The Span Of Empire – Snippet 13

The Span Of Empire – Snippet 13

Down to one blip now, which seemed to be spinning and swooping randomly, but Caitlin wasn’t able to determine if it was due to damage or intent on the part of the Ekhat. Whether by accident or not, that last ship seemed to be evading a lot of the fire from the battleships. She heard Vaughan muttering rapidly into his microphone, and he was playing the push pads on his station like it was a piano or an accordion.

Suddenly the blip took a careening curve and headed directly for the Vercingetorix. Caitlin sucked in her breath, and Vaughan’s hands stilled on his station’s pads.

“All guns cease firing,” Terra-Captain Uldra ordered.


“Cease firing immediately,” Kaln heard Mallu order. The repeater view screens made it clear the order had come to keep them from firing at their sister ship. They watched as the Ekhat approached the Vercingetorix.


Quarter-tone Ascending’s rage was almost as consuming as the fires that raged in the great dance chamber which the command chamber overlooked. Her voice continued to pulse out her aria of death and destruction; solo, now, since her mate lay dead behind her.

She was splashed with ichor and blood; white from Ninth-flat and several of the youngling Ekhat in the chamber, purple from the many Trīkē who had been slaughtered. Her mind didn’t hold the concept of an abattoir, but any sane species would have been horrified.

One by one, Quarter-tone Ascending had heard her daughters grow silent. One by one, the echoing voices had dropped from the music, until she alone was left, throwing her defiance and her hate at the strangers.

Locking her legs so that she would not fall, with her only working manipulator claw Quarter-tone Ascending grasped the head of the nearest immature male Ekhat and forced his mind into union with hers. Other species would have called it child rape. For her, it was her last tactic.

The young nameless male stepped forward and took the pilot’s controls from the Trīkē, shifting the course of their dying vessel by main strength to charge the closest of the stranger/enemy vessels.

Quarter-tone Ascending stood behind him, pouring her voice into him, pounding him with the pulses and peaks, urging him on to their mutual immolation.


The command deck of the Lexington was almost silent. Humans and Jao alike watched the view screen. Most of the Jao had slipped into angles of observing-impending-destruction. Fleet Commander Dannet and Terra-Captain Uldra both stood in impeccable gratified-respect, the posture that recognized expected honor. Wrot went beyond that, adopting honorable-recognition, as flow deepened and crested simultaneously.

The blips merged.

Chapter 5

Quarter-tone Ascending shrieked in mingled fury and dismay as the stranger/enemy ship moved at seemingly the last moment–not enough to dodge their charge, but enough that the central mass of her ship would miss the other. Only subordinate structures, struts and trusses, made contact, crumpling against the nose of the stranger/enemy and scraping down its side.

The Ekhat ship was left spinning toward a plasma cell. All controls were dead, although the Trīkē continued to work them frantically, apparently in the belief that their Ekhat masters would produce a miracle.

As her ship was carried downward in the current of the cell, Quarter-tone Ascending lost both her aria and her grip on what passed for sanity among the Ekhat. She began shrieking, tunelessly, swinging her forehand blade around her, completing/slaughtering the remaining Ekhat and those Trīkē who couldn’t evade her.

Her last vision was of the flood of solar plasma that suddenly burst into the chamber as the ship’s shields failed and the hull materials began to vaporize. The heat of that moment matched the heat of her rage.

And then there was nothing.


Flue Vaughan studied the readouts on his panel, then raised his eyes to the viewer. The solar plasma seriously degraded the accuracy of even the Jao science instruments, but it looked very much like the Vercingetorix was still there.

He glanced over at Caitlin, and saw her smiling. She looked up and said something to Wrot, who nodded his head and shifted his position into something Flue couldn’t read. His command of Jao body language was improving, but still couldn’t be considered more than elementary.

A readout on his panel caught his attention. “Fleet Commander,” he called out. Dannet turned his way, head tilted and ears lowered, which Flue did recognize as an abbreviated form of curt-attention.Lexington’s A and C gun decks report 77% combat load remaining, E deck has 75%.”

He watched as Dannet absorbed that information. If the other battleships had similar stock levels, that meant that nearly 25% of the fleet’s gunnery ammunition stocks had been used up in a single engagement. That didn’t exactly fill Flue with warm feelings. Dannet’s posture went neutral, and she returned her attention to the view screen without a word.

Flue shrugged, then looked back at his own panel.


