The Heart of Valour: A Confederation Novel

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9781781169704: The Heart of Valour: A Confederation Novel
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Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr is a Confederation Marine's marine. Sidelined since her last mission, she jumped at the chance to go to Crucible - the Marine Corps training planet. While the exercise is underway, the drones begin acting aggressively, without regard to fail-safes or their programming. Kerr finds herself caught in a desperate fight to keep a platoon of Marine recruits alive...

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About the Author:

Tanya Sue Huff (born 1957) is a prolific Canadian fantasy author of over 25 novels. Her stories have been published since the late 1980s, including five fantasy series and one science fiction series. One of these, the Blood Books series, featuring detective Vicki Nelson, was adapted for television under the title Blood Ties.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

“Fast-paced . . . The intriguing and well-designed aliens and intricate plotting keep the reader guessing.”

Publishers Weekly

“Series fans will enjoy this fast-paced adventure, appealing to the same audience as David Weber’s Honor Harrington series.”

Library Journal

“As a heroine, Kerr shines. She is cut from the same mold as Ellen Ripley of the Aliens films: tough but humane, fiercely protective of her charges, and utterly determined to prevail. Like her heroine, Huff delivers the goods. Valor’s Choice does not make light of war, but at the same time it is incredibly fun to read. Howlingly funny and very suspenseful. I enjoyed every word.”

Scifi.com

“An intriguing alien race, a likeable protagonist, a fast moving plot, and a rousing ending. What more could you ask for?”

Science Fiction Chronicle

“This sequel to Valor’s Choice, featuring a gutsy, fast-thinking female space-marine protagonist, establishes veteran fantasy author Huff as an accomplished spinner of high-tech military-SF adventure.”

Library Journal

“This book is Rendezvous with Rama for the rest of us: exciting, mysterious and full of action and puzzles to solve. Torin is everything you want in an action heroine (or hero, for that matter), and this book will leave readers anxious for her next adventure.”

KLIATT

Also by

TANYA HUFF

The Confederation Novels:

VALOR’S CHOICE

THE BETTER PART OF VALOR

THE HEART OF VALOR

VALOR’S TRIAL

THE TRUTH OF VALOR

***************

THE ENCHANTMENT EMPORIUM
THE WILD WAYS

***************

THE SILVERED

***************

SMOKE AND SHADOWS

SMOKE AND MIRRORS

SMOKE AND ASHES

BLOOD PRICE

BLOOD TRAIL

BLOOD LINES

BLOOD PACT

BLOOD DEBT

********

THE QUARTERS NOVELS, VOL. I omnibus:

SING THE FOUR QUARTERS | FIFTH QUARTER

THE QUARTERS NOVELS, VOL II omnibus:

NO QUARTER | THE QUARTERED SEA

********

The Keeper’s Chronicles:

SUMMON THE KEEPER

THE SECOND SUMMONING

LONG HOT SUMMONING

********

OF DARKNESS, LIGHT AND FIRE

********

WIZARD OF THE GROVE omnibus

CHILD OF THE GROVE | THE LAST WIZARD

TANYA HUFF

THE HEART
OF VALOR

I’d like to thank Steve Perry for artillery and general military advice, Steve Stavitzky, Dave Alway, and Gary McGath for helping find the words that gave the aliens a voice, and Bill Sutton and Bill Roper for assistance with metaphors. I’d also like to thank Olympic gold medalist Xeno Mueller, who graciously explained the dynamics of rowing machines.

Table of Contents

ONE

FROM 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. 150 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.

The sound of the inner doors opening jerked her attention back to the terminal.

“Listen up, children, because I’m only going to say this once.”

Torin stared in disbelief at the familiar figure standing just inside the open doors. Hands tucked behind his back, scarlet hair moving slowly back and forth, his uniform more like a matte-black shadow than actual fabric, stood Staff Sergeant di’Allak Beyhn.

A little over ten years ago, he’d stood in exactly that position, said exactly those words and had, over the next 150 days, gone on to be one of the main reasons Torin had become a career Marine.

It couldn’t be the same Marine.

It had to be another di’Taykan trained by him, another di’Taykan with the same coloring who’d picked up the same phrases and mannerisms. An imitation, not the real thing. He’d had more than a few years in back when he’d been her DI, so Staff Sergeant Beyhn had to have moved on to qui’Taykan—the breeding phase—and left the military.

“I am Staff Sergeant Beyhn.”

Or not.

He swept a scarlet gaze over the recruits. “When I give the word, here’s what you’re going to do: you’re going to pick up your gear and move in an orderly fashion through these doors. Once inside, you’ll make a quick left, proceed to the end of the corridor, and arrange yourselves on the yellow lines. Anyone who can’t figure out how to accomplish that should consider enlisting in the Navy.”

A couple of the recruits snickered.

Staff Sergeant Beyhn’s expression made it clear he wasn’t kidding, and the snickering stopped. “This is your last chance to reconsider your decision to become a Marine,” he continued, redirecting his attention to the room at large. “No one will think any less of you if you decide to turn around and take the next shuttle home.”

Torin had never heard of anyone taking him up on the offer; the recruiters made sure that anyone who got this far would make it past the yellow lines at least, but she supposed there was always a first time.

No one moved.

She checked the brown-haired young man by the map. He was frowning thoughtfully.

“Gunnery Sergeant Kerr.”

All attention snapped suddenly to her as the recruits followed Staff Sergeant Beyhn’s gaze up to the gallery. She saw two or three heads dip together and was sure she heard a whispered “Silsviss,” the sibilants making the word carry.

“When you have a moment, Gunny.”

Fighting the urge to snap to attention and shout, “Sir, yes, sir!” Torin nodded. “I’m on my way down, Staff.” If he could use the diminutive, she could use the diminutive. She’d have to keep telling herself that.

He nodded in turn, one smooth dip of the head—it was hard to ...

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