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Raising Caine: Chapter Two

       Last updated: Friday, July 24, 2015 20:48 EDT



Far orbit; Sigma Draconis Two

    As Riordan exited the hab mod into the quarantine section of Ira Silverstein’s flagship Lincoln, klaxons began yowling and the alert-condition lights began pulsing red.

    Richard Downing waved for Riordan to remain on the other side of the clear plastic barrier as the ship lurched into sudden acceleration and the compartment’s intercom announced, “Mr. Downing, you’re wanted back in the CIC’s intel annex.”

    “Acknowledged. But what in bloody hell is happening now?”

    “Sorry, sir. Unidentified ship just shifted in.”

    “Another one?”

    “Yes sir, and only twenty-five light seconds beyond geosynchronous orbit. They are not responding to hails, but—wait a moment, sir. I have more data coming in.”

    Caine put his hands up against the wall of the plastic box in which he was being held. “Richard, get me out of here.”

    The commo officer’s report resumed before Downing could respond. “Classified update for you, Mr. Downing. The ship identifies itself as a Ktoran vessel operating under ‘Autarchy aegis’—whatever that means—and is demanding the immediate repatriation of their ambassador, Tlerek Sirn Shethkador. They are still not acknowledging our hails, or altering their trajectory. They’re coming straight at us, sir. We’re deploying to engage.”

    “Very well, keep me informed. Downing out.”

    “Richard, get me the hell out of this box now.”

    “Caine, I—” The quarantine section’s commo panel buzzed; Downing rolled his eyes. “Bollocks: now what?” He tapped open the circuit. “Yes?”

    “Richard, Ben Hwang here. I just got the lab results: you can release Caine from quarantine.”

    “Many thanks, Ben. You’ve heard the situation?”

    “I have. And I figured you’d want Caine to be on hand for whatever comes next. He saw through the Ktoran bullshit the first time. He might again.”

    “Indeed he might.”

    “One bit of bad news: there’s no usable genetic material from the dead skin and hair we harvested from the Ktoran ambassador’s first holding cell. He must have been misted by a gene-specific toxin when emerged from his bogus environment tank. So we’re going to need to take a cell sample against his will.”

    “Not with a Ktoran ship in system, you’re not. He threatened war the first time we tried that and now he just might be able to carry that out. Besides, overriding his diplomatic privilege is a political decision, not military.”

    “Well, we do have two Republic consuls in the Fleet.”

    “Yes, but not a lot of time, so start the process, Ben. If you need me, I’ll be in the auxiliary bridge’s intel annex.” Downing closed the channel, instructed the waiting orderly: “Mr. Riordan is to be released immediately. You will forego taking his exit vitals.”

    “What’s our job?” Caine refrained from drumming his fingers as the orderly started undoing the box’s seals.

    “Since the Ktorans have come looking for Ambassador Shethkador, we have to run real-time technical and diplomatic intelligence.”

    Caine shrugged. “Well, if our objective is to maximize our safety, the course of action regarding Shethkador is clear.”

    “Oh?” Downing asked as Caine emerged from the quarantine chamber. “And what course of action is that?”

    “You kill him. Immediately.”

    Downing blinked. He had probably presumed that such ruthless thoughts never entered the former defense analyst’s mind. “Caine, I agree that Shethkador is a right bastard, but—he’s an ambassador.”

    “Yes, he’s an ambassador who back-shot me in Jakarta while masquerading as a genuine exosapient. In other words, he’s also a lying assassin.”

    Downing shook his head. “I know he deserves to be shown out the nearest airlock, but killing him could start a war.”

    Riordan shrugged. “I know we can’t kill him, even though that would be the safest course of action for fleet security. But that’s the risk we take for the good of Mother Earth.”

    “I don’t remember you being quite so sarcastic, Caine.”

    “I don’t remember having to be courteous to monsters who’ve tried to kill me. Multiple times.”

