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If Shards of Honor had been written by...

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1. Dan Brown

Lieutenant Rosemont, first officer of the Rene Magritte, held up the scroll reverently. He still couldn’t believe his eyes as he examined the ancient numerological code. “I have it,” he murmured. “The secret wormhole maps were right - here, on this forgotten planet, I have the last of the Lost Scrolls!”

A voice spoke from the concealment of the trees, chillingly close. “Do not move.”

Tightening his grasp around the scroll, Rosemont turned slowly. Barely fifteen feet away stood a man in Barrayaran uniform, holding a nerve disruptor, aimed directly at him.

“Tell me where it is,” the man said. “And I may let you live.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Rosemont, thinking desperately. He moved one hand behind his back. “We’re Betans, a scientific party – noncombatants -”

“Do not attempt to hide it.” the Barrayaran said softly. “You have discovered the greatest secret of mankind. The sacred planet, the First of All Homes. The legendary world of Alpha Colony. Tell me where it is.”

Rosemont finished scratching a sequence of three numbers into the mud. Cordelia would figure it out, he knew. Cordelia would get there first.

“Only the worthy may learn the secrets of Alpha Colony,” he told the Barrayaran. “Your people will never find it.”

He fell back, crumpling over his last message, as Radnov fired the nerve disruptor.

 

***


2. Isaac Asimov


Captain Cordelia Naismith, Chief Robopsychologist of the Betan Astronomical Survey, watched as her crew rounded up the last of the Barrayarans. Beside them, the ranks of green-painted robots stood silent. The last spark of activity had disappeared from their positronic circuits some time ago.

“I don’t understand,” said Captain Vorkosigan, as Dubauer removed his weapons. ”Our battle robots should have captured and interned all of you without any trouble.”

“Only you Barrayarans are foolish enough to use battle robots in the first place,” Cordelia retorted. “After all, the First Law stands: A robot may not harm a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.”

“Your pacifistic Betan robots follow that law,” Vorkosigan countered. “But Captain Negri’s robots are supposed to have an extra layer of programming.”

“So I've heard,” said Cordelia. “The Zeroth Law of Barrayaran Robotics, isn’t it? A robot may not disobey an order given to it by a duly appointed superior officer. And then the first law is amended to read: A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, unless such harm is demanded by the Zeroth Law – and so on. Am I right?”

“You are,” Vorkosigan admitted grudgingly. “Which is why they should have captured all of you - why did they all turn themselves off?”

“Because you ordered them as you would order a human being!” Cordelia snapped. “You ordered them to commit only as much harm as was necessary to capture my crew – and then Lieutenant Rosemont drew a nerve disruptor and threatened to use it on himself.”

She saw understanding dawn on Vorkosigan’s face. “You mean-“

“Exactly. If the robot moves to arrest Rosemont, Rosemont dies, and the robot has not captured him; so in the absence of having fulfilled the Zeroth Law, it has broken the First Law. And if it does not arrest him, it has broken the Zeroth Law – and of course, all that ignores the fact that only a barbarian would endanger a valuable robot by giving such an order in the first place!”

“You sound like you prefer robots to us,” muttered Vorkosigan.

She raised her chin and looked him in the eye. “Indeed I do, Captain! Because, no matter what men like you may try to make them - Robots are incapable of war!”

 

***


3. H.P. Lovecraft


As they stood beside the half-dug grave an eerie silence seemed to grow and cloak their surroundings, smothering all sounds of life, and in that silence Cordelia thought suddenly of other things; older and darker things, calling in voices she could not hear, but which pooled into a growing dread in her heart.

“Listen,” said Vorkosigan; and he came to stand beside her with his combat knife drawn; yet Cordelia could not be reassured by its presence.

Then a dark cloud passed overhead, and in a fearsome instant, Cordelia saw emerging into the clearing things that no words in any tongue of man could describe. No human mind could encompass the ghastly horror of those alien bodies. Like enormous crabs they scuttled forward, their carapaces gleaming an unearthly emerald hue; yet beneath, their many legs twisted in impossible directions, and a score of long greenish-grey tentacles protruded from around their gaping mouths.

Long had they dwelt here on this unnamed world, this planet’s deeply concealed monstrosities, before her ship and Vorkosigan’s had trespassed into their reality; yet now they emerged, clicking, scuttling, stalking steadily toward the human intruders, toward the open grave.

