Author : J.R. Blackwell, Staff Writer

Kala waited till the sun rose above the mountains, and then got up out of the dirt to find Awn. Kala was covered in dirt and dust, some of which had gotten into the metal shoes that were locked to her feet. Awn was standing in a stream, cleaning the dirt off the vicious red brand mark on her thigh.

“You’re going to have to get dirty again come sunset,” Kala said.

Awn splashed water on her chest. “I’d like to feel human for a couple hours.”

Kala dipped her feet in the stream, letting the water get into her shoes and soothe her bruised feet. “I like the dirt. Makes me feel as if I’m less naked.”

Awn raised an eyebrow “Oh, you’re still plenty naked, Commander.”

Kala sat down. “We’ll make it, Ensign. We will.”

Awn laughed bitterly. “Sure. If the Leeches don’t eat, shoot or discover us and if we make pickup.”

“We’ll make it.”

“Why do you think they picked us for this mission?”

Kala leaned back on her muscular elbows. “Youth. I just got the rejuvenation done, and you’re young. Both of us know the Leech language and I’m a veteran.” Kala smiled but she knew Awn was expendable. Awn was just there to watch Kala’s back, watch her get the work done. They were commodities.

The weak green sun dipped behind the mountains and the Leeches rode into view. Kala didn’t know where they burrowed themselves during the day, but at night they rode on their skittering mounts, and drove them forward, towards their final destination.

Kala had to remind herself that genetically, these Leeches had human ancestors. But now, with their translucent skin, white lidless eyes and gaping circular mouths, they were only human in the barest outline. The Leeches drove the human herd, engineered to be mindless beasts, over the rough terrain.

On the third night, their feet sore in their metal shoes, the herd and the Leeches reached the military compound. They drove them into pens and negotiated loudly the price for wild humans.

Most of the herd fell asleep, but Kala and Awn remained awake, waiting. Soon, they would have their chance to fulfill the mission. The Leeches assumed the humans were stupid. From inside of the military compound, they could easily reach their target and then slip out into the night to await pickup.

Then the armored Leeches came to the pen. They smacked their round mouths together and pointed in the pen. They dragged one human out, and then another, slicing into human flesh with their rows of slender teeth, sharing flesh with each other, clamped on waists and thighs and shoulders.

They dragged Awn out of the pen. Awn looked at Kala desperately. Kala had the weapon: an electric charge hidden in a fake finger. Enough to kill her target, but not enough to save anyone. Kala buried her face in a pile of sleeping humans and looked away as they tore Awns flesh from her body.

When the sickly dawn came, Kala slipped out of the pen and through the compound on the route she memorized. She entered the sleeping chamber of the Leech General and flipped back her finger. She touched it to the Leeches face. It jerked once under her touch. Kala had hoped for something more, but that was all, a gentle death.

The sun rising in the sky, she walked out of the compound back into the dessert, her bloodstained shoes leaving a trail in the sand.

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