Title: "The Final Honor"
Spoilers: The 'Wing Commander' series of books that came out in the early and late 90's, especially 'Freedom Flight', 'Fleet Action' and 'False Colors.'
Summary: What happened to Kirha hrai Hunter nar Aussie when he received word of his Lord Hunter's death during 'Fleet Action'?
Author's Notes: I remember back in college when one of my college floormates first got the first Wing Commander video game and I was blown away. I looked up and found a lot of books that filled in the universe behind the game. Backstory is very cool, in my opinion. One character I liked was Kirha, the Kilrathi sworn to Hunter, and always wondered what happened when Ian died in the 'Fleet Action' novel. The book 'False Colors' filled in what happened when Jason Bondarevsky went to go find Kirha. The explanation was only a few lines, but it got my mind thinking of filling in the details. I know it's been more than seven years since the last and final book came out in the WC universe, so this story is basically something I wanted to write. Not sure if anyone is going to notice it, but if anyone does remember this great game and story, please feel free to review.
Captain Jason 'Bear' Bondarevsky leaned back in his seat as he surveyed the Australian outback whipping past his window. Beautiful country, he thought, though his ethnic Russian background preferred the geography similar to the Great Steppes. At any other time, he probably would have enjoyed the view. But now…now, he was doing the immemorial task of telling a family that a loved one had been killed in the line of duty.
For thirty years now, humanity has been locked in an ever-changing war against a vicious, aggressive species of cat-like beings called the Kilrathi. Fought across many light-years and spanning several sectors, the war initially had been going badly for mankind. Before there was ever any contact with the Kilrathi, humans had spread across the stars in all directions for hundreds of years. The discovery of the 'Jump Drive' had greatly reduced space travel from what would have normally taken years to only a matter of weeks. Habitable planets had been found in great number and many colonies began to be settled soon thereafter.
By the 25th century, the Terran Confederation had been setup for the express purpose of establishing a unified government whose capital was that of Earth. Over the years, several non-violent and intelligent alien races had been encountered and had joined the Confederation. That was all to change by 2629 when the deep space research vessel, Iason, made initial contact with a ship of unknown origin. A peaceful broadcast was sent, but no reply was received. Twenty minutes later the ship opened fire and destroyed the Iason, along with all her crew.
For several years after that incident, many more acts of wanton destruction and raiding eventually led to a declaration of war against what eventually became known as the Kilrathi Empire. For the next three decades, countless beings, ships and planets had been lost during the conflict. Many people in the armed services from the Space Force, Army, Navy and Marines all distinguished themselves in countless battles.
One person in particular that Jason had been friends with was Captain Ian 'Hunter' St. John, a fellow space carrier pilot. An Aussie to the bone, Hunter loved his cigars, steaks and the occasional poker game where the other players inevitably found their weekly credits on his side of the table. Jason had flown with him many times and was one of the few people you could put all your trust to watch your six in during a dogfight.
Unfortunately, Hunter had been killed in a secret mission deep within Kilrathi territory. With the Confederation finally gaining the upper hand in war, the Kilrathi had made the then unprecedented move of suing for peace. Even Jason had found it too pat and coincidental to accept. Several high ranking officials, including Admiral Geoffrey Tolwyn, were of the same mind.
Confed intelligence had been hearing rumors of a secret shipyard with carriers and cruisers designed specifically at striking Earth itself. The armistice had been simply a means to finish the ships in time and by lulling the Confederation into a false peace. Hunter and a few others had been sent deep within Kilrathi territory to find any evidence and report in. Unfortunately, the rumors turned out to be true. Hunter ultimately sacrificed himself by buying time for the ship carrying the vital intel to Jump out of the system.
What followed would later be known as the Battle of Earth. The Kilrathi ruthlessly destroyed any and all colonies they came across in their march towards the Sol system. Only by some last ditch and desperate tactics were they finally pushed back. Tragically, several cruisers had been able to get close enough to Earth to lay waste to many important cities before being destroyed. When the dust settled, every branch of the armed forces suffered horrific losses in those desperate days. Earth, however, still survived.
