Liquid green energy arcs between our blades as I press my attack, shouting as I swing the kerrn blade. Even scaled for a human, it's a massive weapon, and I have to wield it two-handed. Szijah returns the attack, and I parry, letting the force of the blow spin me around as I drop low to slash at his legs. Szijah's blade knocks my lighter one aside with a flash of green that blinds me momentarily, so I don't see the kick that sends me sliding across the floor of the dojo.
"You fight yourself more than you fight me today," Szijah says in a deep rumble. "Anger is your enemy." He stalks toward me, spinning his blade. "Your allies are patience and swiftness."
As if to accentuate the point, he leaps forward with astonishing speed for his size and bulk. The huge blade descends toward me, so close that, as I roll out of the way, my eyes follow the river of plasma coursing along the blade's edge from hilt to tip and my ears ring with the echoes of steel on stone. It's only a practice blade, blunted and set to deliver only a mild jolt. Plus, Szijah is better than the average kerrn about not breaking his human friends. Still, I'm glad to have evaded it.
I reverse the direction of my roll and aim a kick at his knee. Szijah catches my booted foot with his off hand and lifts me into the air. At nearly three meters tall and roughly three times my weight, he has options I don't.
"You are too small to make such a move effective. Once again, anger is your undoing. The correct tac--"
"I'm not angry!" I snap. That was convincing. The shuttle will be here by third orbit. I need to get all my fighting out before then. The only problem is: the correct tactic for fighting a kerrn is to not fight a kerrn.
He has the strong accent of all Kerrn, after all their mouths can't form the same shapes as humans, but you've long since stopped hearing it, though sometimes you have to help clarify his speech for others.
Szijah lets out a noise equivalent to a slight sigh. "If you feel like fighting, Bezpah, then it is not time to fight. Fighting only gives fuel to what you already struggle with. Sit." He follows his own advice, shifting his huge bulk to a sitting position. "Sit" he says again. "And when you are ready, Speak."
Where did you meat Szijah anyway? Are there a lot of Kerrn on Xuria or who work for you here at the station?
I'm not sure I'll ever become accustomed to the sight of Szijah sitting in a meditation pose, serene and non-threatening and somehow more imposing because of it. I still have to look up at him, and I take a step back before sitting across from him. I'm silent for a long while, listening to the rasp of his breathing.
"Winded you this time?" I say, smiling. I know it's not the case. He's meditating--and probably exaggerating his breathing to wordlessly coach me in doing the same.
The corners of his eyes twitch upward and his nostrils narrow slightly: practically a guffaw to those who know how to read kerrn. Not a lot of humans do, but I've been working shoulder-to-shoulder--well, shoulder-to-elbow--with Szijah for two years, ever since the "Period of Adjustment". That's what the Merchant League leadership calls the initial six months of my command, when there were four assassination attempts against me--a fifth if you count the defeated referendum as a failed attempt at political assassination. I survived through a combination of my bribery-powered network of informants and indiscriminate betrayers and some dumb luck.
By my first half-year, quite out of humans to trust, I convinced the League to send kerrn. I really was just looking for something more imposing and with different motivations than my human bodyguards and security forces. Somehow, I got a Szijah--a veteran kerrn commando or something--and a small (ha! small) squad of kerrn under his command. There were a number of disappearances shortly after Szijah's arrival, but it marked the end of the assassination attempts...and the beginning of my education. I may be the only human administrator trained in fighting with the kerrn sword, albeit one made especially for my size. Szijah is insistent on my learning to protect myself, and while he continues to train me in forms more appropriate to my size and strength, he's unwavering in his stance that mastery of kerrn sword is key to understanding the rest. A precise translation of his philosophy eludes me, but I'm only half-joking when I speculate that wielding the slow, over-sized, but devastating blade is a metaphor for command of this station. When he goes all raspy-guru on me like this, that interpretation seems even more likely.