Caitlin sat back, limp with relief. They’d done it. Or rather, Fleet Commander Dannet had done it. Six Ekhat ships destroyed with no losses to her own fleet. She looked up at Wrot, and he bent toward her.

“I’d say that was a good day’s work,” she murmured.

Wrot’s whiskers twitched as he shifted to cautious-optimism. “Indeed. The only other instance I can think of where a Jao force won so . . . forcefully was the battle at Valeron.”

Which was where Dannet, then Terra-Captain of the Lexington, had defeated and destroyed five Ekhat ships. Caitlin realized in a new light just how large a gift the Narvo had given Terra taif in the person of Dannet.

“But,” Wrot continued with one of his ubiquitous human phrases, “don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched. If there were this many ships waiting at the sun, who knows what else might be in the system.”

“I didn’t need to hear that,” Caitlin muttered.


“Fleet command: take the ships out. Formation Epsilon Alpha,” Dannet ordered, “Lexington to take point. And take a full load of plasma.”

Flue nodded to himself. Bold moves, but with a certain amount of caution as well. Epsilon Alpha inverted the cone formation, and Dannet had put Lexington in the lead. Which, he had to admit, made sense, since it had the most practiced crew.

He muttered more notes into his microphone. After a moment, he looked over at Wrot and caught his attention. The Jao stepped over to stand by his station.

“What is ‘the flow’ telling you now?”

Wrot considered for a moment, then shrugged–he was one of the best at using human gestures–and said, “Time to move forward.”

“So all the other ship-captains will follow Lexington?”

Wrot gestured toward the view screen. “As you can see.”

Flue looked and could see that the other battleships were indeed moving, following Terra-Captain Uldra’s lead out of the plasma. And he thought he could see hints that the other ships were following them.

“We have got to get a communicator that works in plasma,” he groused. He punched a pad, then said for his notes, “Talk to the sub dudes and the science dudes. Will sonar or something like it work in the solar plasma? Can we use it for pulse codes?”


Descant-at-the-Fourth stepped around the great hall of the ship’s pyramid, waiting impatiently, manipulators absent-mindedly shredding the corpse of a servient who had dared to squeak while she was singing. Since Quarter-tone Ascending’s aria had faded into the music of the sun, she had been directing a pavane between the remaining ships in the system, orchestrating them to coalesce in a dance of seven ships around the massive harvester/purifier that she, as one of the signal voices of all the Complete Harmony factions, had at her personal disposal.

Now she waited for the return of Quarter-tone Ascending’s daughter-group, wanting those tones for the melody. Her mate, Second-Strong-Cadence, maintained the music behind her, riding on top of the chorus of immature Ekhat and servients. Their time of mating would occur soon, the music hinted.

Descant-at-the-Fourth’s head tilted suddenly, and her manipulators squeezed what remained of her servient toy into protoplasmic jelly. A thin whistle issued from her mouth as the harmonies in the system tilted; dissonance obtruded. She watched as an ovoid shape, sheathed in plasma, emerged from the sun. Sharp staccato notes crescendoed and accelerated in her fury as it became obvious that the interlopers had defeated Quarter-tone Ascending.

A new theme emerged, overwhelming Second-Strong-Cadence. Within moments it was echoed back to Descant-at-the-Fourth from the other ships. The pavane wheeled, and began flowing toward the sun.

“Destroy! Unharvest!” Descant-at-the-Fourth sang as more interlopers began to emerge from the solar plasma. “Purify!”


Cachu!” Flue muttered in his native Welsh as they cleared the last of the plasma veils and the sensors were finally able to provide clear resolution of what lay in store.

“More Ekhat,” he continued, slapping at pads on his console to pull the sensor data into his files. “How ducky.”

He stilled as Dannet lifted her head from where she was studying the sensor details over the shoulder of the lead sensor officer.

“Light attack craft to Epsilon Delta, north and south. Support ships remain at the photosphere transition for further orders.”

Vaughan pulled that into his files, and tried to make sense of the fleet dispositions. He could see no advantage in placing the lighter ships in the offset formation Dannet had just ordered them to. He ground his teeth. “Bloody flow.”


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27 Responses to The Span Of Empire – Snippet 13

  1. sensei says:

    The ammunition problem is easily solved: send a ship back to Terra for more. And to let everyone else know about the (apparent) Ekhat system they’ve discovered .

    • Randomiser says:

      If they have support ships why aren’t some of them carrying extra ammo? Who sends off a mu!ti-capital ship long range expedition with only their initial combat load???

