The Span Of Empire – Snippet 25

Chapter 13

Caitlin hadn’t expected to have the search strategy meeting right away, but in the event it took over a week before she could gather all the people together she wanted. When she groused to Ed about it, he just laughed.

“Be glad you’re getting them that soon,” he said. “I’ve learned more about ships and supplies than I ever wanted to know since I took the base commander’s job. I shoulda joined the Navy. But the base is only partly functional, so the ships’ crews are doing a lot of the loading and unloading of supplies. Even Tully’s troops are having to bear a hand for this. And the ships’ officers need to be available while that is going on, especially on the ships that need repairs.”

“Speaking of repairs,” Caitlin began.

“You’re going to lose the Vercingetorix,” Ed said.


“She just needs too much work that we can’t do here.” Ed continued. “In another year or so we’ll have a shipyard that could service her, even as banged up as she is. Now, the best thing to do is ship her off to Earth.”

“Isn’t one of the Jao worlds closer?”

“Yeah,” Ed replied. “But that ship is a bastard mix of Jao and Terran designs and technologies. There’s no Jao yard that could handle her, even if they would. No, the Ricky will head for Earth as soon as they put a little more spit and super tape on her. Hopefully they’ve got something they can send to replace her.”

“Yeah, for once that Jao time sense could come in handy,” Caitlin quipped.

When the meeting finally happened, Caitlin decided to follow Jao flow patterns by letting the attendees enter the big conference room before she came in preceded by her primary body guards Tamt and Caewithe and her husband.

Only to the humans would it possibly have seemed strange that Ed Kralik was at the table for what was Caitlin’s meeting. To the Jao, the fact that he was Caitlin’s husband was immaterial. What mattered to them was he was the commander of Ares Base, and not incidentally and perhaps even more importantly, he was in the service of Aille krinnu ava Terra, governor of Terra and first kochan-father of Terra taif. In every way but one the base commander was the political and social equal of his wife. So he sat at the table by right.

The one way in which Ed was subordinate to Caitlin was the same reason she had been the one to call the meeting and why she entered the room last in the Jao manner: she alone had oudh over the search effort. Crusade might be a better word for it. But effort or crusade, regardless of what it was called, she alone was the leader, reporting directly to Preceptor Ronz, member of the strategy circle of the Jao Bond of Ebezon, the organization that stood as parent kochan to the cubling Terra taif. In this she perhaps even surpassed her service to Aille.

Caitlin suppressed those thoughts, along with an attendant shiver, as she took her seat between Ed and Wrot. She looked around the room. All the fleet’s senior officers were there, including Tully and his executive officer and first sergeant. There were a few additional people in the room from the base staff: a senior Lleix elder named Narso from the Starsifters elian sat flanked by Brakan and Matto of the fleet’s staff, and another elder named Gram was seated with Ramt of Ekhatlore. Pyr and Lim sat for Terralore, ignored by the Starsifters and somewhat acknowledged by Ekhatlore. Caitlin made a mental note that their plans for the integration of the members of the Lleix dochaya ghetto-class into mainstream Lleix society seemed to be lagging behind their integration into human/Jao society. If the Lleix elders weren’t careful, they were going to lose them. The liberated dochaya members would assimilate into the Terra taif and leave the skeleton of Lleix society behind them.

She set that thought aside, with a note to return to it later, and tapped her finger on the table. The low murmur of side conversations halted, and everyone looked her way.

“In the absence of a directive from the Bond of Ebezon,” Caitlin began, “we will continue with the search.”

Heads nodded, and postures of willing assent were seen all around the room.

“But the efforts of the last two years have almost conclusively proven that we will not fulfill our search here in the Orion Arm.”

She looked around the room to drive home her next point.

“I have oudh over this. I have decided. We will not continue our search here in the Orion arm. We will go elsewhere.”

Silence. No one spoke, although Jao after Jao adopted obedience to directives as their posture.

“In our last meeting, it was proposed that the search move to the Sagittarius Arm.” Caitlin turned to the Starsifters. “You said that you would provide information as to possible Frame Jump paths between the two arms.” She sat back in her seat and crossed her arms, visibly turning the focus of the meeting to the Lleix.

Narso, the base Starsifter elder, needed no further encouragement. He stood to speak, and his aureole flared to its greatest extent.

“We have gathered all information from Lleix records and Terra taif databases and mapped three possible routes,” he began. He gestured to Matto, who ran his fingers across a com pad. A holographic projection flared into view above the table with three different colored lines snaking between bands of stars that were obviously the Orion and Sagittarius Arms, and had labels to validate that assumption.

“They all share one common step,” Narso continued as a ring appeared around the point at which the lines diverged. “The first sun outward is what Terrans call a Class M7 star. It is a red giant, which ordinarily would be a good target star for this kind of Framepoint jump, because the photosphere would be somewhat tenuous. However, this particular star is also a variable star of the IS class by the humans. Unfortunately, there are insufficient astrographical records available from Jao, Lleix, or Terrans to reliably determine its pulsation period or its pulsation extremes. And there is enough interstellar dust between us to interfere with precise observations. In short, we are not certain just how regular or irregular its symmetry becomes.”

Caitlin noted that most of the Jao in the room had shifted to angles indicating concern, unease, or even in a couple of cases, alarm. She shifted her own position to confidence in adversity. “I am not an astronomer, Elder Narso,” she said. “Explain this in common language I can understand, please.”

Narso’s aureole fluttered. “That will not be very precise, Director.”

“I can live with that,” Caitlin said. “Continue.”