Ancient drums of war

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Eran Brant stared straight ahead with his whole body rigid. He’d been ordered to stand at attention and that was what he was doing. He was getting very good at following orders. Others around him were whispering or looking around, still rebellious, still angry. But not Eran. He’d learned his lesson after the last attempt at defying the commanding officers. He wasn’t going to do it again.

Lieutenant Nikolic glared at the recruits. “I said be silent and stand at attention. If I hear one more sound or see one more movement, those who are in defiance of my orders will be placed in the chamber.”

Eran shuddered. The chamber was the worst torture imaginable. These recruits who didn’t understand that were in for a horrifying experience. Most of the others fell quiet but there were a few who continued in spite of the threat. These were also the most outspoken against the new law forcing enlistment in the military for all men and women between the ages of twenty and twenty five.

Eran understood in theory. They were at war and it wasn’t going well. The kitathi were more numerous than the humans and their technology was more advanced. They were pounding the hell out of the beleaguered Terran League. People were too scared to join up, not wanting to die. Or worse. The kitathi were fond of taking prisoners and doing horrible things to them. What they returned to the Terran League when they were finished with the prisoners was too horrifying to think about.

“Cadets Lichtenberg, Lacy, Cartwright, and Grosso, step forward,” Lieutenant Nikolic barked.

“Make us,” Cadet Lichtenberg said. Nea Lichtenberg came from one of the most influential families in the Terran League and as such was utterly shocked that the recruitment order included her. She expected to be excluded, as the elite usually were. But the Senate made it clear no one was exempt from this order, which enraged the elite but they couldn’t do anything without running the risk of losing their positions and their wealth.

Lieutenant Nikolic grinned, and it wasn’t a pleasant one. “With pleasure.” He turned to the two stone faced soldiers behind him. “Sergeant Aleshire, Sergeant Ebner, bring those cadets up here. If they resist, use acceptable force.”

“Yes sir.” The two sergeants headed down into the mass of yellow shirted cadets. The rebellious cadets shifted their positions, ready for a fight. Unfortunately for them, the sergeants weren’t going to fight fair.

When the cadets showed they were going to be aggressive, Sergeant Aleshire pulled out a small pistol and shot all three of them. They went down screaming. Eran knew from personal experience that it didn’t shoot regular bullets. What hit you was a condensed electrical charge that momentarily fired off every nerve in your body. It left you paralyzed, barely able to breathe, for a few minutes. More than enough time for the sergeants to drag you to the front.

Which is what the grim faced soldiers did to the limp cadets. Once the three of them recovered enough to be able to stand, Lieutenant Nikolic looked at them coldly. “I think it’s time you three were introduced to the chamber.” He gestured and six other seasoned soldiers stepped forward. These men and women bore the scars of having been on the receiving end of kitathi attentions, though not to the extent of the POWs. They half carried the weakened cadets away. “Now, am I going to have any other insubordination here?” No one moved or spoke. “Good. It’s chow time, cadets. Fall in.”

Eran took up his usual position in the assigned line and waited for the command to march. Following orders was much less painful than being a rebel, and as long as he didn’t get captured by the kitathi his death would be clean and quick. Even if he had to end it himself before they took him. The order was given and he set out at a specific pace, his boots striking the metal floor in a particular rhythm. It matched everyone else’s, echoing through the room like ancient war drums.

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