      • Nguyen Gia Thai says:

        It’s a bloody recon in force, not an invasion. They got enough to defeat whatever block their way, and might be enough to flee if meeting overwhelming force, but not enough for a year of independent operation.

        For one thing, they are the main combat force of Terra system. They cant afford to have the whole taskforce away for year.

      • Andy says:

        I think Caitlin’s issue is more with the idea that they have lost 25% of their ammunition and aren’t home yet. She’s no military/naval strategist, so after seeing Dannet destroy 6 Ekhat ships she is afraid there may be even bigger fleets in the system. Which is actually the case.

        • cka2nd says:

          I would imagine that they have additional stores and manufacturing facilities at the forward base commanded by Ed Kralik and that the ammunition in question is all that was being carried on this particular mission.

          • Andy says:

            Depleted Uranium doesn’t just lie around … At least with today’s technology it has to be mined as an ore, concentrated heavily, then used in a reactor.

            It’s probable that in the context of Jao technology this is possible to do in a space-based industry, but we haven’t heard of space-base heavy industry so far, have we?

            For that matter, I don’t know how Framepoint Travel works in terms of time/distance. An expedition of one or two years in the first place sort of assumes that they are poking their noses and whiskers into systems which are so far away in terms of minimum travel time that they can’t just jump back in a jiffy.

            • marcel says:

              Almost right, depleted uranium is created by separating heavy and light uranium isotopes. In nature uranium is 99.3% heavy, stable isotope (238) and 0.7% light, slightly less stable 235.
              We typically filter out the light stuff to create fissionable material, and the remainder is called depleted uranium. So typically depleted uranium is not spent nuclear fuel, or enormously dangerous on account of radioactivity, but rather the opposite. It is however a very poisonous heavy metal, like zinc, cadmium, lead.
              Military use is based on the fact that it is very dense (heavy), and self sharpening, so it makes good armor penetrators, and metals burn very hot. Most heavy combat tanks that have been hit with a depleted uranium burn from the inside as the impact and penetration/friction heat ignite the uranium.

  2. Positroll says:

    “a dance of seven ships around the massive harvester/purifier that she, as one of the signal voices of all the Complete Harmony factions, had at her personal disposal.”
    The promised “superdreadnought” … ?

    “Lexington’s A and C gun decks report 77% combat load remaining, E deck has 75%.”
    Huh? Lexington alone took out 5 ships without depleting its combat load. But 4 ships are down 20-25% from taking out just 6 ships? Hard to see how trained crews could be so much more wasteful of ammunition than Lexys gunner on their shakedown cruise … *shrugg*

    Fully agreed. If I bring supply ships on a recon mission, I’ll of course load the most important thing on these ships: lots of food and ammunition, plus replacement parts for critical systems. Water you can recycle and get from lots of comets/asteroids etc. On a ship that has room for 5000 passengers (including their food), there should be lots of room for the food and spare parts. That leaves the transports free to carry big loads of warheads, especially considering that they are your most efficient weapon …

    No, they can’t be the main combat force of Terra system or sending them off at this time would have been a grave error. I’d expect Terra to have at least 12 Lexingtons available right now, plus the subs, the Lleix ships and a bunch of Bond of Ebenzon harriers (they brought 60 harriers to the Naukhra; no way will they leave Terra vulnerable before Terra has gone to full wartime shipbuilding mode. There simply is no other strategically similarly valuable piece of real estate (1/4 of the combined Jao-Human population in just one system) that needs to be defended as urgently right now as Terra …

    • Johnny says:

      Lexington in that single engagement used ramming and its plasma sheath to defeat several ships. It also seems as if these ships were “firing at will” in an engagement about the same length as that Lexington one, with more evasive maneuver by the Ekhat.

      Also, while they are trained cruise, this is the first multiple-ship battle that isn’t primarily armed with lasers. The Jao likely did not think of logistics they way we have to with projectile weapons and this was the first taste of combat for the vast majority of humans. They’re still green with the Lexingtons.

    • Doug Lampert says:

      You can’t transfer ammo while engaged, and it may be difficult or dangerous to move in the field in any case. OTOH you CAN transfer food and other consumables all the time. If I’m loading those ships the supply ships carry as much of the non-combat consumables as possible, and the warships carry as much of the ammo as possible.

      Similarly, for a recon mission, I may well figure the basic ammo load should be enough, they’re supposed to run back and report if they encounter every Ekhat in the spiral arm or anything similar.

