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Raising Caine: Chapter Six

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



Far orbit; Sigma Draconis Two

    Olsirkos Shethkador-vah was waiting at the embarkation portal when the plates of that outsized iris valve rang open. Tlerek Srin Shethkador stalked over the threshold and dismissively acknowledged the crew’s obeisance, offered the moment the krexyes horn howled to announce his arrival. Shethkador was gratified to notice that the horn was genuine and not some insulting pseudo-chitin imitation. He nodded irritably at Olsirkos. “’Vah,” he muttered, “escort me to the Sensorium at once.”

    Olsirkos waved four huscarls over. Their composite armor plates thumped dully as they fell in around the Srin and the ’vah. “Srin Shethkador, do you not wish an interval of restoration in your quarters? We have prepared suitable facilities in the rotational habitat, and hope you—”

    “I must make contact with the Autarchs immediately. I will take my ease later.”

    “Fearsome Srin, the orders we carry from the Autarchs do not compel you to—”

    “I follow protocols of which you would not be apprised.”

    Olsirkos averted his eyes deferentially. “Yes, Srin.”

    “Your diligence in pursuing both your duty and my comfort are noted, Olsirkos.”

    “The Srin honors me with his regard.”

    “So I do.” And now that he has been lulled into a false sense of security—“However, that honor is overshadowed by your handling of my repatriation. You shifted into this system near the main world, knowing that it was surrounded by the Aboriginals? And you entered at combat speed, with the rotational habitats retracted, and without compliance to the Accord transponder requirements? Were you trying to rekindle the recent war, ’vah?”

    Olsirkos—who could well expect to lose face, rank, or possibly toes or fingers over such infractions—did not flinch or swallow nervously. “Those orders were not mine, Masterful Srin.”

    “Ah. At the behest of the Autarchs, then?”

    “It is as you say, Srin.”

    So: more idiocies from dust-covered oligarchs who spend too much time plotting combats rather than engaging in them. “Explain, ’vah.”

    Olsirkos nodded compliance. “Most of the Autarchs wished to effect your repatriation with a minimum of activity or upset. Several, our own House included, opined that it would be best if we merely sent an away-boat to reclaim you from a neutral facility, such as a free-floating module. But Houses Jerapthere and Falsemmar insisted that this first direct meeting with the Aboriginals should show them how primitive and useless their spacecraft and weapons would be in a confrontation with ours.”

    “And their rationale for such an idiotic plan?”

    “I was not privy to their discussions, Potent Srin. However, the implicit rationale of the orders seems to be this: by striking terror and awe into the Aboriginals, they will be doubly reluctant to engage or confront us, and thereby, be more easily intimidated and manipulated.”

    “Absurd. The Autarchs have achieved but one thing: they have revealed the standards of innovation and excellence that the Aboriginals must be resolved to meet. And, so, they will become less terrified.”

    “Fearsome Srin, I do not understand.”

    Of course you don’t. “’Vah, attend and learn. For the Aboriginals, we were more terrifying when they lacked any sense of our capabilities. That constant, unbounded fear would have undermined their efforts against us, for they lacked a concrete benchmark which, once achieved, ensured greater parity with us.

    “Most Aboriginals find such an amorphous competition exhausting: it ultimately erodes their morale and energy. But, thanks to the Autarchs, they now have quantifiable technological intelligence on our mid-range space and military capabilities.”

    “But, seeing how far above them those capabilities are, will that not terrify and cow them?”

    No matter how carefully the Breedmothers groom the genelines, the gift for strategic insight remains rare and elusive. “’Vah, you do not understand this phenomenon because you are too accustomed to interacting with helots and huscarls. Like other Wildings, Aboriginals have not been taught to percieve and presume their own innate inferiority. Rather, they will work to catch up to us, if agitated. And this ship’s ominous approach has indeed agitated them.

    “It is alarming that the Autarchs failed to learn this lesson from the Aboriginal repulse of the recent invasion, since I presume that they all supported this insipid posturing.”

    “Several objected initially, Srin, but ultimately consented. In return, those reluctant Autarchs received concessions.”

    “Which were?”

    Olsirkos stood taller. “That a member of House Shethkador—namely, myself—should be placed in command of this Aegis hull. As it was, they were unwilling to accord that honor to anyone over the rank of a first generation Evolved. So I was sent.” Olsirkos’ voice did not falter, but his gaze did. “I was concerned you might feel insulted that you were retrieved by a mere ’vah, such as myself.”

    “I am insulted, naturally,” Shethkador said with a shrug, “but am neither so stupid nor intemperate as to perceive you as the architect of the insult.” Besides, it’s not as though the rival Houses would accept two Awakened Shethkadors as the two senior officers on an Aegis ship. A multi-House command staff is the only means whereby the Autarchs are assured that a hull’s actions will not be unduly influenced by factionalism. “Immediately after I have completed my Reification, I will be consulting the ship’s manifest to acquaint myself with our resources. Are there any expended or missing assets of which I should be made aware?”

