Caine’s Mutiny – Snippet 02

“Yes, yes.” O’akhdruh muttered, eyes closed against the awkwardness of having to allow what amounted to testimony of Yaargraukh’s foresight. “That way, even if the Warriors were stripped of their equipment, the central recorder would still show what transpired.”

In an attempt to diminish the irritation his friend’s addition had sparked among the more bigoted Old Family scions, Yaargraukh qualified the claim. “Unfortunately, as you will see, the scenes recorded were not especially long or detailed.”

The first clip was very short. The scene began with the wearer of the dioptiscope running; the long loping glides between camera-jarring footfalls and the slight downward angle of the view indicated that the Warrior had been moving in a sprint posture: tilted forward at the waist, tail up, head and neck an outstretched column of muscle and bone. From over a ridge topped by a ragged expanse of clustertrees, four rotary wing aircraft arose. They were old designs: boxy with a single, top-mounted set of rotors, rather than contemporary variable attitude VTOL nacelles.

But the view was not on them for long. It swiveled about, picking out several other Warriors following in the same posture, assault rifles cradled at the ready as they made for an earthen berm of fresh dirt —

The lichen beneath their feet started jetting upward, pocked by violent divots. Two of the Warriors sprawled, their hide armor suddenly spattered with the light mauve blood of their species. A third Warrior swerved aside, making for a low stone-wall, but never reached it: a flash cut across the screen, dug into the ground just beyond him, unleashed a soil-spewing explosion which blasted him sideways like a rag doll.

The perspective began slewing back around toward the approaching rotary-wings…but ended abruptly.

“That recording of the machine gun and rocket fire from the human rotary wings is all we have from the first source-camera,” Yaargraukh explained to the hushed Clanhall. “The source of the second was almost certainly a Warrior in the ready-room on standby, possibly overseeing communications.”

The feed began on a drunken tumble up a narrow staircase cut into rock. It was ascending toward a brightening, looming rectangle of light, which seemed to explode as the camera-carrier reached it. The automatic light level kicked in, darkening everything for a moment.

Contrast restored, the perspective was now looking between the narrow-slatted blinds of a long, high window. The interior was familiar to all of them: it was one of the Turkh’saar’s ubiquitous civilian office modules. In the middle distance, a human rotarywing had lowered itself to the ground, doorguns sweeping protectively as humans poured out of it. They carried a bizarre combination of weapons: bulky submachine guns AK-47’s, larger battle rifles, and a crude rocket-propelled grenade launcher, possibly an early Russian design. None mounted the various electronic sensors and sighting aids that had been routine human equipment for the past century.

Most wore fatigues of varying shades of green and deep-bowled helmets that recalled those used by both the Russian and American forces in the conflict that Yaargraukh had studied most intensively: Earth’s Second World War. But there were exceptions. Several humans were in light blue shirts and slightly darker trousers, wearing white caps.

As this first group of humans spread out in a protective circle around the still-gyrating rotary wing, four more individuals dismounted from it, two of them carrying a weapon that Yaargraukh had, until his first viewing of this tape, never seen beyond the scratchy images digitally reconstructed from Earth broadcasts: a belt-fed machine gun of German manufacture, dating from the Nazi era. Its designation had been Maschinegewehr Zwei und Vierzig, or MG-42, and it had had a fearsome reputation. Yaargraukh shared that fact with the silent scions as the gun crew set it up with cool precision, their field-grey uniforms and sallet-helmets distinguishing them from the rest of the human troops.

“It was a fearsome weapon, you say, but it is now an antique?” Z’gluurhek sounded doubtful.

“Yes.” Yaargraukh confirmed. “We shall return to that conundrum later. For now, I call your attention to the other two individuals who exited the rotary wing with the gun crew.”

Jrekhalkar squinted more closely into his monacle. “You mean, the ones who seem to be giving orders?”

“Yes, them. Note their uniforms, particularly the insignias worn on the right side of their collars.”

“Those two flashes: are they signs of rank?” O’akhdruh sounded dubious even as he hazarded the guess. The two men did not look to be of the same rank at all. One was in a plain grey uniform, whereas the other’s was more cut to follow the form of his flat body, and he wore a strange, peaked cap rather than a helmet.

“Actually, their signs of rank are on their shoulders or sleeves,” Yaargraukh explained. “Those collar markings mark a special branch of service: an elite, or at least, lavishly equipped, unit within the Germany armies of the Second World War. The two flashes are frequently misconstrued as lightning bolts. In fact, they are ancient, tribal renderings of the Roman letter ‘s’.”

“And these signify what?”

“The term Schutzstaffel, which translates roughly as ‘armed-‘ or ‘protection-squadron.'”

“You seem to attach great significance to this, Yaargraukh.”

“I do, but now, the footage concludes. Please watch.”

The camera-wearing Warrior spent a few moments assessing the general pattern of the human attack: a shock assault at the western end of town followed by a flanking, vertical insertion into the sparse, widely scattered buildings just north of the community’s central square. Then the Warrior shouldered his assault rifle and pushed its muzzle between the shutters. He sighted it on the MG-42, which had started gunning down fleeing Hkh’Rkh, without regard to their age, sex, or social station. A number of the humans looked away. Several others spat casually, yet markedly, in the general direction of the grey-uniformed soldiers.

The view began to shake wildly: the Warrior was firing his assault rifle on full automatic. The crew of the MG 42 was shredded by the ten-millimeter hollowpoints: they, and their weapon, were momentarily obscured by a dull red fog consistent with the color of human blood.

But before the tattered bodies had even hit the ground, the point of view was changing. The Warrior obviously expected return fire to his position and was abandoning it with all speed. He crashed against the thin metal walls of the office module as he made for a small back exit, rather than the larger one which led toward the town square. He hit the narrow door at a run, burst into the light —

— and was looking down the barrel of a strange gun with a side-mounted magazine. Another grey-uniformed human held it braced against his hip, leaned into the weapon as its muzzle shudder-flashed through a long burst.

The view wobbled, then toppled heavily to the left, the camera coming to rest at a right angle to the ground. The world appeared to be laying on its side as booted human feet ran back toward the town square.

Yaargraukh turned off the video feed. “I arrived at Haakh’haln a day after this attack. We encountered survivors before entering the town itself, asked what they knew of the aftermath of the slaughter. They imparted a strange story: approximately an hour after the humans had secured the town, gunfire broke out once again. Human gunfire.

“Entering the town, we found the Hkh’Rkh dead that we had expected: Warriors, females, young, old, all scattered about. But then we found something that we had never encountered before: human bodies. However, their weapons and equipment were gone. Only their clothing remained. I recorded what we saw.”