Look Both Ways

Introductions

We went to the training grounds, and wasn that a surprise? There was a Human waiting for us. Their rank pips said Lieutenant. Id never seen a Human before then. Not up close anyway. They mostly stayed out of the way, for our benefit and theirs. No one wanted to catch anything off them.

Having just gone through the Majors lecture, I could see how weak it was. No claws. No armour. No fangs. It was pathetic. Yet it came from a class 13 planet? That was three classes above mine. And the Dranta come from a Class 10 planet. Its four classes out of the norm for the Alliance. The Humans apparently didn bother to check what was normal when they evolved.

I didn get much chance to think about that then. I didn really want to think about it either. All I needed to know was that it outranked me and if there was one thing the Sergeant had done, it was hammer into our heads the importance of rank. Species didn matter. Only those little markings that displayed rank.

We fell into our lines when the Sergeant barked. He was a Kishne. Loud mouthed, sharp tongued drillmaster. He was probably as upset about having to deal with us as we were with having to deal with him. I wonder what happened to him?

We had been the best in our units. And now we had been dragged off the front line into training. More training. While the Blacks advanced.

There was a lot of frustration in that unit then. Even with the Majors lecture, no one thought this was a good idea. Still, wed been trained to obey, and obey we did. The Human looked us up and down. One at a time. It stopped before each of us and just looked. I can still feel the force of its glare. I could see the collar around its neck.

I wasn the only one to stare. The Human ignored us. I guess it was used to being stared at.

”Right! ” The Human had shouted after it had finished examining us. ”I am Lieutenant Pickering, and its my job to whip you into shape for this little endeavour. ”

So thats what they were calling it.

”First off, Im going to put you through basic training. ”

That elicited a groan. We might be soldiers, but wed already done that. Wed seen the front lines. What did we need basic training for? The Humans lips had quirked. It said nothing. I learned later it was female. By the end of the day, none of us cared.

”Right, lets go for a jog, ” Pickering announced. She shared a nod with the Sergeant who stepped back. That should have been a warning. It didn sink in.

We ran. The Human led the way. She ran around the edge of training ground one. Most basic training is three laps, then other exercises. If you are an Opar, its five laps, since they are evolved to run. We thought the Human would give us the normal basic compromise. She didn . She didn even pause. Three laps in, she just continued the pace.

Thats okay. We were soldiers. We were the best of our units. We could handle extra laps. Six laps down. The Opar wasn concerned. The Brydon was struggling. It was too heavy to run far. I was okay. I was pretty fit and the training facility was only 0.8g of my natural environment.

The Human didn seem concerned. ”Keep up, ” Pickering snapped when some began flagging.

We did another two laps.

”Oh this is pathetic, ” the Human spat. The Brydon was staggering. I was beginning to hurt. The Opar seemed okay, but I could see the stress in her eyes. ”Fine, ” Pickering said, never breaking stride. ”If any of you can outpace me for this lap, well stop. ” It was a challenge.

We should have known better. The Human wasn exactly fresh, but wasn gasping like the Zarthan. The Brydon would just stop, the Zarthan would collapse. Still, we tried. The Opar was in reasonable condition. She surged past the Human. Pickerings lips quirked again. She watched the rest of us for a few moments. I tried. I ran faster. I caught up to Pickering. She nodded as I went by. The Gryna caught up to me. I wasn concerned. Only one of us had to outpace Pickering. I figured the Opar was our best bet.

Pickering dropped back to the Brydon. They exchanged a few words. He stopped. She didn . She caught up to the Zarthan. More words were exchanged. Well, Pickering said something. The Zarthan collapsed. The Majors lecture echoed through my mind. The Zarthan were ambush predators. They had no stamina. When they hunted, they arranged it so that they didn fight. In this war, they fought at a distance. They couldn sustain the energy required for longer, frontline combat.

Then Pickering continued running. She ran faster than she had been. Her stride was smooth. There was nothing to differentiate it from her earlier pace, except it was definitely faster. I felt the wind when she passed. I could tell her breathing was controlled. She caught the Gryna next. It didn seem hard. I was still running. I watched the Opar. She was heading around the last corner. Pickering didn seem concerned. She was about a third of the way behind the Opar. Pickering accelerated.

The only thing Ive ever seen do something like that was a Black. They were fast. Too fast. They were slaved to machines. Thats what wed been told. The machine pushed their biological functions. Pickering wasn slaved to a machine. She ran.

She caught the Opar with about 10 metres to spare, tapping her on the back as she went past. Pickering went past the starting point. She paused then, running in place. ”Right, you lost, keep running, ” she shouted. I wondered how she had the breath to shout.

