“Okay. Oh-kay. Gonna keep on living.” Alex’s heart pounded in his chest, lungs burning, icy dread clutching at his mind as each breath felt like it wasn’t bringing in enough air. He rested against the wall of the shuttle bay, panting and dripping sweat onto the deck. He slid to the ground, arms propped up on his knees. The doctor who installed his translator had been right about exercise being more difficult with implants crowding his organs.
At least learning his way around Tsalo society unaided had been going well, though it was fraught with suspicious looks and a certain amount of coldness. Nothing that he had not expected.
“Not bad. You saved...” The Sergeant clicked her teeth together as she converted Tslao time into Human. “One minute and six seconds over last week.”
“Fuckin’ aye.” He pushed himself up and wiped the stinging sweat from his eyes. The standard Tslao military run was just over five kilometers, and he was doing them daily until he could manage the minimum time consistently. “Just, uh, a minute and eighteen seconds to go?”
Zenshen gave an affirmative grunt as she marked down his time in a tablet. “I’m sure you’ll hit it next week.”
He managed a weak laugh and started walking to keep his legs from cramping. “Then I start carrying a combat load, right?”
“You will start carrying it when we get your equipment from the armorer. Strange that it is taking them so long.”
One benefit of having to take care of himself more was that he didn’t feel bad at all popping in to the ship’s armory and telling them to take all the time they needed getting that special pack frame and body armor finished up. Want to make sure the regulars are all properly equipped before he is. Wink, nod. “Yeah, it is. I’ll check in and see what’s up after sparring.”
“Good idea.” She tossed him a towel and they left the shuttle bay. “We have a different instructor for you today.”
The walk to the gym was short, only a hundred meters. “Oh yeah?”
“Master Tenaha is one of the best. Honestly, perhaps even the best Tsheno fighter alive right now. If you can keep up with him... I will be surprised.” She watched him and shrugged, lips pursed. She didn’t mean to offend, he was just that much better than Alex was. “But you are here to learn.” She added quickly.
“That I am.” He’d only been working on Tsheno for the last two weeks. Some of it was familiar from the SERE training he had received, but there was much more formality to it. Alex hit the door controls and stepped inside. It was empty - getting one of the many gyms on board reserved was easy for him - save for one very old Tslao.
Alex assumed this was Master Tenaha. His head was nearly solid silver, only a few patches of dark blue still showing and he seemed to almost be swallowed up by his training uniform. Alex was reasonably sure he had never seen another Tslao that old, perhaps elderly. “Is that him?”
“Yes.” It was traditional to spar before a lesson began. Ostensibly so that the teacher knew where the student was, but also it reminded the student who was kicking whose ass. She gave the master a sidelong glance and leaned in to speak quietly to Alex. “But, I do need to warn you to be careful.”
“Right, I’ve seen this movie before. I go ‘hur-dur old man, better watch out!’ and then he smashes me into the ground with his pinky.” He hooked his little finger in the air and flipped his hand over to demonstrate what was about to happen to his face.
“No.” She shook her head, then reconisdered. “Eh, yes, that as well. But I was going to warn you that he sprained his ankle last week and to avoid any low sweeps. It would be considered detestable to do that in a training session.”
“Oh, all right. I suppose I can not do the only thing I’m good at so far.” He tossed her the towel and stretched arms briefly, loosening them up for the impending beating his was about to take.
“Good luck.” She patted him on the back and walked to the seating area, dumping his towel directly into a recycler before sprawling out over one of the benches.
She had her nose in her tablet doing something else before Alex had even finished his greeting to Tehana in what was becoming passable Taslo. The master bowed back to Alex, then glanced over his shoulder. His face creased, annoyed and confused.
Like he would fall for that. Seriously, did this guy think he was child?
“There. That one.” It was an older female voice he didn’t know, commanding. Someone grabbed his shirt at the shoulder and yanked him around before he could look, a fist making contact with his cheek. Alex grunted, the blow more surprising than painful... Still, he tasted blood.
This kind of made sense. The ability to engage an unexpected attacker was important. Clever that they’d just throw him into it, too.
So, he did what he had been training to do. With his height, it was easy to sweep his elbow over his attacker’s arm as he rotated back around. Alex made solid contact with someone’s face then threaded his hand down, locking his assailant’s arm at the elbow. He found himself face to face with someone who was not a soldier. He was pissed, though. The outrage in his eyes was unmistakable.
Alex took a moment to reassess the situation. This... This wasn’t part of his training. This guy was, by the cut and ornate decoration of his jacket, fairly high ranking. He had brought friends, too. That’s when he got punched in the jaw again. This wasn’t sparring anymore, but something much more dangerous.
He was ready for a fight this time. His SERE training was mostly for dealing with hostile humans, learning how to beat the living shit out of people as quickly and brutally as possible. There were a number of differences between the two races, but there were lots of things he could count on being the same.
The gloves came off.
Alex feinted and twisted away, grabbing the Tsalo’s wrist and wrenching it outward, then slammed an open palm into the locked elbow. It bent in an unnatural way and his assailant gurgled something that his translator flagged as unknown.
Naturally, he hit it again. Then a third time in rapid succession, finally rewarded with a dull, wet crack as the elbow broke.
The male collapsed with a keening whine, cradling his twisted limb. Alex would have stomped on him a few times to ensure he stayed down, but there were bigger problems right now, like a cane smashing into his face.
That sent him reeling, stars exploding in his vision. His mouth was suddenly filled with shattered teeth and blood, but he managed to block the second blow that came a moment later. Alex lined himself up with the old male and blew out through his mouth, as much to clear it out as to throw his attacker off.
It worked, the older Tslao seemed to be more horrified by the sudden shower than he was concerned about what Alex was doing. This was good for Alex, as he was lauching himself forward to tackle the old man, his head impacting the gym’s padded floor with a heavy thud.
That seemed to work well enough, the Tslao laying still beneath him. Sergeant Zenshen was up, pistol out and shouting loudly at the rest of the group that these two had come from to stand down.
Alex pushed himself up and picked the cane up, its faceted metal handle glittering under the bright lights. It looked like a mace and felt heavy enough to be one. He surveyed the group, two more males and a female... No, a Zeshen. The same nearly white fur as Neya, the same amethyst irises.
The similarities ended there. She was much more lean and there was no gentleness or love in her eyes. The jacket she wore, cut so low and red... The dense brocade cloth belonged to someone important. He stepped over towards them, the cane dangling loosely from his hand.
“Alex. What are you doing?” The Sergeant clearly did not want him to get that close.
“I got this...” He was distracted by the sigil this one wore, ignoring the total disdain in her gaze. She straightened up as he stopped in front of her to investigate the symbol. A sword hidden in the sunrise over a planet, surrounded by a gear-star. Alex had seen this before and he knew who the Zeshen was representing.
If that’s how he wanted to play this, Alex would play along. His lips twisted into a malign, bloody grin. “Couldn’t even bear to see me in person, could you? You don’t know how much that hurts, Dad.”