The Span Of Empire – Snippet 49

The Span Of Empire – Snippet 49

Chapter 26

Mallu watched over the shoulder of the weapons officer as the Khûrûshil ship broke into two pieces. Kaln’s angles went to satisfaction-at-distress-of-foes. The weapons officer began to set up the orders for the next attack.

“Wait,” Kaln said as the workstation view screen showed the broken ship still launching missiles from the manned portion of the ship. She studied the diagram of the ship for a moment, then touched the screen again. “Two short medium strikes, here and here to close the missile ports.” She moved her finger on the screen. “Then a longer medium strike here to open the main storage tank and bleed out the hydrogen.

Kaln stood tall again, angles shifting to satisfaction-at-task-well-done. “That will prevent them from blowing anything up when Ban Chao approaches. The only weapons they will have will be what hand weapons they carried aboard.”

Mallu’s own posture shifted to a fairly clean form of gratified-respect. It was perhaps a bit more than was warranted, he thought, but he had been hanging around with a bunch of upper-class Jao the last year or so. Maybe some of their affectations were beginning to “rub off on him,” as Wrot might say with one of his interminable human quotations.

His whiskers quirked in humor when he realized that Jalta had assumed the same posture.

The weapons officer ordered the next strikes, and they landed precisely where Kaln had said they should. That portion of the ship ceased spitting missiles, and began rolling even more than before.

“Weaponless,” Kaln said in a smug tone.

Mallu could only nod to her.


Caitlin grew furious as she watched the attack on the Khûrûshil ship. “I said disable the ship, dammit, not destroy it!”

Flue Vaughan looked up from his workstation. “That is exactly what they did, Director. For all its smallness when compared to Lexington or even Ban Chao, that was in essence a space-going nuclear bomb. And a weapons-grade x-ray laser is not exactly a surgeon’s scalpel. To be certain to nullify the threat, they had to take out the nuclear rocket.” He touched a pad on his workstation and checked a readout. “Actually, I’m surprised they did it with as little damage as they did. That ship isn’t much more than a cockleshell by our standards, and enough energy to quickly take out the rocket section could very easily have shattered the entire ship. Someone’s got a good hand and a good eye over on Pool Buntyam.

“Probably Kaln krinnu ava Krant, if I know Krant-Captain Mallu,” Wrot said as he moved up beside Caitlin. “A most resourceful Jao. And Director,” he added, stressing Caitlin’s title, “Lieutenant Vaughan is absolutely correct. You must remember that, for whatever reason, these people attacked us. We may have our reasons for avoiding their destruction, but we can only carry that so far. If it comes down to them or us, there is no choice.”

That was a thought that Caitlin had been avoiding, but now that Wrot had brought it to the forefront of her mind, there was no question where her responsibility lay. She could not throw away the lives of her friends, crews, or troops simply because she was reluctant to order weapons live. She at last accepted that.

“Very well.” Caitlin sighed. But there was something else she could do. She moved to stand beside Fleet Commander Dannet; Wrot following behind her. “Once Ban Chao reports that they have the crew of the Khûrûshil ship secured, order the ships to return to the one million kilometer point. We will remove the temptation for the Khûrûsh to attack while we interrogate our guests.”

Dannet’s angles were neutral. Her sole response was, “As you direct, Director.”


“Colonel Tully,” Vanta-Captain Ginta’s voice sounded in his ear.

“Here, Captain.” Tully linked in his officers and First Sergeant Luff.

“I assume you have been receiving the signal feed of the disabling of the target craft.”

“We have.”

“The last strike opened the fuel tank to space. The venting of the hydrogen has imparted spin to the portion of the ship you will be boarding.”

Tully looked at the feed. Yep, no question that the remnant of the broken ship was moving faster than before. “That’s not good,” he said. He could see Luff’s head nodding vigorously in agreement.

“The Fleet Commander is adamant that this operation be concluded as quickly as possible,” Ginta said. “Therefore we will move Ban Chao into place to intercept the spin of the craft with the armored ram portion of the hull.”

