Chapter 26

If the new aliens were triumphant, dare she ask for help? Jihan’s injured arm ached abominably as she swung back to the overhang, then stretched out along it, peering into the maze of debris. She wondered who was winning and who in the name of the Boh these bold strangers could possibly be.

Lliant positioned himself behind her, watching back down the corridor so that they would not be surprised again.

The chamber was suddenly lit again very brightly by a flare of some sort sent up by one of the combatants. Jihan could finally see the newcomers clearly. They wore transparent helmets, similar to those employed by the Lleix, so that their heads were visible. They had no aureoles, which was unattractive, but hardly surprising. Instead, their skulls were covered with patches of fur in varying shades, mostly browns. Their eyes were large and round, white with tiny dark circles in the center like holes. To the last of them, they seemed to be shorter than Lleix. She doubted the tallest of them topped even herself. A magnificent Eldest like Sayr would have dwarfed them all.

Then a figure jetted past her, its movements more deft than the rest, and she stopped breathing. The creature’s entire head was covered in dark brown fur. It had a prominent muzzle and green flecked black eyes along with those large infamous ears, which were swiveling even as it passed.

She turned to Lliant. “That –” she said, but could not find the words to finish.

Lliant pulled himself up beside her, gazing out over the platform into the battle. “Yes?”

The figure was gone, having fired at an Anj, then plunged back into the maze of debris. Blood hammered in her head. Alarm flattened her aureole so thoroughly, she thought it would never again straighten. Once again, the universe had turned itself inside out. The situation was far worse than she’d thought. “That — was a Jao.”


Tully hovered above the corpse of the other Ekhat. Its legs and arms had curled like those of a dead spider after Naddo’s shot had destroyed its head. “Jesus, that’s ugly!” he said with a shudder, then turned to Miller. “Lieutenant, send parties to search the rest of this hulk. Go through every compartment, open every door. I think we’ve run into whatever survivors there were who were still in shape to fight. But I might be wrong, and there are probably some Ekhat or Anj somewhere who are immobilized by injuries.”

“Yes, sir. And what should we do with any we run into who aren’t dead?”

Tully hesitated. Then decided that with one Ekhat captured alive, they’d already fulfilled that mission. One was enough. More than enough, if anyone wanted his opinion.

“If they’re Anj — or any other slave species you might run across — try to keep them alive. If they’re Ekhat, kill ’em.”

She jetted off. Mallu and Kaln motioned him over to a bit of debris.

“Despite appearances, Major, much of this tech is usable,” Kaln said. “We should take care not to damage it any –” She broke off, staring up at the curving wall.

Tully followed her gaze and spotted two figures in unfamiliar design suits surveying the battle scene. They had only two arms and legs, so were not Ekhat, but neither were they short and stumpy like the Anj. A second slave species? “Kaln, Burgeson, Nam, secure those two up there!” he said, motioning.

Nancy Burgeson, who was closest, swooped in to train her weapon on the pair. Kaln, along with Nam, one of the jinau Jao of Baker Company, followed to back him up. The aliens did not flee, however. Instead, they pushed themselves up so that they were floating more or less face to face with their captors, staring back at the trio with upswept black eyes.


These were Jao. Jihan’s mind reeled at encountering yet another of their ancient enemies. But…

Most of the ones who had fought were of another species altogether, similar in conformation to the Jao, but easily distinguished by their smaller build and paucity of fur. Their faces were flatter, their ears tiny and stationary, when she knew from the records that those of the Jao were almost always in motion. And these particular Jao seemed to be under the command of one of the newcomers, the one with bright yellow head-fur. They were clearly following its directions, taking its orders.

Understanding flooded through her. Of course! The Jao had always been a slave species, and still were. For some reason, this particular group of Jao — perhaps all Jao — had fallen under the rule of another alien culture. So they served them now, not the Ekhat.

One of their captors, not a Jao, motioned with its slim gray weapon for her to approach. She turned to Lliant, who had not moved. His black eyes stared. “Come,” she said. “We must do our best to make ourselves understood.”

“They will kill us,” Lliant said. “There is no need to communicate that.”

“If they wished us dead,” she said, “we would already be so. They want something else.” She gestured at two of their captors. “Do you not see? Some of them are Jao!”

He groaned. “And you find that welcome news?”

“They are obviously communicating with one another,” she said, hand fumbling at her controls. “Perhaps we can find the same frequency.”

