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The Course of Empire: Chapter Sixteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, July 9, 2003 22:35 EDT



    The morning after the reception, word was conveyed to Aille via a human servant in black livery—the whale hunt had been scheduled for two solar cycles hence in a remote area on the one of the continental coasts. "The Pacific Northwest," as the human termed it. The political moiety of Japan was providing a vessel from its own water fleet already in that area to serve the purpose.

    Kralik appeared at his door soon after, inquiring if Aille wished to review such troops as he had available to provide an escort.

    "Are they all jinau?" Aille asked as Yaut fussed with the lay of his halfcape.

    "Yes, sir. Experiments with mixed squads have not been successful."

    "I do not understand that," Aille said, signaling Yaut to cease his endless realignment of seam with seam, a subtlety of appearance he doubted most natives would appreciate. "We have successfully integrated Jao and native troops on many planets. And humans are ferocious fighters. That much is obvious by what has already passed. Jao respect such. Why then have our two kinds made poor companions in arms?"

    "If I knew that, I wouldn't be a jinau," Kralik said, then sighed as Yaut glared at him, perceived-disrespect written in the fraghta's stance. "Sorry, sir. I shouldn't be flip. It's an important question."

    "Yes, it is," Aille said. "Does your species recognize the importance of association? I was not sure, after reviewing the available records. It seemed, in the past, before Jao arrived, there had been much dissension amongst your political entities over issues I could not interpret."

    Kralik braced his legs and settled into what seemed to be a waiting stance. "I'm not sure I follow your meaning, sir."

    "To accomplish anything of worth always requires more than one individual," Aille said. "The most important endeavors are always achieved in concert."

    Kralik appeared to consider, his gaze drifting up and heartward, as though someone just out of sight stood there. "We do work together, when the situation requires it," he said. "Especially in the military. But we also have a long tradition of valuing individual worth, 'role models' and 'heroes,' we call them."

    Aille was not familiar with the concepts. "I do not think Jao have these. Perhaps that is the problem."

    "Perhaps." Kralik's body was very proper, almost forming the lines of willingness-to-be-instructed, were it not for those horribly immobile ears that detracted from every sensible conversation.

    Aille turned to Yaut. "Fetch Tully and I will review my new command."

    Yaut disappeared into the spacious back room with its sanitary accommodations and returned a moment later with a damp Tully in tow, struggling to put his arm through his uniform sleeve.

    Aille cocked his head in amused-bewilderment. "Have you taken up swimming after all?"

    Tully stared down at the floor, but said nothing, while Kralik made only a muffled sound.

    "Perhaps he seeks to become more Jao in his personal habits," Yaut said, pocketing the sleek black locator control. "That is appropriate."

    Kralik keyed off the doorfield and stepped through, taking his proper position, at the forefront. "This way, sir."



    Caitlin sat at the breakfast table, toying with her toast as Dr. Kinsey wolfed down a pecan waffle across from her. At least Oppuk's kitchen knew how to feed humans. "I can't do this," she said. "It's bad enough they're following through with the blasted whale hunt. If I go along, it will send the wrong message."

    "What can't be cured, and all that." Kinsey's dark eyes blinked at her myopically through his glasses, then focused on his fork and the morsel of waffle dripping with syrup. "It seems to me that the more you protest, the more our Jao masters will be determined to carry out this pointless exercise. You should go, smile benignly, as though they're a bunch of four-year-olds discovering the joys of mud pies, and behave as if the whole affair is quite beneath you. I predict they'll get bored and go on to something else after a few days, maybe even before they actually find a poor whale to slaughter."

    "If it were anything but a hunt, I'd say you were right," she said. "But the Jao seem to have an infinite capacity for anything humans don't like. There are bound to be protesters, at the very least, once the word gets out, in that part of the country. And that will just egg the Jao on. That's how they always react to open opposition, Professor. The Jao didn't drop a bolide on Mt. Everest because they really cared that much about the 'frivolity of mountain-climbing.' They did it because a specific expedition went ahead after it had been specifically ordered not to—and so they made their point as brutally as possible. Disobey us and we will even destroy your tallest mountain."

    She shuddered and set her toast aside. "I don't want to be there."

    "You really have no choice, I'm afraid." Kinsey chewed for a moment. "Look on the bright side, Caitlin. The new Subcommandant seems to have taken a shine to you. It's all quite interesting, from my perspective. The addition of a new clan in the mix is going to change things."

