The Span Of Empire – Snippet 10

The Span Of Empire – Snippet 10

Chapter 3

Caitlin leaned over to Vaughan. “Are those what I think they are?” The large vision screen was now set to distance imaging, and the images on the screen were not direct visualizations of whatever objects the ship’s detection devices were focusing on. They bore a closer resemblance to old-fashioned radar blips, although they were the product of equipment that was much more sensitive and complex. Still, from past experience–even more, from the obvious tension of the human and Jao crewmen on the command deck–Caitlin was pretty sure she was looking at Ekhat warships.

Quite a few Ekhat warships.

“Yes,” Vaughan said grimly. “That’s an Ekhat fleet. Six ships, at a minimum.”

As if to add emphasis to his words, a loud signal started blaring. That was Battle stations–or the Jao equivalent, rather, which more properly translated as Prepare to fight the enemy. In this as in all things, the Jao tended to be literalists. When humans might say, To arms! the Jao would say Take up weapons! Given a choice between poetry and prose, the Jao would pick prose every time.

Vaughan was looking elsewhere on the detector screen, however, at some sort of largish blobby thing in the corner that Caitlin didn’t remember having ever seen before. He pointed at it.

“See that? I’m not a sensor specialist, but that indicates an inhabited planet. Inhabited and technologically very active. Which means that for the first time in my experience–or any human’s experience, so far as I know–we’ve stumbled onto an Ekhat world.”

Dannet was suddenly standing next to them. “You are correct. This is not something many Jao have ever seen, either. Or at least, survived to tell about it.”

“This just gets better and better,” Caitlin muttered. From the corner of her eye, she could see Wrot shifting position to accepting-reality. She hadn’t intended for anyone to hear that, but Wrot missed very little. She knew he took some pride in that, as well. He twitched his whiskers again. She’d have to find out from him what that particular fillip of body-speech meant.

Wrot didn’t say anything, though. He just turned his head to track Fleet Commander Dannet. The big Jao was back to moving around the command deck much like a restless panther.

That was a pretty good analogy, in fact. Caitlin had learned in the battle of Valeron that Dannet was nothing if not a fighter–and was a firm believer in the old human adage that the best defense is a good offense.

Abstractly, Caitlin figured, that was a splendid quality to have in a naval commander. It could get pretty hair-raising, though, when–to use another old human expression–the shit hit the fan.

Sure enough. Caitlin was an expert in reading Jao body language, and was particularly fluent in the Narvo dialect of that complex quasi-tongue. Dannet’s posture was one she’d never seen before but was not at all difficult to interpret despite being a tripartite posture. Not knowing the formal designation, Caitlin settled on eager-but-held-in-check-anticipation-of-triumph. No doubt the Jao had a more economical way of putting that, but the expression captured the gist of it.

Dannet wasn’t even considering the possibility of fleeing from the scene. She wanted a battle, and despite the odds seemed to feel she had a good chance of winning it.

Caitlin had no idea why the fleet commander would feel that way. She herself, were she not strictly maintaining a posture of resolution-in-the-face-of-peril, would probably be showing the human equivalent of looking-for-a-way-out. She thought of trying for a more difficult tripartite position, but she didn’t think she could keep her hands still enough to add a convincing adamant to what she was already displaying.

“Have the Ekhat detected us?” Dannet asked one of the technical officers. Caitlin didn’t know the Jao’s name, but from his console’s position on the command deck she presumed he was in charge of sensors and detection.

“Almost certainly, Fleet Commander,” he replied. “But we won’t know for certain until–” He broke off for a moment, looking at something on one of the screens that Caitlin couldn’t interpret from a distance–and probably couldn’t have interpreted even if she’d been standing right in front of the screen herself.

“That makes it definite, Fleet Commander. The enemy has spotted us and…”

Again, he paused for a moment, studying another screen. “And now they’re heading toward us.”

