This book should be available now so this is the last snippet.

The Span Of Empire – Snippet 62

“Positive,” Tully said. “Get back to your squads. Life in general may be about to get ‘interesting’ again.”

The two guards both gave a brief rendition of obedience-to-orders, and headed back up the corridor.

Tully shook his head. “‘Goes Oppuk’, huh? I haven’t heard that one before.” The meaning was obvious, though, and he started to grin.

“Oh, yeah, Colonel,” Boyes said with a matching grin. “That’s been making the rounds for a while. Came out of Terra taif, of course. It’s got human written all over it.”

Tully laughed. “Too right, Boyes, too right. Only a human would think of something like that.” He laughed again, then said, “Come on, Sergeant. Let’s go see what kind of trouble we can get into on the Lex.


Caitlin turned as the command deck door to the main lifts irised open again. The last time it had been Vaughan returning from grabbing a fast meal, accompanied by Caewithe Miller. That had saved Caitlin from having to summon her bodyguard captain, who was on her off-shift but would have wanted to be here for this.

This time the door opened to admit Gabe Tully, Lim, a jinau that she assumed was Sergeant Boyes, and a Khûrûsh-an who could only be the captive officer Kamozh entered the command deck. Gabe started toward her, but her eyes were drawn to the sight of Kamozh seeing the main view screen. He froze, eyes narrowed and fixed on the recording. After watching a few loops of it, he raised up on his hind feet, turned to Lim and spoke loudly and rapidly, all four hands moving in the air. He stopped, waited a long moment, then something in a low tone as he dropped down to his mid-hands and settled his hindquarters on the deck.

“So what did he say?” Caitlin asked. “He looked pretty excited.”

Rhan Kamozh says that the view screen is lying to you.”

“Oooo-kay,” Caitlin responded. “How does he get that out of that little bit of picture and that message?”

“First, the . . . person . . . in the recording is wearing the robes and crest of a clan that died out close to two hundred Terran years ago, with the markings of the clan-heir at that. Second, the person is female, and very very few of them are allowed off-planet farther than the orbit of Khûr-liyo.”

Lim’s voice almost sounded dry at that point. Caitlyn thought for a moment that there was a disapproving note in her voice. Lim went on, and Caitlyn dropped that train of thought.

“Third, the very fact that she is calling you is treason, for the Khûr-melkh Sheshahng–think of him as an emperor–decreed long generations ago that there was to be no contact between our people and the devils from the outer dark. It is treason, and an affront to re-heshyt,” here Lim used a Khûrûshil word that she didn’t bother to translate right then. “Such would be unthinkable to any right-living Khûrûsh-an. So therefore, he says, it is obvious that the view screen is lying to you.”

The door had irised open in the middle of Lim’s translation. Yaut and Wrot had entered the command deck, followed by Aille and Pleniary-superior Tura. The four Jao had stood to listen to the rest of the translation.

When Lim finished, she placed both hands on the staff she had entered with. Caitlin decided she would ask about that later. Kamozh folded his upper arms and leaned back a bit.

Caitlin looked at where Fleet Commander Dannet had joined the group around Aille. Tura and Dannet both had flawless neutral angles that nonetheless were distinctive to each. Wrot and Yaut were displaying something on the order of simple-curiosity, although Yaut’s had a definite flavor of impatient from the tilt of his head.

Aille, on the other hand, was displaying a posture that was so rare Caitlin had only seen it recorded, never in action: concession-to-oudh. Her mouth twisted. Aille was making it very clear without a single word that the decision to be made was hers alone.

Caitlin didn’t look at Ed. She felt him stir just a bit, though, and turn to face her at a slight angle. He said nothing–he didn’t have to. She knew he would support her in anything she decided, as would Gabe Tully. She drew a great deal of comfort and strength from that, as she faced what might be the most important decision ever made by Jao or humans alike.

She took a deep breath, and held it for just a moment. Caitlin could feel the eyes of everyone on the command deck resting on her–humans, Jao, Lleix, and Khûrûsh alike–waiting to see what she would do.

“Fleet Commander Dannet,” she finally said, “Return a signal, please.”

“As you direct, Director Kralik,” Dannet replied. “And the message?”

Caitlin considered that for a moment, then gave another wry grin and said, “We hear you. What do you want?”

Dannet’s angles flowed from neutral into obedience-to-instructions. But then, without a pause, they flowed into gratified-respect, which was more than Caitlin had ever thought she would ever receive from the fleet commander.

As Dannet turned away to give orders and Pyr, Lim and Kamozh moved to a nearby workstation, Caitlin looked over at the rest of what she thought of as her command group. Tully was grinning the biggest grin she had ever seen on his face. Ed had moved to stand behind her. She couldn’t see his face, but she could feel the bedrock of his presence. Aille and the others, even Tura, all slipped into an echo of gratified-respect, which just for a moment caused her vision to blur.

“Well done, Caitlin,” Aille said. “Well done.”