Warriors' Pride

Chapter 1

Forward Trench

Chandler's Front

Repleetah II

Second Claw Kruq'nov fitted his breather over his toothy muzzle before stepping out of the underground barracks. Exposure to Repleetah's already marginal atmosphere, after orbits of war upon this world, was detrimental to one's health. Given that there were an octave ways to die on this gods-forsaken planet, Kruq'nov was not about to go and kill himself through stupidity. The recruits landing this morning would have ample opportunities to do that.

His own squad was short three warriors, two of which died after their bloodlust got the better of them, and a third was tagged by a Terran sniper. They might be smaller and weaker than a Kilrathi, but those Apes sure could shoot. He request five replacements, expecting at least two of them to go charging into no-man's land and into one of the Ape's infernal ambushes. The Apes were clever too, sneaky little creatures. Certainly not the prey that the Imperial Pride's propagandists keeps dumping on the airwaves. Any cub old enough to stand knew that prey was suppose to die when you attacked it, not fight back for over seven shr'ik.

At the force field that partitioned his barracks from the external atmosphere, Kruq'nov ran into Second Claw Tshruk, a male who has been on this planet a couple of kahr'ik longer than himself. "Fresh meat lands today," he said dryly. Like Kruq'nov, he had little hope for these young cubs that the Empire keeps sending to Repleetah. After a shr'ik of fighting on Repleetah II, the big manes back on the homeworld should know better.

The Battle of Repleetah thus far lasted long than any complete war in the Empire's history. It was by far the longest battle during the Ape War. The battle raged for so long, that Sivar has given it a life of its own. Kruq'nov was not even sure why they were all fighting for this rock. It was no longer useful, its atmosphere and soil being poisoned by constant bombardment of chemical agents. He doubted that even the Emperor knew the value of this world. It probably has some strategic value in this sector ages ago, but no longer. Even the fleets of both combatants have moved on to bigger and better things.

"Care to place a wager on how long these cubs asked?" his comrade offered.

Kruq'nov growled, bearing his teeth. "Gambling's for the hopeful." Unlike most veterans, he first arrived on this rock skeptical, and not as eager as the rest of the veterans, back when they were cubs. He arrived skeptical, was now cynical, and would probably leave the planet in spirit only. His body certainly would never see the light of a different, perhaps less bright, sun. He would not venture to guess how many millions of his race already lay dead, fleshless skeletons, scattered across the fronts of this world.

Both Kilrathi warrior stepped through the curtain and out into the world. Even with breathers filtering the air of deadly toxins, he swore that he could still smell the stench of death permeating the air. It was one of countless trenches that scared the dying planet, deeper than a Kilrathi was tall. The Apes had the advantage in trenches, being smaller. Kruq'nov has seen the inside of more than one Terran trench, and had to move forward at a crouch in some places just to prevent his head from getting blown off. More than a few warriors forgot to duck, and their headless corpses litter many eighties of abandoned trenches.

Even while heading back towards the local landing pad, some four octomaks away from the front, he still carried his rifle. It was a standard pulse rifle, shooting bolts of plasma super-heated half way to fusion, and was tipped with four long spikes. When too close to fire, he could easily impale his enemy with those spears. It was doubly useful on Repleetah, a planet were even exposed claws could absorb poison. During the past eight-and-three raids into Terran trenches, and last two big pushes, all warriors were decked out in full environmental combat suits. He could not even smell the fear of his enemy in those things.

The last eighty of days were relatively quiet. In that time, he need not suit up once. The previous time was during a chemical bombardment, followed by an attempted Terran push, and that was nearly a whole kahr'ik ago. Walking towards the landing pad, he passed many fellow veterans in the trench. All were grizzled, and more than a few sported nasty scars. One even had a prosthetic eye, one that, instead of seeing with natural night vision, could actually detect infrared radiation emitted by all warm-blooded animals. He leaned against the dirt wall of the trench, his own rifle leaning within easy arm reach. The company commander assigned him, with his heat-seeking eye, as a sniper. Tralkar had more than four-eights of marks scratched into the butt of his rifle, one for each Ape killed by his rifle.

