Raising Caine – Snippet 04
In transit; GJ 1248’s inner system
Caine Riordan rose after checking on the reanimation progress of one of the legation’s coldslept security personnel: an Australian SAAS officer by the improbable name of Christopher Robin who had helped rescue him in Jakarta. Ben Hwang exited the cryobank module as Riordan turned back toward Karam Tsaami. “You okay on your own?”
Karam waved him out. “Yeah, yeah: I’ve got these sleeping beauties.” He glanced at the two rows of cryocell bays behind him. Most had a unit in them, all of which showed green status lights. A few were blinking, the rest were steady. One unit was dark: unoccupied. “I’ve done this more times than I can count on colony ships. You’d just be slowing me down.”
Caine nodded, resisting the urge to stay: he’d never seen anyone other than himself going through the slow process of reanimation. Two days ago, he had helped start it, but other than the automated reswap of nonglycerinated plasma and associated cellular purging, there had been nothing to do other than taking a pre-animation reading, pressing a button, watching each unit’s steady blue light become a steady green light. He suspected that a chimpanzee could be trained to do it as well as he had, possibly better. He nodded at the slightly inclined cryocells. “You know, given the number of times I’ve been in cryosleep, you’d think I’d have more skill managing it.”
Karam cocked a rueful grin at Riordan. “Being in a cryocell doesn’t teach you anything about how to operate one, Caine. Now scoot: you’re cramping my style.”
To Caine’s eyes, Karam — reading a book on his dataslate as he waited to start transferring the awakening cold sleepers to cocoon-like warming couches, IVs at the ready — didn’t seem to be doing anything he could possibly obstruct, but he nodded a farewell and gave the pilot-turned-EMT his requested privacy.
Ben Hwang had strolled halfway back to their habmod. The featureless metal corridor was the only part of the Slaasriithi ship they’d been allowed to access during the twelve long weeks of hopping from one star system to the next. “Hard to believe we’re finally going to get out of these tin cans,” Hwang murmured.
Caine caught up with him at the entry hatch. “If I never have to travel on a shift-carrier again, that will be fine with me. But it’s given me some time to catch up.”
Hwang looked back. “On recent history?” Riordan, having slept through the years 2105 to 2118 thanks to a hyper-vigilant Taiwanese security operative, still had gaps in contemporary references.
Caine shrugged as they moved through the ante-chamber that was also an airlock. “Some history, but mostly, well, personal matters. This is the first chance I’ve had to find out what happened to my family, and to Elena and Connor, when I was out of circulation.”
Hwang nodded, did not inquire further into the matter. Which was odd, since Hwang had been the most personable of his fellow travelers on the voyage into Slaasriithi space.
The compartment beyond the airlock was configured to function as a combination living room, work room, gathering space. The outfitters had attempted to make it look homey; instead, they had achieved a dismal parody of that effect. Reclining in an incongruously stylish easy chair, Bannor Rulaine looked up from the pulp-and-ink book he was reading. Hwang tossed a jocose question toward Riordan’s security XO: “Catching up on your military theory?”
“Catching up on my Milton,” Rulaine replied. And, with a nod at Caine, went back to his reading.
Caine crossed over toward the Special Forces captain turned IRIS striker, sat and glanced at the cover of his companion’s dense tome: Milton: Collected Works. Riordan grinned: “So, passing some time with a ripping yarn?”
“Yeah. Brought it along to read on the beach.”
“Or the fiery lakes of brimstone?”
Bannor looked up. “Are you casting me as Lucifer?”
“Hell, no — to coin a phrase. How could I do that to someone who’s been my guardian angel?”
Rulaine’s lips crinkled; for him, that was a broad smile. “I’m not reading Paradise Lost, anyway.”
“Oh? Which one, then?”
“So: a journey into a mysterious forest where temptation lurks. Thinking of our current travels?”
“No: thinking of how the title character reminds me of the Ktor.” Bannor settled back: a gentle, if clear, message that his interest in banter had waned beside his interest in the verse.
