The Span Of Empire – Snippet 47
Tully was stripping off his workout top as he hurtled into the bay where his combat suit was waiting. His orderly, Corporal Enrico Toro, handed him the communication bud, and he shoved it into his ear while the orderly took his boots off.
“Tully here,” he almost shouted. “Talk to me!”
“Colonel, the aliens are attacking the Lexington,” a command deck tech relayed.
“Which aliens? Ekhat?” His mind immediately jumped to the worst-case scenario.
“No, Colonel,” the tech responded. “This system’s aliens, the . . . Khûrûsh.”
“Give me Vanta-Captain Ginta,” Tully ordered as he started pulling on the combat suit.
“Ginta,” came through the communication bud.
“What’s the situation?”
“A number of small spacecraft have taken off from the moon and the planet and are shaping fast-path assault vectors on Lexington. Dannet ordered Arjuna, Pool Buntyam and Ban Chao to move forward.”
“Any overt hostilities yet?” Tully’s mind was racing. This was why Ed Kralik had put him here, dammit, and he was on the wrong ship!
“Not yet,” Ginta said. “Ah, wait . . .” Tully froze with one arm in the suit and the other waiting to plunge into the sleeve Swift was holding. “Missile launches. Lexington is deploying lasers in anti-missile mode.”
“Okay, Ginta, I’ll get out of your fur so you can fight your ship. I’ll only break in if I see something critical.” Ginta dropped out of the loop without another word, and Tully finished his motion. “Tech?”
“What’s your name?”
A Jao name, so a Jao tech. Tully pulled his helmet on and checked the com connection while Corporal Toro checked to make sure the join and seals were good. “Give me a captain’s feed on my suit,” he ordered. A moment later the heads-up display flickered and he got a small size view of Ginta’s main view screen display. “Thanks. Keep me linked in to that, and keep an ear open for me to shout in if I need to.”
“As you direct, Colonel.”
Tully watched the feed while Swift helped him fit his gloves. Once they were on and sealed to the corporal’s satisfaction, Tully made alternate fists and pounded them into other palm just to make sure he was set. He gave a thumbs’ up to Swift, and headed out into the main assault bay.
Quite a few troops were already fitted out and grouping in the main bay, with more arriving every few seconds from the smaller bays scattered around the edges. Tully kept one eye on the feed while he looked around.
“Sir,” the sergeant responded.
“Colonel,” from Major Liang.
“On me. Now.”
He toggled the ID control under his left armpit so it would appear on their screens. Within a few seconds he could see two combat suits going against the flow as they headed in his direction. They had their face-shields open, and he followed suit as they arrived in front of him.
“Okay, not much data available yet. Lexington is being attacked by a flotilla of small ships, a bit smaller than our shuttles. Dannet has ordered Arjuna, Ban Chao and Pool Buntyam forward to support Lexington. I don’t know if there will be any call for us, but we will stand ready. From the size of these ships, there won’t be any all-out assault opportunities like with the Ekhat ship. They don’t even look big enough to need a company assault. Major, get with the company commanders and dust off the plans for platoon and fire-team assaults. I can’t tell you what to expect, because I don’t know myself, but if Dannet does call on us, I want something available right then, not after an hour of discussion.”
“Got it, Colonel.” Liang turned away, calling the company officers.
Tully looked at the first sergeant. “Keep an eye on things, Top. I’ve got to pay attention to the situation.”
Tully closed his face-plate again and focused on the heads-up display. It looked like life was getting interesting for Lexington and her laser crews.
Lim stood against the back wall of the main assault bay, holding the staff with one hand. The mob of jinau troopers, both Jao and human, held her eyes while she listened in on an all-frequencies com bud that Gabe Tully had given her. It was fascinating to her to see the jinau sorting themselves out and forming up in their groups as she simultaneously heard Major Liang and the company officers discussing ways and means of committing mayhem in unknown ships, with muttered comments from Tully overlaying it all.
These humans . . . these Jao . . . they were prepared to fight–to wreak violence on other intelligent beings–for a purpose. Lim was straining to understand why, in the hopes that if she could fathom that, she would be able to better understand her own self, which was growing increasingly un-Lleix, she was afraid.
“Do not attack those ships!” Caitlin ordered. She could hear Pyr speaking passionately into a microphone, putting her message out.
Dannet stiffened and turned to face her, but before she could speak one of the sensor techs spoke up.
“More ships coming around from the opposite face of the planet. Looks like . . . at least another twelve ships.”
“Orders to Arjuna,” the fleet commander snapped, not looking away from Caitlin. “Move to intercept and interdict those ships. Orders to Pool Buntyam and Ban Chao: maneuver to the flank of the ships from the moon, and prepare to fire.”
“Do not attack those ships!” Caitlin said again firmly, her body positioned in the angles of adamant-purpose.
Dannet’s body shifted to ultimate-responsibility. “They are enemy. They are attacking us. We must defeat them to be safe.”
Caitlin let her body’s posture shift to pure adamant. “They are not Ekhat, Fleet Commander. They are no threat to us. Their missiles are too small to be anything much more than smart rockets, and they are too slow to be mass-heavy projectiles that could punch through us. Your lasers will take care of them, and if anything slips through, that’s why the ship designers put armor on these ships.”
Dannet’s angles slipped for a moment, and Caitlin laughed in reply; laughed with an edge, but laughed. “I read the reports, Fleet Commander. I know something of what we’re facing here. They’re not that much farther ahead of Earth than you think.”
Caitlin let her angles move to command-from-superior. “I have oudh over this search, and I say you will not destroy the only chance we’ve had to find new allies because of a lack of restraint. You will not repeat the mistake that was made with the Lleix!” She stared at Dannet, daring her to cross that line.
Vaughan flinched at that last statement from the director. He watched the confrontation from the corner of his eye as he continued to monitor his readouts and mutter an occasional note into his recorders.
Slowly–very slowly–Dannet’s angles morphed to acceptance-of-instruction. At the last, she said, “As you direct.”
The fleet commander turned away from Director Kralik. “Orders to all ships: defensive fire only.”