He snarled a greeting as Kruq'nov passed, and told him not to bother checking on replacements. They would a be dead in less than eighty days. Kruq'nov agreed wholeheartedly; he did not expect any of them to survive the next eighty of days. Nonetheless, his unit was short three warriors, and he wanted to be at full body count when the storm clouds return to his trench. If the Apes figured out replacements arrived, they would set up one of their insidious traps again. The last ambush killed half the replacements, including all that were allocated to his own squad. Damn Apes and their trickery. He could not blame them; being half the size of a Kilrathi warrior, one had to result to underhanded means to survive.

Survive– once upon a time, Kilrathi warriors on this rock thought of victory. After so many millions dead, and so little gained, warriors dreamed only of surviving Repleetah. He had little time to dwell on his own prospects, as he made good time to the rear area. Amazing how fast one could walk during the dry season. When the rains fall, not only are they now toxic, but they turn the floors of the trenches into a soup of morass and glue. Boots sink to the ankles, and sap a warrior's strength as they tried to pull them free. Two things were certain after a good rain; one's feet would get stuck, and the Apes would attack. They apparently had little trouble moving through the quagmire.

The local landing pad was built on solid concrete. Engineers built this thing, basing it on designs off Kilrah. One thing the homeworld seldom had to deal with was rain. The concrete was cracked in many places, and dead weeds sprouted from those cracks. Given enough time, they could have grown into trees, and broken the landing pad further. The shuttle upon the pad was a small one, nothing like the monestrous invasion craft that put down on this planet ages ago. The two shuttles sat on the pad, their angles looking fierce. The cockpit windows looked like demonic eyes staring him down. The razor sharp hatch was already down, and a stream of lost looking recruits took their first steps upon Sivar's dungeon.

These replacements at least had sense enough to wear breathers. More than once, a recruit would tumble to the ground after taking in an unprotected breath of the atmosphere. All were squeaky clean, a condition Kruq'nov had began to believe was but a fable. Their packs were clean and in one piece, and their rifles looked as if they have never seen action off a shooting range. Unlike bladed weapons, all Kilrathi warriors required days worth of target practice to shoot straight. It was a field of ground combat the Apes would always be ahead of the Empire. When a Terran behind a pulse rifle wanted you dead, you were.

All of those who debarked looked little more than cubs. Kruq'nov thought back to his own first day on Repleetah, and decided that he was never so young. One caught his attention. One of the last to debark the shuttle, and looked around as if he sought out his Pride. Not the one he conquered, but the one he was born into. He was so young that his mane had no even fully developed. That was hardly a distinguishing mark, since most replacements were still youths, with a few kahr'ik to go before they have a mane as magnificent as Kruq'nov.

The cub must be straight out of the house and into the army. He held his rifle shouldered, just as they teach recruits in basic. Kruq'nov snorted. The way they teach, he wondered if the instructors ever seen combat with the Apes. It would be a good four seconds before the cub could aim his weapon, which would give the Apes three seconds to kill him. No matter; he needed replacements, and he might be able to make something out of this one– assuming he has not been brainwashed by periodical doses of propaganda that the Imperial Pride called news.

Kruq'nov approached. "What's your name, soldier?" he asked in a fierce growl. It was the sort of growl that all Second Claws developed before they were promoted to the rank. His own squadron commander on Repleetah was the same way, though his face carried far more scars. He was either more veteran than Kruq'nov is now, or just not as careful. Seeing how he has been dead for over a kahr'ik, he decided on the later.

The cub halted and came to rigid attention. Kruq'nov's voice left no doubt who was in charge. He shot off a perfect parade-ground salute, which Kruq'nov casually replied. "I am called Warrior Nrsah nar Ch– er– Warrior Nrsah, lord commander."

"Second Claw," Corrected Kruq'nov almost laughing. Lord commander? His blood was not thick enough, or inbred enough, to be a lord. Nor was he head of any Pride. He was correct in his earlier assessment; Nrsah was fresh out of the house, so fresh he still wished to use his birth name. "I need replacements, and you're one of them. Gather four of your comrades and report to me. I'll be your new squadron commander. Follow me back to the barracks and I'll get you all orientated and settled in. Maybe even wash off some of that propaganda newscasters excrete."

Nrsah blinked at him. "As you command, Second Claw. Anything else?"

Kruq'nov smiled. It was not a friendly smile, but a bitter and predatory one. "Yes; Welcome to the underworld."

