Short story: Test of Honor
(Also known as “Test of Honour” because my wife insists on using British spellings even where I haven’t.)
I have no idea where the idea for this one came from. I wrote the first version of it back in 2011 and got less than stellar commentary from everyone who read it. I reread their commentary to get ready to edit it for posting today, and, well, long story short, I rewrote it completely.
Thanks to Elizabeth McCoy for the suggestion that Lyndsey keep getting shot at while she’s talking. The image in my head for that bit is so very her. It helped set the tone for the whole thing.
If you enjoy this, The Crown of Eldrete also features Lyndsey as a main character. Its sequel will be out sometime before Ragnarok. I hope.
“This could be a problem,” I said, peeking around the corner in the warehouse we were raiding. We’d apparently triggered a silent alarm when we broke in.
Martoz looked concerned. “You think something could be a problem? You? Miss-Ten-to-one-odds-are-too-easy? Move so I can have a look.”
I moved so he could peer around the corner. “You’re right. This could be a problem,” my husband said.
“Told ya so.” I checked the charge on my blaster, pushing all fear from my mind with practiced effort. “So, you got a plan, or we just gonna charge in and pray for the best?”
“We’re going to stay right here and hope they don’t see us,” he said in a commanding tone. “If they do, we take as many of them with us as we can.”
I got an idea. “Boost me up there,” I pointed to a ceiling beam, “I got a better plan.” My plan was a long shot, but it was better than sitting around waiting to die.
“Tell me what it is first,” he said, grabbing my shoulder and holding me in place. “I don’t want to have to explain to Ana — or Val — that you got yourself killed.”
The mention of our wife and son sobered me, but . . . I peeked at the group approaching again. “Well, darling, we’re both gonna be dead if my plan doesn’t work, so you don’t need to worry.”
I started to climb a nearby pile of boxes. He pulled me down. I turned to him, almost mad enough to lash out at him. “Lyndsey, if we stay here, there’s a chance they’ll pass us by. Don’t move.” His fangs were bared now, and his tone was almost a growl. For once, I wasn’t turned on by this.
“Fine,” I not-quite-snapped. I shut my eyes and took a few deep breaths, forcing myself to calm down. I knew he was right, but holding still instead of fighting is not something that comes easily to me. I heard the Gristin soldiers getting closer and touched the mjöllnir pendant I always wore as I said a silent prayer for victory, strength, and courage. After a handful more deep breaths, I added another prayer for the gods to take care of my wife, son, and unborn daughter if Marty and I didn’t survive.
“How’s your weaponry?” Martoz asked suddenly.
“Hands and feet are intact, got about half a dozen shuriken left, half a charge on my blaster, and my blades are sharp. You?”
“Less charge than I’d like, some sharp knives, and what the gods gave me.” He shut his eyes and whispered a quiet prayer to his gods and ancestors for victory. I smiled slightly. Even in a situation like this, he still refused to pray for strength or courage. According to the branch of the Faith he followed, praying for those was cowardice. As recently as last sulid we’d had a spirited debate about that . . . or a heated argument, according to everyone who overheard it. I started to smile, remembering that debate and what it had led to, then forced myself back to the present. This was no time for pleasant reminiscences.
We sat there, both expressionless and deathly calm, waiting for our foes to appear. I yearned to jump up and start shooting. If I was going to die here, if these bastards were going to make me break the oath not to die on a mission that I’d sworn at Georgia’s insistence all those years ago, I wanted to take as many of them with me as I could.
Take as many of them . . . I was reminded of the story of how Grandpa’s grandpa had died defending the temple he’d sworn to protect. At least one hundred Neo-imperials were felled by my great-grandfather before he died on the steps of the temple. They had powerful blaster rifles and armor. He had nothing but a sword. I felt even more frustrated at having to do nothing, until that story of Grandpa’s reminded me of another.
“Any of you guys wanna do this properly?” I said, striding forward, katana in hand, as the Gristin soldiers opened fire. Gristins tended to be very old-fashioned, old-fashioned enough to still have champions from both sides fight instead of the whole force when the option presented itself.
Or they had been in the days of the Civil War, at least. If they weren’t now, it wasn’t like I’d be any less dead if I’d stayed behind the boxes.
I dodged the continuing blasts from the soldiers as I repeated my challenge, carefully never letting my expression change from cool confidence. Years of ninja training were paying off big time right then, in more ways than one.
The ostilin who was the ranking officer there loudly said something I couldn’t understand and the shots ceased. Thank you, I silently said to the gods.
He walked over and said, in Galfarran that was so thickly accented that it was hard to understand, “You are a warrior?”
“That I am,” I said, trying my best to keep my normal bravado out of my voice. Coolly confident was the way to play this.
“What is the strange weapon you carry?”
“It’s a katana. It’s from my father’s homeworld, Earth.”
“I have never heard of this ‘Earth.’ Have I heard of your father?”
“You might have. He’s Viktor Blue, Slayer of Drochslem and Hero of Culs III.” I couldn’t keep the pride out of my voice as I said the titles Daddy hates so much.
“I have never heard either appellation. What of your mother?”
“Renata Kavaliro, Dagger, inventor of, among other things, the HIR87 manuever drive.”
“Those I have heard of. They allowed us to reach this moon easily. And Kavaliro is a name I have heard, though not with ‘Renata.’ Were they, of old, guardian faeshir?”
I made a mental note to tell Darrien to be more careful who he sold Momma’s drives to, then said, “Some still are, I hear, but I’m descended from Kalem Kavaliro, who fell at Polthaina.”
“Polthaina hasn’t fallen in four human generations. Are you sure of this descent?”
“As sure as anyone can be of such things.”
“Are you as honorable as your faeshir ancestors?”
Still keeping all cockiness out of my voice, I said, “I believe so.”
“Then I accept your challenge.” The tall insectoid drew a slender blade from a sheath on his side and brandished it in my direction. He looked fierce. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t very briefly have second thoughts. I pushed them aside and moved towards him.
Our swords met with a clang. The fight was over quickly. I was, easily, twice the swordsman he was. The ostilin fell, clutching his abdomen. I’d wounded him badly, but non-fatally. “You have bested me. The Spirits have spoken though you. You are the more honorable one this day. You may leave,” he said as he rose to his feet.
I was careful to keep the cocky smile I felt trying to break through off my face. I inclined my head slightly and said, “Thank you. You fought well. Your honor must be nearly equal to mine. My husband is allowed to go too, right?” My voice broke a little on the last sentence, despite my best efforts to stay in total control.
“He is,” the insectoid said. “He is a very lucky man to have such an honorable warrior for a wife.”
“Thank you,” Martoz said, standing up for the first time. “She’s one of the most honorable warriors I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.” The pride in his voice was unmistakeable. I finally let myself smile at my husband’s praise.
“I don’t think I remembered to introduce myself properly. Name’s Lyndsey Katherine Kavaliro-Blue,” I said with a deep, flourishing bow before walking back over to Marty’s side.
“My name is Ostilin Krigthrikis do Vild’g, and it was an honor to fight you. Kalem Kavaliro lives on in you.”
I felt tears in my eyes, which I quickly blinked back. It was one of the best compliments I’d ever received. “Thank you,” I said quietly, as Martoz and I walked away, leaving the weapons we’d come to liberate behind. I’d won our passage out of the warehouse, I didn’t want to push for more than that.