The Span Of Empire – Snippet 12

The Span Of Empire – Snippet 12

Chapter 4

Quarter-tone Ascending charged into the command module of her ship, followed closely by her mate Ninth-flat. Several of the attendant servients were trampled in their rush, their cries of pain and distress and death adding to the urgency of the building harmonies.

“What occurs?” she keened. “What is this discordance in the harmony?”

“Strangers,” one of the youngling Ekhats uttered a recitative from his position. “Unknown ships. Not Ekhat.”

Quarter-tone Ascending slapped the speaker away from his station with her foreclaw, leaving him lying broken on the deck. “See to him,” she snapped to Ninth-flat as she stepped between the servients operating the station. “Show me,” she said.

One of the operators fumbled the controls. Quarter-tone Ascending snapped his head off, and the nearest servient stepped into his place. “Closer,” she shrilled. “More detail.” The sense of impending dissonance increased.

Behind her Quarter-tone Ascending could hear the rasp of Ninth-flat’s forehand blade as he completed the broken male.

The display sharpened to reveal a large ship, ovoid in shape. Quarter-tone Ascending was so shocked she almost lost her grip on the flow of harmony. “Not Jao,” she intoned. “Not Lleix. Not Ekhat. Who? Who brings dissonance?”

“It matters not,” another Ekhat voice sang. Quarter-tone Ascending spun to face another station, only to behold the visage of Descant-at-the-Fourth staring at her from a communicator. “They have no place!” the senior Harmonist of the system continued. “They break harmony! They pollute! Unharvest!” Descant-at-the-Fourth’s voice was true and pure, so much so that Quarter-tone Ascending was both admiring and jealous. “Destroy!”

With that final atonal arietta, the communicator signal shut off.

Quarter-tone Ascending belled out the only conceivable command–“Attack!”–and led her daughter ships toward the intruder. The six ships of their squadron swarmed forward, almost racing to reach their target, all desiring to add the note of that destruction to the universal melody.


“Still withdrawing,” Flue Vaughan muttered into his boom microphone. “Terra-Captain Uldra is conning the Lexington. No further commands issued to other battleships. Formation is shaping into a shallow funnel, with Lexington at the point at rear. FC Dannet is watching instruments.”

How will we ever learn to work with Jao at higher command levels? This was the first time that Vaughan had seen either the Terra-Captain or the Fleet Commander in a true combat situation, and it bore home to him just how alien the Jao were. Their reliance on sensing “the flow” and acting in concert without verbalizations was just eerie to watch. Dannet had issued no further orders after the initial commands, but still the Jao captains of the other ships positioned them in the most advantageous locations for what was coming. Even with the viewer set to distance, Vaughan could see that.

“No further commands,” Vaughan spoke into his boom mic again. “Ekhat are pursuing Lexington. No detectable formation or stratagem.”

There was a low murmur of conversation in the command center among the various human members of the crew and between them and the Jao ranks. But all were keeping an eye on the Fleet Commander, who stood watching the view screen, position neutral, eyes black.

“Now,” Dannet said.

The view screen flashed to short range display, and the Ekhat ships showed up in more detail, seemingly hurtling through the photosphere to assail the Lexington.

“All gun decks, fire as you bear,” Terra-Captain Uldra ordered.


Kaln krinnu ava Krant stood on the A gun deck of Pool Buntyam as deck commander, her status as a senior tech notwithstanding. Her body was poised in the angles of readiness-to-wreak-revenge. It was not a polite posture to take by regular Jao cultural standards. Kaln didn’t care. She was of Krant kochan; small, struggling, with no ties or associations to more prosperous kochans, overlooked and looked down on by the more affluent. Looked down on, that is, until Krant associated with Terra taif. Politeness was not a consideration to Kaln; not here, not now. Humans sometimes called her kochan hillbillies, and once she understood the full meaning of the term Kaln had embraced it.