Barracks

Chandler's Front

Repleetah II

Kruq'nov knew it was but a matter of time before the Apes learned about the replacements. This time, more than two days have passed. It was slow for them. Whomever was on watch must have fallen asleep on his feet. Too bad he did not know that two days ago; a good raid would have lifted the dreadful monotony that smothered the trenches. Warfare was suppose to be glorious, not days worth of boredom punctuated by a few moments of sheer excitement and terror. Kruq'nov sat up against the wall upon a cushion he took during one of his raids on the Terran lines. The Apes sure were soft if they used this for bedding. Now that did not mean it was not comfortable, especially compared to the stone wall his back leaned against.

While cleaning his rifle, he kept one eye on the replacements. As he predicted, they were thoroughly convinced of their own superiority and that the Apes are nothing more than prey beasts, to be cut down where they stood. Kruq'nov could only shake his head at such foolishness. They will learn that Repleetah is a great equalizer; it butchers all sides equally. They will learn, that is if they live long enough. Of the five replacements, the youngest, Nrsah, had the most potential. His mind was still young enough that Kruq'nov could mold into a respectable soldier. The other four– no, there was little point in thinking about them. They would be dead soon enough.

A slight stab in his left arm brought down his right hand upon it. His claws searched through his short and dense forearm fur to find the culprit. The tiny bug crawled deftly from hair to hair. The Second Claw quickly ended the creatures life with the slash of a claw. Kruq'nov looked up from his rifle and arm, and sought out the barrack's engineer. Krenka stood against the wall, his chin resting on his chest. His hair and mane had a distinct reddish hue, giving him an alien look among the mostly golden haired warriors of this barracks.

"Krenka!" Kruq'nov roared loud enough to shake his own mane. "The curtain is on the blitz again. Fix it before it lets in something more annoying than fleas."

His ears perked up at the sound of his name, and Krenka slowly raised his head, shooting Kruq'nov a look of supreme indifference. "Nonsense. You probably caught those things when you went outside."

Kruq'nov glowered at him. "You spawn of a rodent! Nothing can live in the trenches." Not any more. He remembered when the Terran vermin called rats use to infest the trenches. Now days, they have only a few enclaves within shielded barracks. Annoying little creatures, with their squeaking, but they were far better eating than the rations the army gave him.

Krenka bared his teeth. "Those Sivar-cursed parasites can! I think nothing short of a direct hit from a fusion bomb would exterminate them. The only thing worse are cockroaches, and they can survive nuclear warfare."

Typical parasites, surviving anything that would easily kill the host. If these fleas did get in, perhaps they came in on the backs of rats. Rare were the days when any creature could be seen outside and not be seen choking. He decided to lift himself off his cushion and search for any potential snacks running around on four legs. He worried not about anyone taking his seat; the last soldier who tried lost half his ear in the fight. Kruq'nov has not seen that soldier in a while, and assumed he was one of the anonymous dead littering the planet's surface.

He began his search, only to be interrupted by a commotion on the other side of the atmospheric curtain. All the replacements quickly leapt to the feet, grabbing rifle and slipping on breather, before rushing outside. Kruq'nov shook his head, grabbing his own weapon. Stupid cubs; it was probably the Apes trying to bait the inexperienced out into no-man's land. He slipped on his own breather across his muzzle and followed them outside. He might not be able to smell his enemy while wearing the mask, but at least he could not smell the reek of his own kind. Nothing makes a Kilrathi male want to kill more than being locked up with several other males for days on end.

As with so many times before, three of his replacements, as well as those from other squadrons, have already gone over the top. Nrsah was about to join them, both hands and a foot on the ladder, before Kruq'nov could stop him. The Second Claw ran to the cub, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, and threw him to the ground. The cub landed with a thud in the dry caked earthen floor. He looked up quizzically, as well as slightly menacing, at his squadron commander.

Kruq'nov decided to let the disrespect slide. The Terrans killed enough of his warriors for him to take out any martial reprisals. "It's a trap," he told Nrsah in a flat, as-matter-of-factly tone. Kruq'nov offered the young warrior a hand. "Get up. Watch and learn how these Apes play."

Nrsah took the offered hand, and Kruq'nov jerked him to his feet, as if he was little more than a sack of jerky. "Second Claw, they are only prey, What is their to learn, other than more effective ways to kill them. I did not enlist to sit in a trench while others gain glory."

