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The Glow of a Worm inside a Child's Eye (Cover Art)

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Chapter 20 - The Glow of a Worm inside a Child's Eye[]

How do you define 'brave'?

Hauptmann Alicia Li had to wonder at it-what she did, she did because she didn't want to die. She's on Tharkad, tonight, in full dress uniform, because she didn't want to die. It's why she had her suit on and helmet at hand when bringing the DropShip in, and having that suit and helmet. This was why when the DCMS fighters hammered the DropShip she was the 'docking pilot' for with a coordinated strike to the bridge, she was able to don helmet, take control, and keep it through reversing the landing cycle and burning back to the transport JumpShips while her commander, and the other senior staff, died.

It was not wanting to die, that kept her alive through the four days it took to reach the JumpShips, while most of the 10th were torn to shreds by the Combine on Dromini IV.

She'd almost died out there, but she hadn't wanted to die. The men and women aboard, the embarked support company for 2nd Battalion, 10th Lyran Guards, were alive because Leutnant Alicia Li didn't trust planets. She having put on her helmet during the landing phase in open defiance of her vessel's commanding officer, who mocked her for wearing a Pressure-suit in the shirtsleeves environment of the command deck...shortly before he was evicted by concussion and decompression as the enemy tore the DropShip open.

She'd managed to seize control from the co-pilot's seat as Senior Leutnant Perkasan died where he was strapped, slammed by high-altitude winds that were shaking the DropShip like a dog shakes a toy.

The next 96 hours she had to hold the DropShip steady, first doing a reverse to take it back OUT of the atmosphere it had just begun crossing, and then, back to the JumpShip...without artificial navigation aids. She had was using only her vision and a vague sense of direction through the torn-open hull.

That's all on the medal citation. What isn't, is that for part of the way. An enemy fighter flew within eyeball range-not on attack, but as an escort. The only breaking away when his fuel hit bingo.

"...suit only has a limited supply of air, how did you survive?" The guy from the 1st Royal Guards asked as she carefully walked to the chamber under escort.

"I learned how to meditate and control my breathing years before I learned how to walk, Kommandant." she answered quietly.


"I was seven before I learned how to walk in gravity, Kommandant." she glanced uneasily at the windows as they passed. "By then, I was already able to rig my suit in seconds and knew enough to keep my hat at hand. Pandora was the first time I had ever so much as set foot on a place that wasn't...contained by hull with a controlled life support."

The Kommandant laughed, thinking she was kidding.

She'd mastered the art of showing nothing of her unease at being...trapped at the bottom of the gravity well, without a proper suit, at the mercy of randomness in a natural environment.

"Well, the Archon is going to pin you, and I must say, we'd like to have a DropShip pilot with your skills."

"thank you, Kommandant. You're very kind." she answered. "I was hoping for a slot on a JumpShip, actually." (Somewhere I don't have to come down into this...randomness.)

"Well, we DO have JumpShips as well as DropShips." he was putting too much effort into being the salesman.

"I...will go where the Nation sends me, Sir." (Please god not back down to a planet!!)

Author's Note
Someday, I'll write Alicia Li's heroic exploits in the LCAF Transport command. In case you're wondering, YES, this is totally not-canon correct, I haven't read the novel where Frederick Steiner's final battle shows up, but we do know that Katrina kept one JumpShip back, adn that troops from the 10th DID get out.

So I embellished a bit to show longtime Ngoverse readers just exactly why Li would become Elizabeth Ngo's top-dawg Naval officer and why Li is just that much of a badass in the other stories.

She pulled off the impossible in the 4th succession war-she brought the passengers back to the JumpShip alive, and did it with the command deck of the DropShip she was assigned to torn open during re-entry...for which, she gets Promotions, and Medals!

The throwaway of the Combine pilot escorting her back in the direction of the JumpShip, is partially inspired by this song. It's not maybe Bushido, but the Combine isn't truly a realm of hat.

That said, maybe someone can latch onto this, and write that incident better than I can-from the POV of the DCMS/DCA pilot who didn't kill the retreating enemy?

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