Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Of all the things I loathed while growing up, learning that kept me indoors and sat down was highest on the list. Consequently, I became a superlative athlete with appalling academic skills. If it wasn’t for my never-admitted abject fear of my mother’s wrath, I’d probably not even have bothered with the basics.
It’s a combination that set me up for military service, like my father before me. Mother said his father had been a soldier too. I looked her in the eyes and promised to never father a child anywhere that I might need or have to leave. So, when the space army offered me enrolment in Special Projects Division, one of the things that decided me was the mandatory sterilisation.
“Bantal! Bantal!”
At the cry for assistance, I look up from my notebook to see Sergeant Jevnis being carried in. Carefully putting the book on my private shelf – mother would be delighted to see me do that – I rise to see what’s befallen our oldest team member.
The octopus/bear hybrid troopers place him down with a care made possible by having four upper limbs apiece. They then step back and salute.
“Shon kora, Troopers. Gothni.”
Reassured, they sprint from the bivouac to return to their unit as instructed. Myself, Jevnis, Helene, and Taranys are the four Specialists assigned to this world. The hybrids were fast-bred here for combat, and regard anything with a lifespan longer than ten years as holy oracles.
“Sorry, Geelo. Didn’t turn fast enough.”
I sluice the half-metre slash. Bone and cerametal articulation are visible at the bottom.
“Did you kill the chancy bolnu?”
I like that local word. Carries all the weight of every scathing nickname you can think of, and combines it with a deep respect for devastating martial skill and fearless, stubborn courage.
“Beheaded it as I went down.”
For a monster with three heads, any one of which can ‘pilot’ the body, that’s the sort of move that causes the hybrids to revere us.
“For once, they were right to bring you to me.”
Due to their reverence for our lifespan and combat abilities, the hybrids – I must come up with a name for them – tend to bring us all of their problems, no matter how trivial. Which is why these sorts of duty tours are often referred to as ‘combat kindergarten’.
“Monkel threw a fit at the sight of me. Made the kids enthusiastic about getting me here.”
Monkel’s one of the crab/wolverine hybrids we brought along from Cerus 9 – which reminds me: I still need to name them. Some hybrids are too good to leave for recycling. We scoop them up, extend their lifespans, and build cadres of deadly monsters. But, no matter how much we educate them, their reverence never fades completely.
“Okay, shut down your torso pain feeds.”
He chuckles.
“You think I haven’t done that already? I’m not as tough as you.”
Our healing is incredible, but eccentric. A wound like this will heal perfectly in about three days, but will not close. To get it right, it needs a little help. I pull out my needle and thread, cut myself a two-metre length and double it through the eye.
“Going right to left. Grab the tail, will you?”
Jevnis pinches the ends of the thread between the thumbs of his right hand. I use my right hand to press the wound closed, then start stitching.
I can hear mother laughing every time I do this. But I like to think she’d be proud.