Her eyes glittered green with rage; an emotion shared to its full depth and intensity by all the Krant crew who stood to the guns with her. Ekhat of the Melody faction had destroyed three Krant ships some time back. Kaln had survived, along with Krant-Captain Mallu and some of the crew of the ship that had held together long enough to destroy the Melody ship. She hadn’t forgotten. Nor had her fellows.

Today was payback time. Today, after over two years of waiting, they faced Ekhat again. But there was no comparison between their old Krant ship and Pool Buntyam. Today they would hammer the Ekhat with their beautiful new ship. And it didn’t matter if these ships weren’t Melody faction. Today, all Ekhat were the same.

Kaln felt the flow, rode it, waiting, anticipating, until it felt as if green sparks should be shooting from her stiffened whiskers. Just as the flow crested, Krant-Captain Mallu gave the word through the com: “Shoot!”

Twelve 200 millimeter cannon fired as one.


Quarter-tone Ascending stood in the center of the command module. There was no time to descend to the dance chamber, no time to prepare a grand performance plan, no time to prepare her mind for the music to come. There was only time to unite with Ninth-flat and stand and improvise an aria of death and destruction, extinction and eradication, genocide and glory. Their voices twined around each other, soaring, leaping, finding new heights of murderous passion, flowing out over the communicator to overmaster and draw the daughter ships in to follow her lead in the dance.

The Trīkē servients added their piping chorus behind the booming voices of the two great Ekhat.

“Onward!” Quarter-tone Ascending sang as their ship entered the outer plasma layer of the sun. “Erase the strangers!”

Echoes of her motif came back through the communicator from the daughter ships.


“Damn, that’s cool” Flue Vaughan muttered as he watched the streams of 200 millimeter rounds flaring through the plasma, somewhat like tracer rounds used to do in the old movies. They were depleted uranium sabot rounds, and the fierce solar plasma sublimated a layer of molecules with each passing second, but their velocity was so great that they didn’t lose much before arriving at their targets.

The solar plasma really interfered with the viewer, but Vaughan could make out faint bulges in the visual texture. “Bow waves off the Ekhat ships,” he said into his mic as he pressed another pad, capturing a view for later study. “Need to talk to old sub crews. We’re operating in a fluid here. Maybe they would have some ideas.”

He watched as volley after volley after volley flew out, targeting the lead Ekhat ship.


The aria duet continued, echoes from the daughter ships fading as they entered the plasma. Quarter-tone Ascending and Ninth-flat, in synchrony, took a servient from each side of the command module, held it up, and began slashing limbs off with their forehand blades, slowly, in counter-rhythm to each other. The agonized squeals of the dying servients added a most wonderful descant to the aria.

Their ship shuddered. Quarter-tone Ascending shrieked in anger, pulling the aria in an unplanned for direction. Ninth-flat lost synchrony, and she lashed behind her with her own forehand blade, feeling it bite without looking.

The Trīkē servients were ululating in terror, working their controls at furious rates. The young Ekhat were beating the servients, flogging them to higher pitches of frantic labor and shrill terror.

The ship shuddered again, and several bolts of flame flew through the compartment. One passed behind Quarter-tone Ascending, and Ninth-flat fell silent.


Kaln stood watching her gun crews work the weapons, her posture nothing more than pure blunt satisfaction. With four Lexingtons in the fray, none of the Ekhat ships had a chance. And the fact that her ship, her Pool Buntyam, was one of them only made the emotion that much stronger.

Her crews went about their work smoothly, feeding the rounds and the liquid propellants into the chambers of their cannons with efficiency. If one or two of the crew members had body angles of foreseen-retribution, well, she would overlook that.

Kaln did not own a human watch. She didn’t think in terms of seconds. But the volleys crashed out from the guns in synchrony with the flow. And she could feel the completion approaching.


