Tully sent Caitlin back to the Lexington with Wrot to await the three Lleix. It made him nervous to have an untrained civilian bobbing around a barely secured area. If she slashed her suit or one of these little Ekhat serviles whom they might have overlooked popped up its head long enough to get off a few shots, Ed Kralik would have his skin. In addition, Tully had a lot of confidence in her and thought they needed her. Back on Earth, Caitlin had made a huge difference in the struggle to achieve respect from the Jao.

Burgeson and Nam returned with the two Lleix along with a third suited figure of the same configuration. One of them carried bundles of fabric over one arm.

“Finish mopping up here,” he told Burgeson. “Kaln, Nam, you come with me back to the Lexington.”

Of the three Lleix, only the one named Jihan seemed to speak any Jao. Tully was almost grateful for that. It might prevent further nonsense. He just wasn’t accustomed to having to worry about Jao making stuff up. Such shenanigans weren’t normally part of their nature, but Kaln had already shown herself to be gifted with ollnat through her reworking of the hoist mechanism. And then there was that whole business of Krants making up stories about ships being turned inside out in transit. They obviously had a penchant for ollnat that other kochan lacked. Looking back, he guessed he shouldn’t have been all that surprised.

The Lleix obediently accompanied them to the Lexington, entering through the same EVA locker room. He worried that the ship’s atmospheric mix wouldn’t be right for them, but they were stuck out here with a damaged ship and were going to run out of air soon at any rate.

“Wait,” he said to Jihan after the air lock had cycled and the alien was fumbling at its helmet. “We need to test your suit mix to make sure you can breathe our air.”

“Jao breathe?” it said, black eyes narrowed into gleaming slits.

“Yes,” he said, glancing at Kaln, who had already removed her helmet and was scratching her ears.

“Lleix breathe too, then,” Jihan said. One of the others came to help and he realized that it had an injured arm.

Wondering how it could be so certain, he held his breath as the helmet was pulled off and the silver-skinned alien inhaled. When it didn’t fall over gasping, the other two removed their helmets as well.

Caitlin entered the locker. “Bring them up to Deck Forty-Six,” she said in English. “I’ve reserved a conference room, then we’ll have to find them quarters.”

“Does Dannet know we brought them over?” Tully asked as the Lleix struggled out of their suits. He couldn’t help staring. They were taller than humans and sturdy, with massive pillar-like legs, huge four-toed feet and wide hips. Their trunks then tapered up to narrower shoulders which were topped with long graceful necks and round heads. The most exotic aspect of their appearance was the odd fluttering coronas that ran across their crowns from ear to ear. The overall effect, wider on the bottom, attenuating up to their heads, was triangular, even pyramidal.

They were all completely hairless and silver-skinned. Their broad hands sported three fingers and a thumb. Their eyes were black and upswept, set in dished faces with only the nub of a nose and nearly lipless mouths. Ignoring his scrutiny, they assumed the robes they’d brought along. Nudity did not seem to trouble them, though they all three subsequently fussed with the drape of the fabric, seeming to have a rigid standard of dress to which they conformed.

He spotted none of the obvious body conformation clues as to gender, but, he told himself, it was entirely possible that they had five distinct genders or even just one. Time would tell.

“Wrot decided to report in person,” Caitlin said. “But this is not Dannet’s call. Wrot has oudh in this situation.”

This situation. Tully blinked. Now that he thought about it, Caitlin had not looked all that surprised to find a new alien species hiding out here. The possibility of finding “this” must be what had Ronz so hot and bothered back on Terra that the Bond risked their fancy new ship on a mission to this misbegotten nebula. They damn well knew these Lleix were here! So what if five sodding Ekhat ships were here as well?

“Wrot will meet us in the conference room.” Caitlin turned to the Lleix and let her body curve into a graceful Jao posture. Tully didn’t recognize which one, but he had to give Caitlin credit. It did give the general impression of respect, at least to his eyes.

“Please accompany us,” she said to the Lleix.

“Lleix needing help!” Jihan said.

“We may be able to provide that help,” Caitlin said, then motioned at Tully.

Oh, yeah, he told himself, lowest ranked goes first according to Jao tradition and these Lleix seemed to know at least a bit about such things. Cat-lin, Queen of the Universe, could not possibly take the lead.

Hands shoved in his uniform pockets, he slouched through the door and headed for the nearest lift. The Lleix chattered to each other in musical voices, ran splayed fingers over the walls, examined the flooring and lighting. Though their legs were massive, they did not walk so much as glide, their movements even more lithe than Jao postures.