Jason himself had helped as much as he could on his carrier, Tarawa, when he received notice several days later on what exactly happened to Hunter. Knowing Ian's parents deserved better than hearing the news of their son's death from the media, Jason decided to take a transport down to their home in Sydney, Australia and tell them in person. It was the least he could do for Hunter.
Although he'd expected no better, the meeting did not go well. Ian's parents had already lost two other sons to the war. The loss of their last sent the mother into hysterics and the father into tight-lipped despondency. Their only daughter, luckily on leave from her ship, had been there to try and comfort them. He'd stayed as long as he could, but had known it was time to leave. Just prior to leaving Jason had quietly asked Ian's sister where he could find the ranch he'd lived on. Ian's grandmother had lived there, but there was also one other person he had to see.
Several years back, Ian had been part of a boarding party to a Kilrathi heavy cruiser that had defected to the Confederation. The captain officially surrendered his ship to Ian. What Ian had not known was that the captain also made his loyal second in command, Kirha, swear an oath of fealty to Hunter – effectively making him Kirha's lord. Kilrathi society was based on nobility and castes, with the Emperor on the top and all his lords and minions below. To ensure loyalty, especially in the military, a low-ranking Kilrathi had to be oathsworn to whomever he served under.
The defecting captain made Kirha transfer his loyalty to Hunter as a form of honorable exchange. Eventually, Hunter was able to release Kirha from his oath and make him a free Kilrathi. However, even Kirha had said that such an oath was not so easily released. Thirteen years later, at the time of the armistice, Kirha was freed from the prison camp where he'd been detained. He'd left to find Hunter since most of his own family had been killed during the war. Ian was still, in Kirha's heart, his lord – the only family he had left. At the same time, Hunter, Jason and a few others had been selected for a special meeting that would eventually lead up to the covert mission deep inside Kilrathi territory. Unfortunately, Kirha had been considered too much of a security risk to be allowed to come along. Hunter had told the Kilrathi to wait for him in his ranch outside of Sydney.
The air taxi carrying Jason stopped right outside the main entrance. Not knowing exactly what to expect, he paid the driver extra to stick around the area and check in every half-hour. Once the car drove off, Jason looked around at the ranch itself. Truth be told, he'd never seen one up close. He'd heard of them of course, what with his mother being Australian herself, but there were none in his homeworld near Alpha Centauri. Horses trotted around in a penned in area. Ranch hands worked here and there, some pausing to curiously glance in his direction.
Straightening himself up, he walked up to the door and pressed the doorbell. Within a few moments, the door opened and a short, white-haired woman in jeans and a plaid button down shirt with sharp, blue eyes looked him over. Medicine had come a long way in the 27th century, so while Jason guessed the woman before him had to be in her late seventies – early eighties, she only looked in her late forties.
"Yes, may I help you?" she asked, her voice strangely tired.
"Ma'am, I apologize for interrupting, but I'm Captain Jason Bondarevsky. I flew with your grandson, Ian."
The woman blinked a few times and nodded. "I already know what happened, young man." She sighed and shook her head ruefully. "Well, I actually found out even before my son and my daughter-in-law in Sydney."
"You did?" Jason said uncertainly.
The woman nodded. "With all the mess that happened with the Kilrathi coming here, I thought we wouldn't hear anything for a while. But only a few days after did I get a voice message from the War Department. When I started hearing the 'We regret to inform you' speech, I knew what happened to Ian." She swallowed and beckoned Jason to enter the house and had him sit in the living room. The area had a rustic, homey look to it. Real books lined a whole side of one wall. Fire crackled in a stone fireplace, snapping every so often. Above, several black and white and color old-style photographs lined the wall. Ian's whole family was represented there. Jason could make out a few of Ian graduating from the academy, another of Ian and his two marine brothers cooking on a grill. One small, framed picture on the mantel piece caught Jason's eye. As he stared at it, he frowned. Standing up, he walked over and grabbed the picture, his jaw dropping.