The shovel fell from Cordelia’s hands, and her blood froze in her veins.

 

***


4. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


“Ingenious!” exclaimed Vorkosigan as he scrutinized Dubauer’s disruptor wound. He drew from his utility belt a device which turned out to be several useful-looking instruments folded together, from which he extended a small magnifying glass. “Diabolical!” he added as he peered closer at the wound. “This man was deliberately injured with a nerve disruptor, but the nature of the wound means he cannot tell us who fired it.”

“I don’t see why we need him to,” I replied, watching with fascination. “Surely it was one of your mutinous Barrayarans. There isn’t anyone else on this planet.”

“So we think,” muttered Vorkosigan. Then he stood up abruptly. “The angle of the burn mark shows that the man who fired the weapon was over six feet tall; the footprints in the mud indicate that he was heavy, powerful. He was indeed Barrayaran, and not just any Barrayaran; one born into abject poverty, probably in the capital, joined the military at an early age; no intellectual, nor pleasant to look at, but obedient to orders. There is no question that this was Sergeant Bothari. And yet - ”

“And yet, what?” I asked, impatient and curious at the same time.

“And yet the problem is elementary, my dear Captain,” finished Vorkosigan. “The man who fired this shot did not do this of his own free will. He was drugged.”

“Drugged!” I repeated, amazed. “But – does that mean –“

“Indeed, my dear Captain. This attempted assassination was, in fact, merely another string in that vast web of evil, at the center of which sits my greatest enemy, my nemesis, Professor Voriarty.”

 

***


5. J.R.R. Tolkien


After a day’s march they halted at the banks of the river. The system's cool sun was setting on the horizon, its rays colored to a deep red in the thick alien atmosphere. Cordelia stood by the water’s edge and gazed into the distance, further along the winding path to Vorkosigan’s supply cache, where mountains rose tall into the darkening sky.

”Tell me of your kindred, on Barrayar,” she said.

“My father lives,” Vorkosigan answered. “He is Count Vorkosigan. In happier days I had also a mother, and a brother and sister; but all were lost in that long night of darkness, which is named the Night of Yuri Vorbarra’s Massacre, and the Night of Spilled Blood, and the Time of Treason.”

“Yet it seems to me,” Cordelia said carefully, “that there is something of the look of the men of my own race about you, of Beta; though you show it not in your actions.”

“Indeed you mark me correctly,” said Vorkosigan solemnly. “For long ago my maternal grandfather, Prince Xav Vorbarra, who was named in his youth the Diplomat, and the Ambassador to Beta Colony, wedded a lady of that far-off land. Many are the songs that have been sung of how he glimpsed her from afar in a trade conference, and was smitten by her beauty! Long were the golden years they dwelt together in the Prince’s home, and many were the summers I spent at her feet learning the strange lore of your people. But now they are passed beyond the Wormholes of the West. Alas! For such is the doom of all those who dwell on Barrayar, the Isolated, the Fallen!”

 

***


6. Richard Dawkins


“What do you think holds them up?” Cordelia asked wonderingly, watching the balloon-like creatures as they descended over the herd of grazing hexapeds.

“I hadn’t thought about it,” Vorkosigan admitted. “But of course it would almost have to be-”

“Hydrogen!” Cordelia laughed. ‘Bet you anything those little critters are…” she broke off with a gasp as the hexapeds finally noticed the balloons’ approach. The herd broke and ran for the protective shelter of the trees, pursued closely by the balloons - on which she now noticed protruding suckers.

Only one hexaped remained in its place, leaping up and down instead of fleeing; the vampire balloons halted, captured by this unlikely spectacle, and congregated on it while the others escaped. Soon the poor creature was encased in a mass of balloons, pulsing with growing red.

And then suddenly – a spark, perhaps, the friction of so many balloons struggling for a space -

Cordelia and Vorkosigan stared at the burning trees, amazed.

“A single hexaped attracting the notice of all the balloons,” she murmured. “So that it can blow them up and save its fellows. What a suicidal strategy.”

Vorkosigan smiled suddenly. “Who knows? Perhaps some primordial concept of honor exists even among alien herbivores. Such a society would be stronger, more united – not pulling in all directions as nature tends to do. It would band together, and soon conquer the other herds.”

