The Span Of Empire – Snippet 24
Ares system always looked odd to Tully. The star involved was a smallish red giant, so that was different from Terra’s system right away. The system had several planets but no Terra equivalent: There were two small rocky orbs near the sun, and two Jovians and a super-Jovian farther out. The smallest of the Jovians was still larger than Terra system’s Jupiter. It orbited just barely outside the liquid water zone of the system. It, of course, was not accessible by humans or Jao. However, it did have a truly impressive suite of moons, including one that was in the Triton class.
Given the name of the system, it was no surprise that the planets were given names that had associations with Ares in Greek mythology. The Triton moon was named Enyo, for the sister of Ares, goddess of war and bloodshed. The planet it circled was named Alala, for the goddess of the war-cry. The super-Jovian got the mouth-twister name of Kydoimos, demon of the din of battle, and the other Jovian was labeled Polemos, a war spirit who was another brother of Enyo and father of Alala.
The two rocks near the sun received a couple more of the mouth-twisters. The closest to the sun was named Proioxis, or Onrush, and the other was Palioxis, or Backrush.
Tully just muttered whenever he saw the display or a schematic of the system. “Why can’t they just give planets regular names? What’s wrong with naming a planet ‘Fred’?”
“Did you say something, sir?” First Sergeant Luff asked.
“No. Just muttering.”
Luff was silent for a few moments, then said, “Pity they can’t name these planets something easier to wrap your tongue around.”
Tully just chuckled.
Ares Base had been established on Enyo. Tully was surprised to see just how much it had grown since they had last been there. The view out the boarding tube viewports as he debarked the shuttle right behind Caitlin Kralik was nothing short of impressive. But that shouldn’t be surprising, he realized. The system was becoming the arsenal of the human/Jao armadas that were on various drawing boards. It was going to have to be big.
He and Luff followed Caitlin and her bodyguards down the boarding tube and through a massive double door that wasn’t quite an airlock but definitely would seal the opening off at need. At that moment, Caitlin sprinted down the hallway until she was close enough to leap into her husband’s arms.
Ed Kralik–Lieutenant General Ed Kralik, to Tully and Luff–caught his wife and held her with apparent effortless ease as he proceeded to kiss her very thoroughly. Neither one of them showed any signs of coming up for air any time soon.
Tully chuckled again as he followed the bodyguards past the fervent embrace. “Get a room, Caitlin,” he called back over his shoulder. Caewithe Miller laughed, and a couple of the human bodyguards gave snorts and sneezes that sounded suspiciously like choked-off laughs.
Caitlin finally released her kiss and stretched her toes down until they reached the ground. Then she snuggled into Ed’s embrace.
“Missed you,” he replied.
She leaned back and looked at her husband. Despite the warm smile on his face, there was also an air of calculation. “So, how long until we can find a bed?”
Ed burst out laughing. It was so infectious that Caitlin finally joined in.
Caewithe Miller arose to full consciousness slowly. After a time of drifting near the boundary of sleep, she finally opened her eyes and stretched. Her lips curled in a smile; it was nice to be off Lexington, even if the room they’d given her at Ares base wasn’t quite as nice as her room on the ship. Just four walls, a ceiling, and a floor, with a built-in bunk along one wall. But it was a different four walls, ceiling, and floor than she’d been staring at for most of the last year, so she was good with that.
Even better than that, her whole security team had been given three days’ leave. Granted, it was on Ares base where there wasn’t a whole lot to do yet, but just being able to sleep until she woke up was near-heaven, and not being on immediate call as Director Kralik’s chief bodyguard was absolute joy. She loved working for Caitlin, but it still was nice to not feel tied to her, even for as short a time as three days.
Caewithe rolled out of the bunk and padded to the fresher on bare feet, cool on the floor poured out of the usual Jao building compound. After a quick shower and passing a depilatory wipe over her arms and legs, she picked out the loudest, loosest, and least uniform-like clothes she had and headed out to find some breakfast.