Seated on a horse, and, from the picture, looking like he was currently riding it…was Kirha.
Grandmother St. John chuckled quietly as he watched Jason's reaction. "I figured it was some other reason you'd showed up."
Jason looked from the picture to the woman. "Ma'am, it's imperative I find this Kilrathi. Can you tell me where he is?"
The woman said nothing for a few moments. Then, in a quiet, neutral voice she said, "You can find him outside – "
Jason made a dash to the back.
" – buried in the family plot," she finished.
Jason skidded to a halt and stared at her. "What?"
The woman walked up and gently grabbed the framed photograph. Staring at it for moment she said, "It's Ellen."
"My name. It's Ellen. For so many years, I've only been known as 'grandma', that all the family and even the ranch hands call me that."
She beckoned Jason out to the back porch and they sat down on chairs overlooking the fields. A light breezed wafted through as the late afternoon sun began to dip into the horizon.
"Let me tell you something, Mr. Bondarevsky," Ellen said. "I've seen pictures of the Kilrathi but never met one up close. I knew very little about them, except that they looked like tall, upright, furry cats. So, you can imagine my surprise when one shows up on my doorstep…"
"At first, I didn't know what to expect from a giant, cat-like being on the ranch. I was a little nervous, especially from what I'd read Kirha's people had done to humans in the past. But he came across as very…gentle and noble, particularly when he found out who I was. Then, of course, I found out what Ian had told Kirha to do while he was here on the ranch…"
Ellen St. John leaned forward, her arms resting on the wooden gate leading to the fields. Humor twinkled in her eyes and she tried very hard not to laugh. A few feet away, a very irate Kilrathi picked himself off the ground.
"How did your kind ever tame such unruly beasts?" Kirha growled, roughly dusting himself off and glaring at the snorting horse that had unceremoniously thrown him on his backside moments ago.
"He's not used to you," Ellen said, walking into the pen. "Maybe horseback riding isn't for you?"
Kirha straightened. "An order from my liege lord is still an order, Grandsiress."
Ellen rolled her eyes. "Will you stop calling me that? I'm not royalty and I'm certainly not your grandmother, you know."
Kirha gave a small bow, though he still towered over the smaller woman. "Respectfully, you are the eldest in my sire's family. As such, my honor and word to protect and fight alongside him also extends to his family, or hrai, as we Kilrathi say."
"I still can't quite wrap my brain around the idea of a Kilrathi being honor bound to a human," Ellen said.
"The circumstances were indeed unique," Kirha replied.
Ellen had already been told of how Ian had been involved years ago in helping to protect a defecting Kilrathi cruiser from enemy attacks. In gratitude, the captain 'gave' Kirha to Ian as an honored retainer. From what she'd heard, this was the first time ever a Kilrathi had been loyal to a human.
A canteen of water was offered and gratefully accepted by Kirha. For the better part of the day, he'd been attempting to ride that beast but found it wasn't as easy as he'd seen. His lord Hunter had told him to learn horseback riding. Kirha could only assume it had something to do with some vague human ritual using such beasts to hunt small pack animals.
He watched as the elder human woman walked over and gently patted the horse. Although calm, Kirha could tell it still looked somewhat tense from having a non-human try and ride it.
"You have to let him get to know you," Ellen said quietly, brushing her hand over the horse's mane of hair. When it finally calmed down, she beckoned the Kilrathi over to pet it as well. As Kirha drew closer, the horse eyed him warily but made no moves while under the soothing ministrations of its owner. Making sure his claws were retracted, he patted it gently.
"I think it might take a few more times like this before he'll let you ride him," Ellen said. "For now, I've got lunch ready."
