The Span Of Empire – Snippet 05

Chapter 2

The five Lleix strode back through the ship’s corridors to their common room, aureoles quivering. It was so strange, Lim of Terralore thought, to sit in the presence of human and Jao, to see two species who processed information in such different ways still able to find common purpose.

“So we will go on to the next star system,” the young Lleix said.

Brakan and Matto of the ancient and highly respected elian, the Starsifters, forged ahead and did not look back. The two, both much taller, who had quite properly been accepted by the Starsifters during their Festivals of Choosing, did not approve of “dochaya trash,” such as Lim and Pyr, believing themselves on an equal footing with real elian members.

No matter what Tully and the other humans had tried to teach them about rights and justice, traditional Lleix continued to find comfort in sensho, in doing things as they always had been done. They believed one either found an elian at the proper moment in his or her life or was quite correctly turned away and worked forever as a lowly unassigned. You did not make up a name for a new elian and then prance about with new purpose in the face of your betters, expecting their respect.

Oddly, despite belonging to the equally-august Ekhatlore elian, Ramt did not join them. She lagged behind, not quite walking alongside Lim and Pyr but remaining close enough to avoid being openly rude the way the two Starsifters were being.

Pyr looked at Lim as they passed a knot of humans working on a conduit. “Each time we ‘jump,’ as they call it,” he said, “I fear they will be there on the other end, waiting for us, the great devils who eat the universe.”

Brakan and Matto increased their pace as though even hearing the two Terralore speak was polluting their ears, then entered the Starsifters’ quarters. The door slid shut as the three remaining Lleix passed.

“We may encounter them again,” Lim said, “but this is a mighty ship; the great Lexington itself, which took our people to safety. Lexington defeated all the Ekhat who came to kill us that day. And now it is joined by two other ships just as powerful. Four Lexingtons all told, if we count the Krant kochan’s Pool Buntyam.

They reached the quarters of Ekhatlore. Nodding at them politely, Ramt passed within. Lim and Pyr continued on a short distance until they reached their own quarters.

“Our benefactors fear the Ekhat,” Pyr said, turning into Terralore’s quarters. “At least as much as ever the Lleix did.”

“Because they are wise,” Lim said. “Only the very foolish or ignorant would not fear them.”

Director Kralik had requested strong representation from both the Starsifters and the Ekhatlore elians for the expedition, as they had records of the Lleix travels throughout the galaxy and their own form of framepoint travel.

She had asked members of Terralore to accompany the expedition as well. The official explanation was to function as translators, should another living civilization be found. Lleix were naturally gifted linguists compared to their new-found allies. Apparently, in humans and Jao, the portion of the brain which allowed babies and children to easily acquire language switched off at some point in their early development. That same facility in the Lleix brain, however, remained active all their lives.

Lim and Pyr were quite sure that explanation was a polite fiction. The Starsifters and Ekhatlore Lleix could have served as translators just as well. They thought the real reason they’d been asked was that the humans deliberately tried to bolster the status of the newly formed elian created by the dochaya.

Unfortunately, polite fiction or not, translation was their only official function on this voyage–and there was no translation to be done when all that was found were the long-dead ashes of those for whom they’d be translating.

“So far, we are useless here,” Lim said, “unless another inhabited world is found.”

“I learn more about humans and Jao every day from the records,” Pyr said, “which will enrich Terralore when we return.” He settled onto a bench and turned to a viewing station hooked into the ship’s information database. He keyed it on and the screen lit up with a brilliantly colored picture of the Colorado mountains. “Both have a most astonishingly violent history, and it seems that humans perpetually fought among themselves whenever the least disagreement occurred, never letting their eldests sort matters out.”

Lim was so astonished, she had to support herself against the wall. “They fight each other?” On Valeron, children who showed early and constant aggression had been quickly ejected from the Children’s Court and barred from taking part in the Festival of Choosing, doomed forever to labor as common workers in the dochaya.

This wasn’t because violence and combat were in and of themselves in some manner unacceptable for the Lleix. They had armed spaceships, after all, and had fought the Ekhat and their Jao slaves as bravely as they could for much of their history. But the actual combat was supposed to be performed only by members of the Weaponsmakers elian, and had been limited to desperate defensive measures.

Violence and fighting among the ranks of the other elians was simply not acceptable among the chosen. It was not sensho, acceptable behavior. Or at least, it was never recorded in the records they still had of their racial history.

“They did,” Pyr said. “I do not think they do now, at least not very much, though it is apparently one of the reasons why the Jao were able to conquer them.”

Lim tried to imagine Caitlin or Tully striking one another and failed. “They are an–an energetic species,” she said, “for ones so short.” She used the word not to indicate not only a deficiency of height, but in the Lleix manner referring to a lack of experience and wisdom, as well.

She had grown a bit herself since leaving Valeron and gaining access to better nutrition. No matter how long she lived, though, she would never be a tallest. Early malnutrition had stunted her growth, but her skin had brightened into a passable silver and her aureole thickened. She appeared somewhat more respectable now, so that she did not automatically shame her elian.

“I was disappointed we did not find them here,” she said. “The Boh. They have not been anywhere we have visited so far.”

Pyr looked up from the viewer where he was examining the ship’s records. “These people most likely had other gods,” he said. “Not the Boh. There was no reason you should expect to find them here.”

“Their gods are dead,” she said, “because all who knew their name are gone.”

Pyr’s aureole sagged. “But the Boh yet live,” he said, “because the Lleix do not forget.”

“Their memory is safe on Terra,” she said, “for now.”

Pyr did not answer this time, seeming absorbed in something he had called up to his screen. She settled then at her own data station, missing her elian. So much of her short life had been spent in misery in the dochaya, going out each day as she sought work at the fabled elian in the city, hoping for a chance to work as a servant and, in that capacity, spend time in one of the great houses where her betters ran the city.

She remembered seeing the elongated Boh-faces carved into the fronts of many of the elian-houses, reminders of what they had lost. They had been so beautiful and so sad, forever left behind when the Lleix had fled the Ekhat and gone into hiding. They had tugged at her every time she saw them. What would it be like to actually experience the presence of the Boh?

Humans had “churches” and “temples,” actual land and buildings where they experienced their gods. Lim had investigated those whenever she got the chance, but felt no sense that the Boh were there either. They were gone, with all their wonder and wisdom, and Lim found herself aching for them. The universe was so large and the Lleix had left the Boh behind such a long time ago. How would they ever find them again?