The Better Part of Valor

Raves for
A Confederation of Valor
:

“Want mystery, courage, humor, and suspense—wrapped in grab-you-by-the-throat excitement? Look no further! Huff’s latest provides all this and more. Don’t plan anything else once you’ve opened this book.”

—Julie E. Czerneda, award-winning SF author

“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

“The action is solid, and the Marines are an entertaining mix of oddballs…led by the highly competent and eminently likeable Staff Sergeant Kerr…a rousing military adventure.”


Locus

“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:

A CONFEDERATION OF VALOR omnibus:
VALOR’S CHOICE | THE BETTER PART OF VALOR
THE HEART OF VALOR
VALOR’S TRIAL

********

SMOKE AND SHADOWS

SMOKE AND MIRRORS

SMOKE AND ASHES

BLOOD PRICE

BLOOD TRAIL

BLOOD LINES

BLOOD PACT

BLOOD DEBT

********

THE QUARTERS NOVELS, VOL 1 omnibus:
SING THE FOUR QUARTERS | FIFTH QUARTER

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

T
HE
B
ETTER
P
ART
OF
V
ALOR

Tanya Huff

Copyright © 2002 by Tanya Huff.

All Rights Reserved

ISBN: 978-1-101-65782-9

Cover art by Paul Youll.

DAW Book Collectors No. 1217.

DAW Books are distributed by Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

All characters and events in this book are fictitious.

All resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental.

The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal, and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

First Printing, March 2002

The worst of times bring out the best of people.

This is for the rescue workers who died
going
up
the stairs.

Table of Contents

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Author’s Note

O
NE

“A
nd the moral of the story: never call a two star general a bastard to his face.”

Stretching out his regenerated leg, Captain Rose leaned away from his desk and drummed his fingers against the inert plastic trim. “I’m a little surprised you didn’t already know that.”

“You and me both, sir.” Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr stared down at the general’s orders on her slate. “You and me both.”

“Still, I suppose you could consider it a compliment that General Morris wants you on this reconnaissance mission.”

“Yes, sir, but somehow when I think of ‘an unidentified alien vessel drifting dead in space,’ the word that tends to stick is
dead.
And I’ve barely recovered from the last time the general took a personal interest.” Before looking up, she cleared her screen with more emphasis than was strictly necessary. “Considering how the
diplomatic
part of the last mission got redefined as getting our asses kicked, I just hope I can survive what he considers recon.”

The captain smiled, pale skin creasing at the corners of both eyes. “You kicked some ass yourself, Staff.”

“Yes, sir, I did. Although I admit I had help from a platoon of Marines and Lieutenant Jarret. Both of which,” she added, “I wouldn’t mind having with me this time.”

“Should I authorize an armored unit as well?”

“I wish you could, sir.” Hooking her slate onto her belt, Torin drew in a deep breath and accepted the inevitable. She’d made herself memorable to the top brass and would have to live with the consequences—although the little information she had made
survive
the consequences seem more accurate.
“He wants me on the next coreward shuttle. There’ll be transportation arranged once I reach MidSector, but he doesn’t actually say where I’m going.”

“He’s a general, Staff. He doesn’t have to say. Ours is not to question why.”

“Yes, sir. The next shuttle leaves in just under two hours. Unless the general’s arranged for me to skip decontamination, I’ll have to hurry.”

The captain nodded, agreement and dismissal combined. “See that you hurry back, Staff Sergeant. I’ve got a new First, and he’s got a shitload of new recruits he could use your help with. This is a lousy time for you to go gallivanting around the galaxy.”

“I’ll be sure to mention that to the general, sir.”

“I’m hoping you’re smarter than that, Staff.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Staff?”

She paused, just outside the door’s proximity sensor.

“General Morris’ parentage aside, it’s entirely possible he recommended you for this mission because you’re the best person for the job.”

“General Morris’ parentage aside, sir, I never doubted that.”

*   *   *

And it started out as such a good day
, Torin growled silently as she walked to the nearest vertical. Admin had finally cleared the files sending Binti Mashona to sniper school, Corporal Hollice was getting a well-deserved promotion to sergeant, a number of the new recruits actually seemed to have arrived with half their brains functioning, and, thanks to the situation on Silsviss, Sh’quo Company was so far down on the rotation that the Others would have to overrun the entire sector before they were sent back out.
I should have known something would happen to fuck it up.

*Report to shuttle bay twelve for decontamination in forty-six minutes.*

Years of practice kept her from visibly reacting to her implant’s sudden announcement. It hadn’t taken Captain Rose long to post her orders to the station system.

A quick glance up and down the vertical showed a cluster of people descending but a clear fall below them all the way
to C deck. With every intention of using General Morris’ name not only in vain but in any way possible should the necessity arise, Torin dove headfirst down the shaft. The turn in mid-fall slowed her slightly, but she was still moving fast enough to set off the safety protocols when she grabbed the strap and swung out onto the deck.

*Please exercise more caution in the verticals. This is a level one warning.*

Torin tongued in an acknowledgment without breaking stride. She could live with a level one. It took three in a Tenday before the station reported them and she’d be gone long enough that this particular warning would be wiped by the time she returned.

Unhooking her slate, she began locking down her desk as she walked—sealing her personal folders and encrypting the rest to Sergeant Chou’s access codes. Anne Chou would be senior noncom for the platoon while she was gone and would at least give Lieutenant Jarret someone he’d already…

“Is it true, Staff?”

She looked down at the Krai private who’d suddenly appeared beside her. Given their difference in height, all she could see was the mottled top of his hairless head which gave no clue at all to the meaning of his question. “Is what true, Ressk?”

“That instead of a promotion and comfy tour at Ventris Station teaching
diritics
how to survive, General Morris has detoured you to a Recon mission.”

“I’m impressed; those orders have been on system for less than ten minutes.”

Ressk lengthened his stride to keep up, bare feet slapping against the floor. “I guess once you pull somebody’s brass out of the fire they expect you to keep doing it.”

“That is the way the universe tends to function.” At the lock leading to SRQ, she paused. “You got a reason to be on this level, Ressk?”

“Sergeant Aman wants to see me, Staff. And when I saw you, I thought I’d say…”

The pause lengthened.

“Private?”

His nose ridges flushed. “Could you talk to the general, Staff? Exploring an unidentified alien vessel floating dead in space—that’s always been my dream!”

Torin blinked. “You’re kidding?”

“No, Staff, I’m not. You know there isn’t a sys-op I can’t get into. I could be useful on this kind of a mission.”

“I don’t doubt that, but I’m sure there’ll be specialists…”

“I’m faster. If it’s a matter of life and death, you’re not going to want some specialist…” The word emerged somewhere between an insult and profanity. “…taking their time, doing everything by the book.”

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