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Raising Caine: Chapter Thirteen

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



In close orbit; V 1581 Four

    As Team Two moved by leapfrog toward the Aboriginal defenders in the cargo and docking modules, Idrem’s helmet comm buzzed: a private channel from Nezdeh. He toggled it with a push of his chin. “It is Idrem.”

    “The deck plans indicate you are approaching the defenders’ primary concentration. Do you expect that Brenlor will be able to defeat the Aboriginals with only minor damage to the facilities?”

    Idrem wondered at the directness of her question and what it implied: that she was depending upon him, Idrem, to attempt to limit the operational excesses of their mission’s nominal commander. “Yes, I can see to it,” Idrem replied.

    Nezdeh was apparently not expecting that answer: she was silent a moment before asking, “How?”

    “Before leaving Ferocious Monolith, I purloined several canisters of anti-personnel heat seekers and marker nanytes. I have already convinced Brenlor that this would be the most expeditious, and least damaging, means of securing the ship.”

    “That could be a risky operation, Idrem.”

    “Do you trust my competence, Nezdeh?”

    Another pause. “Yes.”

    “Then I shall not do anything to risk the success of this mission, nor shall I fail you.”

    “Very well. I must coordinate with Brenlor now.”


    The circuit closed at the same moment that Brenlor paused to shoo some of the upt’theel away from an Aboriginal corpse. After he used a spray bottle to douse the body with chemicals that the creatures found aversive, they came wriggling up out of the thoracic cavity, dripping gore and whining irritably. He herded the remaining dozen beasts forward to break up another knot of defenders who had been too late to help their comrades at airlock C-2.

    Judging from the flags on the sleeves of the corpses, and from snatches of their panicked exclamations, they were all from the human political entity known as the Trans Oceanic Commercial and Industrial Organization bloc. Usually referred to as TOCIO, its acronym was neither a subtle nor coy referent to the capitol of the nation state that was its dominant power. Many of the bloc’s nationalities were represented among the casualties inflicted thus far. Other than the red ball of Japan itself, Idrem had identified national patches indicating that their wearers were from Brazil, India, Myanmar, and Chile.

    Even without control of the ship’s command systems, defeating the ill-equipped Aboriginals had not posed much difficulty and even less threat. Only the Japanese nationals had been carrying truly dangerous weapons: dustmix battle rifles which, at these ranges, were certainly just as deadly as the Ktor’s own needlers. However, they did not have the muzzle velocity that made it possible to penetrate almost every wall or floor in the ship except for vacuum-rated bulkheads and hatches. But for the Ktor, constrained to wearing only the light armor augmentations that were standard issue for the crew of a patrol hunter such as Red Lurker, there was still risk involved if they rounded a corner into a torrent of automatic fire from the Japanese rifles.

    The other firearms were not particularly dangerous. The majority were caseless assault rifles that had been furnished to the Optigene clones by their Indonesian hosts. These serviceable weapons, named Pindads, were unable to penetrate the Ktoran light armor at all. And while the hailstorms of slugs fired by the enemy’s autoshotguns could even batter one of the Evolved to the ground, their penetrative power was even lower, and their raw kinetic impact was easily distributable through the smart armor fabrics of the Ktor.

    “Idrem, are you ready?”

    “I am.” He inspected the corridor ahead. “The Aboriginals are around the far corner?”

    “Yes,” Brenlor confirmed. “According to the deck plans, it is a double-width passageway that then opens out into a wide marshalling area with multiple egress routes. That is where their main body has deployed itself. And if the engagement goes against the humans, they have various retreat options that lead to regrouping points.”

    “In that case,” Idrem replied, “we must ensure that they are unable to make use of those options. Please load the nanyte marker grenades into your launcher.”

    Brenlor took the three thirty-eight millimeter grenades that Idrem proffered, none of which were fitted with rockets, and loaded them into the left-hand cassette that fed his needler’s underslung launch tube. “I have not had the occasion to employ this system, or this tactic,” Brenlor admitted in a low voice.

    “It is not difficult, and it is most effective against lightly armored targets, such as our present adversaries.”

    Vranut and Jesel continued to guard the corner screening Team Two from the mass of Aboriginal defenders. As Idrem loaded three miniature signal-seeking submunitions into his needler’s side-by-side grenade cassettes, he watched Brenlor guide three of the remaining upt’theel back into their carrier. “If we lose the rest in this assault, these will enable repopulation,” he explained, almost defensively.

