The Span Of Empire – Snippet 08
They came to a stop by the lift to his shuttle.
“So what do you want?” he asked.
“To not be afraid,” Lim answered simply.
“Learning to fight will not kill your fear,” Tully said. She looked at him in silence. “But it might teach you to work beyond your fear.”
Lim nodded. “Teach me.”
Tully looked at her. With her recent growth, she was now taller than Tully and had longer arms. She had mass. With some training, she just might be able to hold her own in a battle. It was worth exploring, anyway.
“That’s not a bad idea,” Tully said. “If you like, you can drill with my troops. I think everyone should know how to protect herself.”
The Lleix’s black eyes gleamed. “When shall I be starting?” Lim said.
“Now is fine with me–well, let’s make it after the next framepoint transfer,” he said. “Unless you have something better to do. Come to the Ban Chao and we’ll see what we can do.”
“Until we find a new species with whom we need to communicate, I have nothing to do,” Lim said. “I am much wanting it to be otherwise.”
Caitlin entered the bridge of the Lexington, or the command deck, as the Jao preferred to call it. Caewithe Miller came with her and Tamt followed them, a silent shadow who took up a stance beside the lift.
Fleet Commander Dannet herself, in the days when she was Terra-Captain Dannet, had not approved of superfluous personnel in her command space on the Lexington. She had allowed it during the mission to Valeron, because Wrot krinnu ava Terra had possessed oudh over that mission and he had wanted others there.
The new captain of the Lexington seemed to be a little more tolerant than Dannet had been. Terra-Captain Uldra krinnu ava Terra had been born Uldra krinnu Ptok vau Binnat, scion of a lesser associated kochan of a mid-tier kochan, according to the briefing Caitlin had received. The Jao, of course, would never have described the relationships that way. They would have instead said that Binnat was a kochan of lesser associations to the great kochans of Pluthrak, Narvo, or perhaps the scarcely lesser Dano, Hij, and Jak. Not as lesser as Krant had been before their Krant-Captain Mallu and his crew had become entwined with the affairs of Terra taif and its guardian, the Bond of Ebezon, the one Jao organization that was apolitical, standing aside from the constant association maneuvering and shifting that was normal existence among the kochans. But lesser, undisputedly.
Binnat and Ptok had sent troops for the conquest of Terra, perhaps more than they could rightly afford to risk; and more still for the long struggle to maintain Jao control of the restive planet. Uldra had been among the first of them. He had survived the conquest. He had survived the long grinding aftermath to the conquest, and finally had taken the bauta and retired from service on Terra, much as Wrot had done. But perhaps most importantly, he had come out of retirement to pilot one of the hastily modified Terran submarines that battled the Ekhat ships in the interior of the Sun; one of the two surviving pilots who had done so with some skill. As Wrot had put it recently to Caitlin with one of the human phrases he loved to collect, Uldra “had seen the elephant, up close and personal.”
At the founding of Terra taif, Uldra had joined the overwhelming majority of the veterans of the Terran wars in shifting allegiance to the new taif. Now, in the Jao manner, Uldra was of use as the captain of one of the greatest warships Jao warriors had ever manned, greater even than the Harrier class warships of the Bond of Ebezon, as well as serving as what the humans would have called the ‘flag captain’ of the fleet under Fleet Commander Dannet.
So far Caitlin had found him to be even-tempered. Given her experiences under Oppuk, the crazed-and-now-mercifully-dead Narvo governor, she chalked that up as a big mark in the plus column.
At the moment, the mood on the bridge was industrious, voices murmuring, heads bent low over displays, crewmen consulting one another in low voices. Dannet krinnu ava Terra was up there too, standing and gazing down at a readout, her body communicating uncomplicated steady-interest. Her golden-brown nap was still damp. Evidently she had come straight from one of the Lexington’s many pools. Lieutenant Vaughan was seated at a station to the rear of the deck, focused on multiple screens all streaming data, oblivious to everything going on around him.
Caitlin drifted around the bridge. She still didn’t understand a lot of the details of what was going on, but she had been on the bridge often enough in the last two years to know whether things were in their normal flow. No problems yet today, it seemed.
The mood subtly shifted. Crew, both Jao and human, settled deeper into their seats and bent over their screens. Voices did not grow so much louder as more intense.
It was getting close to the time for the jump, she thought, and her stomach gave a lurch. Personally, she found frame travel extremely uncomfortable. It wasn’t that it hurt. The experience was more that she felt like she was being forced to exist for the duration of the jump in dimensions that did not support human life. Or life of any sort. Like she was being folded and stretched at the same time, existing both here and there, turned inside out and upside down. She shuddered. She’d tried to explain it to her father, after they’d returned from the Valeron mission, but words had simply failed her.
Dannet looked up at her with green fire blazing in her black eyes. “You feel it,” the Fleet Commander said.
Caitlin nodded. “Yes,” she said, “I don’t know how, but I do.”
“Not entirely unexpected,” Dannet said with a satisfied flick of one ear. “After all, you were associated with one of Narvo’s best.”
I guess you could call it that, Caitlin thought. She’d always thought the word “tormented”–or perhaps “terrorized”–closer to the reality of the situation. But she knew now that Jao were also tough on their own progeny, demanding a lot and not babying them. She’d seen that much for herself after visiting one of the Terra kochan-houses, so perhaps her upbringing at the rough hands of Banle krinnu ava Narvo had not been as vicious in the eyes of a Jao as it had seemed to her. But Caitlin wasn’t Jao.
A low hum built as the great jump engines charged. The ship seemed suddenly more alive. Uldra was now all business, up out of his captain’s chair and striding from station to station, making corrections here and there, approving readouts and moving on. His ears were flattened in unabashed focus.
Caewithe Miller came over to her. “Are we close to jump?”
“I think so,” she said, as her heartbeat accelerated. “Not that anyone tells me anything.” Of course, they didn’t need to. To be fair, that was not her function, all the details that went into the running of the great ship. They would turn to her when it was appropriate for her input.
“Maybe this time will be the charm,” Caewithe said with a smile. “We’re due for some luck.”
“Maybe.” She made herself return the smile, though her heart was racing. It was just as likely they would find ten Ekhat ships on the other end of this jump as an inhabited world filled with agreeable aliens and highly developed tech that they would be absolutely delighted to put at the Human/Jao/Lleix’s disposal.
An alarm sounded, not a strident bell, but a clear ringing chime that was being relayed throughout the great ship. “Stations,” Uldra’s deep voice said over the ship com in his capacity as Terra-Captain of the Lexington. “Jump preparation has been initiated. All personnel take appropriate action.”
That meant hold onto your proverbial hat, Caitlin thought. No matter how many times they jumped, she never got used to it.
The bridge doors opened again and Wrot krinnu ava Terra walked through. She motioned for him to join her. The old Jao was both wily and wise, but what she often liked most about him was his sense of humor.