My name is Dranitor. Yes, Im a Dranta and as to why Im here, Im here to make sure you understand what has happened.

You are so used to obeying orders, but you don know why. Im here to tell you why you need to stop believing everything you have ever known.

Ill be relating my tale to you. Im sure there are assumptions in there, but this is what I know is the truth.

Ive been told what started the war from one side but not the other. Thats odd, because I should know both reasons. You don know any reason? Do you? You are the government of the Dranta and you don know whats kept us at war for the last six generations? That really should be something that concerns you. It didn concern me, but I was just a soldier. You are meant to be more.

You don need to worry. They don blame us. They will if you continue fighting. If you do, well, I will leave. I know which side Ive chosen. I hope you don , because now you have the chance to build the future. You have the chance to truly guide the Dranta towards the future.

The Bright Ones promised us wed advance, that we would grow to be like them. They have held us stagnant. The Wymic haven changed for 1000 years. How is that growth? Like them, we got given toys and trinkets. We gave up too much.

Youll understand that soon enough.

This is a Galactic War. Its fought mostly on planets, for the resources the systems represent. There are very few great space battles. Yes, I know we are told stories of great heroism and daring, of ships destroyed. To use a Black, my apologies, a Commonwealth expression – thats bullshit. Neither side could sustain such losses. There is a lot of ground combat. There has been a lot of ground combat. Decades of it. Generations worth.

When I was born, the Dranta had been embroiled in the war for five generations. Thats all we knew. Its all we know. Thats why its important for you to know my story. So that you know it can change. So that you know we can change. But to change you have to wake up. You have to realise the chains and be willing to break them.

I won ask that yet. I will, after you know my story. After you know what it will mean.

So for me, it started when I was chosen for a special task force. No, not one of the Wymic Intel forces, they don fare well in the Commonwealth. This was something else. Something more specific. Something Im ashamed of, now.

But that came later, and I have to start at the beginning.

-lbw-

”All right, listen up, you hatchlings, ” the Sergeant growled. ”You
e here because you are the best your species can offer. Its the Alliances intention to create an interspecies task force, ” the Sergeant continued, his voice still gravelly but not beyond the norm of his species. ”Yes, its new, I know. The Alliance generally fields units comprised of the same species because that works out the best. But there are advantages of mixed units.

”You lot are in the classroom now so that you can learn. Well run you into the ground in training later but its no good you Opar charging forward to the enemy lines, only to find out that your Zarthan support has ducked for cover.

”Yeah… snigger now, but it happened, ” the Sergeant spat.

That made me freeze. You always heard rumours about that. I trusted the Sergeant not to joke. The situation on the front lines was tense. It was always tense. If I was honest, I knew we were losing but, here, I could relax a little. It was one of the few places I could relax.

The Sergeant wasn . His announcement brought any wandering attention back to the present. I knew what the enemy was like. Uncompromising was about the nicest way of putting it. ”And the **ing Blacks still laugh about it. ”

”So… you are here to learn, so that you can properly anticipate each other. None of you are stupid. You wouldn be here if you were but you
e all grunts so perhaps thats the better measure of intelligence. Either way, you will learn. You will adapt. And you will fight better for this training. ” The Sergeant seemed to meet the eyes of every soldier there.

”First off, we
e going to touch on evolutionary decision making, because the smarts think that will build the foundation to work together. ” There was a derogatory noise. ”At the very least, youll understand why the Blacks are eviscerating you while your squad is 100 paces back watching. ” He paused for the nervous laughter to die.

”Im not explaining this stuff. Intel has sent a Major to explain. If you give her so much as one moment of impertinence, remember she outranks you, so in addition to punishments the Major bestows, you will give me 100 laps of the facility. ” It was an empty threat. No one could run that far. ”So, Major, ” the Sergeant stepped back, allowing the Wymic Officer to step forward.

She looked around, her face expressionless. ”Right! ” the Major began, without bothering to introduce herself.

As I understood it, she was here for this one lecture, then she was heading back to the Intel Division. I couldn read her well, she was Wymic and Im Dranta, but I could tell she didn believe we had been selected for this job. No doubt she wanted to use one of Intels Special Forces Squads. Im told the Bright Ones denied that request. They had insisted it would fail, that this, combining species into one unit, was the only way to succeed. I wondered about that. I wasn sure how we could succeed.

Most of the front lines were just bodies. I could tell the Major thought thats all we were. Something to slow the Enemy down. No doubt she hoped that if we slowed them down enough, theyd lose interest. After six generations at war, I doubted that. What we needed was a solution. Im sure the Bright Ones were working on one. But that took time. We had to give them time.

”No sapient species evolved on anything less than a Class 4 world. Yes, its grandiose to designate our homeworlds that and most of us deemed our homeworlds normal until the Bright Ones came. Then, almost without exception every Alliance species adjusted our scales. I don care what your species came up with, Im using the Bright Ones galactic standard. You may look up further information should you require it.

