The Span Of Empire – Snippet 19

The Span Of Empire – Snippet 19

Chapter 7

The World Harvester was lying naked in space, helpless before the fleet. That didn’t stop the lasers of the three battleships from carving it into pieces, helped along by a variety of explosions from within. It wasn’t long before a last titanic explosion broke the ship into three unequal pieces that slowly spun away from each other.

“Subordinate ships, guard the remains of the World Harvester,” Dannet ordered. “Support ships and Vercingetorix, rejoin the fleet.”

Caitlin unstrapped from her seat and got to her feet. For a moment, she felt light-headed, but it passed.

“So when will we be ready to leave this system?” she asked Dannet.

The Fleet Commander turned to face her. “Not yet, Director Kralik. The fleet still has one task remaining.”

Caitlin was surprised. She’d figured that since the Ekhat ships were destroyed, they could leave. “And that is?”

Dannet waved a hand at the main view screen, where the image of a planet was on display. “To make sure there are no Ekhat left in the system.” She turned to the communications officer. “Battleships take formation Gamma Rho again, head for that planet, prepare for bombardment.”

Caitlin shook her head for a moment, as if to settle her brain. The thought that there was still fighting to do had definitely caught her off guard. She walked over to stand next to Lieutenant Vaughan’s station.

“There are Ekhat on that planet?” she asked quietly.

“Looks like it,” the Welshman replied. “Sensors show something that might be either a small city or a mid-sized military post by our standards.”

“Damn,” Caitlin muttered.

It took some time for the fleet to close on the planet, but well before they arrived in orbit Lexington’s sensors confirmed first of all that the planet was another that had been stripped almost to bedrock by Ekhat sterilizations, and second that there was some kind of Ekhat facility or post under a dome near the shore of a lifeless sea.

Dannet looked over to her aide. “Can Vercingetorix launch its bombardment weapons?” The Fleet Commander was not one to indulge in the Terran “humanization” of tools; ships were “it”, not “she” to Dannet.

Vaughan touched a pad on his console. “They report no damage to those weapons systems.”

Dannet turned to the communications officer. “Orders to Vercingetorix: launch all bombardment weapons at the Ekhat base. Orders to Arjuna: prepare to launch bombardment weapons; wait for my order.”

Caitlin leaned over to Vaughan. “Is the Fleet Commander going to order the ships to gather plasma balls from the sun?”

“No,” Vaughan hissed back.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s a stupid weapon.”

Both Wrot and Dannet glanced over at them. Vaughan gave a quick cutting motion with his hand, and returned his full attention to his panel.

Caitlin stepped back by her bodyguards, just that little bit miffed. “If it’s so stupid a weapon,” she muttered, “why do the Ekhat use it?”

“Because they are unsane,” Tamt volunteered. “Everyone knows that.”

“But that doesn’t mean they’re stupid,” Caitlin replied. “Why would they use a stupid weapon?”

“Lieutenant Vaughan?” Dannet pronounced.


“Provide an explanation to Director Kralik, so she will cease fretting.”

Caitlin felt her face getting hot as she flushed. Vaughan beckoned to her, so he wouldn’t have to leave his console. She stalked over, trailed by Tamt and Captain Miller.

“Sorry to have my stupid question interrupting your work, Lieutenant, but I really would like to understand why the Ekhat would use a stupid weapon.”

“It’s not a stupid question,” Vaughan said, touching a couple of pads on his console before he looked up at her, “and the short answer is nobody knows. Everyone blames it on the Ekhat being crazy, but really, nobody knows for sure.”

“So why is it a stupid weapon?”

“It’s a terror weapon,” the Welshman said, “and like many terror weapons, it’s very inefficient. The plasma ball that landed on China did a lot of damage, granted. But all the post-strike analyses that’ve been done in the last couple of years indicate that the damned thing almost missed.”

“Missed its target?”

“No,” Vaughan replied, “missed the earth.”

Caitlin’s jaw dropped.