    Downing seemed to be casting about for an appropriate riposte but didn’t find one. He opened the hatch. “We have a job to do.”

    “Yeah, don’t we always?” Caine led the way out.



    Standing at the edge of the intel annex’s small holotank, Caine watched as the Ktoran ship—signified by a red mote—effortlessly slashed through the screen of defensive drones that had been deployed by European Union, Russlavic Federation, and United Commonwealths warships. The Hunter-class drone control sloops—small blue specks—gave ground before the much larger vessel, which to Caine looked like an ominously effulgent drop of blood.

    “They didn’t even bother to use any drones of their own,” muttered Gray Rinehart, Downing’s assistant and adjutant-director of IRIS. “They just took out ours with onboard lasers. Didn’t even use their main, spinal mount: just their secondary UV batteries.” He shook his head. “Damn, but they’re swinging a big brassy set.”

    “And making a point while they’re at it,” Caine murmured.

    Vassily Sukhinin, senior consul for the Russlavic Federation and a confidante, stared at the plot, frowning. “If you mean that they are trying to show themselves to be unconcerned with our weapons, I wonder if they will be so dismissive when they come within range of our nuke-pumped X-ray laser drones.”

    Caine shook his head. “I’m not saying that they’re invulnerable, just that they have a lot of abilities that we don’t.”

    Sukhinin scanned the flatscreens ringing the space above the holotank like a halo of black rectangles. “Where are the visuals? We littered nearby space with no- and low-metal microsensors. The Ktor must have entered their range by now.”

    Downing, cupping his hand over his earbud, explained the lack of images. “The Ktor have been eliminating the microsensors as they approach.”

    Caine nodded. “Which means that they’re doing it from ranges greater than fifty thousand kilometers, since we’re not getting any visuals first.”

    Downing glanced up. “According to the comchatter, the Ktor are eliminating the sensors from ranges substantially greater than fifty kiloklicks.”

    Sukhinin’s expression went from surprise to narrow-eyed wariness. “How much greater, Richard?”

    “One intercept took place at one hundred and fifty kiloklicks.”

    Sukhinin nodded at Caine. “You have the right of it, then. These svolochi are showing off both their muscles and their keen eyes. To be able to intercept a sensor with less than one hundred grams of metal in it, and no larger than a wine bottle, at half a light second?” He snorted. “That is not good tactics; that is a dominance display. Particularly since their spies within our megacorporations surely informed them that our microsensors have almost no detection abilities beyond one hundred kiloklicks.”

    Caine nodded, watched the death dance progress in the holotank. Lincoln and the two closest shift-carriers were a triad of blue spindles, all making best speed away from the oncoming bogey. Fanning out in their wake were two disk-shaped screens of azure motes: smaller war craft that had already been deployed when the Ktor arrived or that were now detaching from the cradles of the fleeing carriers. The first screen, mostly comprised of lighter patrol craft—drone-controlling sloops, corvettes, and a few frigates—had formed up around a small hub of destroyers and cruisers that had been scrambled to respond to the false-alarm caused by the arrival of the Doppelganger.

    The second, larger disk was predominantly comprised of capital ships, mostly cruisers of various marks, with destroyers roving ahead and at the periphery. A steady stream of aquamarine mayflies—drones—were emerging from its outer surface, with slightly larger gnats—x-ray missiles or similar decoys—hanging back from the bow wave of the formation.

    Downing touched his earbud again, confirmed what the holotank was showing them. “We are at eighty-five percent deployment, shift-carriers now at one point five gees constant, heading directly away from the intruder.”

    Caine glanced at the single blood-speck that was chasing half a fleet and closing the distance rapidly. “Ktoran acceleration?”

    Downing’s reply was muted. “Two point one gees. They will reach our long-range engagement envelope in twenty minutes.”

    “Which means we shall be within their demonstrated range in ten,” Sukhinin grumbled.