    "Yes, but not necessarily in a good way." She massaged the base of her neck, feeling tension coiling there like a snake. "The last thing I want to do is get between two high-powered kochan like Narvo and Pluthrak. Especially between those two. Did you see the way the Governor looked at this Aille? It chilled my blood."

    Kinsey held up the shiny aluminum case of his mini-recorder, then placed it on the table between them. "I must confess I was too busy talking to some of the Governor's other guests to observe their interaction. Did I tell you? I learned some simply fascinating things about the Jao homeworld last night."

    "Homeworlds," she said and stood. "Nobody knows how many there are. Nobody human, at least—and I don't think even the Jao do. That knowledge is lost in their pre-history. Aille told me that Pluthrak alone has twenty-nine and that's the most specific information on the subject I've ever heard."

    "Oh, my." Kinsey blinked. "Twenty-nine? For one kochan alone?"

    "They are so powerful, we'll never get rid of them until they want to go. And when—or if—they do, how much of this world will be left in their wake? They've already converted many of our factories and resources to their exclusive military use. The rest... many of then, especially here in America, stand in ruins."

    "For the war they're always talking about," he said.

    "For the war against the mysterious Ekhat, who may be mythical, for all we know." She leaned over the back of her chair. "Maybe they exterminated the Ekhat long ago and now just use them as an excuse for whatever they want to do."

    "I freely admit I do not know as much about the Jao as you, my dear," Kinsey said, "but it's always been my impression the Jao make no excuses for their actions. Speaking as an historian, they remind me of the ancient Romans, in the way they combine practicality with ruthlessness against any opposition from their conquered territories. Or the way the Mongols ruled Asia and parts of Europe. The point being, Caitlin, that they would not waste their time developing elaborate reasons to do what they wanted, simply to dupe a conquered people. They'd just do it."

    The doorfield to her room faded and Banle entered. As always, the Jao guard did not ask permission.

    "Governor Oppuk requires your presence," Banle said, eyes ignoring Kinsey.

    Caitlin released the chair. "Let me finish dressing," she said. "And I still need to brush my hair."

    "Narvo does not care about the state of your grooming." Banle's body was tight with disapproval, and Caitlin thought she saw just a hint of overlying fear. "You will come now."

    "Shall I come too?" Kinsey asked.

    "No," Caitlin said before Banle could speak. "I doubt I'll be long."

    "Very well," he said, standing. "Call me when you're back."

    She nodded and, carrying her shoes in one hand, trailed Banle out the door into unairconditioned corridors already torrid with the region's wretched rising heat.




    Kralik led his little party through the twists and turns of the Governor's palace out into the sunshine, keeping his eyes front and his mouth firmly, and prudently, shut.

    In his experience, one Jao was pretty much the same as another—only some were a lot more so. Down through the years, he had found them by turns indifferent and pugnacious, not to mention single-minded and exacting, with no way to tell which it would be on any given day. Many things, which had obsessed humanity down through the ages, they cared nothing about. Religion was one example, philosophy another. Other concepts, such as correct-association and polite-movement, which most humans couldn't even comprehend, occupied a great deal of their attention.

    In other words, they were mostly the classical "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." Kralik had advanced through the jinau ranks by saying as little as possible and keeping his head down, dealing fairly with his human troops, but taking care to enforce Jao discipline as instructed. He told himself he didn't have to understand their reasoning. He just had to obey. That was always the bottom line.

    This Aille krinnu ava Pluthrak, though, seemed different. He had never seen a Jao appear to listen to humans so closely. Was this Pluthrak kochan really something special, as the Jao seemed to believe? The fellow actually had taken several humans into his personal service. As far as Kralik knew, that was unknown among Jao. Strange behavior, indeed. Very strange.

    He stopped, then motioned the trio over to the groundcar he'd obtained, stood by as Aille and his uncommunicative fraghta climbed in the back, then motioned Aille's human, Tully, into the front, and took the driver's seat himself.

    Normally, as a general, he wouldn't do so. But Kralik liked to drive, and since the situation was unusual anyway he saw no reason not to indulge himself. The Jao wouldn't know the difference, or care if they did. Whatever their faults, they suffered from very few of the human foibles concerning prestige and protocol. Kralik had long since learned to let a Jao, no matter how prestigious or powerful, open his or her own doors. And the only time he saluted them was to maintain the example in front of human troops, for whom the gesture did matter.

