Left, right, left.
Inexorably onward he marched.
With each tired step, vicious bolts of agony shot upwards. They began at the soles of his feet and sliced through the blisters that had formed on the back of each heel. Continuing upward, the tendrils of pain cut a scorching path through aching calves and knees before settling firmly in his thighs and lower back. Having reached their final destination, the bolts turned into hot knives of torture that twisted and scraped.
Eli looked left and right at the barren, sandy Telgoran landscape and trudged forward. Occasionally, he veered to the right or left to skirt a boulder or to circumvent yet another constellation of scattered, head-sized rocks—what he now thought of as "Telgoran rock gardens"—but forward was the goal, and forward was the direction he always came back to.
The pack on his back—nearly half his own body weight—was burden enough to cause many of his peers to drop out. But the pack was the least of his worries. He was used to that kind of pain—the kind that comes from hard work, the kind that can be conquered with a strong body and a bitter refusal to say, "Flock it. I quit." By itself, that pain would be relatively easy. But when combined with all the other dynamics in play, the current trek seemed never-ending. The heavy pack, his Ginny shotgun, the loneliness of the hike, and the blistering desert they traversed all weighed heavily on the body and the mind.
And the boots! The worst pain of all was caused by the boots.
The standard issue boots the sergeants had given them were beautiful. Made from the orange leather of the ninal, a Telgoran deer-like species, they were unlike anything he had ever seen. But they were worse than uncomfortable. Stiff and unforgiving, the leather didn’t mold to the foot the way a boot should. While others had marveled over the receipt of such an important part of their gear, he had held them in his hands, and after a quick, five-second inspection, recognized them as a problem. Armies lived and died by their feet. While others took care not to scratch their boots, he took every opportunity to abuse them and work them into shape.
Despite the tired aching of his feet, a quick look over his shoulder at the forms struggling along behind him showed that his efforts to break in his footgear hadn’t been completely in vain. Although he struggled, the rest of the training unit stretched out for more than a kilometer across the sandy terrain behind him—the closest, no less than a hundred meters away. Most of them were hobbling or limping, he noticed.
At a few centimeters under two meters, he was shorter than many of the other recruits. Most would describe him as wiry and lean. Few, if any, random onlookers would have placed their bets on him to be leading the pack in such a grueling, lengthy forced march. Yet here he was. His body, well-toned from a lifetime of physical training, was not as bulky as a majority of his male counterparts, who without exception, had been raised on Earth. Unlike his peers, Eli hadn't called the planet where he was born "home" for nearly a dozen years. Fully two-thirds of his life had been spent on Waa, the planet where the Shiale Alliance was headquartered. He kept that fact to himself, though. He had no desire to open himself up for the inevitable litany of questions and probing the knowledge would provoke.
Although he doubted they would need to be told after this fiasco, Eli made a mental note to ensure every other recruit worked on breaking in their boots before the next march. The need for him to pass along such obviously important information made him shake his head. Their Minith sergeants had to know about the problem and should have warned their charges before throwing them into the first forced march of their training. He wondered if withholding the information was an oversight, or if it was done with some purpose in mind. He couldn't fathom any rational reason, but it was possible the boots were some form of cruel test.
One thing was certain, though. Their footgear was an excellent example of form over function, and form failed miserably. If he had his own, well-worn boots, on his feet, he’d be kilometers ahead. His feet would be tired, but not blistered. Every step wouldn’t be a rage against the torture that threatened him.
Left, right, left.
When his body demanded that he stop moving—cried out that he couldn’t take another step—the litany moved him forward. The unspoken words beat out a worn rhythm he had come to rely upon. As long as the words continued to generate forward movement, he would place his faith in them. He had no idea what he would do if they ever failed him. He refused to consider that possibility.
Left, right, left.
The heat of the Telgoran sun beat down on his shoulders, creating bothersome rivulets that began beneath his helmet and flowed downward. His uniform was soaked with the salted clamminess of his body’s sweat, and he paused his silent chant long enough to turn his head and suck down a quick gulp of water. The plastic spout that trailed over his shoulder and into the water pouch stored in his pack was hot, as was the mouthful of life-sustaining, but oh-so-wonderful, liquid it dispensed. He wanted a second gulp. Hell, he wanted to drain the reservoir dry, but he kept his desire in check. He didn't know how much farther they had to go, and the last thing he wanted was to drop out because he couldn't ration his water allowance properly.
Discipline. They’re teaching you discipline. Ah! It’s another test.
