Raising Caine – Snippet 01

Chapter Fifteen

Near gas giants; all systems from V 1581 to GJ 1248

The bridge of the Arbitrage was packed tight with the Lurkers’ crew. Only the two low-breed aspirants to Elevation, Jesel and Suzruzh, were absent, ensuring that the Aboriginals remained locked in their quarters. Nezdeh rose into the microgravity. “We have finalized our plans.” She nodded toward Idrem.

He activated his beltcom’s projector: eight wire-thin arms emerged from the top of the unit. A moment later, a crude, semi-flat holograph was floating a meter above it. The image was a stylized Aboriginal graphic depicting the refueling operations of the Arbitrage. “Attend. This ship was to conduct two to three more days of fuel harvesting here at V1581.4. It was then scheduled to break orbit and head for its prearranged shift point to Sigma Draconis, here.” Idrem gestured toward a pulsing cross-hairs symbol, far beyond the heliopause. “It would have taken them five weeks to reach this point at an approximate velocity of zero point two cee: a total of thirty-eight days from now. Keeping to that schedule would prevent the Aboriginals in this system from suspecting that the Arbitrage has been seized.

“However, we may no longer do so.” Idrem brought up a schematic of the shift-carrier. “In addition to minor damage that our attacks inflicted upon this hull’s fuel handling capacity, we also destroyed one of the tanker/tenders when the Aboriginals attempted to ram us with it.”

Tegrese frowned. “So the Aboriginals back at the second planet will detect and inspect this refueling delay.”

“They would notice it eventually, but we will be sure to report it before then.”

Zurur Deosketer sounded skeptical. “Will the Aboriginals trust a report that does not come from the captain of record?”

Brenlor smiled. “No, but fortunately, the Aboriginal captain will make the report.”

“The Aboriginal captain is dead.”

“His voice is not.”

Idrem expanded upon Brenlor’s response. “The Aboriginals record all communiqués. So, once we have recalibrated the comm array on the Red Lurker to emulate the Arbitrage’s, we shall send a damage report and revised mission timeline using edited clips of the voice of the dead captain. The Aboriginal force back at Planet Two will have questions. But given the transmission delay of almost twenty minutes, it will not seem unusual that some other member of the command staff would answer. Accordingly, Kozakowski will reply as we instruct.”

“Consequently, the Arbitrage shall resume her current timetable with a four or five day delay. But she shall never arrive at Sigma Draconis.” Idrem waved his hand over his beltcom: a glittering three-dimensional array of the stars within fifteen light years floated before them. He pointed toward one incarnadine chip: it pulsed as his finger neared it. “Our present location.” He moved his finger until it rested on an orange-yellow dot, which also bloomed. “Sigma Draconis; just under 8.3 light years. But our actual destination is here” — he pointed at a more distant, dual-lobed red spot — “GJ 1230. It has other names as well, all equally uninspiring.”

Tegrese squinted, frowned. “It is almost twelve light years from this system. How shall we reach it? This wretched hull can barely shift two-thirds of that distance.”

“That is true, presuming it is unaided.” Brenlor smiled. “I told you at the outset that six other Aspirants, soon to be Evolved, would join us. What I neglected to mention is what they would be bringing with them.” He swept his hand over Idrem’s beltcom.

A new image appeared next to the three-dimensional star map: a blocklike spacecraft, as uninspiring to the eye as the Aboriginal star names were to the ear. But the Ktor reacted as if it was an object of surpassing beauty, just as Nezdeh had known they would.

“A shift-tug!” Ulpreln almost laughed. “An old one — almost two centuries, from the look of the thermionic radiator grid — but still, that should give us ample shift range.”

“Almost twelve and a half light years,” Brenlor confirmed. “She and the six huscarls manning her are in this system already. She will rendezvous with us in four weeks.”

Vranut folded his arms. “And how is it that a Ktor tug happens to be in such a convenient location, Brenlor?”

