The Span Of Empire – Snippet 35
Of course, humans being humans, they were arguing about what to call the ship. Not the name of the ship itself–almost everyone was happy to use Trident for both the ship and class names, particularly since it carried happy resonances for a very successful ship type of the Unites States of America, Terra’s dominant political unit prior to the Jao conquest. No, what they were arguing about, of all things, was how to describe the classification of the ship. Rafe Aguilera was partial to calling it a “subchromine”. Others were using “solar submarine.” Aille himself saw nothing wrong with calling it a ram ship; that was its designed function, after all. And a few of the humans were beginning to follow that logic. It was a matter of ollnat, he supposed, that after having designed and built what promised to be a breathtaking warcraft, they were wasting time and energy arguing about what to call it.
Aille felt he was beginning to understand Wrot’s penchant for human gestures and proverbs. Sometimes shaking his head seemed to be the only appropriate reaction to the Terran natives.
“All right,” he said, knowing that he startled Aguilera with his easy acquiescence. In truth, he’d planned all along to use Aguilera’s talents and experience. Aguilera could be a bit crusty, but he knew what he was doing.
“Do what you need to get Trident ready,” Aille said.
“When do we leave?” Rafe asked on the way out the door.
“Soon. When time is right.”
Rafe stuck his head back around the doorframe. “That–doesn’t seem like enough time.” His tone was doubtful.
“It will be just enough time and no longer,” Aille said. The rightness of it pulsed through him. Jao always knew how long something would take. He knew Rafe understood that too. He’d worked with the Jao long enough at this point not to question their time sense.
“Then we’ll be ready,” Aguilera said.
Aille knew they would.
Yaut found that he had little to do in preparation for the expedition except arrange for others to take over their responsibilities on Terra while they were gone.
In terms of the taif, that was not difficult. Nath krinnu ava Terra, formerly Nath krinnu Tashnat vau Nimmat, but now first kochan parent of Terra taif along with Aille, would remain behind. Given how gravid she was at the moment, that bordered on an absolute necessity. She would be supported by Hami krinnu ava Terra, last of the three Terra taif elders. With Wrot already away with the exploration flotilla and Yaut about to leave with Aille, there was no question that Hami also had to remain behind. Yaut considered her a canny old female. Her birth kochan of Nullu, subordinate of Dree kochan, had lost a real asset when she chose to leave and join Terra taif.
In terms of local government, there were always questions. Humans were prickly if you misunderstood their rank. Often, they misunderstood it themselves, thinking they were more important than they really were. Or sometimes they engaged in outright lying about their status, something a Jao really couldn’t do. Body-speech always betrayed the truthfulness, or lack of it, at any particular moment. Even Oppuk the unsane had never been able to disguise his feelings for long. Only senior Bond officers and members of the kochan elite like Aille or Fleet Commander Dannet could even hold the angles of a simple neutral for very long.
It was fortunate that Caitlin’s father was still serving as President of North America, Yaut mused. Of all the human leaders in place world-wide, he had the best understanding of the Jao. He also had the most stature among the human leaders, so that he exerted more leadership and control over them than anyone else could muster. Not that that meant they bowed to his every wish. Yaut had, more than once, heard him muttering phrases about herding cats. But despite their bickering, they trusted him and would follow his lead on important things.
The window on Yaut’s com pad cleared to reveal the face of President Stockwell staring at him. “Vaish,” the president began, the I-see-you Jao greeting of a subordinate to a superior. Strictly speaking, the president did not report to Yaut. But as Aille’s fraghta, Yaut was the fourth most important person on the planet right now, which effectively made him even higher in practical rank than the President of North America. Hence, President Stockwell being politic.
“Vaist,” Yaut replied, the usual Jao You-see-me response to Stockwell’s greeting.
“What can I do for you?” the president asked.
Yaut appreciated that the president didn’t waste any time on “chit-chat” or “pleasantries.” He had an almost Jao directness about him. Of course, between his surviving many years directly under the claws of Oppuk and his daughter Caitlin’s subsequent proximity to Aille as one of his service, he had probably as much practical understanding of the Jao as anyone except his daughter and Professor Jonathan Kinsey, the most public human expert on Jao, who also happened to be one of Stockwell’s chief advisors.
“Aille will be off-planet for some time.” Yaut came directly to the point. “I will be with him. If you require support or direction, contact Nath.”
Stockwell nodded. “When will you leave?”
“Soon,” Yaut responded.
The president’s mouth twisted. “A day? A month? Give me something a human can understand.”
Yaut shrugged. The human expression had become ubiquitous among the Terra taif Jao. “More than a day, less than a week. I think.”
Stockwell nodded. “How long will you be gone?”
Yaut just looked at him.
Stockwell grimaced again. “Right. As long as you must. Do you have a guess?”
“Short or long?”
Yaut considered. The flow changed from moment to moment, but right now it was saying, “Long.”
It was obvious that Stockwell was not pleased at that news. “Okay, while Aille is out puttering around the planets and asteroids, we’ll keep things flowing here on Earth.”
Yaut’s head tilted to one side as he took the angles of correcting-inadvertent-error. “You misunderstand, President Stockwell. We will not be in Terra system at all.”
Stockwell’s eyes widened. “Aille’s going to Ares Base?” That, of course, was the most logical destination for Terra taif’s most prominent member.
“To begin with,” Yaut said.
“He intends to take reinforcements out and join your daughter in her search.”
“Oh.” Yaut could see understanding unfold in the human’s mind by watching his face and posture. Stockwell sat back in his chair and ran one hand through his hair. “So he really will be gone a long time.”
“I believe I said that.”
“And if I have things that I really need Aille’s input on . . .”
“Don’t wait to call him.”
“Right.” Stockwell sat forward again. “Do you need anything else from me, Yaut?”
“No. This call was for your benefit.”
“Right.” Even Yaut could hear the tone of Stockwell’s voice reflecting his tension over receiving this information. “I believe I’ll wait until after he’s left to announce this trip.”
Yaut shrugged. “As you will, but everyone around Aille either knows now or will know by tomorrow.”
Stockwell shook his head.