Note: This is written from a Chig's point of view. All are fictitious. The term 'H'x'thills' is borrowed from someone else's story that I came across. I will provide a proper accredition if someone can tell me who that writer was.

Done Duty

-by Sparhawk -

He hefted the rifle and grunted a little at the weight of it. This was the real thing. Not the practise ones they got at the Training Academy. He checked the barrel, and satisfied, clicked it back into place. Then, he stood up and followed the others out into the open grassland.

The long grass swooshed against his legs as he and his comrades walked through it on their daily patrol of the area, but he did not feel it. Not one of the 6 of them felt it. Not through the sturdy black armour they wore.

His breath sounded loud in his ears as he breathed systematically. In... out... in... out... the flexible flaps at the base of his helmet keeping time with his regular breathing.

Ironic! He thought cynically.

Here they were, studiously defending a planet that was full of plants they couldn’t eat, animals they did not recognise, gravity that was more than what they were used to on their own home planet, and air they could not even breathe! Somehow, he just could not see the logic in what they were doing. Why defend a place that would yield nothing in return? It might as well be barren as far as he was concerned.

"Alright. Here’s where we split up. S’Nikr and P’Thyc. Hylrius and Q’Tar. K’hlin, you’ll come with me." The voice sounded in the tiny speaker embedded in the helmet. They had had that installed after a few early experiments indicated that it was virtually impossible to communicate through the helmets.

"Yes, C’Ptan." He acknowledged his CO’s order. Slowly, he watched the others go off in their separate directions, and he fell in step with his CO. The stronger gravitational pull was difficult and slow going for them on this alien planet.

"Think we’ll see any action this time?" he enquired carefully.

"Intelligence reports indicate that there has been an inordinate amount of red stink activity in this area these few days." He could hear the excitement in his CO’s voice, and his heart sank a little. He was not that keen on seeing any action, unlike his CO. This was his first posting since he left the Academy, and he had yet to see a real red stink Human. His only impression of them had been through the 3-D simulations they had briefed them with at the Academy.

He knew the various ways to kill them, yes. A blast to the upper-left part of the Human torso, where their heart was located, was an almost sure-fire kill. As was one to the head. That was where their mental faculties were located. Anywhere else, and they would be wounded. Death was not a guarantee. That was when they utilised the blades carefully sheathed in their armour. And when the enemy was dead, the eyes and heart had to be removed as a war trophy.

He had almost laughed aloud the first time he had heard that the Humans thought that they removed the organs and avoided high places because they were afraid of their dead. H’x’thills were not afraid of their dead. The dead were dead after all. They removed the organs as a war trophy. An archaic practise that had been resurrected with the commencement of this unholy war. And they did not go to the higher places simply because of the stronger gravity and because the armour was not as flexible as it looked. Climbing a hill in one of these things would have been hell!!

But yes, H’x’thills buried their dead in the high caves in the area. They made that uncomfortable sacrifice to honour their fallen comrades. The Humans had a similar custom. More than once, they had stayed, quietly watching and observing the actions of the Humans as they dug the graves, lowered the bodies and said their prayers for the dead. In some ways, the H’x’thills and the Humans were more similar than they realised.

But that was all the H’x’thills were willing to sacrifice for. They had agreed to leave the enemy should they retreat to the hills. They could always get them again when they came back down, as they always did. The Humans were not to know that at home, they lived in reconditioned abodes on the sides of steep hills. Gravity back home was at least 1/10th of the pull on this planet. It was easy to get up the hills.

K’hlin made a face at the memory of home. He had not seen his home or his family for nearly 10 months now. It would be another month before he was entitled to take his leave. He couldn’t wait! He just had to stay alive for the next month. Easier said than done! He thought, remembering the offensive tactics the enemy had switched to. Someday, he would run into the enemy.

And he would have to kill.

K’hlin quailed at the thought of killing his first Human enemy. He was not the bloodthirsty sort like the rest of his group. He had not even wanted to join the Military! But back home, when this war had begun, they had been short of fighters, and he had been drafted into the Forces, along with anyone else above the age of 50. 50. That was when one reached adulthood. He should have been home with his family and the love of his life, celebrating with a glass of the finest I’ilbe wine gold F’rum could buy. But what was he doing instead? Here he was celebrating his 50th year in a hot armoured suit, on a useless planet, hunting down enemy Humans under two hot, blazing twin suns.

And yet, he had no animosity towards these alien beings. Maybe it was because he had never met any in combat yet. But, in his personal opinion, these aliens had been wronged, just as the H’x’thills had been wronged by the Humans. It was all a matter of misunderstanding. The Humans had not known that when they sent those people to colonise Vesta and Tellus, that they had been invading their space. Later intelligence reports had indicated that the Humans had not even known that other beings existed in the universe!

They could have sent ambassadors to tell them of the sacredness of the planet. They did not have to send war destroyers to annihilate them. K’hlin had been repulsed when he had seen the amount of destruction done to the Human colony. And then to the Human "Tellus" colonists. The latter had been unnecessary. They should have tried to talk to the Humans. K’hlin did not believe that a show of strength was the answer. The Humans would have listened to them.

The less superior planes and tactics employed by the enemy was enough to convince him that the Humans had not been prepared for this war. If they had, it would have been less of a massacre and more of a fight. As it was, the H’x’thills were having the upper hand. Most of their flight squadrons returned intact with some damage to the planes. But K’hlin knew from the stories told, that the Humans were an easy target. Their planes were unwieldy, less powerful and slow, and they flew in too predictable formations. Taking them out was like target practise! That was the boast of the experienced pilots.

But no one ever talked about the ones who did not come back. Or about their most experienced fighter who had finally met his match in a Human. It was taboo to even mention his name. To even think of the crude alien writing they had proudly painted on the side of their star fighter.

