She went on to relate an improbable but quite interesting tale. Evidently conditions on Terra had once favored the exceptional growth of occasional individuals. On a trading run, Kaln had once seen examples of gigantism on a lush planet that belonged to the kochan of Hij, but those marine creatures were scarce, having been hunted into near extinction. This “blue ox” sounded much bigger anyway. She listened carefully to Miller’s soft voice with its pronounced Terran accent, trying her best to understand, and soon realized that other humans seated close to them were paying attention, too.

By the end of the narration, some were even adding details, as evidently the female’s memory proved faulty in several respects. This Pool Buntyam supposedly had an enormous appetite and consumed amazing amounts of some comestible called “flapjacks.” Once he had even spilled an entire boatload of a vegetable called “peeze” into a hot spring to create a huge amount of “soup” for his workers.

Then several jinau, both male, argued vociferously, about the exact size of this “ox,” which, Kaln gathered from the tasks it reportedly carried out, was some sort of beast of burden. One human said it was “seven feet” tall, while the other insisted no, no, it measured “seven feet” just between its eyes.

Kaln blinked. “What do the records say?”

Miller exhaled a long sighing breath. “The records from that era were very poorly maintained,” she admitted. “So no one can say who is right.”

“Perhaps we can find stored images,” Kaln said.

Miller closed one eye in what seemed to be a deliberate, if baffling, gesture. Her fellows chuffed. “Perhaps,” she said.

Kaln realized then that they were all amused, even the jinau Jao. Not a word of that improbable story was true. Evidently, humans relished the stringing together of such impossibilities. It was just ollnat, but cleverly done. Kaln had always had a secret fondness for the invention of such tales, even though the practice was considered juvenile. She would remember that for the future and concoct some wild series of events for their ears.

“Now,” Caewithe Miller said, “would you like to hear the story of Snow White?”

That equally unlikely tale was just ending when Tully came back, Mallu behind him. “Listen up, people,” he said in his heavily-accented Jao. “We are closing with our target.” He paused, gazing around at the assembled jinau and Krants. “Preliminary readings indicate that there well may be survivors on the derelict.”

A murmur arose from the humans. The Jao spoke with their bodies instead, indicating unease, fierce-determination, or willingness-to-be-of-use. Kaln realized her own lines and angles had gone to stubborn-pride and made herself assume something less provocative. She had no wish to have her ears boxed and Mallu certainly would have disciplined her, had he noticed.

“We have about fifteen minutes,” Tully said as the craft fired maneuvering jets. The specific terms were gibberish to Kaln, but she got the sense that the mission would be underway very soon.

“Make ready,” Tully said. He returned forward.

You cannot be ready for the Ekhat, she thought. She felt the moment approaching as she studied her fellow Krants. Each had fallen into a single posture now, as had she, as though they all had but a single thought between them: readiness-to-die.


Mallu got up and followed Tully aft. He’d had an idea and wanted to discuss it. Lingering just outside the cockpit, he caught the Terran’s attention and then Tully motioned him forward into the cramped space separated from the main cabin by a bulkhead.

“Yes, Krant-Captain?” the human said, settling back into his seat across from the pilot.

This was a delicate matter, Mallu thought, and he was not a trained negotiator, but Krant had no other official voice here but his. He would just have to do his best. “That derelict is valuable,” he said, his lines gone to desirous-of-favor, for all the good it would do. As nearly as he could tell, humans were oblivious to the niceties of bodyspeak, outside of a few like Caitlin Kralik.

“Really?” Tully scratched the yellow thatch on his head, then turned to the growing image on the viewscreen. “No one told me that.”

“By being first to investigate,” Mallu said, “Baker Company will receive booty rights.”

“Thank you for enlightening me,” Tully said, then picked up a sheaf of papers and leafed through them.

Now, thought Mallu. He only hoped he had the right words. Krant had not exactly ingratiated itself with this particular Terran so far, but Tully was a member of Aille krinnu ava Terra’s personal service and therefore highly regarded. “But Baker Company is not the only group present on this mission.” He glanced back at the crowded cabin. “Krant is here too, though admittedly in fewer numbers.”

Tully turned back to him with just a hint of inquiry in his angles. That seeming posture must be only by chance, Mallu cautioned himself, and then pressed on. “Krant suffered a hard blow when we lost three ships to this nebula,” Mallu said. “We are…”

This would be almost impossible to say to another Jao, but Tully was different. “A poor kochan. Very poor. Our two planets do not produce much in the way of exportable wealth.”