“Barbarians!” exclaimed Cordelia, appalled. “You Barrayarans are all barbarians, murderers and group selectionists! We haven’t seen another herd for miles around; this group must be inbred. That six-legged soldier just made sure its own genes survived to be passed on into the next generation.”

Vorkosigan was silent, defeated by the obvious truth in her argument.

“You see?” said Cordelia. “Once again, a closer analysis leaves us in no doubt that the fundamental unit of evolution is, in fact, the gene.”

 

***


7. G.R.R. Martin (WARNING: G.R.R. Martin.)


Yeoman Nilesa soon returned, bearing welcome gifts. He served Cordelia with chunks of dark rye bread fried in oil with sage and rosemary, rich and heavy on her tongue. Then he brought out plates of berries and dried fruits and cheese. This was followed up with a large bowl. The savoury smell of stew filled Cordelia’s nostrils, laden with cloves and pepper and strange Barrayaran spices whose scents were unknown to her, but pleasant. She stirred the bowl and found preserved vegetables and pieces of meat, perhaps from the same creature she and Vorkosigan had eaten days ago.

“’s delicious,” she muttered, tasting it. Nilesa’s face lit up.

“Rosemont, Rosemont,” said Dubauer. Cordelia smiled and fed him carefully with a spoon.

"Here, let me help," said Nilesa eagerly. Cordelia smiled and handed him the spoon. Captivity among these Barrayarans wouldn't be so bad after all, now that there was no more danger. She might even enjoy the company.

Suddenly a warning siren blared out, making Cordelia drop her own spoon. Again – and again. “Three blasts,” said Vorkosigan, sitting up straight in his chair. “But that means…” He broke off and ran to the sentry point, followed by Cordelia.

Cordelia gasped in horror as she saw the cause of the alarm.

They lumbered forward from the trees; her lost crew, the men and women she had sent to safety; their uniforms torn away, blood congealing on their wounds like black dust, lurching toward the Barrayaran camp... and there at the head of that ghastly, shambling army, face drained of blood, so white that it seemed as bone, red tongue lolling from his bloodless mouth beneath eyes of unnatural blue, brighter than twin sapphires…

“Rosemont, Rosemont,” said Dubauer, laughing hysterically.

 

***


8. Vyasa


Then Vorkosigan, the estimable captain of that heaven-traversing ship the General Vorkraft, said unto Gottyan, his hitherto loyal first officer: “O Gottyan, it is written in the scriptures that there are three kinds of promotions. The first is that which is granted by the Emperor or by superior officers, and is the most honorable. The second is that which is attained by succeeding to a post left vacant, and must be accepted dutifully. The third is self-created. This third, O Gottyan, is to be avoided at all costs. If discovered, it leads to infamy and execution, and destruction of the entire clan. If not found out, it destroys one’s honor, and in the absence of honor a man falls prey to demonic passions and becomes the agent of his own destruction. Therefore, O Gottyan, put away your weapon.”

And then Vorkosigan, that best among captains, turned his back, and waited for Gottyan to find wisdom.

 

***

 

9. Ayn Rand


“So you’re Vorkosigan’s Betan!” said Vorrutyer, his voice filled with amazed triumph. “I must say, you have quite overwhelmed me. The possibilities you present…”

Cordelia looked up, fearful. “Oh, no,” Vorrutyer murmured. “You’ve misjudged me, Captain Naismith. I don’t need to harm a hair on your body; who needs whips or chains or such medieval devices, when there are such simple ways to break a man’s soul; better still, to make him break his own soul?”

He leaned closer, whispering into her ear. “Shall I tell you how to break a man such as Vorkosigan, Captain Naismith? Teach him that honor lies in service, in obedience, in renunciation of the self. Teach him that no virtue is to be celebrated except that which is given in perfect service to the Emperor, without personal pride. No one has ever achieved that inhuman state, and no one ever will; so for all his strength and glory, all his life he will think himself unworthy.”

He touched her hair almost gently. “And then set a man utterly unworthy to be Emperor – a sadist, a fool, a madman – set such a man over him as Emperor and commander - let duty pull him one way and his basic human pride another; and he will break himself for you, all the while convincing himself that it is what he deserves. Vorkosigan can fight me with weapons and fleets, but I will always hold the keys to his soul.”

“No,” Cordelia gasped, feeling tears rising in her eyes. “You’ll never get away with this.” But Vorrutyer went on, eyes bright with anticipation as he made his terrible plans, to break her, to break Vorkosigan through her; and in the end, to collectivize the Barrayaran economy.