    The day was already sweltering and the car, of course, had no air conditioning. Jao ignored extremes of heat and cold, so such amenities as climate control were reserved for high ranking human collaborators. Kralik was just a jinau, a dime a dozen, a human might have said. Air conditioning was unavailable for the likes of him, general or not.

    If the Stockwell woman had been along, matters most likely would have been different. Kralik smiled, half-ruefully. He'd been drawn to her initially by nothing more complicated than her leggy good looks. But, very quickly, had found himself far more impressed by her poise and intelligence. One look in those blue-gray eyes and it was obvious she had seen and experienced things far beyond what one would expect for a woman of her years.

    She was a piece of work, half Jao herself, some people said. Because of her father's position in the government, she'd spent more time with aliens than humans as a child until she was old enough for a tutor. He'd watched her last night, trading bodyspeech beat for beat with Governor Oppuk and the Subcommandant as though she'd been born to it.

    Her family had prospered under Jao rule, when so many had not. But she hadn't painted a vai camiti across her face, as did many high-placed collaborators. Some even went so far as to have a vai camiti tattooed on them. Nor were all such simply toadies trying to curry favor. Some, motivated by various reasons, had gone over to the conquerors in both body and spirit.

    Kralik had been tempted to do so himself, at one point, when he was younger. He'd fought the Jao during the conquest, as a young Army lieutenant fresh out of ROTC. Then, when he'd finally returned home to Los Angeles after the defeat at New Orleans, had discovered his family had been destroyed.

    His mother had died from one of the diseases which ravaged so many large cities after the infrastructure collapsed. For that, he could blame the Jao. But it had been humans, bandits claiming to be "resistance" who were "requisitioning needed supplies" who had smashed their way into his father's garage and shot down his father and older brother—and his sister-in-law in the bargain—when they tried to stop them from rifling the till.

    It had been chaos in many places, in the weeks after the surrender, and the police had often stood by unless paid to do otherwise. Paid in something other than money, since US currency was no longer worth anything. Kralik had had nothing, beyond a field commission as captain and some decorations given by a government that no longer existed. The local police had shrugged their shoulders.

    A brutal crime, and a stupid one—since the money the robbers had murdered three people for was worthless anyway. The sheer stupidity of it had outraged Kralik almost as much as the crime itself. In his anger, and—being honest—because he had no idea what else to do, he'd volunteered for the jinau once the Jao established it shortly thereafter. For a time, he'd been bitter enough to contemplate adopting a vai camiti himself. But, soon enough, his service had made him realize the Jao would never see humans as their equals. No matter what they did, humans would remain simply servants, industrial serfs, and sepoy troops. Clever with their hands and fierce enough to fill out the front lines of a good fight, but not acceptable in polite company.

    In the end, it was the business of humans to survive this occupation, and he was busy trying to do just that. All he and the rest of the people on this conquered planet had was now. Humanity's tomorrow would have to take care of itself.



    He pulled up at the barracks and realized Tully, seated next to him, had not said a single word. Kralik could sense a deep sullenness in the man, but Tully was apparently being very careful to keep his emotions hidden. As soon as he set the brake, the other man hopped out and waited silently as Aille and his fraghta opened their own doors and stood blinking in the bright Oklahoma sun.

    The buildings before them had, at one time, been part of Tinker Air Force Base, back when the United States had possessed its own air force. These days, the Jao didn't distinguish between different branches of service, except as immediate practical arrangements. Fighting, whether on land, sea, air or space, were all of a piece to them. A Jao soldier might move from one to the next, in a matter of a few days, if he or she had a suitable skill.

    These barracks, rundown as they were, had been delegated to the jinau. Kralik ducked through the door and was met by a young woman in sweat-soaked jinau blues, sitting behind a battered desk. Her hair was buzz-cut blonde, her eyes framed in sun-wrinkles. She rose and saluted.

    "At ease, Lt. Hawkins," he said, returning the salute. "I've brought the new Subcommandant to review the company. Are they ready?"

    "Yes, sir!" She dragged a hand back over her sweat-sheened forehead and picked up the phone.

    Five short minutes later, Aille and his entourage went to inspect the company. The unit stood outside under the sweltering August sun, formed into precise rows, their captain at the very front. Despite being furred, for all intents and purposes, the Jao looked cool and unflappable.

    Aille tapped his ceremonial stick, what the Jao called a "bau," against the heel of his free hand as he walked along the rows. His eyes flickered green and then went black and unfathomable. His right ear twitched. "Have these troops seen combat?"