    “Not as such, Srin. But some assets were deployed to observe the Aboriginal activity in the system we passed through immediately prior to this one.”

    “And that system is?”

    “V 1581, Srin. Upon arriving there, we discerned it to be the system where the humans first entered Arat Kur space. They left behind two tankers. One is a megacorporate ship; the other is from the TOCIO bloc. Another craft, the prize hull the humans have renamed Doppelganger, was also present, hurrying to make shift here. Since it seemed likely that we would have to reenter the V 1581 when we begin our journey back to the Ktoran Sphere, I deployed one of our patrol hunters, Red Lurker, with our frontier observation team to gather information on the Aboriginal traffic and activity in the system.”

    Srin nodded. “Very well. And how long has Red Lurker been on station there?”

    “Approximately three weeks, but they are furnished for long-duration detached operations. Also, should something untoward befall them, they are quite expendable.”

    “More so than the rest of Monolith’s crew?”

    “Yes, Srin. The frontier team assigned by the Aegis overseers were almost all Arrogates, and few have genelines prized by their adoptive Houses. If they are lost, it neither diminishes our ability to project force, nor strikes a hostile spark between any Houses.”

    Arrogates, who were descended from Extirpated Houses, were noteworthy for their political neutrality, having little reason to prefer one faction above another. But, in consequence, they were a polyglot group and, so, often trailed loose ends of mixed loyalties and diverse aspirations.

    Tlerek Srin Shethkador did not like loose ends and this situation promised to be rife with them, some of which might be fraying badly at the margins. He would have preferred to immediately peruse the dossiers of the frontier group in detail, but it was urgent that he conclude his contact with the Autarchs swiftly. He restricted himself to one cautionary observation regarding the detached observation team: “It is unwise to leave behind any groups with technology that, if it were to fall into the hands of the Aboriginals, would help them achieve parity with us. Your hands will be forfeit if you have been careless, ’vah.”

    Olsirkos smiled shrewdly. “In this particular, you need have no misgivings, Fearsome Srin. While the frontier team does have advanced technology with them, it is impossible for the Aboriginals to acquire it.”

    “That is a most confident, but also a most improbable, statement. Serendipity favors all combatants equally. How is it, then, that the Aboriginals could not, under some odd inversion of likely outcomes, lay hold to the technology possessed by the frontier team?”

    Olsirkos smiled more widely. “Because I put the technology, and the team, someplace that the Aboriginals cannot reach.”

    Shethkador did not show the extent to which Olsirkos’ mysterious comment and confidence intrigued him. He stopped before the entry to the Sensorium. “I require that the honor guard precede me and sweep for any anomalies before I enter.” Olsirkos gestured the guards through an iris valve that opened upon a circular, dimly lit chamber. A pong of thick, unctuous musk and decaying incense wafted out.

    “I will want a complete operational report when I am done here. Be sure that it is extremely detailed,” Shethkador warned Olsirkos. “I may have need of the smallest particulars.” His honor guard, finished with their sweep, stood aside at rigid attention as he entered the reeking, domed chamber.

    After the antique iris valve rasped closed, Shethkador sealed it with his personal code and crossed to the small, featureless panel where the Catalysites were stored. He passed his hand over the panel, which, sensing the requisite amount of Symbiot in his bloodstream, slid open. He removed one of the tightly sealed opaque vials waiting in a row, tapped for the panel to self-seal, and positioned himself on the cushions he had selected.

    Among the Awakened, who were the unofficial meritocrats of the Evolved, some relished the power and reach of a Catalysite-assisted Reification, claiming it to be the ultimate dominative euphoria. Shethkador was not among their number, and secretly contemned such Awakened as weak-minded sybarites. After all, they reveled in the dominion enabled by the Symbiot without bothering to reflect that they were relying upon an external source to attain that acme of power. Well, no matter: that weakness would eventually be their undoing when the genelines of their Houses came to contend with another that was populated by fewer lotos-eaters.

    Shethkador elected to forego the meditative preparations: it was traditional superstition rather than effective practice, in his opinion. He popped open the vial and inserted his finger into the complex microecology within until it met the sluglike dermis of the Catalysite.

    He contemplated a quadratic equation until the perfusive flood of burning had swept out into his body. It left a singed tingling in its wake and a perception of the universe as a hierarchy of pressure-sensitive control cells, each cluster of which was itself but a small cell in still greater control clusters, and which all expanded upward and outward into a limitless whole that was greater than the sum of its parts, and through which his awareness grew and expanded, rushing toward an infinitely receding periphery that was the demarcation line of—

    All things stopped. Were frozen in the impossibly small spatio-temporal lacunae that separated every action from every reaction, even on the level of entangled quanta. Guided by instinct and the Symbiot within him—and he detested being uncertain of where the former ended and the latter began—he found the incomplete cluster he sought: the Autarchs of the Ktor.

    Who were slightly more than fifty-five light years distant.

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