Caine’s Mutiny – Snippet 05

Yaargraukh appreciated the expert manner in which Silent Voice had maneuvered him into a trap from which he could not escape or even continue to mount objections. Now honored with a prominent role in the coming battle for Turkh’saar, the former-Advocate no longer had the freedom to express his doubts and disagreements. If he uttered those views now, they would be tantamount to treason, to aiding and abetting a foe that was ravaging the world of his birth. But if the ships that had brushed aside the missiles earlier in the evening had in fact been human, then it stood to reason that they might be bearing an envoy — Caine, perhaps — who could shed some light on the origins and intents on the first group of intruders.

And perhaps those missiles, realized Yaargraukh, were the key to arresting the headlong rush to war. “Revered O’akhdruh, if I am to ready our Warriors for all tactical eventualities, there is a crucial datum I lack.”

O’akhdruh nodded slowly, wary. “Ask.”

“What other missile defenses do we possess, and what is the nature and location of their support infrastructure?”

Although almost all Hkh’Rkh males were Warriors, most of them had no formal military training. Consequently, a majority of the heads in the circle first swiveled toward Yaargraukh in surprise, then back toward O’akhdruh in curiosity.

The Silent Voice was silent indeed for three full seconds. “We have no additional missiles. Those were the only ones we possessed.”

“Then I must broaden my question: what other unrevealed military assets are at our disposal?”

O’akhdruh’s voice was slow, his eyes watchful. “Why do you anticipate further assets?”

“Because the Patrijuridicate has apparently seen fit to provide various military resources surreptitiously, thereby evading the constraints of the nonmilitarized codominium of this system.” I won’t say “violation of our treaty with the Arat Kur,” but I hardly need to: the broad wings of that stooping ut’hakash hover ominously over every word spoken today in this Clanhall. “Firstly, there were the interceptors with which Turkh’saar defended itself against the Slaasriithi raiders. Just now, you have revealed that there is a cache of weapons and armored vehicles which, in number and type, clearly exceed the expected legal limits. And lastly, the Site’s defense missiles imply a deeper investment in useful communications and sensor arrays.”

Jrekhalkar’s digits flexed anxiously as O’akhdruh, who remained very still, explained. “These missiles were left as a precaution to prevent unauthorized reentry to the Site. To my knowledge, they were left behind long ago, and depend upon no additional systems.”

Ah. Now I have you. “Indeed? But then how were the missile batteries alerted and the weapons targeted?

O’akhdruh eyes wavered. “They were self-seeking.”

Yaargraukh allowed his genuine perplexity to show, while carefully concealing his dubiety. “I confess some confusion, Silent Voice. As one of First Voice’s tactical advisors on Earth, I know something of our self-seeking missiles, particularly those used for surface-to-low orbit intercept. They are self-seeking only during the latter third of their flight. Without external targeting sensors to guide them until they enter the terminal intercept phase, it would be blind luck for them to hit a target at all.”

O’akhdruhs’s response was halting. “Our electronics specialist informed me that evidently, one of our satellites is still working, at least intermittently. It was probably roused from its post-battle lurk-mode when the human craft entered the Site’s defensive airspace. The satellite acquired the target’s general trajectory and relayed that by lascom to a ground receiver, which automatically launched the missiles.”

The Silent Voice’s explanation, while careful, seemed hobbled more by uncertainty than prevarication, almost as if the missile launch had taken him by surprise, as well. But for now, that was immaterial. Yaargraukh had to make the scions uncomfortable with the scenario, enough so that they would demand more knowledge before taking action. “And are these batteries furnished with multiple missiles per launcher? And, now that we know of its existence, can we access the satellite’s autonomous control system to activate it for our militia’s tactical needs as we –?”

O’akhdruh’s voice sounded brittle: he was feeling weary, cornered, or both. “I am unfamiliar with the details of these systems and have no further information on them.” That answer confirmed that either O’akhdruh was either suspiciously ignorant or lying. “Your questions are valid, but we no longer have the luxury of time to seek answers that that are not available to us. We must be comforted by our knowledge that the enemy has encountered these missiles and therefore must expect he will encounter more.”

Yet isn’t it strangely convenient that our one remaining non-geosynchronous satellite just happened to be at that brief part of its orbital track to both detect the approach of the human ships and initiate an attack against them? One glance at O’akhdruh’s smooth and expressionless snout told Yaargraukh that the patriarch had thought the same thing, but was unwilling to reveal or voice it. Such improbably serendipitous help could not be admitted without potentially distracting, and thus derailing, the rush to decisive action that O’akhdruh meant to put in motion before he was placed atop his own pyre. Accordingly, he was determined to eliminate any further obstructions. His sustained stare at Yaargraukh was both a mute testimony to that resolve and a pointed warning.

Studying the increasingly ashen Silent Voice, Yaargraukh understood more, still: that in following this course, O’akhdruh was preserving not only the authority, but the continuity, of his line. When the campaign against Earth commenced, Jrekhalkar had still been too young to go to war. The sire’s second scion had not trained in military matters, not even in the militia; his focus had been the halbardiche and attaining the physical prowess to wield it decisively. It had been the logical course for him. His elder brother had both the birthrank and innate talents to succeed their father as Voice. Accordingly, it fell to Jrekhalkar to be the Fist. Besides, although no one would tell him so, he was roundly considered too rash to go to war unless it was one in which the engagements were ritually limited to melee weapons.

But now, with his Clan’s Sire and First Scion dead, how long would it be before some shrewd scion of another Family baited Jrekhalkar into issuing a Challenge over some trifling slight? And since the Challenged has the right to choose the means whereby the Challenge is settled, Jrekhalkar could be compelled to undertake any one of a number of mental competitions at which he was unlikely to win — and so, lose all his property and all control over the fate of his own family.

But if O’akhdruh was able to emphasize that it had been Jrekhalkar’s sense of communal duty and foresight that had compelled him to awaken, and thus sacrifice, his father in order to acquire the weapons necessary to repel the human invaders of Turkh’saar, he would be a popular and honored leader. Wiser heads among the scions would offer him their counsel out of gratitude and respect, and so protect him from his own rash excesses.

It was a masterful ploy and necessary, since Jrekhalkar had not been allowed to make a name for himself in the invasion of Earth, a lack that the Second Scion obviously felt keenly. After all, a Hkh’Rkh who does not go to his species’ first great interstellar war will not be remembered in the hero-lays of his generation. Unless, that is, he accrued renown and regard as the savior of his race’s one productive colony world: that he alone had met and decisively defeated the humans in battle, and in so doing, redeemed the honor the Hkh’Rkh had lost at Earth.

And so, O’akhdruh had no choice but to hold fast to the claim that this was an invasion, even if he knew it to be otherwise. The grim set of his eyes told Yaargraukh that the evidence placed before him had, in fact, brought the Silent Voice around to the former-Advocate’s own belief: that these humans were at most distaff raiders, and were possibly something even less threatening and more unusual than that.

Jrekhalkar had come to stand beside his sire, who seemed to shrink into more stooped decrepitude. O’akhdruh looked around the circle one final time, his eyes ending upon Yaargraukh, unblinking. “I presume all questions have been asked and that preparation and training may commence.”

With the rest of the scions, Yaargraukh bowed slightly from the waist, his tail in contact with the floor as the ritual show of respect required.

When he looked up, the Silent Voice was doddering back to the side of his eldest’s bier. Almost as an afterthought, he spoke over his palsied right shoulder. “Make haste. You shall be judged by how the days to come reveal your honor and your bravery — or not.”

Filing out with the others, Yaargraukh could not shake the impression that the now truly Silenced Voice had meant that warning especially for him.