The Last War – Picture It & Write

Written for Picture It & Write. A story about expectations in war begins after the image.

Genre: Science Fiction

The Last War

The great military forces in Earth’s history were traditionally built to win the previous war, the last war fought. In 2042, one event changed all that.

We saw them coming 12 years ago. More than eighty of them cruised along. Their kilometers-long vessels, building-sized ion engines running at full blast, approached our solar system. The scientists who debriefed our unit seemed disappointed with the design of the ships. The vessels had been carved out of asteroids, not constructed. There was no indication of warp or gravitic drive technology. They hadn’t popped into existence, utilizing a worm-hole or hyperspace tunnel. They crossed the gulf of space using gigantic ion rockets. The vessels had to be generation ships, the original crew dead of old age centuries ago.

We sat in a tent as a CH-47 helicopter deposited the control module. It released cables and peeled away, flying low between the Virginia hills. I looked into the sky above the chopper. Somewhere out there, atmospheric craft had exited the aliens ships and were entering the atmosphere at Mach 24, twenty-four times the speed of sound.

We watched a video from a famous science fiction author. He said it might not be as bad as we think. The technology of the aliens was surprisingly crude. Though the aliens have spaceships, not all of their technology would necessarily advance at the same rate. None of us believed it. We expected to get our asses kicked.

Since we had spotted the alien warships, there had been no war on Earth. Just a couple revolutions. Now the Koreas were united and Iran worked hand-in-hand with Israeli scientists. India and Pakistan built nukes, but they made them together. Science Fiction authors and the best scientists in the world teamed up to produce the best weapons the entire world could build. They all agreed we needed forward thinking. We needed to win the next war, not the last one.

I drank the last of excellent Colombian coffee, and threw it in the trash. I entered the controller center, airborne until 10 minutes before. Techs connected air, power, and water within minutes. My squad sat in special chairs and techs connected us. In moments, we were asleep.

850 miles away, our minds awoke in foreign bodies made of exotic carbon composites. The drones we controlled could run on two legs or much faster on four. Our secondary weapons, gatling guns firing hypersonic depleted uranium rounds, spun up. The fast-firing guns could shred an old Abrahams Main Battle Tank in an instant. Our main gun, called Hellbore in remembrance of author Keith Laumer, could gut a battle ship with a single shot. We prayed it would be enough.

Though our armor was superb, we sprinted from cover to cover as we advanced on the enemy lander. The enemy’s advanced weapons might vaporize us despite our magnetic field armor. At last, the alien hatch opened and all of us tensed. No one fired per orders. There might be one last chance at peace, though lord knows the hundreds of ways the scientists tried to communicate should have done something by now.

The alien soldiers were tall, averaging 8-feet tall. Their garb was gaudy, with bright colors, gold braid, and plumes fluttering in the breeze. Each one carried a recognizable gun. And then, they started firing.

I couldn’t believe the energy of their shots. I thought the ballistic computer had to be wrong.

Their rounds were non-explosive, and only barely supersonic, like ordinary rifle shots; far slower than our hypersonic weapons. Members of my squad reported taking hits with no effect. When tanks emerged we knew the real battle would begin. We expected hover tanks like those that author David Drake had theorized. When they rolled out on squeaking tracks, it was another letdown. They were little better than the crude machines that began World War II. A couple of us took hits from their main guns’ 40mm rounds. Our powered shields deflected them easily.

It was no battle at all. We charged into the teeth of their fire and swept them aside like gnats. Alien soldiers’ bodies crunched under our armored feet as we took the landing craft intact. It happened the same all over the world.

Soon after, Space-borne Marines captured many of their ships. It was tough to get in the former asteroids, but once breached, the aliens had little chance against our Marines’ powered armor.

I suppose you could say the war was a disappointment, but I wouldn’t. More people died in accidents building the new weapons than those that fought a world-spanning war. In the end, the aliens did us favor. Almost no one in the world was unemployed and since hungry workers don’t work well, hunger was all but eradicated. The borders of nations had become meaningless. It no longer meant anything to conquer another nation after intermingling and working so closely together. The many clans of humans turned their eyes to the stars as one and saw something better to conquer.

We had fought the last war on Earth. The one against ourselves.
Each week, Picture It & Write presents a new image as a writing prompt. Talented authors from all over the world join in to interpret in their own unique fashion. Here’s this week’s prompt:

About EagleAye

I like looking at the serious subjects in the news and seeking the lighter side of the issue. I love satire and spoofs. I see the ridiculous side of things all the time, and my goal is to share that light-hearted view.
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13 Responses to The Last War – Picture It & Write

  1. Another sharp short with a brilliant twist. You’re right. We so often envisage the aliens as having the superior tech by default. I think the archetype was H G Wells’ War of the Worlds, as much a protest at militarist imperialism as sf. You’ve offered a grest reversal. And a message of hope.


    • EagleAye says:

      I was hoping to hear your thoughts on this one. I wanted to know what a military historian thought about it. We can see in history how not all sciences proceed at the same pace. In ww2, Germany may have produced the first jet fighter (Though Whittle was already trying in the UK), the US developed the first atomic bomb (though Germany dabbled in it). Germany appeared to have an edge, but it was overcome but American and Soviet industrial manufacturing technology which Germany couldn’t match.

      So it may be that alien war technology may have advantages in the event of an invasion, but almost certainly they’ll have weaknesses that humans can exploit.

