The Span Of Empire – Snippet 49
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.”
“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.”
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.