THE CRUCIBLE OF EMPIRE — Snippet 58

THE CRUCIBLE OF EMPIRE — Snippet 58

“Not even enough to put us into a stable orbit, much less take us back to the colony,” Hadata said, her aureole drooping.

“I have piloting experience,” Jihan said. “Let me try.” She and Hadata traded stations and then she used her Starsifter skills, one-handedly plotting the course of every bit of flotsam out there, the newcomer, and —

She blinked. “Something fairly large has assumed low solar orbit,” she said, doing the calculations again just to be certain. “Yes, there!”

Hadata came back. “I — see,” she said, “but it is part of an Ekhat ship. What possible good could it do us?”

“If we shut down all extraneous equipment, I think we will have enough power for minor maneuvering,” Jihan said. “We can rendezvous with that fragment and avoid being drawn into the sun.”

“Rendezvous with an Ekhat?” Lliant lurched to his feet. His face was rapidly darkening with bruises and his lip was split, giving his words a slur. “Are you insane?”

“Would you rather burn up?” Jihan said. Her arm throbbed. There must be emergency medical supplies on-board. She needed to apply a pain-dampener so that she could think clearly. “If we hide there, we can summon one of our ships,” Jihan said. “Perhaps the Starsifters or another Starwarders craft.”

“You would bring them to the Ekhat too?” Lliant snorted. “They should have thrown your body off a cliff that day you broke sensho in the Hall of Decision! You do not deserve to live among civilized people!”

“Silence!” Hadata said. Her head hung as she visibly searched for the correct words to fit the situation. “Jihan is an Eldest and also has Starsifter experience. She has more right than you to determine policy.”

“She will kill us all!”

“We are already dead,” Hadata said. “It only remains to take our last few breaths.”

Giving up again! Anger helped Jihan focus. “Lliant, stop babbling about dying and find the medical supplies. I have broken my arm.” She thought through the rising haze of pain. “Hadata, contact the Starwarders and Starsifters and see if any ships can come after us.” She sighed. “I will do my best to conserve what power we have left for maneuvering.”

Lliant glared at her, not moving.

“And stop pouting,” she said, awkwardly using her undamaged hand to shut down unneeded systems, one after the other. Most of the lighting was unnecessary, she thought, most of the heat. They were left with a few amber emergency lights that turned their silver skin sallow. “After all, it is entirely possible that you may get your wish. Despite our best efforts, we very well may not survive.”

****

After the fighting was over, Caitlin and Wrot tracked down Tully in one of the sick bays.

“I just came in here to check on my people,” Tully said, as a doctor insisted upon him lingering long enough to get his head wound cleaned. “My skull’s tough and I have orders to carry out.”

Caitlin wrinkled her nose. The bustling med center reeked of antiseptics and blood. The worst of the injured had already been whisked away for surgery, though, and orderlies were cleaning up. Most of the rest of the patients in here now suffered from only minor wounds.

Wrot leaned in and examined the gash in the back of Tully’s scalp for himself. “That is not too bad,” the old Jao said noncommittally.

Tully looked a bit wan, Caitlin thought, but with typical Resistance stubbornness, he’d stay on his feet until he keeled over.

The doctor shook his head as he laid aside bloodied cotton. Caitlin knew his name — Michael Bast — but hadn’t ever really spoken to him. He was young and gawky as though he hadn’t quite got his full growth. His face had gone quite pale after the events of the last few hours and he was apparently compensating for his nerves with an overly serious demeanor. Caitlin guessed, due to his youth, this was most likely his first time in combat.

“After a crack on the head like that,” Bast said, glancing up at Wrot, “I would advise rest for at least twenty-four hours.”

“No can do, Mike,” Tully said, flinching as a bandage was applied. “Baker Company has an assignment.” He smiled crookedly at Caitlin and Wrot. “Got to make ourselves of use and all that.”

“Not if you’ve been knocked senseless!” she said, then she couldn’t help her curiosity. “What kind of assignment?”

