Caine’s Mutiny – Snippet 14

Riordan rubbed his lower lip. “Well, let’s find out.” He approached the cage. The Hkh’Rkh did not move. Caine stared meaningfully at his symbols of rank, then some other markings on his armor’s midriff, which usually denoted lineage, status, other data of a personal nature.

Riordan inclined his head slowly, bending it further forward as he did so in order to best emulate the Hkh’Rkh gesture of respectful greeting among equals. “Honor,” he pronounced carefully in Hkhi.

The exosapient did not react. But that in itself was odd. The prisoner certainly spoke Hkhi, so he should have been shocked to hear it coming out of a human. “You know that word. And you’re not surprised.”

Still no response. Well, that was to be expected. This Hkh’Rkh was on the horns of a dilemma and was sticking with the best path for interviews or interrogations by an enemy: no response.

But Caine was facing his own dilemma. “I also suspect that you know English, or possibly du kannst die Deutsch,” he finished, shifting into the tongue that Yaargraukh had told him was the second most common human language studied by the Hkh’Rkh. No response to either. But the lack of response confirmed what Caine now perceived as a careful lack of all expression.

He’s in Patrijuridicate standard livery. He was probably in, or prepped, for the invasion. So he’s likely to know a little English. Maybe a lot. And it had better be the latter because we’re down to three minutes, at most.

Riordan sighed. “Normally, I’d like to take this slowly and carefully, to learn of your lineage and your Sire and Greatsires. But you are not talking and I don’t have a lot of time, so here’s how it’s going to go. I can’t afford to leave you here, and I’m pretty sure you know exactly what I’m saying. I’m sure because I was at the Convocation and know how many of your people speak one or more of our languages. So, to me, you are either a source of intelligence or an intelligence risk. And if I can’t tell which, I have about thirty seconds to tranq you and stick you in our brig. Of course, if your forces retake this cave first, that means you’ll die alongside us. Or, if you want to help both our peoples, you could talk to me. You have ten seconds to decide.”

Eyes still on the Hkh’Rkh, Caine chinned his commlink to Puller. “Any radio activity?” And then, hoping against hope at this last possible moment: “Any word from Yaargraukh?”

As Duncan started to detail the limited enemy radio chatter, the prisoner’s small black eyes almost ejected themselves from their leathery protective folds. “You — know Yaargraukh?” His English was heavily accented, but thoroughly understandable.

“I do. I was with him at the Convcoation. I was with him on Earth. He is a friend. He will know me.”

“What name are you known by, human?”

“Caine Riordan.”

The Hkh’Rkh’s eyes yanked back into their covers. “This name is an ill-omen. It is said you are an oathbreaker whose lies led to the deaths of many of our Warriors.”

“Is that what Yaargraukh says?”

“No.” The prisoner’s eyes returned hesitantly, the folds sagging around them: sadness, frustration, futility. “I believe he holds you in esteem. But he is almost alone in that opinion. And he is too shrewd to make public statements on your behalf. He would be branded a traitor.”

Riordan nodded. “I understand. What are you called?”

The Hkh’Rkh looked at the two human rifles. “I Ezzraamar Laarkhduur of the Moiety of Nys’maharn, senior Band-Leader of the Patrijuridicate and in present service to the Colonial Militia of Turkh’saar. Why do you ask?”

“To do you honor, no matter what you decide. Your ten seconds are up, Ezzraamar of the Moiety of Nys’maharn. Tell me: what do you want to do?”

“I want you to fire your tranquilizing rounds into me, but to leave me here.”

Riordan frowned. “Why?” Duncan was counting down the seconds to probable enemy contact with increasing tension in his voice. Caine tuned it out, focused on Ezzraamar’s answer.

“I cannot go with you. I do not know if you mean to harm or help us.”

“We are here to remove the humans on Turkh’saar.”

“Are they your raiders?”

Riordan shook his head. “Absolutely not. Not authorized by the Consolidated Terran Republic, at any rate. We are here to find and extract them. That is all.”

Ezzraamar’s head wagged slowly from side to side. “Puzzling, yet your uncertainty of their origins recalls Yaargraukh’s own confusion — and now mine — regarding their purpose here. What I have heard since becoming their prisoner is not consistent with the speech or motivations of raiders. That is why I am willing to speak with you at all.”

Duncan’s voice was becoming louder. “Commodore –”

“Hold position, Major. Fire if you must.” Riordan turned back toward Ezzraamar. “I have to leave in sixty seconds. Tell me why I should tranq you and leave you here.”

“Because if you take me with you, I could share some information, but then I will be utterly useless to you, and the other Warriors will not trust me once I have been your prisoner. But if you tranq me and leave me behind, I can explain that you found me just moments before our own forces arrived, and that you subdued me after your failed attempt to tranquilize the two Warriors you first encountered in this chamber. They will see that you are trying not to kill us. Hopefully, they will take me back to our capitol, Iarzut’thruk, to debrief me. I will be able to surreptitiously inform Yaargraukh that you are on Turkh’saar now. This is the best hope for both our peoples.”

Damn, this guy’s sharp. “I agree. But I could start trying to contact Yaargraukh right now, since –”

“No. Do not attempt that. There are political tensions of which you are unaware. Contact from you could easily be construed to mean that Yaargraukh is your confidential agent, and hence, a traitor. Contact must come from him. If it is permitted at all.”

Riordan knew that five minutes more would give him all the information he needed to massage the unfolding scenario into a better, maybe peaceful, outcome. But it was five minutes more than he had left: Duncan was shouting in his ear. “Just had to use the lasers on their scouts, sir. No helping it. Couldn’t see if they were packing missiles, or something else that might cripple Puller.”

“Acknowledged,” Caine replied. “We’re coming out. De los Reyes, start back and tell Somers to retrieve her creeper and unass this cave.” De los Reyes left, making disapproving sounds. Riordan switched his Co-Bro back over to feed from his magazine’s tranq stack. “Ezzraamar, these tranq rounds are a major risk. Three probably won’t put you out. Five or six could kill you.”

“Then I suggest you use four and wait to see if I fall over.”

“I would, except I don’t have the time to wait.”

Ezzraamar’s head swung from side to side. “Then fire five and we shall hope for the best — for both our sakes.”

Admiring the unflinching courage of the Hkh’Rkh, Riordan leveled the Co Bro at Ezzraamar’s unwounded leg and fired four rounds into it.

The exosapient staggered, blinked, slurred, “Yooo zhud fire mawr than faw…fawr. To be shurr…” He slumped over.

“You need to be sure of survival,” Riordan answered as the Hkh’Rkh’s eyes slowly retracted fully into their folds.

He turned and ran, shouting for Fanny to prepare for a leapfrog retreat back across the clearing to Puller and for Tsaami to be ready to boost as soon as they were in the ventral bay.