside me tensed up, ready to blow this guy away. But after a beat, the Sensoth lowered his gun. He whistled, and moments later a few other aliens stepped out of the darkness. Two Irathients and a Liberata. We watched in amazement as they helped Nolan pick up the woman and carry her back to the rotunda, while Cooper followed with the baby.

We pulled aside the boards and let them in. Blood had spread across the woman's white robes. I took the baby from Cooper and carried her away from the sight. The baby was wailing. I whispered into her ear that everything was going to be okay. She started to quiet down. I pulled aside the swaddling that covered her face, and that's when my heart leapt into my throat. The eyes staring back at me — those big, luminous eyes — were Castithan. I looked over at the mother. She was Casti, too. Lying on the floor, motionless. The Sensoth shook his head and covered her face. I felt hot tears on my cheeks as I held this woman's baby. She was gone.

The Iron Demons didn't leave the next day. Neither did the Sensoth and his friends. They stayed, protecting us. And a good thing too, because over the next week, the fighting got worse and worse. I tried to give up the baby to one of the Votan refugees, but they wouldn't let me. I think they saw us together and realized I needed her as much as she needed me. I started talking to some of the aliens. After a while, I realized they weren't so different from me. They didn't kill my friends and family, no more than I'd killed theirs. We all just wanted this to stop. But it didn't.

The shelling intensified, knocking down our barricades. We kept putting them back up, but it was pretty damn clear that they wouldn't hold much longer. We were running out of everything—food, ammo. Hope. The big push came on the night of the 22nd. I sat in a corner, feeding the child as the others talked around the campfire. Burgess, the Iron Demons, the Votan soldiers. They tried to keep their voices down, but things were getting heated. Not angry, exactly... more like frustration. Weariness. Their conversation was interrupted when the radio squawked. It was some jerk named Bullwin, commander of the Iron Demons, ordering his men to advance on the enemy come morning. The soldiers stopped talking, stared at each other across the flames. There was a long silence while everyone waited for someone to make the first move.

Nolan was sitting near me, quietly loading bullets into a clip for his pistol, ignoring the others. One shell. Two. Three. I asked him what this meant. Were they going to start fighting again? Four, five, six. Nolan struggled to push another round into the clip as the spring grew taut. His hands began to shake. Seven, eight. The ninth shell slipped from his fingers, falling to the dirt. He sighed, picked up another round, tried to jam it into the clip. That one fell, too. He cursed, slamming the clip onto a table, sending the loose shells flying. I watched as he buried his head into his hands and wept.

The soldiers talked across that campfire all night. I tried to eavesdrop, but I couldn't hear what they were saying. I mean, what could they do? Bullwin made it clear that only one side was gonna come out of this fight alive. I clutched the little Castithan baby, watching her chest rise and fall. Eventually, her rhythmic breathing did a number on me too, and I joined her in sleep.

We awoke to more shelling. Worse than before. It was light outside. I didn't know how long I'd been out. Men and women rushed across the rotunda, barking orders, trying to repair the barricades. A wayward shell hit the Palace, smashing through our defenses and setting the barricades on fire. I scrambled away as the heat rose up in waves. I saw Cooper, Nolan and the Sensoth, peering through the opening. They told us to get down, as bullets ricocheted across the building. I risked a peek outside. Soldiers everywhere, with us trapped in the middle. They were closing in, and there was nothing we could do about it. Cooper and the Sensoth looked at each other like they knew this was the end. Our last stand.

Cooper yelled for us to get to cover. I ran, carrying the baby with me. When suddenly, an explosion ripped through the air, practically shaking my teeth loose. I swear to God, I haven't experienced anything that violent since Arkfall. The rumbling kept going and going. I thought the entire building was going to collapse around us. Then part of it did. Chunks of concrete fell from the ceiling. I tried to shield the baby as best I could, but suddenly I found myself buried in rubble. And everything went black.

I don't know how long I was lying there in the darkness. But finally I felt the stone shifting around me. It was that Sensoth — Torc, I think his name was. He pulled me and the baby from the rubble. I looked around. The other Votans and soldiers were doing the same, helping dig civilians from the wreckage. We looked out over the city. It was a wasteland, charred and pitted as far as the eye could see, like someone had rubbed their thumb over a map of San Francisco and smudged it out. But somehow the Palace of Fine Arts was still standing. Fort Defiance. I could see other soldiers digging through collapsed buildings nearby — EMC helping Votans, Votans helping civilians. We were alive, thanks to these brave humans and aliens.

I should go now. Eleanor's crying. I don't know if that's a proper Castithan name. But I'm not a proper Castithan mother. I hope she likes it. I hope she likes me. I guess we've both got a lot to learn. All I can do is try my best and remember what her mother sacrificed for her. What they all sacrificed.

We'll be leaving tomorrow. We're all so tired of fighting. Everyone just wants to start looking for the ones they've lost. Everyone but me, that is. Eleanor's my family now. I think we'll head down to Yuma, maybe grab a land coach back east. I don't know what we'll find out there. All I know is that we need to tell people what we saw here today. The actions of a few brave men and women—humans and aliens—who said enough is enough. I'm so grateful for what they did... these defiant few. People have to know.