Caine’s Mutiny – Snippet 06
Close Orbit, BD+56 2966 Two (“Turkh’saar”)
Idrem turned away from the sensors and discovered that Brenlor was nodding. “This was well done, Idrem. We could hardly have created a more disastrous situation for the Aboriginals than if we had been physically present ourselves.”
Idrem elected not to point out that, because of his sensor artistry, they virtually had been there. “The Hkh’Rkh show no signs of doubting that the signals came from one of their own satellites. They are primed to rush headlong into battle.”
Brenlor only leaned forward slightly, but was unable to conceal his eagerness… “What else can we do to push events along faster?”
Idrem considered: what was the best way to show Brenlor how foolish that request was without saying so openly. “As the Progenitors remind us, profound correction is best reserved for profound errors. In this case, the more we intervene, the more the Hkh’Rkh are likely to begin questioning the source of these ‘fortuitous’ relays from their supposed satellite.”
Brenlor started. “You said that the methods you used would ensure that the Hkh’Rkh remained unsuspecting of our interference.”
“And so they will. The relay which our remote operated orbital vehicle emplaced on their disabled satellite mimics the signals and results they would expect to see from their own platform. However, it might arouse suspicion if we activated the system too frequently, or at times too perfectly convenient to their needs. They would begin to wonder why a supposedly dead satellite not only reawoke when an intruder passed it, but then continued to provide extraordinarily timely updates on their adversaries’ equipment, numbers, and deployment.
“It may, therefore, be best not to overuse this asset, but hold it — along with our other options — in reserve, to be used only when clearly needed.”
“Yes, there is wisdom in that,” Brenlor relented, frowning as if he were a child whose favorite toy had been snatched away. “Just so long as we can reliably monitor the Hkh’Rkh’s communications.”
“We can, and shall do so most successfully if we remain unobtrusive. We will even have some ability to monitor the Aboriginals’ communications with the Slaasriithi, thanks to the nanosensors we seeded into low orbit months ago. The Terrans have false confidence in the security of their lascom sensors, a conviction of which we should not disabuse them.”
Brenlor’s frown was still present, although diminished. “Unfortunately, the nanosensors are so broadly dispersed that they will only intercept signals occasionally and partially.”
“At first, perhaps, but given time, they will swarm to provide amplified coverage along active comm beam telemetries. We can at least expect to detect any lascom communications that pass through the low and medium orbit regimes of Turkh’saar.”
Brenlor shrugged. “I find it hard to believe that the Aboriginals remain unsuspecting of our ability to tap into their lascoms.”
“Their understanding of the relevant physical theory is extremely rudimentary. They yet to discern that microgram particles can form a phased array to pick up lascom diffusions, or detect back- or side-scatter from particles that lay along the beam’s trajectory.”
Brenlor pushed against the backrest of the conn, as if it was trying to shove it away from him. “And everything else is in readiness?”
Idrem nodded carefully. “Red Lurker is impossible to detect now that we are housed within this shell of a derelict Hkh’Rkh hull. Our railgun is pre-ranged on the anticipated area of engagement. We have firing solutions for all grid coordinates.”
Brenlor frowned. “The flight time of the railgun projectiles still concerns me. The Aboriginals still have two landers in a nearby orbital track. They will detect our fires, track back to the source.”
“Be at ease regarding that variable. They will have to bring down all the landers to effect extraction, which will be a political failure if it is not complete. Consequently, the Aboriginals will no longer have any craft in orbit when we commence our intervention. And they will be stuck at the bottom of Turkh’saar’s gravity well.”
Brenlor closed his eyes, breathed out slowly. “Yes, I remember the logic — and your and Nezdeh’s careful repetitions of it. I am merely — eager to begin.” He glanced up, a smile hinting at the left corner of his mouth. “I may not have the patience for statecraft, but I am not unobservant. Either of the situations in which we find ourselves, or of the value of my best counselors. Idrem.”
Idrem was not frequently surprised, but having schooled himself to readily mask any reaction with a look of somber reflection, he did not betray his momentary disorientation. “I am honored to be thought of so highly by you, Brenlor Srin Perekhmeres.”
Who stood, stretching his limbs. “As well you should be.” The same grin still played at the corners of his mouth. He stared around the bridge at the humans who were crewing Red Lurker. “These Aboriginals have learned their duties well enough.”
“You have been exacting in their drills.”
“Yes.” He stretched again, seemed to be trying to twist out a kink in his neck. “Speaking of drills, we have not refreshed our combat skills since departing the Arbitrage. We should do so.”
Brenlor glanced around the quiet bridge. Nothing had changed in hours, and it was unlikely that anything would for many hours more. “When better? Besides, if I sit here waiting for each uneventful minute to creep into the next, I might be tempted to use one of these Aboriginals for a sparring target.”
Idrem elected to deliver his response in a dead-pan. “Brenlor, you know very well that we cannot afford to dispose of a body: opening the airlock could give away our position.”
Brenlor’s grin finally surfaced: it was both feral and wistful. “Always the cautious one, eh, Idrem? Come; let us go.”
* * *
Idrem twisted sharply, just in time to dodge Brenlor’s long, flying kick. The heavier Ktor shot past the rangier one, heading for the aft bulkhead.
Just before reaching it, the srin tumbled — like a swimmer executing a racing turn — and pushed off from it, heading back at Idrem.
Who was no longer where he had been. Anticipating the fast reversal, Idrem had used his twist to catch at the wall and tug himself sharply toward the deck and forward. In consequence, as Brenlor came rocketing off the aft bulkhead, reorienting out of his tumble, Idrem was passing under him. He jabbed the practice dagger into the torso that flashed overhead.
The lights in the compartment flashed red. “Mortal,” intoned the hand-to-hand subroutine that was monitoring their practice.
Brenlor’s head jerked around. Idrem saw the srin’s trademark temper flash hot, before he groomed it back to mere self-annoyance. “You are crafty, Idrem.”
“I am fortunate, my srin.”
Brenlor stopped himself against the forward bulkhead. “Do not patronize me. Yes, I anger easily, but I am not a child.”
Idrem managed to look somberly thoughtful yet again. It was odd that Brenlor should be so willing to admit personal failings. “A child could not own their anger as you do, srin.” A refreshing truth. “I did not intend to patronize you.” A flat out lie. “However, while I may have a passable command of the tactics of zero-gee melee, I am distinctly your inferior when it comes to the correct reflexes. So I maintain that, thus far, I have been fortunate.” A careful mix of truth and deference.
“Your tongue is as smooth as a serpent’s, Idrem,” Brenlor said without any detectable heat. “I count that a singular asset to the future of this House. I wonder: when the time comes for us to negotiate with other powers which, like us, do not have a seat in the Sphere’s House-Moot, would you feel it below your station to oversee those conversations?”
Idrem was becoming more accustomed to the sensation of surprise with every passing minute. “Srin Perekmeres, I would be honored. Of course, it will be quite some time before any of the other Houses will be so open in their alliance to us that they would accept direct speech.”