"You will now learn ten ways to kill someone silently and cleanly."
The person who said this claimed to be a sergeant, though he couldn't have been more two years older than me, which meant he was twenty years old. The people he addressed were like me, between two to four years younger than him. The first conscripts under the Conscription Act that had been passed the year before. All were in peak physical condition for their age and all had IQ's ranging from above average to genius level. All were on the verge of getting degrees, or even Doctorates in some cases.
Most of us already knew ten ways that a person could be killed, though I will admit, they were noisy and very messy. Maybe there was something in this, so, when the video began to play, I sat up straight, with a look of interest on my face. Most of the people in the video must have been on Death Row, because they were actually killed. They always used convicts for this sort of video.
"Any questions?" the sergeant demanded.
There was some shuffling, then a guy to my right, Eddie, with the looks of model and an intellect that would put Einstein to shame, stood up, brushing a strand of coal black hair out of his eyes.
"Sir, the use of an improvised weapon. When would we be without a knife or a gun?"
The sergeant considered this for a moment.
"Conventional firearms stall or run out of ammo, the hardware in your lasers can malfunction and a knife can be lost. You can't always be sure of a silent kill with them anyway. How to kill silently with any available object is a necessity."
Eddie sat down, and there was another extended silence before I stood up.
"Sir, how do we even know that the aliens have kidneys?"
It was 2092, and no one had seen anything larger than a cell of the enigmatic alien race that had destroyed the human colony on Abraxes.
"We don't know if they do or they don't, but our scientists are confident that they do. Any more questions?"
There were none.
"OK. Tench-hut!" We staggered to our feet. "Pre-dawn manoeuvres tomorrow at 0330. Dismissed."
We flooded out of the cramped room and made for the mess hall for whatever scraps remained in the kitchen, a joint and whatever cookie had managed to brew in his still. If I was lucky, he had taken my suggestion on board and used strawberry as the flavouring.
"Harrison, Joshua," the sergeant called, "stay back."
Everyone looked at me and I shrugged. I turned to face the sergeant, who waited until everyone had left. He held up a computer pad.
"Two things. One, mail, from your brother. Second, after pre-dawn manoeuvres are complete, you and your squad will have a two week pass and then you will complete your training on Mars. During the six week stint you spent on the moon, we were making some observations of those we feel should be in charge should I or the Lieutenant be unreachable. Effective immediately you are promoted to the rank of corporal."
"Sir, I haven't finished training yet."
"We know, but these orders come from the top."
He handed me the pad with my brothers letter.
"Send in Emily Chang."
Eddie lit the joint and took a deep drag from it, then passed it over to me.
"So, what does your brother have to say?"
"He passed the medical review board. He is beginning training in a month." I took a drag and passed it along to Emily.
"Not what you were hoping for," she asked, her curvy frame looking cramped in the narrow confines of her bunk.
"You studied Physics," I said, taking the joint as it came round again. "You know what fighting this war will mean, even if we aren't killed. Time dilation alone will mean there is a chance everyone we know could be dead when we return to earth."
"That should tell you how you should spend the next two weeks then," Eddie said, taking a swig of cookies finest strawberry flavoured moonshine.
"In the loving embrace of my workaholic parents?" I asked sarcastically. "They are probably happy Rex and I are out of the house. If they notice."
"I wasn't thinking that at all," Eddie said. "Find yourself some cute guy or girl, get a motel room and spend the next two weeks fucking like a bandit."
"Sounds like fun," I muttered, before cocking an eyebrow at Eddie. "What are you up to for the next two weeks?"
"Fuck you," Eddie said, shaking his head. "Why do I always get the sleepy ones when I'm horney and the horney ones when I am sleepy?"
"Time for sleep guys. We have a pre-dawn training session, remember?"
As if on cue, the lights in the barrack room shut off.
"Night guys," I muttered. After training tomorrow, I would have two weeks as a free man on Earth for the last time in a long time.
Authors Note: What do you think?