The Span Of Empire – Snippet 59
“Well done,” Aille said again at the end of the sharing of knowledge about the Khûr system and its inhabitants. Caitlin shook her head, but said nothing. The three Jao newcomers looked at the hologram of one of the captured Khûrûsh-an which was slowly rotating above the conference table. “They could be a formidable people,” Aille continued as his angles shifted to a simple introspection. “It’s unfortunate that they seem to be so . . .”
“Paranoid is the best word, we’ve decided,” Caitlin completed the sentence.
“As you say.” Aille kept his gaze fixed on the hologram for another long moment, then he turned his head to face Caitlin, angles shifting to curious inquiry. “You have oudh, Director Kralik. What do you plan to do next?”
“Me?” Caitlin said in surprise. “I thought you . . .”
“No,” Aille interrupted. “This is not my responsibility, not under my control. I do not have authority. Yours were the hands into which Preceptor Ronz gave the oudh, and he did not send me out here to replace you. The search is still yours to direct.”
Aille saw the rest of the Jao in the conference room shift their angles to various permutations of agreement. Even Fleet Commander Dannet did so.
Caitlin turned to Pleniary-superior Tura. “Then you haven’t come to replace me?”
Tura’s angles immediately returned to a seemingly effortless neutral. “No, Director. The Preceptor did not dispatch us to supplant you. You will remain.”
Ed Kralik nodded. Aille saw Caitlin’s observation of that action, and likewise saw her sit up straighter and her shoulders shift back, all human forms of displaying resolution.
“Then why are you here?” Caitlin asked. Her tone contained a certain sharpness, Aille decided. Understandable, perhaps, at least to and for a human.
“Preceptor Ronz sent us,” Aille replied. “He did not share his reasons.”
“The Preceptor is a Bond strategist,” Yaut said. “He holds secrets until they expire of age.”
Caitlin’s mouth curved in a reluctant smile. “Okay. So the decision is still mine. What do you advise?”
“Decisions do not need to be made now,” Aille said. “Give your Lleix and jinau officers some time with these new guests of yours. Let them see what they can develop.” He stood. “Meanwhile, spend some time with your husband.”
Caitlin’s smile took on a different character.
“Te-hra,” Kamozh tried to duplicate the sound that Lim, the voice of his master Boyes, pronounced.
“Ter-rraH.” Kamozh tried again.
“That is close,” Lim said. “Sergeant Boyes wants you to learn the Terran language if you can. You will probably find it easier than Jao or Lleix, and all on this expedition speak it.”
“Boyesh,” Kamozh attempted the name of his master.
“Boyeshsss.” Kamozh wrinkled his muzzle. “The ‘sss’ sound is hard for us.”
“I understand,” Lim replied, “but it is a very common sound in Terran.”
“I–we–will learn it,” Kamozh said, looking around at his retainers. They all indicated understanding of the implied command.
Kamozh looked back to Lim. “Is it permitted to ask questions?”
Lim folded her hands in front of her. “Within reason,” she replied. “I will inform you if I am not allowed to answer or if I do not know the answer.”
“Why do you carry the long rod.” Kamozh gestured toward the staff.
“The staff.” Lim used a Terran word that was new to Kamozh. Of course, since they had just begun to learn the language, almost all Terran words were new to them.
“Shtaff . . . no, ssstaff.”
“Was it a mark of office? A tool?”
“It could be considered a tool,” Lim said, “in some places by some people. In others, it could be considered a weapon.”
“A weapon,” Kamozh said, with a look to his retainers. Shekanre in particular looked interested. “Are you then a warrior?
Lim made a motion with her hands that mimicked a Khûrûshil gesture denoting humor. Kamozh was again surprised at how well she and her fellows knew his culture, at how much they had assimilated. If he closed his eyes while she spoke, she sounded almost like a resident of the southern continent. He thought he caught hints of the capital city in her speech.
“No,” Lim said. “Sergeant Boyes and his fellows and officers in the jinau are the warriors. I serve the same masters they serve, but I am not jinau. I am studying with a master teacher who is also a fighter, though, and he has me carrying the staff for a time to learn a lesson.”
Kamozh heard a muffled sound behind him, and looked around to see Shekanre’s muzzle wrinkled. That caused a certain memory to surface in his own mind. He turned back to Lim and made the humor gesture himself. “I believe I understand. I once was directed to carry a heavy hammer for days to properly learn a lesson my father’s Weaponsmaster had set me.”
“I would like to meet this master teacher,” Shekanre said in a low voice.
