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28

This is what happened: at some point in the distant past, when the ancestors of humanity were nothing more than small shrew-like creatures scurrying in the shadows of the giant ferns, the real masters of Earth were the saurians.

Come on, now! You know that this at least is not true! The real masters of Earth were, then as now, as on Mars eons before, the bloody viruses. They teemed and prospered on the surface of the life-rich planet. In its depths, too. Even the clouds were full of them. There was no living creature they left unaffected and not a drop of water where they did not dwell in their millions.

And there was a reason for that: like their counterparts on Mars, the viruses of Earth were eminently adaptable and fast reproducing, enterprising opportunists.. But, at the difference of what happened on the fourth planet, on Earth multicellular life was able to reach some kind of accommodation with the viruses. Maybe it was because of their very aggressiveness, which caused the two to meet so early in their history. On our world, the attackers didn’t come abruptly one day, having spent eons in ambush in the shelter of the slime-mold layer. They had always been there, a known reality, the most intimate of our enemies.

So on Earth, the stalemate between life and its ancient shadow was reached early and did not leave our ancestors crippled for the eternities to come.

How they must have wept, and cursed fate, the ancient Martians, when they came.

29

Stand tall and look right in front of you! And do not fidget! Keep your back straight, your feet together and your arms right down your sides. Stay silent. Your are standing at attention!

Even when he has been drilled for all, or nearly all, of his short life in the rigours of military regulations, it is not easy for a kid this age to stand like this, still, for any period of time. Great is the temptation to look at your friends, before and behind you, at your sides, to talk or break into a run, even, or a game, or a prank. To forget the seriousness of the occasion. But, even at that age, the young Richard E. Sains found it easier than most. Already, he knows that this is his life, this military existence. This is what he was put on Earth for.

He will be such a good soldier!

The Colonel is now making her way to the lectern. With a brief pang of guilt, Richard realise he does not always like the Colonel. She is too old, for a start, and always looks tired; too fat also, and too short, not at all the way a soldier should be. He does not know it, obviously, but this has been planned for; this is an important step in his development. He has learnt his lessons, and learnt them well, and already he is starting to apply them. Richard E. Sains, at seven, has already begun to judge people.

Soon, they all will be found guilty.

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