He had to fight down a completely inappropriate giggle then. He’d had a sudden image of human geeks sallying forth to do combat in ill-fitting spacesuits with pocket protectors.

He was helped in stifling the giggle by the sight of Mallu. Talk about maniacs! The Krant-Captain had launched himself toward the writhing Ekhat with four other Jao.

Was he mad? That pair of claws could cut through Jao battle armor about as easily as it had taken off the head of the slave. The kind of light armor on a spacesuit, anyway.

But there was a method to Mallu’s method, Tully realized, once the Jao struck the Ekhat. Between his mass and that of the other four Jao who hit the huge body a split-second later, they drove the Ekhat against a large nearby vehicle of some kind. If it was a vehicle at all, which wasn’t clear. The design of the thing had a closer resemblance to a jungle gym than any vehicle Tully could think of.

But that design was perfect for Mallu’s purpose. The badly-injured body of the Ekhat, driven into the object by the momentum of five armored Jao warriors, was effectively immobilized. It wasn’t spinning any longer, and while a bit of spin had been imparted to the vehicle-cum-jungle-gym, the object was too massive to be moving much.

Kelly and Greer’s experience had enabled them to counter the recoil of the “recoilless” rifles, unlike what had happened to Urta and Naddo. They pushed off from nearby supports at the same time they fired the weapons. Kelly had used a deck stanchion, both times; Greer had used the bulk of a large wrecked vehicle. That pretty much counter-acted the recoil. So they were both was back already, and got to very close range, just barely out of reach of the remaining limbs.

He fired again. Another knee-equivalent was turned into fleshy ruin and another lower limb was sent flying. Greer fired and the same happened to the limb next to it. The Ekhat’s mouth, clearly visible in the helmet, opened in what looked like a screech. Then, with the one clawed limb remaining to it, the Ekhat began smashing at its helmet.

It was trying to suicide, Tully realized. And while that helmet seemed very sturdy, it wouldn’t stand up for very long. Not given the insane strength with which the Ekhat was beating itself.

No way to shoot the knee joint, either. Or was it the elbow? Tully neither knew nor cared. Not the way it was waving around now.

Mallu must have reached the same conclusion at the same time. Mallu shouted something in Jao that Tully didn’t catch. Then — Jao could be just as crazy as Ekhat, sometimes, he and all four of his soldiers launched themselves at the waving claws.

They caught them — more or less; snagged them, anyway — and for just a moment the limb was immobilized.

Greer had come to literally point-blank range. He couldn’t risk aiming at the knees/elbows, because the Jao were close. So he took off the whole limb, right below what amounted to a shoulder.

A cloud of blood engulfed him. Mallu and the four other Jao, still holding the claws, drifted away. The Ekhat seemed to shrivel, like an insect caught in a flame. Then, its mouth agape in that same screech — what Tully took for a screech, anyway — the monster began beating its head against the object in which it was pinned. Still trying to suicide, even with no limbs left.

But “trying” was the operative term, Tully saw. Even a creature as huge and powerful as an Ekhat couldn’t smash open a helmet designed to withstand combat in space, when it only has its torso muscles to work with and lacked any effective leverage.

And not even an immense and maniacally murderous Ekhat could remain conscious for very long, with all six legs severed. It had to be suffering badly from its own version of shock. Tully could see the mouth grow slack and the eyes turn a dimmer shade of red. A few seconds later, the creature was still.

So much for that. Now. How to keep the damn thing from bleeding to death? The Ekhat’s suit had stopped the ichor-flow from the first five severed limbs. But the blast that took off the last limb, coming right at the shoulder, had created too large a wound for the suit’s own resources. Ichor was spewing out, just like it would from a human or Jao arterial wound.

Mallu came up with the answer to that. A temporary solution, anyway. Whether it would keep the thing alive for very long was hard to say.

Lasers hadn’t been of much use when it came to capturing the Ekhat. But they did just fine at cauterizing the monster’s wound. True, any orthopedic and plastic surgeons assigned the task of restoring the Ekhat to its proper shape and vigor afterward would have cursed Tully and his crew. But Tully could live with that burden for… ever and ever and ever.

Miller came up to him. “They’re all dead, sir. The slaves, I mean. Except for” — she pointed at a cluster of soldiers—”three of them over there. When the last Ekhat went down, they were the only ones left. They quit, then. Sorta turned into pumpkins, in fact. Dropped their weapons, curled into little balls and didn’t do anything. I didn’t see any point in killing them, so we’ve got them captured.”