According to her com pad, there was an officer’s mess down . . . there it was. Once inside, Caewithe headed for the nearest beverage dispenser and punched for a cup of Irish Breakfast tea. Hanging around with Flue Vaughan had led her to develop a taste for different kinds of tea, and she had really come to like this one. And despite what Flue usually proclaimed, she didn’t think the dispenser formulations were all that bad. She sniffed of it. Smelled like tea to her.
Hearing her name, she turned to see Vaughan himself sitting at a table in the farthest corner with a Jao whose dark russet pelt marked him as one of Krant kochan and whose vai camiti looked vaguely familiar. He waved her over as the Jao stood and moved past her with a nod. She took her cup over and settled into a chair at Flue’s table, propping her feet up on another chair.
“Going native, are you?” Flue grinned.
“As long as they’ll let me,” Caewithe replied. “If I could, I’d be in a lounge chair out on a beach somewhere soaking up sun and drinking mai-tais one after another.”
Flue shuddered. “Barbarian. Fruity drinks with little paper umbrellas. No class at all.”
“Nope.” Caewithe grinned, then nodded toward the door. “Who was that? He looked familiar.”
“Jalta krinnu ava Krant, second in command on Pool Buntyam, and one of the best sensor techs in the fleet. We were discussing some differences between their instruments and Lexington’s.”
Caewithe felt momentarily stupid; she’d been around Jalta several times. She should have remembered him.
She looked at Vaughan. “You’re in uniform. Not taking some time off?”
“Can’t. The fleet commander has me running like I’m on a cricket pitch, one task after another.”
“Too bad.” Caewithe gave him a big smile.
Vaughan muttered something.
“What was that?” Caewithe asked.
“Nothing.” Obviously searching to change the subject, Vaughan said, “I’ve been meaning to ask you–what’s it like working for Director Kralik?”
“‘Sfunny,” Caewithe said, “I grew up thinking she was a world-class bitch, because every picture I saw of her and every story I heard or read talked about how she was always in the middle of the Jao.”
“Yeah, I saw the same things,” Flue said. “But then Aille took down Oppuk.”
“I saw her just before that happened, with that Banle guard she had. She didn’t look very happy then, and it was pretty obvious that Banle was there more to rein her in than to protect her.” Caewithe shook her head. “I started thinking about it then, and decided that maybe she wasn’t so far gone as I thought she was. Then I was there at the final showdown . . .”
“Where Tully executed Oppuk?”
Flue grinned. “Man, I wish I could have been there! I mean, I’ve seen the video, but still . . .”
“I about freaked out when that Narvo elder called Tully out to do it. Yaut didn’t have any trouble with it, though. Guess he knew Tully better than the rest of us. They call it ‘putting down’, like putting a cat or dog to sleep when they get so bad they can’t be helped.” Caewithe shivered. “That’s what Oppuk did a lot of, especially toward the end. He killed one of Caitlin’s two older brothers, and just about killed her. That’s what set Yaut off.”
“Don’t want to mess with Yaut,” Flue said.
“Carve that on a moon somewhere, man.”
They both laughed.
“Anyway, after that it was pretty clear that she was not what I thought she was, and when word got around that they were forming a guard detachment just for her, I applied for it. Didn’t expect to be the commander, but you take what you can get.”
“Amen to that,” Flue said. “So what’s she really like?”
“Just good people, Flue. About as nice as they come.”
Vaughan had his mouth open for another question when his com pad pinged at him. “Okay, got to run. My next meeting is clear across the base.”
He stood and slid the pad into a pocket. “See you tonight for dinner?”
Caewithe wrinkled her nose at him. “If I don’t get a better offer, maybe.”
They exchanged grins, and he headed out the door whistling. “Now,” Caewithe mused, “I wonder if there’s a poker game anywhere that a girl can sit in on?”
She began tapping on her com pad.