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Raising Caine: Chapter Five

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



Far orbit; Sigma Draconis Two

    Riordan hadn’t finished strapping back into his seat aboard the armored pinnace when Downing sealed the hatch to the bridge, snapped off the intercom, activated a white noise generator, and turned toward him urgently. Caine raised his hands: “Richard, calm down. I didn’t learn that much about the Ktor. I’m sure the debrief—”

    “Sod the debrief,” Downing said flatly. “It will happen when and if it happens. We’ve got more pressing matters. We just got a communiqué from the Slaasriithi. They want to go now.”

    “Go where? Home? Well, why’s that a problem? They’re not needed for the negotiations with the Arat Kur.”

    “No, Caine. They want to carry human envoys, you and a few others, to their homeworld. And they want to leave in the next twelve hours.”

    “Richard, that’s—that’s nuts. They can’t just expect us to—”

    “They can and they do expect us to accede to their—well, not demand, but very strongly worded exhortation. The arrival of the Ktor seems to worry them. Profoundly. When I pressed them for a slight extension, just a day or two to prepare, they rejected that idea. And how often have you seen the Slaasriithi reject an idea outright?”


    “Not me, either. Maybe Alnduul will be able to shed a little more light on the matter: I’ve put in a call to him. But some of the phrasing in the Slaasriithi message—‘compromised security’ and ‘possible infiltration’—leads me to wonder if they already know that the Ktor are actually humans.”

    Caine saw it. “Damn, of course. If they know that, then they’ll realize that the Ktor infiltrated corporations and government agencies on Earth. And each of those infiltrators probably recruited more than a hundred human collaborators. So the longer we stay here, with a Ktor spymaster-assassin now repatriated to one of his own ships, the better the chance they have to activate some sleeper cells that might be in the fleet.”

    “Exactly. They are probably conjecturing what we already know: that the Ktor can create and control suicidal saboteurs, penetrate many of our data and intelligence networks, and exchange information between their operations cells faster than should be physically possible. Given a few days, they could pull some strings, change some files, and seed any diplomatic team we assemble with one or more of their own operatives. Which, depending upon how and where those operatives struck, could leave the Slaasriithi uncertain of how safe it is to deal with us at all.”

    The intercom status panel flashed red. Downing jabbed the virtual button. “Yes, Lieutenant?”

    “Sorry to interrupt your confab, Mr. Downing, but I have Senior Mentor Alnduul on secure three.”

    “Thank you, Lieutenant. Patch him through.”

    The compartment’s comm screen brightened, revealing the Dornaani’s back-sloping teardrop head and large eyes. Underneath his single nostril, his lamprey mouth was clenched tightly before he began to shape human words. “I have responded as soon as I was able, Richard Downing. I have already been apprised of the situation. The Slaasriithi ambassador, Yiithrii’ah’aash, contacted us as soon as Ferocious Monolith revealed its identity. They were unaware that any Ktoran ships were expected in the area, and were alarmed to learn that this one arrived so early. Frankly, I cannot fault the Slaasriithi’s reaction. But I also suspect they were less undecided about inviting a human delegation after meeting with you, Caine Riordan.”

    “That sounds promising,” Downing observed.

    “I agree. The Slaasriithi make decisions and act upon them at a much more leisurely pace than the other races of the Accord. For them to tender an inviation regardless of the current pressures says much about the impression Commander Riordan has made upon their leaders. But their acceleration of this diplomatic mission also signifies they fear the Ktor could undermine it. If you refuse to leave promptly, I believe they will withdraw their invitation. They no doubt wish to ensure that envoys from your species would be drawn from a pool of persons unlikely to have been subject to Ktoran influence.”

    Caine leaned toward the Dornaani’s image. “That’s an interesting speculation, Alnduul. I don’t see how you could arrive at it unless you also presumed that the Slaasriithi have a strong suspicion—or know—that the Ktor are another branch of humanity and that therefore they could have infiltrated us earlier.”

    Alnduul’s nictating eyelids cycled even more slowly this time. “I cannot comment on your conjecture, Caine Riordan. But the fundamental logic is inarguable.”

    Huh: typical Dornaani. They manage to tell you you’re right without coming straight out and telling you that you’re right. “Alnduul, am I correct in assuming that you believe it would be in our best interests to comply with the Slaasriithi request?” Which is to say, go completely unprepared?

    One of Alnduul’s hands rose into view: his long fingers trailed like streamers in a sad, slow wind. “As a Custodian, I am unable to share my personal counsel on this matter. However, I have approached the on-site representative of the Dornaani Collective with a request that my ship, the Olsloov, be allowed to provide you with transport on your journey.” The end of his statement was abrupt, clipped. Among Dornaani, that was the equivalent of a pregnant pause.

    Caine managed not to smile. Okay, so you’re willing to piss off your boss to try to get us a high-security ride to the Slaasriithis’ party. So, yes; you think it’s important that we go. “Thank you, Alnduul. I am unsure if you’re familiar with the human expression, ‘a wink is as good as a nod’?”

    “I cannot recall hearing that expression,” said Alnduul. Who then nictated his left inner eyelid with uncharacteristic speed.

    “Did he just wink?” whispered Downing.

    “If not, he developed a very timely facial tic,” Caine replied.

    Alnduul glanced off-screen. “I am summoned to discuss my request to transport you aboard the Olsloov.”

    Downing nodded. “We’ll start making our preparations.”

