Raising Caine – Snippet 05

That had been another welcome distraction during the outbound trip: the dueling regional cuisines of China. Wu was Taiwanese. Ben Hwang had dual citizenship, China and Canada, and had grown up eating authentic Szechuan in Vancouver, then lived in Canton as a student. The cooking wars between the two men had become twice-weekly events. But before long, it was obvious that while Ben Hwang was more knowledgeable in the different nuances of the many regional cuisines and use of ingredients, Peter Wu had that unquantifiable gift for knowing — just knowing — the moment when the meat had been seared enough, the leeks wilted enough, the peppers sliced finely enough. The final, almost pitiable, conferral of victory upon Wu had come when Ben Hwang had been discovered making a midnight raid on the leftovers of Peter’s cooking, even though the refrigerator was still well-stocked with his own.

Caine rose to his feet to respond, along with the others, to O’Garran’s summons.

Bannor remained seated. Kept reading. Conspicuously.

Ben motioned. “C’mon.”

“You can’t make me go.”

Caine had the sudden impression of Bannor as a quietly intransigent four-year-old. “I can make you go.”

“Yeah? How?”

“Miles O’Garran, your brother-in-arms, is in there with Gaspard. Alone. And you won’t do your part to rescue him?”

Bannor glared at Riordan, sighed, put down his book, and rose. “That wasn’t fair. Lead on.”

* * *

It took Gaspard a moment to notice that Caine and the others had entered the room.

Miles O’Garran came over quickly. “So, am I off-duty, now?”

“Uh…yes. Sure.”

O’Garran nodded tightly. “Good. I’ve got to get out of here.” He shouldered past the others, several of whom had seen him stand unflinching in the face of alien invaders almost twice his size.

“Monsieur — ah, pardon, Captain Riordan?”

Lead from the front. Caine approached Gaspard’s bed. “Yes, it’s me.”

“I am sorry I did not recognize you. My vision is…blurry. Is it possible that the cryogenic suspension has damaged my optic nerve or –?”

Riordan went closer. “Nothing to worry about, Ambassador. That is completely normal.” He knew he shouldn’t, but he added, “Didn’t you read the briefing on cryogenic suspension?”

“No. There was no time.”

— Unlikely, Caine observed silently —

“I must confess: the less I knew about what was going to happen to my body, the less I worried about being frozen as solid as an icicle.”

“Well, Ambassador, had you read the briefing materials, you would probably have worried a lot less. To begin with, you were not frozen.”

“Then why was I just removed from a cocoon originally designed to aid victims of hypothermia?”

“Because your core temperature was lowered to approximately zero point one to zero point five degrees centigrade. And to ensure against any control fluctuations, your blood plasma was replaced with an artificial surrogate containing a limited amount of glycol, genetically adapted from what Arctic cod produce when the surrounding waters drop below freezing.”

“Well, that would certainly explain the taste in my mouth.”

“Yes, that will persist for at least three or four days. Before your own blood was pumped back into you, a glycol cleanser replaced the surrogate to leach the glycol out of your cells. That takes a while, and even so, it’s not perfect. The glycol residue is what causes your blurred vision, as well as dulled sense of taste, numbness in the extremities, loss of short-term memories, and easy disorientation.”

“How long will I be so incapacitated?”

“We began your reanimation two days ago, so the symptoms will be gone the day after tomorrow. You’ll experience marginal sequelae and that lousy aftertaste for another half a week.”

Gaspard sighed. “Delightful.” He looked down his nose at the group of them, but this time, it was probably not arrogance but visual impairment which caused him to adopt what looked like a haughty posture. Actually, Caine reflected, the ambassador was behaving better than he had expected, particularly given O’Garran’s desperate dash for freedom.

The ambassador waved a hand at his other visitors. “I had expected to see you when I awoke, Captain Riordan, and of course your good self as well, Dr. Hwang. But I am not acquainted with these other gentlemen.”

Caine made the necessary introductions, made mention of Karam as Gaspard’s awakener. The ambassador took it in silently. “And with the exception of Mr. Tsaami, they are our legation’s security detachment?”

“They are, along with a few more who, like you, shipped out with us in cryogenic suspension.”

“And, how may I ask, were they selected? Unless I am much mistaken, they are all from nations of the Commonwealth bloc.”

“They are, but that was not what drove their selection. Not directly, at any rate.”

Gaspard shook his head; it looked more like a semi-conscious lolling. “That is a riddle, and I am too befuddled to solve riddles today, Captain.”

For Gaspard, that objection was positively gracious. Maybe we should stick him in a cryocell more often. “Apologies, ambassador. The security personnel were chosen because they had prior contact with exosapients. By including them on this mission, Mr. Downing not only took them off the intelligence grid, but was assured that they had no latent xenophobic pathologies.”

