Last Snippet, why haven’t you purchased this book? [Wink]


“For now, this contemplated commitment of resources is simply beyond my oudh,” Wrot said. “And I cannot send a communication asking for clarification that could be intercepted by one or more of the kochan.” His whiskers stiffened. “I must go back and consult with Preceptor Ronz in person.”

“What about our Lleix guests?” Caitlin said. “Are you planning on taking them as well? If so, it’s quite likely to be an even bigger shock than they’ve already had.”

“No, I think they should remain here,” Wrot said. He glanced aside at Tully. “And I think you should stay as well with Tully’s company for guards. They have no function on the ship at the moment, since we had to jettison Spine C.”

“But I have a number of Jao in my unit,” Tully said, “Won’t that freak these guys out if we all just drop in on their settlement?”

“You are their commander,” Wrot said. “The Lleix will see that all the Jao answer to you. That will only reinforce the idea that my kind are now human slaves and put off the time when we must make a full explanation.” He turned to Caitlin. “You can use the opportunity to continue negotiations with them, evaluate their preparations for the diaspora, and generally learn all you can about the situation, so that when we return, they will be ready to leave.”

Go down to that planet with only a few jinau to back her up? Caitlin closed her eyes, seeking for calm. He was going to strand her with the Lleix who had been so brutally mistreated for such a long time that they were quite likely to look upon contact with any alien species as nothing but the direst of threats.

But she had lived in the eye of the storm raging between human and Jao for most of her life before the deposing of Oppuk and the formation of Terra’s new taif two years ago. She knew better than anyone what existing in that sort of maelstrom was like. Venturing among the Lleix mostly likely would not be pleasant, but she could manage, and they deserved what help Terra Taif could provide.

“All right,” she said. At least he would have to be the one to explain all this to Ed, including the part about her being left behind on a potentially hostile world. She didn’t envy Wrot that. “When do we get started?”

“As soon as we can work out the logistics,” Wrot said. “Tully, requisition enough supplies to last at least three weeks and get the assault craft prepared.”

“What about Mallu and Kaln and the rest of the Krants?” Tully said. “They’ve been under my temporary command.”

Wrot considered. “They will remain under your command for the duration of this assignment. Anyone who can deal with the human Resistance on a regular basis can handle a few obstinate Krants.”

Tully looked unhappy, but didn’t argue. Caitlin took a deep breath and tucked up a stray lock of hair. The Queen of the Universe should always look her best. “Okay, now we have to go in there and sell this whole idea to the Lleix.”

She nodded at the guard who reached over and opened the conference room door for her. Holding her head high, she sailed back into the room, trying to exude confidence.

“Jihan,” she said with a calm that she most definitely did not feel, “we have a proposal for you, one that might save all Lleix, not just two thousand.”

The bright black gaze turned to her. “All Lleix?” Jihan said.

“All,” Caitlin said, taking a seat across from the silver-skinned trio. “I cannot promise yet, but we will try.”

Jihan spoke to the other two in the lilting Lleix language. They answered, eyes narrowed, and then all three focused upon her. “How save?” Jihan said.

“If we can work out the logistics,” Caitlin said, “we will summon our own ships to transport the Lleix to safety.”

“Many ships?” Jihan said. Its silver corona stood on end. “And what is lo-jiss-tix?”

“Many many ships,” Caitlin said. “I’ll explain logistics later. But, as I said, I cannot promise. For now, while we are trying to work out the details, this ship will take you back to your world, and I will go with you to meet the rest of the Lleix.”

“Cat-lin, Queen of the Universe, goes now to Valeron?” Jihan said.

“Well, something like that,” she said.


Wrot left Caitlin with the Lleix while he went up to the control deck to give Terra-Captain Dannet her new orders. One hundred thousand Lleix! The number chased itself round and round in his mind, both a wonderful and frightening revelation. The marvelously many descendants of those who had escaped the Jao’s ancient brutality now translated into the same number who were, as a human would say, in harm’s way. When they had all been believed extinct, the Jao could feel regret at having exterminated such a wise species, but now that the Lleix had been discovered alive, they became a responsibility, and a heavy one at that. What had been a matter of regret was now a matter of conscience.

The lift doors opened and he stepped inside, his thoughts racing. The Lleix had to be moved soon. There was no time to scout out of the way worlds for a suitable new permanent home. Taking them to Terra was the best option available at the moment, unless Preceptor Ronz had a better idea. But settling them there, even for a short time, could draw the attention of the Ekhat once again. If they realized that Terra Taif had cheated them of their prey, they might well launch another major attack on Terra.

Therefore, speed was of the essence. The sooner the Lleix were removed, the less likely the diaspora was to be detected. The Ekhat were coming back. He felt it with every fiber of his being. Not now, or even “tomorrow,” but soon.

The lift stopped and he stepped out onto the busy Control Deck. Lights were flashing, crewmen darting from station to station to station. Dannet was leaning over a console, pointing out a discrepancy to a human technician.

“Terra-Captain,” he said, striding across the deck. “We have new orders.”

Her eyes blazed green, but her body said only respectful-attention. They both knew who had oudh now that the battle was over, however little she might like it.

“We will achieve orbit around the fourth planet in this system for a short time,” he said, “then head back to Terra with all speed possible.”