    "Some of them, sir. Less than a fourth, though, at a guess. Most are too young."

    Sweat rolled down the assembled jinau faces, and Kralik could almost see the wheels turning inside their heads. What did the Subcommandant want? Was he already displeased? Jao could be notoriously fey, by human standards. There were even a few unsubstantiated tales of entire companies being "put down," as Jao termed it, after failing to meet some esoteric standard humans could not comprehend.

    His own uniform was already plastered to his back with sweat, but he was determined not to show his discomfort. "Would you like to see them drill, sir?" he asked, hoping to break the tension.

    "'Drill?'" Aille said. "That means 'march about in patterns,' does it not?"

    "Yes, sir." Kralik took care to keep his hands down, his chin up, his voice neutral.

    "I do not see how execution of meaningless patterns translates into fighting skill," Aille said. "Though perhaps there is some purpose to it which you could explain to me later. For the moment, however, I am not interested in such demonstrations."

    "Yes, sir."

    Aille raised his voice. "However, I do wish to speak to those who fought when the Jao first arrived on this planet. Especially any who had experience with human tanks or artillery, or successfully defended against Jao laser technology."

    Kralik nodded to the captain, who immediately bellowed out the order. "You heard the Subcommandant! Those of you with combat experience during the conquest, form a line to the right. The rest, return to quarters."

    Without fuss or discussion, the unit split into two contingents. The much larger portion moved toward the barracks again, eyes front, mouths tightly shut, obviously pleased to escape further notice. The smaller contingent, trying to hide their uneasiness, stepped forward and formed hastily assembled new ranks.

    The Subcommandant glanced up at the cloudless sky, his eyes dark inside the unique black mask of his vai camiti. The sun blazed down out of a sky as hard and reflective as diamond. Kralik knew that although the heat did not cause distress, Jao found the brightness of midday uncomfortable. Still, they rarely gave in and wore filtering goggles. He suspected that was the Jao equivalent of "saving face," not that they would ever admit it to a human.

    But Kralik had no grudge against this new Jao officer—not yet, at any rate—and saw no reason to discomfit him. "Would you like to conduct the interviews in an office, sir?" Kralik nodded at the barracks. "We find the sun very hot at this time of day."

    "Yes," Aille said. His body, taller than most Jao, shone under the relentless light so that he seemed poured from molten-gold. "That would be best."

    Inside, Kralik seated the Subcommandant behind Hawkins' scratched metal desk. Tully and the silent fraghta assumed identical stances on either side. Outside, the combat vets lined up to come in one by one.

    The first, a grizzled sergeant from Montana named Joe Cold Bear, took up parade rest before the desk, his body carefully stiff so as not to commit some accidental posture that would translate to the Jao as disrespect.

    "You fought against the Jao?" Aille asked without preamble.

    Cold Bear's teak-colored eyes studied a water stain on the wall above the Subcommandant's head. "Yes, sir. At the battle of Chicago."

    "What was your function?"

    "Infantry, sir."

    "I have been told," Aille said, rising and walking around the desk, "that human kinetic-energy weapons were unexpectedly effective against our version of what you call 'tanks.' Furthermore, that the effectiveness of Jao lasers was occasionally hampered by various low-tech methods such as steam and chaff." His ears were forward.

    An unwary chuckle escaped Cold Bear at the memory, then his mouth compressed. "Yes, sir. A man with a steam bomb—sometimes, in a real jam, just a jury-rigged sack of tin foil confetti—could sneak up on one of your tanks from the side and blow the targeting all to hell. Just for a very short time, of course, but that was often all we needed. Your armor sucks. Uh, sir."

    The fraghta's ears rose. "'All to hell?' 'Sucks'?"

    "Colloquial varieties of technical terms, sir," Kralik said, giving Cold Bear a warning glance. "Roughly translated, the first means 'very much' and the other, ah, means 'not good.' You will hear the expressions from time to time among the ranks."

    "Begging your pardon, sir," the Montanan said, his seamed face grim. "I meant no disrespect."

    "I am still acquiring Terran vocabulary," the Subcommandant said, with a glance at Tully, "or English, as I am told it is called, though I have absorbed most of your syntax and grammar. Those terms will no doubt prove useful."

    Tully's blue eyes flickered toward Kralik, and he seemed to be choking a little, but he said nothing. Kralik wasn't sure what Tully's position with the Subcommandant was, but his initial assumption that he was an informer of some kind had faded. If anything, the sullenness the man exuded was aimed at the Jao, not his fellow humans.

