Caine’s Mutiny – Snippet 04

Chapter Twenty

Iarzut’thruk, BD+56 2966 Two (“Turkh’saar”)

O’akhdruh waved a dismissing claw at Yaargraukh as if he was attempting to telekinetically push him back out of the circle. “I have heard all I need to hear. I consider your report complete.”

“You have the data, Silenced Voice, but you have yet to hear my hypothesis — as you assured me you would.”

“I suspect we already know what that hypothesis is, but I give you leave to share it — as one, short, declarative sentence.”

Dung and folly: one sentence? To do that might be worse than silence, if Yaargraukh’s statement seemed too simplistic or implausible. But he who dares nothing gains nothing, so — “Given the many inconsistencies and inexplicable peculiarities of the operations and technologies of the humans, I consider it extremely unlikely that they came to Turkh’saar with the intent of invasion.” He waited for O’akhdruh to ask him what reasonable alternative explanation there might be.

But the shrewd old Silent Voice did not open the door to that topic. Rather, he nodded faintly, and stood forth from his son’s side — who kept a supportive hand near the frail Hkh’Rkh as he advanced and then spoke in a surprisingly strong voice. “I have heard much counsel. And I have arrived at a conclusion: that the human raiders who have been on this planet for some months are merely a pathfinder force. Their strikes against our outlying communities had a hidden purpose: to serve as both a practical reconnaissance and a clearing of the landing zone for the ships which violated the sovereignty of Turkh’saar tonight, and which may be but the first of a much larger wave of invaders.”

The mutters around the circle grew into growls and grunts of affirmation. Yaargraukh estimated he had about three seconds to make a statement — as provided for by tradition — between the time that a Voice pronounced his determination and his plan of action. From that point, the scions’ approval would carry the Clanhall forward on a confrontational path out of sheer social impetus, regardless of defects in logic. Unless those defects were exposed boldly and fearlessly.

Yaargraukh bowed his head. “Silenced Voice O’akhdruh of the Moiety of Gdar’khoom, if these humans were charged with carrying out a military invasion of this planet, why did they not commence their operation by shattering Iarzut’thruk, our main citadel and settlement, with a rain of munitions from what we must presume to be the invisible ship that brought the first group of raiders? Since they would have been undetectable until they attacked and we are clearly without defenses against bombardment, what would have stayed their hands?

“Today’s events are equally confounding. Specifically: after eliminating almost forty interception missiles that none of us” — well, most of us — “knew were secretly arrayed in defense of the Site, why would the humans not simply continue to orbit until their weapons came to bear upon us here, and so destroy our hub of political exchange and action? For surely they know that this is the place where we will mobilize and project a counterattack against their ground forces.”

O’akhdruh swayed, cast off his son’s proffered hand, steadied himself, waved a negating hand that seemed to carry Yaargraukh’s objections away like fading cobwebs. “The presenting of data and discussion is at an end. My son called this Council that I might hear the many perspectives that exist upon this matter, and the report of those who have seen the humans’ handiwork first-hand. His counsel and that of many of your Clans has become known to me.” O’akhdruh’s eyes travelled around their circle, which stood before the large pedestal bearing his son’s bier. “Now I have heard from Yaargraukh Onvaarkhayn of the moiety of Hsraluur, as well. I shall now presume upon my son’s role as Voice and Fist of my Family to speak for it one last time, for my hours are short and my wounds weigh heavy upon me.

“My eldest’s death and the attack upon Ylogh made it necessary to wake me. It is fortuitous that the human ships have landed in this last hour, for now I may counsel you with a full understanding of their intents.”

“Their recent changes in raiding could have been optimistically construed: that the humans were reconsidering and relenting in their initial savagery. Until, that is, their new invasion forces landed tonight, in a region that has now been well-scouted and cleansed by their advance group. And we may rightly understand the inconsistencies of that first group as no longer puzzling, but shrewd: theatrics meant to give us pause in our response, to waste precious weeks gathering evidence and attempting to discern what strange manner of raider was besetting us.”

And because in this one instance he was neither allowed nor able to quickly and conclusively rebut O’akhdruh’s hypothesis, Yaargraukh felt the last shreds of tenuous credibility he had built among the scions dissolving from under him like tidal sand being carried out by a greedy, receding wave.

“So,” O’akhdruh continued, “we spent months failing to mount what should have been our first response: a direct counter-attack with all our force.

“But, unbeknownst to you, my friends and scions, you did not have access to the maximum force at your disposal. Indeed, that could not be achieved without awakening my eldest son, and then, given his unforeseen mortal wound, myself.”

Z’gluurhek’s unusually broad, short-snouted head waggled in perplexity. “Revered O’akhdruh, I do not understand your words.”

“And you would have no reason to, loyal scion. My son and heir Jrekhalkar was not so deaf to your entreaties for action as you may have thought. And he did not awaken me primarily for my counsel but for knowledge — knowledge that only I possess.”

“Knowledge of what, O’akhdruh?”

The Silent Voice collected himself, looking more pasty by the moment. “Nearby, there is a well-hidden cache of decommissioned military equipment, enough to arm two Tassles, along with some light armor and mobile artillery. Knowledge of its presence, location, and access codes was entrusted to a mere handful of this colony’s most senior leaders, long before most of us were called away to war against the humans. The three who possessed the knowledge and remained behind died when you sent our few transatmospheric interceptors up in an attempt to repel the Slaasriithi raiders. They were to have entrusted the information to Jrekhalkar before gambling their lives thusly, but I am told that duty called upon them so quickly that they lacked the time to observe that precaution –”

— Or they were already well-acquainted with the intemperate nature of O’akhdruh’s second scion —

“– And so the ability to access the hidden equipment was lost. Not wishing to risk Uzkekh’gar’s and my own life, having no clear data on the severity of our wounds, Jrekhalkar delayed rousing us as long as possible. His decision to do so was a greater sacrifice than most Warriors are ever called upon to make. For the good of our colony, he had to awaken his older brother, and then his own sire, into losing battles with mortal wounds.

“But he did what he had to, and now so must you. But your choice is far easier than his was. You have but to resolve to expunge this alien pestilence from our planet, our home. And as swiftly as possible. Every day invaders are left unopposed, their strength and preparedness grows greater.”

“But, my lord O’akhdruh,” Z’gluurhek almost groaned, “those few of our brothers who were foremost in readiness, who had trained frequently with the militia, were slain during the Slaasriithi raids or at Ylogh. There are but a handful who remain.”

“And they shall train you as best as they may as you move to engage the enemy. Any who have militia training shall report to former-Advocate Yaargraukh. Despite his excess of caution, he is a Flag Leader of the Patrijuridicate Great Host and served acceptably not merely on First Voice’s staff, but in the field. He will organize the training and exercises the others shall conduct over the next forty-eight hours.”

“Do we dare leave the adversary unengaged for so long?”

“We shall not do so. As we speak, our scouts north of the Site-lands are preparing to rendezvous with a larger strike force is closing from the west. It is equipped with the remainder of our militia gear and although most of its Warriors have only rudimentary militia, they are officered by several band-leaders with sufficient experience and training. The scouts shall locate the anticipated human beachhead, then both forces shall advance to contact and fix the invader in place, or at least delay him and keep him engaged. Then the more numerous, heavy forces we are readying here in Iarzut’thruk will arrive to destroy the invaders.” He raised a calar claw high; his voice was surprisingly strong: “We will carry human heads to the Accord as evidence of their invasion.”