Caitlin watched in awe as, one by one, the torrents of metal that the Lexington and her sister ships threw at the Ekhat ships caused them to disappear from the view screen. She had been told more than once of the effect of a depleted uranium sabot crashing through the side wall. The fiery hell that would have been created in each ship before their shields failed and the solar plasma overwhelmed them didn’t bear thinking about.

One by one the blips faded from the view screen. It seemed to take hours, but after a glance at her watch, Caitlin knew it had only been minutes. Less than half an hour to send an entire Ekhat squadron to oblivion.


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18 Responses to The Span Of Empire – Snippet 12

  1. Positroll says:

    “Less than half an hour to send an entire Ekhat squadron to oblivion.”
    Now THAT’s how to end a week on a positive note … :D

    “The Trīkē servients added their piping chorus behind the booming voices of the two great Ekhat.”
    Ah, a new species … How do you pronounce that?

    “Twelve 200 millimeter cannon fired as one.”
    Huh ? The original Lexington has 12 50 cm guns / gundeck:
    “The guns were blue-steel beauties, whose design had been inspired by the jury-rigged tank weapons used back in that now-famous Battle of the Framepoint, but were specifically crafted for this ship. And they were far more powerful. The guns used in the Framepoint battle had been 140mm tank cannons. These were 500mm guns, larger than the main guns on old-style human battleships. Half of the other artillery-spines sported Jao energy weapons, but Tully figured these alone ought to be enough to take care of whatever was waiting for them in the nebula.”
    I don’t see why you would go down to a mere 200 mm – doesn’t shoot much faster and packs a lot less power. Now if you would go with 120 or 140 mm and a LeClerc style autoloader, you could go to a much higher rate of fire. But 200 mm? Hard to see any positives …

  2. Randomiser says:

    All these slave species must breed like rabbits, the rate the Ekhat go through them! I get the point the Ekhat don’t care about them, but they do seem to have some functions on the ship, other than handy sacrifice, which doesn’t seem to fit with the ‘Let’s waste as many as we like on a whim,’ approach.

    • Andy says:

      We mostly “see” the Ekhat in their times of crisis. Maybe they don’t usually go through dozens of slaves a day. Somewhere else it was mentioned that the ships have breeding facilities for the slaves. The Ekhat probably optimize their slave species for efficient breeding, maybe they aren’t even using natural reproduction at all.

  3. VernonNemitz says:

    So far in the series there is no sign of Ekhat using bolides as weapons, though the Jao use them. Is this Ekhat planet ready to be on the receiving end of a bunch of bolides? Or, because the Jao have used bolides, it was at Ekhat direction, and they know how to counter bolides? To be determined (if the topic comes up at all; maybe they’ll use plasma bombardment?).

    • Positroll says:

      One really big dinosaur killer should do the trick, esp if dropped in the middle of the deapest ocean. One parboiled planet, coming up. Some Ekhat might survive in shielded bunkers , but destryoing 99% of an Ekhat – planet with minimal effort is a good deal.

      Of course, you first want to save as many slaves (Jao?) as possible and get your hands on technical + strategic data and maybe some grounded ships.

      Things change dramatically if the planet was only recently conquered by the Ekaht and still has a serious population of technically savy people ( = potential allies) around … But then a 50 cm sabot from orbit should have enough power to take out most Ekhat positions to let the natives reconquer their planet. Big problema then would be to get a local ship production (re-)started for defense purposes …

      I agree with your point and would add that running ships this way (with maybe a dozen grown Ekhat that know what they are doing, a bunch of disposable younglings and a group of terrified, not especially clever slaves) is not a good basis for a fighting ship. Combine that with the fact that their construction isn’t optimized for combat (spindles, explosive fluids everywhere) and you get the above result: total destruction within minutes, as long as they are fighting in a sun. Now, in the future, I could see the Ekhat considering building ships better adapted to combat and crewed mostly by Jao. THEN things could get interesting. Even then, though, I expect constant improvements by human engineers to make any battle the equivalent of the Bismarck – Hood meeting.