Then Pickering kept running. We ran more laps. I can remember how far. Pickering had obviously excused the Zarthan and Brydon. The Zarthan had dragged himself out of the way to sit against the Brydon. Every time I passed him, I could hear his breath still whistling in his throat.

More laps. I lost count. My legs burned. I couldn go much further. The Gryna collapsed. I ran past them, though by then it was more of a shuffle. It was pride that kept me going, Pickering hadn stopped. Sure, she was sweating but she was still moving strongly. The Opar was running as well. Im proud to say that I was in about the same condition. Fighting was good for fitness. Obviously, not as good as whatever Pickering was doing.

I collapsed at about the same time as the Opar. Pickering rubbed it in. She completed her lap before stopping. She was breathing hard. Not hard enough. She went to the Opar, and carried her over to the Brydon. Then she went for the Gryna, carefully avoiding his poisonous hood. She came over to me next.

”You
e too heavy for me to carry, but I can support you, ” Pickering said softly as she got close.

I should have already twigged when she touched the others. Im not proud to say that I hadn . ”You can touch me? ” Wed heard about the microbes the Humans carried, yet shed carried the others without appearing to care about that.

Pickering tapped the collar Id noted earlier. ”Its a suppressor, ” she told me.

I always thought they were internal. Most of the bugs were inside after all. My look must have said that much.

”Its external so that you can see it, ” she said. ”That way you feel comforted because you know its there. Theres a couple of probes into my neck. They do the work, ” she explained, rubbing the collar at the back of her neck. I winced just thinking about it. That would hurt. Yet she obviously did it out of choice. It was kind of humbling. ”Now, will you make it if I support you? ”

What could I say to that? I just nodded. Pickering was stronger than I thought. Maybe she couldn lift me, but she supported enough of my weight that we made it to the others. I collapsed again once we got there.

”Right, ” she said, any sympathy was gone from her voice. ”We
e going to work on your endurance. ” She bared her teeth. I learned that was meant to display happiness. Somehow, I don think Pickering meant it like that then. ”After that, Ill think about teaching you to fight. 0600 tomorrow, we
e starting with a jog. For now, dismissed. ”

We saluted as best we could. She waved it away and turned to the Sergeant. I noticed she wasn even breathing hard. Somehow, shed recovered. By the Bright Ones, was I that unfit? Even the Opar was still breathing hard, and they were meant to run. She was eyeing the Human speculatively. Id ask later what she was thinking.

”Weve got a shit load of work to do, ” Pickering said. She might outrank the Sergeant but he was the one whod delivered us to her. Maybe she had to make some kind of report. Us grunts don question that.

”The Zarthans not physically capable, ” the Sergeant told her. Hed been paying attention to the Majors lecture. Hed watched us run. No doubt hed made his own conclusions.

”Well see, ” Pickering replied. She didn seem concerned.

”You can kill them. ” The way he said it made me shiver. Had she killed others in training? Or had another Human? There was a certain echo of resigned fact in his tone that suggested it had happened.

”Oh, but I can make them wish for it. ” Pickering again barred her teeth. It reminded me of the Opars mouth full of sharp blades. Right there and then I knew Id rather face an Opar than a Human. A whole squad of Opar.

The Sergeant didn seem concerned.

”Give the Brydon another 10 minutes and have him carry the Zarthan. Make sure they eat tonight, ” Pickering ordered the Sergeant. ”The rest will make it to their quarters. ”

He nodded and then saluted.

”I have another mob to whip into shape, ” Pickering added, returning his salute before she turned away. Her words registered slowly. What did she mean, another mob? Was there to be more than one team? That was possible. It was even probable. I didn feel offended. The war demanded we do what we had to. If that meant multiple teams then that was for the best.

The other implications dawned. Pickering was going to do that run again? Today? What? That couldn possibly be right. The others slowly realised the same.

Lieutenant Pickering looked back at us. Her eyes were measuring again. She bared her teeth. This time it did seem amused. ”Major Iael told you a Humans primary adaptation, tool use, ” she said. She held up one hand, and wriggled her surprisingly dexterous fingers. ”The good Major neglected to mention our secondary adaptation. ”

In the Bright Ones name, I wondered what it could be.

”Endurance, ” Pickering answered the unspoken question. ”Endurance. Think on that when Im running you into the ground. ”

I didn need to. I was still on the ground. Though it didn seem right. Endurance was one thing, but Pickering had half carried me. Did she not consider herself strong? Wait, Class 13 planet. Most thought my planet, the Dranta Homeworld Drana, was bad enough at Class 10.

I never want to go near Earth.

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