The Span Of Empire – Snippet 26

The Span Of Empire – Snippet 26

“If the pathfinder ship emerges when the star is in extreme contraction, they are at substantial risk of emerging in depths of plasma that will overwhelm its shields and destroy it. Similar risks exist if the star’s spherical symmetry is distorted and the ship emerges in a portion of the star that is still contracted.”

The humans in the room had expressions ranging anywhere from worried to appalled. Caitlin didn’t look at Ed; she knew what his concern would be.

“Can you put a quantification on that risk?” Caitlin asked. “Ten percent? Fifty percent? Somewhere in-between?”

Narso looked to Brakan and Matto, then back to Caitlin. “We . . . are uncertain.”

Caitlin sat up straighter. The Lleix elians seldom admitted to less than absolute certainty. That followed right behind their insistence on consensus. To have an elder say this in a public forum indicated there were deep divisions within the Starsifters who had been involved in their discussions.

“So give me the range,” she said.

Narso’s aureole flattened in distress. “We have so little good data,” he began.

“Then give me a guess!” Caitlin snapped.

Narso looked to Matto, who fingered his com pad again. A chart appeared in the holographic projection, obscuring part of the star field.

“The most favorable estimate is a ten percent risk,” Narvo said in a low tone.

“That’s not too bad,” Caitlin began, only to be interrupted by the Lleix elder.

“The least favorable was in excess of thirty percent.”

That almost choked Caitlin. A one-in-three chance of losing each ship? That was a no-go.

“That’s too high a risk.” She looked to Dannet. “How can we reduce that?”

The Fleet Commander gave her a direct gaze, angles sloping into accepting responsibility. “We send a pathfinder ship through. If it survives the trip, it stays in the system for several days making observations, then returns a message ship to the fleet with the observations which allows us to pick the times of least risk to make the jumps.”

“And if it doesn’t survive?”

Dannet’s angles morphed through gratified-respect to aspire-to-be-of-service. “Then we send another pathfinder through.”

That thought caused Caitlin’s stomach to churn. The thought of ordering Jao and humans to such a horrible death was not one she welcomed. But it would work; she admitted that. Sooner or later, a ship would survive and return the needed data.

“Is there another star we can use for the first link in the chain?”

Narso shook his head, something the Lleix had adapted from the humans, much as the Jao had also done.

“No, Director. All other reachable stars lead to routes where the overall risk in the chain of jumps is greater than through this one.”

Caitlin looked down at where her hands rested on the table, one bracing her com pad and one loosely holding a stylus, for all the world as if she were not involved in a discussion involving almost certain death for members of her fleet staff. She took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and felt her nostrils flare as she released it.

“Very well. Continue with the presentation.”

The discussion that followed took the better part of half an hour. Caitlin followed most of it, but still felt a bit at sea as far as knowing which was best. She kicked herself when she realized that the only ones talking at that point were humans and Lleix. The Jao had been silent for some time, and Dannet’s angles were hinting of impatient irritation. And that provided both an answer and some relief. She sat up and tapped the table. All voices stopped; all eyes turned to her.

“Fleet Commander Dannet, have you heard enough?”

“Yes,” Dannet growled.

“Is the flight possible with our current ships?”

“Yes.”

“Have you made your decision as to the path to take?”

“Yes.”

“Then this part of the discussion is over. Thank you, Elder Narso.”

The Lleix elder continued to stand for a moment, as if not certain what had just happened. Brakan made a slight coughing sound, and the elder inclined his head and resumed his seat.

“Fleet Commander, in the previous meeting Krant-Captain Mallu indicated that a leading ship would have to make the first jump, and it would then serve as an anchor point for the other ships as they made their own jumps.” Caitlin’s voice was calm. She focused her mind on that calmness, as she schooled her body to present considering-choices. It took some effort. “You said a few minutes ago that we would need to send a pathfinder ship. Is that still the preferred approach?”

The ship captains, Jao all, said nothing but looked at Fleet Commander Dannet, whose ears moved to flag resolution as she said, “It is the only approach until the Frame Network can be extended.”

