The Span Of Empire – Snippet 22

The Span Of Empire – Snippet 22


Glimnitz shuddered as the loathsome pink creatures dragged it back to its fellows and shoved it inside the sterile room. His fellow Trīkē swarmed him, pressing their lengths to his in a futile attempt to find comfort. Alas, there was no comfort outside the sphere of the Great Ones. There was no joy if one could not serve until the moment of the next Note and then the next. No songs existed in this terrible place. They could look forward to nothing but death.

“What do they want with us?” Solvaya asked, an undersized female. She was faulty, having torn off a leg in the battle and now had trouble walking.

“They ask questions,” Glimnitz said as the rest crowded in for comfort. “Questions and questions about the great masters!”

She limped back and forth at the edges of the group, unable to draw nearer. “Did you answer?”

“As soon as they have what they want from us, we will be spaced, you can be sure of that,” Glimnitz said. “Silence is our best protection. Tell them nothing. Eventually the Great Ones will find this ship and destroy it themselves. Then we will all be at peace, knowing we have done our best.”


In the event, it took nearly three days for the fleet to achieve readiness to leave. Vercingetorix had by far the worst damage, and was accordingly the last vessel to be ready.

While the fleet waited on the battleship’s repairs, Tully spent most of his time with Lieutenant Bannerji and the Lleix Ramt in the interrogations of the Ekhat slaves.

Attempted interrogations, that is.

Down on the lower deck, the squirmy Trīkē were still not talking to anyone but each other. Ramt was making progress translating their vocalizations, but not nearly as much as she would have if they would speak with her too. They weren’t like real individuals, she thought, as she tracked comments and responses around the room. What one thought, they evidently all thought. They could embellish upon a statement, modify it, expand it, but they seemed utterly unable to contradict an idea once it had been expressed.

Was that an artifact of their slave status? Ramt edged closer to the one-way glass. Had the Ekhat bred the ability to even conceive of opposition out of these pathetic creatures? She made notations on her pad, thinking how to turn this to their advantage.

She keyed the intercom on. “Report on condition!” she barked in Ekhat.

The Trīkē hesitated, clumped in the center of the detention chamber. “Master?” one of them chirped, then they were all abasing themselves, falling to the floor, squirming over and under one another.

“Report!” she said again.

“This is a dreadful place,” one, larger than the rest, said. “Take us back to the divine Ekhat! Let us serve the true song again!”

“You shall go nowhere until you report!” Ramt said, trying to evoke the hatefulness of a true Ekhat.

“It is cold here,” the Trīkē said, “and oh so very bright! Our eyes burn and there is no work. We are desolate with nothing to do.”

They could adjust the temperature and lighting, Ramt thought. Work was another matter. “Your work,” she said, suddenly struck by a notion, “your current assignment, is to converse with our new slaves, the Lleix. Teach them how to speak properly and how to work for the Ekhat.”

The iridescent black bodies stilled. “Then we will hear the next note?”

“You will hear it as soon as I do,” Ramt said, then shut off the intercom. First, she would have conditions altered more to their liking, then she would present himself inside their detention chamber and see if he had at last found a way around their all too natural cautions.


Even Caitlin Kralik came over from the Lexington to observe the captives. She watched Lieutenant Bannerji and Ramt work with the Trīkē, as they’d learned the sinuous black aliens called themselves.

“They may actually be quite low on the intelligence scale for species,” Bannerji said. “They don’t seem to be able to conceive of an existence where they are not slaves.”

“Then, for now,” Caitlin said, “they should consider themselves our slaves. We can worry about liberating them later.”

Bannerji stared at her. “That’s–” He shook his head. “That’s–genius. It just might work.”

He nodded at the door. “Ramt and I will try that.”

The Lleix joined him as he slipped through door. Inside the detention chamber, the Trīkē rushed to the back wall and cowered in a sinuous pile of sleek, iridescent black bodies.


The wretched creatures were coming after them again! Trīkē 10988, also known as Solvaya, cowered against the wall. Why did they not decently kill their captives? Trīkē had no purpose outside the divine Ekhat. Their magnificent ship was gone. The great note being composed by their masters was left unsung, choked off into nothingness before it could be broadcast. There were no Ekhat here to slaughter them for failing to win the battle as was right and needful. So it was not even left to them to die well and please their masters in that way.

The two aliens who came into the room were different from one another in many respects but alike in their stiffness. They spoke the Divine Language. The masters, Solvaya remembered from the few times he had been granted a glimpse, had been quite stiff too.

“Slaves,” the smaller one said in a piping voice, “you will speak to us.”

They piled themselves against the wall, diving under and under one another, trying to conceal themselves from the alien wrongness that had invaded their space.

“You were the Ekhat’s slaves,” the other stiff creature said. “They are dead. Now, you are our slaves and you will speak to us!”

Solvaya was forced out by the bodies of her fellows. For a moment, there was nowhere to hide. She was painfully exposed.

