Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

One world. Seven hundred and ninety-two people. Less than a hundred berths on the ship out. It’s a recipe for bloody mayhem and that’s how they want it. Only the most committed make it to upship. We did basic training for five weeks before being shipped out here in long-sleep with burst-feed data tutoring. A thousand left Earth, two hundred and eight either died in transit or emerged hopelessly impaired. We used the latter for warm-up. Even the damaged will fight like banshees to survive.

“Left twenty.”

I look past Alyn. Sure enough, another group is crawling on their bellies through the long grass toward the position we occupy. It’s the only piece of high ground for three kilometres. It allows us to see approaching people by the trenches they make as they flatten the grass on their way in.

“Right ten.”

That’s welcome news: another group incoming. I slide back down into the foxhole we dug when we arrived.

“I need two volunteers to set them on each other.”

Martin raises his hand, as does Rico.

“Go.”

They crawl off down the back of the hill and make their way round to where the groups approach. Nothing disturbs the silence except the constant rustle of wind-blown grass across this savannah. I wriggle back up to the vantage point.

“Rico’s offbeam.”

“Sort it.”

She warbles like a skylark with a cadence that tells Rico what he needs to get back on track.

“No reaction.” Lanna shakes her head in despair.

Incredible. We’re light-years from Earth on a planet devoid of animal life. Yet the cry of a bird produces no alarm. These people don’t deserve to make it. When Martin and Rico reach position, Alyn warbles again. Both men take a fifteen count before making our play.

“There’s another bunch heading for the hill!” Martin injects just the right amount of righteous anger into his voice.

“They’ve spotted us! Take them before they make the high ground!” Rico rolls with Martin’s opening.

Two groups of green and tan clad people rise up, look about and then charge at each other, screaming defiance and less obvious things. Within moments a thirty-man melee swirls below us, crushing the grass as blades and blood catch the light.

“Right thirty.”

I shift position and look down at a position just out of sight of the fighting. It’s a trench but a narrow one. As I watch, a white rag on a stick rises into view. I gesture to Alyn. She warbles for Rico to take a look.

A few minutes later, Rico and a tough-looking girl covered in mud scoot over the edge of our foxhole.

“I’m Neria. Nice set up you have here.”

Rico nods toward the extra gear she carries. Looks like she’s supplied-up from at least six other candidates.

I grin: “Any of the donors going to ask for their kit back?”

Neria looks about as Martin rejoins us. She grins fiercely: “Don’t be so bloody silly.”

I nod and Alyn does the same. Lanna reaches out her hand: “Welcome to the team.”

Our newest recruit raises her chin towards the sounds of ongoing battle: “We going to clear up?”

Martin shakes his head: “The survivors will drag themselves all the way up here. Battered, knackered and sweated out by the time they reach us.”

Neria nods: “Solid plan.”

That does us. Six-man fire teams are the operational standard. From now on, all we have to do is hold our position until the all-clear sounds and we get to ship out as soldiers.

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