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The crash mats back at his EarthForce base seemed much softer. 'I believe the Earth term is "freestyle combat". Remember, this is simply to gauge your rudimentary skills at unarmed combat. I want no accidents. Now, who is first?'

Merreck stepped forward instantly. Vance, not wanting to look hesitant, stepped up beside him.

'Good,' said Durhan. 'Step into the combat area.' He led the two trainees into the marked circle. An intricate pattern that wound in and out of itself decorated the floor. 'Remember,' continued Durhan, 'no grudges remain beyond the limits of the circle. Combat between Anla'shok is here and here alone.'

Vance stared back at Merreck, trying to match the Min-bari's intensity. It wasn't easy. 'Begin!' snapped Durhan, stepping back and out of the circle.

Merreck was several feet away, so Vance didn't think it necessary to raise his guard until he knew what attack the Minbari might make. He had little knowledge of Warrior Caste combat styles, and the Minbari had never been generous enough to share their combat knowledge with EarthForce. First-hand accounts from soldiers in the Min-bari War identified the Warrior Caste as being fast, deadly and almost unnaturally strong.

For several seconds they faced each other down. Many of the trainees shuffled uncomfortably, but Durhan looked on, fascinated by the match.

Vance grew impatient. After all, how quick could the Minbari be? He decided a low attack would be best under the circumstances. A quick combination of kicks and punches should allow him to test Merreck's defences. Before he could move six inches, Merreck covered the space between them. His right hand snaked forward, quicker than Vance could see it, let alone stop it. The jab to Vance's solar plexus stopped him dead. A swinging, flat-palmed
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