4. The Steadfast Blade
She awoke screaming, her right arm bent up in front of her desperately trying to fire a weapon that was not there. Panic and anger hit her like a wave. She swung out with her left arm not remembering it wasn’t there moments before and caught a face in a well-placed strike.
With a gasping breath she realized the face was Tau. A Fio doctor like the one… from the simulation. She recognized the hazy gray tingle of the memories formed through direct mental simulation. It had been a test. She was not certain that knowing so dampened her anger, but she resumed control of herself, emptying herself with a final scream.
As her breath caught and slowed she realized the pain was indeed real – her injuries and subsequent treatment in the simulation were accurate to her current state.
She apologized to the Fio for her rudeness. She returned the apology with a blank stare, rubbing her cheek and muttering something about applying sedatives to the next fire warrior.
Shas’o Ka’kaushi came abruptly into the room. She got on her feet and came to attention, though slowly so as not to exasperate her injury. She feared the test had come for her insubordination, but the commander’s face was characteristically unreadable.
“Come,” he said “there is someone who wishes to see you.”
She followed him out of the room, grabbing her belt as she passed her armor sitting as it had been in the simulation.
They moved slowly along the same path she had earlier, though this time the tables were all filled with wounded and busily tended by staff and drones. Many of them were her warriors, and she did her best to silently let them know she saw them as she passed them by.
They entered a room at the far end, Aun’sahe on his own table, no longer in the healing sphere. To her right a deep monitor with a three dimensional display of her simulation played and he watched it intently. Viewing herself in the playback seemed so much faster than it had been in the heat of battle. Aun’sahe had reached the end of the simulation, seeing her charge down the hallway and ultimately meet her demise.
The fire caste waited patiently for the ethereal to address them, not wanting to disturb him.
“It is even better to watch the second time. I am glad you added more foes Ka’kaushi or this would have been a very anticlimactic trial by fire.”
Her commander turned his head back to glance back at her. There was a look of… satisfaction… on his face, an emotion that she would not see if he did not wish it. He cleared his face once more and returned his attention to Aun’sahe “after such a remarkable battle I did not think your mere dozen foes would deter her.” His tone sounded degrading, something she had never heard a warrior dare to direct at an ethereal.
After a tense moment both men broke out in a deep laugh. E’taro thought she may finally manage to die a proper death at the sight of these stoic characters in such humors. She felt the blood drain away from her skin at the awkward intimidation of the situation.
“At ease warrior” said the ethereal “sit now and let your wounds heal.”
Her commander put a reassuring hand on her back and gestured towards a seat next to the door. He closed it and took his own seat on the wall to her left, facing Aun’sahe.
“You were unresponsive for two days. The doctors tell me the blow to your chest caused internal bleeding and cracked every rib. Ka’kaushi and I have spent much of that time reviewing data and reports from the battle, including his own.
“Casualties from this battle were high on all fronts. Our forces are now severely diminished. We came very near to losing the entire city. It appears that you became insubordinate in the heat of battle, issuing orders to several superior officers.”
She could not break his gaze. “A mistake for which there must be penance.”
“I do not make mistakes” her commander directed at her. She broke Aun’sahe’s gaze finally to meet his. “I am fully capable of commanding a battle; I chose not to when I arrived. I am well aware of your naming, E’taro, as I am for all officers in my command, no matter how brief.”
She was certain now her confusion showed on her face. He continued “You stood against a superior force and your warriors stood strong with you; that alone will earn you the respect of any warrior. I charged you with defending the city from direct attack, and it was you that orchestrated the strategy. When that strategy waivered, it was you who adapted and kept control of the field. It was you who thought to hold back a trap for the War Boss. It was you who best knew the situation when my detachment made it back to the city. To take charge of the battle from you once it was underway would have been mistake.”
“And you do not make mistakes” she said flatly.
“Precisely. I must be able to trust that my officers know what they are doing and do not need me to coddle them. Knowing when to follow orders and when step up is a mark of a great leader. Your academy instructors may have rightly drummed out of you the insubordination and quick aggressiveness that gave you your name as a cadet – that does not mean such talents are useless in the field, Shas’el.”
“A promotion” the ethereal said “unless you would prefer the reprimand you thought you were in for when you walked through that door.”
Another bit of laughter echoed from the pair. This time it had a much more uplifting effect on her.
The ethereal continued “Your defense of the city is why we are here reviewing losses instead of joining our ancestors. Losses were high, but they were not total. Given the situation you faced that is quite praiseworthy: you have served the greater good very well in this.”
“And what of the current situation?” she asked.
The Shas’o answered this time. “My detachment and yours stand to defend the city if there is another attack, but it appears their charge was indeed the majority of their number. The other detachments are back out hunting and meeting little resistance. The fleet is on schedule to arrive in two days’ time and will help to burn the corpses. They have reinforcements for the garrison here and then will take myself and Aun’sahe, along with all of my warriors, to our next campaign. I want you to join my command in the coming battles.”
She stood to attention once again. “I would be honored to join your campaign, Shas’o.”
“Good. How do you feel about piloting a Crisis, Shas’el?”
She considered for a moment. This was not a decision to make lightly. “I will serve however you see fit Shas’o. Though given a choice I prefer to stand with my warriors on the line.”
“I had hoped so. A Shas’nel you will be then. I have need of a good Fireblade at my side.”
She bowed her head in acknowledgement of the honor, and responsibility, being bestowed upon her.
“Go now to see to your warriors and perform their rituals. I will contact you with further instructions when I am ready for you.”
She turned to leave, then remembered the equalizer that still resided on her belt. She pulled it to offer it back to Aun’sahe.
“Keep it” he said “as a token to remember this occasion and all that you’ve accomplished for the Tau’va in your dedicated service. And of your new naming… you will find all the Tau here have bestowed upon you yet another honor.”
She bowed again, and left the room. She saw first to her injured warriors here, both of the fire caste and the others that rose to fight with them, before gathering her armor and going out to take stock of those still at their posts. Each Tau she spoke with referred to her by a name she had not had before.
“Lynu’nan” they called her, “The steadfast blade.”