The closest Jao waved at her now. She pushed off and drifted down to it, if the chamber could be said to have a “down” orientation in any meaningful sense of the word under these conditions. Hurriedly flipping through the available communication channels, she listened to each for a breath, but heard only silence, static, silence. It was hopeless, she thought. Their tech was bound to be radically different. They might not even communicate in frequencies that could be detected by Lleix ears.

At her side, Lliant jerked, then looked at her. His black eyes gleamed. Had he found it? His mouth was moving as though he were trying to tell her something.

She clicked back to their common ship frequency. “– to five-thirty-four!” he was saying. “Dial to five-thirty-four!”

Fingers shaking, she did so. “– throw away your weapons!” a growly voice was saying. In Jao.

Lliant gazed at her expectantly. He did not understand, of course. He was an Ekhatlore. Quite properly, he had only studied the sly maniac tongue of the great devils. But she was Jaolore, however short the duration of her appointment. From long days of study, she knew approximately what those words meant, although they were not pronounced in the same way as the ancient recording. But that was not surprising. Languages changed, over time. She was lucky it was still basically the same.

“We — have — none — weapons,” she said slowly, the alien syllables dropping clumsily off her tongue before she could quite complete the sounds. She remembered the records, how the Jao had simply shot down that brave Wordthreader Eldest when she had pleaded for alliance, and white-hot fear seared through her. “Nothing is required here except that you die!” the Jao had said to the Lleix elder. She had watched the gruesome scene so many times, she knew the dialogue on both sides, word for word.

This entry was posted in Collaborators, Snippets. Bookmark the permalink.
Skip to top


23 Responses to THE CRUCIBLE OF EMPIRE — Snippet 69

  1. ij70 says:

    Waiting for Monday will be hard :)

  2. Randal Trimmer says:


  3. robert says:

    Caitlin! Get over here! Quick!

  4. saul says:

    Okay, what are the odds she will claim to be a prisoner, vs admitting to the existance of the scout ship :)

    On another note, I wonder if the bond has any ancient computers from the old L planets tucked away. Maybe the bond has enough records to really start rebuilding the L’s culture, once they get some resources.

    Finally, does anyone remember if its stated how advanced the L’s were? For all we know, they could have been more advanced than the EK’s, and just lost due to scale. It seems fairly likely the EK’s would not be all that interested in assimilating polluted alien tech. (ie stealth?)

    Will the shock of discovering the L’s transmit via J timesense to the rest of the Jao empire (prob not), and is the timesense a variation on the EK’s song?

    Ohh, and it was stated that EK’s destroyed framepoints in their civil war. Does that mean they blew up suns, or maybe just disrupted the magnetic fields/poles etc for extended periods?

  5. saul says:

    Ohh, and on Tully being an idle commander. He didn’t have to make any command decisions. Everything that happened fell easily into the established playbook. He had to go along in case of Unexpected events. When your side is kicking butt and not making mistakes, you don’t run around interfering. So far they have done a room clearing. Granted, its on a bigger scale than a 4 man swat team clearing a room, but you don’t need someone micromanaging well trained troops who know exactly what roles they are supposed to play. These are earths top troops, more or less.

  6. Mike says:

    She has to admit to the ship if she wants the ship to be saved.

  7. robert says:

    Saul, what do you mean by “Will the shock of discovering the L’s transmit via J timesense to the rest of the Jao empire (prob not), and is the timesense a variation on the EK’s song?”

    I take it you mean frequency 534, but what has that to do with Jao timesense? I am confused by your statement.

  8. Grant says:

    Saul: I wasn’t complaining Tully wasn’t micromanaging. I was complaining he wasn’t contributing **anything**. He wasn’t even making any attempt to contribute anything. He wasn’t fighting. He wasn’t commanding. He wasn’t even paying freaking attention so he **could** command if a situation arose where he needed to intervene or take action. He was just floating there gawking at spectacle broken up by brief bouts of daydreaming. If that’s all he’s capable of doing he has no business being on the boarding party.

    Robert: Saul is wondering if suddenly all the other Jao will sense some change in “flow” because of what’s happening here. Some sense of some big impending event coming their way. Also, it appears Kaln hasn’t recognized the Liexx yet, I’m wondering how many Jao are familiar with what they were supposed to look like. I doubt any of the humans will recognize them on sight so unless one of the Jao have that knowledge I doubt anyone’s calling Caitlin.

  9. dac says:

    i agree with Grant – His Louie was doing her job. the Krant Capt was doing his. Tully was not doing anything. But command has never been Tully’s strength – he just got pushed into it because of his ability to associate

    hmmmm, association. That sounds like something that might come up shortly….