“Then who is the pathfinder?” Caitlin asked. “One of the Lexingtons? Or do we wait for something else?” Her stomach started churning again, and she drummed her fingers on the table, which startled the Lleix present. They abhorred any form of patterned noise, linking it to the Ekhat and their dreaded songs. Caitlin sighed and stilled her fingers, taking up a posture of quiet-receptiveness-to-information.

Some of the Jao in the room looked at her as if she had mouthed nonsense. The rest looked to the fleet commander.

Ban Chao,” Dannet said. “The ram ship design was based on a Jao pathfinder design, but was made larger, tougher, and stronger. Ton for ton, Ban Chao has the strongest hull and the most powerful shields in the fleet, though it is somewhat lighter armed than the battleships.”

Vanta-Captain Ginta krinnu vau Vanta flicked an ear and then sloped his shoulders in recognition-of-duty. His kochan was allied with the great Dano. He would not be seen to shirk a reasonable opportunity to be of use. That would shame both Dano and Vanta. “Yes,” he said, “that does make sense. We will only take minimal crew, though. There is no point in risking trained lives unnecessarily. The assault troops we normally carry should off-load to the other ships.”

“Not happening,” Tully said, his face flushed beneath his tan.

All the Jao at the table glanced sharply at him, their body angles speaking of disbelief and irritation. Ed Kralik stirred beside Caitlin. She looked over at him as he spoke. “Colonel Tully is right,” he said. “We have no idea what the Ban Chao will jump into. We have no idea what military technologies you might encounter. You could be attacked as soon as you come out of the jump, and you won’t have a way out. That being the case, I’d say you should jump loaded for bear.”

Caitlin saw most of the Jao were confused by his metaphor. “You’re saying that Ban Chao should be loaded with every troop and every weapon that we can possibly load aboard her before she jumps, even the jump into this variable star.”

 

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11 Responses to The Span Of Empire – Snippet 26

  1. WEH says:

    ‘ “The most favorable estimate is a ten percent risk,” Narvo said in a low tone. ‘

    This looks like a typo – but I can’t figure out who’s speaking. It isn’t Narso, so is it Matto or Brakan?

    • David says:

      It is Narso speaking. Typo. Good catch.

      And we received the galley proofs today, so any oopsies we find through the weekend can be assured of being corrected. Past that point, it will have to rely on Eric and I catching them.

      By the way, the book formatted to 570 pages for the hardback edition, and as of last night’s snippet, we’re on page 114. :-) Lots of story yet to tell. :-)

  2. Doug Lampert says:

    I’m with the Jao on the troops.

    Baring the Power of Plot and the fact that the human Heroes are insisting on carrying troops, there’s almost no chance that you’ll happen to jump into a situation where ground troops will help. You’re basically risking a bunch of lives with a circa 20%+/-10% chance of unavoidable death when the ship gets destroyed, for a marginal gain in your Damage Control ability if there happen to be a bunch of Ekhat or something similar in system. (I’m assuming the ground troops are cross-trained in DC and that your precious pathfinder vessel won’t take the risk of voluntarily ramming for boarding in this situation.)

    Sending translators and a small security element in case someone else is using the bottleneck in transit between arms might make sense, but all the troops? Why?

    This is one of those annoying: “In fiction you know this is the right call, in real life this call has a high chance of killing hundreds of people and almost no chance of saving anyone or anything.”

    Maybe they’ll have the peak probability “nothing much happens and the troops being on the ship doesn’t matter”, or the ~20% probability, “Stupid way to die” happen rather than the ridiculously unlikely “having lots of troops actually helps”, but I’m not betting on it.

    • Jeff Ehlers says:

      Agreed. I’m hoping this sets up someone explaining just why it’s a Bad Idea to send the ship loaded for bear, rather than sending through only enough to make sure it can operate at peak efficiency while minimizing loss in case things do go badly.

