Caine’s Mutiny – Snippet 03

The new video was of far better quality, having been shot through a military-grade dioptiscope. Among the low, burning buildings, hump-like corpses of Hkh’Rkh predominated, but as the view moved toward where the rotarywings had landed, the strangely flat bodies of humans began to appear. Many had been torn into tatters: a fairly common outcome when hit with the larger-bore Hkh’Rkh weapons. But off to the side of what looked like a marshalling area — possibly where spoils of war had been collected for loading upon their aircraft — there was a dense tangle of decidedly pale-skinned human corpses. Almost half had the light-colored fur that was common only in certain of Earth’s northern latitudes.

O’akhdruh’s next inquiry emerged as a resentful grunt, as if duty compelled him to pose a question he would rather not have asked. “You clearly attach signal importance to this particular group of dead humans. Explain.”

It was the request that Yaargraukh had been waiting for, as O’akhdruh had no doubt surmised. “Every one of the grey-uniformed soldiers who participated on this raid is in that pile of corpses. They are all Northern European, at least in general genotypic origin. Not only was their now-missing gear overwhelmingly consistent with that of Nazi Germany, so too is the language and lettering on their garments. All of their bodies showed a pattern of careful personal grooming and many bore evidence of primitive, yet meticulously executed, dental care. Both would be consistent with the upper or elite classes of the German-speaking nations of that era. Together, these forensic details point toward a historical anomaly that defies any ready explanation.”

“This is madness,” Jrekhalkar muttered before his sire silenced him with a look.

“I agree the conclusion beggars belief,” Yaargraukh answered with a single, deep nod, “but I can find only one explanation: that these humans are indistinguishable from a group that last lived almost two centuries ago.”

“So is that how you conjecture the humans have invaded us?” Z’gluurhek shouted, his long, black tongue thrashing about in a fit of hilarity, “By sending an army of their own ghosts across great expanses of not only space, but time?” Phlegm rolled richly in his snout. “The campaign on Earth may have wounded more than your body.” Although his tone was sardonic, his eyes were eager and alert, shiny black marbles that waited, hoped, for a sign that he had struck enough of a nerve to elicit a Challenge from Yaargraukh.

Who turned slowly, deliberately away from Z’gluurhek. “Revered O’akhdruh, it does me no honor to advance such a strange hypothesis. If I could offer another in its place, I would gladly do so, both for the sake of our people and to preserve their opinion of me. But you have tasked me to make a full report. I cannot in good conscience gloss over these inconsistencies, since they may be of prime strategic and tactical importance.”

Yaargraukh had hoped that the former Voice would ask him how such a situation was possible, but O’akhdruh merely folded his claws together in contemplation, refused to give him the opportunity to explicate what these strange facts might signify about the so-called invaders — and conversely, what they might preclude. “Have you other pertinent information on the human operations or equipment to share, Yaargraukh?”

“I do. It appears that, except for the four slain during the attack on the MG-42, these humans died from wounds sustained solely from their own species’ firearms. And since none of our Warriors commandeered human weapons, nor have digits small enough to employ them without modifications, it seems certain that these humans were slain by their own kind.”

“Perhaps it was an execution over a disciplinary matter?”

“Unlikely. As I mentioned, the senior-most officer we saw in the footage of the raid was among the dead. Furthermore, the wounds were not consistent with execution, which, in humans, usually involves several wounds to the front of the body, or a single one to the rear of the skull. In this case, the wounds were distributed widely and from various angles: they were close-quarters combat wounds. Lastly, although they had full control of the town, the humans were evidently panicked and in a hurry to depart. They reclaimed equipment from the dead, but did not spend any additional time gathering spoils. They did not even stop to retrieve their cartridge casings, which they had invariably done before and have continued to do since.”

“Their obsessive concern with the cartridge casings might be a clue to why they are using what you call ‘antique’ weapons,” interjected O’akhdruh with a quaver in his voice. “Because these older firearms still utilize brass cartridges, the humans can generate new ammunition locally by reloading the spent rounds. Therefore they are less dependent upon resupply.”

And in trying to explain away those peculiarities, you have opened a door that leads to still greater ones, you old bigot. “I concur, O’akhdruh. But is it not strange that an invasion force, dispatched on so provocative a mission, by so formidable an opponent as the CTR, is not provided with the most effective modern arms and sufficient ammunition? By what logic would the Terrans so willfully undercut their own chances of victory with uniformly outdated equipment?”

O’akhdruh’s long, narrow lower jaw closed with a sharp, upward snap. “War compels strange choices, Yaargraukh. Perhaps they were uncertain of their ability to reinforce this expedition promptly, and so equipped it with simpler gear, that it might more readily preserve its own battlefield readiness if it became isolated.”

“However,” Yaargraukh rebutted carefully, “their primitive dentistry, uniforms, and needlessly absent electronics, all remain unexplained.”

“We need not explain every anomaly to know that our people are being killed by these human invaders,” O’akhdruh snapped in return, and was then visibly irritated by having thus lost his composure. “Quickly: what else have you to report?”

“After the raid on Haakh’haln, the indiscriminate killing of our Unhonored stopped. If I correctly understood the conversation I overheard while spying upon the human cadre in Ylogh, their commanders now attempt to minimize all casualties, where ever that is practicable.”

“An account for which we have only one source: you,” Z’gluurhek pointed out.

“Which is why I present it last, and merely as support for data I have already advanced through more objective sources.” Besides, half of what I heard while listening to the humans in Ylogh I dare not mention here, not without courting accusations of perjury, treason, or both. “Lastly, there is no longer any report of human invaders wearing the grey uniforms I conjecture as being German. Some still wear the helmets, but repainted and with all insignias removed. This, I believe, is highly significant.”

O’akhdruh straightened, painfully, to his full height. “I do not deem it so.”

And so he shut down the key point toward which Yaargraukh had hoped to build and which he had suspected now for months: that these were not merely Germans, were not merely connected — inexplicably, impossibly — to Earth’s Twentieth Century. More importantly, they had been executed by their fellow humans who, immediately afterward, had rejected their barbarous tactics and even erased their insignias in what seemed like a frenzy of repudiation. Which was not entirely surprising to Yaargraukh, because of all the military units in human memory, none was more reviled and hated than the Nazi Schutzstaffel.

Or, as commonly abbreviated, the “SS.”