Weeks turned into months. Once a month, we had a day off. The Blacks herded us into one of the training areas and left us to our own devices then. They didn care what we did.

The barracks split. There were those who thought we should fight. They became very discreet. They fought by not working well. Occasionally they went too far. If they didn get dead, then they got put into solitary. They considered that a victory. I knew they were working on something bigger. I had no idea what.

Somehow, Id become the leader of those who took a more peaceful view. So long as we were alive, and reasonably treated, there was no point in risking death. The Blacks had been surprisingly good. The loss of liberty was expected. I had expected beatings, and starvation leading to enslavement. We were slave labour but again, that was well within the envisaged possibilities.

We figured out how to speak between barracks at night. The windows were frosted, but you could still send light signals, and the Blacks didn care how we sat during meals. You might think it was carelessness. They were always careful at other times. The aggressive barracks became frustrated at that.

Eventually, it became obvious the Blacks were shipping in work. There simply wasn enough stuff to do on this planet after wed cleaned up the damage from battle. Qaoloe was a rock with atmosphere. It didn have much else going for it. Thats why it had only been lightly settled. It wasn really good for farming and it wasn resource rich. The system was, but not the planet. They weren about to trust us to mine in space. The Blacks had drones for that.

Over time, the Blacks built a refinery. We worked there. I wasn sure what we were making. They were reasonably small parts with a tube shape. The Blacks needed hundreds of thousands. I didn recognise them. They made sure no raw materials went missing. They weren stupid. Not knowing what they were, while the aggressive barracks could sabotage our work, they couldn do it subtly.

Once the pregnant Opar got too large, the Blacks excused her from work. They kept feeding her. It reinforced my position of peace. It wasn a good position. It was boring but we were alive. Then she gave birth. The Blacks allowed several other Opar women to assist. They provided materials the Opar said were necessary.

That sort of assistance was odd but wed become used to it. The more aggressive barracks split further from us. They saw that as a Black attempt to buy favour. It was. I won deny that. It did work though, especially when the Blacks let the Opar keep her child. I rarely saw the brat. Im told it was doted on in that barrack.

Then a month or so later, the Opar woman was taken to see the Base Commander. I don know what was said. We only saw the outcome. Three days later, several Blacks singled her out at the morning meal. The woman saw them and nodded. She picked up her child and went with the Blacks. Alone.

Now that, even for my barrack faction, was something you didn do. The Opar made placating gestures. Wed all learned how to read the body language of those in the Alliance. Close contact ensured that. One of the Blacks handed her something.

I stared. It was a collar. It looked the same as the one Pickering had worn. Except the Opar didn have any dangerous microbes. There was nothing we needed to be protected from. She put it on without hesitation. One of the Blacks checked it, ensuring the needles in the back of the neck were positioned correctly. Then they put one on the child. It screamed. She shushed it. It quietened remarkably quickly.

Then they were escorted out. That was the last anyone saw of them.

The Blacks were expecting trouble. There were more than normal there that day. The quadrupeds were patrolling the aisles. It worked. The aggressive barracks had taken the view they wanted to live to see their victory. I wondered how much longer that view would hold. Obviously, the Blacks did as well. Say what you want about the Enemy, they aren stupid.

What we didn know at the time was that the shuttle the Opar left on had brought a new Base Commander. There was a Black in charge of everything. We knew there was one. We hadn seen them. Apparently, they had felt no need to lord it over us. The new one had different ideas.

The next morning there was a holoprojector in the mess. One of the Blacks stood beside it. ”The Commander thinks you lot need to know how the war is going, ” they announced.

That brought silence. Obviously, wed been thinking about it. There was no reliable news. The Blacks didn speak when asked. The projector displayed a map. It took a moment to realise what it was of but wed all seen galactic overview maps. The Black one was on its side. It was rotated about 90 degrees from what I was used to. I guess thats what they were used to.

There were colours on that map. The Alliance was red. The Blacks were blue. Several key systems were marked. I automatically sought out Drana. I know the others sought their homeworlds. It was marked clearly. It was getting frighteningly close to the front. The Bright Ones world, Cyndya, was marked the most prominently. I guess the Blacks thought about it as the head of the Alliance. That was true. It was still well protected.

Then I looked at the Black territory. It was shaded blue. Between the red and blue there was a yellow line. Disputed territory I realised.

The Black named systems didn mean much, until I saw Sol. It was prominent. That was surprising. It had the same prominence as the Bright Ones system. Did that mean the Blacks thought of Earth as their homeworld? That didn make sense. Earth was the first to fall, true, but it wasn the Blacks origin world. Thats what wed all been taught. I dismissed the thought. They were Blacks. They had no reason to show prisoners of war the truth.

Actually, they had every reason to lie. If we were recaptured, we would tell the Alliance what we had seen. Displaying Sol prominently made sense from that position. We all knew it was the first system to fall. They gave away nothing with the map.

All it told us was their position. If it was true, the Enemy had made significant inroads. I didn think anything had changed. They appeared to be moving faster.

