”You will see death today, ” Major Iael announced.

Shed never actually told us her name. I started with everyone else. Did she think us children? Wed been pulled off the front lines to form this task force. Wed seen death in combat.

”More than usual, ” the Major continued. She wasn perturbed by our looks.

Sometimes being a multi-species Alliance sucked. Some gestures didn translate. The rest of my team knew though. The whole point of Lieutenant Pickerings training had been to drive us into each other, and the ground, to the point where we knew each other as well as we knew ourselves. I knew what my team would do. I knew how theyd react. They knew me. It was both comforting and scary. We didn think about that much.

”You must use their deaths to accomplish your objective. ”

That was harsh. I remember standing there thinking that many of the troops around me weren going to see their homes again. I knew that. It always happened. The Major was implying it would be worse this time. It was. I don know how she knew but thats getting ahead.

But I also remember thinking that the Lieutenant would have given us a different speech. She would have told us to honour those who were about to give their lives and to take the opportunity that represented. It was a different focus. I think I preferred Pickerings. I know Wibowo did. As large as they were, the Brydon had evolved to be mutually cooperative. He understood sacrifice.

The difference in focus was everything with this speech. The Major didn throw us off. Pickerings training ensured that. We took the message Major Iael wanted us to hear. We were ready to fight.

”Remember your objective. It is the only thing that matters today. The only focus of this battle. ”

So keeping Mautera wasn an objective? Well, it probably was. Major Iael tended to focus on what was of interest to her. All that eyesight, great though it was for viewing in the distance, tending to make her blind to the immediate issues. We also had to hold Mautera. What was the point if the Enemy took it, the way they had taken so many other worlds?

Including Earth.

Thered been times in training when Lieutenant Pickering had been sad. Im smart, but it still took me a while to work out the pattern. It was after one of us mentioned our homeworlds. The homeworlds we were fighting now to defend. The colonies that we were fighting to defend. The other worlds we were fighting on. Those that weren claimed, but those that formed the battlegrounds.

The Human had never known her homeworld. Shed never known a colony. A bit of discreet checking revealed that the entire Human territory had been the first to fall. It hadn been large but that didn matter. To her, it had been home. I realised Pickering had never seen that home. Shed been born far after the start of the war. I wondered if it was the goal of the Humans in the Alliance to retake Earth. I never had the courage to ask. How could I?

The Major droned on. We ignored it for the most part. We knew what we had to do. Capture a Black. Use the training wed had to do that. I don remember being transported to the lines. I remember checking everything. And then checking Wibowos armour and weapons. Tiro checked mine. We all checked. Everything had to be perfect.

Then we were at the line. It was the usual cacophony of noise and light and pain. The Blacks were an undulating wave that advanced as one. We were a line, seemingly so fragile that it had to break. I was proud that we hadn .

There were a lot of Kishne on the Line. They were the regulars. They looked at our unit with respect. I don know if they knew our job or if it was just because we were specially trained. Probably a bit of both. The Alliance might have been trying to keep our objective under wraps but there are always hints. We were here, it was obviously going down today. We weren the only Unit here. The others were scattered over the planet. Wed all make the attempt.

The Kishne charged. Straight into the teeth of the Blacks. They were chewed up and spat out. I don know how many died just attempting to join in combat. We followed. Idiots that we were. Wed been trained for this.

Wibowos armour took the brunt of the attacks. The rest of the Unit followed in his wake. He didn resent that. This is what had been planned. We made it to the front.

”Contact. ” Fannar was acting as our comm tech today. He made sure HQ was informed. It was mostly reporting to the Major. She wasn with us. She would have been out of place. She still wanted a blow by blow accounting.

Thats when things got complicated. They always were going to be complicated. The Blacks seemed to fight as one. They were individuals, yet they moved together. We had to separate one. Preferably one of the commanders.

Before training, I had no idea how to tell which were the Black Line Commanders and which were the troops. Rank was denoted by tiny markings on their armour. Ive since learned that the Alliance copied that early on in the war. We used to have large rank tokens. The Blacks would blow the officers away.

Trying to find a commander in that mess was almost impossible.

”Five Blacks to your right, ” the Majors voice sounded over our comms. Her eyes were good for something. She wasn on the line. She was back a bit. I guess she could pick out the details.

We moved. It was a hard slog. The Major had been right. We saw death. The Kishne were possessed. They held the Enemy back while we shifted. I never wanted to see that kind of slaughter again. It was worse than normal. The Alliance couldn sustain that kind of losses.

Im sure the Enemy Commander saw us coming. It was impossible to hide that we weren Kishne after all. Wibowo used his bulk to make openings we rushed into. The Enemy soldiers didn fight to prevent our movement. They had their own orders but at the same time, they didn let us through.

Then we faced the Commander. They tell you in basic training – your first basic training, not the training a sadistic Human puts you through to get ready for this mission – that the Enemy is arrogant. That they make mistakes. The Alliance lies. The Blacks are confident. They might make mistakes. I don know. By the Bright Ones, I don know what they were.

Now came the hard part. We had to somehow separate the Commander. It happens in combat. You take a wrong step, you end up isolated. You end up dead. It happened to the Alliance and the Blacks. The Blacks fight until they can fight any more, then their bodies dissolve. No one had ever seen a Black. Thats what we were trying to change.