“Going to take assault craft and check out a bit of Ekhat junk that’s established low orbit around this star,” he said, sliding off the exam table. His blue jinau uniform was splotched with blood. He tugged to straighten his shirt. “Probably nothing, but then again unmanned wreckage should just plunge into the sun, so maybe Dannet is onto something.” He shook his head. “After beating the odds like she just did, I can’t deny that her instincts are all in the right place.”

“You think some of them are still alive?” Caitlin said, overwhelmed with the possibilities. “My god, why doesn’t Lexington just blast them from here?”

“Survivors will most likely be helpless,” Wrot said thoughtfully. “This is an opportunity to take prisoners, which comes very rarely when fighting the Ekhat.”

She remembered the only time she’d ever seen Ekhat in person back in Terra’s solar system and shuddered. She’d had nightmares about that grisly encounter for months. “But when we parleyed with the Interdict, the two speakers killed themselves afterward,” she said, “because they couldn’t endure the taint of simply having talked to us — and that meeting was of their own accord.”

“You must take great care to prevent that,” Wrot said to Tully, as the human struggled to get his arm through his jacket sleeve. “As Caitlin points out, they will wish only to die.”

She took the jacket and held it for him. From the way he winced, he must be bruised from end to end. “Take me along!” she blurted. All three turned to stare at her, the doctor, Wrot, and Tully. “I’m trained as a diplomat. Let me try to talk them down from committing suicide.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Tully said, shaking his head. “Ed would skin me alive.”

“And me as well,” Wrot said. “At any rate, you are not here to speak to Ekhat. You and I both know that Ronz had a different mission in mind for you. It’s necessary, more than ever at this point, for you to remain onboard and hold yourself ready, should the need for your skills arise.”

He meant if they encountered the Lleix, but so far there had been no sign of them. Even if they had been here, the sight of five blasted Ekhat ships had probably sent them running for cover back out into the galaxy.

Caitlin sighed, able to tell from the stubborn angle of Wrot’s head that she couldn’t argue her way out of this. The old Jao might have gone “native” to a startling degree in the twenty-odd years he’d made his home on Earth, but at his core, he was solidly Jao. He had oudh in this situation, which meant she would stay on the Lexington and make herself of use any way he saw fit. She just hoped her opportunity came before she went stark raving bonkers from inactivity.

****

The great ship had taken damage, Dannet thought, but fortunately not too much. She prowled from station to station on the Command Deck, reading the stats for herself, craving unfiltered data. Most of the damage, they could repair themselves. The mission, whatever it was, could continue, though no one had seen fit to trust her with its true nature.

That bit of flotsam in low orbit, though, that was intriguing. It would be interesting to see what Baker Company found and what Wrot krinnu ava Terra would order her to do about it, when they reported back.

She still felt some resentment that he had oudh and she did not. For all their fine words, Terra Taif had obviously not forgotten Oppuk krinnu ava Narvo’s deeds. It would be a very long time, if ever, until her Narvo origins were forgiven and she was judged upon her own merits.

But… This had been a magnificent battle. And the ship which fought and won that battle — this odd, misshapen and hybrid vessel that she had initially thought was both grotesque and dubious — had proven itself. Her ship, now. Neither she nor anyone else would doubt that, any longer. Her place in Terra Taif might be questionable, but not her place in the Lexington.

She had deduced Wrot was seeking contact with the species that had manned the other ship in the previous battle, but perhaps that vessel had only been passing through this system. She saw no evidence of them now, though, whoever they had been.

At any rate, diagnostics had detected a single habitable planet in this system. Nebula gases reflected all attempts to scan the surface from this distance, but after they had finished the tiresome mopping up from the battle, they would be at leisure to take a closer look. Perhaps that would yield some useful information.

****

Their trajectory was still not promising, Jihan told herself, but with precise firings of maneuvering thrusters, they might — just — intercept the wrecked piece of the Ekhat ship with its own orbit. So far, all efforts to contact one of their other Lleix vessels had failed. The hit they’d taken must have damaged the Starwarder transmitter. They were on their own.