      • Positroll says:
        Remains the question, how many outdated torpedo biplanes the Ekhat can mobilize to hunt the humans …

        • Joe Arnaud says:

          As I recall it is not so much the power of the kinetic guns but Aaso the matter of location they can be used in, theygive a tremendouse advantage in a stars photosphere, so the Jao/Terra have deliberatly sort action there.
          But we havent seen a battle in space or orbit, where lasers can be used to full effect and shield breaches arn’t catastrophic due to all that solar plasma.

          What intrested me was the way the ekhat listed the possibilities ‘“Not Jao,” she intoned. “Not Lleix. Not Ekhat.” Which would seem to indicate they are not fighting any other starfarers. They also either know the lliex have survived or are listing every race with starships that fought them.

          • Positroll says:


            We have seen the Lexington fighting 3 Ekhat ships outside the sun at Valeron. At first, she still had the plasma sheath wrapped around her and mostly used the kinetic guns. The last ennemy ship was taken out mostly with lasers, with minimal damage to Lexy.

            The Lexington class has a bunch of advantages over any Ekhat ship:

            1) a powerfull wepaon (kinetic guns)
            a) the Ekhat don’t have
            b) that is not impacted by solar plasma
            c) that Ekhat shields are not built to stop

            2) The possbility to use solar plasma as additional shielding against lasers.

            3) It’s a ship construed specifically for war
            a) with lots of armor and compartmentalisation
            b) a stable basic form, no outlying parts (easier on the shields) except for the
            c) weapons spines that act as additional shielding and mostly conform to the overall shape of the hull
            d) Any dangerous fluids (and other explosives) allowed only in well-controlled areas

            4)Our officers think in terms of military strategy, not in terms of music and pollution.

            5) Finally, the crews (below the “officer” /Ekhat level) know what they are doing, are better trained and better motivated, esp wrt complex tasks (- whipping your pilots for better performance? you gotta be kidding me)

            I still hope Terra will go on develloping new ships and weapons. As said before, I’d like to see
            – a homefleet version “Concorde” optimized for interplanetary combat (Lexy is a multipurpose ship, with science labs, room for 5000 passengers etc) with the jump-generators replaced with a big spinal weapon (mabe a huge spinal laser in the center and two big-ish spinal kinetic guns replacing two current weapons spines …
            – carrier ships or stations (L1, Luna) filled with light attack craft (with kinetic guns) and different kind of drones
            ( a) with fuison pumped x-ray lasers for use at a distance
            b) ramming version with hydrogen bomb
            c) electronic countermeasures)

            I’m sure Europe + China would like to build some of that stuff … Maybe get an association with Binnat going to get more techs to Terra, in exchange for some Lexy’s ?

  4. VernonNemitz says:

    On a slightly different but still-related topic, it should be noted that back in 1953 an “atomic cannon” was test-fired; the shell was an actual fission bomb. I don’t know how many Depleted Uranium shells can realistically be employed in these stories (they seem to be getting spewed like water), but in outer space, if the goal is to destroy the enemy, a little radioactive debris (especially near a star) is a trivial matter. And only one shell need be shot, to destroy an enemy vessel. We wouldn’t want to use this weapon against a planet, of course, but then what else are bolides for, offering all the effects of nuclear explosions, except for the radioactivity?

    Also, I haven’t noticed any mention of using mirrors to deflect laser beams. For temporary protection of a nuclear-explosive cannon-shell, mirroring should be quite sufficient, even away from the protection of solar plasma.

    • Johnny says:

      If they are high-energy lasers the mirroring won’t really help. No mirror is perfect and they will simply deflect the laser until they are too hot to be as reflective and then burn away, probably faster than it takes to cut through their armor alloys.

      • VernonNemitz says:

        It takes *time* for a laser to do that. A shell can be super-cooled before getting shot. Layers of mirroring can ablate. The shell only needs to resist the lasers long enough to reach the target.

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