Honor’s Choice by Lyn McConchie
There were two main characters that day. It was a bright, warmly sunny day towards the end of a long delightful summer. A day which was neither too cold nor too hot and even in the heart of the city it was almost pleasant. But the skies darkened around three in the afternoon. Those below looked up expecting clouds to have gathered. Instead they saw the shadow of a gigantic ship sliding slowly overhead.
At first many of them laughed. Another movie being made. Then they stared harder and knew. The thing feared, hoped for, wondered about for so long was upon them. Yet the ship did no more than hover. And slowly, a hatch in the underside opened. In controlled descent a figure dropped towards the hot pavement. Above it, a semi-circle of others was descending faster so that they landed seconds before the first figure. It landed in the center of their half-circle and stepped forward. The crowd, still too confused to run or panic, waited to see if it would speak.
The ship had arrived earlier and the conversation had been swift. The decision made in few words. It was a time for trial of this race and the watchers had their own method. On the heated concrete T’Sharr stepped forward, fixing the odd humanoids with his stare.
“I am T’Sharr, Lord of the Irreene. My people come to talk and trade, and perhaps to make treaties, but first there is a choice. We would know what kind of people are you? Is your word good, have you courage, have you true-honor?”
Those listening were nodding to each other. Of course, it made sense. Some more cautious amongst them were drifting quietly away around corners. People lied; there was nothing to say that this alien didn’t. His speech could be the prelude to a massacre.
“This is time to choose. If one among you chooses rightly then your world is safe. If none choose then the Irreene grant one sun-revolution before we destroy your world as dishonorable.”
That brought cries of panic and anger. One man produced a gun and shot once. He had no time for a second shot. He slumped, powdered dust within his clothing, to the pavement and T’Sharr, unharmed, continued.
“We chose this method long ago as a suitable trial.”
From the shivering crowd a voice called out. “All right. What is it?”
“This. That one amongst you shall walk forward and die. With their courage they prove the true-honor of your world. If none accept in a tlacha, one and a half of your minutes, then we leave and your world is deemed dishonorable. After that, in one sun-revolution, comes the fire that cleanses dishonor.”
He ceased speaking. One of those behind him lifted a circle with a pointer. It showed twenty-four divisions. The pointer started to move.
Many of the crowd broke at that, screaming, running, shrieking in mindless terror as they fled – as if merely running could save them when their world burned. T’Sharr noticed that three of the humanoids remained at the forefront. Two produced hand weapons. They died. Other humanoids huddled, surging forwards, then back. Unable to make the choice. Waiting for some other to offer the life required.
Three there had been at the crowd’s vanguard. One remained alive. Slowly, step by step it came forward until it stood waiting before the circling pointer. It lifted eyes to him and he knew, with a burst of pride in its courage. Here was the chosen. Another world would show true-honor and live to become part of the coalition of worlds.
There were two main characters that day. One was T’Sharr. Lord of a thousand ships. Ruler of Suns. The other was a street-child and unknown to any who was there that day. Those who saw the choice could not even be sure what sex it was. The hair was a bright crest, vivid with green and orange dye. Its clothes were a shabby black shirt and faded black drawstring pants. The small narrow feet were clad in off-white sneakers. The face was young, perhaps that of a child around thirteen or fourteen and androgynous. Rendered more so by whirls of face-paint. The body was thin, half-starved without a shape that might have told one way or the other.
No one would ever know why it had made the choice when so many more respectable people had refused to die. Perhaps it did not understand, maybe it had not really believed it would be slain. But for whatever reasons it came forward, it did do so. And T’Sharr, Lord of Billions fell to his knees before it and spoke softly.
“The choice is made, Honored One. In your life is the true-honor of your world.” As he spoke the final word his warriors fired. The converging lines met, crossed, and ash floated down into T’Sharr’s waiting cupped hands.
“Honor is here.” He lifted his hands, ash-streaked. “Honor is chosen.” He rose and from his hands the ash was brushed into a small gem-like container one of his warriors held out. “We shall seek now your leaders and discuss what may be between our worlds and yours.” He and his lifted into the sky and were gone.
Earth was outraged – until the leaders saw what trade was offered, so that they felt the life of some street-brat was a small price to pay. After all, the one who died had chosen their death. They might even have sneered at the brat’s stupidity – until they saw how solemnly the Irreene regarded that choice and with what honor the ashes were kept. Then they bowed their arrogant heads to the Irreene and to public pressure.
In the heart of the city they raised a small green lawn, in the center of which stood a plinth. Encased upon that stood a replica of the one who chose honor for the life of Earth. There was the green and orange dyed hair, swirled face-paint, shabby black shirt and drawstring pants with the grubby off-white sneakers. It stood there, face impassive, hands loosely curled at its sides. Waiting. Agreeing a choice made for whatever reasons. Accepting the outcome.
In an attempt to make the ceremony of installing the statue more impressive Earth’s Leaders had searched for weeks. Many had come forward to say they knew the child who had died. None had proof and were dismissed. It had been merely another anonymous unknown unwanted street-child. No one knew a name or even the sex. And of the latter the Irreene who must have known, since they had the ashes still and the science to examine them, were not speaking.
So the statue rose without a name. In the end only one line was carved deep into the plasteel. In a curving beautiful script filled with gold bonded into the granite. An adaptation of the words T’Sharr had spoken just before his warriors fired.
“In This Life Is the True-Honor of Earth!”
And why not? Who is there who can swear that even a street-kid may not love their world as well as any respectable citizen who sleeps in a soft bed at night? Who can say that even a street-child may not have their own form of honor? And who can swear that in the end such a child may not be prepared to die that all they have known might live? Perhaps even, that having less to lose they are the readier to make honor’s choice? Who knows, but meanwhile the statue stands and at the base of it, there are always flowers.