    Idrem ignored the gruesome images that Brenlor’s comment invoked. “Whenever you are ready.”

    Brenlor nodded and, using the right combination of attractant and repellent scents, prompted the nine remaining upt’theel around the corner.

    They lifted their noses, catching the fresh prey scent—just before two of them were blasted to slimy mauve and grey bits by the hammering of an autoshotgun. As if they had been one creature, the survivors sped in that direction. The volume of gunfire rose precipitously. The Aboriginals were now busy enough for the Evolved to commence their actual attack.

    Idrem nodded at Brenlor, who lifted his needler, stepped forward so he could see partly down the corridor at a very shallow angle, and discharged his grenade launcher at a distant point along the opposite wall.

    The round struck the bulkhead, caromed off as per Brenlor’s intent. Abruptly, through the many awakened eyes of the warhead’s submunitions, Idrem could see the casing split off, freeing a flock of small grey balls that flew in a wide arc, and then rolled as Idrem directed through his HUD. As these devices drew near to the defenders, he activated their proximity deployment systems. Nanytes sprayed out into the spaces occupied by the enemy.

    Idrem nodded to Brenlor. “The next two, now. In rapid sequence.”

    When Brenlor’s the second nanyte-dispersing grenade landed nearby, the Aboriginals attempted to assess what nature of weapon was being fired at them. But seeing no explosion or gas or other aversive effect, they returned their attention to the onrushing upt’theel, and the raiders they presumed to follow shortly behind them.

    When the third canister ricocheted down toward the defenders and broke open, a few of them discerned that the small rolling balls were something other than debris and shot at them without effect. That last swarm of rolling nanyte dispensers made it into the deepest reaches of the defender’s positions, thereby also providing Idrem with extensive advance reconnaissance of their enemy’s deployment. Not that it would be required.

    Idrem stepped forward, watching the munitions-cued timer tick down in his HUD, measuring the elapsed seconds since Brenlor’s third round had deployed its spherical submunitions.

    “How long—?” Brenlor began impatiently.

    Idrem stepped in front of Brenlor and fired the first of his signal-seeking cluster munitions on a similar, wall-glancing trajectory. A moment later, Idrem patched the streaming recon-view that the nanyte dispensers fed to his HUD through to the other members of his team.

    The first cluster munition was angling off the wall when its seeker head emitted a brief, powerful microwave pulse. Instantly, human silhouettes glowed into existence on the Ktor’s HUDs. The nanytes, primed by settling on warm moving objects, responded to the microwave wash by absorbing and then re-radiating it, albeit much more gradually.

    In the same moment, the round’s flechette warhead discharged. Over a hundred of the small darts whined forward like mosquitos, jetting into the same cone that the microwave pulse had illuminated. But each flechette was equipped with a seeker-head that detected the now-radiant bodies of the nanyte-dusted humans. The flechettes twitched their tail fins slightly; each altered its flight path to intercept one of those glowing silhouettes.

    The effect was gratifying. The defenders in the corridor went down in windrows. The micro-tine neographene penetrator points breached their suits easily, and the fins of each flechette stripped off upon contact with flesh. Consequently, whereas the entry wounds appeared like sudden sweeps of tiny stigmata, the exit wounds were akin to those made by a tight pattern of pistol slugs, pulping whatever they had passed through. The Aboriginals fell, their clutching fingers attempting to staunch wounds that could not be staunched.

    “Impressive,” Brenlor allowed. “The corridor is clear.”

    It was, except for one terrified Aboriginal who had been out of the signal-seeker’s line of sight at the moment the flechettes were discharged. Idrem changed the next round’s setting—spherical dispersal—and laser-painted its discharge point at the entry to the cargo marshalling area. He fired again.

    This round glanced off the wall at roughly the same spot but bounded until it reached the discharge point. The sharp flash momentarily hid the sudden sprawling of almost a dozen bodies all around the warhead, including the hapless Aboriginal that the first round had been unable to “see.”

    Idrem changed the next aimpoint to a spot deeper in the marshalling area, stepped out into the body-littered passageway, fired it, set a fourth and final round for a still further discharge, fired. He waited for the glowing, thrashing bodies to settle as the two rounds went off in quick succession. Six figures, two only partially dusted by the nanytes, were running toward the exits. Most were limping or staggering. “Vranut, Jesel; follow those six and eliminate them. Brenlor and I will dispatch the enemy wounded, unless we find useful survivors.”

