Zev’s Afrotheria – Chapter 7
Kiel Iram sat in the main mess hall at Swala Force’s compound. He chose a table in the middle of the room that could sit two. His black uniform with five chevrons on his shoulders had the young cadets giving him a wide berth. The mess hall was relatively quiet. It gave Kiel the convenience he needed to log in to the main network and report his findings on the previous night’s attack with command.
When he finished his report, Kiel pulled up the map of the Empire of Afrotheria. He sifted the information on the map to show the Theria Guild zone boundaries and their assigned Guardian forces.
Since the attack on Gathu Village in Teru Province, Commander Demus had been studying the movement of the Theria Guild teams in the surrounding zones. Teru Province had a weakness. The Swala Force stationed in this Oasis was largely made up of cadets and officers fresh out of training. The seasoned Sokwe Recon trainers were not enough to run a serious team. However, they managed to utilize the cadets to a satisfactory result. In any case, Swala Force should have been able to respond to a distressed village like Gathu in time to avoid casualties.
Kiel tapped his finger on the number of casualties in Gathu Village and let out a sigh. It was over fifty, which is quite a number for a village not near the barrier. Perhaps there was a breakdown in communication. Swala Force’s General was hard to handle but he would have taken a call to arms from Simba Force in Zone 7 without protest.
Kiel picked up a slice of ugali from the bowl next to him and chewed on it in deep thought. A message beeped and the notification appeared on the corner of his screen. It was from Commander Demus.
‘Instructor Kitonyi wants to recommend a trio of cadets to our side. Check them out. He’s a good friend with a good eye. He won’t ask for a favor without cause.’
Kiel replied with an affirmative answer, promising to talk to the three cadets. Demus Kiima rarely asked for favors. When he did, they were very important.
‘Thank you. They’ll find you in the mess hall.’
Kiel closed his glass tablet, folding it back into the size of a small cell phone. He slid it into his pocket and pulled out a pair of glasses instead. Pulling his tray of food closer, he concentrated on eating while he waited for his three guests.
Zev breathed out his anxiety as they reached the mess hall. It was a little past seven o’clock. Most of his fellow cadets had already eaten and rushed off to complete duties. The place was relatively quiet and empty. It was easy to spot the general sitting at a table for two in the middle of the dining hall. He sat with his back straight. His hair was cut very short and neat. He wore a black blazer with the gold chevrons of his rank. Five on each shoulder. Zev wondered when he would ever get there.
A gentle touch on his right shoulder had Zev turning to find Instructor Kitonyi watching him.
“General Iram will conduct an interview. Answer his questions without hesitation. The rest is up to how fast you get our twentieth battle,” Instructor Kitonyi said.
“Thank you, Sir,” Zev said, saluting the taller man. He then glanced at Saul and Noah. Then he nodded as he led the way to the General’s table.
Kiel was watching a surveillance video of the Gathu Village attack when three cadets reached his table. They saluted in a neat movement and greeted him.
“Good morning, General.”
“Mm. Good morning,” Kiel said, reaching up to touch the side of his glasses. The video paused and started a recording of the three cadets. Kiel cleared his throat and folded his arms against his chest, giving all his attention to the trio.
They looked young, barely twenty. Fresh-faced, eager, Kiel mused. They made him keenly aware of his own age. He was turning thirty-three soon. He had already stopped adding chevrons to his arms to mark his successful battles. They were too many now, and the gold chevrons on his shoulders were enough to mark his current rank. Still, he kept his qualifying twenty on his arms because they were a reminder of his days in training.
“At ease,” he said now to the three cadets. “Name, rank, left to right.”
“Staff Sergeant Zev Mablevi, Squad Leader.”
“Sergeant Saul Nkoba, team member.”
“Sergeant Noah Bala, team member.”
“How old are you?” Kiel asked.
“Twenty-two this year,” Mablevi said.
“Twenty-three,” Saul answered.
Twenty-four,” Noah said.
‘Interesting,’ Kiel thought, his gaze resting on Mablevi. The two young men didn’t mind following orders from a younger Squad Leader. Kiel studied them too for a second longer.