As they made their way back, more than one ranch hand looked at the Kilrathi either with mild curiosity or thinly veiled hatred. When Ellen caught some of the latter, a few choice words put the hand in his or her place.
Ellen hadn't been sure what Kirha could eat, so she cooked whatever she had as rare as possible. Kirha ate most of it with hardly a murmur. Besides the occasional letter as well as news coming from her son, she didn't know much about what Ian had been doing out there in space. Kirha had nothing but praise for her grandson, though he did pause in one story involving the rescue of some hostages some years back.
Ellen had been sipping on some iced tea when he started again at a point where his lord was challenged to traditional hand to hand combat by a Kilrathi in charge of the station where the hostages were being kept. She nearly choked in laughter when she heard the rest if it.
"He –" she coughed. "– Ian actually kicked that Kilrathi right between the legs?" Ellen just couldn't stop laughing.
Kirha frowned a little in indignation, his golden mane ruffled a bit. "It was not a very honorable action, Grandsiress."
"Oh, I'm sure it wasn't, Kirha," Ellen said, chuckling. "But that's so like my grandson."
"Kirha helped in the ranch in any way possible," Ellen explained, glancing from Jason to the setting sun. "Every chore he did, he did with such devotion. He knew this was Ian's ranch, even if I also lived here, and he knew Ian would appreciate the ranch being in tip-top shape. He still practiced riding that horse until one day…"
Kirha woke up with a start. He lay curled on a mat in his lord's room. It was comfortable enough, even though his grandsiress had given him permission to use the bed. Kirha begged off, partially because he'd never gotten used to using such softness to sleep in, but also because it was his lord's bed. Kirha felt that was an invasion of privacy. He was satisfied to be surrounded with pictures and things associated with his master.
He'd woken up earlier than usual this morning. Kilrathi have excellent recall with regards to dreams, but for some inexplicable reason Kirha could not remember this last one he'd had. All he could remember was a feeling of his master being close…and then fading away. He shook his head – just the result of worrying a little too much of where his sire was.
On a whim he stood and opened the door to the main hallway. Cocking his head, he turned his ears this way and that. His grandsiress was still sleeping. Softly, he walked out, making sure not to make any noise. He walked outside and headed for the stables. Several of the horses were still sleeping, though at his walking in, a few snorted nervously.
Kirha walked to the largest horse – the one that had been giving him the most trouble. He patted it gently for a few minutes, making sure it grew accustomed to him. He'd been doing this for the past few weeks, just so he could approach it without assistance. Kirha felt the time was right.
"Listen well, you beast of burden," Kirha said to the horse. "My master has commanded me to learn how to ride beasts such as you. I intend to do so before he arrives. I can only say that since you've been able to throw me off several times, you are definitely a beast to be reckoned with." Kirha leaned in close and smiled without showing his sharp teeth. "But then, so am I. I will respect you if you do the same for me."
The horse simply snorted and bobbed its head up and down. Kirha nodded. Good. He grabbed the saddle and gently placed it on the animal. Securing it tightly, he placed one furry foot on the stirrup and pulled himself up, swinging his leg up and over. The horse tensed for a moment but, having been exposed to this strange creature for some time, settled back. Patting its mane, Kirha gently prodded it out of the stable.
Ellen yawned as she came out to the porch, a steaming cup of tea in her hands. The sun was just peaking out from the horizon with morning dew covering the ground. She was about to sit and enjoy the sunrise when she heard the sound of hooves hitting the ground. Walking over to the other side of the porch, she peered over and gasped at what she saw. Galloping around in lazy circles was Kirha on top of a horse. She wasn't very good at reading Kilrathi emotions, but she'd swear that he looked like he was enjoying it. The wind made his golden mane whip across his face. Running back into the house, she emerged moments later with a digital camera. Kirha, noticing her, raised his paw in greeting. Smiling, Ellen took picture after picture.