Tully’s head dipped. “You want a share of the spoils,” he said.

“Yes, Major,” Mallu said.

“Is that common practice among the Jao?”

How else would it be done? Mallu wondered. But he had enough experience with humans by now to realize that some Jao practices he’d always taken for granted, as if they were a law of nature, might have alternatives.

“Yes. The kochan present at the action divide whatever spoils might be obtained in accordance with their respective numbers.”

That was… not quite a lie, but close enough to make Mallu uncomfortable. The reality, as all Jao knew, was that numbers as such were only one of the determinant factors involved in these affairs. Status, resources committed, all those things also came into play. Put so many Pluthrak or Narvo or Dano to divide the spoils with an equal number of Jao from Krant or another desperately poor kochan, and the members of the great kochan would come away with most of it.

But, at least formally, humans placed great store by the social virtues they called “equality” and “fairness.” So perhaps in this situation, Krant might be able to get a better outcome.

The human pressed his fingertips together and bowed his head, obviously considering. “I do not understand the way these things are handled among the Jao,” he said finally, “and I do not wish to make a mistake, but I will certainly consult with Caitlin Kralik when we return. She is much better versed in such matters.”

He gazed up then into Mallu’s face. If only Terran ears were more expressive, Mallu thought, then he would have some idea of what Tully was thinking.

“And I would need to consult with representatives of both of Terra’s taifs about the distribution of any wealth earned in this action,” Tully said. His mouth had a strange quirk. “Perhaps, though, something could be done about your ships. We might even be able to work out some kind of deal to construct new ones to replace those that were lost.”

“Like the Lexington?” Mallu said, his ears now frankly astonished. With even one ship like the Lexington, Krant would no longer be poor.

“I think it comes down to association,” Tully said. “Would Krant wish to associate with Terra Taif?”

Mallu stared at him. Association? With this bizarre new taif, most of whose members were humans and not Jao? Had someone asked him the question before he arrived on Terra, Mallu would have dismissed it immediately as madness. But now…

He’d only been thinking in terms of getting as big a share for Krant as possible, of whatever spoils might be derived from the Ekhat derelict. But now that Tully had raised the issue of association, Mallu found himself intrigued.

And then, as he continued to think about it while Tully waited silently, his intrigue deepened. He could see how far removed his initial notions — prejudices, to call things by their right name — had been from reality.

Item one. Terra Taif was certainly not as wealthy and powerful as one of the great kochan like Narvo or Pluthrak, but it was far more wealthy and powerful than any single-system kochan Mallu had ever heard of. It was certainly wealthier and mightier than Krant, which had been driven to the point of desperation by the loss of three ships, any one of which would have been dwarfed by Lexington. And Mallu knew that Terra Taif was planning a fleet of Lexingtons.

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17 Responses to THE CRUCIBLE OF EMPIRE — Snippet 60

  1. robert says:

    And Mallu says “Hell, yes!”

  2. dcchipper says:

    I see that Tully is taking an opertunity to make progress on his assingnment. Even if Mallu does think that association would be good for Krant it would still be a very hard sell with the kochan leadership. The only way I think it would have much of a chance is if Mallu come back with a fantastic deal and even then it might take the Bond nudgeing Krants elbow to give it a chance.

  3. BRK says:

    Now this is something that I like in both the books. This interpaly of individuals, interplay of cultures. nice.

    Terra seems to be on the path to creating association with almost 4 allies. Krant, Lliex, Ekhat Melody and Narvo through Dannet.

    This is great.

  4. Grant says:

    @dcchipper: Send Mallu back with footage of the battle they just finished and the words “they could build us one of those ships” and I don’t think it’s anything resembling a hard sell.

    BRK: I cannot fathom how you think Terra could in any way seem to be on the verge of association with the Melody. And as for Dannet… she isn’t Narvo anymore. She, as an individual, is associating with her new taif. A process that, as I understand associations between Kochan, has little to nothing to do with association between Terra and Narvo beyond the act of Narvo letting them have Dannet in the first place.

  5. Gary says:

    I guess Lexington is the prototype of Terran ships. I wonder what class of ship is the Lexington consider as, if it’s just a destroyer class, imagine how huge would a Terran battleship be.

  6. Mike says:

    If the authors make the Ekhat anything but insanely hostile, they will have screwed up. The plot needs that tension, and the characters need to have limits.

