The Heart of Valour

Contents

Cover

Also by Tanya Huff

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Also Available from Titan Books

ALSO AVAILABLE FROM TANYA HUFF AND TITAN BOOKS

THE CONFEDERATION SERIES
Valour’s Choice
The Better Part of Valour
Valour’s Trial
(April 2014)
The Truth of Valour
(June 2014)
Peacemaker
(November 2014)

THE ENCHANTMENT EMPORIUM SERIES
The Enchantment Emporium
The Wild Ways
The Future Falls
(May 2014)

The Silvered

The Heart of Valour
Print edition ISBN: 9781781169704
E-book edition ISBN: 9781781169711

Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP

First edition: February 2014
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

Copyright © 2007, 2014 by Tanya Huff. All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

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For Ingrid de Buda, a valorous friend.
ONE

F
rom her position on one of the upper galleries, Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr studied the Humans, di’Taykan, and occasional Krai filling the public terminal from bulkhead to bulkhead. About half, the half who’d probably never left their home worlds before they boarded the recruiting shuttle, were gathered in clumps of their own species. The other half were showing off how much more socially evolved they were than their country cousins.

“They’re surprisingly cute when they’re young.”

Fighting to keep her expression neutral, Torin turned, came to attention, and snapped off a perfect salute.

“As you were, Gunny.”

Now she could smile. “Glad to see you up and around, Major.”

Major Goran Svensson returned the smile, carefully rearranging the muscles by his mouth. “Glad to be up and around.” Although his nose was as prominent as she remembered, his face had the shiny, unlived-in look of new tissue and the regrowth of silver-blond hair was as high and hard as any oldEarth drill instructor could want it. The fingernails of his left hand, the hand that rested on an old-fashioned wooden cane, were a pale greenish gray and, against the matte black of his uniform, his skin was an unfortunate corpse-white. Under his uniform, the major had been rebuilt almost from scratch.

That
almost
had wormed its way into nearly every conversation Torin had been a part of in the just under twenty-eight hours she’d been on Ventris Station. At what point did the pieces of the Marine put into the tank stop being a Marine and start being merely pieces? Had there been enough of Goran Svensson put in to get Goran Svensson out, or was this just something that looked like the major and sounded like the major but was nothing more than shaped meat?

As far as Torin was concerned, it was a no-brainer. Sh’quo Company and the Battalion’s heavy weapons company had been dropped on Carlong in support of Captain Svensson’s people, who were in imminent danger of being overrun. Unfortunately, imminent had proven to be a conservative estimate, and all three companies had fought a bloody withdrawal to the pickup point only to find the Others were keeping the Navy too busy to get them out. During the battle, the captain had proved himself a good officer and a fine Marine, and Torin had no intention of losing either.

It only validated her good opinion to later discover he was a M’taj, one of the forty percent of Corps officers promoted from the ranks. Until she had evidence to the contrary, the only change between the Marine who’d gone into the tank and the Marine who’d come out was that the former was a captain, and the latter a major.

“Congratulations on the promotion.” Major Svensson nodded toward Torin’s sleeve. “I hear you were busy while I was tanked. A few battles won, a new species courted, and an unknown alien spaceship outsmarted—I’m surprised they didn’t commission you.”

“It was mentioned.”

The major held up his hand and grinned, this second smile more like the one Torin remembered. “I don’t think I want to hear your response. Actually, I don’t think I
need
to hear your response, but I promise you, I don’t take it personally.” He let the hand fall but not before Torin noticed the way his fingers had started to tremble. “I also heard you took some time for romance.”

“Sir?” If he’d said he’d heard she’d taken some time to go exploring gas giants, she’d have been less surprised.

“With the civilian salvage operator who found said alien spaceship. Some of the medical personnel here on Ventris recently transferred off the
Berganitan
, and they’re very taken by your touching love story.”

Torin snorted. “Love story?”

“So no romance?”

“No, sir.”

“Too bad. The fine folk in PR would be all over a touching love story.” Tightening his grip on the cane, he moved to the edge of the gallery and glanced down. “How many do you think we’ll keep?”

A little taken aback by the sudden change in topic, Torin frowned. “Sir?”

“Most of them will finish their contract and go home. Some of them, the lucky ones, will never see battle even in the midst of a war. But in every new group there’s always a couple—like you…” The grin flickered again. “…like me—who find a home in the Corps and that means there have to be a couple down there.”