What he really meant was “and now they’ve begun an approach which, presuming various intricate maneuvers in response to this solar system’s gravitational constraints and our own actions, will eventually result in their intersecting our course.” But Jao had no patience for such pointless crossing of t’s and dotting of i’s.

Lieutenant Vaughan was pushing control pads on his console and muttering into the boom microphone he was wearing. Caitlin tried to ignore him, and dropped back into her seat and fastened her harness. Things looked like they were about to get interesting, and she had no desire to emulate a ping-pong ball in the command deck.

Dannet turned away from the tech officer and toward Terra-Captain Uldra. “Reverse course back into the photosphere.” Over her shoulder, she said to the com officer: “Order the other battleships to prepare for an ambush. Tactical variant Gamma Bravo is most likely, but variant Delta Delta is also possible. Light attack craft should take station Gamma Rho and wait for opportunities.”

There was a faintly distasteful tinge to her body posture that almost made Caitlin laugh. Those Greek-derivated tactical terms were completely human and not something any Jao–much less a Narvo–would have taken to readily. But the expedition’s personnel was more than seventy percent human, and even the purely naval personnel was only one-third Jao. So, whether the Jao liked it or not, compromises had been made everywhere, including in tactical doctrine and parlance.

Being fair to Dannet, while she sometimes could not quite restrain her irritation from showing, she did accept the political realities–and sometimes displayed an acute ability to use the resulting hybrids to good effect.

Vaughan pushed more pads and muttered into his microphone some more.

The fleet commander continued giving orders to the com officer. “Instruct the supply ships and personnel ships to remain in the photosphere as long as possible. If any of their shielding begins to look seriously compromised, they have permission to retreat back to the framepoint of origin. But tell them that I would much prefer it if they remained with the fleet.”

“Yes, Fleet Commander.”

“Tell the Ban Chao to prepare for a boarding operation.”

Caitlin had to keep her jaw from openly dropping. The Ban Chao was the expedition’s troop transport. It might be better to say, armored assault ship, since the Ban Chao was designed to survive battles within a star’s photosphere.

Only Jao–only damned Jao lunatics, was the way Gabe Tully had put it–would have designed a ship like the Ban Chao. It probably took a Jao to even conceive of such a ship.

The Ban Chao had been designed and built to withstand ramming impacts that would have crushed the hulls of even Lexington-class battleships. And the ship’s crew and the troops held within its massive frame could take positions in complex harnesses which had been designed and built to keep them alive no matter how great the impact, so long as the hull itself wasn’t breached. The Ban Chao’s engines were the most powerful yet designed and built, and those engines powered shields that were strong enough that Ban Chao could keep a shattered Ekhat ship within her own protective bubble after she rammed it. Otherwise the Ekhat ship would simply be consumed in the hellish environment of a solar photosphere.

In short, the Ban Chao had been designed for the express purpose of boarding Ekhat warships in mid-battle, even within the plasma of a star, which is where most experts expected it to be used. (Only the most visionary (i.e., wild-eyed optimists) considered a ram could be done in open space, given speeds available.) And the reason it had been so designed was because humans insisted on something that would not have been conceived by a Jao–to wit, that their military intelligence was sadly lacking in data concerning not only the Ekhat but, most importantly, the many slave species that the Ekhat used for most of the tasks of crewing their ships. They’d already tried to interrogate an Ekhat captured at the battle of Valeron a couple of years ago, with signal lack of success. The lack of intelligence needed to be made up; the only way to do that was to capture some slaves; and the only way anyone could think to do that was in the middle of a battle.

So, the Ban Chao. But it would not have occurred to Caitlin until now that the assault ship would be used in a battle where the Jao-human-Lleix forces were so obviously outnumbered. And Tully was over there, because that’s where the majority of his troops were, and he had determined that if this very circumstance came about, however low the probabilities might be, he was going to be with the assault group.