    One of the greatest things about the first book was that the humans didn’t really somehow “win” against the Jao. Instead, the Jao and the humans together forged a new path, but more under Jao rules and dominance than the other way around. If the humans had suddenly been victorious over the Jao, it would have undercut everything that the first book was trying to say.

    In the same way, if they can somehow suddenly make peace with the Ekhat, it will take the legs out from under the whole series.

  7. DDK says:

    Grant: Um, I agree that the words “Melody” and “ally” only belong in the same room if there’s a boxing ring in it, but Terra is indeed developing association with Narvo through Dannet. As has already been mentioned, she is showing the good side of Narvo and working to dispel the odor left by Oppuk.

    Having her “marry into” Terra is a clever move; Narvo is notorious enough that nobody will forget her origins, but by formally renouncing her membership, she bypasses enough of the prejudice to get a chance to prove herself.

    Early stages, yes, but “less subtle than Pluthrak” does not mean lacking in all subtlety; I believe the previous book make it clear that Oppuk was atypical.

    Remember the motto of Maximilian I: “Bella gerant alii, tu felix Austria nube” (“Let others make war; you, happy Austria, marry.”)

  8. robert says:

    Danett is a member of the Terra Taif now, in case anyone missed that. She just has not gotten around to fully accepting her new state. She will.
    Anyone who thinks that any of the Ekhat, Melody or whatever, will ever act sanely enough to get palsy with another species has not read the first book and is not following this one. Inter-Ekhat politics (?) are insane, as are the entire Ekhat race. The Melody thing in the first book was, I believe, just a disagreement over methodology. It isn’t whether to annihilate, it is how: use C sharp to kill everyone or B flat. God, I hate politics.

  9. Grant says:

    DDK: “Disliking less” and “forming association with” are two different things. Just because Dannet is setting a nice example and giving Terra taif something different to think about when they hear the word “Narvo” than Oppuk that doesn’t mean Terra and Narvo are associating. That is, from what I’ve read so far at least, a kind of at least semi-formalized building of a relationship between the two groups, not a matter of some people in one group thinking “Well, maybe not everyone in that other group is so bad, I guess”.

    I’m not saying that Dannet’s actions aren’t beneficial to the hope that Terra taif and Narvo will eventually form closer association at some time in the future once humans reform their opinions of that group… but it is not an act of association itself. Especially to the Jao. Dannet is not Narvo as far they’re concerned, she is associating with her new taif, by herself, as an individual… which is completely different than a kochan forming association with a taif.

  10. Grant says:

    Oh, also, since nobody else has mentioned it explicitly Eric seems to be going out of his way to call attention to the fact that Kaln is unusually receptive to the concept of imagination and innovation for a Jao. First the hoist upgrade, now the revelation that she secretly enjoys the concept of ollnat… I’d love to see what “wild series of events” she manages to dream up for future story time with the humans.

    The Bond is supposed to be especially concerned with the lack of innovative capability in Jao, eventually someone needs to get around to calling Kaln to their attention.

  11. WCG says:

    There’s always going to be individual variation, and Kaln is clearly more imaginative than most Jao. But individuals of both species are a mixture of biology AND culture. This is what the Terra Taif is all about, mixing the two species for the betterment – hopefully – of both.

    We are seeing the Jao change (not just Kaln, but other Jao apparently enjoyed the “ollnat” stories), as we’ve seen Tully change – not entirely, but taking what works for them from the other species. And I imagine we’ll see that happen with the Lliex, too. This is one big advantage of diverse societies.

  12. BRK says:

    Let me clarify my statement.

    Let’s start with Dannet. She is definitely in Terra Taif now. But she is essentially the Trojan horse that the narvo are using to get back in the good books of the Bond, Terra and the Naukra. With a battle behind her where she has eliminated 5 Ekhat Ships ( absolutely unheard of) in collaboration with humans, her opinion on Terra, humans and Aille’s personal service is going to be listened to by all Jao and all humans. Esp if Tully, Cailtin etc give their assesment of her leadership, guts and guile to humans and to Aille. So if she makes out a strong case of association with Terra, you think any kochan is going to ignore it ? Esp Narvo. Not a chance in hell.

    Let us now look at the Melody. There is still life in the Ekhat on the ship remnant (a hunch) and definitely they are injured badly enough to be powerless to terminate themselves. Which will need to the neccesity for Baker company to nursemaid them to health. Which gives them a ringside view of the benefits of association as they watch the growing closeness among the humans, Jao and the Lliex. For all you know, maybe they find that thinking in concert with humans leads to far better results than pairing with one of their own kind.(This is a long strech of imagination, but hey, it could be true !)