Despite his intense discomfort, the sudden flash of understanding caused him to smile. There was a reason behind the madness. Somehow, that made the harsh reality of his situation bearable. He silently scolded himself for wallowing in the pain of his present circumstance and made a personal commitment to expand his view of the non-stop training and torture—to look for explanations and reasons, to view the cruelties of the right now through a broader lens. With a nod to himself, his mind turned to the long term. This hell can’t last forever, he told himself for the hundredth time. For the ten-thousandth time, he repeated the mantra.
Left, right, left.
A sense of renewed purpose and strength flowed through Eli’s body. He lengthened his step, increased his pace and pushed on through the pain.
Man wasn’t the strongest species in the universe. The Minith, with their large, ape-like bodies could easily beat most humans into submission when they met hand-to-hand on a battlefield. No contest. Even the Telgorans—those thin, seven-foot-tall warriors with muscles like corded steel—could defeat the strongest human in a contest of pure strength. And their quickness, oh, the Telgoran quickness. Again, no contest.
At best, man came in a distant third—and that was only when comparing the species with which they were intimately familiar. No doubt, there were even stronger species as you left the tiny corner of the universe where humans existed and delved deeper into the stars.
Nor was man the smartest species. The Waa, those little green aliens, with the large, dark, almond-shaped eyes, claimed that trait. Their unparalleled ability to design and build remarkable spaceships and other technological wonders gave credence to the claim. Though they held a secret most non-Waa would never know—the ability to read minds. They could learn a task or a process simply by observing your thoughts as you performed the work or thought through a problem. It was, without a doubt, the most efficient self-learning method possible. Yes, it was hard to argue with their claim of being a “nine” on the intelligence scale. Humans and Minith, in comparison, were a “six” and a “four,” respectively.
Yet, despite not being the strongest, nor the fastest, nor the most intelligent species, of the four sentient species that were involved in the Peace Wars, man had come out on top. Aided by the tall, reed-thin Telgorans and the diminutive, green Waa, the humans of Earth defeated the aggressive, planet-robbing Minith on the three primary planets where the four races now lived: Earth, Waa and Telgora. The Minith home planet was destroyed during the war, along with most of their people.
The reason: General Grant Justice, a solitary warrior who possessed a unique outlook and skill set.
While most on Earth believed that peace and conformity were ideals humanity should endeavor to achieve, Grant’s personal philosophy was somewhat more antiquated. While he believed in the concept of peace (not the capitalized “Peace” that most humans worshiped), he understood that true peace requires the ability and willingness to protect yourself from those who would take advantage. Like the Minith who had used the humans’ unwavering obedience to peace to enslave Earth and steal its resources.
Grant was the catalyst that saw mankind build its first army in more than four hundred years. It was an army that defeated the Minith invaders on Earth, and eventually, took the battle against the warrior aliens on the planets of Telgora and Waa.
Though they were soundly defeated, and their world destroyed, most humans still despised and feared their former enemy. After months of intense deliberation and debate within Earth's Leadership Council, the Minith who survived were grudgingly recognized as war refugees and they were accepted as an equal member of an alliance that sought to unite the four races.
Again, the reason was General Grant Justice. The Minith were already residing on Telgora and Waa. With their home planet destroyed, it was obvious they weren't going anywhere. Add to that, the Minith culture norm that required subservience when defeated in battle, and the decision was a no-brainer. Perhaps most importantly, there were threats far greater than the Minith that existed outside of their backwater corner of the universe. Grant recognized the threat and, upon winning acceptance from the Leadership Council, quickly incorporated his former enemy into the alliance. Although their political influence was minor, they were now a major component of the Shiale Alliance military. Their willingness and ability to fight readily offset the distaste that most humans had for war.
Now, a dozen years after the end of the Peace Wars, the Shiale Alliance was still in its infancy. The fatigue of war, combined with the need to work together against outside forces, had helped mold and strengthen the partnership. The various races were united in a common purpose: re-build, strengthen their defenses, prosper and—if possible—survive.
The rebuilding had been accomplished, at least as much as was possible. No amount of effort would ever bring back the Minith home world, but the visible scars of war had been erased from Earth, Telgora and Waa. New buildings, rebuilt farms and shining monuments now resided where death had been met by warriors on all sides. The battles that had been waged on those planets were a memory that most ignored or tried to forget.
Prosperity seemed within reach. The mining and sale of agsel ore to the planets and races that existed outside the Alliance provided resources and wealth. This wealth supported all partner-members and fostered growth on the two dozen planets that made up their tiny corner of the galaxy.