The map zoomed in. It displayed Qaoloe. We were far behind the disputed territory. I know why they showed us that. It displayed very clearly that there was no chance of rescue. I glanced at the leader of the aggressive barracks. It was a Wymic woman by the name of Arbriana. She was patient, but no nonsense. I knew shed have problems with her faction. I looked away before she noticed. They already accused us of conspiring with the Blacks. We didn need it to happen again.

The Black let us view the map for a few moments longer, before it was packed up, and the projector removed. They then displayed the same thing once a week. Its purpose was obvious. They wished to break us. Not my faction. Arbrianas. It was working. Some had already come to mine. The others held onto their hatred. I guess they didn know anything else.

I had other things to distract me. One of the Black guards asked me a question. I was shocked by it. ”Do you play Drantanara? ”

Of course I played Drantanara. I was a Dranta. We all played. ”Not well. ” I hadn played for at least a year. The Black didn appear concerned. It motioned for me to follow. That was disconcerting but I had no choice.

The Black led me into places we hadn been allowed. There were more Blacks in the corridors and the quadrupeds prowled. They growled at me but made no other challenge. Eventually we stopped before an office. The Black knocked, then entered. I followed.

Another Black was waiting. They seemed different. The Enemy Id fought until then had been bipedal, like most of the Alliance. The quadrupeds had been new at Qaoloe. Most of the bipeds Id seen were similar. This one was bulkier somehow.

I was left alone with the Black. That was surprising. Usually they liked to make sure us prisoners were not given even the illusion of power.

”Sit down. ” The Black gestured. I saw a game of Drantanara set up. It was obvious where I was meant to sit. The Black Commander played? I assumed thats what this one was.

I sat. The Black moved and sat opposite. It took its helmet off. I stared in shock. It was a Dranta. She seemed amused by my surprise.

”Yes, Im a Dranta. ”

I retained enough sense, barely, to avoid calling her a traitor. Obviously, I had questions. I noticed a collar around her neck. Id seen the one going around the Opars neck, it had seemed similar to Pickerings, but I wasn sure, since it was from a distance. This was closer. This was definitely like Pickerings.

”Im what youd call a second gen. ”

I didn understand. It must have showed.

”My parents were civilians on a planet the Alliance lost, ” the Commander explained.

”Im sorry. ” I didn know what else to say. I stared at the collar. Was that the interface for the slaving? I didn know. It didn explain why Pickerings was the same.

She waved away the apology. ”What are you sorry for? I know Im on the right side. ” She sounded confident.

”But… ” The objection was automatic.

”Youve been told everyone on the captured planets is killed or slaved to machines. You know thats not the case. Lives are different but they go on. Still, you were raised in the Alliance, ” she explained. ”I was raised in what you call Black Territory. I chose to enlist in their army. ”

That surprised me. We were told that organics were simply a tool for the machines in the Enemy fleet. The Dranta was implying things were different. My experience was telling me the same. I was confused.

”I was going to suggest a game of Drantanara, but I don think you are in the right frame of mind, ” the Black Commander said.

I wasn . I could barely focus. The idea that those who we thought lost might still be alive hurt. The fact that shed signed up voluntarily was difficult to accept. Id done the same but that was different. Id been expected to. I was born as part of a quota. But others in the Alliance signed up all the time. It was the same as her. Except it wasn . It was hard to think that the Blacks might think themselves justified. It went against a lifetime of thought. I should have realised it but Id always been told they were controlled. That meant they didn really think.

And she had a collar on… wasn that a sign of slavery? Why did she have that collar on? It wasn for microbes. It couldn be. Dranta are kind of boring that way.

”Think on it for a while, and Ill call you back in a few more days. ” She rose and went back to her desk. ”Oh, ” she turned to me, eyes suddenly hard. ”Tell Arbriana that my patience is not infinite. ”

I didn think I could be surprised again. I was proven wrong. The Blacks knew about the barrack factions. They knew who led which one. Arbriana was on borrowed time. I didn know what to say. Did I say Id try and admit to knowing what she represented, or did I say nothing and try to bluff my way through it? The Black Commander smiled gently. She seemed to sense my dilemma.

”Go. ” That was a command.

I rose and stumbled from the office. The other Black met me in the corridor. I don remember the trip back to the barrack. I don remember much of anything. Nothing made sense.

The barrack was glad to see me. Theyd been on the verge of doing something stupid. That made me focus. I told them not to worry. It made some worry more. I had to explain what had happened. I left out the fact that the new Commander was a Dranta. I still wasn sure what I thought of that. I was used to believing there were controlled Humans under the armour. That was familiar. It didn hurt as much. Knowing that I had fought Dranta and other Alliance species hurt. They had signed up with the Enemy. Did they not understand the Bright Ones offered freedom?

Why? In the end, that was the only question that mattered. I realised I had to see the Commander again. I would see the Commander again. I would be more controlled next time. I would find answers. No matter how difficult.

There was something just not right somewhere. I desperately hoped it was a Black lie, a Black conspiracy but there were questions being raised in the certainty of my beliefs. That was an uncomfortable feeling because if the truths about the Black forces were a lie, then what else about the Alliance was a lie?

I didn want those answers. I absolutely had to have those answers.

They say the truth will set you free. It doesn apply when you have two truths that conflict. Then the truth only chains you down and I was held fast.

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