“Really,” Vaughan maintained. “Combining our records with what we can collect from the Jao, it looks like the ball was probably taken from as deep in the sun as the Ekhat can extend their shields, probably down to the level where the plasma is near the density of molten iron. Then they pulled out a ball of somewhere around ninety kilometers diameter, and they trundled that off to the planet they wanted to bombard–in this case, Earth.

“Each ball had so much mass, they could barely contain it in their shields, and they could barely move it with their ships. Ekhat ships are not inferior to the ships the Jao had at the time they attacked us. Didn’t you wonder why it took so long for the Ekhat ship to arrive at Earth, when the Jao ships could make the trip faster? As it is, one ship overstrained its systems, lost shield containment and was vaporized by its own plasma ball. If we’d had the Lexington in service back then, the second ship probably would never have made it close to earth. It was moving slow enough that the kinetic weapons should have punished it to the point where the same thing would have happened to it.”

“No one ever pointed that out to me before,” Caitlin said. “What else didn’t they tell me?”

“It gets crazier,” Flue said. “The Ekhat don’t have a way to aim a plasma ball.”

“What?” Caitlin exclaimed. “That’s crazy!”

“What I said,” Flue grinned. “They carry the ball along until they’re near the planet they’re attacking. In our case, they were just inside the stratosphere. Then they drop the shields around the ball and take their ship someplace else, leaving the ball to fall and land wherever. Our damage was bad enough, but if they had waited longer to release the ball, the destruction would have been much greater and more widespread. The plasma lost a lot of energy just spreading out and interacting with the atmosphere before it hit the ground.”

“You said they almost missed.”

“Yes.” Vaughan sobered. “They actually came in at a slight angle, and like I said, they let the ball loose higher than would have been optimum. It was almost an ocean strike because of that, and if it had been even a few more degrees off of vertical, it might well have just roared through the atmosphere and back into space. Either one of those would have really messed up the wind and weather patterns, maybe even more than the land strike actually did, but they wouldn’t have done the damage that really happened.”

“So it’s a stupid weapon because they can barely control it and they can’t aim it well,” Caitlin said.

“Correct. They could have done as much damage with a handful of hydrogen bombs or a couple of big asteroid bolides, easier and with greater precision.”

“So they’re crazy.”

Flue nodded with another grin.

“So what are we going to use instead?”

The Welshman turned and touched a couple of pads on his console. A display lit up.

“That,” he said, pointing to the display.

Caitlin looked at the picture. “A missile?”

“No,” Flue said. “That is a super-penetrator. Twenty meters long, two meters in diameter, titanium shell, a mass of depleted uranium at the head of it, followed by a tactical nuclear or sub-nuclear charge, and powered by the smallest of the Jao space drives that we’ve yet been able to build. It’s also got some rudimentary shield capability, but given its designed use, that’s not so much of a big thing.”

“Wow,” Caitlin said, as Caewithe Miller gave a low whistle beside her. “So when did we get those?”

“They’ve been under development for a long time; since right after the conquest. In secret, of course. That was all wishful thinking, naturally, but even among the techies there were some die-hard rebels. But when Aille became governor and the R&D firms got access to the Jao tech-base, the plans got pulled out, dusted off, and updated. There was one test on a sizable asteroid with a sub-nuclear charge, which created a cloud of fast moving gravel, then it went to production. They had a dozen ready for us right before the fleet began searching.” He shrugged. “It was one of those ‘just in case’ weapons, and although no one, Dannet included, expected to need them, no officer worth his paycheck is ever going to turn down an available weapon.”

Flue’s head twitched, then he touched a console control and looked up at the main view screen. “And now we get to see it in action.”

Caitlin focused on the screen, which had split to show two different pictures. “What’s this showing me?”

“One is a feed from a camera on the penetrator itself, and the other is from a camera on one of the ships,” Flue replied. Both pictures began to change as the penetrator began to move. “It’s designed to start out slowly, then kick into high gear when the on-board sensors get a good lock on the defined target and the most direct path to it.”