Lliant by turns sulked in his seat, then stalked about the rapidly cooling cabin and harangued her. The surviving Starwarder, Hidata, simply hunched over the screens in a daze, punching up useless vectors, until Jihan finally shut the systems down to save the ship’s precious power. What little they had might be enough, but then again it might not. They could not afford to waste any.

What they would do, should they be successful by using the Ekhat debris to keep from falling into the sun, she did not know. That bit of ship was in a stable orbit, which was very unlikely without conscious direction. Someone had lived long enough to make it happen and she had no wish to make their acquaintance.

But it seemed, if the Boh were watching, they would.

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12 Responses to THE CRUCIBLE OF EMPIRE — Snippet 58

  1. BRK says:

    Stage is set for Jihan the fiesty to meet Tully the Jaoest of humans…. plus any live Ekhat…..

    Full of possibilities !

  2. Pasq says:

    Maybe the Anj can be brought into association!!!

  3. Grant says:

    Possibilities aplenty.

    However, I have still not seen the words “stealth cloaking field” used to explain why the Leixx are just cruising around in the middle of the battle debris, under power, with no care in the world for being detected by a ship that is *right there* and that they obviously don’t want to be detected by… and why the Lexington doesn’t see them. (For cripes sake, they’d rather board the remains of an Ekhat vessel than risk making themselves known to the Lexington and hoping for rescue, which should tell everyone all they need to know about how high on their priority list “don’t freaking let them know we’re here” is supposed to be, and the Lexington isn’t having any issues seeing anything *else* out there)

    Until I see those words I retain the opinion that this sequence of events is ridiculous and makes no sense.

    That said, it’s going to make for all kinds of interesting if the Leixx and the Terrans just walk around a corner on the Ekhat vessel and smack into each other. Especially if Tully is bringing the Jao members of Baker with him, which I would imagine he certainly would. The Leixx will almost certainly instantly assume they’re an Ekhat client species that is part of the crew if that’s the first place they make contact with them and they’re accompanied by Jao.

    Why, however, do either of them think they can take a small craft in there without getting blasted to vapor? If shattered bits and peices of the debris of an Ekhat ship still manage to keep their automated weapons systems online and firing then I would have to assume the larger, powered, intact bit can still shoot too, unless all the weapons are on the outer gantries and have been blasted off or something… has this been mentioned before? And evasive action is of limited utility when you’re being shot at by light speed weapons with computer-controlled tracking systems at close range… especially moving at any speed they’d have to be using to, you know, dock. I do hope either the lack of weapons on the tetrahedron is explained or Lexington is planning to stand off and surgically blast all their weapons platforms into wreckage first.

  4. BRK says:

    Grant, your concerns are valid. There are some explanations for this behaviour by both parties, but are they good enough to negate your concerns ? Too close to tell.

    Lets come to the humans first. They are being sent by Dannet. Nobody else. She is a Narvo in her thinking. Here is baker company sitting around like a fifth tire. This said baker company is headed by Gabe Tully who had just put paid to Oppuk a kinsman and effective oudh of Narvo on Terra. The other guy sticking in her craw is Krant Captain Mallu (another Ship Kaptain). She’s hoping that these two can figure out what needs to be done as she has no other “expendables” to spend on the Ekhat ship that is crippled. Hope this takes care of why baker company is going to the Ekhat fragment.

    The Liiex are on a ship who’s main drive is fried. But attitude and manouvering ability remains unimpaired. Communication remains unimpaired. Since they are headed to the sun, they are as good as dead. So they decide to go to the Ekhat fragment for two reasons.

    1. The Ekhat fragment has achieved orbit around the sun. Not going to fall into the sun. When you are in the frying pan, you stay there, you get cooked. So you jump out and pray real hard that somebody put the fire out. They need something that will keep them from falling into the sun. This is the only other alternative.