”So without exception all of our species were uplifted, and our species all saw other worlds. What every Alliance species discovered then, was that species on anything less than a Class 4 world are rather foolish. The accepted theory is that the planets are too nice. Planets designated less than a Class 4 are too nice. There are no predators or challenges. Microbes are tame so the best theory is that there is no push to develop sapience. The rest of the details aren necessary for your purposes. Every Alliance species evolved on harsher worlds. Every species had to use the tools we were gifted with. We developed to use them efficiently. So what are some of the Alliance species survival adaptations? Mine are pretty obvious, ” the Major said, flaring her gills and widening her eyes.

The Wymic had some of the best distance vision of any Alliance species. Thats why most of her people were in Intel. They liked to pretend they could see the future. Sometimes they guess right. Still, most of us thought the Wymic were cowards, they stayed behind the lines. They were the first species the Bright Ones had uplifted. They should have been leading.

The rest of the Alliance know they want to dominate when the war was over. They would be in for a surprise.

”What are other adaptations? ” She indicated that we should answer. Alliance teaching theory is that interaction results in better information retention, even in grunts.

”Claws, ” one replied, holding up his long, curved appendages.

”Yes, good. What else? ”

The Gryna flared its brightly coloured hood. ”Poison. ” The hiss was sibilant.

”Armour, ” the Brydon at the back of the room rumbled. His mass took up most of the area.

”Fangs, ” a slender Opar snapped, displaying the rather incongruous sight of row upon row of teeth.

”Yes, ” the Major nodded. ”All good answers. Those things are what gave our species an advantage on our homeworlds. For the carnivores, claws and fangs usually allowed easier kills. For the herbivores, armour and claws provided protection. It was enough to tip the balance, since most of the Alliances herbivorous species have to carefully control the populations of their former predators to prevent their extinction.

”There is a similarity with the adaptations listed. They are easy. They are natural. They don require anything to use because each species is born with their inbuilt adaptation.

”And that is what this lecture is about. Evolutionary decision making because the truth is that those species born with good defenses, tend to make defensive decisions. Generally, carnivores attack and herbivores defend. Hunters with claws are generally aggressive. Its just in their nature, because thats how they are genetically wired, reinforced by evolutionary tendencies.

”So, you can see how each adaptation leads to predictable results. Ill generalise a little. ” She was laying it on thick. That was the other problem with Wymic. They thought the rest of us were stupid. I could understand it in the Bright Ones. They were so much more advanced. To them, we were children. For the Wymic, it was an affectation. ”Claws, aggression. Fangs, aggression. Poison depends on the delivery system for the determination of predictable results. Delivery by fangs generally leads to aggression. Delivery by skin contact is generally associated with defensive decisions. Armour tends to be defensive. Speed, as an adaptation comes down to staying power: the sprinters and the stayers. Sprinters are usually hunters. High bursts of speed but only for short distances, while others can run slower but for longer.

”Theres one more adaptation though. One all of our species learned as we developed, ” she waited to see if the grunts would answer. Not unexpectedly the group remained silent. ”Typical. Can think beyond the basics of evolution, even though you all benefit from the secondary adaptation every day. ”

”Tool use, ” she said firmly.

Was that really an adaptation? Still, the group with me stirred. Her eyes did that thing the Wymic could. It looked like she focused on us all. It was just a narrowing of her eyes but most species thought it disconcerting. I just stared back.

”For most Alliance species, its a secondary adaptation. It is not our first instinct, but it is one we benefit greatly from. Shielding, shuttle transports. They are all just tools. Highly advanced tools but just tools.

”There is only one species for whom tool use is their primary adaptation. ”

”Humans, ” came the derogatory hiss. I think it came from the Zarthan but I wasn going to point it out. The Humans were held in contempt because they didn fight on the front lines.

”Yes, Humans. They come from a class 13 planet. Verified Class 13 and without claws, or armour, or poison, they survived and thrived. But they are still only one of two species not represented in fighting at the front. ”

”Because they are cowards. ” Someone said it. I was a little surprised. I didn realise that Earth was a class 13 planet. Drana was class 10. And Dranta were considered some of the toughest fighters. Class 13 was way above the others in the Alliance.

”No, ” the Major said with such conviction that there was no rejection of her statement. ”They are absent from the front for three reasons. ” She took a quick breath, flaring her gills so that the red insides showed. ”What Im about to tell you is classified, but for the purposes of this multi-species task force, it was determined that you should know the truth.

”The Humans do not fight at the front for three main reasons. The first is that every time a Human has fought, the enemy targets them exclusively. Youve all seen the Enemy drive towards a singular target, ” the Major paused. I swallowed hard but nodded. That was not a good memory. ”Imagine that coming towards you? ” I did not need to do that. I could feel the fear in the room. Others were imagining it.

We were soldiers, we knew the Enemy.

”Every single time a Human fights, they are targeted. Unfortunately, we can use that trait against the Enemy and weve tried setting up traps with Humans as bait. The Enemy then ignores the Humans. ”

That was new information. The Enemy usually behaved as a huge ravaging wall of fighters. They were individuals but they acted as one. They were unthinking, uncaring and unstoppable. This indicated that they were more. Cunning, intelligent and acting on a plan. That would explain why we were losing.