      Given how big the Lexingtons are, it is likely that they carry a fairly large fraction of the expedition’s supplies to start with. It’s not too surprising that they’d end up with ALL the ammo, given an assumption that ammo on Lexington’s is given priority in the loading.

      Just imagine the screams in the comments if they had plenty of ammo in the supply ships, and ended up in such a prolonged engagement that the Lexingtons ran dry: “Gosh” Caitlin thought, “It’s too bad we put all the spare ammo on the supply ships so we could carry more foie gras on the battleships, in retrospect I wish we’d loaded all the ammo on the warships that can use it and put the other supplies on the supply ships.”

      I think that would get a substantial negative reaction, and I’m not seeing why we should assume that the support ships have all that much more cargo capacity than 5 capital ships (and since ammo is a fairly small fraction of most warship’s load, the support ships need to have well over 90% of the cargo capacity prior to “put all the ammo on the warships” being not possible.

      • Positroll says:

        I really don’t buy that. there’s got to be more ammo on the supply ships. Ammo needs special magazines to keep it save (armored, in case of explosives, here the fluid propellant; and lead shielded in case of the slightly radioactive uranium). Dried food, otoh, you can just put into boxes in all the unused space for 5000 passengers).
        Given that this time most space mariens are on their own ship and the Lexis are only carriying about 2 companies each (overall a small brigade, i.e. ~ 3000 jinauts) there is way too much room on the Lexi to suffer from a lack of food (consider that US nuclear subs carry rations for more than three month, and they are cramped to the max, unlike the spacious Lexis; and both can get new wáter from the surroundings: ocean, asteroids).

        The easiest way to resolve the problem would be a later clarification by Flue where he considers that
        – they only shot 17% of the ammunition carried aboard Lexi (1 deck wasn’t used at all) and
        – that the others used less than that, as Lexi was closest to the ennemy
        – there is of course more ammunition on the supply ships but it can’t be transferred under combat conditions.

        • Doug Lampert says:

          You at the same time argue that there has to be plenty of room on the Lexingtons for food and consumables, but not enough for ammo on a warship?! Seriously?

          Depleted uranium is actually used commercially as a radiation SHIELD for gamma sources. The shielding needed is negligible, and the armored magazines for propellant are part of what you build when you build a warship, not, strangely so much for a supply ship.

          If you wish to claim that it’s not plausible for a warship to have storage for ammo, feel free. If you wish to at the SAME TIME claim that there’s plenty of room for much bulkier other consumables you are simply insane.

          • Positroll says:

            Sure you can use depleted uranium to shield highly radioactive materials. That doesn’t mean its not too dangerous by itself (rather toxic, like most heavy metals, and slightly radioactive) to just leave lying around where it might come into contact with the skin (and lungs) of unprotected crewmembers. Add to that the fact that 500 mm sabots of DU are freaking HEAVY. Trying to put them in normal areas of the ship is a recipe for poisoning, broken bones and damaged equipment. So you have special places where you put them that are equipped to handle them – from the real magazines in the bowels of the ship, to the ready magazines in the weapons decks, to the actual guns.
            These spaces are LIMITED, esp on a multi purpose ship like the Lexington (which is NOT a pure BB but also serves as troop/passenger transport and science ship), which is why it makes sense to add more of them in big boxes on supply ships.

            Whereas there is lots of “normal” space on the Lexington that can used for dried food in boxes that can be easily handled by individual crewmembers without the fear that dropping them will cost their mates a foot or make a big dent in the floor …

            • Positroll says:

              Quick math: DU weighs 19,1 g / cm³.
              A hypothetical DU penetrator with 25 cm radius and 1 m height (50 cm cylinder, 50 cm conus on top) would come in at 2,5 metric tons of mass !!

    • Andy says:

      Could you please post replies to individual comments, instead of using @s?

      The amount of ammunition needed to defeat particular ships is mainly driven by how much damage the ship can take and the proportion of hits vs misses. The former may not have changed, but the latter is almost random, depending on distance, maneuvering, “ammo generosity” etc.

    • marcel says:

      The USA is building 48 Virginia nuclear subs to replace 62 LAs, it also has 18 Ohios and 3 Seawolfs, which turned out to be too expensive. (USD 3.5bln vs USD 2.7bln for the Virginias)
      Russia has 60 subs, mostly Kilos (diesel) and Pike (nuclear).
      France has 10 nuclear subs,
      Britain has 12 nuclear sub, etc

      Earth should be able to scare up at least 100 submarines that are large enough and nuclear enough to rebuild into Lexington spaceships.