“Ouch!” Tully heard one of the officers mutter.

“Order your people to their shock frames, Colonel. This will be not very different from the impact of ramming the Ekhat ship. Wait.”

Ginta’s signal cut off.

“Top, you heard the Captain, get the men moving,” Tully ordered. “Charlie Company first, then Alpha, then Baker.”

“Tully.” Ginta was back on.


“I see no way to identify hatches to break through, and given the beating that hull will have taken by the time we bring it under control, I doubt they would open anyway. Take that into account in your plans.”

Tully looked to where Lieutenant Boatright was holding a thumb up. “I believe we have that under control, Captain.”


There was a moment of silence, then Eanne’s voice was heard, “Yellow light at estimated one minute to impact, red light at estimated fifteen seconds, tether crews move at blue light, assault teams move at green light.”

“Yellow at one minute, red at fifteen, tether crews at blue, assault at green.” Tully looked to his helmet display, where he had acknowledgment lights from the officers and Sergeant Luff. He switched to the general troop frequency, and heard the announcement going out from Major Liang. He switched back to the command frequency. “Got it.”

“Good hunting, Colonel,” Tully was surprised to hear from the tech.


There was silence in Tully’s ear.


One of the humans, the one in jinau uniform, looked around at Lim. “Ma’am, you either need to strap in or return to your quarters.” She pointed at an empty seat next to her workstation. “It’s fixing to get pretty rough in a few minutes, and you could get hurt if you don’t strap in somewhere.”

Lim considered the young woman’s request, then nodded her head and took the directed seat. The last occupant of the seat had obviously been a human, and not a large one at that. It took Lim a few moments to get the straps resized and fastened across her torso correctly, especially since she did not lay the staff on the floor.

Task accomplished, holding the staff vertically in one hand, she looked to the human and said, “I am Lim. Can you tell me what is about to occur?”

The human smiled and said, “I’m Sergeant Lacey Marasco. All I know is Director Kralik told Fleet Commander Dannet that Pool Buntyam should take down one of the ships that are attacking us, and Ban Chao should capture the crew and bring them to Lexington for discussions and, if need be, interrogations.”

“Thank you.”

The human–Sergeant Marasco–smiled again and returned her attention to her workstation and the view out the window before her. Lim sat back in the seat, and thought.

She knew that Caitlin Kralik had oudh over the search effort to find other sentient civilizations. She knew that both Jao and human organizations tended to be very hierarchical; not that the Lleix weren’t, but the Lleix cultural need to have consensus for every decision was far outside the Jao/human/Terra taif norm.


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11 Responses to The Span Of Empire – Snippet 49

  1. Jeff Ehlers says:

    I’m glad someone finally pulled Caitlyn up short. While I understand where she was coming from, the fact of the matter is that if someone is coming at you with a knife, you don’t want to leave them in a position where they can stab you with it merely to do as little harm as possible.

    • Doug Lampert says:

      If the Khûrûshil ship’s crew is feeling suicidal, they probably still have missiles aboard. Sealing the firing ports doesn’t change that. An American made missile probably wouldn’t arm its warhead till it clears the tube, which means you couldn’t easily use it as a self destruct to try to take someone else with you, but they may not use our designs and even with a “safe” design you could almost certainly ignite the remaining missile propellant when boarded.

      Caitlyn is risking a lot of lives on the hope that the suicidal and hostile aliens aren’t really all that suicidal or hostile.

      I really don’t like scenes where I keep thinking, “this is insanely stupid and stupidly risky, and it will work anyway because the Heroes are the ones doing it and their motives are pure” or something like that. One advantage to depressing “anyone can die” fiction is that from one of those authors I wouldn’t have the feeling that this will work because it’s Caitlyn ordering it done and a disaster would make Tully’s soldiers look bad or dead.

      If this was Dannet’s idea and she had some random Jao doing it, does anyone have any doubt that the outcome would be a disaster?