 

***

 

10. Marvel Comics


THE NEXUS LEAGUE!

Issue #22: Imperial Intrigue!

Escobar is in danger! After escaping from captivity in Issue #21, our heroes must now join forces with the mysterious Commodore Vorkosigan to prevent the invasion of an innocent planet!

Introducing:

CAPTAIN WARP! Former Betan Survey astrocartographer Cordelia Naismith turned superhero commander, who discovered her superpowers after passing through an uncharted wormhole! (See Issue #1)

ELECTRIC EEL! Hit by a nerve disruptor in Issue #6, the supercharged electric current remained in his nerves! Rescued in Issue #7, he agreed to join forces with Captain Warp to protect the Nexus!

MISTER MEMORY! Implanted in his mind by the ILLYRICAN EVILDOERS in Issue #13, his eidetic memory chip now holds all the information the league needs to foil the plots of their enemies and protect the innocent!

THE AX-MAN! Liberated from the psychic hold of the VILLAINOUS VORRUTYER by Captain Warp and Mister Memory in Issue #19, he now battles the forces of Evil with his terrible strength and implacable resolve!

THE GREEN GUARDIAN! Formerly the botanist Ensign Dubauer, he was attacked by the BARRAYARAN BARBARIANS in the presence of an alien plant in Issue #3! Inhaling the alien pollen brought him back from the brink of death! Now he can photosynthesize and attack his enemies with poisonous thorns!

 

***

 

11. William Shakespeare


ARAL: Oh, Cordelia!
Thou art as water deep in desert sand,
The sight of distant land to drowning men.
Thou art more faithful than cruel nature's hand,
More sane than men who boast of name and rank,
Who deal out death in silk rooms, and who bade
A thousand lives into death's gaping jaws.
But thy eternal honor shall not fade,
And shall be guide and pole star, judge and law.
So long as thou art here before my eyes,
I’ll dream of honor, beyond all these lies.

CORDELIA: Aral, what's wrong?

 

***


12. David Weber


What have I done? 
Cordelia wondered as she watched Vorkosigan. Soon the dance of death she had brought with her would begin…

For the last century or so, plasma weapons had been ubiquitous armaments aboard warships, replacing the older nuclear and laser missiles as weapons of choice. Unfortunately, in the last decade, shipboard plasma generators had reached the limit of their power and range, constrained by engineering and material tolerances, resulting in the equalization of firepower among the major interplanetary fleets. It was to break that strategic impasse that the Betan Expeditionary Force had begun experimenting with the so-called ‘mirror fields’ ten years ago. The first mirror fields had been no more than basic shields, dissipating energy in all directions until they were overwhelmed with superior firepower. The breakthrough had come with the development of entangled paired field generating nacelles, allowing the spherical mirror field to extend over an entire ship while still maintaining reflection accuracy and efficiency up to ninety per cent. The rest of the energy would be absorbed and channeled back into the generating nacelles, feeding the field itself.

The final result was a ship-mounted plasma mirror field capable of absorbing and reflecting an incoming beam, sending it back to hit the attacking vessel. Though the first prototypes had been unveiled only a few months ago, the Bureau of Stellar Defense had prevailed upon Steady Freddy to fund mass production when Cordelia had brought back the news of the invasion. A hundred would be enough. With the plasma mirror fields, a light shuttle might well take on a warship and defeat it.

Which is why, five seconds later, Vorkosigan's comconsole began buzzing.

 

***

 

13. Joseph Heller


"I haven't been brainwashed," Cordelia insisted. "Let me out of here. You're wasting your time."

The Escobaran therapist snickered. "I’ll be the judge of that.”

"If I haven't been brainwashed, you have to let me out."

"Oh, sure,” the therapist agreed cheerfully. “I have to. There's a rule saying I have to release anyone who's not brainwashed."

"Then why don't you release me? I'm not brainwashed."

"Of course you've been brainwashed. The Barrayarans brainwashed you to tell us that you weren't brainwashed. They're not sloppy enough to leave that out."

Cordelia twisted this around in her mind. "So... if I insist I'm not brainwashed, then I am brainwashed, and you can't release me? And if I say I am brainwashed, then you can't release me?"

The therapist frowned. "Well, as a responsible therapist, I can't let brainwashed people decide whether they're brainwashed or not, can I?"

