The Span Of Empire – Snippet 45

Caitlin took a deep breath, and replied, “Very well. Begin.”

Dannet turned to the command deck. “Orders to the fleet: execute. Terra-Captain Uldra, begin.”

With that, the approach to the Khûrûsh began. Caitlin watched the main view screen to see the fleet split. All of the support ships, most of the lighter warcraft, and Sun Tzu remained in their galactic north position. The rest of the heavy ships, being Lexington, Arjuna, Ban Chao and Pool Buntyam, shaped course for the second planet from the sun.

Lexington began broadcasting a high-powered announcement crafted by the Lleix asking for peaceful contact in each of the five languages aimed directly at the home planet on all the Khûrûsh major communication frequencies.


Zhao Jiguang watched, arms folded, as Lim neared completion of the 64 Forms. She really was quite good, he admitted to himself. Even with the time it had taken him to adapt the forms to the movement ranges of the Lleix body, she had still learned the essential forms as fast as anyone he had ever taught. He was seeing her two hours every day, and he was sure that she was spending much of her off time working the forms as well. It showed. Her focus and intensity was almost scary.

Zhao had had talented–even very talented–human students before, who had learned at very fast paces, but even the best had been somewhat slower than this person who was not even of Earth. He had indeed been forced more than once to instruct her to take a slower pace; to even take time off. And he had to wonder if this was unique to her, or if all Lleix would perform this way.

Ah, Lim was coming out of Grasp the Bird’s Tail and moving to Gather Heaven to Earth, the final form. Zhao straightened as her arms went through the reaching up motion. As her arms descended to rest by her side, he took a staff from a nearby rack. Lim completed the form with a slow exhalation of breath; Zhao moved to stand before her.

He wasn’t surprised to see that her eyes were closed. He knew more than one Tai Chi practitioner who would practice with their eyes shut. “Well done,” he said.

Lim’s eyes flew open, and she put her hands together and gave a slight bow to him. “Thank you, sifu.” She had found the honorific for a Tai Chi instructor in the Terralore database, and he had been unable to convince her it wasn’t necessary to use it with him. For all that, she had determined to wear a karate gi, rather than human sweats or the loose Chinese style clothing that Zhao himself wore. He had no problem with that, actually. He was not that much of a purist, to the despair of some of the other Tai Chi masters in southern California.

Zhao set one end of the staff on the deck and clasped his hands around it together about shoulder height. He looked at Lim, staring deep into her eyes. She gazed back steadily. A long moment passed. When Lim did not look away, Zhao smiled. “Here,” he said, holding out the staff, “take this.”

Lim looked at it, but did not reach out to take it. “What is that? A weapon?”

Zhao snorted. “It’s a piece of wood. Take it.”

Lim slowly reached out both hands and took the staff, holding it in front of her with one end on the deck. “It is made of wood,” she said, “but that is not what it is.”

Zhao chuckled. “You grow subtle, my student. You are correct, it is made of wood, but that is not what it is. You will take this with you, and keep it with you at all times. When you believe you know what it is, tell me.”


So far there had been no response from the Khûrûsh other than even more intensive radar signals. “The cooks could put a cow out on the hull and it would be well-done in an hour from the radiation,” Flue Vaughan muttered.

The sensor techs had already reported the increased radar signals, so Vaughan just noted it in his logs, and continued watching Fleet Commander Dannet; who, at that moment, was approaching Caitlin Kralik.

“We are drawing near to the limit you set, Director.” Dannet’s voice was brusque, which was unusual neither for Jao in general nor for her in particular. “Do you still insist on your directive?” Her angles were all accepting-of-direction, though, from what Vaughan could tell. His interpretation of Jao body speech was continuing to improve.

Caitlin took a deep breath. Flue watched her out of the corner of his eye. Yes, she had oudh over the search effort, but the fleet commander seemed to press her at times. Flue wasn’t sure if Dannet was expressing a certain distaste for the director, or if it was legitimate under her position as fleet commander to ensure that certain orders were confirmed. Either way, it looked like Caitlin was getting a bit tired of it.

“Yes, Fleet Commander,” the director said in stern tones, body angles portraying absolute-command-to-subordinate in what even Vaughan recognized was a flawless posture. “All the other ships will halt one million kilometers out from the planet outward from Khûr-liyo’s L4 libration point, while Lexington moves to the L1 point. We are not going to come in like an invading fleet.”

Lexington was headed for an orbit between the planet and the moon, while the rest of the flotilla waited almost three times the distance from Earth to its moon. Vaughan had heard Caitlin’s explanation in the command meeting. She did not want the Khûrûsh to feel as if the Jao/human fleet was looming over them or “taking the high ground,” as Tully had put it. So Lexington would go in alone, and the rest of the flotilla would park far enough away that hopefully they wouldn’t be an adverse psychological component in the attempt to establish communications and a relationship, but still be close enough that if for some reason things dropped in the crapper they could come running.

The sensor techs had already confirmed that Lexington was bigger than any craft the Khûrûsh had in space at the moment. It was also pretty obvious to Vaughan that the drive systems the Khûrûsh were using with their ships weren’t anything in comparison to the Jao drives. Lex ought to be imposing enough, Vaughan thought, that the Khûrûsh would respond to the messages that were being broadcast.

Nothing. Even after the rest of the flotilla halted and Lexington continued on her own, no response from Khûr-shi. Only the incessant radar signals, which, as unbelievable as it seemed, were only increasing in strength and intensity.

“I can’t believe we’re not getting a response,” Caitlin said as they neared Khûr-liyo. “When the Jao came to Earth, we humans were addressing them as soon as it was clear they were intentional travelers from outside the solar system. Why are these folks not talking to us?”

She looked at Vaughan. He shrugged. “No answer, Director. No responses. Just more radar.”


Tully slapped the mat in surrender, and Sergeant Luff quit trying to insert his foot into his ear. Tully rolled over onto his back and accepted a hand up from the sergeant. He was breathing hard, and nursing a mat burn on his elbow. “You know, Top, I’m getting tired of you polishing the mat with my face.”

Luff gave a slight smile. “You’re improving, Colonel. You’ve started making me sweat a little, anyway.” His white teeth flashed in his coffee-colored face.

“Nobody likes a smart-ass, Top.”

The sergeant said nothing, just laughed with that deep resonant Jamaican voice.

Tully wiped his forehead off. Whether or not the sergeant was sweating, he definitely was. He looked over to the mat where Zhao and Lim were working together. “You think she’s getting it?” he asked.

Luff spread his hands. “Wrong guy to ask, Colonel. I know Tae Kwon Do and Jiu-Jitsu. I know enough about Tai Chi to recognize it, but that’s it. But from the outside, I’d say she’s making definite progress. Joe’s done a great job of adapting it to fit the Lleix conformity. Watching him has got me thinking about how to adapt Tae Kwon Do for the Lleix. I don’t know that any of them will ever want to learn it, but the mental exercise is good; and who knows, maybe I’ll come up with something new and unique.”

A raucous klaxon burst sounded three time, then a Jao voice came over the announcement systems. “All crew to battle stations. All jinau to assault stations. This is not a drill.”

Everyone in the gym surged toward the exit. Tully darted forward, yelling, “Make a hole, people! Make a hole!”

The troops opened a pathway through the throng, and he plunged through it with Luff on his heels.