      But you noticed the most important part of my missive. That human beings, working together, can overcome insurmountable odds. If we could all stop shooting at each other and use that energy in tackling larger projects, we could accomplish things unimaginable to our current generation. Establishing a lasting presence in space comes to mind right away. With all of us here on Earth only, we’ve got all our eggs in one basket. That’s asking for trouble.

      At present, we have the capacity and technology to establish ourselves in space. We simply lack the will. I hope we find it some day.


      • It’s definitely a social issue that we face; the sad part, I fear, is that it is in human nature to be territorial. We intellectualise it (witness academics) but it’s territorialism nonetheless;and I suspect we will never truly co-operate as a species until that is understood and conquered. And it’s way past time to do so.

        The ‘superior alien’ trope – used by Wells for social commentary but picked up by just about every other SF author as a dramatic device – needs demolition these days. Harry Turtledove did it to some extent in his arduously long ‘World War’ series, postulating aliens with the weapon tech of the late twentieth century Cold War landing in the middle of WWII. He avoided the ‘blazing ray guns’ cringe but it was still ‘superior aliens’.

        I think you’ve got a really innovative concept here & when you blend it with such a great message of hope I think you’ve got scope for a fabulous novel – any plans to extend the story that way?


      • EagleAye says:

        I hadn’t thought about doing that. In a novel-sized story, the enemy or the conflict would still have to have some kind of advantage. The more powerful the adversary, the greater the hero. I think to pursue a longer piece on this, the aliens could not be so easily defeated. Either that, or the human species wouldn’t do an about face quite so quickly. Perhaps politicians would stall the process of developing Earth’s forces by “politicizing” the approach of aliens for the purpose of gaining votes. Now that’s a plausible scenario, given that such things are happening right now.


  2. Lyn says:

    Great piece of SF, Eric, you’ve covered all areas of “alien invasion” and come up with something different – even more different to The Day the Earth Stood Still. I like the social implications of this story where everyone works together – especially Iran and Israel cooperating. That would be a dream come true for me as my maternal Grandmother was Jewish. You know, even today, there is no need for hunger and poverty in the world. We have enough resources to feed, clothe and shelter everyone. It’s simple greed of the wealthy and corruption of leaders that stops it. But maybe I’m just being idealistic.


    • EagleAye says:

      Thank you Lyn! I covered a few of my pet peeves with this one. The never ending violence between the Arabs and Israelis is one of them. It strikes me as absolute madness that it has lasted this long. Honestly, I believe most of humanity’s troubles are caused by ourselves. We easily have the capacity to eradicate hunger, and certainly end war, we just don’t have the will. All this is a travesty, a waste of opportunity. I don’t think this is idealistic, I think it is practical thinking. I wonder how many Einsteins died in Africa/South America/Middle-East of hunger or war? We’re lucky to get one of those in 5 generations. If we don’t raise them up right, the whole of humanity loses. So it’s not idealistic, it’s practical, strategic thinking and we should all think of ourselves as a team. The Human team, struggling to survive in a very dangerous universe.

      Thanks for writing in, Lyn, and thanks for letting me enjoy my soapbox. 😉


  3. List of X says:

    We humans spent so much money and effort trying to invent and create the most effective machines for killing each other, that your story seems to be a very likely scenario should aliens actually try to invade us. On the other hand, if they are anything like us in that regard (just as aggressive and always fighting between themselves) and yet scrape up enough resources and technology to master space travel to get to us first before we get to them, we’re doomed. We’d be the underdog hero Hollywood loves so much, except outside of Hollywood movies underdogs normally don’t win. However, if aliens do wipe out all humans, that would finally solve the Arab-Israeli conflict – and that’s pretty much the most realistic solution I can think of.


    • EagleAye says:

      You’re right, underdogs don’t normally win, otherwise it wouldn’t be so interesting to see an underdog win.

      Normally, we’d expect a species that gained space travel to be more advanced than us in every regard, but that idea has been explored pretty thoroughly. What if they weren’t and why would they be less advanced? One reason I didn’t explore thoroughly enough here, was that aliens might still be fighting their Last War. What if their version of Hitler actually won and took over all their other nations. Weapons would improve slightly but not much without an equal opponent. They’d have relative peace for a long time. If they developed spaceflight shortly afterwards, they would arrive at us preparing to fight “their last war.” They’d be completely ill-prepared for us who remained fractured and fighting constantly after our Hitler. We’d be something they couldn’t imagine.


      • List of X says:

        From your description of the alien uniform, it looked like their last was was fought by Napoleon. 🙂
        I’m familiar with “preparing to fight the last war” concept, but, come to think of it, this may only work for the wars within the same civilization. But if you’re preparing to fight a foe you know nothing about, you’d probably try to review all you technology to see what would make a better weapon. It’s what people did with tanks, airplanes, and nuclear weapons.


      • EagleAye says:

        This is a good point. But now consider aliens who have traveled hundreds of years on a generation ship. They haven’t fought a land battle in centuries because they’re all living together in a vessel. There haven’t been any foes to drive weapons development. Their war-fighting methodology hasn’t evolved. They encounter a species like us who never left the home planet and had ample time to work on improving the way we fought war. It’s a clash of cultures and experience.


      • List of X says:

        That’s a really good point. Those aliens that arrived on generation spaceships have zero combat experience, and were probably “trained” by those with zero experience of their own.


  4. Shey says:

    Great short with unexpected twist and I also liked the unification of the world as a consequence. Well done.


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