    “And who among these slaughtered sheep would be useful, now or even beforehand?”

    Idrem suppressed three Progenitor axioms that seemed to have been written expressly as rebukes for Brenlor Perekmeres’ impetuosity. Instead, Idrem merely countered with, “One may always be surprised by advantages arising from unexpected sources.”

    “I suppose so,” Brenlor allowed. “Let us eliminate the unexpected sources.” He led the way.

    Too eagerly, Idrem thought.



    Nezdeh made sure that she arrived on the bridge of the Arbitrage while Brenlor was still securing the rest of the ship. Thankfully, Idrem remained with him; the Progenitors only knew what he might have done without some tactful supervision.

    There were three Aboriginals on the bridge, already deprived of their weapons. “Who is in command here?”

    All three of them made to speak, but, seeing each others’ motions, held back.

    The first to recover was the tall, spindly male. “I am in command. Piet Brackman, First Officer and pilot.”

    Nezdeh glanced at the others. The female—a small, distinctly Asian subtype from what Earth experts called “the Pacific Rim”—had no reaction to the statement. The other, a Eurogenic specimen who was small for his sex and flabby, seemed to become thoughtful at the ostensible First Officer’s claim. It was not credible that command succession was unclear after the death of their captain, whose body and station were conspicuous among the fifty-two Aboriginal corpses in the cargo marshalling module. Consequently, something was being withheld. That was unacceptable, both in terms of gathering intelligence and in establishing dominion.

    Nezdeh drew her liquimix pistol slowly. “I was born and bred to command. I will not tolerate lies or disobedience.” She raised the weapon, aimed it at the tall human male’s forehead. “Of the three persons on this bridge, I know you will lie to me. A true commander would have spoken quickly and assertively regarding his or her place in the chain of command. And there would have been no uncertain glances.” She snapped the safety off. “Because it would be useful to have your cooperation, and because you are ignorant of our ways, you have one opportunity to redeem yourself: identify the actual commander.”

    The human named Brackman swallowed—piteous, she thought, how openly they display their anxiety—and explained, “There was a…a disagreement about command.”

    “How so?”

    “I was the XO. Not common for a pilot, but I have seniority. But when Captain Velho left the bridge, he put Ms. Tagawa—” the tall Aboriginal glanced at the small Asian female—“in charge of negotiating a surrender in the event that we lost control of the Arbitrage. But he didn’t change the chain of command.”

    “I see. So he did not trust your judgment?”

    “I get angry. Easily. So I guess he didn’t think I’d be a good negotiator.”

    “Interesting.” The main lights reilluminated suddenly, as did the external monitors. The life support system sighed into renewed activity. “We have restored your electronics and restarted your computer. We have also accounted for the entirety of your armed crew, who seem to be wearing national uniforms, not those of the Colonial Development Combine. Explain.”

    The tall Aboriginal’s stare suggested that he had only heard the first phrase in Nezdeh’s second sentence. “You have ‘accounted’ for the—my—prize crew? What does that mean?”

    “It means precisely what you conjecture. They have been eliminated.”

    “All of them?”

    Nezdeh closed the distance between them so fast that the low-breed male blinked—good; it is time to acquaint them with our innate superiority—and she slashed the pistol barrel across his face. The Aboriginal staggered, almost fell, but caught himself on the helm console. “You answer questions; you do not ask them. I am patient because it has been several centuries since any of your cultures have embraced the truth of the will to power, as does ours. But you shall learn. Or die. Now, I ask you again: why is this crew comprised of two distinct groups, one national, one megacorporate?” Peripherally, she noted that the other male’s eyes had widened slightly when the blow fell. The small Asian female had not reacted at all. Excellent training and possibly excellent genelines, but that could also be problematic. Time will tell.

    Brackman was rubbing his jaw. But what the Aboriginals lacked in readiness, they made up for in spirit: although at the wrong end of a gun barrel, the male’s eyes were wide, bright, furious. “This ship, the Arbitrage, is a megacorporate hull. Which means it belonged to traitors.” He glanced at the other male, and the look in his eyes changed from fury to hatred. “When we kicked their invader cronies off Earth, we took over their shift carriers, but we had to crew them with loyal personnel from the merchant or colonization services. Like me and Ms. Tagawa. But we had to keep a core staff of the CoDevCo crew; they know the ship best.”