Survival... well, survival was an ongoing struggle. Cracks were appearing—caused by both internal and external forces—that threatened the alliance.
General Grant Justice, Supreme Commander of the Alliance Defense Force, scanned the holo-page that floated above the shiny agsel surface of his desk. The memo took less than five seconds to digest. With a curt wave of his hand, he deleted the irritating message and swallowed the curse that was trying to force its way past his lips. .
The Minith general in charge of the forces on Telgora was complaining again. Apparently, the posting didn’t meet the standards “appropriate to one of his social position” and he needed more authority and resources. As if two hundred thousand soldiers—nearly half of their entire contingent of ground troops—weren’t already posted there under his direct control. It was typical Minith posturing, meant to position the general for the next plum assignment. For Grant, it was just one more thing that demanded his attention. His demeanor and skills weren’t suited for administration. Unfortunately, administrative tasks represented the majority of his job.
Grant was a soldier, trained to fight and lead men in battle. Despite turning fifty on his last birthday, he still preferred working with fellow soldiers in the field to manning a desk—even when that desk was the senior military desk in the Alliance.
The old soldier stood up and walked to the large window that looked out over a northern view of the Waa capital. It wasn’t Earth, but from forty stories up, it was still quite a sight. Over the tops of the shiny metal and glass buildings that made up the skyline, he spied the launch area for the alliance mother ships in the distance. He wondered briefly if any of the departing ships were bound for Earth. He felt a sudden pang of longing that quickly dissipated. Earth wasn’t his home now. It hadn’t been his home for a long, long time.
He rubbed his eyes and wondered how he had come to be here in this place, at this time. He hadn’t asked for this; had never wanted the mantle that had been forced upon his shoulders. On the other hand, he knew it hadn’t been possible to refuse the demands of three disparate races. The Waa hadn’t cared, but the leaders of Earth, the Minith and the Telgorans had all made his oversight of their combined fighting forces a requirement of their signing onto the Shiale Alliance. It had been twelve years and he wondered if they would ever allow him to retire the post—or if he’d be locked into the position until he croaked. Hell, the thought made him want to jump on the next ship bound for the outer ring and lock horns with the next Zrthn battle carrier ship that crossed the demarcation line that delineated Alliance territory.
Now there was a real problem. The Zrthn threat, always a looming presence, had grown more worrisome over the past six months. Instead of an occasional foray up to the demarcation line, followed by an immediate retreat, they had begun crossing deep inside Alliance space. Grant knew they were probing for weakness, testing the Alliance response to the incursions. So far, neither side had gone so far as to do more than posture, which was good. The last thing Grant or the Alliance wanted was another war, especially with an enemy that he knew so little about.
While Zrthn military capabilities, tactics and force sizes were largely unknown, it didn't require an in depth analysis to know they were a formidable threat. Their technology was light years ahead of the alliance, in both communications and space travel. Where the alliance kept to its corner of space, the Zrthns were known to range far and wide in search of trade routes and supplies. There was no telling what types of war they could wage, should they be so inclined.
The Zrthns had been a trade partner of the alliance since before its inception. Starting with the Waa, and continuing with the Minith, when they took over Telgora, they were the largest buyers of the agsel ore. It was possible that the aggressions were part of the other races’ efforts to improve their negotiations with the Alliance over future shipments. The current agreement to sell the Zrthns the ore, which was crucial to interstellar space travel, was scheduled to expire in six months. On the other hand, a full out assault by the aliens to take control of the largest known source of the ore wasn’t beyond comprehension—especially for the man charged with safeguarding the Shiale Alliance.
Grant’s musing about the Zrthns was cut short by a knock on the door.
C’mon in, Sha’n, he thought.
His office door opened at the unspoken permission and Sha’n entered. Although her official title was Assistant to the Commander, the Waa female was more of a trusted adviser than anything else. Standing an inch above four feet tall, the diminutive aide had the same green skin and large black eyes that were common to all Waa. Not for the first time, Grant smiled at the thought that the Waa were the little green men that were rumored to have made numerous visits to Earth in the mid- to late-1900's. Only they weren't rumors, he knew. The Waa visited Earth regularly in the latter half of the twentieth century. What was really funny was they looked remarkably like the cartoon and movie-based characters that had become so popular after those visits began. Green skin. Large, bald heads. Enormous, almond-shaped black eyes. Even the flowing, light colored robes they wore fit the ancient human stereotype.
