THE CRUCIBLE OF EMPIRE — Snippet 19
Mallu was feeling somewhat improved, but the human medician wouldn’t discharge him from her care.
“I want to swim,” he said, restless in the hard human-style bed, rather than curled up in a proper soft pile of dehabia. The medical bay was never quiet, with beeps and hisses and attendants fussing about him all the time. He longed for solitude. His chest ached, though he was trying to disregard it.
The female regarded him with an indecipherable expression. “You need to stay here for –” She broke off and muttered a few words to herself in her own language as though peeved. “– for some time longer.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “I will let you know when that particular flow is complete.”
A Jao stuck his head into the room and glanced over at Mallu. “He looks better, Doctor Ames.”
“No thanks to our Krant-Captain,” she said with a flick of her head that was almost meaningful. “He wants to be out and about, in fact, insists upon it.”
“We Jao are tough,” the newcomer said. “Perhaps he is ready.”
Mallu realized he recognized him from that meeting with Preceptor Ronz and Earth’s young governor, Aille krinnu ava Terra. He lay back against the pillow and chased the name around his foggy brain. They had not been introduced, but he’d picked up the name from the others’ comments. Wram? Wral? No, Wrot krinnu ava Terra. That was it. A scarred old veteran of the original battle to take this planet, and now a member of its nascent taif.
“Not that tough,” the medician said. “The original injury he suffered in the battle with the Ekhat was never adequately treated. It was just a matter of time until he collapsed. The Krant-Captain needs a bit longer to heal.”
Wrot crossed the room to stand by the human-style bed. Mallu got a good look at the numerous bars of service incised on his cheek. Impressive. He sat up, though the motion wrung a sharp jolt from his healing ribs.
“Two days, then?” Wrot asked.
“I cannot answer that with any certainty,” she said. Her alien face contorted into a startling display of naked teeth. “I am good at this, but not that good.” She twitched the thin white cloth back over Mallu’s legs. “Just not yet.”
“Flow feels almost complete,” Mallu said, lying back again to ease the stabbing pain in his chest. Urgency teased at him. The situation was about to complete itself. “This ship will lift soon. I can feel it. We must get our crewmates aboard and situated.”
“I will handle that,” Wrot said. “Is there anything else?”
“Check on Senior-Tech Kaln and Terniary-Commander Jalta,” he said. “I have not seen them since –” He broke off, then gestured at his chest. “– since this happened. The loss of our ships and then the summons that diverted us to this world rather than returning home has affected them both. Kaln suffered a head injury in the battle which seems to have impacted her judgment. I fear she needs close supervision.”
“They accompanied you here when you were brought in,” the medician said. “Both seemed agitated so I sent them off to swim.”
And they had no doubt been wandering the vast ship on their own ever since, Mallu realized. Not good. Kaln was so moody since the battle with the Ekhat, she might do or say almost anything. If another human offended her or even just got in her way, there might be dire consequences. What if she killed one? Even though they were a conquered race, the local authorities seemed to set great store by these spindly creatures. There would be repercussions and even more shame. Without conscious volition, his body assumed the lines of distress.
“I saw them a short time ago,” Wrot said. “I assigned Major Tully as their escort soon after this happened so they have not been unsupervised.”
“Is this Tully a human?” Mallu asked.
Wrot’s body signaled affirmation.
“Then it may be dead,” Mallu said.
“Oh,” Wrot said, “you do not know Tully, possibly one of the most stubborn humans alive, and that is saying a great deal. They are a marvelously recalcitrant species.” He pulled out his pocketcom. “They have to do everything their own way, and I am quite certain Tully would never be so obliging as to allow your tech to kill him.”
Goddamn Jao. Tully doggedly followed as the pair entered the engine room, exclaiming to one another over the technology in words far beyond his everyday Jao vocabulary. After eating yesterday in one of the Jao food halls, some nauseating concoction involving raw fish that probably tasted even worse than it smelled, not that anyone could have persuaded him to try it, they’d prowled the ship for endless hours.
He’d located the Krants’ quarters early on, but except for a brief nap, during which he’d stationed himself outside their door, they’d refused to stay there, exploring the Lexington with a relentless tenacity that spoke to him more of avoidance than real interest. It was plain that the female, Kaln, feared the Krant-Captain would die and was trying with all her might to think about anything but that.
For now, he’d been letting them run, just as one let a frightened horse gallop out its fear before gathering the reins and turning its head back to the stable. His patience was about at an end, though. He had a lot of last minute details to oversee for Baker Company’s deployment to the Lexington, and he needed some real sleep, more than a ten minute catnap.
Kaln knelt on the deck and peered under a bank of controls. She rapped so hard with her knuckles that read-outs flickered. Two startled human techs headed over to intervene. Tully’s pocketcom buzzed and he fished for the black plastic device as he went to join the fray. “Yes?”
“I assume you still have our Krant friends in sight,” Wrot’s voice said in English.
“Affirmative,” he said, “though I’m getting mighty tired of their faces.”
“Conduct them back to the medical bay,” Wrot said. “Their captain wishes to assure himself of their good behavior.”
“They haven’t killed anyone yet, if that’s what you mean,” Tully said. “I’ve been running interference for them all over the ship, keeping the crew away from them, them away from the crew as best I could.”
One of the human techs was bent over, arguing with Kaln who had pulled off the back of the console and was peering into a maze of colored wires. Eyes flashing green, she looked up at the man and flattened her good ear.
“Wise,” Wrot said. “Bring them up.” The com clicked off.
Yeah, Tully thought, just like that. He inserted himself into Kaln’s line of sight. “We have to go back to the medical bay,” he said. “Your captain –”
“He is not dead!” the big female said. Her body stiffened.
Tully waved a hand. “No –”
“It was that human’s fault!” she cried, shoulders rising. “The creature was too insolent to be borne!”
The other Jao, Jalta, was just watching, his spine at a peculiar angle, signifying something, no doubt, though Tully hadn’t a clue. He was suddenly very sick of these two Jao and this half-assed baby-sitting assignment.
“Stand down!” he barked in Jao, schooling his tone to imitate Yaut. Gods knew he’d heard him often enough over the last few years. He caught and held Kaln’s flickering green and black gaze. “You will not further shame your kochan with such wanton behavior!”