“But I haven’t been brainwashed,” Cordelia said weakly.

The therapist smiled down at her. “How do you know?”

 

***


14. Wu Cheng'en


Quick as a flash, Cordelia caught hold of Mehta and pushed her head back into the water. Mehta screamed as though the water burned her. “I knew it!” Cordelia cried. “You are no healer, but a parasite, a feeder on the minds of innocent men! Demon, reveal yourself!”

At these words Mehta let out a terrible roar and broke free of Cordelia’s grasp. Suddenly her teeth sharpened into long fangs and a pair of long curved ivory horns erupted from her head. Her skin turned the color of jade, and her eyes burned with flames. Thus revealed, the Seven-eyed Jade Demoness of Fire Mountain leaped at Cordelia with her claws outstretched.

But Cordelia sprang away onto a cloud, and rising into the sky, blew on the golden horn that summoned the Fifth Serene Guardian of the Expeditionary Force. At the sight of the Serene Guardian, the Seven-Eyed Demoness let out a wail and turned to flee, but it was too late.

“Runaway!” cried the Serene Guardian, holding the wailing Demoness by her ear.


Today the Demoness is defeated,
Tomorrow her destiny shall triumph.
There will be a thousand wormholes to cross, and many dark chasms in space.
Many evil miasmas, and many enemies lying in wait.
Yet she is fated to bring the wisdom of ages to Barrayar.
As a sage she will be revered.

 

***

15. Charlotte Brontë


At last the path approached the crest of the hill, and the end was visible; the great house was almost indistinguishable behind the trees, when I beheld a white pavilion before me. 

There was a table in the center of the pavilion, on which stood a glass and several bottles; and chairs around it, elegant and comfortable, one of which held a man. And I recognized him, of course, Reader - it was my captor, my protector, my friend, and so much more - Admiral Aral Vorkosigan.

I paused in my place, held my breath, and examined that sight which I had so long dreamed of, and despaired of ever again glimpsing in the flesh. Not with ten years' passage could I have imagined his strength to be so blighted. His form, always so powerful, was slumped weakly in his seat. His features had sunken, the gleam in his eyes extinguished as he lifted a glass to his lips. The sullen grief in his visage reminded me of some cruelly wounded and forsaken beast that had crawled away to die in the forest, alone and friendless.

"Liquid breakfast?" I asked. "Does it seem to you as tasty as oatmeal and blue cheese dressing?"

The glass almost fell from his hand - he turned in his seat, staring at me as if he could not believe the evidence of his eyes. "Who - what being are you, that speaks in her voice?" he gasped. "Good god - what drunken hallucination is this? What delusion has seized me?"

He stretched out a hand; I caught it in mine, held it tightly. Reader, it was not my intention to ever release that hand. “It must be potent liquor that that you have consumed, sir, if you expect such hallucinations! You touch me - I am more solid than the empty air, am I not?”

“My Captain - in truth!  No; it is a hallucination; such a vision as I have had in the darkest hours, when I have embraced her once more, as I did in the past; and kissed her - and found some measure of peace in her arms - but it was no more than an empty lie; and I remained desolate and dishonored - my life dark, empty, hopeless - my soul athirst and unworthy to drink." His fingers tightened around mine. "Gentle vision, you will leave me soon, as all visions do; only kiss me once before you go.”

I bent down beside the chair, and pressed my lips to his once brilliant eyes, half-lidded and dulled, and then at last the conviction of my reality seemed to seize him.

“It is you - is it you, Cordelia?  You are indeed real?” He grasped for my hand once more. “And here - for how long are you here? How long before you return home?”

He was indeed drunk, to imagine that I would have made so long and perilous a journey for merely a visit. “It is me - I am real, Aral. And that which I called home is no longer my home - nor, without you, will it ever be. I am here for as long as you will have me.”

"Ah.” His eyes did not leave my face; he still feared that I would disappear. “Dear Captain - I dreamed of you, so often, at the worst of times, when I thought that there was nothing left to me - all the truth I know is in your voice, all the honor I have left is in your words. All the light I can feel is in your presence." 

He shifted in his chair. "Come - sit here, stay with me, Dear Captain! If you are not yet gone: not yet vanished?”

Reader, what more is there to tell? I stayed there, with him: in that pavilion, in that house, on that planet. I married him, and I stayed, never to leave, and this is not the end of our story, but merely its beginning.