The Span Of Empire – Snippet 37

Chapter 18

Lim accompanied Tully to the command deck of the Ban Chao for the second pathfinder jump.

“They’ve installed jump seats along the back wall,” Tully murmured as he led her through the door. “The first pathfinder jump was a little rugged, so they’ve beefed up the seats and restraints all over the bridge.” He touched a dark spot on his face and winced. “Vanta-Captain Ginta says they’ve learned the tricks now, and this jump will be smoother.” He sat down and fastened a harness across his torso. “I’m still going to belt in.”

Lim took the seat next to the human’s, carefully arranged her robes, and fastened a restraint across her lap.

“Have you observed a jump before?” Tully asked.

“Not from a command deck,” Lim responded. “Will it be much different from what I have seen?”

“I doubt it,” Tully said. “Especially since this crew is mostly Jao. They all act like it’s just another day at work, even when it’s as risky as sliding down a mountain slope on one ski with no poles.”

Lim turned her head to look at Tully. Having spent most of her time on Earth in the North American region called Colorado, she understood his metaphor. It seemed apt. But it surprised her to see him grinning at her.

“Lighten up, Lim,” Tully said. “Man, don’t you guys ever laugh at anything? Crack a joke? Something?”

“Your propensity for ‘humor’ is one of the things we study in Terralore elian,” Lim said. “There are theories that it is somehow connected to your ability to do ollnat.

Tully snorted. “Just about everything we do is connected to ollnat, Lim. It’s how we humans have survived for thousands of years.”

“From the research Terralore elian has done, ollnat has almost destroyed you as well.”

Tully shrugged. “We’re still here, aren’t we?”

And against that argument, Lim had no counter.

“Whoops, here we go,” Tully said facing forward.

“Set Framepoint One,” Vanta-Captain Ginta ordered.


The door opened and Yaut preceded Aille onto the command deck of the Footloose. Aille had named the ship himself, and then named the sister ship the Fancy Free. He understood that humans might have preferred something weightier with more gravitas, but he thought they took this whole naming matter far too seriously, and was not above making some sly fun at their expense. Preceptor Ronz got the joke. Yaut didn’t.

Privately, though, he had to admit that names actually made it easier to keep track of the ships once they were deployed and knowing which one you were referring to at any given moment. Two figures, both Jao, turned to meet them.

“Governor Aille,” said the larger of the two, Terra-Captain Sanzh krinnu ava Terra, displaying a firm ready-to-be-of-service. Before joining Terra taif, he had been Sanzh krinnu Kasem vau Aris, a secondary kochan associated with mid-tier kochan Aris, from the far side of Jao space. His pelt was plush, slightly longer than most Jao’s coats, of a most unusual blond shade. Aille had heard one of the humans call it a “palomino” tint. His coat was so light in color that his white vai camiti was almost indiscernible against it, which many Jao found unfortunate.

“Terra-Captain Sanzh,” Aille replied. “Is all ready?”

“Waiting word from Trident,” the Terra-Captain said. “They signaled a last minute, ah, glitch.

Aille let his angles flow to a tripartite humored-reception-of-awkward-news. “Rafe said the ship would be ready. It will be. Prepare for jump, Terra-Captain.”

The Terra-Captain said nothing, simply turned and began issuing directions to the nearby bridge crew. Aille turned to the other Jao who had been waiting his attention.

“Governor Aille,” she murmured, angles set in a perfect neutral.

“Pleniary-superior Tura,” Aille said in turn.

He recalled his last meeting with Ronz. The Preceptor had come to him at the Pascagoula base which had become the center for ship designs and refits. It had surprised him greatly when the Preceptor was announced. Before he could do more than rise from his seat, Ronz had entered the room, followed, as he usually was, by Tura.

“Preceptor,” Aille had said, speaking first as his was the lower rank.

“Aille,” Ronz had replied. And then, in Jao fashion, had continued directly with, “I have added one more to your party. Tura will go with you.”

Aille’s head had tilted, ears moving forward as his angles slipped into consideration. “You believe she will be needed to restrain Caitlin’s ollnat?”

“No.” Ronz had showed no angles at all, in his typical manner. He was perhaps the hardest Jao alive to read if he didn’t want to be read.

“You anticipate a need for the presence of the Bond?”

“Say rather, I anticipate a need for the authority of the Bond.”

Aille had heard what Ronz said; and just as importantly, what he hadn’t said. He then looked beyond the Preceptor to where Tura had stood, angles all neutral. Her eyes were black; there was no sign of tension in her stance. There had been nothing to be read there.

That same calm stature, that same set of neutral angles faced Aille now on the command deck of the Footloose. There was no doubt in Aille’s mind that the pleniary-superior was on this deck for a reason. But he did doubt that he would be able to determine what that reason was just now. Ronz was the premier strategist of the Bond of Ebezon. His assessments were far-seeing; his strategies indirect and subtle–witness Aille’s supplanting of Oppuk as Governor of Terra.

Did Tura even know why she was there? Aille considered it well within Ronz’s methods to have given her direction to go without giving her a reason as to why. It would be in keeping with the Preceptor’s approach to strategy, after all; no one knew that better than Aille. He decided not to ask her; not now.

At that moment, the main view screen flashed and Rafe Aguilera’s visage came into view.

Trident to Footloose. We’re ready to jump at any time.”

Aille turned from Tura to Terra-Captain Sanzh.

“Order the jump, Captain.”


Lim noted that everyone on the command deck, Jao and humans alike, seemed to relax a bit as the Ban Chao cleared the corona transition. Tully in particular seemed to almost go limp as he sat back in his seat and sighed. “Glad that’s over.”

She turned and considered him. “Do you not like Frame travel, then?”

“Ah, that would be a big ‘No’.” Tully ran a hand through his short hair. “But when Aille says ‘Go’, and Ed Kralik says ‘Go’, I go.”

“Would it be easier to travel if you weren’t on the command deck?” Lim was curious. To those of her people who came out of the Lleix dochaya, Tully was second only to Caitlin Kralik in terms of being revered; more so than any of the current Lleix leaders, she had to admit. This was a side of Tully she hadn’t seen before, and she was curious.

“Not a chance,” Tully said with emphasis. “If something goes wrong when we jump into a sun and I end up being little flakes of carbon floating around in the solar plasma, I at least want to see it coming so I can kiss my ass goodbye.”

He grinned at her, at which point Lim gathered that the last statement was another manifestation of human humor.

“Come on,” Tully continued as he released his harness. “Now that we’re here, it’s going to take another couple of days at least before anything else interesting happens out there. I’ve got someone I want you to meet.”

Lim freed herself from her restraint and stood to follow Tully’s lead out of the command deck. They took a lift down a couple of decks, then Tully led her down a long passageway and around several bends before they walked into a surprisingly spacious exercise deck filled with jinau, humans and Jao alike.