The Span Of Empire – Snippet 03

The Span Of Empire – Snippet 03

Behind the Fleet Commander stood a very tall, very lean human, Lieutenant Fflewdwr Vaughan. It hadn’t taken long after attaining her new position for Dannet to realize that she would need assistants, a staff of sorts. Her position in Terra taif was not sufficient to take individuals into service, that almost feudal relationship between the highest of the individual Jao and those who were gathered around them; and being who she was, she would undoubtedly refuse to take humans into service even if she could. But Terra taif’s elders had all but ordered her to make use of those humans who would be of service to the taif. And the one who made it past her disdain and bristly attitude was a certain dour young Welshman from Caernarvon. Caitlin hadn’t had much contact with him yet, but from all accounts he was a good match for the fleet commander in personality and temperament.

Also present were Colonel Gabe Tully, the ground forces commander of the fleet, accompanied by the Ban Chao’s First Sergeant, Adrian Luff; Wrot krinnu ava Terra, one of Terra taif’s elders and her primary assistant (a wily old devil, for a Jao); Brakan and Matto of the Lleix Starsifters elian; Ramt of the Lleix Ekhatlore elian, and Pyr and Lim of the Lleix Terralore elian.

Completing the roster, and standing against a wall flanking the door, were Caitlin’s personal bodyguards.

For many years Caitlin had been assigned a Jao bodyguard; first Banle krinnu ava Narvo, a terrible wretch who had abused her and held her hostage to ensure her father’s cooperation with the occupying Jao, then later Tamt, a staunch ally who stood between her charge and certain death more than once. After it was determined that Caitlin needed more than the single guard, she selected Miller, a jinau veteran of the Lleix campaign, who was unexpectedly amusing as well as efficient. Tamt now officially reported to Miller, but remained assigned to being Caitlin’s closest companion. Her body-shield, as it were. The two were almost inseparable.

Caitlin had never had a close female friend before. Though she had attended college, Caitlin’s father’s status at that time as a notorious Jao collaborator had prevented development of those sorts of relationships. Her close association, first with Tamt and subsequently with Miller, had proven unexpectedly welcome.

Special benches had been provided for the Lleix as their dimensions were rather broader than even the Jao. The four silver-skinned Lleix gazed at her with upswept expectant black eyes, their fleshy aureoles standing at attention like crowns worn over the head on edge from ear to ear. Taller than humans, their vividly brocaded robes were draped properly, which was always of paramount concern to a Lleix, their hands folded in the proscribed most polite fashion. No one outside the Lleix would ever know now, Caitlin thought, that Lim and Pyr had been thoroughly disenfranchised when the Lexington had first come calling, long-time impoverished denizens of the Lleix slum known as the dochaya.

“We have to make a decision,” she said, once everyone was seated.

Across the table from her, Wrot’s eyes danced with enigmatic green fire. One of his ears signaled slight-error.

She sighed. “Or rather, I have to make a decision, but I want your input.” She gazed around the table, gathering their attention, human, Jao, and Lleix. “So far, this expedition has been a failure. We have found nothing but the ashes left behind by the Ekhat. I worry that it won’t get any better if we continue on this heading. The Ekhat have been working their way out along this arm of the galaxy for unknown thousands of years. Quite possibly hundreds of thousands of years. I have to consider the possibility that it might just be best to cut our losses and return to Terra.”

“We have supplies enough to go on for many months still,” Dannet said. She adjusted an already flawlessly placed strap of her Terra-blue harness, then her face with its bold vai camiti, characteristic of her Narvo origins, turned to Caitlin. That Narvo face always gave Caitlin a bit of a pause, reminding her as it did of mad Oppuk krinnu ava Narvo who had killed her brother and ruled Earth with an iron fist for most of her childhood.

Dannet’s head and ears were canted at the angles which communicated unafraid-of-challenge to anyone versed in Jao body-speak. “There are millions of stars in the Orion arm of the galaxy. We have examined only a tiny percentage of them. Sampled, it would be better to say.”

Caitlin flushed and let her own angles answer with the Jao posture bold-intentions. “Yes,” she said clearly, “but we cannot visit any significant portion of them in the time allotted by the Bond for this expedition.”

“You believe they are all dead,” Lim of Terralore said. She bowed her head on its long graceful neck. Her voice was a piping lilt, incongruous for a creature so tall and sturdy. “That is correct?”

“They have all been dead so far,” Caitlin said. Heartbreakingly so, she thought, though a Jao would have trouble making sense of that emotion. They were far too practical. Dead was dead and therefore of no use. Move along to the next world.

