The Truth of Valor - By Tanya Huff Page 0,2


“Five kilometers,” Huirre announced.

It was possible, Cho allowed, that the civilian salvage operator at the controls of the Firebreather had been feeding data into their Susumi equations since leaving the debris field, cargo pen bulging with salvage. It was possible the Susumi engines coming on-line had nothing to do with the approaching net. And if the Susumi drive didn’t kick in before the net covered the final three kilometers, it wouldn’t matter.

“Two, one . . . we have contact! Anchor lines have caught the pen, net is spreading.”

“Power up the buoys.”

Huirre slapped his board. “Aye, aye, Captain!”

“Susumi engines are powering down.” This time, Dysun kept her eyes on the data.

Of course the engines were powering down. Only a suicidal fool would fold into Susumi space when their equations had just been fukked beyond correction. Galaxy-class battle cruisers with a full complement of Susumi engineers had slammed out of Susumi space into unforgiving solid objects because of a missed decimal, so a seat-of-the-pants pilot and a cheap computer had no chance with the random pulsing from the buoys making an accurate equation the next thing to impossible.

Some might say actually impossible.

Cho didn’t believe in the impossible. There was always a way. Case in point: in spite of a dishonorable discharge from the Confederation Navy designed to force him into jobs well below his skill level and ambition, he’d still gotten his captain’s ticket. Even if he’d had to take it by force.

The days when some idiot with a bit of braid, a fool who’d got his rank from luck rather than skill could order him around were over. Long over.

“Captain, the Firebreather is coming around.”

“Interesting.” Straightening, he stared up at the large screen he’d had installed to give the illusion of an external view in spite of the bridge having been buried deep in the bowels of the ship for safety. Most CSOs cut their losses at this point, dumped their pens, engaged their default equations, and left the victor the spoils. Against all odds, the Firebreather was coming around. “I wonder if they’ve forgotten what happens to ships that challenge us?” he said thoughtfully.

Huirre snorted. “No one’s challenged for a while, have they?”

An excellent point, Cho admitted silently. Memory being what it was, it was past time to remind the salvage operators that resistance was useless. Get them talking again about the Heart of Stone and her merciless captain.

“Captain.” Dysun’s hair had flattened against her head. “I’m picking up a strange energy signal.”

“Define strange?”

“Like a . . .”

The bridge shuddered as the Heart of Stone took a hit.

“Like a weapon?” Cho asked quietly.

Her shoulders rose a little at the threat in his voice. “Yes, sir.”

Confederation law put all weapons in the hands of the military. CSOs were supposed to run crying for help while the Navy—buzzing around with their collective heads up their collective asses because the war had turned out to be a big fukking joke—did sweet fuk all about the big, bad pirates. Seemed like this fool hadn’t got the memo.



“Don’t damage the pen.”

The Krai grinned. On a species able to not only eat, but digest pretty much any organic matter in known space, the baring of teeth gained an added significance Cho appreciated. Huirre danced the fingers of both hands and the long, prehensile toes of one foot across his board.

An instant later, the bow of the Firebreather exploded, creating a miniature starburst of debris.

“Two bodies, Captain.”

One of the things Cho liked best about Dysun, about all three di’Taykan, was their lack of concern when people died. People always ended up dying in his business.

“No life signs,” she added.


“Uh . . .” Confused, Dysun waved at the screen. “The shot probably killed them, but they might have decompressed. . . .”

“He means damage to the Heart, you serley idiot,” Huirre muttered. “We took some outer hull damage by the cargo bay, got one of our sensor arrays completely fukking fried, and I’m betting . . .” He nodded toward the flashing lights on the comm panel. “. . . Krisk wants to know what the fuk is going on.”

“Take us in alongside the pen,” Cho ordered, then opened the channel to engineering, cutting Krisk off in mid rave with a terse, “Shut up. If there’s no breach and no chance of a breach, that salvage remains our first concern. Make sure the hatch to the cargo bay hasn’t been compromised. I’m on my way down.”

The Heart of Stone had been designed as a scout ship for the