"When Kirha dismounted, I could tell how proud he'd felt at doing something like that. He knew his Ian would also be proud for him for accomplishing it as well."
"What happened then?" Jason asked.
Ellen sighed. "Soon after, we started hearing in the news about that Kilrathi supercarrier fleet on its way here to Earth. The media channels were so swamped with people saying it was a hoax, that it was a conspiracy made up by the military, saying we were stabbed in the back and all that crap. I didn't quite believe it myself since I knew so many people who were relieved that the war was over. Now, to be told that it was on again…I guess a lot of them just couldn't believe it. It really hit when the President resigned in disgrace and when reports started coming in on how the enemy was wiping out whole planets and leaving them nuked. I think then did people realize that this might be the end."
Jason bowed his head. He'd been in the Free Republic of Landreich – a group of human territories on the border of both Confed and Kilrathi space – commanding forces there and had desperately tried to convince the president that Earth needed his ships. Only Jason's stubborn heckling had finally convinced President Kruger to let him go. A chill went down his spine. If Kruger himself had been just as stubborn…Earth might not be around now.
Ellen continued, "There's was really nowhere to go and I certainly was not going to leave a ranch that had been in the family for generations." She chuckled wryly. "Kirha, as he'd said, vowed to stay at my side in case anything happened. We stood on this very porch, watching the skies when the Kilrathi fleet was right above the Earth." She paused, a haunted look to her eye, recalling something the people on this planet would remember for years to come. "We could see the explosions high in the sky. Kirha himself could tell when the first missiles came down. I honestly thought Sydney was going to get hit with a bomb. It didn't, thank God. Even so, I'd heard later that so many cities across the globe got hit. The ground shook from blasts that had to have come from thousands of miles away."
Ellen turned away and Jason gripped her shoulder. She sniffed and patted his hand. "And yet somehow, through all that, Earth still survived. We started seeing on the news the devastation…all those millions lost. Because so many people were in shock and angry at what happened, I knew more than one would try and find the first Kilrathi they could get their hands on. I told Kirha to stay indoors, that it wouldn't do his lord any good if some crazy mob killed him." She bit her lip and closed her eyes. "I thought I was protecting him. The thing of it was…I couldn't protect him from himself."
Ellen leaned back from the videophone, the line cutting out a few moments before. Although it sounded selfish, she was glad that both her son and daughter-in-law were safe. The military had declared martial law to help deal with the devastation. But already stories could be heard of riots and untold millions of people displaced from the bombardment.
She glanced over to see Kirha staring intently at a chessboard. Ellen had recently introduced him to the game and had found him an excellent player. She idly wondered if the military police would come down and take him away. She hoped not. Luckily the ranch was in a remote area, so no one had heard of a Kilrathi living there. Most of the ranch hands by now knew him well enough to keep their mouths shut.
Ellen walked over and sat down opposite him. Carefully, he brought a large paw over and, with a single extended claw, moved his queen.
"Checkmate," he rumbled, looking over the board, nodding.
Ellen frowned, looked at the placement of the pieces, and chuckled. "So it is. I guess I taught you too well."
Kirha smiled but then his face darkened. "Grandsiress, I cannot show my gratitude enough to you, especially with all that has happened. Still, I am somewhat curious why…why you are not…"
"Why I'm not angry at you for what your people have done to my world?" Ellen interjected. Kirha nodded. She said, "Maybe because these past few weeks I've gotten to know you. You've even fought alongside my Ian, and I know he doesn't let just anyone watch his back like you've done." She leaned back on the chair. "Or maybe it's just there's been so much killing that it just wouldn't matter. Besides, I don't think Ian would appreciate if anything happened to you."
"This attack on your world will whip your people into a frenzy," Kirha mused. "I would not be surprised if many humans would stop at nothing to see Kilrah defeated. I have even heard rumors that my former lord, Rhalga nar Hhallas, has actually joined the Confederation forces as a fighter pilot."