Mablevi stood in a standard military stance. His hands clasped behind his back, his back straight, his shoulders straight. He stood stock still, assured in his qualifications, unlike the other two who shifted slightly with nerves. Their gazes moved to Mablevi occasionally.
It looked like Mablevi had built a small pack. They probably worked quite well in a team setting.
“How many battles have you completed?” Kiel asked. “Staff Sergeant Mablevi, answer for your team.”
“Nineteen battles, Sir.”
“One more and you can qualify out of Swala Force. You can join Simba Force in Thuka Province or Tiger in Yole. If you qualify high enough, you can even join Sokwe in Kirit Capital. Why do you need to meet me?”
Mablevi glanced at his teammates before he answered.
“We’re hoping to join the Strike Force Team.”
Kiel hid a smile at the clear ambition in Mablevi’s tone.
“What if you can’t?” Kiel asked.
“Then, we’ll join Sokwe Recon, Sir.”
“You want to relocate to the capital, Kirit?” Kiel asked.
“We hope that once we join Sokwe Recon, we can find a way to enter the Strike Force, Sir,” Mablevi answered.
The Strike Force was a grand dream for any Guardian in the Theria Guild. To join it would mean working directly under Commander Demus Kiima and himself. Recruitment did not include joining Sokwe Recon. Instead, it was based heavily on unique ability.
Kiel did not divulge the truth of entry into the Strike Force to Zev Mablevi. Instead, he decided he wanted to see this little team in action.
“What you like to hear from me?” Kiel asked, wanting to catch a glimpse of Mablevi’s thoughts.
“Sir, we are one battle away from twenty chevrons. Once we return, whole and hale, please consider recommending us to Sokwe Reckon,” Mablevi said.
“What if the transfer separates you?” Kiel asked, narrowing his gaze. Mablevi looked qualified for Strike Force, but the other two did not seem ready.
Zev swallowed hard this time, but then answered. “As long as we are able to work up the ranks. It will be to our benefit.”
Kiel scoffed because he could see Mablevi’s unwillingness to separate from his team. Still, he admired Mablevi’s determination to move out of Swala Force.
“Alright, I’ll consider your transfers when you achieve your qualifying battle. I’m not promising anything. Your ability determines where you end up,” Kiel said.
Zev’s smile was fast. A quick curve of his lips quickly disappeared. He brought his right hand up in a formal salute, prompting the others to follow suit.
“Thank you for meeting us, Sir!” Zev said.
“Thank you, Sir!” Noah and Saul echoed.
“Alright, leave me to my work. You’re dismissed, Cadets,” Kiel said.
“Yes, Sir,” Zev and his team released their salute and hurried away, making their way to the buffet line.
Kiel chuckled at their obvious excitement once again wondering if he was ever that young. He pulled out his phone and called Demus.
“How do you feel about recruiting a gifted team leader?” Kiel asked.
“How old?” Demus asked.
“Twenty-two,” Kiel said. “He’s a natural adhesive holding together a team of two for now.”
Kiel studied Mablevi receiving a tray filled with food from Saul and grinned. “They seem to eat, sleep and fight together. He’s older than his teammates, which means they are following him after careful thought. It would be interesting to play with their dynamic and see how it fairs in the Wildlands.”
“He must be interesting to have you talk about him,” Demus said. “Forward their stats to the Strike Force recruitment council. Use their qualifying fight as a test.”
“I’ll find Instructor Kitonyi to set it up,” Kiel said.
“What about the Gathu Village roundup?” Demus asked, shifting to the reason why Kiel had needed to visit Swala Force.
“I have five men following the ghost wraith routes,” Kiel said. “The routes seem planned though I cannot explain how that is possible. Ghost wraiths should not be able to make a decision.”
“Unless there is interference,” Demus said, his tone thoughtful. “I’ll reach out to Nico Riithi at Strato. He will know what KISTech is working on. Keep at it. I want a clearer picture.”
“Yes, Sir!” Kiel said.
He waited for Demus to end the call before he focused on his food. After his meal, he went in search of Instructor Kitonyi to learn more about Mablevi.
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