The smaller alien stepped closer. It had coverings of some sort draped over it, a false hide, as though it was molting. Disgusting!

The larger one prowled near. “What are your duties?”

Solvaya could not think; she was so afraid.

“Report!” the stiff ones said. “Report!”

“We run the ship,” the Trīkē said. “We service the engines, adjust the controls, but mostly we wait for the next Divine Note.”

“Good,” the smaller one said. “You are our slaves now.”

“Where is our work?” Solvaya replied in a low tone. “Will you sing one of the great notes when victory is achieved?”

“Perhaps,” the smaller one said, “if you work hard.”

“Where is our work?” Trīkē 31766 said from behind. “What shall we do to please our new masters?”

“Where is our work?” the others babbled together. “Where is our work?”

“Your first work is to talk to us in your native tongue,” the smaller one said. “Then we will see.”

“Talk?” they echoed.

“Tell us of the Ekhat ship,” the creature said. “Tell us of your duties.”

So Trīkē 10988 sat on the floor, folded her stubby arms, and began to explain.

Chapter 9

Dannet had ordered that all but a skeleton crew be transferred from Vercingetorix. If the wounded ship didn’t survive the framepoint jump, she wanted as many of the crew to survive as possible. So it was on the third day after the battle that, crew transfers completed, the fleet moved well away from the dead planet and the debris fields of the battles and, one ship at a time, activated their jump procedures and left the nameless system where long ago the Ekhat had raped a world of its life-forms, and where recently the universe had returned the favor.

Dead Ekhat floated in dead ships in space before the dead planet, almost like retributional offerings on an altar before a dead god. On the fourth planet the fragments of dead Ekhat were slowly mummifying from the cold and near-vacuum in the wreckage of their base.

The universe’s tutelage on the consequences of hubris was harsh.

Chapter 10

A starship appeared in the depths of the sun. Slowly it clawed its way from the plasma, through the corona, out into empty space.

Third-Mordent almost cringed. The dissonance! What had occurred here? Descant-at-the-Fourth had built such strong harmony in this system, and now it was gone, replaced by dissonance that shrieked. What had happened?

Slowly the small Ekhat ship moved away from the sun, slave crew lashed by Third-Mordent’s tongue and not infrequently directed by blows. Bit by bit they gathered information: no active ships in the system, large debris fields where none existed before, ship fragments slowly spinning through space.

Third-Mordent almost broke when they found the wreckage of the World Harvester. To know that Descant-at-the-Fourth, one of her own collateral ancestors, was gone . . . it almost put her own song away.

Then they discovered the planet.

Ekhat do not pale, or blanch. But Third-Mordent’s tegument lost sheen; so much so that the next-highest Ekhat on the ship sang a query.

Third-Mordent’s response was slow in coming.

“We return. This account must be taken to our harmony masters.”

For once her song was quiet. “Someone has dared to break our harmony. There will be a price for this.”

Soon the Ekhat ship left the system.

Dead ships still floated in space. Wisps of rarefied atmosphere touched lightly on rubble on a dead planet.


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11 Responses to The Span Of Empire – Snippet 22

  1. sensei says:

    “You will hear it as soon as I do.” In the following sentence, Ramt is described by the male pronoun, “he,” when it should be, “she.” …and see if HE had at last….”

    “The masters, Solvaya remembered from the few times he (sic) had been granted a glimpse….”

    This should be, “she”, since Solvaya has been identified several times as female.

  2. Positroll says:

    1) Query how long it takes for one of the humans to accidentially sing in front of the prisoners …

    2) Would have been nice for the reader to know what was destroyed on the planet. Maybe later?

    3) After the battle of Valeron, Dannet made sure that all Ekhat remains were destroyed and/or nudged into the sun so that nothing remained that would give later Ekhat ships a hint as to what happened. They also took booty from the remainder of one of the destroyed ships. All that with a single Lexington and despite being in a hurry to save the Lleix
    This time Dannet has a whole fleet including transports. They have nothing to do but wait for the Vercingetorix to be repaired. There are still huge fragments of the mega – harvester and the remains of other ships around. She could plunder them at their leisure and/or turn them into stardust. And what does Dannet do?? Twiddle her freaking thumbs !?!?

    • Andy says:

      Maybe the last time around they didn’t find a lot of useful “booty”. They would have looked for something like that, if they had wanted to, when they boarded the harvester. It seems the AEA (Anti Ekhat Alliance) is past the point of gathering “dead” intelligence. The Jao were their slaves and the Lleix studied them for centuries. It seems they are more interested in killing them as quickly as possible.

      Hiding the debris of this much larger battle may be impractical. Even if it isn’t, the other Ekhat know that there was a large temporary/long term base there. There isn’t any point in hiding the destruction of the planetary base either.

