Jalta backed away, while Kaln froze, one dark-napped hand still on the wires.

The human tech, a youngster no more than twenty with fair skin that had gone even paler, was sweating. He clenched a wrench in one hand as though he wanted to give her a solid whack on the head. “Sir, I don’t know exactly what’s going on here, but if they pull those dynamo wires, we’ll be hours getting them reseated and tested.” He glared over his shoulder at Jalta as well. “It could mean we won’t lift on time!”

“You are upsetting our techs,” Tully said, “for no reason beyond idle curiosity, which will stop now.”

Kaln’s hand dropped. She handed the protective cover to the young human tech, who clutched it to his chest as though it were his firstborn and backed away. Her whiskers bristled as she came upright. “You will not speak to me or any other Jao in such a disrespectful manner!”

“It has been given to me to instruct you on how to conduct yourselves in this mixed crew,” Tully said carefully, the blood pounding in his ears. Jeeze, negotiating with rebels had been a hundred times easier than this. It would have been less of a challenge to talk a clam out of its damned shell. He cursed Wrot’s ornery hide for putting him in this position. “That is one of the ways, as a member of the governor’s service, that I make myself of use.” Without knowing exactly what the posture meant, he let his body assume his best Yaut-imitation of a Jao instructing someone very dim. “You will listen and do as I say!”

Jalta dropped his gaze, his stance gone to what seemed to be neutrality. Kaln loomed over Tully, her functional ear pitched at an unsettling angle, not pride exactly. He’d seen that often enough to know. Not anger or rage. Something else.

If it came down to hand-to-hand, he thought, holding his ground as she advanced upon him, he was confident he could take her. Jao were strong, but not as agile or fast as a human in good physical condition. They tended to underestimate humans in general — and Tully’s military assignment meant that he’d trained extensively against Jao soldiers. As long he didn’t let her get a good grip —

With heart-stopping abruptness, she turned away. “Lead us back to the medical bay, smooth-face. We would see our captain for ourselves.”

By leading, of course, he would be assuming an inferior position. Jao deemed it an honor to go last and, of course, “smooth-face” was a sly insult, pointing out that he had no incised bars of service as would a Jao of similar rank. “My full name,” he said with a sudden flash of inspiration, knowing that to force the knowledge upon her was a form of power, “is Major Gabriel Dorran Tully.”

Her eyes flashed green as some restless alien sea, then she fell in behind him.


Wrot suddenly felt it, the pull of events, an alteration in his timesense. Somewhere, faraway, factors had shifted. Something important had changed, something that had to do with this impending exploration. It was time to act.

If what the Preceptor suspected was true, then the Lleix had survived, but as the sudden need for haste pressed in upon him, he knew that, for whatever reason, they might not have much longer. The Ekhat had been in that nebula. Krant’s ships had destroyed the vessel they encountered, but there could easily be more investigating its disappearance. Many more.

He slipped out of the medical bay into the hallway, then used his pocketcom to contact the Lexington’s new captain, Dannet krinnu ava Terra.

“Terra-Captain,” he said, when her gravelly voice answered, “there has been a change. Do you feel it too?”

“I felt a slight increase in urgency,” she said.

Several crewmen hurried past, Jao and human, lost in discussion. “Because the Preceptor has shared more of his concerns with me,” Wrot said, “it is possible I feel the change more strongly.”

“You could tell me what you know,” she said testily, “then I would no doubt experience it in equal measure.”

“The circumstances are not mine to share,” Wrot said. A pallet of supplies was being towed by a sturdy human female jinau to a nearby storeroom. He edged out of the way. “Only the Preceptor can authorize their dissemination.”

“Would your answer be the same, had I not been born of Narvo?” she asked.

“You are Terra now,” he said stiffly and set off for the nearest lift. The strange urgency tugged at him, making his nap itch, his whiskers unsettled. Some unfortunate flow was trying to complete itself. They must leave now, or as close to now as could be managed. “That is all that matters.”

“So I was told,” Dannet said, “though, thus far, I have not always found it to be true.”

“Some maintain long memories concerning Oppuk’s misdeeds, but you have been given command of this great ship,” Wrot said as he jogged down the corridor, weaving around more crewmen, “the largest vessel ever built by Jao. Why should you not feel trusted?”

“I make myself of use,” she said, then fell silent, obviously waiting for him to lead the conversation in a more productive direction.

“How soon can we lift?” he asked, turning at an intersection and dodging a pair of humans towing crates stacked on wheeled platforms.

“The last of the supplies are being loaded now,” Dannet said. “I will recall all personnel not currently on board. We can lift as soon as everyone has reported.”

At her words, he could feel things shifting into place, conditions being satisfied, edges coming into alignment. They would leave shortly, though he had no way to tell at this juncture if it were soon enough. “I will fetch the rest of the Krant crew,” he said, “then return myself.”

“Will that be sufficient?” she asked, acknowledging his superior perception of the situation’s flow.

“It will have to be,” he said.

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14 Responses to THE CRUCIBLE OF EMPIRE — Snippet 20

  1. Mr. Masterson says:

    I don’t know if it would be better or not to have this in a long series. But their have been good long series. Like Harrington series, Prince Roger series, or Warlord/ Conqueror by S.M. Stirling series. Are all fine long series. Besides like most stories you want pivotal moment, but once a story ends its very hard to pick up where you left off. So I’ll leave it in the hands of the one man who I know will without a doubt pull it all off. The author him self. Blaze the trail so we all may follow.