  10. saul says:

    Agreed he was useless, and I question of why Tully was in the thick of the fight, vs floating outside or safe in the assault ship is a good one. Either he didn’t do a great job, or he didn’t really have a job to do in this case. (being to high up the chain of command). I got the impression from earlier text that he had added himself to the assault plan, vs letting his troops taking the risks. If thats the case, he really didn’t have a job to do. Yes, I am stepping back from my earlier statement.

    I also don’t get why he ordered any other EK’s killed, that seems crazy. Especially since the one that attacked was clearly a typical fanatical EK, now if they find a very young EK hiding in a closet they will kill it……
    Even if they are all fanatical (most likely), the first one could still easily die.

    As to who gets bounty. I suspect the ship will be given to the L’s as reparations. It won’t be going back to either the J empire or Earth. They will get bounty credit from the rest of the J empire, but the physical ship is needed to help the L’s (at least in the short term)

    @6 She can claim to be an EK prisoner, thus not revealing the presence of a short range scout attached to the ship….and the existence of an inhabited planet. Her standing order to the scout ship crew could be, if I don’t check in within 2 hours, detach and suicide to save the planet. That gives her some time to evaluate the new aliens.

  11. robert says:

    @10 What scout ship crew? She did not leave any standing orders for the one Lleix remaining on board. And she has no choice but to either become a prisoner (otherwise be taken by the Lexington crew) or ask for help. Be sure that Tully knows to get Caitlin and Wrot involved in this ASAP.

  12. Grant says:

    Why would Tully know to get either Caitlin or Wrot involved at all, let alone ASAP?

    IF someone figures out these guys aren’t an Ekhat client species then, yes, the need to be calling back and reporting in will be absurdly obvious… but until that happens they’re just one more set of prisoners he has no more reason to call anyone about than he does the Anj he’s already captured.

    So it’s really going to depend on if either a Jao recognizes the Liexx, or if Jihan manages to communicate what they are assuming she’s inclined to try telling them that particular bit of information. If she catches on that the Jao don’t recognize them she’s unlikely to want to volunteer the information so they can realize they’re dealing with the species they tried to wipe out of existence once-upon-a-time.

  13. saul says:

    @11 I think is plausible she has the ability to ‘radio’ her scout ship. She could radio for the last crewmember to board the EK ship and cut loose the scout. What kind of spacesuit has no comms? Its hard to yell in space.

    @12 I think they know the Anj are barely sentient, or at least sheeplike in motivation. They would probably treat an unexpected alien differently…..although that does not mean calling Caitlin asap as securing the ship would be the focus of attention. Having said that, I suspect we are about a millisecond from a J recognising them. Even if the Krant are to uneducated to realize , surely the top J’s back on the main ship have a video feed of whats happening.

  14. Robert H. Woodman says:

    Regarding Tully. He’s a major isn’t he? He’s not supposed to be in the thick of the fight unless the situation is URGENT or DESPERATE. He is supposed to LEAD, though, and he didn’t. Leading for a major doesn’t mean being on the entry team, but it does mean observing the flow of the battle and directing the fight. Tully didn’t do that, or at least it doesn’t look like he did that.

    I got the impression from the first book (Course of Empire) and from the initial snippets of this book that the Liexx were at one time a client species of the Ekhat. The Liexx apparently developed a highly dispersed, very advanced culture with trade, technology, and the trappings of culture (art, flower gardening, etc.) before being destroyed by the Jao. Is that a correct impression, and if so, what do you think were the Ekhat’s motivations in letting the Liexx become so developed and then in destroying them? Or will we ever find out?

  15. robert says:

    @14 The Lleix were NOT an Ekhat client. The Ekhat used the Jao to destroy the Lleix when the Jao were a client/slave species of the Ekhat. The Lleix fled at each attempt to wipe them out and ended up where they now are, greatly reduced in circumstance, culture, technology and the ability to do much to save themselves.

    My final attempt to rehabilitate Tully from all your criticism. He is clearly the kind of leader that goes in with the troops. Furthermore, this is a mixed command of Jao and humans and there is no precedent for that, at least in close combat, so his boots on the ground are necessary to insure that there is comity and that everyone does what has to be done. Sitting in the shuttle on his butt fretting is just not his way.

  16. robert says:

    Oh, sheesh! I just noticed what’s up next on the Baen site. So is this the last snippet? Official release is March 16.