They were all dressed in stiff silver-blue robes brocaded with brightly worked scenes, each different. Hidata, the one who had been left behind, obviously deferred to Jihan while the third followed in their wake, uncommunicative. If it had been human, Tully would have said it was sulking, but with aliens, who knew what was going on?

The lift fascinated them, too, but they did not seem disconcerted by its rapid speed, like most humans. When it stopped, he led them out, then conducted the trio to the conference room where Wrot was waiting.

A full complement of guards in ship uniforms was already in place, but otherwise the deck seemed to have been cleared of extraneous crew. This might not be Dannet’s show anymore, he thought, but the Terra-Captain was still on the job.

He stuck his head through the door. Inside there was a gleaming black table surrounded by chairs that were going to be totally inadequate for Lleix dimensions. Caitlin squeezed past him, then stared in dismay.

“I, um, need to get back to the wreck,” Tully said.

Caitlin turned back, put a hand on his shoulder, and squeezed. “Oh, no, you don’t, mister,” she said softly. “You’re staying right here!”

“Hey, you’ve got your faithful slave, Wrot,” he said. “What more do you need, Princess?”

“That’s Queen Caitlin to you,” she said and her blue-gray eyes gleamed. “And don’t you forget it!”


Wrot saw them walk in, three tall gliding figures, silver-skinned, clad in silver-blue robes. Only a few file images had survived since the Jao had done their best to extinguish these people, his kind being unsentimental about such things. Now, out of their suits, he saw that they were as unlike Jao and humans as a species could be and still be built along the same general two-armed, two-legged plan.

The chairs in this room, though sized for use by Jao, who were generally bulkier than humans, were still too small. He dispatched three of the guards out in the corridor to fetch benches from the nearest pool room. In the meantime, they all stood around and stared at one another, the Lleix as frankly curious as the humans and the Jao.

“Lleix needing help!” the one who called itself Jihan said.

“Yes.” Caitlin gave it her full attention. “You said that before. What is wrong?”

“The great devils have founding us!” Jihan said, its corona fluttering.

“But they are all dead,” Caitlin said.

“Those now dead,” Jihan said as the three guards returned with benches. “Many more Ekhat! They come!”

“It means they will send more ships,” Wrot said quietly in English. “And it is right. The Melody lost one ship in the first battle, now five more. They will be back and in still greater force.”

“You fight more Ekhat?” Jihan said.

There was a pause as chairs were removed, then benches positioned along the table. Caitlin took a seat on the opposite side as the Lleix gingerly maneuvered themselves onto what was for them a rather narrow target.

“Humans and Jao do not find it convenient at the present time to fight another battle in this nebula,” Caitlin said. “And even we did, that would only expose the Lleix to more danger. Would it not be better for you to travel to another system where the Ekhat cannot find you? You traveled to the derelict. Surely the Lleix have ships that can transport your people.”

“Most few ships,” Jihan said. Its corona wilted. “Many Lleix, few few ships. Most left behind.”

Caitlin glanced aside at Wrot, then folded her hands and leaned across the shiny black table. The tension in the room made Wrot’s whiskers itch. He resisted the urge to rise and pace. “How many Lleix?” she said carefully.

The Lleix’s black eyes gleamed. It twitched its robes to hang at a precise angle, then sat very still as though thinking hard. “Jao numbers difficult,” Jihan said finally. “Jao gone long time. This one only learn your words short time ago. I think you say — one hundred thousands.”

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13 Responses to THE CRUCIBLE OF EMPIRE — Snippet 72

  1. saladin says:

    100.000 all that´s left

  2. Doug Lampert says:

    And still probably FAR FAR too many to fit on Lexington. I can’t remember the ship’s dimensions, but regardless of volumn available they’d have no reason to build in that much life support capacity.

    Nor do they neccessarily have time to go back for a transport fleet. There may be time. They had time to dispatch Lexington after the first fight and that required quite a bit of organizing. But they can’t count on that and that would involve Lexington leaving the system and hoping there’d be something to come back to.

    So they really have to manage out of local resources and they can’t count on fighting off whatever’s sent after five ships disappear.

    Local resources: They have one captured and crippled Ekhat ship, one large and more or less intact warship, the Liexx ships such as they are, and nothing much else to work with. This looks almost insolvable. I wonder how the authors solve it.

  3. Daryl says:

    100,000 is plenty to provide a good gene pool. I’d suggest that they send one of the Liexx ships with a mixed (Human,Jao, and Liexx) crew to Earth to fetch help and transport while the Lexington stays to ambush any Ekhat as they arrive. Would make good theatre to have the Lexington down to its last dozen 500mm sabot rounds when the posse arrives to catch the Ekhat fleet from the rear.