Caine settled back in his own chair. Ben Hwang might be the chattier and more intimate of the two men, but Bannor was calmer and well-grounded. And a walking contradiction. His dossier was as filled with combat commendations as it was with examples of how, despite his academic brilliance, he was a poor fit for conventional learning environments. Rulaine’s brief Ivy-League career began its final, precipitous decline on the last day of what had been his favorite class: an advanced Shakespeare seminar. When asked what he had done instead of showing up for the final exam, Rulaine calmly reported that he had elected to spend the time rock-climbing. Alone. When pressed to explain this choice, he responded that while he found great pleasure and value in both the substance and form of the Bard’s plays, he simply could not abide rote memorization of passages, which had been a required component of the final exam. When the academic review board suggested that perhaps he shouldn’t presume to judge the pedagogy of his august and much-published professors, Bannor shrugged and replied that while his instructors might be excellent scholars they were poor educators. After offering a further, provocative enlargement upon that opinion, his absences mounted, his GPA plummeted, and he was summarily dismissed. But Bannor’s fateful, final words had even made it into his Army dossier (although they were buried deep): “most of my professors can’t see the wider forest of meaning because they’ve become obsessed with a few mostly meaningless trees.”
Peter Wu poked his head into the common room. “O’Garran tells me that Gaspard is awake and asking questions. Imperiously.”
Bannor shut his book: an annoyed thunderclap. “Does he ask questions any other way?”
“Occasionally.” Ben’s tone was noncommittal. He rose. “Let’s go see the Great Man.”
Bannor grimaced. “I’d rather spend another few hours on the flight simulator.” He did not rise.
“C’mon, let’s go,” coaxed Caine. “It’ll be more fun than crashing during an unpowered landing. Again and again. Bannor.”
Bannor glared at Riordan. “That’s a low blow. If accurate.”
Caine smiled. Of all the distractions that he and his five conscious fellow travelers had shared during their journey, the flight simulator had been the most useful and the most frustrating. An actual training sim used by the Commonwealth space forces, it was realistic in all regards but one: feel. Karam Tsaami, an accomplished transatmospheric pilot, had tried his hand at it early on. He crashed twice, landed in a heap three times, and then finally put the delta-shaped lander on the ground with only a few nicks and scratches. “It’s bullshit,” he’d pronounced as he pushed away from the controls.
“Why? Because you crashed it?” Hwang’s tone had been almost impish.
“No, Mr. Nobel-Winner Wiseass, not because I crashed it. It’s because you can’t feel anything.”
“You mean, like the crushing impact when you stick it nose-first into the ground?” Peter Wu’s dead-pan rejoinders were becoming his trade-mark.
Tsaami glared at the Taiwanese tunnel rat whose cool competence and valor in Jakarta had ensured that he, too, would be recruited into IRIS, “Wu, has anyone ever told you that you are one hell of a funny guy? Because if they have, they’re liars. Look: this simulator isn’t even a good approximation of instrument flying. This is like — like flying a drone. But drones have all sorts of expert systems, which uneducated idiots call ‘AI,’ to compensate for minor stability issues. This thing” — he jerked a thumb at the console — “is the worst of both worlds. You’re flying an authentically unstable platform but without the real ‘feel’ of being in it. And you’re relying on controls that are less sensitive than a drone’s.”
Caine had been curious. “Then why do they use it as a trainer?”
Karam shrugged. “Look, there’s a lot of details to flying, particularly in a lander. This sim is fine for most spaceside maneuvers. They’re a piece of cake if you can do some basic math or know how to tell the computer to do it for you. Atmospheric flight is trickier, but, unless you’re in dirty weather, it’s still pretty straightforward as long as you don’t try to pull any fancy moves. But reentry? Or fast climb to low orbit? That’s where the job gets a lot harder because that’s where things go wrong most frequently, and you don’t get a lot of warning when they do.”
“Odd, then, how all those quaint twentieth-century space capsules managed to land without computer control. Or without any controls at all.” Hwang couldn’t keep the bait-happy smile off his face.
“Yeah, real odd,” Karam retorted, “since reentry and landing was all they were designed to do. Put them in the right place, at the right angle and speed, and they’ll land. But a platform with lifting surfaces and designed to be capable of launch, landing, and flight in both space and in atmospheres? Those increased capabilities mean increased complexity.”
Bannor had put a hand on Karam’s shoulder. “Ben’s baiting you. He knows all that.”
“Yeah?” Karam sounded dubious. “He’s just annoyed that I like Wu’s food better. Sound about right to you, Pete?”
“Peter,” corrected Peter Wu.
“Yeah, yeah, sure — Pete. But Ben’s just jealous of your cooking, don’t you think, Pete?”
Wu sighed. “Yes, I’m sure that’s it.”