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29 Responses to The Span Of Empire – Snippet 19

  1. Randomiser says:

    The Ekhatlore people must be delighted. This really is a critical final waste of an intelligence gathering opportunity, even from a fundamental military viewpoint. If it’s a base it probably has flight plans and schedules for other ships which would show them either where to hunt or avoid. It might even have details on where the Ekhat plan to harvest next which would allow them to save a habitable planet or two. But they just intend to make it go Boom! No wonder the Jao are not winning this war!

    • Randomiser says:

      Critical final waste above should read criminal waste. Autocomplete ran crazy again. And can we Please get the ability to edit posts

    • Positroll says:

      Worse than that. Chances are this is a planet recently taken over by the Ekhat that still has some of the aboriginal population alive as slaves. And Dannet is just goind to bomb them all to hell. Time for Caitlin to flex some oudh muscles imO.

    • Andy says:

      I agree, it would be nice to know why they don’t at least take close-up data, or even limited reconaissance “in force”. I would also expect the Ekhat to be breeding slave species on a planetary base (besides the breeding centers on the ships) out of convenience.

      One explanation would be that Ekhatlore or the Jao already know about these installations, so that eradicating the Ekhat presence and getting out of the system immediately are a high priority.

  2. Positroll says:

    “probably down to the level where the plasma is near the density of molten iron. Then they pulled out a ball of somewhere around ninety kilometers diameter, and they trundled that off to the planet they wanted to bombard–in this case, Earth.”
    How the hell does one of our kinetic weapons gets through 90km plasma around the Ekhat ship with the density of molten iron? Does not compute.

    • Andy says:

      Is the Ekhat ship even at the center of the plasma ball? To me it sounded as if they were dragging it along behind them.

      On the other hand, 45km of molten Iron (90km is the diameter) may not be that much protection against relativistic Penetrators.

      • Positroll says:

        Well you could imagine the Ekhat pulling the thing. But the Lexington shields was modeled on the Ekhat and Lexi sure is in the center of her shields when she is taking the plasma ball along …

        To get though 45km of molten iron requires a lot of energy. A relativistic penetrator? Maybe. But I am talking about the 140 mm guns of the converted subs and the 500 mm guns of Lexi. NO CHANCE IN HELL that those would go through such a dense mass. Only way around is to argue, as proposed above, that the Ekhat are carrying the plasma ball on their back, so to speak. But that should be clarified …

        • Andy says:

          I don’t know enough about plasma physics to tell if the fast moving particles (even at a “density of molten iron”) wouldn’t just behave much like a fluid.

        • Jeff Ehlers says:

          If you recall, the submarines were in the sun’s photosphere, which is only around the density of water and thus would be fairly easy to shoot DUPs through, when they attacked the Ekhat flotilla right after it translated through the framepoint. So I don’t believe they were ever trying to shoot DUPs through 45 km of hydrogen plasma at a density of around 7 kg/m^3.

  3. Positroll says:


    “Can Vercingetorix launch its bombardment weapons?” The Fleet Commander was not one to indulge in the Terran “humanization” of tools; ships were “it”, not “she” to Dannet.”

    Dannet speaks Jao, doesn’t she, in this situation? Not English? Because I think the French would be pissed if you called their national hero “she”. French* naval tradition would require it to be called LE Vercingetorix, not “la”. Just like the current French nuclear carrier is called LE Charles de Gaulles. /wiki/Charles_de_Gaulle_(porte-avions) So your remark only makes sense if Dannet is speaking English.

    *(the same is true in German naval tradition: it’s “Der Admiral Hipper”, even though in “normal” civilian parlance “die Hipper” could be found in books. But a naval officer would crucifiy any of his seamen who got this wrong and called a ship named after a male admiral “she”… query what happens when in the future there are female admirals)

    • Nico de Lange says:

      If the Jao adopted a human language to interact with their human subjects, it would have been English, as the predominant language of the region where their planetary headquarters are situated. Their disregard for oudh would probably have translated to a pragmatic rejection of multiple interaction media. And in English, ships DO get the female pronoun, no matter the sex of the person a ship is named after.

      • Johnny says:

        Not to mention if the Jao were to take any Terran naval tradition the French one would not be near the top of the list.

