Author : Viktor Kuprin

After the battle of Attalus III was lost, we retreated with the Tsoor flotilla. Wreckage streamed off the alien ships as we made the mind-wrenching transition into S-space. I prayed that our cruiser wouldn’t shake apart.

It was only a micro-jump, just far enough to escape the attacking Helgrammites. The Tsoor group-leader didn’t believe our damaged ships could survive an extended flight. He or she or whatever was right. Three bulkheads ruptured when we re-entered normal space. I hoped no one was in them.

A bridge officer called out that we had forty percent casualties and sixty percent of our systems were red-lined. He had to shout. All intraship comm was offline.

A tech yelled, “What are they doing? Captain!” I shouldn’t have but I and everyone else looked away from our consoles to see the main viewer.

It was a Tsoor ship, surrounded by St. Elmo’s fire. Without waiting for the warp flux to dissipate, our alien allies had sent a repair team onto their hull. They looked like four jellyfish in bubble-domed vac suits as they struggled on a safety tether. Insane! Yes, Tsoor biology is different than ours. But I knew they weren’t immune from electrocution or radiation. What could kill us was lethal to them, too.

“They’re desperate to send a damage-control team out like that,” the captain said. He nodded toward the chief-of-the-ship. “Send a runner to engineering. We’ve … ” The Tsoor ship lurched off the screen as an entire section of its hull exploded. We watched in silence as the four aliens were thrown into space. They flashed past our ship, tumbling and spinning.

The captain stood and shouted, “Man overboard! Full retros!” He turned to face me. “Can we launch a cutter?”

The launch tubes were clear and operational. “Yes, sir.”

“Take Sergeant Kuzmenko with you. Go!”

Our forward inertia was great, and the cutter’s engines burned at full thrust for what seemed like an hour before we approached the alien cast-offs. No one knew how much atmosphere the Tsoor vac suits carried.

Kuzmenko and I stood in the open hatch and shot a line toward the four aliens. A tentacle-like arm caught it.

The alien farthest away raised one of its tentacles. It held some kind of metallic tool, a small blade. With a single motion, it slashed the line and pushed off from its three companions.

“What in bloody hell is it doing?” I cried. By then the first Tsoor grasped their way into the airlock. I pulled them inside.

Kuzmenko pointed toward the drifting alien. “That one wants to die. And that won’t do.” He keyed his suit’s propulsion and launched himself into space. The alien struggled briefly. Kuzmenko was stronger.

We never learned why that Tsoor went suicidal. Warrior’s honor, shock, or grief … no one knew. Our cutter had no Tsoor-Russki translator. And the aliens would never tell us.

Nonetheless, by the end of the day every Tsoor in the flotilla knew and honored the name Kuzmenko.

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