    Even if he had been an informer, Kralik would have covered for Cold Bear. Kralik wasn't going to stand here and let one of his men be disciplined for disrespect if he could help it. But he was now sure that Tully wouldn't let the Subcommandant know about the slight deception.

    Aille questioned Cold Bear for a few more minutes, then dismissed him and summoned the next. The interviews proceeded slowly, always the same questions and mostly the same answers. How did Jao technology perform during the conquest, especially at the famous battles of Chicago and New Orleans? Was it true human kinetic-energy weapons performed better than the Subcommandant had been led to believe?

    The human soldiers were clearly surprised to be asked about their experiences and opinions. Jao normally did not care about such things, nor appreciate being apprised of them. The human troops' eyes were wary, their postures carefully neutral. One by one, they came in through the squeaky screen door and reported to the Subcommandant far into the morning.



    Tully's left leg was cramping, but he would not give in and ask for a chair. Yaut would like that, he thought, glancing at the fraghta, for Tully to show weakness or ask for favor. It'd be just another excuse for "correction." He'd show them. He could last as long as two frigging Jao!

    But it was so hot. He'd had nothing to eat and little to drink since yesterday, and he still wasn't completely over his illness. Dehydration was becoming a real possibility, and passing out cold on the floor would not prove anything but his utter worthlessness.

    The slick black band on his right arm itched as sweat pooled beneath it. He had to make himself leave it alone, stand silent as a Jao, as though he weren't sweltering in the goddamned August heat.




    Aille counted the morning at the base well spent. The jinau unit Kralik had selected to be his escort—a "company," as the humans termed it—was rich in experience, and most of those he interviewed agreed with Rafe Aguilera. He'd deliberately left Aguilera back at the palace with Tamt, not wanting him to influence the unit's testimony in any way, but it seemed his advice had been accurate.

    Humans had indeed devised a number of low-tech methods for neutralizing Jao lasers, which, though not always effective, had worked often enough to make considerable trouble for the invading troops. With more time on their side, or the strength of a united planet behind them instead of one riddled with quarreling factions, they might have influenced the invasion's outcome in a very different direction.

    His ears flattened as he worked out the implications. His trainers had certainly never broached such possibilities, when preparing him for this assignment. He doubted if they had any idea how close humans had come to presenting the Jao with a sound and humiliating defeat. Narvo had overseen the conquest, as it had the rule afterward, and they had obviously shaded their reports to the Bond of Ebezon to understate the problems they had encountered.

    Shaded them badly. To a degree, it was expected that kochan reports to the Bond would be shaped to their advantage. But this went beyond anything acceptable. This verged on dishonor. It was puzzling, too, from the standpoint of Narvo's influence. Aille was quite certain that many of Narvo's affiliated kochan and taifs—those who had suffered most of the casualties—were still quietly resentful of the way Narvo had made light of their sacrifice.

    An insane method for deepening association! What could they be thinking?



    "We will stay here on the base until we leave for the whale hunt," he told Yaut, after dismissing the last of the interviewees. "I wish to familiarize myself with the workings of this unit."

    The air hung hot and heavy in the little room and Kralik seemed to be moving more slowly than before. Tully remained in the corner, watching them all with that enigmatic green gaze.

    A glimmer of approval flickered in the fraghta's eyes, then subsided. "I will send a driver back for Tamt and Aguilera and our few possessions," he said, "and send thanks to Oppuk krinnu ava Narvo for the boon of his notice."

    Narvo's notice...

    Aille considered that "boon," in light of the upcoming hunt. The two were obviously intertwined and Narvo was notorious for its ability to infuse apparent gifts with subtle aggression. Caitlin Stockwell had expressed apprehension about the proposal, even though the hunting of such creatures was an activity humans themselves had suggested and apparently developed long ago in their history. Was Oppuk maneuvering Aille into a situation that would cause his nascent association with humans to fall apart?

    He pried himself out of the too-small chair and motioned to Tully. "I am concerned."

    The human glanced at Yaut and stood a bit straighter. "Sir?"

    "What do you think it means, this hunt?" Aille asked.

    "I—don't understand." Tully was fidgeting, which, in a Jao, would have the same meaning as the phrase "chattering nonsense" would for a human.

    "I asked you at the reception, but you did not provide a satisfactory answer. Will humans find this whale hunt a good thing or bad?" Aille persisted, studying his servitor for clues. "Will they protest, as has been suggested?"

