The Span Of Empire – Snippet 09

The Span Of Empire – Snippet 09

Close-by, Fleet Commander Dannet looked up over her shoulder at Caitlin. The black eyes danced with green fire. Dannet’s ears canted to an angle that communicated disapproval. “You should take a seat, Director Kralik. It would not do to have you injured on the jump.” She turned back to the console she was monitoring. “That would create a lot of fuss over your well-being at a moment when we could least afford to have our attention diverted from what really matters.”

Wrot took her arm. “Just what I was going to say,” he murmured in Caitlin’s ear, “sort of.” He settled her into a seat before a vacant station next to Lieutenant Vaughan. She fastened her harness.

The screen crawled with figures that she supposed no one needed to know at the moment.

“First framepoint generator set,” a voice said.

The ship trembled beneath her feet like an eager hound about to be released on the hunt.

Uldra checked one screen, then another, his ears pitched at a mostly approving angle, though occasionally lowering in dissatisfaction as he pointed out an error that needed to be corrected. He was a calmer captain than Dannet had been, Caitlin thought, remembering how the big Jao had stalked about the command deck, cuffing those who were slow to handle their responsibilities, even throwing one to the deck and taking over the station herself. Of course, to be fair, Dannet had been working with an unfamiliar and mixed crew of Jao and humans, not those from Narvo, her former kochan.

That, of course, was the norm for this fleet two-plus years later. Only the Krant ship Pool Buntyam was crewed solely by a Jao crew. Even Dannet seemed to be resigned to the integrated crews these days, although one could still see flashes of irritation in her posture from time to time.

“Second framepoint generator set,” a different voice said with no more excitement that someone reading the choices for dinner off a menu board.

The vibration increased, so that the ship herself seemed eager to get on with the jump, which all the Jao present mostly found a thoroughly ridiculous notion, she thought.

“We’re getting close,” Wrot said.

She took a deep breath. They had jumped the Lexington many times now. The crew knew what it was doing. They would come out into a new system and hope that this time they would find what–and who–they were looking for.

The shaking increased. Wrot seemed to settle somehow into a waiting-for-necessity position that gave the air of being as solid as a mountain.

“Third framepoint generator set,” another crewman said, and this time there was just the slightest hint of excitement in his tone.

Uldra’s posture said calm-acceptance. Caitlin looked over at Dannet, whose body was angled to communicate disdain. One did not surrender to crude excitement when merely doing one’s job, at least one did not if one was Narvo, which Dannet would always be, no matter that she had been gifted to Terra Taif like a prize heifer to make up for Oppuk’s crimes.

“Fourth framepoint generator set,” a female voice said.

The ship was lurching beneath their feet now. Caitlin hastily checked the harness that would keep her from being ejected from the seat. “I hate this part,” she said, just loudly enough for her guards to hear.

“Amen,” Captain Miller muttered back from where she grasped the station console for balance. She looked pale, but resigned. “I don’t hate it as much as the thought of what could be waiting for us on the other end, though,” she finished.

It could be something wonderful or something terrible, Caitlin thought. The only way to know was to jump and take a look.

“Fifth set!” a male voice said.

The ship rocked beneath their feet as though buffeted by five monstrous opposing tidal waves, all trying to wash it out to sea in a different direction.

“You may jump, Navigator Annen,” Uldra said.

The great ship leaped.

As always, Caitlin’s stomach was left behind. She gritted her teeth, feeling distinctly unwell, as though being torn apart and compressed into exotic matter at the same time. She tasted blue on the back of her tongue, saw the strange gleam of bittersweet behind her eyes, felt the rasp of fear along her spine.

It will be over in a heartbeat, Caitlin told herself. Jao endured this all the time and had for centuries now. She could not let herself be seen to be weak.

Captain Miller was swearing under her breath. Her face was very pale. Her grip on the console showed white knuckles at every joint.

On and on they went, traveling and not-traveling, propelling themselves through something that simply was not-there, striding across the galaxy with seven-league boots like some preposterous fairy tale character.

Then, with a jerk, they arrived, existing at least somewhere again, when only a second ago they had been both nowhere and everywhere. Caitlin’s breath blew out. She hadn’t even been aware she was trying to hold it.

“I will never get used to that!” Caewithe muttered with a gulp.

“Amen.” This time it was Caitlin who replied.

The view screen blazed with light, the local view of the photosphere of this system’s star that surrounded them. “I guess we made it,” Caitlin murmured.