  3. VernonNemitz says:

    I still think some of their ammo ought to be nuclear explosives. (see my comments under Snippet 12)

    • Positroll says:

      The question seems to be whether such a warhead can survive the initial acceleration of these guns and the shock of breaking through the Ekhat ships shield and armor. Which is why I argued for ramming drones or a a torpedo-type system carrying fusion bombs and exploding inside the Ekhat shields. But if you could get a real uranium based howitzer fission warhead to work it sure would be worth the money …

      On second thought: cross your fingers that our shields are good enough to withstand Ekhat remains accelerated by nuclear explsions taking place only a few miles from you – the pressure front also would be pretty mean at this range. Any physicists here to tell us how that compares to “normal” pressures present in the corona anyways?

      • Andy says:

        Any kind of powered munition (missiles, drones etc) is vulnerable to laser fire.

        • Positroll says:

          So you put mirrors. armor and maybe a capacitator powered shielding system on the drones, use them in big groups (with electronic warfare drones in the lead and drones with fusion pumped x-ray lasers on the sides mixed in) and if only one of them gets inside the central pyramid you blow it up – like in the “sub”battle in the first book – end of Ekhat ship.
          Considering how much resources a Lexington or an Ekhat ship represents, that’s a very good deal, even if you lose 9/10 of the drones before they hit.

    • Andy says:

      Nuclear warheads sound like a lot of bang. Essentially any munition is meant to impart energy on the target in a way the target can’t handle. Be it heat energy or kinetic energy, usually both. The “extra-bang” of a nuke vs a kinetic impactor may not matter so much, especially if you can buy thousands of sabot rounds for the price of one nuke.

      For that matter I have heard that modern cluster based munitions can destroy about as many tanks as the small artillery-launched nukes designed for the same purpose.

      I also doubt that a nuclear war head could be fashioned into an armor penetrating round.

      • Positroll says:

        An Ekhat ship is one big strucutre with a big main target in the center. That can’t be compared to a distributed target like a tank brigade which consists of lots of individually armored point targets.

        We have seen above that despite a hit that takes out an Ekhat directly behind the enemy “captain”, she is still able to continue the fight. That sure wouldn’t be the case with a fusion or fission bomb exploding inside the pyramid …

        You want as much bang as possible when hitting the central pyramid. An Ekhat ship surviving a bunch of hits by the current guns is still dangerous (see this snippet). A Ekhat ship with its pyramid blown up by a nuke is toast – at least when fighting in a sun, see book I, but most likely also in normal space.

        The problem I see, again, in the sun, is the close distance (a few miles as compared to hundreds of miles in open space) between combatants that means that you might be almost as vulnerable to such an explosion as the Ekhat you target. Which is why a torpedo / drone might be safer , even if more likely to get shot down by lasers (which, remember, don’t work well within a sun)

      • Positroll says:

        “I also doubt that a nuclear war head could be fashioned into an armor penetrating round.”
        So far, the Ekaht have releid more on shielding than on real armor. So take a 200 mm fission bomb
        (triggered a short time after impact)
        put it inside a 500 mm shell of depleted uranium, put some shock absorber between the 2, and there you are – provided the bomb survives the shock when hitting the Ekhat.

      • VernonNemitz says:

        The cannons on the Lexinton(s) are 500 mm, and back in 1953 they test-fired an actual nuke through a howitzer, which then did its nuke-explosion thing –and that cannon was only 280mm. The size difference should allow for plenty of additional stuff to the shell, like armor-piercing capability and laser resistance, such as ablatable mirror-layers. I’m not asking for a fusion explosion; a simple fission explosion inside the plasma shield would be quite sufficient to destroy any existing Ekhat ship. And remember, the first book of the series talked about humans didn’t use nukes in the Jao conquest; that should mean thousands of the things are around, still waiting to get used (even if they have to be remanufactured into artillery shells).

        • Positroll says:

          On third thought, I wonder whether it might make more sense to build these weapons but wait with their use until
          – you have built up a serious stock of nukes and Lexingtons, enough for a big offensive along the whole front, not giving the Ekhat lots of time to adapt
          – you need them to defend Earth from a really big Ekhat fleet

          Let the Ekhat deal with depleted uranium first and spend lots of time and effort to counter these kind of weapons. When they adapt to that, show them that we are again a step ahead of them …

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