Sergeant Ariel Odipo held back a grimace as her squadron approached the Sepch encampment. She doubted they could see her face through the mirrored visor of her helmet, but she wasn’t taking any chances. She loosened her grip on her rifle as well. The tension was thick enough as it was. This was a peacekeeping mission, after all.

Besides, these people weren’t the problem. Odipo had grown fond of their crabby little faces and way they waved their eyestalks when she approached. They were not her problem.

“Perimeter clear, sir.” The crackle of Odipo’s earpiece contrasted with Private Moharasundaram’s constantly even voice. M was already Odipo’s favorites out of the new privates; she could take the head off a target at 2000 meters. Not that she would get a chance here.

On Odipo’s orders, the rest of the company filed in with the loaded skimmers. The food and medical supplies they were bringing didn’t look or smell like anything Odipo would put in her body, but that was other cultures for you. Odipo had gained the respect for Sepch culture that can only come from spending every day defending yourself from them.

She found herself gripping her weapon tighter again. Odipo loosened up immediately, hoping none of her company saw a tense C.O. But M saw. M saw everything.

“Permission to speak freely, sir?”


“When the insurgency comes, why don’t we just take them out?”

“You are aware of the Rules of Engagement in this situation, Private.”

“Yes, sir. But I still believe that–”

“What did you learn in basic, soldier?”

“Sir! To put big holes in tiny people, sir!”

“You should have also learned to follow the R.O.E. This is a peacekeeping mission, Private. We do not fire unless we are fired upon. Is that clear? Follow your training.”

“I was not trained for peacekeeping, sir.”

None of us were, Odipo thought. But she did not say it. Instead she turned her attention to a group of larger Sepch forcing their way to the front of the crowd. They carried the armbands of the Kree-Gnaugk-Kluf, but Odipo didn’t need that to tell her they were bad news. Their rough behavior to the other Sepch and their greedy possession of all game off the skimmer made their position abundantly clear. Odipo could see her soldiers closest to the gang, and saw them slowly start to raise their weapons.

“All units, hold fire,” Odipo said. “Repeat, do not fire unless fired upon.”

Odipo and her squadron watched as the gang–the insurgency, make no mistake–made off with most of the supplies, leaving little for the civilians to pick through in their wake. They would take the supplies to the cliffs that perched above this valley, and once they had achieved sufficient cover, they would fire their weapons down on the enemy forces who were dumb enough to give them food.

Sergeant Ariel Odipo watched her enemy walk away, and tried very hard not to think about the number of men she would lose once they reached those cliffs. She was suddenly very much aware of how tightly she was gripping her rifle.