The Crucible of Empire


Eric Flint and K.D. Wentworth



Rafe (Raphael) Aguilera: Former tank commander, Third Construction Supervisor for the Lexington

Andrew Allport: jinau sergeant in Baker Company

Dr. Eleanor Ames: chief Jao physician (medician) on the Lexington

Michael Bast: doctor on the Lexington

John Bringmann: jinau in Baker Company

Melonie Brown: Bridge Engineering Officer on the Lexington

Nancy Burgeson: jinau in Baker Company

Scott Cupp: jinau in Baker Company, private

Kristal Dalgetty: jinau in Baker Company, pilot

Charles Duquette: Lead-Pilot on the Lexington

Debra Fligor: jinau in Baker Company, sergeant

Dennis Greer: jinau in Baker Company, corporal

Thomas Kelly: jinau in Baker Company, corporal

Dr. Jonathan Kinsey: Professor of History, specialist on the Jao

Caitlin Alana Stockwell Kralik: daughter of the President of the Jao’s native government of North America, a member of Aille’s service, Ed’s wife

Ed Kralik: Jinau commander of Earth forces, Major General, Caitlin’s husband

Samuel Lim: jinau in Baker Company

Caewithe Miller: Lieutenant from Atlanta, jinau in Baker Company

Wallace Murphy: jinau in Baker Company

Ned Phillips: Tully’s batman, half Cherokee, from Oklahoma

Willa Sawyer: head of Human Resistance in Rocky Mountains camp

Benjamin Wilson Stockwell: President of North America, Caitlin’s father

Gabe (Gabriel) Tully: former Resistance fighter, now a member of Aille’s service, ranking as a major, and commander of Baker Company, a jinau unit

Rob Wiley: Former U.S. Army lt. and military commander of the North American Resistance, now an officer in the jinau

Gary Young: jinau in Baker Company


Alln: Eldest of Ekhatlore

Branko: Eldest of Weaponsmakers

Finat: older unassigned male of the dochaya

Grijo: Eldest of all and leader of the Han, also Eldest of the Dwellingconstructors

Hadata: Starwarders pilot

Hakt: Eldest of Shipservicers

Jihan: originally of the Starsifters, founds Jaolore

Kajin: youth released from Ekhatlore to help with Jaolore

Kash: Starsifters, senior to Jihan

Lim: unassigned female of the dochaya

Lliant: Ekhatlore

Mahnt: Eldest of the Childtenders

Pyr: formerly unassigned youth accepted by Jaolore

Sayr: Eldest of the Starsifters

Segga: Starwarder


Amnst krinnu ava Krant: current Krant kochanau

Braltan krinnu ava Krant: young male terniary-tech on his first voyage

Breen: Subcommandant who, two thousand years ago, refused the Lleix’s offers to help the Jao free themselves from the Ekhat

Brel krinnu ava Terra: Subcommander equal in rank to Rob Wiley

Chul krinnu ava Monat: terniary-adjunct who was in charge of the submersibles refit two years ago, expert in adapting Earth tech to work with Jao

Dannet krinnu ava Terra: Captain of the Lexington, born of Narvo

Kaln krinnu ava Krant: Senior-Tech on her destroyed ship

Jalta krinnu ava Krant: pool-sib to Mallu, ranked Terniary-Commander on the destroyed ship

Mallu krinnu ava Krant: Krant-Captain, pool-sib to Jalta

Mant krinnu ava Terra: jinau in Baker Company

Naddo krinnu ava Krant: Krant crew member

Nam krinnu ava Terra: jinau in Baker company

Nath krinnu ava Terra: Floor-Supervisor of the Pascagoula Refit Facility, Aille’s first-mate, mother to his son and daughter

Otta krinnu ava Terra: Pleniary-Commander, second in command of the Lexington, born of Nimmat

Sten krinnu ava Terra: navigator on the Lexington, formerly of Binnat

Urta krinnu ava Krant: Krant crewmember

Wrot krinnu ava Terra: formerly retired veteran of the Conquest, born of Hemm, now an elder in Terra’s new Jao taif

Yaut krinnu ava Terra: Aille’s fraghta, born of Jithra, an elder in Terra Taif


Chapter 1

Gabe Tully was on detached duty in the Rocky Mountains Resistance camps when his Jao-issued com buzzed in his shirt pocket. A breeze rustled through the coin-shaped aspen leaves overhead as he silenced it quickly, hoping no one working nearby had heard. Even though Earth’s Resistance was cooperating with the Jao invaders to fight the Ekhat — for now — many of his former comrades still resented him for apparently “selling out” by taking service under the Jao governor, Aille krinnu ava Pluthrak.