    Gray Rinehart raised a single, silvery eyebrow. “I thought they were here to pick up their ‘ambassador,’ not start a war.”

    Caine shrugged. “They might be multi-tasking today.” Even Sukhinin had a hard time smiling at that gallows humor. “But if they really do mean to fight, they must have more ships around here somewhere.”

    Downing nodded tightly. “Agreed. Their abilities are far beyond ours, but they are not gods. They seem to be constrained by the same physics we are, just less so. Our numbers are too great for them to be able to—”

    The door toned twice: coded entry had been requested and automatically approved.

    The bulkhead-rated portal moaned aside, revealing a Naval Intelligence liaison. Just behind him were several heavily armed guards, clustered around a tall human male in a day-glo orange jumper. “Mr. Downing, I’ve brought the prisoner as per—”

    If Downing’s abruptly outthrust and quivering finger had been a discharged pistol, the liaison would have been dead where he stood. “What the bloody hell are you doing? Why the hell is he here?”

    The human in the day-glo orange jumper smiled faintly.

    The liaison blinked and swallowed. “Sir, Mr. Downing, I thought—that is, when the XO ordered that I bring all relevant security assets to your situation room, I—”

    “Lieutenant, you will listen to every word I am about to utter very carefully, or you will be swapping that nice blue uniform for a duplicate of the orange jumper being worn by our ‘diplomatic guest.’ The detainee you are escorting—Tlerek Srin Shethkador—is not coded as a routine intelligence asset. He is coded as a level 1-A security risk. He is a known assassin and saboteur, and will readily violate his diplomatic privilege to carry out such acts. The special protocols for handling this individual indicate that he is to be kept in restraints and under guard at all times, and is not to be allowed within two hundred meters of any class-one or -two communication, computation, guidance, or weaponry systems while on this ship. He is presently within one hundred meters of multiple systems of each type I just enumerated.”

    Over the course of this clipped-syllable summary, the liaison had flushed, then gone white, and now looked as though he might vomit.

    Conversely, his prisoner’s smile had widened slowly but steadily. From over the pasty-faced liaison’s shoulder, the Ktoran said mildly, “It is always nice to be appreciated.”

    Downing didn’t take his eyes off the ambassador who had very nearly misled the human command staff into believing that the only possible resolution to the war with the Arat Kur was extermination, rather than negotiation. “Mr. Rinehart.”


    “You will please take charge of this detachment. You will convey the prisoner back to the secure containment facility in cargo module seventeen-D. He is to be returned to his hermetically sealed quarters therein. You will retask Mr. Wu to resume direct monitoring of this individual. Once Mr. Wu is in place, you shall evacuate the air from the cargo bay, and leave a full platoon of Marines on level two alert in the designated overwatch positions surrounding, and leading to, module seventeen-D. I regret to order that you rouse Major Rulaine to command the entire detachment, but he is the best person for this job. Return here once you have ascertained who gave orders for our ‘guest’ to be removed from the secure containment facility. That person either ignored, or somehow missed, the authorization level required to do so.”

    As the Naval Intelligence liaison stepped aside, Gray Rinehart stepped forward, drawing his side-arm: a liquimix NeoCoBro machine-pistol. He leveled it at the Ktoran ambassador. “Mr. Shethkador, I trust you are going to be fully cooperative.”

    “I have been thus far. This young officer asked that I accompany him to this place. I did so without hesitation or question. I trust that was sufficiently cooperative.”

    Rinehart made no direct response. “After you, Mr. Shethkador. Lieutenant, you lead the way back. Detachment: weapons off safety. And leave me a clear field of fire.”

    Murmurs of assent accompanied the group back out the door, which sealed slowly behind them.

    “That was strange,” Caine said.

    “More than strange,” Downing amended, still staring at the door. “That should never have happened. When Major Rulaine was taken off the detail to provide overwatch for your meeting with the Slaasriithi ambassador earlier today, I personally replaced him with a new IRIS striker—Peter Wu, one of the tunnel rats who breached the Arat Kur compound in Jakarta.”