Quanna and Tiro rushed forward, to either side of the Black Commander. I followed Quanna, Fannar followed Tiro. Wibowo remained at the front, fighting one to one. I don know how he did it. I could hear the gouges being made into his armour. He never faltered.

We fought our way through. The Kishne troops must have sensed our need. They poured in behind us. They took the brunt of death. They drove the Blacks away from their Commander. At that point, the Blacks realised their Commander had been isolated. They didn realise the rest.

The Commander fought more viciously. Wibowo closed further. I could hear rounds impacting at point blank.

”Im okay, ” Wibowo told us. There wasn even a hint of pain in his voice. He matched the Black, blow for blow. It only seemed to make the Black angrier. Theres always a sense of anger with the Blacks. Anger and hatred. That Commander hated us. We could feel it.

The Black lines were driven back. I didn see it. I saw my job instead. Black armour is almost beautiful. On a casual inspection, its seamless. It wasn . Theres joints and ridges. You just have to know where to find them. Wed seen samples in training. This was different. The Commander didn stop moving. I doubt it was going to if we just asked nicely.

We had to get parts of the armour off before we could make the capture. We had to move fast. If the Enemy Commander realised what we were doing, it could suicide. There was a voice in all our heads screaming *Faster, Faster*.

Quanna ducked in. She drove a wedge into one of the small gaps. Fannar wrenched it open. We all began praying that there were not fail safes. We didn think there were. Enemy armour got damaged in battles and they didn die. Our attack should register as damage. The wedges were meant to interfere with their suicide signals as well. We still had to be fast. There was most likely an override we wouldn be able to quash.

I don think the Black Commander realised then. It thought we were trying to kill it. It fought harder. Wibowo lunged in, using his forearms to grasp the Black Commander. Maybe it thought Wibowo was going to suicide. It began to hit even harder. Im pretty sure I heard Wibowos bones crack.

”Move! ” The Majors voice urged us onwards.

With Wibowo holding the Enemy relatively still, and the Kishne driving the Blacks back, we could move faster. The Enemy wasn that easily defeated. Tiro got hit in the midriff and flew back. He disappeared into the churning mass of troops. I got another wedge in, and wrenched it open. I couldn think about anything else.

The armour cracked. Pieces fell away. The rest remained. Quanna leapt onto the Blacks back. It struggled. The cutting edges of its armour sliced through her armour. She screamed but grimly held on. She worked at the black armour, and finally enough was peeled away.

I think the Black Commander realised then. Ill never know for sure. Wibowo was still grasping it, but it managed to throw Quanna. Fannar took her place, and tried to lock the suppressor in place. The Black shattered it. I handed him another, doing my best to pin one of the Blacks arms. We managed to lock it in place.

The Black still struggled. It was different though. The suppressor was working. It was just as well. Wibowo fell. The Black fell with him. His grasp loosened and it was only then that I could see the damage to him. I saw the blood. It was soaking into Mauteras dirt around his legs. His armour was gone. I shudder to think what it would have been like without his armour. The heavy armour the Brydon used. It had been shredded. He was dead. There was no coming back from that.

Major Iael had told us wed see death in this mission. I realised then she hadn been talking about the Kishne. She meant our Unit. I wonder if Wibowo knew he wasn going to survive. Hed died in practice runs. Wed all died in practice runs. I know I never thought it was meant to be this way. Maybe he did. In which case, I honour his choice. Im not sure I could have made it.

Tiro was gone as well. And Quanna. Three dead to capture one. I was okay but Fannar was wounded. The Black hadn gone down easy.

”Bring the Black here, ” Major Iael ordered.

Fannar sent an affirmative. He could still move, barely. It would be up to me to carry the Black. I couldn see the organic I knew was within the armour. I could feel the force of the glare. It hissed when I came close and said something. Over the noise of battle I didn know what it said. I grabbed one appendage. The Enemy is bipedal. I think I got a leg. It struggled. I was still stronger. Grief drove me now. I would see the losses honoured. I wouldn let them die in vain.

I began hauling it. The Black was heavy. No doubt all that armour. The ground wasn even. I pulled harder. Several Kishne came closer, seeking to help. Two died. The Black wasn defeated yet. Fannar hit the back of the suppression ring. That seemed to do the trick. The Black stopped moving. It hadn been in place properly. In our defence, its hard to tell with the armour much less in the chaos of battle.

I began hauling the Black again. There was no tell-tale hiss that it had suicided. Theres always a hiss when they suicide. The chemicals that dissolve them leaking into their flesh. Sometimes they scream. I try to forget that noise. But even with the noise of combat, I would have heard that hiss. Other Kishne helped. I couldn have done it without them.

We were moving away from the Black lines when we heard it. It was a roar that sounded like it came from a voice that had been tortured for eternity. I glanced back.

To this day, I wish I hadn .

Something huge rose out of the Enemy lines. Like everything else they created it was black, but there, shining in the centre of it, was a light. It was too bright to look at. It crashed through the Blacks, heading towards the fighting. It was an avatar of death and destruction. It was a Destroyer. Id only heard of them as rumours and in training. It was one of the Blacks ultimate weapons. They had one here? Shock made me lose strength. Pickerings training ensured I didn let go of the Black.

It was heading towards us.

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