They were all dead.
Somehow, it was different when it was the enemy. That was the job -- killing the Kryll. One or a hundred of them, it didn't matter; they all looked the same when their corpses littered the ground, and you were glad to see it. It meant you were earning your paycheque. But that was on their world, sectors away; a universe apart on every concievable level. When the smoke cleared and your shift was over, you dug yourself out from the rubble and took your ship back to the home you knew waited for you. Back to Earth. Back to your family.
Everything was fine as long as things stayed that way. Sure, there was always the danger that you'd be wounded or killed in action. Nobody said working for the OMC was a safe job. We were marines, with all of the perks and dangers that went with the title. The Outer Marine Corps provided well, though. Heavy armor and even heavier ordnance. The Kryll were no match for our technology. What they lacked in weaponry they made up for in every other area: Speed, cunning, determination, and most alarmingly, numbers.
Krylian, their homeworld, was a good three times the size of Earth, and the Kryll seemed to fill every land mass almost to overflowing; there were tens of billions of them. Their cities, primitive by comparison, sprawled across the planet to the point where there simply wasn't any more land to build on. That's how we found them -- or rather, they found us. They had grown so numerous that their world faced famine and death unless they found new habitable digs to settle on. Obviously they weren't very good urban planners or they would have done that long ago.
But that's how their problem became ours. It had begun as peaceful talks with their assembled consuls. They wanted to emigrate to Earth. We would have none of it; Earth was pretty crowded as it was, and we certainly had no room for Kryll in the numbers they were talking about. The Kryll disagreed, though. Earth still brimmed with untouched wilderness, desert and forest land that, properly terraformed, could serve the purpose ideally. The Kryll had no love for nature; theirs was a life of survival and it left no room for such trivialities as art or beauty. It was at that point that the talks broke down and the Kryll recalled their emissaries, seeming to withdraw all of their interest from Earth.
We should have known better. By our standards, the Kryll weren't what we would have called an advanced species, but they were desperate. Desperation makes for an unpredictable and very dangerous adversary. That one fateful day, our routine mission through their sector met a not-so-routine Kryll sortie bent on our destruction. We were caught off-guard. Their fighters were poorly armed, and we managed to make quick work of them, but not before I lost three of my best wingmen. We limped home to report our misadventure.
That's how it all started, now three years past. The war waged steadily, but all we managed to do is staunch the flow. Their numbers were such that they could build ships and weaponry just as fast as we could destroy it. Worse, they just seemed to grow more desperate every day, and the more of our fighters they downed the more they were able to study and ultimately reproduce our own technology. By the day they became more fearsome foes while their numbers didn't diminish appreciably. They became a cancer, yet we have been little more than a daily chemo treatment. Our only saving grace was that they had yet to figure out how to reproduce a StellarDrive engine. Their range was limited to their own sector without it. It was only a matter of time before they did, of course -- that inevitability was what drove our own technologists to devise better weaponry so that we might defeat them before this happened. We figured there was time yet.
But we underestimated them. They weren't dumb. They had scientists of their own, and the war had done them the favour of handing our technology over to their scientists to be reverse-engineered. It might have been a mystery to them in the beginning, but any puzzle can be solved given enough time, thought and perseverence. Their desperation made them work all the harder to achieve that end. It followed then that the arrival of several hundred Kryllian battle cruisers in our sector caught us all completely unprepared. They materialized just beyond the Moon. There was no warning, no time to mobilize. Their attack pummeled the Earth from every direction. Their lack of familiarity with terrestrial geography made their targets random, but their numbers ensured a devastatingly effective strafe run. It was all I could do to dodge plasma bolts that made my hair stand on end and my skin feel like it was being peeled whole from my body. I was saved only by my proximity to my fighter. I hopped in and bolted like a rabbit with a gun to its tail. Pitching and yawing through enemy fire, I made my way to a nearby gorge where I landed and took refuge in a shallow cave until the dust cleared.
It seemed like forever, and yet but a heartbeat. When it was over, the silence crashed in like mute waves. It was absolute. It sounded like death. I got back into my fighter and flew out of the gorge, back to the base. Suddenly I didn't feel so lucky; the base lay in utter ruins. Neither structure nor craft survived the barrage. It lay flattened and smouldering, looking nothing so much like the shockwave from a nuclear bomb had swept over, leaving a path of charred debris and twisted metal in its wake.
They were all dead. All of them. My CO. My platoon. My friends.
It was overwhelming. There was just too much to process. My soul just couldn't handle it. I felt something inside of me fade and die, like an ember consuming its last meal. Smoky debris lay all around me, in front of me, beneath my feet -- inside me. The world tasted like ashes. I looked up. The cruisers had departed -- presumably moving on to other locations, other targets. The sky was clear. The stars twinkled between streamers of acrid smoke. Stars that brought death upon the world this night. Throughout my life there were always choices to be made, paths to take. You pick the one you think will lead you to where you want to be. Sometimes it's the right path, others, not. Now it seemed as though every path I had taken, every path that lay before me, all merged into one. One path. One choice.
I walked back to my fighter, oddly serene in the face of such shocking tragedy. I didn't need the instrumentation of my craft to plot my course. It was already set. My actions now were predetermined. There was no going back -- there was nothing to go back to. There was only now, and the hope of a future. It was mad, of course. To think that I stood any chance at all was absurdity of the highest order. It didn't matter. None of it mattered anymore. I was all that was left. The decision was never mine to make. The path was clear.
I would kill every last one of them.