  17. Grant says:

    No robert, that’s the problem. In this particular instance he was not the kind of leader that goes in with the troops because he wasn’t leading, and he wasn’t helping. He was the kind of *tourist* that went in with the troops. And an inattentive daydreaming tourist at that. And what are you possibly arguing he was doing that required his boots on the ground? Just saying it was necessary when he rather obviously wasn’t doing anything at all doesn’t do the job. And if it’s not “his way” to sit on the shuttle, fine. Then what exactly WAS his way? The “hands on I have to be there in the fight helping” way? Because he sure as heck wasn’t doing that either.

    I’m not actually saying Tully is an incompetent. My problem is actually that he’s really NOT supposed to be one but he was described as one in this particular incident, which is just jarring and inconsistent. The same way the Leixx suddenly forgetting that not being detected is kinda important and just flying into the middle of the battle for no good reason ticked me off before that.

  18. Drak Bibliophile says:

    Robert, the last snippet will be on March 3rd. Also, Baen books are often available before the so-called “official date”. You may even see it this coming week in some stores.

  19. robert says:

    @17 I quit. I don’t agree, I just quit.
    @18 On order @ Amazon. 4 more snippets.

  20. BRK says:

    Let me weigh in here.

    There is a clear and fairly thick line between Leadership and Micro-management. Tully did his part of leading by outlining to his team the mission parameters, getting his XO’s to really understand the mission and ensuring that they bring all their assets to the mission. I think he did this pretty well. Both Miller and Mallu were given full support and authority. Now you may ask, where is the leadership in this ?

    It lies in the fact that both Mallu and Miller did what they needed to do, with out asking for permission, and with the full confidence that what ever action they took would be evaluated fairly and without recriminations. And because of their regard for him kept him updated, on the unfolding events.

    The fact that Tully did not need to supersede any decisions taken by these two, shows the competence of these two officers and is zero reflection on Tully’s leadership. Contrast this with how Oppuk would have reacted if he had been in Tully’s position.

    Please let us also not forget the basic facts. Tully is a resistance guerilla rambo type whereas Miller and Mallu are career soldiers. Tully is leader of BAKER not because he wanted it, it was because he was assigned. I think he did a pretty good job.

  21. BRK says:

    Now that the Ekhat has been immobilized, prisoners taken, it is obvious that the person who has Oudh in this project be notified of the results of the battle.

    Wrot will be given the facts of the matter along video and audio feeds and what to do will be decided by him. There is no question of the data going to Caitlin or Dannet without Wrot’s say so.

    What Wrot will decide is anybody’s guess.

  22. BRK says:

    Finally I would like to round off the debate of Tully and leadership.

    1. If you are at war, all instructions are given in advance and there are SOPs that each soldier is expected to follow without exception.
    2. as any experienced battle leader can attest, second guessing operational commanders in the middle of an operation is one of the fastest ways to get your command killed and comitting professional hara kiri. Even if Tully disagreed with the decisions the two people took, he would have taken them to task after the mission was over. In the event, he did not disagree with any of the actions that they took. Any confirmation would would be redundant, any nit picking would have alienated the entire unit.
    3. I want to ask Grant a question that should have been asked right at the front. How would you have liked Tully to behave ? If you expected him to be like Alexander at Tyre storming the ramparts, I think you underestimated his Resistance spy training.

  23. Grant says:

    BRK: If his job was completed once he had outlined the mission parameters… parameters that were defined for him before he even left Lexington let alone left the shuttles… what exactly are you arguing his leadership role was *on the boarding party* that required him to suit up and float around in the middle of a combat situation gawking and daydreaming while his people were fighting?

    Was it lending a hand on an individual basis because as you said he is a “resistance rambo type”? Because he never even tried. So how is that consistent with the “he’s a rambo type” explanation for his actions exactly?

    Was it keeping back out of the fighting so he could maintain a wide view on everything that was going on… monitoring the situation just in case he had to take action? Because he didn’t even try and do that either.

    So… why was he there? Besides for the view?

    And how would I have liked him to behave? Any number of ways. But the two most consistent off the top of my head would be:

    1. He could have accepted his command role and lack of space-based combat training meant he had no business on the boarding party and stayed on the shuttle monitoring by radio and giving any new instructions that needed to be given from there.

    2. He could have gotten all stubborn and insisted on fighting beside his men and “leading from the front” even knowing he had no business there and knowing he didn’t have the necessary training, gone on the boarding party, and then actually at least *tried* to do jack squat when the fighting started since he had just insisted on sticking himself in that situation for that very reason.

    But what did we get instead? First he joins the boarding party, then once he’s there he does absolutely nothing when the fight starts. Doesn’t even attempt to do something and fail, just never even *tries*. Bull. It doesn’t make sense that he was acting that way.

Leave a Reply to saul Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.