”Secondly, the Humans do not fight to help us contain their microbial activity. Each Human lives in a state of symbiosis with millions of bacteria. Most of them are benign because they cannot jump the species barrier, though they can be deadly for the Humans. There are a few which studies have shown the Humans carry bacteria that are similar to some of our most deadly bacteria. They need those bacteria to survive so we cannot remove them, so rather we remove the Humans.

”And thirdly, as the first race hit by the Enemy, there are only a few surviving Humans and while it might seem unusual that they do not fight, their time is far better employed inventing tools. ”

I wondered if the Wymic thought the Humans would challenge them. If the Humans were so intelligent, they would gravitate towards Intel. Id heard of a few there but they never seemed to get anywhere, probably because the Wymic outnumbered them. Nepotism and speciesism seemed to be alive and well there. The Humans probably wouldn complain though. They would be fighting harder to get a solution the further away Earth got.

”They are the only species to have tool use as their primary adaptation. To them, making and using tools is natural, is the first thing they think of. ”

”They
e just cowards, ” the remark was whispered but I saw that the Major still heard. It was the Opar.

I saw her decide to give us an example. I knew it would be based on the Opar. I wasn disappointed. ”The Opar have fangs, rows and rows of teeth on a slender but fast body, ” she said, seeming to select the species at random. It was a good act. ”To use their teeth, they are required to close with their prey, however, the Enemy is armoured. There is no soft place to bite, and so until the invention of synth-claws and impact absorbing armour, the Opar were not that useful. ”

”It was a Human who suggested the use of synthetic claws for those without such adaptation and impact absorbing armour was one of the few weapons the Humans managed to save from their homeworld. Make no mistake, the Humans wish to fight and the few times they have been allowed on the battlefield, each one of them has taken out 30 to 40 of the Enemy. ”

There was silence. I don think any of us had heard that. I never knew they could fight that well. I didn know theyd invented synth claws. What else had they invented? That led me to laugh. Maybe thats why the Wymic were so uptight. They were the first species the Bright Ones had uplifted, but they were being shown up by the last. That was amusing. It was probably true.

Maybe the Humans were the ones allowing us to hold the line. Maybe they were the reason we weren overrun and yoked to whatever slave devices the Enemy desired. Thats what happened to those who were captured. That thought, that fear was why most of us fought.

”I suggest you chose your words with more care, ” the Major said into the silence. ”The only other race not at the front is of course the Bright Ones but it is not their place to fight. ”

No. It wasn . The Dranta owed them so much. Everyone in the Alliance did.

The Wymic had been just exploring their system, sending probes that took years to reach anywhere when the Bright Ones had come to them. They had welcomed the Wymic to the galaxy. The celebrations had lasted for days, the wars would have lasted for decades had the Bright Ones not interfered. The first weapons launched were intercepted by their ship in orbit, and then they patiently explained that they were not to be feared. They had not come to Betran to conquer but to make friends with the younger race.

All the Alliance knew that history, even though it was the Wymics. It was because it mirrored our own experiences. The main difference was the level of development before the Bright Ones came. The Opar had been industrialising and beginning to reach towards the greater territory of the galaxy. The Dranta actually had a small colony on our tiny moon. The Brydon were technologically advanced but with their hulking physiques had not even thought of heading towards space.

We all shared that experience. We shared the war and our love for the Bright Ones. We all called them that, or the equivalent translation. None of us could pronounce their real name or language. It was because they spoke psychically. We couldn duplicate that. It let them know everything. At least, thats what we were taught.

The Major looked around. The motion pulled my attention back to her. ”Now that you are all clear on that, Ill get on to important things. This task force will train for one objective, and one objective only. You are to capture one of the Enemy soldiers. Preferably one of their leaders. ”

”What? One of the Blacks? ” I gasped in disbelief. The designation Enemy was only the official one. To the front lines they were known as Blacks. It wasn very imaginative. Their ships were black, their armour was black. It was a direct statement against the Bright Ones.

”One of the Blacks, ” she confirmed. ”There have been attempts in the past but by the time the Enemy was subdued, they had suicided. The bodies literally melted. Those were all attempts by single species. We believe that a multi species task force will be able to succeed. It will have the requisite and diverse enough skill set to succeed.

”We cannot successfully fight an enemy we do not fully understand. That is why capturing one of the Enemy soldiers is essential. Then, and only then will we begin to understand. ”

I nodded. If we had an organic Enemy further weapons could be developed. They were not nice weapons, but the Blacks used them on their own forces. Id never seen an Enemy corpse, not even in the battles we won. There was something in their armour that melted their flesh. It was either that or they were slaved so badly to some controlling device that all that was left was a nervous system and a brain. That was a theory on the lines. I didn like to think about it.

There were possibilities for the future, but only if we captured one.

The Sergeant stepped forward again. ”Thats enough time wasted today, ” he announced. ”Get out to training ground one. Weve got work to do. ”

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