The Truth of Valor - By Tanya Huff


EMERGING BACK INTO SUNLIGHT AFTER 5K of trails through old growth forest, Torin eyed the forty-five degree incline up to the top of the bluff and knew she’d been spending too much time in space and too little time paying attention to her training. In spite of having been dirtside for the last tenday, she could feel the effect of the run in both legs and lungs.

There was a time, back before she joined the Corps, when she’d end her 20K run with a six-meter dive into the lake and swim a good fifteen, twenty meters underwater before having to surface to breathe. Diving straight into the lake today would be stupid bordering on suicidal. The gravity here on Paradise, Torin’s birth world, was 1.14 oldEarth norm while ships and stations both maintained artificial systems at .98—a small difference but telling after a few years.

Although, Torin admitted, throwing everything she had left into the last 100 meters, it could be the mileage. The distance between nineteen and thirty-six was one hell of a lot farther than the distance between Paradise and the OutSector station where Sh’quo Company had been based.

The top of the bluff hadn’t changed; a silver-gray cap of limestone curved out over Lake Serella, worn smooth by wind and rain. Her older brother Mohan and his friends used to hunt for fossils in these rocks; spiral-shelled creatures from an ancient sea trapped in time. She wondered if he ever brought his kids out here and tried to teach them the names the Human colonists had given some of the oldest of Paradise’s original inhabitants.

The narrow fissure that ran across the rock at the two-thirds point marked the exact end of the 20K. Torin crossed it and stumbled less than gracefully to a stop, the stiffer soles on her trail shoes sliding a little on the rock’s smooth surface. Regaining her balance, she walked over to the edge and stared out at the view while she caught her breath.

The lake gleamed more green than blue in the sunlight, a little chop whipped up by the morning breeze. It looked cold and, being spring fed, probably was. Only the hottest of summers made any noticeable difference in the lake’s temperature, and if this past summer had been unusually warm, no one had mentioned it to her. A small flock of Barnard’s ducks paddled about in one of the quiet coves and a pair of blue-footed hawks swooped around each other overhead. Strictly speaking, they were neither ducks nor hawks, but the colonists had reused the names they’d brought from home. That familiarity hadn’t been quite so necessary on planets settled later, Torin knew, but Paradise had been the first, gifted to oldEarth after they’d not only agreed to join but to protect the Confederation.

“Come on out,” the Elder Races had said. “We’ll give you advanced technology and brand-new planets to live on. We just need you to do one small thing for us. It seems we’re in the middle of this war we can’t solve diplomatically and, well, funny thing, we don’t actually fight, so we need you to do it for us.”

“Seems like a fair trade,” Humans had replied. Later, the Taykan and the Krai had said the same.


Maybe it had been a fair trade. With no idea of what life had been like on oldEarth so many years ago, Torin couldn’t judge. She’d been a career Marine and a damned good one until she’d discovered that the entire war had been a social experiment by sentient, polynumerous molecular polyhydroxide alcoholydes, so it was definitely 20/20 hindsight that made her think her ancestors should have locked the doors and told the Confederation to go fuk themselves.

Better than being screwed over by hyper-intelligent shape-shifting plastic.

From the top of the bluff, Torin could see past the edge of the forest to where the land flattened out and green changed to the gold of harvested grain. The family’s flock of hah-hahs had been turned loose into the field for gleaning although they were too small for her to spot them from here. If she’d had a helmet with her, she’d have been able to pick out individual feathers and, with one of the KC-7 sniper scopes, make an easy kill. Not that she would. No matter how obnoxious the damned birds could be.

Leaning out a little, she could just make out the hill that covered her parents’ farmhouse. They’d be finished with morning chores by now, sitting down to breakfast. Her mother would