  2. alejo says:

    I am enjoying this book very very much. I can’t wait until the eArc is available. As for series, Harrington series is good but not all of the books are as good as the first few books in the series. Hands down, the best series I’ve seen where the plot stays lively, the characters remain intriguing and do not become stale, and consistency is maintained in the world building and overall universe in which the story is set is the Liaden Universe series by Lee and Miller. Next, I’d have to say the Vorkossigan Saga by Bujold. The dead worst would probably be Wheel Of Time by Jordan with its unending and excruciating detail and intricacy and constant introduction of new characters until it became impossible for the author to tie all of the threads together before his death.

  3. Mike says:

    The Harrington is series is much too long and spun out. Especially now, when Weber is trying to weave three distinct but simultaneous plot arc series into one story universe.

    The Liaden Universe has its faults, but one thing the authors did right was to focus on particular story arcs. They have “side novels” and many short stories consisting of things they didn’t write into the novels. If they had tried incorporating all of that stuff into the main series of novels, they would have become bloated and Harington-like.

    Vorkosigan books are not really a “series”, per se. With few exceptions, they are actually standalone novels that happen to feature the same characters. Bujold lets the arcs of the characters’ lives develop in front of us, but there is no multi-book arc of plot. A multi-book arc of galactic history is not the same thing as a multi-book arc of plot. Contrast this with her Sharing Knife stories, which consist of two two-part stories that form a four-book story arc. The plots of those books are tied together much more firmly than any of the Vorkosigan books. Except for a few isolated incidences, Bujold has admirably written the stories she wanted to write, as opposed to trying to continue the stories she has already written because the fans wanted more of the same.

  4. robert says:

    What makes the Liaden books and short stories and the Vorkossigan books so very readable is the exquisite writing (and Bujold’s fantasy works also have that). And that’s what makes virtually all of Eric Flint’s books so readable, as well. It does not seem to matter who he collaborates with, Wentworth, Lackey and Freer, Weber, all the books have his touch that makes you wish for more.
    More things: the Liaden books all deal with different main characters even if the entire series’ cast is the same: in Fledgling we already know who Theo’s father really is; in the short stories we get the background of many of the characters we know from the novels; etc. There is great variety in the characters and they really are different people. Bujold created a character, Miles, who is “hyperkinetic” and sometimes manic and that often results in madcap goings on mixed with the serious stuff, which is much funnier than some other author’s failed attempts at humor.

  5. robert says:

    @3 Mike, you said it better than I did. I was writing during your post. Well said.

  6. alejo says:

    I define a series as a group of novels chronicling the life of one particular character or following one particular event in the universe in which they are set. This is why I considered the Vorkossigan Saga a series. The main character is Miles and there is a succession of books in chronological order that tell the tale of his life as he goes from a young man desperate to prove himself to a society that stigmatizes him as unworthy due to his mutation to a mature man who has done just that after many a harrowing adventure. The stand-alone novels (Cordelia’s honor, Barayar, and Ethan of Athos) are like tributaries to that main river which is the story of his life. They serve the same fill-in-the-gaps function as all of Lee and Miller’s chapbooks and short stories or the Ring Of Fire anthologies do for the main 1632 story.

  7. robert says:

    @6 What main 1632 story? Is one coming along that we haven’t heard about? I have read nothing, nada, zip since the Baltic War except excruciatingly dull stuff by “other” writers. I sure hope Eric gets at least editorial control back soon.

  8. Daryl says:

    If you like a series with well thought out rules and characters, try S.M. Stirling’s “Dies the Fire”.

  9. Eagledes says:

    @8 Darryl Quite agree along with his “Island in the Sea of Time” plus without doubt Flint. Lackey & Freer “Shadow of the Lion” series including Dave Freer’s standalone in the same universe. Also like the 2 Pyramid books (and the Rats, Bats etc books and short story).

    These all follow the same rules for each one and are both internally consistent and consistent within the series.


  10. robert says:

    @8 and @9 Yes, I agree about the entire “change series” from Islands in the Sea of Time onward, except for the ending of the last book, Sword of the Lady, which was way off and totally mystifying. I asked myself “What happened?”

    If you liked the Lackey-Flint-Freer books you must know that another one is coming along in May called Much Fall of Blood. Hello Drak–snippets?

  11. Drak Bibliophile says:

    No word yet on snippets of Much Fall Of Blood. I’ll see what I can find out.

  12. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Eric said that snippets of _Much Fall Of Blood_ should start early November.

  13. robert says:

    Thanks you, Drak. Looking forward to them.

  14. Cypherpunks says:

    We’ll know what the authors intend when we meet the Lleix. If there’s a chance for a 3-way alliance against the Ekhat, it could get interesting, but as it is, we have a single overall conflict: one planet we care about, and one enemy quite capable of sterilizing it.

    In this top-level conflict, the human/Jao alliance is the protagonist, interestingly flawed by their very rough start, but any “unfortunate misunderstanding” plot would look weak in the shadow of the first book.

    If we could really get to know the Ekhat, there might be room for more storytelling on that side (one of the things I quite like about the Harrington series is how the whole Manticore/Peeps good-guys/bad-guys dichotomy has gotten a whole lot more complicated lately; likewise, 1632 is interesting because of all the different perspectives), but the whole point of the Ekhat is that they’re incomprehensible.

    Unless the authors plan to pull a Forge of God on us and blow up the earth… :-)

    @6: Miles is NOT a mutant, damn it! It’s a birth defect caused by a chemical weapon attack in utero. Being as it’s rather a major plot point, I feel justified in criticizing harshly.

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