    Tully ran spread fingers back through his short yellow hair. "There's a few who won't like it," he said. "Well, maybe more than that, especially if some Jao goes out there gunning for whales."

    Yaut stiffened, but Aille motioned him back with a lift of his shoulder. "'Some Jao,' like me?"

    "Exactly like you." With a start, Tully seemed to remember his place and even adopted a fairly respectful posture. Neutral, at least. "People used to care about those whales, contributed money to save them, put bumper-stickers on their cars, made movies and wrote books about them. Nowhere more so, probably, than in the area you're doing the hunt."

    "Your species does have a strange affinity for associating with lower lifeforms," Aille said. "This has been noted many times in the records, though there is no analog in the Jao personality."

    "Well, we certainly didn't keep whales as pets," Tully said. "It wasn't that, but folks thought they were more intelligent than most other mammals, perhaps close to sentient. Some scientists even speculated whalesong was a sort of language."

    "Interesting," Aille said. "Yet the hunting persisted?"

    "In some countries. Japan, for one. Some of the Scandinavian countries too, I think. " Tully shrugged. "And that's who brought up the whole idea, wasn't it? The Japanese. I figure they just want another chance to stick it to the United States. I don't think they ever did forgive us for beating the crap out of them back in World War II."

    Old political rivalries in play, then, Aille thought, rival out-of-date factions. Such considerations had no place in this new order. "Humans have much more important things to worry about now," he said, "than the outcome of some ancient war. The Ekhat—"

    "Yeah, yeah." Tully raised a hand. "I've heard it before. Hell, we all have. 'The Ekhat are coming and we have to get ready.'"

    Yaut bristled at Tully's dismissive tone, but Aille stepped between the two, preferring to handle the incident himself. "The Ekhat are indeed coming," he said softly, his whiskers quivering with restraint. "If you had seen them, experienced firsthand what they do to alien lifeforms, you would not say their name so casually."

    "So they'll attack us, will they?" Tully seemed unaware of Yaut's rising anger. "Kill our families, bomb our cities, take away our freedom. How is that any different from you Jao? And who knows? Maybe these Ekhat will help us if we help them. They say 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend.'"

    The phrase had the ring of antiquity, as though it had been much used down through the generations. No wonder Terrans did so poorly when it came to fostering alliances. "The Jao have a different saying." He paused, seeking to translate it accurately. "'Do not come between two enemies, for they will surely crush you in their eagerness to annihilate one another.'"

    Tully's face reddened in that peculiar way Aille was coming to associate with distress. Baffled, he studied the human's angles for clues, wondering if he would be forced to put the man down after all. Tully was affiliated with this disruptive outlaw clan called the "Resistance," that much was clear. But if he could bend him to Jao rule, make him see that association was his only viable option, then Aille might be able to deal with all the rest on this world who remained intractable and know how to bind them to the Jao cause before it was too late.

    Silence hung in the stuffy room until Kralik cleared his throat. "As Tully said, there may be a few protesters, sir," he said, "but when you know us better, you'll understand that humans never agree about anything a hundred percent. Even if the Jao decided to leave tomorrow, someone somewhere would protest. It's just our nature."

    "Such divisiveness and devotion to self interest is why your kind have been conquered," Yaut said. "If you had stood together, you might have held this world against us. Do not ever forget that."

    Kralik glanced at Tully, then nodded, and for a moment, Aille read utter fury in the lines of Tully's body, as though he were on the edge of losing control and attacking the other man. Yaut's ears flattened as he too picked up the insinuation and readied himself for response. Kralik, on the other hand, seemed almost relaxed, as if he had nothing to fear from Tully. Aille suspected the older man was a much more capable hand-to-hand combatant than Tully—and knew it.

    Apparently Tully had the same assessment, for he turned away abruptly and moved as far away as he could while staying in the room. He stared out a window, one fist clenched. His heartward fist, Aille noted, the one whose wrist was banded by the locator. Tully's other hand rubbed over the device under his sleeve.

    Kralik shook his head, slightly. It seemed to be a subtle indication of disapproval, but Aille could not determine if the disapproval was of Tully himself or something involving his training.

    By now, Aille was quite impressed with the human general's capability. Yaut, too, it seemed.

    "His training is not yet complete," the fraghta said. "He will either improve his manners or die. I do not care which."

    "Yes, sir," Kralik said, "I can see that."

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