“I will enquire if that can be done. If not immediately, perhaps soon.” Lim rearranged the folds of her robe. “But now, back to Terran.”
Kamozh sighed. Learning the monsters’ language was harder than he’d thought it would be. He’d rather carry a hammer.
Caitlin’s com pad pinged. Faced with setting down her wine glass or disengaging her hand from Ed’s, she gulped the wine and set the glass down, then touched her pad. Lieutenant Vaughan’s face appeared in it.
“The communications survey has been reestablished, ma’am.”
“Thanks for the word, Flue.”
The picture blanked out with no further comments, and Caitlin turned back to where her husband was running his thumb across the back of her hand, which sensation was sending a tingle up her arm.
“You’re monitoring the Khûrûshil communications?”
“Of course we are,” Caitlin replied. “But this was about something else. I gave Dannet an order after the meeting to get our people listening outward again.”
“You’re looking for another civilization?” Ed sounded surprised.
“Yes. Regardless of whether or not we can somehow connect with the Khûrûsh, we can’t stop here.”
“Hmm. I guess I can see that,” Ed said. Then a leer crossed his face. “But meanwhile, where were we?”
Gabe Tully looked at both 2nd Lieutenant Vikram Bannerji and his replacement as Gabe’s intelligence officer, 1st Lieutenant Joe Buckley. Gabe had tapped Buckley from the jinau company serving on the Lexington when Bannerji had transferred to work with Ramt in dealing with the Ekhat slaves. Like most of the officers in the jinau in the exploration fleet, he was doing work that in the old pre-Jao days would have been done by someone probably a couple of ranks higher than his current rank. But between the loss of military troops during the Jao conquest, the Jao emphasis on “being of service”, and the Jao’s elimination of separate military arms and their resulting waste of duplicated functions, a lot of younger officers were filling what used to be called staff positions when they weren’t in combat suits.
“So that’s it, Colonel,” Buckley concluded his briefing. “According to Pyr and Garhet, the Khûrûshil civilization is definitely only slightly ahead of the pre-Jao Terran culture in terms of actual technology, but because their culture is more homogenous, they actually made better progress in getting out into space than we did.”
“Anybody got a read yet on why they’re so paranoid?” Tully asked.
“Not that I’ve heard,” Buckley answered. “We’re all waiting to hear if Lim and Sergeant Boyes manage to dig some explanations out of your guests.”
“Well, they’ve gotten past the introduction stages. Maybe Lim will get some data out of them soon. Have the tech geeks on Lex managed to get the computers we yanked out of that ship running yet?”
“Yes and no,” Buckley said. “They think they’ve got them running, but what they’ve been able to find is so heavily encrypted by a culture that they have no Rosetta Stone for, that at the moment they’re just muttering about it. It may take a breakthrough from over here to get them in.”
“Right.” Tully looked over to First Sergeant Luff, only to see him making a note on his com pad. “We’ll pass the word to Lim and Boyes to see what they can do about it.”
Tully looked at his own com pad for a moment, then said, “Bannerji, what are you getting from the Ekhat slaves? Anything that will affect us?”
“Hard to say, Colonel,” the young Hindu replied. “Every day we learn a little bit more about the slaves. They’re called the Trīkē, for example. And they definitely came off of a Complete Harmony ship. In fact, that whole squadron was Complete Harmony.”
“Does that tell us anything we didn’t already know?”
Bannerji shook his head. “Nothing new. Just confirmation of some of our lower level theories and suppositions. Fleet Commander Dannet and the senior captains were not surprised. The four factions don’t seem to relate very well to each other. In human terms, it’s almost like they’re four religious denominations that to an outsider look to be almost identical, with very minor differences that to themselves are unconquerable divides. The Interdict in particular has been known to occasionally communicate with the Jao with an aim to discommode one or more of the other factions.”
Tully remembered his first trip inside a star, and felt a chill run down his spine. “You mean like they did with Aille right before the attack on Earth.”
Bannerji’s face took on a very grim and hard cast at the reminder of the cataclysm that had engulfed part of southern China and almost lapped over into his homeland. “Yes, sir,” was all he said.
Tully shrugged. “If Ekhat want to see other Ekhat die, I’m okay with contributing to that cause. Anything else?”
“The Jao are a little stirred up.”
“They really don’t like the Complete Harmony. They’re the ones who uplifted the Jao, after all.”
“That going to affect anything that Caitlin has in the works?”
Bannerji shrugged. “They’re Jao.”
“Right.” Jao, Tully thought, who even now still mostly deserved the modifiers crazy fucking in front of their species name. “Keep me posted.”