THE CRUCIBLE OF EMPIRE — Snippet 67

THE CRUCIBLE OF EMPIRE — Snippet 67

Chapter 25

Tully bestowed a silent blessing on Caewithe Miller. The quick-witted lieutenant had fired a flare. Finally, they could see clearly.

The first thing he saw were the two enormous Ekhat storming into the chamber. God, he’d forgotten how big the damn things were! It was like facing some sort of mammoth-sized arachnids.

But before Tully even had time to finish gritting his teeth, Mallu and the special unit were already coming forward to face the monsters. Say what you would about the stiff-necked Krant, they were tough as nails. Tully took a moment to bestow another silent blessing, this one on hillbillies of whatever species.

The first to fire an 84mm recoilless rifle was one of the two Jao whom Mallu had added to the team. Urta or Naddo, from that distance he couldn’t tell which.

Tully was impressed. With only the sketchiest and most rudimentary training, the Jao managed to hit his target dead on. The head of the second and somewhat smaller Ekhat pretty much came apart. The monster’s brain — or whatever did for an equivalent — was destroyed instantly. The Ekhat’s six huge limbs splayed out and the monster began a slow cartwheel toward the far distant wall of the chamber, spraying blood and bits of what were presumably brains everywhere.

Hot damn! One down, one to go.

But Mallu shared none of his pleasure. The invective that followed was more colorful than anything Tully had ever heard coming from a Jao. He couldn’t even follow most of it.

“– brainless crecheling, Naddo! You’ll be lucky if you don’t get served up as” — a term Tully didn’t know came here; several of them, he thought; probably along the lines of stinking filthy dog — “food! Supposed to capture them, you idiot!”

But the object of his ire might very well not have heard him at all. Naddo had obviously not taken to heart the warnings he must have gotten from the two human corporals. “Recoilless” was an almost mystically vague term, applied to any sort of projectile weapon used in null gravity. The Jao soldier who’d fired that Deadeye Dick shot to the head was doing his own cartwheel toward the opposite wall. And not a slow one, either.

The other Jao fired. Urta, that would be. He missed the surviving Ekhat altogether and blew one of the nearby little slaves into pieces. And…

Began his own none-too-slow cartwheel toward a distant wall.
“– scrubbing decks till you keen in misery,” continued Mallu, “you worthless” — here followed a number of Jao terms Tully was unfamiliar with. Probably the names of animals native to the Krant planet. Filthy, loathsome, disgusting vermin, at a guess.

Mallu, normally even-tempered, was obviously in a fury. More than anything he’d ever said, it was that which drove home to Tully just how desperately poor his kochan was. The Krant really needed whatever spoils value would come from capturing a live Ekhat.

Then Thomas Kelly fired. Mallu’s tirade cut off abruptly. The human corporal’s shot struck the surviving Ekhat at what amounted to a knee joint. The lower part of the limb was blown off and sent spinning rapidly at the same wall toward which Urta was headed.

Okay. One down, five to go. If they could sever all six of the monster’s legs, they could probably take it alive. Whether or not that would lead to any sort of communicable interrogation was another matter. Tully thought that was about as likely as the proverbial snowball in hell. But it wasn’t his problem — or the Krants. They’d just been set to the task of catching the critter. Somebody else could try to figure out how to talk to the damn thing.

Unfortunately, the success of Kelly’s shot made the rest of it harder. Some of the impact of that shot had been absorbed by the bulk of the Krant’s body, of course. And while the huge creature hadn’t been sent into the rapid spin of its now-severed leg, it was still sent spinning.

A slow spin, true — but an 84mm goose wasn’t really a sharpshooter’s weapon. The damn thing was designed to destroy tanks, not shoot apples off spinning little William Tell’s head.

Or was William Tell the guy who shot the bow? Or crossbow, whatever it was. Tully couldn’t remember the stupid legend, which he didn’t believe anyway.

But Dennis Greer’s shot, coming right on the heels of that thought, proved him wrong. Or maybe the corporal was just lucky. Tully didn’t care. Either way, another lower limb was severed and sent on its merry blood-spewing way.

Greer’s 84mm round had blown off the rear leg on the same side as the leg that Kelly had taken off. If they’d been under gravity conditions, the monster would have toppled to the floor and been effectively immobilized. That couldn’t happen in null gravity, of course, but the Ekhat was still pretty effectively crippled. Half-stunned, obviously, if nothing else. One of the wretched little slaves leapt to its master’s side, trying to stem the bleeding of the front limb. The Ekhat rewarded it by taking off its head with one snap of the immense claws on its surviving front limb. Then, seized the torso and smashed it against the deck.