    Sukhinin’s frown deepened. “So, this could not simply be a clerical error, a ‘glitch’ as you say.”

    “No, it can’t. There’s a reason I assigned Wu to report directly to me as the watchdog over our Ktoran guest. If anyone tried to countermand our security precautions, he was present to inform them that they may not do so unless they have a bloody executive order. Or one from the Joint Chiefs.”

    Caine looked up from the holoplot. “So why didn’t Wu call in?” And why is it that, every time the Ktor are involved, there’s always something that goes inexplicably awry? Power plants short out, pacemakers stop working, airlocks burst open, computers malfunction, monorails crash…

    Downing shrugged. “Wu’s silence is actually not so much suspicious as it is a matter of bad protocol management. All matters pertaining to the disposition and whereabouts of the Ktoran ambassador must remain on a secure channel, so Wu could not use the intercom. But the call to general-quarters shut down his collarcom. Only command-grade intra-hull wireless is permitted once the ship sounds battle stations. Otherwise, there’s too much EM emission and too much unnecessary comchatter.”

    Sukhinin folded his hands. His tone was low and respectful: a sure sign that a circumspect criticism was forthcoming. “So Mr. Wu’s inability to report this matter promptly is an operational—er, slip—that shall want redressing, yes?”

    Downing’s smile was pinched. “Yes, Vassily. I’ll get Fleet security to change the protocols.”

    Caine pointed into the holotank. “You’re not the only one making changes. Look.”

    The red mote that signified the Ktoran intruder had now begun to spawn a small swarm of ruby pin-pricks.

    “Drones.” Sukhinin drew in a long breath, then: “Perhaps they have come to fight, after all.”

    “I don’t know,” murmured Downing as he rubbed a finger meditatively across his lower lip. “I still think the odds are so heavily stacked against them that—”

    The alert-status lights flashed anew and the klaxons emitted a rapid, three-pulse warning.

    Sukhinin, who was not intimately familiar with Commonwealth shipboard procedures during general quarters, started. “Shto? What is this? We are not already at battle-stations?”

    Downing frowned. “We are. This is a special alert, reserved to call attention to an additional, unexpected development or crisis.”

    Caine saw two of the flatscreens over the holotank brighten. He stared, then pointed. “You mean something like that?” The two older men glanced up.

    A dim, fragmentary shape—one part flattened ellipse, one part droop-winged delta—stood out, ghostlike, against the darkened half of the larger of Sigma Draconis’ two moons.

    “Yes,” Downing said quietly, “I mean something like that.”

    A fleet-wide sitrep erupted from the room’s speakers: “Unidentified bogey at one-hundred-twelve kiloklicks, bearing 175 by 13, relative ecliptic. Assumed to be hostile. All helms: commence defensive evolution Echo Whiskey Seven Niner in sixty seconds measured from my mark. And…mark. All remote CIC’s are to activate InPic telepresence systems and prepare for—”

    Asked over the torrent of orders, Sukhinin’s questions came out as a dry-throated croak: “What ship is that, and where did it come from?”

    But as more of the mystery ship came into view, its outline now picked out by a ladar scan, Caine realized that he’d seen that shape before. In fact, it was identical to that of the first exosapient spacecraft that human eyes had ever beheld—

    “That’s a Dornaani ship, not Ktoran,” Caine shouted. “Tell our people to stand down. It’s here to aid us, not attack us.”