It had taken Grant nearly a year before he could identify Sha’n as an individual, distinct from the thousands of other Waa who resided in and beneath the city. Eventually, he came to recognize her from the tiny wrinkles covering her skin, the distinctive angle of her eyes, and the way she walked. Grant had once tried to describe his efforts at distinguishing a single Waa to an acquaintance on Earth. The best example he could come up with was to ask his friend to imagine a thousand oranges. At first, they all looked the same, but if you removed a single orange and examined it every day for a year, you might eventually be able to pick it out of a pile of oranges with some effort. You just had to make sure it was a small pile.
After more than ten years by his side, Sha’n had become one of the most important and trusted individuals in Grant’s life. She wasn’t just an aide or an advisor; she was one of a small handful of his true friends.
Good morning, Sha’n, he greeted his aide.
While the Waa could speak normally, mind-speak was infinitely easier and the advantages over verbal communication were significant. Mind-speak was like communicating in 3-D. It permitted the full use all of one’s senses. Complete thoughts, feelings, smells, and sights—among other things—could all be relayed during a conversation. For example, Grant’s simple greeting to Sha’n had informed her of his mood, and relayed his pleasure at seeing her enter his office. It was a far superior method of communication to simple verbal-speak, which was limited by each individual’s vocabulary and ability to express themselves through words and body language. Grant often wished he could use mind-speak with other humans. It would make things so much easier. But humans, while capable of interacting with the Waa on a mental plane, weren’t built for communicating with each other on that basis.
Of course, it was possible for the Waa to act as “mental interpreters” between humans, which could enormously improve human interactions, but there were two problems with that scenario. The first was simple logistics and availability. The Waa were the premier builders and thinkers of the Alliance. Their skills would be poorly spent acting as simple interpreters between humans.
The second problem was the more important, however. Their ability was one of the most closely held secrets of the Shiale Alliance. Other than Grant, only two other humans and the Telgorans knew what the “little green men” could do. The Telgorans kept to themselves, they detested the Minith and rarely interacted with humans. Even if Grant hadn't received their agreement to keep the information secret, he had little fear they would ever disclose it. It didn’t serve the Alliance for the knowledge to become more wide-spread. The Waa were incapable of reading the minds of the Minith, the most aggressive, warlike contingent of the alliance. Grant trusted his large, green allies—somewhat—but he didn’t feel a responsibility to disclose information the Minith could potentially use against them. Also, and more importantly, if the Zrthns learned of the Waa’s ability, the not-so-small advantage the Alliance held in their fight to keep the foreigners at bay might disappear.
Grant mentally kicked himself. He hadn’t meant for either piece of information to slip out. Sha’n had been working with him on methods for preventing the Waa to peek into his mind. He was getting very adept at cloaking his inner thoughts, but he had to concentrate in order for it to be effective. He had nothing to hide from Sha’n, but immediately began the cloaking techniques she had taught him. He felt confident that with more practice he could train himself to shield all of his waking thoughts without significant effort.
He pushed the Zrthn threat to the back of his mind and focused on the situation on Telgora.
Yes. Any word from our sources there?
Excellent. His identity?
Grant nodded and turned back to the window. He heard the door close behind him, signaling Sha’n’s departure. She came and went as the need, or his mood, dictated.
Despite the attempt to hide his feelings, he knew she had picked up on his worry. It hadn’t been his choice to send his only son into the hell of Telgora. It certainly hadn’t been his idea to send the boy—even as an eighteen year old, Grant still considered him his boy—into military training as an ordinary foot soldier. Eli had grown up in an environment that groomed him to be a soldier. He could have easily qualified as an officer based on the standard qualification tests had he wanted. He was proficient in virtually every aspect of military life, Grant had personally overseen his training since he was seven. But Eli was his own man, and had refused what he considered “the easy way.” He wanted to enter the military the way a common soldier did.
Despite his worry as a father, he was proud of his son for his choices. Few of the most important things in life are ever gained by taking the easy path. Hard work, commitment, and sacrifice lead to success.
Yes, Grant was very proud indeed, and how could he not be? After all, it’s what he would have done.
With a groan of effort, Eli slipped the over-stuffed pack from his shoulders and dropped it to the barracks floor. The nondescript, cement block building where they were housed wasn't home, but it was the only place where he and his fellow recruits could unwind out of sight and mind of their Minith task masters. As such, it was a welcome sight whenever they came in from a long day of training. The room where he bunked was painted a light green and housed twenty soldiers—men and women mixed. Each trooper was assigned a standard bunk and a storage closet for their equipment. A large, communal latrine was just down the hall, and served five of these twenty-person rooms.