I find that my breathing has changed to match his while I was rummaging through the past, and I'm calmer. I look across at Szijah and give him a look of mock-irritation at his manipulating my mood. Anyone who thinks the kerrn are simple-minded brutes hasn't spent enough time with them. We're both floating eight inches off the floor. He's activated the dojo's biofeedback-controlled anti-grav--"magic" to the grounders. The planet's magnetics frizz with AG tech so badly that grounders just don't use it, half-forget that it exists.
“I have to ask Sheva for help, Szi. I mean, I've already asked him for help...sort of. I sent a message to Tek asking for a quote on two months' security detail for the Down Harbor operation. I might need three.” Probably more like four. I dip slightly, dropping just an inch, but enough that he'll notice. So while Szi my friend is listening, Szijah my Security Chief has hooked me up to the world's most relaxing lie detector. He can't help himself.
If I lose any more shipments in and out of Down Harbor, someone else will have to worry about assassination attempts. Maybe I can retire, find a nice little place on one of the moons... I can bring Iber-- I drop to the floor abruptly, the jolt clacking my teeth together. "As if it's not bad enough having to have to go to my ex for help, Tek asked after Iberis and told me how happy she was that the Princess had agreed to sponsor her. I must be so pleased. Because, you know, certainly I wouldn't be able to help my daughter. Apparently, I'm the only one who didn't know that Iberis thinks she's going to wear Iron."
"Nature is. The bud of a warrior finds her path as one. If this surprises you, you have not embraced nature, either the bud's or your own. Fury does not change it." He squints again. He has a whole vocabulary of squints. "Nor does fear, Bezpah, the bigger problem I think."
"Fear..." I smile at Szi ruefully. "The League told me that they were sending a kerrn because your people are fearless."
"They were wrong. You're not fearless." Szi doesn't react. Of course he doesn't react. Kerrn-baiting is never as fun as you'd imagine.
I pause a moment to even out my breathing and allow calm to slowly buoy me back into position eight inches off the mat. I'm showing off for Szi, making up for my tumble. Few humans are shamatha-buoyant, and not one in a thousand can achieve this height.
"Too many cultures disdain fear rather than recognize it as a resource. But you harness your fear, use it to motivate action. This station and I are safer, not because of your fearlessness, but because of how you use your fear."
I rise higher, testing the limits of my self-possession.
"I am following your example. Channeled into action, my fear is not wasted--Sheva's mercs are the best answer to this unpleasantness at Down Harbor, regardless of how I might feel about asking Sheva for help. My fears for Iberis are perhaps closer to home, and my options--." I wince, willing the furrow from my brow as I dip ever so slightly and list to one side. "My options with her are more limited...and the stakes are higher."
I could never be so forthcoming outside of this space. Dealing with League representatives, court delegates, and the mass of tradespeople and bureaucrats and various functionaries, I must be as placid as the outer moon's glass sea. Only here, with Szi, can I admit to fear and frustration.
Szi's nostril flare shows his appreciation of your feat, though his eyes glitter a slight reproof at the excess of pride. "What would you have her do? The bud must follow its nature, Bezpah. The shaping from the outside is done. You must trust your craft. But, you say she wants to be Solzjah." Szi nods. "Very good. I will train if it eases your mind."
I answer the silent reproof with a mischievous smile--a smile no one ever sees on the face of Commander Grey.
I'm just following my nature. And if not in front of you, who? I am the crow everywhere else; you'd really begrudge me being the bluebird here?"
In the dojo, I am, for a time, simply Corinne, and my ever-serious Chief of Security makes me feel young and mercurial. Gods, I remember how it felt to be Iberis's age. That's part of my concern.
"It would indeed ease my mind, Szi, if you would train Iberis. I can only hope that she'll agree." She might. There's a mystique to kerrn that she wouldn't get from Anvil and Iron. And having her here on-station again would be nice. Not that I don't approve of the Princess--I do--maybe because her marriage is, I suspect, not so different from what mine was. Her bonds are more literal than mine were, which makes me admire her composure all the more. I've no doubt that she's been a good influence on Iberis. Still, I have little desire to see her remain in the Baron's house. Nor is Anvil and Iron a route I'd see her take. To be a security officer, study under Szijah, that would befit her intellect and be less dangerous--in many ways.