        • Positroll says:

          You Murican? USA! USA! USA! There. Fell better now?

          Given that they are naming their ship after a freaking celtic war hero from what is nowadays France who was born before Christ, it would seem that Terra Taif at least doesn’t share your opinion on the French …

          Just for fun: go and check how many navies in the world today operate full fledged nuclear powered CATOBAR aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines.

          Found the answer? It’s the US and France. Go figure …

          reads pretty impressive to me, at least …

          • Johnny says:

            Hmm? Yes, I’m American. I’m also cognizant of the fact that the French have essentially zero naval tradition, to the point that it is part of their national identity and that the whole “naval vs. land powers” dichotomy governed much of the the Napoleonic wars. This isn’t chauvinism, it’s recognizing that France’s strengths lay in other areas. There is not another major nation I can think of that is so land-centric.

            I mean let’s look at nations with more naval history and success than the French:

            Italy (for values of Italy)
            And yes, the US.
            So… basically the entire G-20 other than France.

            • David says:

              Name of the ship has nothing to do with France. Google Arjuna and Ban Chao.

            • Positroll says:

              I am not sure what history books you have been reading, but despite lots of changes in other areas, constant stupid French bashing (freedom fries!) seems to be the one constant I remember from all my stays in the US since the early 1990s, including the history books we used there in high school.

              Did you even read the Wikipedia entry I mentioned?

              Claiming that the countries on your list all have more of a maritime tradition than France is just …wow …

              For gods sake, France was able to build up a colonial empire overseas in the Americas and India, fighting the Spanish, Portugese, Dutch and the Brits over more than a century. Then they lost most of it, only to build a new empire in Africa, the Indian Ocean and South East Asia. They didn’t get there over land!

              Of course France had less resources to put into its overseas empire (which makes building 2 of them even more impressive): For much of their history they were surrounded by Habsburgs on three sides, while England and the US were islands seperated from their potential enemies by water. Still France managed to expand steadily to the west and pushing Germany further east, building up their overseas empires while at the same time fighting first the Moriscos in Spain, then the 100 years war against the Brits, then the Habsburgs, then everybody (French Revolution and Napoleon) and finally mostly the Germans …

              • Johnny says:

                Yes, I read it. It is singularly unimpressive.
                France has literally never won a naval war, nor has France ever used its navy to expand its sphere of influence.

                I agree that the US is in generally excessively francophobic. In this case, though, I’m understating the point. France has not had a naval victory of note since Yorktown. France’s biggest contribution to naval history is to be the punching bag for Nelson.

                Does France have a great and glorious history? Absolutely, probably the greatest among European nations. Does France have any kind of naval history or tradition in that history? Nope. Your trying to be a French naval apologist would be like me trying to argue that the United States has a great history and tradition of soccer. You can be a great country overall and not be great in all things.

              • Johnny says:

                As in, in naval combat. France has obviously transported troops by navy, but that’s like saying that a nation that flies its troops with a 737 has a large air force.

      • Positroll says:

        Given that the Jao can learn languages in their sleep by “imprinting” it by technological means (see book 1, ch 1), it stands to reason that they might learn more than just one human language …

  4. David says:

    Patience. Y’all don’t have all the facts yet.

  5. Positroll says:

    Continuity error:

    In snippet 10 Flue tells Caitlin expressly that this is a settled planet with high technological readings. Probably Ekhat. Dannet agrees.

    Now its just a smallish base and Caitlin has forgotten all about it.
    Bad sensors and Alzheimers?

    • Jeff Ehlers says:

      Actually, he said it was inhabited (which isn’t quite the same thing as settled), and I can think of reasons why it would be technologically active without requiring a large presence (never mind population), such as automated equipment or simply a lot of technology in the base.

  6. As will be recalled, the decisive final battle of the American Revolution was perhaps the Battle of the Chesapeake, in which the French Navy beat the British, meaning that Cornwallis had no escape, or perhaps the Battle of Trincomalee, in which the French Navy beat the British, meaning the UK had to focus on India or lose it.

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