Why? Maddened by pain, maybe. Or maybe just murderous-maniac bat-crazy Ekhat. Who knew?

Or cared. Not Tully. All he wanted was that thing down and legless. What was most important was that, by sheer good luck, the monster’s slam against the deck had largely nullified its spin. As a target, it was almost stationary.

As Kelly promptly demonstrated by firing a shot that took off one of the limbs on the Ekhat’s opposite side. Three down, three to go. Of course, inevitably, the impact sent the Ekhat into a slow spin again. It was not a perfect universe.

Belatedly, it occurred to Tully that the problem with such a rough multi-limb amputation was that the monster would just bleed out. But there didn’t seem to be much of its hideous-colored ichor coming out of the shredded limbs. Most likely — as was true of human and Jao fighting suits — the Ekhat’s suit was designed to cut off blood flow in the event a limb was severed.

Humans and Jao used what amounted to automatic tourniquets for the purpose. The Ekhat being Ekhat, they probably used cauterization. But it didn’t matter. Either way, there was a good chance the creature would survive having its six limbs blown off.

Guiltily, Tully realized he’d been so pre-occupied by the fight with the two Ekhat that he’d ignored what else might be happening in the cavern. But, looking around, he relaxed. Miller had taken charge of that fight, and he could see she and her people were mopping up what was left of the Anj without much trouble.

They’d never been much trouble, really. Tully could only see two human casualties. One was obviously dead, the suit ruptured and the body surrounded by a cloud of blood-mist. But from the way the medics were working on the other one of them, Tully didn’t think he or she was badly wounded. The Anj, he now realized — these Anj, anyway — had never served the Ekhat as the kind of Janissary soldiers the Jao had been. They were probably just ship-handlers, as inept in a hand-to-hand fight like this as any similar group of human flight engineers would have been.

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11 Responses to THE CRUCIBLE OF EMPIRE — Snippet 67

  1. BRK says:

    Now is the moment I am waiting for. Will this Ekhat prove tractable at all ?

    With one half of its partnership dead, will its brain function at all ? I ask this because all other Ekhat seem to think only in pairs.

    Let see what happens..

  2. zakryerson says:

    I have no idea if William Tell’s son was William Tell Junior or had some other first ame.
    I do get annoyed when someone has William Tell using a _longbow_ to shoot off the apple.
    It was a crossbow.
    Admittedly that make the extra bolt (to be absolutely proper) somewhat odd.
    Since it would take a least 30 seconds to reload if William faltally missed.

  3. Grant says:

    “Some of the impact of that shot had been absorbed by the bulk of the Krant’s body, of course.”

    Ummm… that would be the bulk of the *Ekhat’s* body.

    @BRK: Previous snippets seemed to indicate they function better in pairs, but that pairing is not necessary for thought.

  4. BRK says:

    In this very book, when the Ekhat pairing was not fully formed, Third note was almost incapable of thought. It is only when the partner fully came on board, that any analysis or action was taken.

    Maybe I am putting myself on a limb by looking at a human analogy, could it be like a left brain, right brain meets women are from venus and men from mars ?

    One portion of pair is rationalizing and the second is intuitive and coherent thought emerges only when they are mentally synchonized.

    There are humans where the two lobes os the brain are not connected together. I do not know if coherent thought is possible with disconnected lobes.

    If this is the premise on which the authors have based the pairing of Ekhat, there are a few points of great interest to me.

    1. Can the surviving Ekhat have this kind of link with an individual of a different species ?

    2. If so, to what extent will such a pairing afffect the thinking patterns of the pairing. Will it ekhatafy the new partner or will it civilize the ekhat.

    There is another possibility. There could be an Impression. Like Pern dragons and their riders.

    The reason this is feasible here is that the authors have gone to some lengths to show that the paring of Third note was not fully formed. There was a definite skittishness with third’s partner in associating with her. But when association was complete they were unbeatable.

    Is it likely that third note is a “sport” like Ruth in the Pern stories ?