Terra-Captain Uldra strode from screen to screen, checking readouts, his body showing cautious-approval with every step. Caitlin looked over to the lift. Tamt flicked an ear of inquiry at her. She shook her head and Tamt settled back into place by the door. The Jao guard showed no effects at all, just like the Jao members of the command deck crew.

Caitlin looked back to Miller, who had released the console and straightened, but still looked a bit green around the gills and showed a few sweat beads on her forehead. She nodded at Caitlin who had to smile. Miller was always trying to prove herself to the Jao. If they took no notice of the discomfort of a jump, neither would she, as far as she was able.

Over the course of the next minute, the other three battleships reported in, all having jumped safely.

The screen brightened, then just for a second, Caitlin could see the darkness of space punctuated by distant stars. The fiery plasma closed in again. They were enveloped by starfire. That was the part to which she would never become accustomed.

Her heartbeat accelerated again, which she hadn’t thought possible. What was out there on the other side of that brightness? Friend? Foe? Or, most likely, more dead worlds?

“Shedding plasma,” one of the bridge crew said, a slight Krant male Caitlin had seen on duty before but never picked up his name.

Ten more minutes passed. The sensors detected the other ships of the fleet arriving. Caitlin checked her watch when she thought no Jao were looking. The plasma thinned. The times when their instruments could see lengthened. Nothing was close to the star. At least no Ekhat seemed to be waiting on them. This was most likely going to be another disappointment.

Then the plasma cleared for the last time. They were out of the photosphere.

“Scanning,” one of the Jao said.

Caitlin released the harness and stood to get a better view of the main screen. Techs were checking the system’s orbits for habitable planets. Most star systems had one, occasionally even two or three, if you counted marginal worlds where the gravity would be too high or too low, no liquid water existed, or the atmosphere was unsuitable for breathing without assistance.

“Coming about,” said the navigator.

Lieutenant Vaughan suddenly spat out a single hard-edged word. “Damn!”

Had he spotted something? Caitlin squinted at the screen, then saw what he had already spotted.

“Oh . . . my,” she said.

Miller said something even stronger.


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18 Responses to The Span Of Empire – Snippet 09

  1. Positroll says:

    I … hate … cliffhangers …

  2. BRK says:

    Exercise your ollnat to the max…….. Nice cliffhanger…..

  3. Positroll says:

    ” Techs were checking the system’s orbits for habitable planets. Most star systems had one, occasionally even two or three, if you counted marginal worlds where the gravity would be too high or too low, no liquid water existed, or the atmosphere was unsuitable for breathing without assistance.”
    So I was right after all – the expedition is finding lots of worlds human can settle on in the Ekhat rear areas, where they should be safe from discovery until they are ready to defend themselves. So lets build and send out a bunch of terraformers, followed up by colonies, each about 10-50.000 people strong, with a few centrally located systems with a bigger population. 100 years from now, we can really go on the offensive, and 200 years from now the Ekhat will be a small minority in this galactiv arm …

    • Andy says:

      It depends on the definition of “habitable”. Currently there are estimates that about one in five stars have planets in the habitable zone, but not every one of these has an oxygen atmosphere which would in turn require a biosphere.

      The problem with your strategy is that the Ekhat already know about Earth and different Jao systems, so these would all die in the 200 years. And the Ekhat seem to have caught on to the fact that some species roam previously “cleansed” space, or even hide a population there.

      • Positroll says:

        1) Well, the book is more optimistic than that (1 good planet 2 marginal planets / system, which fits with the 200 (?) worlds the Jao have settled …
        2) Why? The galaxy is BIG. If those colonies lie low (no radio etc) there is no reason for the Ekhat to jump back and sniff them out. Especially if the Jao+Terrans pressure them on other fronts.
        3) The Jao have been fighting the Ekhat successfully for hundreds / thousands of years on their own. Getting Earths big, productive and inventive population on their side should be a big boost for the Anti-Ekhat side (not mentioning freeing up the resources needed to garrison Earth for the last 20 years). We are now 2,5 years after the completion of the first Lexington. Given how productive Earths industries can be in war times, we should by now have not only a serious force of Lexingtons available in the Sol-system, but also hundreds of interplanetary fighting crafts:
        In world war 2, the Allies and Axis powers together produced more than 400 thousand fighter planes and bombers and almost 200 thousand tanks. In addition, Germany alone built close to 900 submarines over 5 years, while the UK built 1000 warships in the same timeframe – not to mention >7000 ships produced in the US of A … A united Earth, with Jao help and almost 100 years of technological progress (robots for construction!) can do better when fighting for species survival, even if the US was hit hard by the Jao 25 years ago …

        • Johnny says:

          I think you’re being overly optimistic on several counts.