This time, Kruq'nov did laugh. It was a dark and sinister laugh, one that a cub of Nrsah's age might only hear in a horror movie. Sivar damn those propagandist back home. They probably killed more cubs than the Terrans. "Answer me this, Nrsah; if the Apes are nothing but prey, then why were they not slaughtered before either of us were born? Or even before your own father was born?"

"But, they are prey," Nrsah spoke back, as if that one sentence contained all the answers.

Kruq'nov shook his head. "Have you ever hunted a Terran creature called a boar? No? I didn't think so. They are prey too. But they have razor sharp tusks, and when cornered, they can eviscerate a predator. The Apes are the same, but they are cunning. They are sneaky. And their weapons are superb. Stick your head out of the trench at the wrong time, and one of their snipers will remove it. Never sell short your enemy. It could be the last mistake you ever make." Kruq'nov glanced up at the rim of the trench. With an ambush in the works, the Terran snipers were probably watching it as well. Not to shoot, but for its entertainment value.

"It should be safe for now," he said, poking his own head above the trench. When he was still breathing a few seconds later, he decided he was right. "I told you to look and learn!"

Nrsah slowly climbed the ladder high enough to see the rest of the world. The land that lay between opposing trenches could have been scooped off an airless moonlet and dropped on Repleetah. Octaves of craters, many as big as a Kilrathi, lay scattered in completely random patterns. A whole campaign's worth of artillery bombardment destroyed the planet's already fragile soil. Nothing would grow here again, not without intensive reclamation, or millions of orbits of natural healing.

As with so many times before, a pair of Terrans moved back towards their own lines, slowly and deliberately limping. Kruq'nov knew it was a ruse. They tried this shortly after he landed. Most on his replacement shuttle took the bait, and were killed. He did not. Even at the time, when he was just skeptical and not cynical, he knew something did not smell right about the situation. Why would Apes be out in the open like that?

The current batch of replacements— cannon fodder, did not think this. They had so little regard and respect for the Apes, that they have strapped their rifles to their back and were running them down. Not on two feet, like warriors would face off, but on all four, the way a Kilrathi would run down fleeing prey. It gave them greatly more speed, but took away their unnatural weapons. This was not an announced push, so the cubs were not wearing full E-suits, not like the Terrans. They had sense enough to do so.

Even if they had, they would still be dead. Kruq'nov has seen even veteran warriors reflexively extend their claws and tear their suits. That was why he fought hand-to-hand with the blades on his rifle. Keeping the enemy distant helped him control his own blood-lust. Terrans took full advantage of that as well. Any offense a Kilrathi warrior could throw at them, the clever Apes had a defense.

Both he and Nrsah watched as one Terran stumbled and fell, only to be picked up by his comrade. Kruq'nov knew it a ploy, one they have used often enough. Other veterans watched the spectacle, a few even laughed at the foolishness of the cubs. Yes, really fun watching all those sought after replacements throw their lives away. The three from his squad that leapt after them, Kruq'nov had not even learned their names. He gave up trying to match faces to names until after the recruits survived their first battle.

Halfway between the trenches, both Terrans went down a second time, this time into a crater. The recruits continued their pursuit, not even noticing the two-eights of Terrans popping up, eight on each of their sides, and opened up on them with their assault rifles. Plasma pulses at point-blank range seared the flesh of bones, and vaporized large portions of the replacements. All the cubs were dead in seconds.

With the Apes exposing themselves, Kruq'nov brought his rifle to shoulder level and decided to take a few shots at them. He squeezed off a burst of ionized gas, missing the Terrans, but catching their attention. Nrsah mimicked his Second Claw, taking his own careful aim at the Terrans. A beam rifle would be a more precise weapon at this range, or even an auto cannon. Nothing like hypersonic projectiles to turn flesh from living to dead. Within seconds, his whole section of the trench opened up on the Apes in no-man's land. The section's auto cannon went to work, chewing up the land around the Apes.

About an octomak away, the Terran trenches began to return their own ranged fire, attempting to cover their own people's retreat. Kruq'nov watched with some satisfaction as three Terran ambushers went down, one in several pieces. He only hoped it was not the Ape Second Claw, or whatever they called the rank, Mac'Fearson. He was a sly one, an excellent leader of raids. If anybody in this trench would kill that Ape, it would be Kruq'nov. He only hoped they went hand-to-hand. It would be a great honor to kill such a warrior in single combat.