Ellen's eyebrows rose. "You'd fight and kill your own kind?" she asked quietly.
"I have no family, no hrai, back on Kilrah. All have been killed and I am the last," Kirha replied. "I can never return, even if it were my wish. I have sworn to fight at my lord Hunter's side, and if it means battling my own race, then so be it: there is nothing else but honor."
Ellen was about to reply when the videophone chimed in. She went over and picked up the call. A somber looking woman came on the screen wearing the uniform of a Confederation officer. Ellen frowned, thinking perhaps the woman was looking for Ian.
"Miss Ellen St. John?" the woman asked.
"Yes." Something in the woman's tone nagged at her mind.
The caller looked very strained with dark circles around her eyes. Then taking a breath she said, "It is my solemn duty to inform you that your grandson, Ian St. John, has died in the recent fighting. I don't have the exact details, but this came directly from Admiral Tolwyn, who ordered a direct call instead of…"
Ellen's field of vision blurred as the first sentence she'd just heard flashed before her eyes. The rest of the messenger's speech was lost as she fought hard to steady herself from the onslaught of emotions. As a cold pit formed in her stomach, her hand reached out and hung up on the call. The first tears ran down her cheeks as she shuddered in grief, her head going to her hands. She never took notice of someone watching right at her elbow.
Kirha could only stare at the now dim screen in utter disbelief. He'd never felt as desolate as he did right then. Even when he was a detainee he'd known his lord was out there somewhere. Now, with no one to guide him, especially in a culture utterly alien to him, he had nothing left. He looked to Hunter for guidance, but now he was utterly alone.
There was only one avenue left to him: Zu'kara. He glanced down at the grieving human. He knew that what he was about to do might grieve her further, but he hoped that she'd understand what his vow to Hunter truly meant: without honor, he was nothing.
Kirha walked out of the living room and into the kitchen. Looking around he found a wooden stand with slots of differing sizes. In each slot a handle protruded. Grasping the largest he pulled out a very long knife. He nodded. It would do. He quietly got on his knees and positioned the knife right over his chest. He breathed, he breathed out. He breathed in…
The knife plunged into his heart, hot blood spurting into his hands.
Ripping the knife out, Kirha leaned over and placed it gently on the ground…and then collapsed heavily onto his back. Dimly, he could hear footsteps running into the kitchen, then a scream. A face leaned over his, hands cradling his large head. The person was saying something, but he couldn't make it out. Forgive me, he thought.
And then finally everything mercifully went black.
Jason leaned over and stared at the flat gravestone. It looked like any of the other graves on this small hill, yet how many of the occupants would have been surprised at having a Kilrathi in their midst?
"I honestly didn't know what to do when I found him," Ellen said, standing next to Jason. "I could only hold him while the light went out of eyes. I don't think I really understood Kilrathi honor until I met Kirha."
"It's called Zu'Kara," Jason explained quietly. "I've seen it a few times. When a Kilrathi is caught in an inescapable position in battle, rather than fall, they commit ritual suicide. He might have respected you as a member of Hunter's family, but only Ian was the one he could really follow."
"Thirty years of war and I don't think people ever really understood Kirha or his people," Ellen said, wiping her eyes. "Just over thirty days and I knew him enough to bury him here. I'd like to think it's what Ian would have wanted."
Jason nodded, not knowing what else needed to be said. He hated to leave, but Confed headquarters had hinted he might get a new destroyer to command. Even some weeks after the Battle of Earth, there were still Kilrathi forces too close to Earth. He reached over and squeezed Ellen's shoulder as a silent farewell. He turned to leave, walked a few steps and looked over his shoulder.
Ellen St. John stood over the grave, silently crying. Jason could only shake his head before he turned back to leave. Maybe someday, humans and Kilrathi would find common ground and there might even be peace.
For now, though, the war went on.