Brenlor seemed to approve of Vranut’s cynicism. “An excellent question. And here is the excellent answer: it was part of our Earth-related operations more than a century ago.”

Vranut’s eyebrows elevated slightly. “It helped position the Doomsday Rock?”

“No, it was not part of our own House’s covert forces. The Autarchs ordered the tug to support the Dornaani Custodians in their monitoring of the Aboriginals. It was listed as lost due to shift-drive failure.”

Nezdeh waved a hand at the fuel skimmers in their berths. “Our one irremediable operational weakness is the Arbitrage’s damaged, and primitive, refueling technologies. We will expend considerable time taking on hydrogen between shifts.”

“Yes,” Vranut countered carefully, “but we will also require less time to preaccelerate, once we have rendezvoused with our tug and its anti-matter drives.”

Nezdeh nodded. “Our per-system turn around time will shrink to approximately ten days. Technical intelligence estimates that the Slaasriithi turn around is twelve days. With that two day advantage, we should be able to overtake our target and so, begin to both restore and avenge our Extirpated House.”

Tegrese pointed back at the red speck that was GJ 1230. “We shall restore our House by traveling there? An uninhabited system? And in pursuit of what target?”

Nezdeh chose to ignore Tegrese’s borderline insolence. “The target is a Slaasriithi shift-carrier carrying human envoys to Beta Aquilae. Destroying that ship will simultaneously derail any rapid alliance between those two polities while also creating an incident which shall provoke open war.”

Vranut’s eyes had remained on Nezdeh. “I have a question that I hope you will not consider impertinent.”

I hope so, too. “Proceed,” she said.

“So: I understand that destroying this Slaasriithi ship will damage or at least delay an alliance between two of our adversaries. But how does that facilitate the resurgence of House Perekmeres?”

Nezdeh nodded. “Your question is perceptive, not impertinent. Bluntly, we have patrons back in the House Moot who have assured us that such an event would be a political disaster for House Shethkador, which has been entrusted with managing affairs in this salient. A significant decrease in the fortunes of House Shethkador will create an opening for the restoration of House Perekmeres.

“You may have been too young at the time of our Extirpation to know just how tirelessly House Shethkador schemed to effect our downfall. They are now the dominant voice in the House Moot. But their preeminence is built upon their supposed skill at destroying enemies from within rather than upon battlefields, and for reclaiming clandestine operations which threatened to spin out of control or become politically injurious.” Such as the folly of our own Hegemons’ Doomsday Rock scheme, unfortunately. “House Shethkador’s support in the House Moot would diminish if it stumbled in its current efforts to control the war’s political backlash. Logically, it is in their interest to calm the post-war waters by lulling the other species of the Accord back into apathy and indecision. So, conversely, it is in our interest to stir those waters as violently as possible.

“Moreover, if a small band such as ourselves can successfully ruin House Shethkador’s tortuously subtle plans by striking directly against our collective foes, it not only proves the tenuousness of Shethkador’s control over this salient of operations, but will solidify support for us and our boldness. The Houses that now aid us covertly will become our overt champions. Houses that are currently undecided will decide in our favor. It will not mean the downfall of House Shethkador, but it would at least cost them their preeminence and a few sacrificial scapegoats. Conversely, the value of our Perekmeres genelines will soar, and we may be allowed to fully reconstitute our House. If not, then at least as a First Family within another House. And from there — well, we Perekmeres have never had a paucity of ambition.”

The group’s feral smiles dimmed as Idrem introduced a sobering note. “Our patrons, some of whose identities we cannot confirm, assert that it would be advantageous if the elimination of the Slaasriithi ship and the Aboriginal envoys could be carried out in such a way that the cause of their destruction was a mystery, or, better yet, appear to have been caused by each other.”

“The latter scenario is preposterous,” Vranut objected. “There is no reason for the two species to betray each other, and every reason for them to become allies. Quickly.”