Wrot leaned over. “We’re in space, so it is the Fleet Commander’s call, as you humans would put it. But if you didn’t want an aggressive fleet commander, you probably shouldn’t have selected Dannet.” He straightened back up with a touch of what Caitlin decided was smug-repose.

That should have called for a retort, but there wasn’t much she could say to that. Her former mentor Professor Jonathan Kinsey had once commented that, while the analogy had its limits, there were a lot of ways in which the two greatest of the Jao kochan–Pluthrak and Narvo–were analogous to the two greatest city-states of ancient Greece. The Pluthrak being the Athenians, of course, and the Narvo being the Spartans.

The analogy was something of a stretch, especially the one between the Pluthrak and the Athenians. The Spartan analogy, on the other hand . . . was probably much less so. The Narvo were indeed the great warrior kochan of the Jao species, known and respected as such by all the other kochan. They had all the traditional Spartan virtues as well as many of the traditional Spartan limitations.


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21 Responses to The Span Of Empire – Snippet 10

  1. sensei says:

    Now we know a bit about what happened with the Ekhat that was captured at Valeron’s star. I do like it when authors cross their ‘t’s’ and dot their ‘i’s’.

    And speaking of that, I cannot think of any reasons why any of the non-technical Lleix elian should have ever died out. Certainly no functioning elian would ever lack recruits from the Children’s Court. Flowerarrangers, for example.

    And who crewed the Lleix ships that evacuated the eleven elian that chose not to go to Terra? The Shiphandlers, I assume. Then did they also choose not to go to Terra, or were they not given a choice? And did the Shipservicers go with them? The only two named elian who didn’t go to Terra were the Stonesculptors and the Distributionists. Plus the elian that made the viewers. And I can’t imagine that the Stonesculptors would be of much use in establishing a new colony.

    Finally, for now, it would have been useful to bring at least one of the Lleix spaceships to Terra, so technicians could examine it.

    It doesn’t appear that spaceship and weapons designs have changed much over hundreds or thousands of years. I’d be very surprised if human ingenuity couldn’t develop some real improvements in both areas.

    • Andy says:

      The Lleix have an economy similar to communism. Essentially they “draw” the resources they need. But on the other hand, resources must be somewhat limited, and there will probably be a system or understanding about using resources wisely. So if other Elians lose their interest in cultivated flowers, that Elian will have trouble requisitioning enough resources for more members once the older ones die. This may be an honor-based system or the distributionists figure it out, or even their big council of Elian may set budgetary constrains.

      Part of the reason for the new “explosion” of Elians is that the humans are giving them essentially unlimited resources (at least compared to before) in terms of food, shelter and some basic materials, freeing up “lleix resources” for specialization.

    • Terranovan says:

      A Lleix elian might die out if there wasn’t room for it on the ships when they had to evacuate a planet when the Ekhat came calling. Crucible of Empire had a Lleix saying that there was only room on the ships for “one thousands Lleix”.

      • Terranovan says:

        Also, yay for “Attack Pattern Alpha”! But why are they using Greek letters (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, etc.) instead of NATO phonetics (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, etc.)? Is it inspired by Star Trek?
        On second check, they appear to be using a mixture – “Gamma Bravo”, “Delta Delta”, and “Gamma Rho”. Which is even more confusing.

      • Andy says:

        The last book specifically said, Elians were dying on that planet. The Flowercultivators for instance.

        They had more shipping capacity before the last flight, but didn’t have the resources to build replacement parts. Though I wonder why they didn’t use the ships they had for mining their solar system or a neighbouring one. Maybe to hide better from the Ekhat?

  2. sensei says:

    And it’s not certain at this point that the planet is a Ekhat planet. It’d be most interesting if the fleet had discovered a planet of unknown aliens that were about to suffer an Ekhat attack.

    • Andy says:

      It’s virtually certain that the Ekhat are not about to attack this planet. There is no battle going on. So why have six ships in-system? It’s highly improbable that the Lexington stumbles upon them just in time to watch the death blow to the planet. For a defenseless planet, they’d only need one ship to sterilize it.