      • Kris Overstreet says:

        It depends on a number of factors. Considering the backblast of rocketry and how most rocket fuels are instant death or close enough if inhaled, the odds are pretty good that the nuke rockets aren’t accessible from within the crew compartment. Even if they were, though, nuclear warheads are of their nature engineered to ensure they only go off under very specific and controlled conditions. Turning one into a suicide bomb would be a non-trivial task- requiring minutes at least, I’d expect, and that with diagrams and training. In a tumbling zero-gee spaceship on battery power, probably longer. If this species has any experience with terrorism or guerilla warfare, even longer to get around any anti-tamper defenses the warhead has.

        As for igniting the propellant… well, shall we presume these aliens have had their own version of Apollo 1? Their little ship, let’s say tech on a par with the Orion capsule, is going to be designed to make cooking off anything as hard as possible. In their place, if I were suicidally patriotic/xenophobic, I’d likely just strip the insulation off the nukes and let radiation take my revenge, confident that the cyanide-equivalent capsules Big Brother would have packed in the first aid kit would take me out long before any symptoms of radiation poisoning.

      • Jeff Ehlers says:

        As a matter of fact, I do. And it’s not even because of the fact that Dannet would never have come up with such an idea to begin with because the Jao are so unimaginative as a whole.

        Consider the long-term results of taking the natural Jao approach and ruthlessly crushing any military resistance while trying to compel obedience from them. It took two decades for humans to start cooperating with the Jao (and even then, it happened barely in time to save Earth from being burned to a cinder by the Ekhat); how many decades do you think it would take for the Khur to decide to, given how suicidal and hostile they appear to be?

        There’s also the fact that even in “anyone can die” fiction, these gambles do periodically pay off. It’s true that this will probably work because Caitlyn ordered it and Tully will be leading the effort…but that doesn’t mean that if the circumstances were different, it would probably fail.

    • sensei says:

      Caitlyn is learning about the downside of being in command: sometimes you have to give orders that result in your people being killed. Perhaps people you personally care about. Reminds me of the Star Trek Next Generation episode where Troi is on the holodeck taking a test for command track. She finally has to order a holodeck Geordie on an assignment that is certain death for ‘him’. Not fun for anyone with a moral sense.

      • sensei says:

        The 1632 universe’s Mike Stearns has to come to terms with this in ‘1635, The Eastern Front’, when he orders Jeff Higgins’ Hangman Regiment into Zielona Gora and deliberately leaves them unreinforced. He knows it might result in Jeff’s death, but he does it for reasons he considers necessary.

  2. John Roth says:

    A nit. Unless they’ve got something like Honorverse gravitic technology, it would be almost impossible to get a nuclear reactor to explode like a nuclear bomb. To get a nuclear bomb, you need to assemble a critical mass very quickly. If you’re too slow, you’ll get a meltdown. That can be a very nasty result (see Chernobyl, Fukushima) but it’s not an atomic bomb.

    • sensei says:

      The Jao obviously have some form of artificial gravity, since people are walking around while the ships are in space, without the ships spinning. Some gravity-based weapons might be nice. Having lasers as primary weapons for people who have had interstellar space travel for millennia seems unlikely to me.

  3. Robert H. Woodman says:

    “Yellow at one minute, red at fifteen, tether crews at blue, assault at green.” Tully looked to his helmet display, where he had acknowledgment lights from the officers and Sergeant Luff. He switched to the general troop frequency, and heard the announcement going out from Major Liang. He switched back to the command frequency. “Got it.”

    “Good hunting, Colonel,” Tully was surprised to hear from the tech.


    There was silence in Tully’s ear.

    I’ve read this several times, and it seems to me as if it foreshadows something bad about to happen, perhaps to Tully. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but that’s just my impression of this passage.

  4. Bibliotheca Servare says:

    My *god* that first paragraph makes me think Caitlin is an absolute imbecile. “Finally made herself accept that”…seriously?! That’s comforting! I’m sure the rest of the people in the fleet are *so grateful* that you were *finally* able to “make yourself” accept that you couldn’t throw their lives away in pursuit of a pacifistic first contact! So generous. *rolls eyes so hard they fall out* *puts them back in* *resumes rolling eyes*

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