      • Positroll says:

        I think the idea is that BCs main way of fighting is ramming and boarding. If you leave the jinau with the fleet, you reduce BC to a laser armed cruiser …

        • Jeff Ehlers says:

          That makes it even worse.

          The way I see it, there are four scenarios worth considering. First, the worst-case, where the ship gets destroyed, due to problems with the translation. As a result, bringing the jinau along would be a complete and total waste, throwing away their lives to no effect.

          Second, where the ship gets through with no problems, and there are no Ekhat on the other side. So bringing the jinau along is useless, though at least they would survive.

          Third, they make it through, and there is a single Ekhat ship in the system. This is about the only scenario I can think of where the jinau would actually be of use, because the Ban Chao would be able to ram and board, although it wouldn’t be able to do much about the Ekhat weaponry due to lacking penetrator weapons. Furthermore, it is the least likely scenario, since the Ekhat have never been shown operating alone.

          Fourth, they make it through, and there are several Ekhat ships on the other side. This would be a bad situation for them since they wouldn’t be able to ram and board due to being vulnerable to other Ekhat ships attacking them in the meantime, which means that the jinau would, again, be useless, and they might actually die if things go badly.

          I don’t see the one scenario where the jinau would be useful being higher than a 10% probability, and probably significantly lower than that. Given the much higher probability of failing to be of use, I don’t see this being a worthwhile trade-off.

          • Doug Lampert says:

            And of course if either ship is disabled or destroyed in the ram then the marines are again useless. Take out the Ekhat by ramming, and we’re back to at best needing DC crews.

            So we’re looking at useful if: (a) only one Ekhat, (b) you can ram, (c) neither ship is critically damaged when you ram (or in a stunning coincidence both have comparable repairable damage), (d) the Ekhat and Ban Choe REMAIN in contact despite both having substantial numbers of working systems, (e) they can’t just laser each other to death almost immediately despite both ships being non-disabled or only fairly lightly damaged and in actual contact, so this harmless docking maneuver or whatever you’re doing instead of actually ramming needs to disable all facing lasers on both ships.

            I’m pretty sure I can come up with more necessary conditions. “Need a security element for peaceful contact” is vastly more plausible, and “need a security element the size of a battalion for peaceful contact” isn’t all that likely.

            Take a section of marines and three translators.

            • Jeff Ehlers says:

              Good point about needing some soldiers along for security, I hadn’t considered that, mainly because I didn’t think it’d be likely that they’d run into non-Ekhat on their first framepoint jump into the neighboring arm.

  3. Robert H. Woodman says:

    I think Tully is being foolish.

  4. John Roth says:

    The basic mission objective is to act as a frame anchor. If they encounter Ekhat, they want to get away and get that bit of data back to base, not fight them. However, the probability of encountering anything that they either have to fight or flee is very, very low.

    I’m not familiar with a “type IS” red giant. Was this type picked out of a hat, or is there really such a beast?

    • WEH says:

      I agree with you about what they might face. If they have to back-track through already explored space empty of Ekhat and go off in a different direction toward the Sag arm, it doesn’t seem likely that the Ekhat would have a presence that way. If they had, Our Heroes would have already seen them by now, and besides, the Ekhat should have found better paths to the Sag arm much closer to the galaxy center thousands of years ago. At the very least, there would be a major Ekhat base (or sentry) at this end of the trail.

      And any civilizations coming the other way would have already shown themselves. Otherwise why would they come to the edge of the Orion arm and just stop?

      As for your question about the star types – I’m not an astronomer, but from what I gather, M-class stars are red and cool, and M7’s are on the cooler side of M’s; among variable stars, I-class stars change luminosity because they grow and shrink, and S-subclass change luminosity at semi-regular intervals which can last anywhere from days to years.

      The star is several light years away, so the periodicity could change and all the dust that’s in the way makes it difficult to determine what the period is anyway, so they’ll have to risk it when sending a pathfinder.

      Perhaps the authors needed a reason to make this jump dramatic and expected some readers to nitpick about why this particular star might be a potential problem? Or maybe these characteristics will be an issue in the future? Perhaps for the Ekhat?

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