That hadn’t exactly been his choice in the beginning, but there was no way to explain the situation to men and women who had never been exposed to Jao culture. They didn’t understand that joining a Jao’s service was more like taking an oath in a brotherhood. His loyalty was to this one particular Jao who didn’t seem as bad as most.

And, of course, he wasn’t going to point out to these rugged freedom fighters that, for all intents and purposes, they were enrolled in Earth’s new Human taif, whether they liked it or not. The way he saw it, membership was a plus, guaranteeing them rights the Jao had previously denied, but until his Resistance brethren had seen the things Tully had seen and fought the battles he’d fought, there was no way they were going to understand.

Tully understood though. The old ways were forever altered. There was no going back. Mankind was living in a much more dangerous universe than any of them had ever credited. After the video record had come in from China two years ago, the smoking remnants of towns, forests blasted into cinders and mountains into slag, had all made it clear exactly what the Ekhat intended to do to Earth. If this alliance with the Jao could protect their world from another such attack, it deserved their allegiance, however grudging.

In order to talk privately, he slipped away from the hodgepodge of ramshackle cabins and tents which sheltered a good portion of what was left of America’s free fighting force, then settled underneath a stone ledge. Bright morning light streamed in from the east. He braced his back against the sun-warmed rock and keyed the com’s channel open. “Tully.”

“Tully, Ed Kralik here.”

Tully scowled. There had never been any love lost between the two of them, for all that they’d watched each other’s back during that “unpleasantness” two years ago when the Ekhat attacked Earth. And of course, Kralik, as head of the Jao’s Jinau troops, outranked him, always a sore point. “Yeah, I’m kinda busy.”

“Aille wants you in Pascagoula on the double.”

“I’m in the middle of negotiations with Willa Sawyer,” Tully said, watching an eagle soar above the pass. “Can’t this wait a few more days? If I hot-foot it back to Mississippi now, I’ll have to start all over when I return, and these folks are not crazy about the whole idea of working with us in the first place.”

“This is big,” Kralik’s deep voice said. He hesitated. “Real big, to judge by all the excitement it’s stirred up. The Jao are scurrying about like ants who’ve had their hill kicked apart. Aille understands how important your work is, and he still wants you back on base — now.”

Wind shifted through a stand of pine higher up on the mountain side, filling the air with their cool pungence. With fall just around the corner, change was in the air. The seasons turned early at this elevation and the steep pass up into the mountains would probably be snowed-in before he could return, isolating the settlement for the winter.

Tully sighed, then massaged the bridge of his nose. Goddammit. Four weeks of talks shot all to hell, just when that old she-badger Sawyer seemed on the brink of saying yes, but there was no wiggle room with the Jao. If one who outranked you said “jump,” you didn’t even get to ask “how far?” You just closed your eyes and leaped. They would tell you where you landed later — if and when it suited them.

He stared at the plastic com as though this were all its fault, then ran fingers through his wind-blown blond hair. “It’s not the Ekhat, is it?” he asked with a stab of dread.

“Not allowed to say,” Kralik said. “In fact, Aille hasn’t even told me yet, but there’s plenty of speculation around here. Everyone agrees that something big is brewing. Just pack up and head out. I’m sending a small courier ship to pick you up down by that old airport in Aspen.”

“You mean what’s left of Aspen,” Tully said. Most of the former millionaires’ playground was now in ruins, abandoned by its former owners and then plundered by the desperate Resistance. “It’ll take me a whole day to get down into the valley on horseback unless I can persuade Sawyer to waste some of her precious gas to send me in a truck.” He shook his head. “And even then what’s left of those roads will shake your teeth out if you drive too fast.”