          On 1), I assumed they meant most star systems checked. So significantly less than “most” of all stars.

          On 2), the Ekhat seem to be great at murder raids, and the Earth is very depressed. We’d basically be starting with no infrastrucure and no industry in the wilderness. This isn’t settling the West, this is a virgin field. I’d say it would take ~500 years to have an economy that is developed enough to be noticeable compared to Earth’s. So, may be in the pipeline, but it also seems rather longer term than you seem to think.

          on 3), several things. First, based on what they’ve told us, fighters would be ineffective at space combat. Fighters couldn’t mount the kind of mass driver that make Lexingtons so powerful, nor do they have the kind of armor or plasma sheath that makes them survivable. It would be a disaster. Second, you assume that the world economy is in as good a shape as the US in WW2. That seems far fetched; the population is noticeably lower, we’re scrambling for basic amenities, etc. A full on war effort could totally cripple the economy. Third, you assume that a Lexington is about as expensive as a WW2 destroyer. That seems crazy to me. I would not be surprised if one Lexington took about as much industrial might as a current aircraft carrier, and those take years to build and we only have 10 modern ones and we started building the active status ones in the ’70s. Finally, you assume that the crew is there. In WW2 we had an in-place military to train new recruits, we had sailors to pull from civilian service, and we had vets from other wars. Now, we’re building an entirely new force in a field that only maybe a few astronauts have experience in and we have to get loans from the kochan that held our nose in the dirt to even have competent captains. Manning may be the bottleneck (and given the first few snippets, manning IS the bottleneck both in manufacture and in operations).

          • Positroll says:

            1) In the end it doesn’t really matter. The important fact is that there are lots of planets out there to settle. We can start with the best 10 planets found so far and then slowly expand.

            2) You look at things way too much from a US perspective. The rest of the world (e.g. according to book 1, Japan) ended its resistance earlier and had enough time to recover – enough to be certainly way more productive than the world of 1940. Lets not forget, too, that much industrial production (esp ship building) has moved to Asia (Korea, China) these days anyway (no Jao involved), with the US making much of its money with services instead.
            3) I didn’t say we should build fighter planes (even thought I would argue for some drone carriers). I gave these numbers as examples of the potential for overall industrial production. The one serious bottleneck I agree with is production of Jao drives + shield tech. Everything else we can imO easily build in sufficient numbers to create – as a stopgap, in addition to Lexingtons and converted subs) – a fleet of hundreds of smaller ships (call them cruisers or corvettes) that need only be able to operate in interplanetary space and use pack tactics to take down any invading Ekhat – if necessary by ramming and blowing up nukes inside (I’m sure there will be not just Japanese pilots volunteering if necessary to insure Earths survival), but normally with center mounted railguns.* The crews sure will be badly trained. So what? So were many WW I + II pilots. They can train until the Ekhat show up and then go and do their best, as any drafted army in history did … I’d rather have 500 corvettes produced Liberty-ship style with untrained crews than a few more Lexingtons …

            *If the Jao have resources to put maglev systems on thousands of jinau tanks more or less for fun, helping us to build a few hundred rail guns for system defense cruisers shouldn’t really be a big deal …

  4. Nico de Lange says:

    When will this book become available?

    • Drak Bibliophile says:

      Sept 6th

      • David says:

        That’s the official publication date. If you don’t mind the occasional typo or rough phrase, the earc (electronic advance reader copy) will probably be available from Baen in another month or so.

        • Andy says:

          On the baenebooks page it says half of the book will be available on 15th of June. Maybe this is a break with the eARC scheme.

          • David says:

            No, that’s how their discounted bundle system works. You buy the monthly bundle at a seriously discounted rate. 2 1/2 months before publication you get the first half of the story from the uncorrected submission file, 1 1/2 months out you get the first 3/4 of the uncorrected file, 2 weeks out you get the full corrected version. The earc is a totally different product. It usually comes out about 3-4 months before publication, and it’s the full uncorrected submission file at a premium price.

  5. Andy says:

    Maybe they ran into an Ekhat music festival.

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