    2. No Lliex has been on an Ekhat ship for millenia. This is a great chance for some hard intel on the Ekhat.
    Now these these folks may be killed by the Ekhat or the client races or the on board weaponary. But to a person “might be” is an enormous shift from “no escape at all”. they get a chance to keep living (a while longer), they can beam data unobtainable otherwise and maybe just maybe they can use the Ekhat fragment in some constructive manner.

    Let us not get the idea that all this was reasoned out, discussed or thrashed out in meeting. When you have a one way trip to the Sun, time has a tendency to shrink. Or as the Jao put it, flow speeds up tremendously. decisions need to be taken without concious thinking. Jihan is trying to survive but what is extraordinary is that she is thinking of turning this catastrophe to some advantage however marginal.

    All I can say Grant is that in a battle where one’s existence is at stake plus you entire species existence is at stake, any advantage repeat any advantage no matter how small or how marginal looms really large in any leader’s mind. That is why Lliant is not a leader at all. He is still limited to his own personal survival and reacts accordingly. Jihan had transcended her personal mortality and is working for the good of her race. This is not done with any flourish or great speeches. It is done in a few simple sentences and a few simple actions.

    I don’t know if these explain these unexplicable actions adequately, but to me it makes this scenario come into the bounds of plausibility. I don’t know if this does the same for you.

  5. Grant says:

    You’re largely explaining the wrong things. How Dannet feels about Tully has some bearing on the question but your assessment doesn’t track with Jao attitudes in general or descriptions of Dannet’s thought processes in particular. Yes, Dannet or any Jao would have little reservations about sacrificing crew members if doing so were of some use, and if they were going to do so Dannet’s personal feelings about the crew might influence her selection process regarding which ones would be sent… but sending crew on a pointless suicide run is something else entirely. That’s just wasting resources out of spite, which is very VERY un-Jao. There’s no way she would do that.

    Which means we don’t need an explanation of why she would send Baker, we need an explanation of why she would send *anyone*. Which means I really hope there’s an explanation coming for why a small craft approach to the tetrahedron is expected to be remotely surviveable.

    Now, the Leixx on the other hand are dead anyway if they don’t do something and I actually have no problem with them deciding a rendezvous with the Ekhat vessel is at least something to try at this point. Like I pointed out elsewhere, alerting the new alien ship to their presence is, as far as they’re concerned, quite possibly or even probably the end of their entire species so trying to get their attention just on the off chance they few might be rescued would be criminally reckless. That view on their part being even more firmly established than ever now however only reinforces my earlier objection that they NEVER would have just casually cruised into the freaking debris field right beside the Lexington and risk getting spotted for a few sensor scans in the first place. They shouldn’t be here at all. It doesn’t make sense. They should hanging as far away as physically possible while still being able to pick up what’s going on not buzzing the battlefield to satisfy their curiosity. Not unless at some point I see reference to the amazingly kick ass cloaking technology they’re using that renders all this sane.

  6. robert says:

    Grant, what is required to get close enough to observe a battle taking place practically within the solar sphere? You may ask why they are bothering to observe anything. Battles in space are not static. They move around. An observer starts observing from a safe distance and suddenly they are in the thick of things. It is dangerous to observe battles from any where near the battle–or anywhere not on your couch at home.

  7. Grant says:

    What is required is way, way, WAY less close then flying *through* the debris field to a proximity where your pilot is worried you’re going to be in danger of actually being HIT by some of it. And ridiculously further away than anything that would have them suddenly accidentally finding themselves there because of some fluke vector change of the engaged shops before they could do anything about it.

  8. Grant says:

    Ships… not shops.

  9. BRK says:

    Grant, though this has not been as explicitly stated as you would like, the Lliex are effectively invisible to both lexington and the Ekhat. Whether this is due to the small size, cloaking or anything else is not something that we have explicitly been told.

    There are at least 2 to 3 places where the authors have pointed out that the Lexington is completely oblivious to the presence of the Lliex so close to the battle zone.

    Coming to the Ekhat not knowing of their presence either so close is indicated by by the fact that the three Ekhat ships outside the photosphere were not in any sort of engagement with the Lliex while the lexington was battling the other 2 inside the photospere. Even when they were engaging the lexington outside the photosphere, given their genocidal tendencies, they would still be focussed on finding the Lliex and exterminating them. That being the primary reason for their being near Valeron in the first place.

