Test of Faith
|Test of Faith|
|First published||8 September 2005|
|Era||Civil War era|
|Timeline||14—15 October 3064|
|“||In the Federated Commonwealth Civil War, Leftenant Victoria Hale assumes command and a hard situation, and has to balance what is right against what is correct. Story by Jeff Kautz.||”|
Leftenant Victoria Hale is in an invidious position; with Captain Pierson, the commanding officer of Echo Company of the First Crucis Lancers, dying from a bad stomach wound, she finds herself the new commander of Echo Company. Holed up in the remains of Belleauxville, a city on Tsamma, the Allied forces on the planet - Baron Sandoval's troops and Hale's own unit, the First Crucis Lancers, are under heavy pressure from Loyalist forces including the First Royal Guards. Much of Belleauxville has been reduced to ruins in the fighting, and Hale's people are fortified in battered apartment buildings and other locations throughout the city. Echo Company's forces had avoided fortifying in the large cathedral located in Belleauxville, but Victoria has few such compunctions, regarding the idea that holy sites were meant to be venerated rather than exploited as a superstition. Combat has left her deeply cynical, and robbed her of any faith she might have once had.
Three hours later, Victoria learns that the Lancers' Third Battalion have been pushed out of Kana-Hoi, a town six kilometers away from Belleauxville and a key location on the main supply route for the Allied forces. Whilst a lance of Hetzers have been added to her forces as reinforcements, her orders are to hold for at least eighteen hours while the Allied forces attempt a counterattack before the Loyalist forces can take advantage of the fall of Kana-Hoi to roll up the Allied flank.
Attempting to sleep, Victoria is woken by a noise that she tracks down to the cathedral cellars, where she discovers a large group of civilians taking shelter. Abandoned when the Mayor, the police forces and the local militia left Belleauxville, the civilians had taken refuge in the cellars along with Father Kitteridge, the local pastor. Hungry, shocked and in many cases injured, the civilians have all lost their homes and many have lost families as a result of the battles in and around the city - the civilians once again becoming collateral damage. Kitteridge points out that they have nowhere to go, and Victoria knows that turning them out into the street would be a death sentence - as well as acknowledging to herself that leaving her command center on top of what was effectively a civilian shelter was a violation of numerous rules of warfare. Troubled, Victoria gives a teddy bear she had absent-mindedly picked up from a ruined apartment earlier in the day to a small child, who solemnly hangs a crucifix she had been wearing around Victoria's neck.
Three hours later, Hale has managed to obtain passage to meet with the local Lyran commander - although not without being on the receiving end of a few blows, a direct consequence of an earlier raid by Echo Company inflicting casualties on the Lyran forces. The local Lyran field commander, Kommandant Ernst Groth, is the very image of an aristocratic Steiner recruiting poster at first glance, leading Hale to dismiss him as a political appointee, but during her discussions she begins to develop a grudging sense of respect for him; clearly tired himself, Groth spots the crucifix Hale is wearing and uses the small copy of the Torah he travels with him to demonstrate that the two of them are alike. Unwilling to drop her guard, Hale reveals the presence of the refugees and makes a request for a delay to the beginning of the next battle to allow the civilians to be evacuated.
Groth is initially unwilling to meet Hale's request, but Hale picks up that Groth is bothered by the civilians and pushes him verbally, the two sparring until the reach an agreement to a twelve hour delay - without Hale having to reveal that she's already alerted Relief Services, to push the issue if needed and ensure that retrospective recriminations would fall on the Loyalist forces if anything happened. Both Groth and Hale acknowledge that the decision will end both of their military careers, but are reconciled to it - and Hale maintains the hope that the delay will give her enough time for reinforcements to arrive. Groth insists that his troops will assist in the evacuation, before the two share a companionable toast.
The next day, Hale watches the girl who gave her the crucifix leaving on the back of a truck, while Relief Services provide medical attention and evacuate groups of refugees. Her troops and the Lyrans are watching both Relief Services and each other when Groth approaches her, the two exchanging salutes and addressing each other formally. Groth tells her that it's a good thing they've done today, and that she should be proud of herself. He speculates that in another time and place, they might have been colleagues, even though both are reconciled to the fact they'll be facing each other in battle in just a few hours. Before departing, Groth tells her he'll be praying for her - a sentiment she returns.