The Span Of Empire – Snippet 50

Lim had seen Caitlin in operation; how the Director would seek information, would seek opinions, would upon occasion–much to the contrary of Lleix methods–seek recommendations from those who were younger or lesser in rank. Yet in the end, the final decision would be made by Caitlin–whether it aligned with the lesser ranks’ offerings or stood against them–and by her alone.

So in a very real way, by acting upon her orders, the jinau would be the hands of Caitlin Kralik. They would carry out her order at her direction, without being consulted as to whether it was the right thing to do, without establishing consensus. She ordered; they acted.

It was at that moment that Lim gained an insight that had been eluding her ever since she joined the exploration task force–all members of the task force, even Fleet Commander Dannet, were in the task force for the purpose of being Caitlin Kralik’s hands. Or put it another way, they existed to extend her reach.

That thought intrigued her.


Tully started toward the front of the shock-frames, only to find his way blocked by two large figures. His display told him it was Major Liang and First Sergeant Luff. The major held up three fingers, and Tully switched to the alternate command frequency.

“Colonel, where are you going?” Liang asked.

“I’m going to lock in behind the boarding team.”

“Uh-huh,” Liang replied, as Sergeant Luff crossed his arms. “You’re planning on following the boarding team, aren’t you?”

“The thought had crossed my mind. You have a problem with that, Major?” Tully stressed the rank to underline his own.

“Actually, Colonel, I do. I know you’re a damn good leader, and I know that most of the men would follow you to hell and back. But I also know you jumped a bunch of grades in a short period of time.”

Tully couldn’t believe his ears. He’d always thought Liang liked him, or at least found him acceptable as a commander. “Yes, I did. And you also know I didn’t ask for that. General Kralik put me here. You got a problem with that?”

“Only when the lack of the experience you missed in those rank jumps means you’re about to do something, ah, ill-advised.”

Tully was willing to bet that the final word in that sentence was a last split-second substitution for “stupid.”

“Colonel, you’re almost a brigade commander, for God’s sake,” Liang continued. “At that rank, you just don’t lead from the front anymore. You can’t. You’re too damned important to the operation, any operation, to be in the front rank and get picked off by a lucky hit. You especially don’t lead a simple fire-team-level evolution. That’s what you have sergeants and lieutenants, and yes, even captains for.”

“I don’t ask my men to do anything I won’t do!” Tully bit the words off. One corner of his mind was surprised at the fury he was feeling.

“The men know that, sir,” Luff finally said something. “Everyone knows that you will do whatever has to be done. And that’s important, both for them and for their opinion of you. But at the same time, if you start taking risks like this for no critical reason, they’ll start wondering if you’ve lost it. You’re smart, and you’re lucky. So they want you to be smart and not push your luck.”

Tully snorted, but before he could say anything else, the major spoke again.

“Colonel, if nothing else, remember why you’re in this position. I’m sure that General Kralik gave you the same speech about there being a lack of field-grade officers that he gave me. Well, that’s true enough, but for this assignment he’d have found somebody, even if it was only me. There are enough competent field-grades in the ranks that he would have been able to put someone good in your position. But it’s obvious to anyone who stops to think about it for a minute, the general needed something more than a jinau officer for this job. He needed someone who could move in the highest circles, and someone that Director Kralik would listen to. Other than the general himself, that description fits you more than any other jinau officer. You have an obligation to Director Kralik, to the general, and to your troops to not take stupid chances.” This time the major didn’t seem to have any trouble using the s-word.

Now Major Liang crossed his arms, standing side by side with the sergeant. Tully looked at the two large men, and from the feeling in his gut he ought to have steam blowing out of a pressure relief valve at the top of his suit. But he also knew, coldly, objectively, that they were right. Oh, he didn’t want to admit that. His jaws clenched so hard he felt the pressure behind his eyes. It absolutely went against his grain to have to admit that his safety had that kind of priority on it that he couldn’t share all the risks of his men in the regular course of operations.

It took a long moment, but finally Tully’s jaw relaxed. “You’re a couple of bastards, the two of you. You know that, don’t you?”

Luff chuckled in his deep voice. “Colonel, that’s part of our job descriptions. Didn’t you read the fine print?”

“Fine,” Tully said, waving a hand. “I’ll just stay back here in the back rank. Is that far enough away from trouble to suit you?” He knew his voice sounded surly. At the moment, he didn’t really care. It was enough that he was doing the right thing.

“Thank you, sir,” the major said. “If you’re staying with Baker Company, I’ll post with Alpha.” Tully waved a hand again, and Liang headed toward the front of the shock-frame assembly.

Tully felt a change in his environment. It took him a moment to realize that the atmosphere was being pumped out of the assault bay.

He looked at Luff, who hadn’t moved. “You baby-sitting me, Top?” There was an edge to his voice, and again, he didn’t care.

“No, sir,” Luff replied. “The company officers suggested I slot in back here, and Major Liang agreed.”

“I’ll just bet he did,” Tully muttered. The pumps quit. “Well, let’s get locked in, Top. Things are about to get interesting.


Sergeant Boyes heard a ping and saw First Sergeant Luff had tapped him via the unofficial sergeants’ frequency. “Tell me you have good news for me, Top,” he responded.

“The colonel is slotting in with Baker Company, Boyes.”

A flood of relief washed through Boyes. He’d been very nervous that the colonel might try to ride shotgun on his team, and that was the very last thing in the world he wanted right then.

“Thanks, Top. Good to know. I owe you one.”

“Too right you do. First three rounds are on you next liberty,” Luff replied.

Boyes grinned in response to the humor in the first sergeant’s voice. “You got it.” The yellow light flashed on. “Gotta go.”

Luff’s light went dark. Boyes switched to the team frequency. “Heads up, boys and girls. It’s show time.”