Almost as suddenly as it started, the firefight ended. Kilrathi climbed down from the rim of the trench and went back to their daily business. Nrsah looked up at Kruq'nov, disbelief on his face. He had just survived his first firefight. "I never imagines the Apes fight so fiercely. They fought like–"

"Warriors?" Kruq'nov offered. Nrsah bobbed his head in agreement. "You don't need to imagine, you simply need to accept it. What they lack in brute force, they make up in cunning. Stop thinking of the Apes as prey, and start thinking of them as enemies. You do that, and you might even survive this place." Kruq'nov would not tell a replacement that there was no hope for victory on Repleetah. Only survival.

War was not what Nrsah expected. When he was growing up, he saw war on the viewer through war movies as well as the news media. War was suppose to be glorious, warriors locked in mortal combat, and Kilrathi running down their prey. A brotherhood of warriors standing victorious over the vanquished Terran Confederation. The daily news always showed victory after victory over the Confederation, as the prey was gradually worn down. He only saw warrior celebrating over the corpses of the dead.

He never expected the reality was as such. Before enlisting in the army, he only scant heard of Repleetah. It was in the news some shr'ik ago, before he was even born. It was a glorious battle as armies numbering in the millions slugged it out for dominance. Over the following kahrik, Repleetah vanished from the news and the public conscience. Nobody thought much of it, assuming either victory, or since it vanish so quickly, defeat. To have a battle drag on for so many sh'rik, it was unthinkable.

Instead of glory, Nrsah spent most of the nroth trudging through trenches, ankle deep in mud since a downpour the previous day turned it into a quagmire. Mud stuck to his boots, and clogged anything dropped into it. He never imagined war would involve sitting in these ditches, in squalor and mud like– like a bunch of Apes. The Kilrathi were suppose to be on the surface, in the sun, basking in glory. Nrsah looked over at Kruq'nov, who marched in front of him. If not for his Second Claw, Nrsah might be at this very moment, decomposing under the star Repleetah. Several other young soldiers, eager to prove themselves in battle, met that fate. Another batch of replacements arrived shortly after his own. The Apes sprang the same trap upon them, drawing out nearly half of the batch and slaughtering them in the field. Nrsah scored his first kill that day, picking off one of the Terran from a great distance with his rifle. It was a kill, but a hollow one. He wondered how pilots and naval personnel handled their own kills, being far more impersonal than that.

Several grizzled veterans stood around in the trenches. Like most of the older warriors, they ignored Nrsah. They did not ignore Kruq'nov, instead they acknowledged him with a nod. The warriors looked like they belonged in the gutter, like landless Prides in large cities. They were filthy, fur matted and caked with dirt. All wore breathers when outside along with thick, long-sleeved uniforms to help keep the residual toxins off their skin. Their uniforms had not seen a cleaning station in ages, and only their high quality manufacturing kept them from long since turning into rags.

The thin slot of sky he could see above was swarming with clouds. In the atmosphere, much of the toxins both side have fired at each other over the sh'rik, have merged with the natural clouds, creating fogs of death. About the only good thing that could be said, was that when the fog descended, it killed off the vermin in the trenches. Fleas were a nasty surprise for the young warrior. Kruq'nov just shrugged them off with indifference when Nrsah mentioned them. They were a fact of life on this planet.

His Second Claw was an odd sort of warrior. He always pictured non-commissioned officers as the most excited of warriors, having to inspire and lead their squads through their own force of will. Kruq'nov had a great will, but he was not as enthusiastic as the drill instructors. He did not yell or slash at any under his command, not without a good reason. He walked tall, and full of pride. So many planetary orbits in the trenches has filled his stride with the supreme confidence. His face was full of scars, displaying his experience better than any Imperial Army record.

As they rounded one of the many corners in the forward trenches, Nrsah confirmed yet again that nothing phased Kruq'nov. Lying on the ground before them was a dead warrior, with part of his head missing. Victim of an Ape sniper. The thought caused his blood pressure to rise. It was one thing to be killed in open combat, but quite another to be picked off from afar. Kilrathi soldiers were forced to adopt sniper tactics to hunt down Terran snipers. After a closer look at the corpse, he recognized the sniper.