“We cannot ally with the dead, and available resources are limited,” she said, trying to think like a Jao so they would understand her reasoning. “We cannot afford to waste time exploring systems unlikely to contain sentient civilizations.”

“Since you want input, I say let’s not give up just yet,” Gabe Tully said, sitting back in his chair and running his hands through his shaggy blond hair. “The Bond gave us a mandate to explore. Despite the odds, we can’t just go skulking back with nothing to show for it.”

He was right, she thought. They needed something to justify this expenditure of resources and manpower. Jao respected results. Mere trying counted for nothing with them.

“We have found two worlds so far that were clearly inhabited by intelligent technology-using species,” Wrot said, “including this latest one where the inhabitants developed space-going technology.” His head with its many service marks nodded. “The probabilities are that other civilizations are definitely out there somewhere. I say we give it a few more tries, and step up the pace so that we look at twenty or more additional systems, jumping, then moving on the moment it appears hopeless, not lingering to take samples and recordings. Out of millions of stars, the Ekhat must have overlooked at least a few.”

“Is it possible the species we saw today is hiding somewhere in this system?” Tully said. “Like the Lleix did?”

“No,” Dannet said. “A large outpost was located by our sensors on the next planet out from the sun, which is too cold to sustain life as we know it without environmental provisions. The blasted remains of their settlement were detected. There’s no sign of any energy signatures or survivors.”

She could dispatch a squad there to check in person, Caitlin thought, but it would just waste more time, and they had none to waste. The Ekhat would attack Earth again as soon as they were ready, one of the Harmony factions, the Melody faction, or even the fanatical Interdict. She had boarded an Ekhat ship once, seen the monsters with her own eyes, which was more than most people on Earth or even Jao could say. She knew firsthand how totally insane–no, unsane–they were. The two that had spoken with her group had killed themselves before their visitors were permitted to leave because contact with lower life forms had rendered them subsequently unfit to exist.

The monsters had tried to exterminate all life on Earth once already. They would be back, in much fuller force the next time. Their last attack had incinerated a million people and rendered a good chunk of China uninhabitable. The next time, Earth might not survive unless they had extra resources to bring to the fight.

Resources it was her responsibility to secure.

“We will go on,” she heard herself say. “We can’t give up until we find what we have come for.”

“More people,” Pyr said. His aureole stood on end. He inclined his sturdy body toward her. His silver skin gleamed with oil.

“More people,” Caitlin agreed. “To stand with us against the Ekhat. To ally with Jao, humans, and Lleix. To exterminate the Ekhat as completely as they seek to do away with us.”

“That is desirable,” Lim said. She inclined her head respectfully. “But is it likely?”

“Not likely,” Wrot said, “but then how likely was it that humans and Jao should come to the Lleix in the hour of their greatest need?”

“Not likely at all,” Pyr said, “but much appreciated.”

“Together, we are stronger,” Caitlin said. She spread her fingers on the gleaming wood table and stared down at them as though they could give her sorely needed answers. “We will find another species and convince them to work with us, and then another after that, and another, until, united, we can stand strong against the Ekhat.”

Wrot placed his hands on the table across from hers. “On to the next framepoint then.”

Heads nodded around the table. Even the Jao had picked that mannerism from the human as a substitute for their affirmation/readiness-to-perform bi-partite posture.


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13 Responses to The Span Of Empire – Snippet 03

  1. Positroll says:

    Seems to me like they are overlooking a basic strategic factor: if the Jao/Terran/Lleix alliance wants to overcome the Ekhat, they will have to make use of one of the Terrans biggest asset (which is at the same time the Ekhats biggest weakness): we Terrrans can multiply FAST when given lots of empty space.

    Book 2 already discussed the possibility of installing a Lleix colony (hopefully only containg 1/3 of the Lleix; with 1/3 remaining on Earth and 1/3 getting a safe planet with the Jao between them and the Ekhat) somewhere in old Lleix space, since the Ekhat would never dream about looking there.

    In the same vein, given how overpopulated Earth is in comparison, it makes lots of sense install human settlements (100.000 – 1 million people) on all viable worlds in the Ekhat rear that can be terraformed and settled without raising Ekhat awareness. If you don’t use radio waves etc (long live optical transmitters), hiding them until they are reasonably able to defend themselvers shouldn’t be a big problem.

    In this respect, the current mission is perfectly placed to discover planets that can be used for such future terraforming projects. Discovering an intelligent species would be a plus, but not necessary for declaring the expedition a success imO ….