He stared at the name “Jayson” stenciled on the top of the pack for just a moment. It felt strange to use a last name that wasn’t his own... but also good in a way. All of his life, he’d been known and treated as the son of the most important—and most famous—human in the entire Shiale Alliance. Here, he was his own person, and the anonymity the alias provided was as frightening as it was liberating. He was intensely proud of his father and of the family name, but for the first time in his eighteen years, he would succeed or fail on his own merit, without the influence, prejudice or stigma that came with the name “Justice.”
He carefully leaned his weapon against the pack, then executed a flawless, rolling flop onto his bunk. The relief of being off his feet for the first time in over twenty-four hours swallowed him whole.
Around him, the sounds of platoon mates collapsing into their own bunks filtered through his fatigue. The wrinkles and lumps caused by his flop would need straightening soon—everyone’s bunk would need to be perfect for evening inspection—but for now, he soaked in the pleasure of the not-so-soft mattress. Although there were only humans assigned to his training unit, the bunk was over-sized, built to accommodate any recruit—human, Minith or Telgoran. Eli’s slender frame fit easily into the bed, with plenty of room to spare.
“Ah, crud,” he heard Private Gale Benson mutter as he approached. His feet scuffed across the floor in that exhausted, shuffle-walk manner that had become so familiar. It also meant, they would need to buff out the minute scratches that Benson was leaving in his wake. Another wonderful chore. “How the flock am I gonna make it up there?”
Eli buried his smile in his pillow and grunted a non-committal response. On the first day of training, Benson had demanded that they switch bunks. Ignoring the hint of violence that had accompanied the demand, Eli had agreed at once. Giving up the top bunk he had been assigned for the bottom bunk Benson had been issued was a no-brainer. Not only were the bunks larger in order to accommodate the size of the average Minith soldier, the top bunk was also considerably higher than a standard human bunk for the same reason. Unfortunately for Benson, he hadn’t had the foresight to consider the energy needed to climb to the top every night.
Exhaustion threatened to drag Eli into sleep, but he fought the temptation. He waited until Benson finally reached the summit, then turned over and stared at the bottom of the other man’s bed. He put his body through a five-minute routine of horizontal stretching exercises, then slowly coaxed his aching body into a seated position and lowered his still-booted feet to the floor.
“What’re you doing?” The question drifted down from the top bunk. Benson sounded completely spent from the recent march.
“Gotta get these boots off, man,” Eli replied.
“Ah, hell. Should I even ask why? We gotta be outside again in an hour anyway.”
“That’s the reason. Do you want to head out on another march without taking care of your feet?”
“Crud, E.J.! You waited until I got up here to tell me that, didn’t you?”
Eli grinned and began unlacing the orange-tinted boots. Benson had taken to calling him by his initials weeks ago, and to Eli’s surprise, he kind of enjoyed it. He had never had a nickname, and E.J. was as good any. He sighed when the first boot was kicked off, groaned in pleasure when the second one came off. The relief was immediate, but temporary. Both boots would be put back on shortly.
“Nah. Too tired to think of it before now. That’s all.”
“Yeah, yeah. Save it for the Minith. You just like to see me suffer, admit it.”
“S’what you get for talking me out of the top bunk on day one,” Eli chided.
“Yeah, and you refused to trade back on day two. But the offer still stands.”
“I’m good, but thanks. Still... you need to wash your feet and put on fresh socks before evening formation.”
Despite their early, rocky start, the two men had come to like each other. Eli enjoyed the other man’s humor and his ability to do whatever was needed to survive the torture their Minith trainers put them through. He also knew the other man had come to rely on his experience and guidance. As their training progressed, more and more of the individuals in their unit dropped out, casualties of the stress and conditions to which they were subjected. Interestingly, whatever they were required to do, Eli always seemed to come out near the front of the pack. He wasn’t always the best, but he was never far behind the leader. Benson had quickly taken note.
Others had taken note as well.
As Eli limped across the barracks floor to the latrine, he saw several heads turn in his direction and take note of his actions. As he was leaving the washroom, his feet now clean, most of his unit—Benson included—passed him going in the opposite direction.