Their new plane was to have been undetectable and deadly. The fuel they had found on Kazbeck had ensured that. Many Human fighters had been sacrificed in their attempts to try find and annihilate their new plane. It was their greatest moment. The war looked as if it would be won on that alone. The pilot became a hero back on the home planet.

But now, no one dared mention his name... ever. It brought bad luck. Especially after his destruction. Morale had been very low after that one episode. K’hlin had seen it all. He had been been in a plane on the fringes of the attack zone, watching the dogfight between their new fighter and the Human plane. Their mission had been simply to observe. They were not to deploy any secondary back-up.

K’hlin had watched the deadly dance of the two planes almost with a sense of morbid fascination. It had been beautiful, the way the two planes had circled each other, zooming in to attack, and then swooping out of the way. It was almost poetic. Graceful.

He had trained his eye on the Human. This was a brave one indeed. He had come to face the enemy without backup. He had come alone. And his flying... K’hlin had never seen such flying before in a Human! No Human plane ever weaved and slided the way this one did. If he had not been so impressed by it, he would have said that the pilot was on the verge of losing control of the plane! It was simply fascinating watching them perform the pas de deux of death.

And death it surely was, for their fighter... their indestructable fighter had been destroyed. With two simple, basic Human missiles! It was unbelievable! It was inconceivable! It was... embarrassing.

It was a subdued observation team who returned to homebase to submit their report and virtual simulation of the fight. K’hlin was no military tactical expert, but even he knew that that was the turning point of the conflict. The fighters they deployed later were too shaken, too apprehensive about that incident. They were too careful in facing the enemy. And their casualty rate was starting to soar. Add to that the talk about a purported major offensive being planned by the Humans on their homeplanet, and you had a cowed bunch of H’x’thills indeed! Home was a sensitive subject. They had not even thought about attacking the Humans homeplanet, Earth. Why did they want to retaliate in this manner? Was the destruction of their base in the Ceres region not enough?

K’hlin had not lost anyone in this war... yet, unlike the others in his group. Maybe he would have felt differently had his family suffered some casualties. Then again, he might not. His brothers and cousins were star fighters and one day, he was expecting to be told of their deaths. He was prepared for that. His father was in the military high command. His aunt was the commander of the fighter pilots. Everyone in the Kh’xthl family was in the military in one way or another. K’hlin was the only black sheep, opting for an education in ‘Comparative Civilisations of the Universe’, rather than join the military. But now, he had no choice.

And he hated it. There had to be a way to resolve this conflict other than through bloodshed. There had to be a way!

"There’s a red stink in those bushes." His CO’s voice sounded in his ear. For once, K’hlin was glad of the obstructing armour, as his face blanched. A Human. A live Human. One he was going to have to face.

"I don’t think he’s seen us." His C’Ptan was excited, he could tell. "Try to stay quiet."

I would if I didn’t move!! He thought sardonically as he followed in his CO’s footsteps, heading towards their unaware and hapless victim. K’hlin swallowed. He did not want this. He did not want to see this. He wanted to say something to warn the Human.

But that would only earn him an insubordination charge from his CO and even a possible charge of treason. Besides, the Human would not understand his alien tongue. Especially not when his C’Ptan was almost on him with his blade.

K’hlin closed his eyes, the Human’s screams echoing in his ears as his CO attacked. The screams went on. Loud and long.

"Stop. Please stop!" he begged silently. "Please!"

"K’hlin. You finish the job. This is your initiation. Your first ‘red stink’." His CO told him triumphantly, stepping away from the bleeding Human male.

K’hlin swallowed and unsheathed his own blade slowly as he advanced to see his first live Human. Another irony.

The blue eyes of the Human were trained on him. Hate and fear and pain. "Kill me! Just kill me, please!!" they seemed to beg from him.

K’hlin took a deep breath and nearly choked. The smell of the Human’s blood was so cloying, he was afraid he was going to be sick right there and then.

"What are you waiting for, K’hlin? An invitation? Kill him now! And that is an order!!" his CO was irritated.

The blue eyes trained on him seemed to say the same thing. "Why hesitate, chig? What are you? Human?!"

"K’hlin!!" his CO again. Angry, this time.

Slowly, he raised his blade. He would do it. If only to put the Human out of his misery. If he spared his life, he would die anyway. K’hlin saw that. And his death would be a long time in coming. It was better that K’hlin kill him. His eyes never left the blue eyes of the alien as he defied all training and plunged the blade straight into the heart of the Human. The eyes went wide, the body jerked once, and then it was over. He was dead.

"You gave him too easy a time, K’hlin. Never mind. This was your first time. There’ll be a next time. Collect your first trophy." His CO flung over his shoulder as he strode away, leaving K’hlin alone with the body.

K’hlin wiped the blade on the grass as he had been taught to do, and sheathed it. The glassy blue eyes still stared into his. He knelt, and reaching out a hand, carefully closed them.

He would not collect a trophy. There was no need of a souvenir to remind him of his first kill. Those eyes would forever be burned into his memory.

He looked down at the tags dangling from the neck of the fallen soldier. Carefully, he picked them up and turned them over. They contained information about the Human, just like the chip he wore.

MATTHEWS, DAVE (1st Lieutenant.)

His tongue tripped over the alien words as he said them, but he persisted nonetheless. A single tear rolled down his face as he bowed his head and said the short prayer for a fallen warrior. It was the least he could do.

And then, he stood up and continued on his patrol. He had taken his first kill.

He was now a Kh’xthl.

So why did that thought leave such a bad feeling in his mouth?

The end

© Copyrighted 1997
30 July 1997

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