The Span Of Empire – Snippet 33

The Span Of Empire – Snippet 33

“I’d like her in ship officer country if you can manage it, but close to me and to the jinau quarters.” He started to thumb off the call, but stopped to say, “Think of her as a new lieutenant, Top–lots of book knowledge but short on experience.”

“Joy.” The first sergeant’s tone was so dry it could have withered a field.

Tully laughed. “She’s pretty sharp, Top. I doubt she’ll make many of the mistakes a fresh shave-tail would make.”

“No, she’ll make new and unusual ones.” Luff’s tone shifted to one of resignation.

“See to it, Top.”

“Yes, sir.”

****

Aille krinnu ava Terra was preceded into the Earth headquarters of the Bond of Ebezon by Yaut krinnu ava Terra and Nath krinnu ava Terra. They had been requested to attend upon Preceptor Ronz not long after a courier ship had arrived from Ares Base.

The preceptor greeted them as they entered the building. As with most Jao structures, the concept of straight hallways with doors opening off of it never seemed to have occurred to the designers. Ronz watched as they shifted almost unconsciously to a more released carriage of their bodies. He had noted before that Jao who spent a lot of time with humans would often minimalize their body postures. It was curious to him that even these three, members of the top five figures in Terra taif, appeared to be doing it.

He beckoned without words, and they followed around a curving wall into a dimly lit space with cushions and other Jao arrangements scattered around. At a gesture from him, they all settled onto soft dehabia blankets, all the while eyeing him closely, blatant-curiosity written into the lines and angles of their bodies.

“It is possible,” Ronz began as his Pleniary-superior Tura entered the room quietly and settle to a blanket of her own to one side, “that the human propensity for ollnat may have passed into excess.”

Aille’s angles flowed into focused-attention. “In what way?” he asked.

“Caitlin Kralik has reported on the progress of the survey expedition,” the preceptor replied.

Ronz said nothing further, looking over the three leading members of the Terra’s new taif. They were smart and fit, their nap lustrous with frequent swims. Aille had the advantage of being rather open-minded for a Jao, able to adapt quickly, a long-time characteristic bred for by Pluthrak, his birth-kochan. Ronz watched angles flow across and through Aille’s body so swiftly that even he had trouble following the changes. He appreciated that Aille made no effort to mask or neutralize those movements. It indicated a trust that not many would have been willing to offer, not even to one who stood in the place of a parent kochan.

Aille’s body settled into perceived-boldness. “She has abandoned the search?”

“Yes and no,” Ronz said with a fillip of admiration-of-perception in his own angles. “Caitlin has concluded that the Ekhat are so prevalent in this galactic arm, and the possibilities of finding surviving sufficiently civilized races to ally with us are so low, that another approach must be developed.”

“And did she propose such an approach?” Nath asked, her angles reading foretold-certainty.

“No.” Ronz stood and crossed to look out the elliptical window, staring into the moonlight. “She has wielded her oudh and decided. Caitlin will lead her fleet across the void to the Sagittarius Arm, and establish her search there.”

“Ah,” was Aille’s only response. He went neutral for a moment, then flowed into wry-amusement.Ollnat with a vengeance, as Wrot might say.”

“Indeed.” Ronz turned his back on the window to face them, moonlight pouring around him and turning him into a shadowy figure. “Where a Jao with her charge would systematically examine every possible system, gleaning in a well-harvested field, Caitlin has decided to move to a different field altogether. And can we say that she is wrong?”

Silence.

After a moment, Ronz sighed, and returned to his former position. “Even if I wanted to stop her, by now they are either about to leave Ares Base, or they have already begun the voyage.”

Yaut broke his silence. “And what does Wrot have to say about this? He will have reported as well, I’m sure.”

“Wrot,” Ronz began, his angles pure neutral, “is deeply concerned. He does not question Caitlin’s oudh as such, where another might, but he questions whether the risk that she is undertaking lies within that oudh.”

“He would not say that much without making a recommendation,” Yaut growled out, leaving unsaid the so tell us already to let his angles of impatience speak instead.

“Wrot made no recommendations, but he did suggest that the Bond get directly involved in the expedition.”

“Would that be wise?” Aille said, his golden-brown body abandoning curiosity for concern. “The Bond does not take sides in kochan affairs.”

“No, it would not. There are reasons I would rather not go into at this point,” Ronz said, “but the Bond has been by no means unanimous in its support of the policy I have followed here on Terra. If I officially involve the Bond in this matter, I will possibly raise up conflict within the Bond which would be much better avoided, not to mention stirring the currents of politics among and between the kochans.”

The room was silent again as the others contemplated what had been said.

****

“What ship?”

The voice was almost atonal, the pitch and placement was so sloppy. Third-Mordent was instantly infuriated even before the hologram field flickered and filled with the face of a lesser Ekhat.

“Put me through to a harmony master,” she fluted in response in descending quarter-tones, her anger adding an edge to the notes.

“What ship?”

Third-Mordent’s fury flashed, and she spun to put her face close to the hologram pickup. “You disgrace to the Harmony! You dare to intrude! I bring word for the harmony masters, and only them! Once they find that you have delayed me, you spawn of a servient and a defective male, they will give you to me.”

She could feel her vision narrowing in the predator’s stare; feel her fore-shoulders pulling into attack position. Her right forehand blade rose into the field of the hologram pickup.

“I will eat your progeny! I will geld your mate! I will rend you like a servient! I will kill your progenitors, and theirs! I will purify your line from the Harmony, you stain on the fabric of the Melody!”

The hologram field blanked as she swung her forehand blade at it. Third-Mordent sat back on her haunches, panting. In a moment, the field swirled before presenting a different visage to her.

Third-Mordent’s rage evaporated instantly. She recognized this Ekhat. The tegument faded to the shade of old ivory; the age grooves around the mandibles; the scar that creased the tegument around the left eye; all established that this was the oldest living harmony master in this quadrant, Ninth-Minor-Sustained.

“You bring dissonance to this system,” the harmony master sang in cold bell tones, ringing in full step ascending. “Justify yourself or be purified.”

“Harmony has been broken,” Third-Mordent keened, her dirge echoed by the Ekhat behind her.

Ninth-Minor-Sustained stiffened. “Explain!” Her voice glissandoed down into almost a subsonic tone. It throbbed even through the communication link into the hologram projector.

“Descant-at-the-Fourth will add no more notes to the Melody,” Third-Mordent sang again in descending whole tones, each sharp-edged, each precise. “Her system is filled with dissonance. All voices are dead. Her harvester and its dancing daughter-ships are broken, stumbling in aimless orbits.”

The harmony master’s eyes widened and her head moved forward just slightly. She became essence of predator, and despite herself, Third-Mordent shrank back.

“Come to me here!” Ninth-Minor-Sustained intoned. A light flared on a panel in Third-Mordent’s ship, a tone pinged.

The hologram emptied.

 

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