      The presence of six ships shows that they are doing or want to do something with that planet which justifies a significant investment in resources. This may be the protection of an Ekhat planetary population. Or it is a breeding center for a certain slave species. Maybe they just found a species which they intend to turn into a slave species. Dramatologicaly I’d prefer the latter option. It would make the expedition much less pointless…

      • sensei says:

        When the two Ekhat ships in the Valeron system were destroyed by the Lleix and Krant ships, the Ekhat then sent five ships to the system. The planet may have already fought off an earlier attack, thus the justification for six Ekhat ships. At this point, we don’t have enough information.

        • Andy says:

          It would make no sense for the expedition to search for allies in the vicinity of Valoron. The Lleix would likely have known them through prior scouting or them running into their system(s). Adding to that the long time they are already searching, it’s very likely that they are about as far away from Valeron as is possible in that time frame, and preferably in space even the Jao don’t know anything about. Which has to be quite difficult with them having had framepoint technology for at least a thousand years.

  3. Summercat says:

    I wonder

    Is this really an Ehkat world, or one in the process of being annhilated?

    • Andy says:

      It may also be the Jao home world. The Ekhat are said to have “uplifted” the Jao to sapience, and in order to do that, or afterwards, they developed the planet.

      I also don’t believe the Ekhat evolved on their own. “Claws” don’t work well for developing technology. They may have been uplifted by someone else, like the Boh, then they turned on the Boh, and then they in turn uplifted the Jao. Or the Boh uplifted the Jao and the Ekhat just took them over.

  4. Positroll says:

    1) Yay, a fight.
    2) It could be that the fleet arrived just in time to save a species under threat from the Ekhat – again. It’s incredibly unlikely, though …. A slave planet (Jao?) sounds more likely (even though this makes it sound like we will meet another race that becomes our ally: – last sentence)
    3) Why are the non-fighting ships jumping together with the battleships? Seems safer imO to send the BB first to check the situation, then send back a message torpedo to get the remainder of the fleet to join.
    4) Why does Caitlin feel outnumbered by 6 Ekhat ships? Or even 8? The Lexington took on 5 ships on their own with a new crew, with minimal losses. Now they have 4 BB, the troop ship and a bunch of light fighter crafts, all well trained and working together for more than 2 years. Unless the radar hints at lots more Ekhat in system those 6 ships are freaking toast …

    • David says:

      Eric, story god of this universe, has decreed that unmanned vehicles can’t use the Jump technology. Message torps ain’t happening.

      • Positroll says:

        Um … sorry, but such communication already did happen in book 1 … Let’s see – yep:

        1) First its use is hinted to re: the Ekhat:
        “They lost half their ships!” Oppuk exploded, … “And it will never work again. Next time, the Ekhat will expect their primitive tactics and be ready!”
        “It is possible, of course, that the Ekhat ships sent a message back before being destroyed, regarding what they had encountered.” The Preceptor turned black eyes to Aille. “What then?”

        2) And the Jao officially use such drones:
        “The sigil exploded into a shower of golden light, then solidified into venerated Meku himself, kochanau over all Pluthrak. His noble face with its impressive vai camiti gazed into the image tank as though he could see Aille. But this was a recorded message, transmitted through the framepoint via drone during the last solar cycle.”

        Some gods can’t be trusted … ;)

        • Positroll says:

          And even if there were no drones, you could use a courier ship or a light attack craft for the same purpose …

          BTW, are those light attack craft built along LLeix models?

        • Bibliotheca Servare says:

          Nice catch! I just reread the series, and that particular segment slipped my mind! I guess this is a “retcon” then. Oh well. :-)

      • Doug Lampert says:

        I wouldn’t have brought the whole fleet through at once, but they’ve got communications and sensor problems (can’t talk or see through the framepoint, can’t communicate easily inside a photosphere, jumps take time to set up), tactics need to adjust to that, and one of the most common traditional adjustments to similar situations in our history is to maintain concentration of force as much as possible.