    Since the Ekha are so tuned to music and composition, maybe they find the music of association so much more beautiful than the music of destruction. Who knows….

  13. gcomeau says:

    We have differing definitions of what constitutes associating… any development that might possibly be viewed positively by one of the parties involved and incline them to think a little better of the other does not cross the threshold in my book.

    On the question of the Ekhat however you are simply ignoring their entire psychology. They’re not going to care what the benefits *to the humans or Jao* are of them associating with each other. What the “lietmotif” inferior species do with each other is irrelevent to the Ekhat. Their existance is a contaminant and they need to be dead, period.

    And as for nursing one individual Ekhat back to health… so? They WANT to die at this point. How are they supposed to feel about the Jao and humans preventing them from achieving that goal? Grateful and conciliatory? Come on.

    As for the music angle, I have wondered what an Ekhat’s reaction to hearing, say… Mozart might be. But “the music of association”? The Ekhat are not going to look at two contaminating inferior species cooperating with each other and see it as anything but a horrifying abomination that must be purged from the universe at the earliest opportunity.

    If Eric does have an Ekhat decide associating is something it’s going to try it either better be brain damaged and personality altered as a result to even consider the hypothetical possibility of such a thing or it’s going to be about 50 times more ridiculously contrary to their character than the Leixx suddenly ceasing to worry about detection in the face of the promise of a little sensor data.

  14. robert says:

    @13 I Agree. Flint/Wentworth will not have the Ekhat be anything but what they are: an extremely dangerous bunch of nuts. They are the “physical” antagonists in this series. Psychological antagonists are the attitudes of the individual and the sane races and synthesis occurs with them in what the authors have called “association.”

    I’ll return in seven or eight hours. Can’t wait to read what happens next. ‘bye

  15. saul says:

    While I agree its nuts to think the EK’s would want association. What if the EK is a baby, not exposed to the EK culture?

  16. BRK says:

    Ok… let me go out on a limb here.

    I think all of us agree that thus far, the Ekhat have been genocidal. But then why are they this way ?

    Any species kills for primarily a few well known reasons. Food, protection, materials like ivory, leather, fur etc. But exterminating entire races happens if we change the environment too much or take away a critical resource for the survival of a species.
    We too as a species have been guilty of this. The number of species that we have terminated is measured in the thousands.

    To terminate species with extreme prejudice needs a strong reason. There is a lot of history behind the Nazis killing Jews, or hutus killing Tutsis among humans. Exterminating mosquitoes, flies, tapeworms, fleas etc happen not because they bite us. It is the diseases that they bring. Please note, I do agree or condone genocide, but these are the “reasons” for deciding to terminate entire species or races given by the genocidal side.

    The only reason I have been able to discover why the Ekhat do this, is that other species bring “discordant” notes to the “song” of the Ekhat. Now add to this that the Ekhat created the Jao, we know they employ the Anj. Just because we do not follow their reasoning, does not mean that we abuse them. We do not know what drives them, period. Like a blind man cannot find any kind of reason why a sighted being behaves moment to moment. Their perception may be different, we need to be educated on that.

    What I want to know is, What is this song, Music and notes they “hear”. It cannot be sound, because in space there is no atmosphere to carry the sound. Is it chemical ? if so the chemical has to disperse to get to them. Do they have instrumentation to detect this “music” or do they sense it directly ?

    As Wrot said in the previous book “Crude and coarse Hemm may be, young Pluthrak, but I was taught even as a crecheling that to begin by assuming disrespect is a grave offense against association.”

    Association comes out of the willingness to listen to views even if we do not agree with it or its rationale. Mind you, it is only a first step on a long journey to full association. But that first step is taken. That is significant.

    Dannet did not blow the Ekhat fragment to smithereens, she wanted it to be explored and to capture live Ekhat. To get military information of course, but to understand what an Ekhat thinks. This shows that the Jao are starting to learn what is association. this is a great step forward from when the Jao just blew away the Lliex without even bothering to understand what they were saying.

    The reason I am enhusiastic about this book, is that it teaches us to rise above our prejudices and reveals where we ourselves are carrying our prejudices.

  17. bamics says:

    Association…. a give and take relationship. Krant gets some loot:(ships,munitions,prizes taken from battle) which will enhance and improve its position in the Jao polity. Earth gets more experienced training cadre for its expanding war fleets. The Bond of course, gets to have the Krant do more associating.

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