    Downing squinted at the image. “Yes, it’s quite similar to the one that carried us to meet our exosapient neighbors at Convocation. But still, it could be a trap. The Ktor are no doubt aware we are familiar with that Dornaani design, would logically use it to fool us, if only briefly, into thinking—”

    “Then don’t trust your eyes,” Caine interrupted. “Get Admiral Silverstein or Admiral Halifax—or whoever you can reach—to run a spectroscopic check on that ship’s hull materials. And to analyze the drive emissions, while they’re at it. Lemuel Wasserman ran those same scans the first time we saw that ship, said that both yielded distinctive results. So if the comparison produces a match—”

    Caine fell silent: Downing, convinced, had turned away, was already busy trying to get in touch with the fleet’s commanders.

    Sukhinin looked over. He smiled faintly. “You are starting to sound like a genuine naval officer. So perhaps you were not sleeping during the classes they rushed you through at Barnard’s Star Two-C.”

    Caine tried to smile, but couldn’t. He remembered the classrooms he had occupied for as many as twelve hours a day at the joint Commonwealth and Federation naval base—The Pearl—located beneath the uninhabitable surface of Barney Deucy. “I had great instructors,” was all he could say. Because the classrooms and instructors and the Pearl itself were just so much floating detritus now, the residual spoor of the surprise attack with which the Arat Kur had commenced their war upon humanity.

    Downing looked up. “Analysis of the new ship’s hull is ongoing. There’s no thrust signature, so no help there. The vessel is now emitting the transponder code reserved for the Accord’s Custodian vessels, although that proves nothing.”

    “Well,” temporized Caine, “it does prove one of three things.”

    Sukhinin’s eyebrows raised. “Oh? And what would those be?”

    Caine shrugged. “One, that it’s a Custodian ship. Or two, that the Ktor are emulating a Custodial vessel, which is so severe a violation of the Accords that they must be planning to renounce their membership, anyway. Or third, that someone else is trying to run a false-flag operation.”

    Sukhinin glanced at Downing and added a shrug of his own. “Caine has a point. Well, three of them.”

    “Probably so,” conceded Downing. “But new sensor data is pointing to the first alternative. Hull results match those from the Dornaani ship. The geniuses up at Fleet sensor ops are still trying to puzzle out how it was lurking out there the whole time and we didn’t see it.”

    Caine remembered some of what Lemuel Wasserman had remarked about the initial readings he got from the Dornaani hull materials. “Wasserman speculated that their hull was made out of some kind of material that had variable physical properties, controllable by the operator. At first, our radar couldn’t register it. Attempts to get an active scan outline came back like a froth of random noise. But then all of a sudden, our readings cleared up. As if the Dornaani had hit the ‘off’ switch on a variable stealth device.”

    Downing was nodding. “Yes, and that’s what Fleet is reporting now: the same ‘fade in’ effect, only much, much quicker. So, unless the Ktor have the same capabilities and have built a Q-ship that matches the Dornaani design, meter for meter and curve for curve, I rather suspect that our newcomers are—”

    The room’s speakers reactivated, filled the room with a carrier tone. “Mr. Downing?” The accent could have belonged to a BBC newsreader.


    “This is Commander Mark Lucas, Royal Naval Intelligence aboard HMS Trafalgar, contacting you at the instruction of Admiral Lord Halifax, who sends his compliments. We are receiving signals from the Dornaani Custodial ship Olsloov. The Dornaani indicate that they are about to initiate a communiqué in which we may not participate, but in which we might have a keen interest.”

    “Thank you, Commander. If I understand your subtext correctly, our Custodian friends are inviting us to eavesdrop on a conversation they are about to have with the Ktoran intruders.”

    “That’s the gist of it, sir. But I repeat: access is not being offered for our command staff, not even Admiral Lord Halifax. Just you. And Commander Riordan.”

    “And Consul Sukhinin?”

    An extended pause. “Yes, sir: the Custodians are pleased to approve Consul Sukhinin, as well.”

    “Excellent. By the way, did the Custodian communicating with you identify him- or her-self?”

    “Yes, sir. The Dornaani’s name is Alnduul, Senior Mentor of the Custodians’ Terran Oversight Group.” A pause. “Is that significant, Mr. Downing?”

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