        Splitting off the support craft means either leaving them unsupported, or splitting off an escort. Dannet presumably thinks splitting her forces at all is a bad idea. If the support craft are armed at all, she may well be planning to use them as direct support in a battle (and if they are considered auxiliary combatants it’s easy to see why she’d need to specifically order them to retreat if damaged). Similarly, even unarmed support craft need to be shielded to function at all; and the Ehkat have no good way to identify which ships are how dangerous till they see the ships in action, even using the support craft as a decoy has potential value.

        If you consider this a “do or die” battle then keeping the support craft with the fleet makes perfect sense. The real question is, “why are six Ehkat ships considered a significant threat in the first place?” As has been pointed out, Lexington & Dannet have fought 5 at once with much less support.

    • Andy says:

      3) The unarmed ships are not safer in the prior system. It makes more sense to arrive together, form a picture of the situation, then decide what to do. For that matter it would be better to fight the battle, with the non-combatants at a safe distance, then let them retreat if it is necessary.

      Don’t forget that the Photosphere is a really big thing. So far the battle never commenced immediately on arrival. If the Jao prefer the “veni vidi vici” strategy, there are probably reasons like this behind it. The framepoint drives don’t seem to need a long refractory period either.

      Another problem: The Ekhat could have ships in the Ionosphere and instead of attacking the Lexington group just jump. Then the transports would be defenseless for a time. Maybe indefinitely if the group doesn’t spot the transit (like the Ekhat in the Lleix evacuation).

      4) Caitlin is not a military strategist. But she has probably seen the damage that happened to the Lexington in that battle. On the other hand, they are outnumbered in fighting vehicles, and she does not make a claim over the power balance. I’d say she has a healthy respect for the odds. Against 6 Ekhat (or more undiscovered, maybe on the surface) at least one ship will feel very kissed…

      • David says:

        Not going to snerk anything, but not all ships are equal. Six destroyers or six superdreadnoughts? Makes a difference.

        • Positroll says:

          @ Andy
          “at least one ship will feel very kissed…”
          Why??? If we can draw the Ekhat in the photosphere, they won’t get in a shot before at least 2 are destroyed by ambush. After that, that’s 1:1. Even at 5:1 Lexy on herself only had minor damage (1 out of 8 weapons decks lost), and that was fighting 3 of them outside the photosphere. In the current szenario we got a good chance to take out at least 4 inside the sun. The thing I worry about is the potential for 20 ships landed on the planet that might join the party later. OTOH, it would be great if we could catch such a fleet on the ground – the big question being: how long does it take them to get ready for take-off?

          @ David

          Sure, but

          1) so far all Ekhat we have seen have been of similar size (a little bigger than Lexington overall but less dense) , construction model (all purpose ship, not optimized for battle; flimsy: a center with ribs and outlying parts; no serious armor (relying on shields instead), lots of stuff that can explode freely lying around for artistic purposes) and the sensors don’t show anything special (or Flue would have mentioned it to Caitlin).

          2) The ships so far encountered by us Terrans (at Sol or in the Lleix system) are all in line with the models of ships the Jao have seen before (all “as expected”).

          3) No Jao has ever mentioned any Ekhat dreadnoughts when discussing the Ekhat threat. Given the hundreds or thousands years of warfare between Ekhat and Jao it would be strange if these Uber-battleships would suddenly apear now, out of the blue, when weapons tech hasn’t really progressed with the Jao or Ekhat for thousands of years …

          4) Now, once we Terrans destroy / take over an Ekhat planet using new weapons, I could see them getting more serious about that navy business (and unlike the Jao, the Ekhat do have capacity for Ollnat, they are just horribly conservative) and building such ships to take us out. But until now they didn’t have been provoked nearly enough to to so (no living Ekhat – except maybe the Interdict – knows what happened at Sol and in the Lleix system).

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