    • Johnny says:

      Part of the problem with this is that the Ekhat progressively destroy each planet that holds sentient life. They don’t just kill the lifeforms, they destroy the atmosphere. The Empire would have to find a set of worlds that hadn’t been torched by the Ekhat to enact this strategy.

      • Positroll says:

        The question then becomes: (1) how often does life appear on certain planets and (2) how often does intelligent life appear on such a planet? if only 10% of group (1) also has (near) intelligent live, that still leaves 90% available for “easy” terraforming …

        As for those planets located in the Goldielocks-zone whose atmosphere got destryoed by the Ekhat: well, Earth got its water + atmosphere mostly via comets and asteroids. With the Jao drive it should be posible to give enough asteroids a nudge towards such a planet to recreate oceans and an atmosphere over time … (cf. the planned bombardment of Earth by Oppuk towards the end of book 1)

        The fact that the Jao have settled almost 200 planets proves that there should be enough category (2) planets out there … if we find and settle only a dozen of them, the number of humans could increase enourmously over time … (lets not forget, the Jao have been fighting the Ekhat for thousands of years; this is a long term struggle we are now in, too …)

      • Jeff Ehlers says:

        That shouldn’t be too difficult, given that’s how the Lleix survived for so long, by fleeing to new planets before the Ekhat could smash them flat. Sending colony ships of humans out to life-bearing planets would be a really good long-term strategy.

  2. Nguyen Gia Thai says:

    The Earth of this setting is not overpopulated. They are just after the post War period with Jao, and a brush with Ekhat. They are not at 6 billion level I think.

    Colonize other worlds is to not put all eggs into one Earth basket, for safety, not to relieve pop pressure.

    • Positroll says:

      I think we are back down to 4 billion on Earth. So what? We can easily double that within 2 generations, but then we are back to the limits of what Earth can support. OTOH, with colony worlds,
      – we distribute the risk (eggs and baskets, as mentioned)
      – we can grow additional population centers that can make use of easily accesible high grade ore deposits for building spaceships (the best grade deposits on Earth have been used up centuries (Europe, Asia) / decades (America, Australia) ago
      – we can import food to Terra from those colonies if needed in case some Ekhat ships break through our defenses and happen to burn our breadbaskets (central US, Ukraine, etc)
      – we confuse the Ekhat as to where humans really come from, reducing the risk for an all-out atack against Earth
      – with trade among lots of colony worlds (and the Jao), technical progress will take off (yay, ollnat!)
      – our strategic position vis a vis the Jao improves (the Jao might not really like this, but once they made us basically their equal, there is not much they can do to stop it without risking our cooperation in the fight against the Ekhat. And as long there are Ekhat out there and the Jao don’t try to mess with us, humans will continue to cooperate with the Jao, especially if associations like that with Krant continue)

      P.S. Nitpicks after second read:
      – The four silver-skinned Lleix Brakan and Matto of the Lleix Starsifters elian; Ramt of the Lleix Ekhatlore elian, and Pyr and Lim of the Lleix Terralore elian. THAT’S 5.

      – accompanied by the Ban Chao’s First Sergeant, Adrian Luff;
      What’s Ban Chao? The troop ship? Hasn’t been named in the first 2 snippets IIRC …

      • David says:

        Good catch on four vs. five. I’ll fix that when I get the galley proofs.

      • cka2nd says:

        And each Earth colony can become its own taif and, eventually, kochan. The Lleix may do the same, with the long-term result being a true alliance rather than a Jao “empire” with human and Lleix protectorates.

        • Positroll says:

          1) Those colonies will depend on Earth for tech and defense for quite a while imO.
          2) Plutark and Narvo have lots of planets each – and look how Krant was treated by them ….

          So I’d rather have one strong Terran Kochan than lots of small ones the established Kochans can disregard …

  3. sensei says:

    I’m glad to see that Tamt has returned. She was on vacation during Crucible. I’m also glad to see that there are Lleix on the expedition. Their ability to learn new spoken languages should be valuable on a mission like this.

  4. Terranovan says:

    Ooohhh!! Adrian Luff! Is the name drawn from the same source as the sociopathic accountant who’s the main villain for Time Spike?
    On a different note:
    “their hands folded in the proscribed most polite fashion.” According to my best memory (and Wiktionary backs me up), “proscribed” means “forbidden”. I think the word called for here is “prescribed”, and – maybe – a comma belongs in between “prescribed” and “most polite”. Although, if I’m being that much of a grammar nitpicker, I think that I might be making one or two mistakes of my own in the preceding sentence. :-)

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