It was Tralkar, the Kilrathi sniper with the electronic eye. No soldier in this trench had killed as many of the Apes as Tralkar. Just this morning, Nrsah and a few other surviving replacements sat around the mess, not enjoying the dried meat rations, and listening to the old warrior's tales. He had bested many of the Apes at their own game, defeating several in sniper duels. He was more bitter and cynical than Kruq'nov, if that were even possible, and did not even attempt to hide his own despair. He made it clear, and not just in words, that he did not plan to survive this world.

Nrsah noticed all the veterans had that aura around them, one of hopelessness. There was only war and death, and in the end it was how many Terrans you took with you that counted. The tale he spun this morning was how he tracked down an ace sniper, a Terran who was said to have killed more than an eighty of Kilrathi warriors. It was a hard hunt, and the way Tralkar told the story, he strongly believed sniping was like hunting. The Ape was a tricky one, but Tralkar finally tracked him down the day that the regional commander inspected the forward trenches. It was too tempting of a target for the Ape to pass up, and Tralkar took his head clean off with a single shot.

Now, a sniper had done in Tralkar, removing only part of his head. More than likely, his own rifle deflected part of the shot. Not that it did him much good, not now. Nrsah looked down at the dead sniper with a great sense of loss, and greater sense of waste. A soldier like Tralkar should have had a warrior's death, going down with claws extended and his fangs in an Ape's throat. Kruq'nov stopped his own march when he realized that he lost Nrsah. He glanced back over his shoulder at the young soldier. When Nrsah looked back at him, questioning, Kruq'nov could only hiss in indifference. It was a typical response to death by the veterans; better him than me.

"How could he be killed?" Nrsah asked himself, his voice quiet.

Not too quiet, for Kruq'nov picked up every word. "The Apes probably had two snipers out, and where hunting him. They always have a backup, using one for bait and the other to make the kill." Kruq'nov spoke with a detached tone, as if he did not care. That angered Nrsah as much as the death. If he was not his immediate superior, as well as vastly more experienced, Nrsah would have a few choice words with Kruq'nov for his aloofness.

Instead, he turned his anger towards the Terrans. "Those animals. They will pay for this." His words were ended with a dull pain slammed into the top of his head, like a hammer coming down on an anvil. At first, he thought the Apes were attacking, but when he saw Kruq'nov standing in front of him, his hand balled into a fist, he knew the truth.

"Young fool!" Kruq'nov snapped. "How many times do I have to tell you, never sell the Apes short, and never treat them like anything less than what they are. They are cunning and competent soldiers, and the moment you forget this, they will kill you."

Nrsah bowed before his Second Claw. "Of course, Second Claw. I forget myself."

Kruq'nov nodded. "You want revenge, it is understandable. We all want a piece of the Apes' snipers. May Sivar spit on their graves. Now come, young one, there is nothing you can do for Tralkar. He is dead, and is going to remain that way for the foreseeable future."

Nrsah obeyed without a further word. He remained silent, but his thoughts were of the next raid.

The first explosion jolted Kruq'nov from his light sleep. His claws were around his pulse rifle before his eyes were fully opened. That was a close hit; any closer and it might have come straight through the roof of his bunker. It was the first explosion, but not the last. By the third explosion, every warrior in the barracks was alert and ready for a fight. Kruq'nov developed an intense hatred for shelling. Was it just the Apes meddling in psychological warfare, trying to keep them up at nights. Was it prelude to a raid, or prelude to an actual push. It has been quite some time since the enemy tried any serious offensive move.

"Breathers on!" Kruq'nov roared, and all the warriors under his command immediately obeyed. Nrsah was by his side, ready and eager to fight. The cub held up well during his brief stay on this Gods forsaken planet. He heard that some Apes speak of a horrendous afterlife of eternal torment. After his stay on Repleetah II, Hell sounds like an improvement.

With only one entry from the trench into the barracks, all eyes and rifles were upon the forcefield that kept out the noxious air. For once, Kruq'nov did not have to wait long for an answer. The plasma window flickered twice, than failed altogether. "Take cover!" he barked, along with the other Claws within the room.

Eights of Kilrathi took cover behind beds, crates and anything that could take the blow of Terran weapons. The first ape through the door, fully encased in a combat environmental suit, showed his diminutive form. Their size was very misleading. Terran were small, but deadly, not that this particular Ape would get the chance to prove it. Two eights of pulse rifles brought him down in a mess of melted ceramics.

