The Span Of Empire – Snippet 31
The Bond of Ebezon, standing as kochan parent to Terra taif, had constructed several structures on Terra for their own use. All of them were low in build, with the curving lines that pleased the Jao. Most of them were built on coastlines of seas or large lakes. None of them were large; pretention was not part of the Bond’s mode of operation. Unlike the actual kochans like Pluthrak or Dano, the Bond’s focus was not on planets as such. Planets were not possessions to them; they were merely platforms from which to launch ships, squadrons and fleets.
Preceptor Ronz acknowledged that. Nonetheless, over the last two years he had gravitated to one particular Terran Bond structure as a place to go when he wanted solitude, quiet, and time to think.
It was located on the coast of that large island that the Terrans called Greenland; a misnomer if ever there was one. The Terrans had apparently been concerned about a global temperature warming trend before the Jao arrived. Glacier melt on Greenland had been one of the things some of them had pointed to as evidence of “global warming.” However, various bolide strikes on the planet during the planetary conquest and early years of the occupation by the Jao had thrown enough dust and particulates into the atmosphere that the trend had not only been arrested, it had been reversed. And nowhere was that more evident than on Greenland.
Ronz stood, hands clasped behind his back, posture effortlessly neutral, and watched the snow swirl outside. Unlike many of the Jao, he liked cold weather; it was one of the reasons he was drawn to this particular location.
At the moment, he was appreciating the randomness of the snowflakes dancing, yet all the while they eventually submitted to gravity and settled to the ground. A metaphor for something? Perhaps. And perhaps simply a beautiful act by the universe.
One particular swirl swept a cloud of the falling snow upwards. His eyes followed it, and remained gazing upward. Something was changing.
“Caitlin, what are you up to now?” he murmured.
The messenger ship from Ban Chao had returned with five days of solar studies on the IS class star during Caitlin’s sleep shift. When she awoke that morning, the Starsifters had finished reviewing the data and were ready to report to her and the Fleet Commander.
“The report indicates that it was good you sent Ban Chao,” Wrot said without greeting as they met at the door of the conference room. “I don’t think any other ship, not even Lexington or Pool Buntyam could have survived what they jumped into.”
“It was an appropriate use of assets,” Dannet said as she entered behind them. Again Caitlin was reminded that Jao were not human. That casual disregard of personal risk of hundreds of crew and jinau just grated on her.
Taking her seat, Caitlin looked to Brakan and Matto. “Well?”
Matto manipulated his com pad, and another hologram sprang into view, a large red globe.
“The target star,” Brakan said. “With the extrapolation from the measurements taken from Ban Chao, we can tell you that even for an IS class variable it is odd. The good news is its cycle seems to be about 60 days for full expansion and contraction. The almost good news is that it appears the expansion cycle is mostly stable, but does fluctuate slightly.”
Matto touched his com pad again, and the hologram began a slow expansion to a point almost half again as large as the original, then began contracting.
“That minimizes the risk?” Caitlin asked after watching a full cycle.
“Yes, Director,” Brakan replied.
“How soon can we jump?”
“In approximately twelve Terran hours,” Brakan said.
Caitlin looked to Dannet. “What’s our status?”
“All ships ready for jump,” the fleet commander replied.
“Give the orders, then.”
Dannet and Wrot both assumed angles for committed-to-action, and the fleet commander and the Lleix rose and exited the conference room. Wrot looked to Caitlin. “A challenging beginning,” he said.
Excitement flooded Caitlin, an excitement she hadn’t felt since not long after beginning the search for other civilizations. “Maybe so,” she said, “but we have to start somewhere.”
Twelve hours later, Caitlin was once again on the command deck of the Lexington, seated at the station near Lieutenant’s Vaughan’s that had become her customary location. He had taken time to program a couple of data feeds from his station to hers, so that she could have at least a minimal idea of what was occurring without having to ask questions or distract any of the crew.
Tamt was standing by her, and another of the bodyguard detail was beside the door. Captain Miller was supposed to join them shortly.
Caitlin knew she was keyed up. She knew that the Ban Chao had survived the jump, so that paved the way for Lexington to jump next. She hoped that meant that Ban Chao had not suffered damage or casualties, but that wouldn’t be clear to them until they arrived themselves.
And if Tully wasn’t there to meet them, she’d kill him.
She gripped the chair arms as build-up toward jump began.
“First framepoint generator set,” one of the crew announced.
“Second framepoint generator set.” That word from another tech came on the heels of the first announcement. Caitlin could feel the vibration in the ship’s structure through her feet.
“Third framepoint generator set.” Now the vibration was stronger, and she thought she heard a low hum, almost a growl.
“Fourth framepoint generator set.”
“Fifth framepoint generator set.”
The last two reports came one right after the other, and the vibration jumped markedly. Caitlin looked down at her hands and noticed that her knuckles were white. She made herself relax, and shifted her posture towards calm-in-storm.
Dannet, of course, had been standing watching everything, unmoving except for her head turning, angles all neutral.
Terra-Captain Uldra looked at readouts over a tech’s shoulder, then straightened.
“Navigator, you may jump.”
Tully watched as one after the other, the other ships of the reinforced fleet exited the photosphere of the target star, each seemingly none the worse for the experience. Apparently having the pathfinder ship go ahead really did make a difference in how the other ships could travel. It made Tully all the more appreciative for the Jao’s skill in frame travel.
The first four ships to follow Ban Chao were the battleships: the veterans Lexington, Arjuna, and Pool Buntyam, followed by Sun Tzu, the replacement for the wounded Vercingetorix. Tully heaved a sigh of relief when the last of them cleared the edge of the photosphere and joined the others in clear space. With that much firepower now in place, even if the system had held those who would contest the fleet’s passage, the chances of them succeeding were now remote.
There was a span of a few minutes between ships. When the next one came out of the photosphere and its shape became clear on the main view screen, Tully sat up and took notice.
Vanta-Captain Ginta for a moment slumped into formless posture, then assumed the angles of beholding-pleasant-encounters. An air of relaxation moved through the room in a wave.
Tully stepped up beside the captain and pointed at the screen. “What’s that one?”
“Bond Ship 15467,” Ginta replied.
“Uh-huh,” Tully said. “You want to tell me what kind of ship that is and why she’s with us?”
“That is a framepoint ship,” Ginta said. “It will travel with the fleet and lay framepoints after each jump. Without it, it will be a very long and slow voyage home.”
Tully considered that for a moment. “Good ship to have with us.”
“Indeed.” The captain’s voice was dry enough to serve as a desiccant.