    So for some reason like mass hypnosis, accident or fluke or maybe the old starsifter ship does have great cloaking which the Lliex themselves are unaware of do do the extreme age of the craft and the loss of so much expertise. Since this book is written in a style where background information is given by the protagonists themselves and not through a commentator commenting on the sidelines as it were, I would say it is unlikely that you would ever get as explicit an answer as you wish. At least from the book. If you ask the authors themselves they might give you an answer.

    So my friend, relax, enjoy the story. You should know that inconsistencies crop up in life itself let alone in a work of fiction.

    Coming to your point of flying through the debris field, I think you still thing in terrestrial terms. In space one is not flying through a debris field. The debris field is flying all around us. Why ? because newtonian physics has full play here. there is no friction, no gravity. So any debris created will have been ejected at some force which will never be dissipated. so even if you plonk yourself anywhere in the universe, a chunk of debris launched at your vector will impact you given enough time. So the Lliex are sitting tight whereever they were, presumably at a “sane” distance from the Ekhat and the Lexington. The debris field has with the passge of time now grown to encompass the Lliex ship. They will have to survive the debris field to the best of their ability.

    This probably helps to explain why the lexington is unable to detect the lliex. Since we are looking at debris being created by kinetic rounds, any debris being created is going away from the lexington.
    Aginst the plethora of debris being tracked by the Lexinton computers and scanners, a small insignificant ship/ ships can be lost. Esp if the pieces of debris are bigger than the said ship far more numerous.

  10. Grant says:

    Yes, I’m perfectly aware the Lexington doesn’t see them. The fact remains that lacking some reasonable explanation for that fact it is completely absurd that they don’t see them, and that the Leixx are acting without any real apparent concern for that possibility. And no such explanation has been presented. Hence, the complaint.

    If that explanation appears in a later snippet, complaint withdrawn. If it doesn’t this remains a ridiculous situation where the characters involved suddenly started acting in a manner completely opposed to their primary concerns and motivations… not some minor little inconsistency.

    And if you are the one under power you’re the one flying through the field. The field is drifting. Although whether you describe it as one or the other is really purely semantic and completely irrelevant to the point being raised. And no, the debris field did NOT grow to encompass the Leixx ship, they flew over to it. Under power. On purpose. That’s what initiated my complaint in the first place.

  11. Gary says:

    Personally I think the storyline would be more interesting if the Leixx do not behave or act as how human would perceive as reasonable behaviour. So far we have seen how Jao, Humans and Ekhat would behave and their mindset.

    If the Leixx thinks too much like how humans think, I find it would be too similar to all the sci-fi shows where aliens and humans all think alike. Since Leixx was once a slave race to the Ekhat, I would expect there should be something from the Ekhat still imprinted into the Leixx culture much like how the Jao bodyspeak seems to have derived from the Ekhat.

    The Ekhat in the previous book that show up was totally weird and not something any reasonable being would behave.

  12. Grant says:

    To explain this yet again… I am not complaining that the Leixx are not acting like humans would. I am complaining they are not acting like *Leixx* would according to any description of Leixx behavior and attitudes either in general or about these crew in particular which we have been provided up to this point. Jihan may be unorthodox and a bit of a mavrick, but she’s not supposed to be criminally negligent and an idiot… and if they don’t have some kind of really really impressive stealth technology that’s what flying over to that debris field… *while the alien ship was still SHOOTING AT IT* no less… was.

    This is a species that has spent the last several centuries with the collective sure and certain knowledge, every single moment of their lives, that their only hope for survival as a race is to STAY FREAKING HIDDEN. And all of a sudden that seems to take secondary importance to getting a few sensor scans of dubious potential value at best.

    And the fact that they have so far inexplicably actually avoided detection just makes it even more silly if I do not see the words “cloaking field” or something similar appear at some point to explain this.

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