      • Positroll says:

        Tully was so afraid of shadows, he didn’t give his men time to find something interesting. A ship not seen in generations and never conquered as far as we know, basically a whole city in space and all he gets out of it are 9 lousy slaves who might well just be the equivalent of cooks. I ranted about that in the respective snippet … And now that city is dead in space, close to freezing, surely everybody is dead, they ve got nothing to do and still they don’t dare to go find something … shakes head …

        If I were in charge of the Terran fleet, I’d do my very best to keep the Ekhat from learning of the existence of kinetic guns as long as possible. Which means destroying here at least the great harvester by sending it into the sun (its already in a low orbit) since any Ekhat investigation would show the impacts of the uranium ammunition and might lead the Ekhat to consider an adaptation of the shields. To the extent that the smaller Ekhat were shot up only by Jao lasers, there is less to hide – except that their computers might have pictures of our ships and data on the battle in their freaking database. So I’d still burn them or send them into the sun …

        • Jeff Ehlers says:

          And what if more Ekhat were to pop out of the sun while they’re busy with those tasks? They had a really close call with that at the end of The Crucible of Empire, as I recall – the Ekhat were arriving just as they were getting ready to jump out. It’s all well and good to say that they should have checked out the ship more fully, or dumped everything in the sun, but there’s more factors than you’re taking into account here.

          As far as Tully’s raid on the World Harvester went, what you’re neglecting is that the slaves are clearly indoctrinated by the Ekhat to fight to the death. Sure, they can be captured, but to do so takes extra manpower, not to mention that you then have to get them out of the danger zone, which means you need enough people to both transport and guard them. Split off enough groups for that, and you end up putting your assault team at risk.

          Sure, looking at it from the semi-omniscient third-person reader view, it’s easy to say they should have acted differently, but in reality, it would be nowhere near that simple. Not to mention the Jao factor – who didn’t really care about Ekhat slaves or technology, from the way they simply blew up the two planetary bases. Given their druthers, I’m sure they wouldn’t have wasted time with a boarding action which puts extra lives at risk for very little return.

    • Nguyen Gia Thai says:

      This is a raid into a known settlement. There will be traffic, possibly in near future. Dannet was right to keep her force concentrated, repair what need be done, and get the fuck out of Dodge.

      Need you reminded that they had just a murthering great battle with outnumbered odd? As veterans used to pray “Fuck ingenious tactics! Just give us straight bigger force for once! Let us overwhelm them!” And outnumbered battle is what they are going to have if they stay at that system.

      • Positroll says:

        1) Outnumbered? Only if you look at mere ship numbers, not when you look at fighting power and armament.
        The Lexington on her own took out 5 Ekhat ships at Valeron without taking serious damage except for one spine. This time they had 4 real battleships against basically flimsy civilian hulls, full of combustibles, with half the laser armament, three of them smaller ships and the harvester optimized for, well, harvesting, not for space battle. This difference was ten time worse then when Bismarck took on Hood – Hood at least had serious protection on the sides and was only really vulnerable topside (and there were plans to remedy that). The Ekhat ships , though, are like the Hood without any armor …

        2) They just took out 14 enemy ships with just one of their own damaged. When the Ekhat came back at Valeron, Dannet was close to salivating thinking of the chance of getting at them all in the photosphere were they can’t fight back. Only the need to protect the Lleix civilians aboard (and Wrots order) held her back. You can bet that right now where they have 3 fully functional battleships instead of one she’d love to have another Ekhat fleet come out of the sun. Ekhat on toast.

        3) Giving the remainders of the harvester a push into the sun wouldn’t take long. One of each undamaged BBs can take care of it. The rest of the fleet remains together.

        4) Earlier, why they were dealing with the planet, the light attack craft were “guarding” the harvester. For what?? They could just as well have bounced it into the sun or continued torching it and other ship remains with their lasers.

        • Jeff Ehlers says:

          1. Except, of course, if the Ekhat gather solar plasma around their ships, which completely negates the kinetic weapons (a point I believe you brought up earlier). Furthermore, then the Ekhat would be between the fleet and the framepoint they needed to use to escape.

          2. Which is all well and good until you realize that in order to pull off an ambush, they would need to be waiting inside the photosphere. If the Ekhat came out while they were elsewhere in the system, then they’d have a lot more trouble, not to mention having to get past the Ekhat ships in order to get to the framepoint.

          3. It looks like they actually blew the ships apart. Therefore, cleaning them up wouldn’t be a matter of towing hulks into the sun.

          4. You’re forgetting that they wanted to leave a message for the Ekhat. Sanitizing the system would also reduce the impact of the message they wanted to leave. Just look at the response of Third-Mordent when they found the remains of the World Harvester.

          • David says:

            More or less what Jeff and Nguyen said.

            And a bit of a snerk: pay attention to Third-Mordent. You’re going to see more of her. :-)

  3. Andy says:

    Maybe they should try subjecting them to various human samples of patterned noise.

    Or even give them instruments to learn and play a concert. Occupational therapy for Ekhat slaves!

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