“I see. However, I suspect that the short, annoying fellow who had such an aversion to my questions — and my needs” — he gestured to a soiled bedpan — “may have an aversion to humans. He did mention that it has been eighty-three days since we departed Sigma Draconis.” Gaspard stared at them unsteadily. “I should have thought you could no longer stand to be in the same room together.”

“We can’t,” Rulaine lied. “But we’re professionals. These are the sacrifices we make.”

For a moment, Gaspard seemed uncertain if he had heard Bannor correctly. Then he smiled. “And you still have a sense of humor. Excellent.”

“Yes, well, Karam doesn’t have a sense of humor,” Wu corrected. “Not anymore.”

Gaspard frowned. “Why not?”

“Because Bannor beat him at the small craft gunnery sim. Every time.”

Gaspard looked baffled. Caine felt a flash of pity, provided the missing context. “I’m sorry Ambassador. We passed a lot of time reading, in the gym, and acquainting ourselves with xenobiology and other pertinent topics, but we also spent lot of our time in training sims.”

“Such as?”

“Flight, remote vehicle operations, nav plotting, and Bannor’s favorite, small ship gunnery.”

“I didn’t actually like it all that much,” Bannor corrected.

“Maybe not,” Hwang commented, “but it sure liked you.”

Gaspard did not attempt to keep the exasperation out of his voice. “And did you not meet with the Slaasriithi, see their ship, learn their ways?”

Caine shook his head. “No, ambassador, your premonition about them not providing us with any new information was sadly accurate. We have seen their ambassador, Yiithrii’ah’aash, three times, and then only for purely functional matters. The first time was to welcome us on board and acquaint us with the parts of the ship we were allowed to visit.”

“And how much of their ship did you see?”

Hwang’s answer was solemn. “The twenty meters of corridor that separate our hab mod from the cryobank module. They also took us to our cargo module once in an enclosed hovercraft. We didn’t see anything.”

“And that is all?”

Bannor shrugged. “They allowed us to perform two routine maintenance checks on our lander and our corvette. One of the Slaasriithi went with us, observed, said nothing either time.”

“Well, I do not think much of their hospitality,” Gaspard sniffed. “And they gave you no other information?”

Caine shrugged. “They told us which systems we were in, when we were shifting, when we’d arrived, when they began acceleration, when they were going to end or start rotation. The bare minimum.”

“And did you ever ask them why they were not more forthcoming?”

I wasn’t that rude, you ass. “I invited Yiithrii’ah’aash to stay and converse. He was very polite, expressed his regrets, but insisted that words were not the right way to start our relationship. However, three days ago, he announced that we would soon be arriving at a Slaasriithi system. He chose a sparsely-inhabited planet because it is the best way to begin what he called ‘the showing that leads to knowing.'”

“Mon Dieu, even their apothegms are uncongenial to finer sensibilities.”

Well, evidently Gaspard has begun his recovery to full-bore asshole….

The ambassador glanced beyond the knot of them in the doorway. “And where are the others whom you have awakened?”

Caine shook his head. “At this point, there are no others awake.”

Gaspard blinked. “You have awakened me first?

Caine nodded. “We commenced your reanimation thirty-six hours before the others. It seemed best to brief you first, to discuss and strategize before awakening the rest of the staff.”

Gaspard’s frown was one of intense concentration. “This precaution, and personal consideration, was well-conceived, Captain. Thank you.”

“Thank you?” Well, there’s a first time for everything.

“But I will learn the details of our situation with the rest of the group.”

Caine felt the others looking at him. They had discussed the various surprises, all unpleasant, that Gaspard might spring upon them when he was reanimated, but this had not been among the expectations. “Ambassador,” Caine said slowly, “perhaps I was not clear. There are a few official conjectures, based on classified analysis, which cannot be shared with the group. Only you, I, Dr. Hwang, and Major Rulaine have sufficient clearance levels to access them.”

Gaspard seemed entirely unimpressed by this information. “Are these speculations of a biological or political nature?”

Riordan shook his head. “When dealing with first contact, the line between physical differences and social differences from human norm is often murky. Behavior follows biology the way form follows function.”

Gaspard smiled, nodded. “I keep forgetting you were a writer. An excellent point excellently presented. But I deduce that these speculations are essentially strategic in nature, and that their purpose is to inform my objectives when we come to the stage of negotiation, yes?

“Well, yes.”

“Very well. Then I shall hear these after the unclassified briefing materials have been shared with the rest of the legation. Now, let us rouse the others.”