  5. Grant says:

    No, Third Note was not almost incapable of thought. It just said Third could not “think well”. And it wasn’t because he pairing “wasn’t fully formed”, it was because of a discordance between her and her mate. From the description given of the event it had something to do with establishing a mating bond that would involve the male having to subjugate himself to the female and there was some kind of dominance struggle involved.

    *Half* was suspected by Third to be nearly incapable of thought under those circumstances, but that seemed to be due to whatever stress was being caused by his ongoing efforts to resist the pairing from my reading.

  6. BRK says:

    Well, let me put it this way..

    could not think well, in my book seems like does not swim well. A person who cannot swim well will get swamped under the first ripple across the water. At what stage will this ability to “not think well” cease to be a factor in a game of survival and conquest. All that is then needed is one race that is smarter to completely swamp these ekhat.

    Not that I disagree with what you say but I am just taking the text you quoted to its logical conclusion.

    Somehow I don’t get that sense that physical mating was part of the pairing. It seems more like the ice skating or waltzing partners where there is a partnership but no formality like mating to cement an already strong bonding.(mental).

    Why was “half “resisting the pairing ? Is he a male suffragette or is there something about Third that led other potential partners to choose others and these two were left with just one other for partners ?

    It is precisely this reasoning that led to my previous questions.

  7. Grant says:

    It already said why he was resisting the pairing. Because it requires him to subjugate himself to the female and he was having issues with it.

  8. Mike says:


    It already said why he was resisting the pairing. Because it requires him to subjugate himself to the female and he was having issues with it.

    I know the feeling.

  9. BRK says:

    “With a sudden surge, their mental fields finally merged and fell into sync. She was no longer just her woefully singular self. She was part of they, and they, each augmenting the other, were much more capable of bold, forceful decisions.”

    “Manifesting at a mere half-tone above Third’s own mental signature, Third-and-a-Half-Note-Ascending was keeping his distance so that their mental fields could not properly synchronize.”

    These are direct quotes from the book.

    Does this mean that they have a mental field and that anything sentient coming into range has a chance of synchronization ?

    Since the Ekhat are so instantly murderous, they might never have had the opportunity to explore another species mental field. Hmm…. all kinds of possibilities here, esp as the Ekhat in this case is without limbs.

    In case this is true, will it be Jihan, Mallu, Tully or Caitlin who will sync with this ekhat ?

    Take your pick

  10. Grant says:

    They are surrounded by other species all the time. The client species they keep around as slaves. They have a bunch of anj around them in this very snippet we’re reading. They had Jao aruond them constantly when the Jao were under their control. They have rather obviously had thousands of years worth of opportunity to “explore another species mental field” if that was how this worked. It’s pretty obviuosly some form of species-specific telepathy that is only Ekhat to Ekhat.

  11. BRK says:

    This set of circumstances puts Third Note in an unprecedented situation.

    In all other encounters with other species, the pairs have been complete. And as soon as contact is initiated with another species, those individuals either Ekhat or the other species wind up dead.

    My feeling is that the Anj do have a mental field but it it is so weak that the Ekhat can just disregard it. Which is why they keep the Anj around.

    Maybe this is the explanation of why the Ekhat feel tainted by contact with other species. The mental fields of other species impinge on them and are they are forced to confront the stupidity that they themselves are perpetrating. With their big egos, they cannot handle the truth. So, they take the following steps. Terminate the individuals of the other species, terminate the Ekhat who were part of the contact and finally wipe out the other species.

    Humans are known for ESP for a pretty long time now. telepathy, telekinesis etc. Now lots of people may say that this is hocus pocus, but to me there is no smoke without fire. As per Indian and Chinese thaumargical literature, the mental field of humans extends almost 4 feet around the body. This is variously called the aura, personal space etc. Now whether, telepathy can happen etc is a point for later debate.

    The point I am trying to make is that you consider the Situation in which Third note finds herself. Her Partner is dead, the entire fleet she led is now so much debris, she cannot even kill herself and for that matter even feed herself or even more poignant cannot even wipe up her own butt (if any). Surrounded by a bunch of people who wants her dead but who will keep her alive just for kicks. When faced with a situation like this where no outcome is favorable, the only sensible recourse is to open up your mind and learn. learn enough to find some way to escape, either by death or physical escape.

    But guess what, the last few snippets give me the impression that the Ekhat are more like crustaceans, crabs, lobsters etc. What if they could regenerate their limbs just like terran crustaceans ? The possibilities this opens up story wise …..

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