“Good work, lieutenant,” he said, feeling pompous but not knowing what else to say. There were some definite disadvantages to having the hots for a very capable subordinate officer. You were always a little at a loss for words, for which you compensated by acting middle-aged. Middle-aged and dull-witted.

But this was no time to be thinking about Caewithe Miller’s ready smile and bright blue eyes — much less the small but very feminine body that lay hidden somewhere beneath her spacesuit. So Tully sternly told himself, and turned to address the others present.

“Good work, Kelly and Greer. Mallu, my congratulations.”

Could he possibly sound any more middle-aged and dull-witted? He didn’t think so.

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13 Responses to THE CRUCIBLE OF EMPIRE — Snippet 68

  1. BRK says:

    So, now the real work begins…. Keeping the Ekhat alive, articulate and aware.

    I wonder what the Lliex are thinking of the scene and what is running through Jihan’s mind.

    The fact that the remaining Anj have been spared and not exterminated should give her and Lliant plenty to think about.

    I wonder what Third Note will be thinking once she comes to.

    Very few books contain so many possibilities and so many points of interest.
    My appreciation to the Authors and Drak for putting this up. Thanks guys…

  2. Mr. Masterson says:

    I have to say nice capture I doubt you could have done it better. What I want to know is what do Jao believe to be loot? I can’t wait to see Humans meet the Lliex.

  3. Grant says:

    “But there was a method to Mallu’s method” — I should hope so, since that’s a definitionally true statement. We’re mising a “madness” in there.

    Am I the only one bothered by the fact that Tully seems to be acting like an incompetent tag-along through the entire battle and that his reactions are just all wrong? I mean ok, he’s not good with suit-jet maneuvering. Fine. Hunker own and *don’t move*. He should still be exercising at least *some* degree of command during this thing instead of gawking like some newb spectator and not even paying attention to half the fight while all his soldiers keep their heads and actually fight the battle without any involvement from him whatsoever.

  4. Daryl says:

    @3 Grant, we are hearing about Tully’s presumed incompetence from him and his perspective. My experience of leadership is that every good leader is constantly critiquing his performance on the inside and feeling inadequate, while from the outside the followers see a cool, calm and collected persona. The worst leaders are the born to rule idiots who think that everything they do is perfect. An analogy is the duck serenely gliding across the pond while under the water he is paddling like mad.

  5. Grant says:

    Yes… but in this particular instance he appears to be entirely correct in his self-critique. He literally didn’t do *anything* the entire battle as far as we’re told here.

  6. robert says:

    @3 Grant, I think you are not giving the authors credit for their twisty usage. I think they actually meant that there was a method to the method. Sorta like what a wit once said about Los Angeles, that there was no there there. Actually there are too many there’s there, but…

  7. robert says:

    @5 As John Wooden used to insist, you don’t coach during a game, you coach during practice. They did what they were supposed to and they won.

  8. Grant says:

    If Tully isn’t supposed to be playing the game he should be sitting on the shuttle monitoring things over the radio.

    The coach also doesn’t sit in the huddle during the game, then stand in the middle of the field getting in everyone’s way and being generally useless while the play unfolds. And if he does, the fact that his team scores while he did it doesn’t excuse him.

  9. robert says:

    He just watched from the sideline. I don’t see where he was in the way or doing anything but observing and being approving at the end.

  10. robert says:

    It is really hard to see what is going on over the radio, don’t you think?

  11. Grant says:

    What exactly do you suggest he needed to be here seeing so that he could accomplish his role of… doing absolutely jack squat? He issued no commands. He gave no direction of any form. He contributed in no way to the engagament. The only thing he brought to this entire situation was the possibility the commander of the mission would get his head blown off by a stray shot in the middle of a firefight he was clearly completely lost in and had no business being anywhere near.

    I’m sorry, but the way they have Tully acting in this encounter is just plain wrong. Either he has the faintest clue what to do in a combat situation and should have been at leaast **trying** to do it… or he didn’t and has no business being on this ship until it’s cleared by the troops who do know what the heck they’re doing.

  12. robert says:

    We’ll have to agree to disagree. However…
    He is there for a reason–the authors want him there because after the battle the Lleix must be dealt with. By a human, not a Jao.

  13. Grant says:

    Fine, they want him there for a reason. So give him a reason to be there and there’s no problem. Don’t just drop him in looking like an out of place idiot because you have some plan to use him in a plot point later.

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