After the first Ape fell, two more appeared, throwing grenades in ahead of them. They were strong throwers, and one of the grenades went over his head. Both exploded with effect, bringing down warriors in a hail of curses and snarls. The explosions kept warriors' heads down long enough for eight Terrans to storm in and open up on the survivors. Kruq'nov kept his head down behind a steel crate and fired blindly around the corner. Nrsah followed suit. The cub learned very fast, which was why he was still alive. There was little point in aiming when the Apes would kill you before you could fire.

"Fall back!" came an order, and Kruq'nov slowly kept back from his cover. The barracks was more than a single room carved into the earth. He and Nrsah made their way back kitchen, under the covering fire of his fellow Kilrathi.

The kitchen was seldom used anymore, what with so little decent food being shipped in from off-world. Nothing larger than those Terran rats could be found running wild, and they were too small to worry about cooking. The unit set up a crossfire over the kitchen's entrance. If this was a real offensive, then Kruq'nov would sell his own life dearly. If the Apes want this forward trench, it will cost them two of their own for every Kilrathi they slay.

The Apes did not immediately follow up their attack. Maybe it was just another raid. Kruq'nov lived through enough of those. With the initial shock of the attack over, his bloodlust built up, sending his instincts into a frenzy. He glanced around the kitchen, seeing warriors taking cover behind overturned tables and behind stoves and freezers. He could tell by their hunched stance that every muscle in their bodies was tight, ready for the pounce.

"What are they waiting for?" Nrsah asked, his own bloodlust making him impatient.

Kruq'nov considered for a second. "Might be waiting for us to come streaming out with claws beared and weapons blazing."

"Then we should give it to them!" one of his other warriors roared.

Kruq'nov's bloodlust was high, but it did not turn him into a fool. "That's exactly what the Apes want, you fool! They have our door bracketed, and would cut us down before we could sink are teeth into their throats."

Like all soldiers in all armies, across space and time, Kruq'nov detested the waiting. The Terrans were cautious, with only one sticking his head through the door way. He was rewarded by having it removed by a carefully aimed blast. The pulse of plasma soared over the head of Kruq'nov. He grinned in approval at Nrsah's marksmanship. It was an excellent shot, right through the visor. The older warrior just hoped that his young comrade did not kill Mac'Fearson. Kruq'nov reserved the honor killing such a formidable foe for himself. He knew exactly what trench that Ape dwelt within; too bad he knew not where these raiders came from.

Ahead, two Kilrathi pressed their backs against the stone wall of the kitchen. Like all habitats, it was dimly lit in the blood red light of the homeworld. Kilrathi eyes, no matter what planet they were born upon, easily adapted to it. The Apes, with their bright light eyes, had a much harder time seeing in it. Not that it mattered on Repleetah, not with the optical systems built into those E-suits. The Kitchen was warm too, as warm as a Kilrathi's body, making Terran infrared sensors useless.

Both bold warriors, Kruq'nov would call them foolhardy, leaned around the doorway and opened up upon all within. After seconds of intensive firing, both warrior eased up on the triggers and roared in frustration. "They're gone!"

Kruq'nov was skeptical. Must be facing the Terran Army, for the Marines had an obsession with not leaving their dead behind. It was a tradition that predated the war, so fear of having comrades eaten must not be the reason. It was almost religious for them. They would even retrieve the dead at the risk of losing perfectly healthy warriors. Kruq'nov would never throw lives away to bring back the dead; wounded perhaps, but never the dead.

Kruq'nov stood up and cautiously approached. Though he never expected to leave this planet alive, or at all, he was not eager to do something stupid. He passed both warriors and emerged fully into the ransacked barracks, his rifle at the ready. He swept the muzzle across his full arc of visibility, spotting no Apes, living or dead. In fact, the one Nrsah killed seemed to be the only one left.

He frowned at the sight of his barracks as a total wreck. Pallets were smashed, crates opened, a few computers missing. Surely the Apes did not attack just for that. If so, then the Confederation on Repleetah has surely grown sloppy, and now was the time for the offensive. Unless their goal was to mine the place. Kruq'nov called over his shoulder. "The Apes are gone. Get on out here and start sweeping for bombs." Part of Kruq'nov, the part drunk of killing, wanted to storm out into the trench and kill any Ape he could find. "After that, we sweep the trench for mines." Kruq'nov better get hold of his unit's headquarters, in the likely case that the HQ was the raider's true target.