Ah. Keep. Now the question made sense. Torin studied the crowd again. The recruiting shuttle dropped off seventy-two recruits at Ventris every tenday—two full training platoons. One hundred and fifty days later, between sixty and seventy Marines graduated from Basic. The major was asking her to distill down those sixty or seventy to the few who’d stay.

“Her,” she said after a long moment. “The di’Taykan with the lime-green hair and the orange jacket. The recruits closest to her are calmer than the rest, and she’s standing so that she can see both exits. She’s probably from a military family that’s served for generations, and she’ll stay until biology forces her out.”

“What about her?” The major raised his hand just far enough off the rail to indicate a tall, fair-haired Human staring at the inner entrance to the station as if she could open it through force of will alone. “She looks like she wants to be here.”

“A little too much. That attitude says
I know what’s best
, and it’ll be a fight to get her to listen. She’s probably from one of the first families, and she thinks it means something here. I very much doubt she’ll make it through Basic.” The fourteen first families off oldEarth were as close as humanity came to an aristocracy these days.

“I’ve got ten that says she does.”

“I don’t want to take your money, sir.”

“Commendable, but I’m more than willing to take yours.”

“Ten it is, then.” Torin turned slightly, not enough to draw the attention of those down below but enough to direct the major’s attention where she wanted it. “See the Human standing by the outer doors, just to the right of the terminal map? Brown hair, hands shoved in his pockets?”

“Looks like he’s wondering what the hell he’s doing here?”

“Yes, sir, that’s the one. We’ll keep him.”

“Put your money where your mouth is, Gunny.”

“I’ll give you twenty on this one, sir.”

She heard the rustle of fabric as the major turned to face her. “Now why would you do that?”

Torin watched the recruit lean back against the map and jump forward again, face flushed as the map announced where he was. “He reminds me of me.”

“Major Svensson!”

Torin kept her attention on the major as he pivoted carefully around the cane, wobbling slightly. Only when she was sure he’d successfully completed the maneuver and was now scowling down the gallery, did she look up at the Navy corpsman approaching at a run. Fuchsia hair whipping back and forth in agitation, the corpsman slid to a halt, looked into the major’s face, and clearly reconsidered taking his arm.

“Sir, you’re not supposed to be out of bed.”

For a di’Taykan, the most enthusiastically indiscriminate race in known space, to not turn that statement into a blatant innuendo, Major Svensson had to have detanked in an impressively bad mood.

“And yet here I am.”

“Sir, Dr. Sloan’ll kick my ass out an air lock if she finds out you’ve been walking around in the public areas of the station.” One hand rose to fiddle nervously with his pheromone masker, and eyes the exact same fuchsia as his hair widened pleadingly. “Please come back to Med-op with me.”

Major Svensson sighed. Torin suspected he was aiming for world-weary, but there was too much plain old
weary
in it. “If you put it that way, Corpsman. I’d hate for you to get into trouble on my account.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ll get a chair.”

“No. I can manage.” Before Torin could protest, or even before she could quite figure out how to phrase a protest, the major added, “But if you’d be more comfortable giving me your arm so that I don’t wander off again, I could live with that.”

“Yes, sir.” No mistaking the relief in the corpsman’s voice.

Fingers of his free hand wrapped around the corpsman’s elbow, the major braced his cane and turned his upper body just enough to bring Torin back into his line of sight. “I’m glad I happened to run into you, Gunnery Sergeant,” he said formally. “Seems fitting we should spend a few minutes talking to each other since everyone on this station seems to be talking about us. Nearly everyone,” he amended, his tone lightening as he nodded toward the recruits. “If you get a few free minutes, I’d appreciate the company.”

“I’ll come by if I can, sir.”

“Major…”

“I know, I know. Don’t just stand there, Corpsman, start walking.”

The corpsman wisely refused to allow Major Svensson to set the pace; they moved slowly and carefully toward the decompression doors. He glanced Torin’s way as he helped the major over the lip, and just before the door closed she heard the older man snap, “Yes, it is.”

Had he asked if that was really Gunnery Sergeant Kerr?

Apparently everyone on the station was talking about her—except when they were talking to her and then they were talking about the major. Beginning to think it was no coincidence Major Svensson had happened to take a walk in her direction, Torin frowned down at the new recruits, not really seeing them.

She didn’t like being the center of attention; that never ended well. Once certain people started overreacting to other people doing nothing more than getting the job done, life tended to get interesting. Given that she was involved in fighting a centuries-old war with an indeterminate foe, Torin figured her life was quite interesting enough.

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