    Alnduul’s fingers made a gesture that somehow used the rotary motion of a pinwheel to impart an impression of a passing ocean swell. “I shall update you with all speed. Enlightenment unto you both.” The screen went dark.

    Downing leaned back in his acceleration couch. “Well, now we have to find a Consul to send along with you as a plenipotentiary ambassador.”

    “We’ll need a world-class technical expert as well. Thank God we’ve got Lemuel Wasserman traveling with the fleet.”

    Downing elected—somewhat conspicuously—to begin studying personnel rosters at that very moment. “Doctor Wasserman is no longer with the fleet.”

    Caine started. “Wait a minute, just two days ago, you said Lemuel had been sent with the fleet to—”

    “He’d been sent with the fleet, yes. But he didn’t make the shift with us into Sigma Draconis from V 1517. He stayed behind with the two shift-carriers we left there, the Gyananakashu and the Arbitrage.

    Caine stared at Downing, started breaking down the improbability of Wasserman simply being “left behind.” “Lemuel was assigned to assess which Arat Kur technologies we needed to get our hands on. No one else can match his ability to see beyond the current theoretical horizon, even if he is a pain in the ass. And he trained for months to do this job. Which now, all of a sudden, he’s not doing.” Riordan frowned. “So Wasserman saw, or learned, something on the way from Earth to V 1517. Something so important that he’s being sent back home.”

    Downing shrugged. “Assignments change.”

    Caine sat back slowly. “No, not in the case of someone like Lemuel Wasserman. Assignments like his don’t simply ‘change.’ But they might get preempted if something more urgent comes along.” Riordan considered what might warrant that kind of preemption and then realized: “Of course: Wasserman has learned how the Dornaani manage to shift to deep space. When the fleet shifted out from Earth with their help, you must have set him up as the technical liaison to the Dornaani when they were temporarily modifying our ships. And, against all odds, Lemuel struck pay dirt, learned how they work that magic. And now, he’s traveling back with the first of the tankers the Dornaani will help shift back to Earth. Hell, that means he’ll also be on hand when they remove the modifications: another golden opportunity to gather more data on the underlying physics and the engineering.”

    Downing put down his slate.“Caine, this is not a need-to-know topic for you.”

    Riordan shrugged. “Maybe not, but it will influence what our legation to the Slaasriithi should be trying to achieve.”

    “How so?”

    “Come on, Richard. Wasserman may get his hands on the theoretical and technical recipes for how the Dornaani manage to make deep space shifts, but that’s only half the objective. To make optimum use of that capability, we need to keep expanding our shift range, and there’s no way the Dornaani are going to let our people near their drives. But the Slaasriithi are, by all estimates, more advanced than the Arat Kur, so they are a better place to go seeking that kind of technical assistance.”

    Downing picked up his slate again. “You posit an interesting theory, Caine, but I can’t comment on it. Instead, I’ve been concentrating on finding technical experts who can replace Wasserman. A number of likely candidates have just arrived on the Doppelganger, in fact.”

    Caine shook his head. “Filling Lemuel’s shoes: that’s a pretty tall order.”

    “Yes, it is. Wasserman’s broad range of abilities enabled him to coordinate our technical intelligence for a wide array of fields, as well working as a specialist in high energy and theoretical physics. But fortunately, Earth also sent along naval designer Morgan Lymbery to assess Arat Kur aerospace technology.”

    “Isn’t Lymbery the guy who spearheaded the development programs for the Boulton and Hunter classes?”

    “Yes. Bit of a maverick. Eccentric where Wasserman is pugnacious.”

    “I’d like to meet him.”

    “I’m sure he’d like to oblige, but he’s in cold sleep. Same with most of the other personnel we’ll be pulling for your mission: a collection of experts we can thaw out at need.”

    Caine nodded. “And as you say, we’re going to need an ambassador with plenipotentiary powers, too. It’s a lucky break that we have three consuls with the fleet.”

    “Yes, but unfortunately, we have only one choice.” Downing ticked off the excluded consuls on his fingers. “Visser can’t commit to this mission. She is needed on Earth if she is to prepare for her turn in the proconsular seat. For that reason, Sukhinin has to remain here: he and Visser were the only ones on-site for the breakthrough in communications and negotiations with the Arat Kur. One of those two must continue building upon that personal foundation. Besides, Sukhinin is the only consul whose specialty is in military policy. Rather crucial during the negotiation of a surrender, as well as reparations that involve transfers of strategic technology and skills.”

    Caine’s stomach sunk. “So you mean I’ve got to travel with Etienne Gaspard?” The guy who almost got Doppelganger destroyed a few hours ago, and tried to rhetorically crucify me at the Parthenon Dialogs last year? Please, no…

    “Yes. Gaspard. And he’ll be a right wanker about this, I’ll wager.” Downing shook his head. “According to the dossier he relayed shortly after arriving on Doppelganger, he spent four months preparing to replace Visser on the negotiating team. So he’s sure to be hopping mad.”


    “Oh, that’s not the half of it, Caine. From what I can tell, the last time he was briefed on the Slaasriithi was when he came to my office in DC last year, just before the invasion. So you’ll need to educate him en route.”

    Caine hadn’t intended to recoil, but he did. “I’m supposed to educate Gaspard? On a topic I hardly know any better than he does? C’mon, Richard: how about you send me on a combat mission instead? Direct insertion into a hot LZ? Can’t be any worse: probably a damned sight better.”

    Downing smiled ruefully. “Be careful what you wish for, Caine. You just might get it. Now let’s get to work.”

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