  4. Mr. Masterson says:

    I thought their were certain limitation in population to industry. I’m not to sure about the ratio, but if I had to guess even with advance tech. your talking about 5 farmers to every trades man. I mean you need X amount of farmers in order to keep certain industries running like microchips factory or even miner things like well mines. Their tech base is ancient, they have no R&D to speak of because of lack of materials and industry. I don’t know how they can even keep up with a population of 1,000 let alone 100,000? This could all be solved with fabbers or some sort of hing tech that made it all feasible some how. I guess anything is possible.

  5. Mike says:

    Well, they have been losing tech regularly.

    BTW, the human gene pool went through a bottleneck that is estimated to be quite substantially smaller than 100,000. Estimates range from 15,000 to as few as 2,000.

  6. saul says:

    About 2% of the American population lives on farms. That would be expected to be even fewer for a society with space age tech.

    Granted, the ratio might be much higher on a metal poor planet. Although, I would expect the main drain to be people mining etc. 100k people on a whole planet could survive with just hunting and inefficient farming.

  7. Grant says:

    100,000 is plenty to maintain a functional society with a decent tech base if the colony was founded with advanced tech and knowledge in the first place. What it is NOT is enough to allow enough diversity and specialization to produce much in the way of new research, or to keep up with *all* the demands of maintaining *all* the tech they started with. You’d find a lot of things not immediately necessary to colony survival simply being set aside and functional knowledge of them among the population simply lost. As long as the records were kept it would be re-gainable once the population re-expanded of course.

    What I’m surprised about is that after 1000 or whatever years Ekhatlore is still apparently monopolizing a large portion of their obviously limited skilled labor force. I mean yes, knowing about the Ekhat is important… but it’s not like there’s any new information constantly pouring in you need all your brightest minds to be studying. I would understand a newly escaped fugitive population to be a little… fixated, shall we say?… on the Ekhat. But after a century of noticing your tech base is fraying at the edges you’d think they’d take steps to encourage people in other directions and just keep a core team in place to maintain knowledge of the Ekhat against the day it was needed again and make other people learn to… I don’t know… mine ore in space and build freaking ships that will one day be required to prevent the extermination of your species if those Ekhat find you again? Maybe?

    It’s a possible onsequence of their social structure being just too insularly vocation oriented. Every diferent “union” type organization is looking out for itself and it’s own concerns too much and not keeping an eye on the big picture enough… but it seems a little excessively myopic. All this obsessing about knowing about the Ekhat and nobody planning for what to do if they find you?

  8. saul says:

    Agreed, also, 100k is a small number, haven’t they been on this planet for rather a long time?

  9. robert says:

    Notice that each of the guilds, or whatever they are called again, maintains its own garden farm using the most junior members as farm labor. Also, for such a small population to have what appears to be an unemployed or very underemployed class of non-guild members, who have to beg or cadge odd jobs for a living is very odd indeed. These folks have a horribly disfunctional and inefficient society. Just the emphasis on how their clothes look is nuts considering that they are withering away to extinction.

  10. robert says:

    @8 saul, agreed. But what is their reproduction rate and how are young raised and educated: families or clans or what? It speaks to the infant survival rate, or should I say mortality rate. Clearly, since there were empty guild houses, there must be negative population growth. Hmmm. Caitlin and Wrot have a job to do all right.

  11. saul says:

    There could be nutritional problems with that eco-system. As their supplement producing machines break down, the birthrate declines as well. That might also explain such a small population staying in one city vs spreading out.

    However, I suspect its simpler. The city is full of snooty aristocrats. Over time, more and more of the ugly but imaginative types have simply left the city. Who wants to live in slums and be treated like crap, when you can run your own farm far from authority. This ‘middle class’ exists and is probably counted in the 100k. However, I suspect the city is really a Vatican of culture, surrounded by more simple social structures.

    Or, as more tech breaks down, more and more of the people have to be sent to mine etc. Thus a smaller % can be kept busy on eclectic useless skills.

  12. Daryl says:

    In harsh pragmatic terms what can they offer the anti Ekhat alliance? Hopefully they still have their old databases with information regarding useful weapons and technologies that more flexible societies like Earth can utilise.

  13. saul says:

    They can also offer massive prestige to both Earth and the Bond (as if they needed any). The Jao needed something to unify them, and this is a big step in that direction..

    I would have thought this system would be a fantastic place for the Humans/Jao to take out EK’s. AFter all, you don’t want them focusing on your homeworlds sun. Plus, this system is tough on instruments, which should make tactical retreats from battle easier.

    Having said all of that, whatever happens in this system might have no effect at all on what happens to Sol. In that case, defending this system would be a waste. The EK empire is vast and different factions might focus on each system.

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