“Sooner would be better,” Kralik said. “Make the best time you can. Your ride will be waiting.”


Yaut poked his head into Aille’s office and the younger Jao, current Governor of Earth, looked up from the flimsies he was studying. Aille’s golden-brown nap was still damp from a morning swim as his ears settled into polite-inquiry.

“Tully is on his way,” Yaut said. His fraghta’s ugly face was creased in thought. He had that classic bull-necked solidity that his birth-kochan, Jithra, prided itself upon breeding. His vai camiti, or facial striping pattern, was pure Jithra, strong and unabashed. “He is the last.”

“But in some ways, the most important,” Aille said. He shoved the flimsies aside and stretched to work the kinks out of his back. “Surprising, I know, but true.”

“You always understood that one better than I did,” Yaut said grudgingly. He sank onto a soft pile of traditional dehabia blankets along the wall. The room was suitably dim as Jao eyes preferred, mimicking the less brash stars of their homeworlds, both very far away.

“I just felt from the first moment I came across him that he had a quality I wished to understand, and that understanding it would lead me to comprehend something important about his entire species,” Aille said. “I am not certain, even now, that it could be put into Jao words. It is so uniquely — human.”

“He was certainly difficult to train,” Yaut said, “but in the end exceeded my expectations.” He stared moodily into the air, his angles signifying contemplation in the no-nonsense Jithra bodystyle. “You should order him to stay out of those mountains, though. Lately, he’s been increasingly obsessed with negotiating with the Resistance, even though his efforts in that direction are obviously hopeless. Those of their number who can see reason, already have, like Rob Wiley. I doubt that the rest of them will ever accept the inevitable and willingly make themselves of use under your rule. They will just have to die out.”

Aille considered, his ears pitched forward in careful-thought. “I think you misjudge the situation, which admittedly is full of variables. As for Tully, he possesses a great deal of fierce energy, too much to be down here, drilling his new unit all the time. Before he fell into our hands, he was always on the move, infiltrating the next military base or unit. He never stayed in one place very long.”

“A human would say — `he can’t sit still for two seconds,'” Yaut put in.

Aille’s ears signaled a sketchy amusement. He was classically trained in postures, of course, like all highly ranked Jao, but he and Yaut were old companions who had no reason to impress one another with the elegance of their movements. “That energy is directed now, put to work in our favor. What he has been doing is critical, though we can no longer spare him. After this situation is resolved, though, I intend to use him to recruit members of the Resistance to staff several official positions in our new human taif so that the group edges toward full association with the Terra’s Jao taif.”

Yaut sniffed dismissively. “Tully is one thing, but what is left of the Resistance up there will never be that civilized. We cannot afford the time to intensively train them, one by one, through wrem-fa as we did him. Those still skulking up in the mountains are hard-core ferals who have not been held to account by any authority since the Jao took this world. In fact, I doubt even their own government, before the Conquest, could have made use of them.”

“The secret is — they are in agreement with us already,” Aille said, “only they do not yet realize it.”

“By the time they do,” Yaut said, his whiskers bristling with doubt, “this reckless world will be a glowing cinder.”

Memories of the Ekhat attack surged back over Aille. Two orbital periods ago, a fiery plasma ball launched by the Ekhat had broken through combined Jao-Terran forces to incinerate the southern area of China, resulting in at least three million dead, perhaps more. The human authorities of that area had never been able to make a full accounting.

Aille rose and prowled the length of the room, restless with memory. Just the thought of that spectacular failure made it difficult to sit still. And there was something else, too, waiting out there to make itself known. Faraway, but significant. Lately, he could feel the flow of the nascent situation increasing bit by bit. Something, somewhere, that concerned them all was about to come together. “We can never let the Ekhat get that close again.”

Yaut’s green-black eyes gazed steadily at him. “Then you will have to make everyone on this world of the fullest use, including the rebels. They will have to be driven out of their mountain strongholds and then forced to understand where their best interests lie,” the old fraghta said, “and right now I do not feel that flow ever completing itself.”

“Let us hope you are wrong,” Aille said.