“And then what?” Jihan said. “We skulk here and die in perfect peace?”

Hadata’s aureole sank.

“They are the Ekhat’s enemy,” Jihan continued, “as are we. They might render us aid, if we so requested.”

“By the size and design of that monstrous ship, all we know for certain about them is that they are powerful.” Lliant turned in his seat to stare at them with smoldering black eyes. “Power cares nothing for the weak. Whether they detect us or not, they will destroy us too when they take out the Ekhat wreck. Not that it matters.” He twisted away again. “We are already dead.”

“Stop saying that!” Jihan’s anger resurged. “You sound like one of the hopeless unchosen from the dochaya, worse even! I have found them at least willing to put their hands to whatever is required, despite their unfortunate situation. I should have brought one of them instead!”

Hadata gave her a questioning look, but she ignored it. “I think,” Jihan said, “we must contact these aliens, or else we will die, either like that Anj burning up in the sun, or when our air and power and supplies are exhausted.”

“But what could we possibly say to them,” Hadata said, “and how will we communicate? They most certainly will not speak Lleix or Ekhat.”

“When the moment comes,” Jihan said, “we will find a way to make ourselves understood.” She tapped a finger against her forehead. “Two of us will go aboard the wreck to observe, if they do indeed dock with it. The other will stay behind.”

“I will stay here,” Lliant said.

“No, you will not,” Jihan said. “There is no way I can trust you out of my sight.”


The lead assault craft jinau pilot, Kristal Dalgetty, spotted what looked like a hanger bay on the sunward side of the derelict, so Tully authorized that approach.

“We will have to blast the door, sir,” she said. “And that’s bound to attract attention if any of them are left and they haven’t already detected us.”

“I’d bet a hundred dollars they know we’re here.” Tully stuck his head around the bulkhead. “Krant-Captain, come forward.”

Mallu lurched to his feet and made his way past the rows of bench seats. All the eyes followed him, both Terran and Jao. “Yes, Major?”

“You have more experience at this sort of thing,” Tully said. “What recommendations do you have about boarding an Ekhat ship?”

“Avoid it if at all possible,” Mallu said immediately. Green lightning danced in those black, black eyes.

Tully barked a laugh, then cut himself off when it was all too apparent that Mallu had not intended the comment as humorous. “Unfortunately, in this case, we cannot avoid boarding since those are our orders.”

Mallu sighed. That, at least, was a mannerism that Jao shared with humans and usually signified about the same thing. His ears canted at half-mast. “That should be a storage bay for the smaller ships they employ from time to time. They will defend it vigorously, if any of the crew have survived, but it should not have defensive weapon emplacements inside.”

“All right, then, strap in,” Tully said. “We will use that area as our insertion point.” Mallu retreated as the pilot relayed the commands to the other two assault craft.

It required considerable laser fire from two of the three assault ships before the door was compromised. When the debris field cleared, Tully could see it hadn’t burned cleanly off, but hung from what must be the Ekhat version of hinges. “Pretty solid construction,” he murmured, gazing at the screen.

Mallu returned, his body gone to what Tully was fairly certain was simple, unadulterated question.

“We can get in,” Tully said, “but not by landing the ships. We will have to transfer outside.” He considered the situation. It wouldn’t do to risk their transport to the Ekhat’s nonexistent mercy anyway.

He nodded at Dalgetty. “Patch me in with the other two ships.”

The pilot bent her sandy-haired head, working for a moment, then gave Tully a thumbs-up.

“This is Major Tully,” he said. “We will board the Ekhat derelict, starting with this ship. Once all combat personnel have unloaded, pilots are to stand off two kilometers and wait for my orders.”

He hesitated. “I know it will be difficult, but if anything is left alive over there, we want to keep them alive. Do what you can to make it happen, but not at the sacrifice of your own hide. Any questions?”

Nobody spoke up, so he had Dalgetty shut off the circuit. “Take us in,” he said, then went back to join his troops.


Third-Note-Ascending marked the approach of the three vessels in the viewing tank, which still functioned in intermittent flickers. It was growing cold in the pod as environmental controls failed.

Five ships lost! Against a solitary alien vessel, albeit one large and heavily armed. It was hard to reconcile that development with any melody. The lost note still warbled inside her mind.

But now, when she could no longer go after them, the sub-sapients were coming to her. Anticipation sang through her blood, lightening her burden. She would meet them with Half, along with what Anj remained, and demonstrate what it meant to be part of the unfolding Ekha.

She tapped into her protective suit’s audio circuits and directed all surviving serviles to assemble in the Conductor’s Pod. Their certain terror was a pleasant leitmotif to the broad underlying bass line of the coming havoc. She had slaughtered all who had dared enter her presence earlier. The Anj knew that, but they would come anyway, because such was their place in the great composition.

Joy surged through Third and at least a hint of it must have made it through to Half, because he suddenly rejoined her. Their mental fields flared, then snapped back together. With so much to look forward to, it was hard even to regret the lost note.

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14 Responses to THE CRUCIBLE OF EMPIRE — Snippet 64

  1. Ian Darley says:

    Negotiate with this mindset?
    Would make an interesting book but at this point I have to go with the old bumpersticker philosophy;

    Kill ’em all, let God sort them out.”