An hour later, the fifty-four men and women that remained in their training platoon stood silently in rank and file. The hot, Telgoran wind whipped viciously through their battered ranks causing several of the soldiers to sway or stagger against the invisible assault. The hard-packed ground they occupied was kept clean by the wind, but rogue grains of sand and grit were regularly found by the invisible cyclone and cast angrily against an unprotected hand or face. Random yelps or flinches from his peers punctuated each occurrence, and gave notice that it was just a matter of time before another of the tiny missiles found a target. The anxious wait for the next surprising sting was worse than the sting itself, Eli thought, and he took a deep breath of hot air and forced his tense muscles to relax as best they could. This experience was temporary and wouldn’t last forever, he reminded himself. A sudden bite of pain to his left cheek reminded him that the experience, though temporary, had to be endured just the same.
The two sister platoons in their training company stood to the left and right of Eli’s platoon. Neither of the other platoons held more than fifty recruits each, Eli noticed. The forced march that weeded out five of his platoon-mates had taken a much heavier toll on the other two units. A quick peek showed the boots of all but a few in the other platoons were still covered in dust and sand. Few of them had bothered to treat their feet during their short break. A whisper of concern tickled the back of Eli's neck at the oversight. It also resurrected the still-lingering question of why the Minith sergeants didn't look out for them? Weren't they invested in the health and well-being of their charges? Along those same lines, he wondered what had kept him from looking after his peers. It wasn't his job to look after everyone, but if he could help, why not? He had been training to be a soldier for years, he knew things that those around him obviously didn't. It made no sense to keep that knowledge to himself. With an internal nod, he made a decision to step up and fill in the gaps where he could. Maybe their instructors couldn't be bothered, but he no such qualms.
The assembled humans immediately snapped to attention as three Minith instructors exited the building to their front. The giant warriors had greenish skin, stood in excess of eight feet, and weighed more than three hundred pounds. Their simian-like appearance was offset by large bat-like ears. The Minith were intimidating, and leveraged their physical appearance to push, taunt and torture their human charges.
Each was a sergeant in the Alliance Defense Force, and all had several years of military experience. At least one of them had seen battle against humans on Earth, Eli had learned a week earlier. His instructor, Sergeant Twigg, had dropped that nugget of information during a class on hand-to-hand combat. The way his eyes had searched the recruits surrounding him seemed full of menace, as if he was daring one of his human charges to make a comment or offer an affront to his honor. No one had accepted the unspoken challenge. It was likely the other two sergeants had similar battle experience.
The three huddled in front of the assembled platoons and openly ignored the humans. Although Defense Force regulations required that all military personnel speak Earth Standard language whenever a second race was present, the three Minith sergeants set that rule aside in favor of their native tongue. It was apparent the Minith did not anticipate any of the humans could speak their language.
Interesting, Eli thought as he strained to hear what they were saying.
“Stupid monkeys,” the soldier next to him muttered. A quick glance showed the soldier to be Private Jerrone, an orphan from Earth. “They’re supposed to speak Standard.”
“Shhhh,” Eli whispered. “I’m trying to hear.” The comment prompted a surprise look from the other recruit. Apparently, he hadn’t expected any of his peers to speak Minith either.
“...only five were lost?” Eli heard the Minith sergeant for first platoon, Sergeant Brek, ask.
“That’s unacceptable,” Sergeant Krrp, the sergeant for third platoon replied. “We can’t let that many of these sheep pass.”
Sergeant Twigg’s ears twitched and the look that crossed his face showed that he agreed with his fellow instructors. “What do you propose?”
“Humpf! I’d agree, but what if the humans sitting in power hear of it? It could undo years of work,” Brek offered. “So what if we put an additional twenty humans in the ranks? It’s not as if they could harm us or change our plans.”
The three looked over the assembled humans once again. Eli, who had spent most of his childhood with Minith friends, and being tutored by Minith warriors, recognized the look of contempt on the faces of the three trainers. By nature, Minith were contemptuous creatures, so seeing the expression was no surprise. However, observing a Minith openly express contempt toward a human was a new experience for Eli. He wondered what it meant.
“Let’s put them through another ten kilometers,” Sergeant Twigg announced. He waved a large, greenish hand at the humans assembled behind him. “They look ready to drop, and that should be enough to weed most of them out.”
“And if we get questioned by the masters?”
“We’ll explain it away, of course. Just a standard training exercise.” It was apparent that Twigg was senior, and the other two nodded at the decision. “And stop calling them ‘masters.’ They’re sheep, just like the pitiful creatures behind us.”
“Very well. Shall we feed them first?”
“Yes,” Twigg replied. “They’ll be emptying their stomachs on the side of the road within the first kilometer.”