    “Very well. Now, why is this ship in this system?”

    The human frowned. “We’re just refueling to—”

    Nezdeh had to repress a sigh. “You will find that while I do not relish violence for its own sake, I am ready to embrace it where it is an effective tool. Now, I will ask again, for you know the intent of my question: how is it that a shift-carrier from Earth, which cannot reach this system directly, is here at all?”

    The male shrugged. “We had help.” Nezdeh made sure her move to strike him again began at an inordinately slow pace; Brackman stepped back, hands raised. “The Dornaani. They gave us what we needed to make a shift to deep space.”

    “Gave it to you? Their modification is presently integrated with your drives?”

    “No. They came aboard, modified our guidance systems. Added things to it: I don’t know. I’m not sure they let anyone know exactly what they did, including the officers who came on board with them. Then, right after we arrived here, they removed it.”

    “And your ship acted as a tanker, carrying the fuel for the rest of the fleet that moved directly on from deep space to carry out the attack against this system, and then Homenest?”

    “I guess so, yes. Look: they didn’t tell me—us—much.”

    Which made unfortunate sense. The information in the Arbitrage’s data banks—the first thing she had accessed when the system started rebooting—had some small but important gaps, particularly in the recent navigational and operational archives. “So, what orders are you carrying out now?”

    “We’re refueling.”

    “Do not be obtuse. I refer to your current, and your contingency, orders.”

    “We’re to shift to join the fleet in Sigma Draconis.”

    “When? You no doubt have a projected departure window.”

    Brackman looked away, looked as though he might throw up. “Forty to forty two days, depending upon skimming conditions.”

    “And how soon will there be an inquiry if you do not arrive at Sigma Draconis?”

    “Well, I—Immediately.”



    Nezdeh smiled. “Thank you. You have been very helpful. Unfortunately for you, you are not at all a convincing liar.” She raised the pistol and fired twice.

    The first round hit Brackman square in the forehead, but had barely enough energy to make an exit wound. The second popped open a dark red hole just to the left of his sternum; that round did not emerge from his back. Nezdeh had reduced the propellant not only to reduce the recoil to zero, but to prevent overpenetrations, and hence, damage to important ship’s systems.

    Brackman hit the deck with the odd gentleness of all limp bodies that fell in low gee. Blood spread out slowly from the back of his head, giving him a round red martyr’s nimbus that shone in the overhead lights.

    Nezdeh turned to the two remaining Aboriginals. “A commander would not have a moment’s uncertainty regarding the response protocols to be observed if his ship was overdue. Besides, a search would not be ‘immediate’; this hull adds no appreciable combat capability to your counter-invasion fleet. It is an auxiliary, and an increasingly redundant one.”

    “Which makes it perfect for our purposes,” added Brenlor as he entered the bridge with Vranut and Idrem. “If there was one ship your fleet could afford to lose, it was this one.”

    Nezdeh smiled tightly, kept her eyes on the Aboriginals. “I trust you understand now that I will not tolerate liars.” She turned to the male. “You are Kozakowski, are you not?”

    He blinked in surprise. “I am. How do you—?”

    “Do not question me. Besides, the answer to your question is obvious. Our agents aided your megacorporation in the recent war. Do you think we did not acquire complete information on your assets and personnel? And you, having been a direct liaison to one of us at Barnard’s Star, should certainly know better.”

    The Asian female glanced sideways at Kozakowski; had she possessed a knife, Nezdeh had no doubt that the diminutive woman would have gutted the collaborator. Kozakowski swallowed tightly, looked imploringly at the Ktor. “I kept your secrets. I have not failed you. I compromised and delayed the defense of this ship. Why would you expose me?”

    “To bind your fate to ours. Irrevocably.” Nezdeh was annoyed that the Aboriginal did not see it for himself. “Now, there is no path back for you. Your secret is revealed. You cannot return to your own primitive peoples; they will be happy to execute you. And some of the nations of your planet have retained suitably agonizing forms of capital punishment.”

    “But if he kills me first, his secret remains safe,” the Asian female murmured.

    Nezdeh turned, surprised. She saw that far, that quickly. Let’s see what else she has deduced: “So, do you presume I wish you dead?”

