The Span Of Empire – Snippet 53

“At least the docs got his arm reattached.” Tully shook his head. “And we got two of these things?”

“Yes, sir. The guy I shot and the guy who surrendered both had one. I still don’t know why he surrendered. All the others went down fighting.”

Tully shrugged. “Not important at the moment. Lim and the Lleix will get it out of them if anybody can. XO,” he said, turning to Major Liang. “Send one of these to Lexington for the science types over there, and keep one of them here and turn it over to the armorers. Suggest strongly to Lexington that they proceed with great caution. Give our guys orders to be very careful in how they inspect it. I have a hunch these folks may have things to teach us about batteries and capacitors.”

Tully’s com pad pinged. He touched a control. “Yes?”

“Colonel Tully, I need Sergeant Boyes to join me in the interrogation room, please.”

“What’s up, Lim?”

“The surviving officer will not speak to me. I wish to see if he will speak to the one who conquered him.”

“Conquered? What does she mean, conquered?” Boyes muttered. Tully waved a hand at him, and he shut up.

“Officer?” Tully queried. “You’ve identified their ranks?”

“Colonel,” Lim sounded annoyed, if that was possible for a Lleix, “we can read their script, we’ve been watching their videos for days now, and they love to talk about their space service. Yes, I know their ranks. Now please have Sergeant Boyes join me.”

“On our way.”

Tully stood up. “Top, Boyes, you’re with me. X.O.,” he turned to the executive officer, “I want an inventory and initial assessment of everything that was pulled off that wreck chop-chop. Boatright,” he looked to the Charlie Company commander, “I need an after-action report ASAP to forward to Director Kralik. The rest of you,” with a glance at the other commanders, “clean-up and start the next drill cycle.”


For the next several cycles, as she dealt with tasks Ninth-Minor-Sustained had given her, Third-Mordent considered the implications–all the implications–of what her ancestress had said, and perhaps even more importantly, what she had not said. Her understanding of “Never give anything away” was now advanced.


Lim turned from the one-way mirror in mingled frustration and relief as Colonel Tully entered the viewing room, followed by First Sergeant Luff and Sergeant Boyes. “I only needed him,” she said with a nod at Boyes.

“Maybeso,” Tully responded, moving to the mirror to view the interrogation room, “but I need to be in on this. Boyes, come look at this.”

Lim stepped to one side to allow Boyes room to step up to the glass. Luff moved up and stood behind the shorter sergeant, well able to see over the top of his head.

For several moments, they all watched as the Khûrûsh-an paced back and forth, mostly walking on the middle and hind limbs, but twice raising up to walk on hind limbs only for a few steps.

“I wouldn’t swear to it,” Boyes finally said, “but I think that’s the one who surrendered.”

“It is,” Lim responded.

Boyes winced. “Jeez, that’s not going to make me his favorite person, is it?”

Lim shrugged, frustration resurfacing. “He won’t talk to me. Let us see if he will talk to you.”

She led the way to a door next to the viewing window, and placed her hand on the door handle. Boyes looked to Colonel Tully, who nodded. Boyes squared his shoulders, and said, “Let’s get it over with, then.”

Lim nodded, opened the door, and motioned Boyes through with her staff. She followed, closing the door behind them.

The Khûrûsh-an spun at the sound of the door closing, and his fur bristled up to the point he seemed almost twice as large. He backed into a corner and rose up on his hind legs. Boyes realized he was almost looking the creature in the eye.

Unlike when they faced each other across the command deck of the wrecked spacecraft, the Khûrûsh-an was not holding all four arms stretched out with spread-out hands. No, here the arms were curved forward, with the hands curled like claws–which they might well be, Boyes realized after a look at the fingers.

The Khûrûsh-an hissed at him, if something that sounded like a baritone steam-kettle could be called a hiss. Boyes reached out and grabbed Lim with his left hand and pulled her behind him as he drew his sidearm with the other.

Noh-rah-zhoh!” Boyes shouted the surrender command, and jabbed his left hand down at the deck just as he had done when he had faced this same Khûrûsh-an just hours before.


Sergeant Luff put his hand on the doorknob, ready to intervene in what was happening in the interrogation room.

“Wait,” Tully said. “Let’s see how our boy does. But stay ready.”


“They did what?” Caitlin decided that she couldn’t be shocked any more. Even this latest weirdness didn’t rattle her.

“The Khûrûsh destroyed the disabled craft after Ban Chao and Pool Buntyam left it behind,” Vaughan replied. “Both parts of it.”

“Destroyed it how? Lasers, self-destruct mechanism, took it apart with wrenches?” Okay, she was still capable of sarcasm and frustration.

“They launched four missiles at it, and blew it into scrap.”

“But they had no idea if any of their people were still on board!” That idea did bother Caitlin. “Why would they do that?”

“That might be why they call them aliens,” Vaughan said with that quirky smile he’d been flashing at Caewithe for some time.

Caewithe laughed at that.

“Funny man,” Caitlin turned away. Behind her, she heard Caewithe giggle again.


“I said, Noh-rah-zhoh, you SOB!” Boyes snarled at the Khûrûsh-an again, aiming the pistol directly between his eyes while again jabbing at the floor forcefully.

There was a very tense moment, before the steel seemed to evaporate out of the alien. His outstretched arms drooped first, then he settled to first four limbs on the deck, then all six. Finally he lay prostrate, and began chanting something in a soft voice with his nose pointed at the floor.

Boyes kept his pistol aimed at the alien’s head, dropping his aim as he moved. But after a minute or more of the chanting, he stepped back a step and said to Lim, “What’s he saying?”

Lim lifted a hand, but didn’t respond for another minute or more. Finally she said, “It’s a lament, in what passes for a classical form. The officer you shot was his father.”

“Ho, boy,” Boyes muttered, focusing his attention back on the Khûrûsh-an again. “Why isn’t he jumping all over me?”

Lim continued as if he hadn’t said anything. “In addition, his father was his clan-lord. His chief, if you will. He was second in command under his father.”

After another long moment, Boyes said, “So what else is he saying?”

“He’s lamenting the death of his father, and the ending of his clan. His surrender has ended his clan line, as he has no living brothers or sisters, and his mother is also dead. He surrendered because with the clan-lord dead that was the only way he could spare the lives of their retainers on the ship.”

“You mean the crew were . . .”

“Literally servants of his father in his position as clan-lord, yes.” Lim paused and listened for a moment more. “Now he’s asking forgiveness of his ancestors for having been taken alive by the monsters from the dark. He’s very confused as to how we could have come out of the sun when we are clearly monsters. But he’s promising to watch over the retainers as best he can, and to maintain what honor he can until he comes to them–which he hopes will happen soon, but it’s up to the monsters.”

The alien ceased his muttering, then looked up at Boyes and rattled something off quickly.

“He says his name is Kamozh ar Mnûresh, and he is your slave.”


Third-Mordent summoned her chosen choirs to return to the hall. She would see to their completion herself. Her understanding of “Never reveal all your skill to anyone” was now crystal clear.