  2. DougL says:

    That’s a bumber sticker from 1209 AD. The original latin is “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” or “Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own.”

  3. Ian Darley says:

    Thanks DougL
    I knew it was old, but not that old.

  4. robert says:

    Allegedly from the Albigensian Crusade, one of the less noble events in Catholic history.

    I wonder who will rescue who now.

  5. Grant says:

    I feel compelled to just drop a quick note that I have STILL not seen the words “cloaking field” or their equivalent to explain why everyone can see the Ekhat and all the little pieces of Ekhat debris and everyone can see the Lexington and everyone can see the Lexington’s shuttles… but nobody ever sees the Leixx.

    And nobody try to tell me “cause they’re smaller”. We’re dealing with sophisticated sensor systems operating at literally point blank freaking range apparently looking right past a ship *under powered flight*. I guarantee that at the very least Lexington had considerable attention focused on the Ekhat derelict while the Leixx flew up and *docked* with the damn thing considering they were at that very moment in the process of sending out their own boarding pary to it… and nobody noticed that? NOBODY?

    This is really irritating me.

  6. robert says:

    Grant, maybe we are dealing with an homage to Hal Clement here and the Lleix are Mesklin-sized creatures. I know you said not to tell you that they are too small, but maybe they are really too small.

  7. Grant says:

    While that would make sense of things, we have unfortunately already had a previous snippet where the Leixx and Jao were in face to face verbal negotiations on an old recording… and the Leixx negotiator was described as a “huge” elder. If the Jao that negotiator was speaking with were 50 times larger or something then it not being mentioned in the description of events would stretch credulity.

  8. gary says:

    There is a possibility that the reason no one notice the Leixx is because they aren’t specifically looking for them, mainly because only Wrot and Caitlin even knows remotely why they are in the nebula. Their scanners may have already picked up the signals from the Leixx ship but to the crew of the Lexington, it’s probably just another bunch of signals from the debris field. Kinda like how when someone ask you to spot for anything unusual on a forest, the last thing you would expect is there is a specific tree species in there that is not suppose to grow there.

  9. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Gary, you may be onto the answer.

    I’d also add that when a Battleship is fighting five Destroyers, the Cabin Cruiser might pass un-noticed.

    The Leixx spaceship was described as small (even for the Leixx).

  10. robert says:

    @9 Drak, what do you mean by that parenthetical expression “even for the Lleix?” It is intriguing.

    @7 Perhaps it was not mentioned because it was not considered unusual. Maybe Jihan has a different perspective than we do. Sorry, bad word.

  11. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Sorry Robert, that was only because of the ‘suggestion’ that the Lleix were extremely small.

    By the way, they aren’t that small. [Wink]

  12. BRK says:

    Folks, I think that there is a cloaking field whicj explains why nobody sees them.
    What needs explanation is why is no one talking about it ?

    Here is an explanation that fits. Is this explanation the truth ? who knows ? and anyways this is fiction.

    1. The Lliex do not talk about it because they don’t know about it. Why ? All the ship building lore is lost and the group meant to build the ships is not there any longer. (it is given in the book). It could be that this cloaking was inbuilt into every single piece of spacefaring equipment of the Lliex. Why ? These guys have been exterminated like vermin for past so many millenia. So this need to keep hidden is so ingrained, that it is a default on all spacegoing artifacts manufactured by the Lliex

    2. The Ekhat and Jao have not been able to sense the Lliex artifacts, though they have managed to detect the LLiex themselves. That is why these two bunch of guys are here in Valeron in the first place. Why are they not able to detec the artifacts ? Cloaking is a technology that convinces scanners that the artifact in question is not there at all. The two scanners the Lliex must fool are Jao and Ekhat. Surprise, surprise. it works !

    3. The humans have never encountered the Lliex. Except Caitlin no one else even knows that these guys are supposed to be around.

    4. Why are the authors not telling us that ? Its their story, let them tell it their way is what I say .

  13. Ian Darley says:

    There is also the possibility that the Lexington crew is only seeing what they expect to see.
    A good example is the radar crew at Pearl Harbor in 1941. They picked up the Japanese attacking force but decided they were a flight of B-17’s.
    Someone on the Lexington probably tagged the Leix ship as debris and stopped looking at it, even when it changed course.

  14. Grant says:

    I’m sorry guys, but “because nobody is looking for them” or “because tey’re not paying enough attention” does not cut it. There is no way in hell modern sensor systems fail to notice a ship under power flying up to and docking with another ship that the Lexington most certainly IS looking at just because nobody was expecting it to happen or it’s a little on the small side. They were picking out individual peices of floating *debris* that still had power and smashing them up for cripes sake and they don’t notice the maneuvering ship that is first flying around in the middle of that same debris they’re scanning for targets in… and then flies up to the ship they are at that very moment sending boarding parties onto and which they are sure as hell paying the closest possible attention to and subjecting to extensive scrutiny looking for active weapons emplacements, suitable entry point, etc…?

    Just… no.

    If I do not see “cloaking field” or “stealth systems” or something similar mentioned then this apparent casual invisibility of the Leixx is just purely silly. I appreciate it might end up working from a storytelling perspective if Eric really wanted to have some scene where the first encounter happens while they’re both wandering around the corridors of a scary Ekhat derelict but it still doesn’t make any sense.

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