    “No,” said the female. “The opposite. Now that I am aware of Kozakowski’s treason, if anything befalls me, you will look to him as the architect of that misfortune. And so, I am the means whereby you ensure that his fate is sealed, if he should abandon you. In that event, you would return me to my people, who would have every reason to believe my accusations. So, logically, you intend to keep both of us alive for the foreseeable future, or you would not be using us as means of leverage against each other.”

    “You are correct. We need you alive to oversee the operations of this ship and its megacorporate crew. But be warned: the crew’s continued survival is contingent upon your cooperation, Tagawa. That includes whatever persons may be in your cryogenic suspension modules.” She turned to Kozakowski. “In your case, you may hope for a richly rewarded future with us.”

    Brenlor leaned forward. “But should you displease us—” He let the statement hang unfinished.

    “You can count upon my loyalty,” Kozakowski hurried to assure them.

    Nezdeh turned toward Tagawa. “And you?”

    “I am compelled to comply and shall do so.”

    Idrem raised a single eyebrow. “Will you?”

    The Aboriginal female stared, but did not say anything.

    Nezdeh glanced at Idrem. “You have additional information on her? What have you learned?”

    “It is not what I learned, but what I found. We were searching all bunks and staterooms for undisclosed weapons or communicators. I discovered this in a hidden safe beneath her bunk.” He produced a long wooden box, closed with an old bronze latch.

    Nezdeh frowned, took the box, and opened the lid. Inside was a long knife with a broad, oddly angled blade that came to a slanted, off center point. The blade itself was half wrapped in a length of white cloth. She removed and unwrapped the knife; the blade shone and winked wickedly. “This is not primarily a weapon, I think,” Nezdeh speculated. She stared at the Asian female. “Tagawa, what is this?”



    For the fifth time in as many minutes, Ayana Tagawa prepared herself to die unflinching and with honor. “It is a tanto.”

    The female Ktor—for she could not be a representative of any other power; the Ktor were the only alien species that humanity had not yet been seen in the flesh—frowned at the blade. “I know this term from studying one of your warrior cultures. It is, and you are, Japanese?”

    “It is. I am.”

    The Ktor named Nezdeh tested the edge with practiced care, touched the ceremonial cloth that had been bound around the center of the blade. “This is used for ritual suicides, is it not?”

    “It was.” Ayana left out the fact that although that use was now quite rare, it had not disappeared entirely.

    Nezdeh fixed red-flecked hazel eyes upon hers. “Do not attempt to lie to me, low-breed. You would now be as dead as Brackman if you did not interest me.”

    Untrue. Brackman was extraneous to your plans. But you need me to ensure your hold over Kozakowski. “I misspoke. The tanto is still used in this fashion, but very infrequently.”

    This seemed to partially mollify the Ktor, but only partially. “It is a warrior’s means of preserving honor, I recall. So tell me—warrior—did you intend to use it on yourself?”

    Not before I used it on as many of you as I could catch by surprise. “No, it is not mine,” she lied. “In my culture, a woman’s honor is not that of a warrior, and her failures are not effaced in this fashion.” Which was no longer uniformly true in Japan’s changing culture. “This tanto was my father’s and those of my family’s many fathers before him. He was a warrior, as were they.” Which was true.

    Nezdeh stared at her for a long time. Ayana had the sense that her life depended upon the Ktor being unable to read anything in her face, her eyes.

    Apparently, she succeeded at remaining expressionless. Nezdeh passed the box to the most junior of the four Ktor. “You may not have this weapon, of course,” she commented casually, “but we shall retain it, un-defaced. On this you have my word.” The other two senior Ktor glanced at her in what might have been surprise.

    “In the meantime,” Nezdeh continued, “both you and Kozakowski shall acquaint our logistics officer, Sehtrek, with the contents of your ship, its lading manifest, and most particularly, any pertinent facts or contents which do not appear in your data files. And unless you wish to lose appendages, do not think you will conceal anything from us. Nor should you think that we will be so gullible as to believe that you have no hidden caches or off-manifest items. Sehtrek will be here within the minute: attend him when he comes.” She turned to the two other Ktor who had spoken. “We should confer on our next steps.” Then, with a final glance at Ayana, the Ktor woman exited.

    Ayana, half-surprised to still be alive, wondered if she should be grateful or dismayed that she was.

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