The Span Of Empire – Snippet 27

“Damn straight!” Tully replied instantly.

“Correct,” Ed said in support. “It will risk the jinau, but better to risk them and not need them than to leave them behind and find out you need them after all. As commander of Ares Base and commander of all Terra taif jinau, it may or may not be within my oudh to order it, but if it doesn’t happen you will not want to deal with me.”

Caitlin looked at her husband. What she saw was Lieutenant General Kralik directing his eagle’s gaze at everyone else in the room.

Dannet stirred, angles flowing into something that Caitlin translated as agreement-with-no-brainer. She couldn’t remember the exact Jao name at the moment, but that was what it meant.

“General Kralik is right,” the fleet commander said, “Ban Chao will take full crew and troop load and as much extra weapon load as can be squeezed into it.”

“All right,” Caitlin said. She looked at Tully. “Make sure you have everything you need before you jump. It will be a bit difficult to send back for anything you forget.”

“Grandmothers and eggs, Caitlin,” Tully responded, tapping notes into his com pad.

Tully’s face had lit with glee at the fleet commander’s pronouncement. Tully’s repressed energy was about to blow a fuse. The man was-crazy, Caitlin thought. He liked to be in the vanguard, seeing what was happening. He was infernally curious. That often got him into trouble, but occasionally gave him great successes. “All right,” she said, “but you have to promise not to get killed.”

Vanta-Captain Ginta looked at her sharply. He was a well-made individual with reddish gold nap and a heavily marked vai camiti composed of three stolid thick lines. “Humans can promise such positive outcomes?”

“They can,” she said, “and then do their dead level best to make sure they keep their word.”

“I won’t let them kill me,” Tully said, “and if they do, you can dock my pay.”

Ginta’s ears flattened in blatant bafflement. “If you are dead, you will not care about your pay.”

“Right,” Tully said. He winked. “Are we done here? I’ve got work to do now.”

Caitlin considered for a moment, working around the yawning gulf in the pit of her stomach. This was a decision with much larger repercussions that anything she had faced before. But all things considered, there was no choice. Not to do this would fail their people. She thought of the Ekhat, and her resolve firmed.

“Yes,” Caitlin said, “it is decided and directed. The fleet will jump as soon as Fleet Commander Dannet is convinced we are ready. The Ban Chao will lead the way.” She tapped the table. “Make it happen, people.”

With that, she stood and, in keeping with her use of Jao protocol, waited for her bodyguards and her husband to precede her out of the conference room.

As she walked through the door, she heard Tully saying, “All right! Now the fun begins.”


On the way back to her quarters, Caewithe Miller walked next to Caitlin.

“I thought Tully told me once that we are in the Sagittarius Arm of the galaxy,” the guard captain said. “How can we be moving to the Sagittarius Arm?”

“I thought the same thing, myself,” Caitlin responded, “at least for a little while. Bad information from a news program, I’m afraid. We and the Jao are actually in the Orion arm. We got it straightened out before long, fortunately before we embarrassed ourselves too badly.”

A few more steps down the corridor, then, “What was with Tully just now?” Caewithe asked. “Why was he fighting to be on the Ban Chao? He’ll just be in the way.”

“Tully’s got an insatiable urge to be at the leading edge of everything,” Caitlin said. “Aille understands. That’s why he was off in the mountains with the rebels half the time. He’ll make something positive out of this situation, you’ll see.”

“Bleeding edge will be more like it,” the younger woman muttered, and her cheeks were flushed.

Caitlin studied her as they walked. She knew their history as an on-again/off-again couple. “Tully never had a family. He was an orphaned rebel camp brat, surviving as best he could on what he could steal. If he told the truth twice a day, it was an accident. He was spying on the Jao when Aille ran across him, for God’s sake, which would have led to a swift execution if anyone else had detected him. If he didn’t live his life at this sort of fever pitch, he would have been dead long ago.”

“Yeah, I figured that out a while ago,” Caewithe said. “That’s why I finally broke it off with him. He’s fun for a time, but I can’t make a life with an adrenaline junkie.”

Caitlin gave her surprised guard captain a hug around the shoulders. “I could tell it hadn’t worked out,” Caitlin said, “but I didn’t know why. I really wish it had, though. I like both of you guys, and you would have been a great couple.”

Caewithe shrugged. “I really like Tully, too, but living with him would be like living with a hand grenade with the pin pulled. I couldn’t do it. So I let him go while we were still friends.”

“I’m not what you would call experienced at this stuff,” Caitlin said with a wry grin, “not with my background, but I’d say that was probably a wise decision. No sense in destroying your friendship over something if it never had a chance at success.”


They walked in silence for a few moments, taking the next left and then the next right. Caitlin looked at her guard captain out of the corner of her eye. “So, you started looking yet?”

Caewithe gave a snort. “Got right to that point, didn’t you?” She laughed as Caitlin started to sputter. “It’s okay, it’s okay. Actually, if you want to know, Lieutenant Vaughan is starting to look interesting. And I love that Welsh accent.”

“Good,” Caitlin said as they reached her quarters. Caewithe and Tamt took up their posts by the door. “You just smile at him and use that Alabama drawl of yours.”

“Standard southern belle practice,” Caewithe said with a grin. “Been using it on Yankees for generations; hasn’t failed us yet.”

After the door closed, Tamt looked over at Caewithe. “I’ll take the post and call up one of the other guards. Lieutenant Vaughan said something about going to the officer’s pool.”

Caewithe thought about it for a moment. She had a swimsuit . . . yeah, it would work. “Thanks, Tamt. I’ll owe you one.”

The burly Jao guard just waved her on.