The Span Of Empire – Snippet 61
Caitlin turned as Ed stirred while Vaughan tapped controls and spoke into his mic. “Lleix?” he muttered.
“Yeah, they’re the only ones who speak Khûrûsh,” Caitlin said quietly.
“Oh, yeah,” Ed said. “I forgot about the prisoners.”
Vaughan finished talking, and Caitlin looked at him. “Are Aille and Tura still on Lexington?”
Vaughan tapped pads on his workstation. “No, Director. They appear to be back on Footloose.”
Before Caitlin could respond to that, the door irised open and Pyr emerged. “Garhet will be here soon,” he said as soon as he stepped onto the deck. “He was asleep when the directive reached us.”
Dannet waved at the cycling message on the main view screen. “What is that saying?”
Pyr listened to three iterations of the message. “The message is three short statements,” he said after that. “‘We know you have Khûrûsh prisoners. We want to talk. Respond on a reciprocal bearing.”
“Do we have any idea where they are?” Caitlin asked in a tone that was much calmer that she felt.
Dannet waved to Terra-Captain Uldra.
“No, Director. And there is no guarantee that we would locate them by following the signal path. There are too many ways to re-direct a signal.”
“But,” Dannet added, “they cannot be very far away. They do know that we took prisoners from that Khûrûshil ship. Light speed signals of the event and any Khûrûshil communications about it will limit how far out they can be and still be able to contact us with a laser.”
“We have no idea who they are, where they are, or how many of them there are.” Caitlin’s statement was not a question.
“Correct, Director.” From Terra-Captain Uldra.
Caitlin looked at Vaughan. “Send a request to Footloose advising Aille and Tura that something new has come up and requesting them to join us on the Lex. Send an order to Ban Chao. I want Colonel Tully, Lim, the Khûrûsh officer and the sergeant that captured him on this deck ten minutes ago.”
Vaughan started tapping pads as Caitlin turned away. After a moment, she looked back over her shoulder. “And have somebody locate Wrot and wake up Captain Miller. I want them up here as well.”
Vaughan almost slammed his meal tray down on the table next to Caewithe’s. “Sorry,” he said, “but I’ve got to eat and run.”
Caewithe’s mouth twisted. “I thought you were supposed to be going off shift. What about a swim and some fun?”
“Sorry,” Vaughan mumbled through a mouthful of sandwich. “We just got a new contact, and Dannet wants me back on the command deck in ten.”
“A new contact?” Caewithe sat up straight. “Does Caitlin know about this yet?”
“Oh, yeah.” Crumbs shot out of Vaughan’s mouth as he tried to speak. He swallowed manfully. It almost hurt to watch the mouthful go down. “Yeah, she’s on the command deck, with Tamt and some of the bodyguards.”
“Figures.” Caewithe grabbed her fork and started shoveling food in her mouth. “I’ll come with you,” she said. “If I can’t see you off-shift, I’ll have to settle for on.”
The two inhaled their dinners, and stood to carry their trays to disposal. Before Vaughan could get his hands on his tray, Caewithe grabbed the front of his shirt and planted a hard kiss on his mouth. “Not that I’m complaining,” he said when they came up for air, “but what was that for.”
“A promise to each other,” Caewithe said with a grin. “Next chance we get, we’re going swimming. I’ve got another new swimsuit.”
Vaughan groaned as he gathered his tray. “You’re killing me, woman. Where do you find new swimsuits in the middle of alien space light years from any human store?”
“I have my ways,” she said smugly, leading the way to the tray disposal chute.
Tully grabbed his go-bag from the hands of his orderly, Corporal Swift, and turned back to Major Liang and First Sergeant Luff. “No, I don’t know what’s going on. I just got orders to get Lim, Boyes, Kamozh, and myself over to the Lex sometime yesterday.”
“Something’s up,” Liang said.
“Ya think?” Tully gave a short bark of a laugh. “Whatever it is has apparently got Caitlin really up in the air, or she wouldn’t have ordered it that way. So, being the sneaky, underhanded, pessimistic sort that I am, put the troops on first stage alert. I have no idea what’s going on, but let’s get prepped for it anyway. I want them ready for action at fifteen minutes notice.”
“Got it, Colonel,” the XO said, buttressed by a firm nod from the first sergeant.
“See to it,” Tully said, and headed out the compartment door. “Sergeant Boyes, where are you?” he said through his communications bud.
“Just handed off to my assistant squad leader, Colonel,” came the reply. “Running for the shuttle bay now.”
“Right. I’d better not beat you there.” Tully paused a beat, then said, “Command.”
“Yes, Colonel Tully?” was the response from a command deck com tech.
“Where are Lim and the Khûrûsh prisoner?”
“Waiting at the shuttle bay, with guards.”
“Right. Tully out.”
A few minutes later, after going around three corners and down one deck, Tully arrived at the door to the shuttle bay. Lim and Kamozh were indeed waiting for him, as was Sergeant Boyes and two jinau serving as guards.
“Lead the way, Lim.” Tully waved a hand in the direction of the waiting shuttle.
The Lleix looked down at the Khûrûsh-an at her side, and said something in the language. He made a movement with his left middle hand, and they stepped off through the door.
Tully looked at the two guards, both Jao. “We’ll take it from here, guys.”
“Are you sure, Colonel?” one of them replied. “If that one goes Oppuk on you, he’s equipped with a lot of natural blades to make your life ‘interesting’, as you humans say.”