Raising Caine – Snippet 07

As Ben Hwang confirmed that this simple text was, in fact, the only specific information the Slaasriithi had provided, Caine leaned toward Rulaine. “That physicist is a relative of one of the other members of the team that went to the Convocation, Natalia Durniak. His name’s Oleg Danysh. A second cousin.”

“You think he pulled family strings to get shipped out to Sigma Draconis?”

“I think that anything is possible.”

Hwang had resumed his overview of the Slaasriithi. “Their eyes are not arranged for binocular vision like ours. Instead, they have dispersed eyes and light sensors which evidently give them a field of vision that is almost two hundred seventy degrees in all direction from their front facing.”

“What kind of neural bandwidth does that require, I wonder?” Nasr Eid, the Egyptian computer and cryptology specialist, had clearly meant it as a rhetorical inquiry, but Hwang elected to address it.

“An excellent question, but we lack direct biological data to answer it. However, we do have some fruit and vegetable samples they sent to a reception our delegation hosted at the Convocation. Although their xenogenetic structures do not mimic our double-stranded DNA helix in the least, they are biochemically compatible, or at least benign. Additionally, we found indications that one of the vegetables can express a latent chimaerism that manifests as inverted chirality.”

Esiankiki Salunke, the legation’s arrestingly tall Indian-Kenyan linguist, blinked. “So it can mutate?”

Hwang’s assistant, Hirano Mizuki, and the mission’s ranking expert in planetology and biome studies, explained that chimaerism was distinct from mutation. Specifically, the vegetable’s exogenome was capable of evolving a variant in which the chirality of the plant’s amino acids — their right- or left-handedness — would be reversed.

“Would that threaten us?” asked Xue Heng, the team’s EMT, assistant quartermaster, and a long-service army veteran.

Ben shrugged. “Unknown, but the Slaasriithi biosphere clearly contains organisms which follow a very different genetic and chemical map than our own. That’s consistent with what we’ve discovered about much of the biota on Delta Pavonis Three. Which brings us to a point that few of you have been briefed on.

“As I’m sure you all know, it was Captain Riordan who reported that there was a species of primitive exosapients on Delta Pavonis Three at last year’s Parthenon Dialogs. What we did not know until recently was that those primitive beings and the Slaasriithi have common origins. As their ambassador Yiithrii’ah’aash put it, the Pavonians are related to the Slaasriithi the way Neanderthal is related to Cro Magnon.”

“Just when was that learned?” asked Rena Mizrahi, the surgeon and neurology specialist from Tel Aviv.

Caine smiled ruefully. “The same day we got the invitation.”

Phillip Friel, an engineer who’d imbibed engineering theory at Trinity in Dublin before an extended tour with the EU navy, looked up from under dark bangs. “This all happened rather suddenly, it seems.” The group’s other engineer, Tina Melah, was sitting alongside him and nodding vigorously.

“It did come together suddenly,” Caine agreed. “Particularly once the Ktor showed up to retrieve their ambassador. That made the Slaasriithi extremely uneasy. So they accelerated the process of inviting us for a visit.” And here’s the part where we have to stay very, very vague; if they start asking about the Ktor role in this, one slip could pop the intel lid off the fact that the Ktor are humans, too, rather than the methane-dwelling ice worms they implied they were…

But instead, the legation’s official recorder and archivist, Qwara Betul, grumbled. “I must say I am not happy about such a hastily organized mission.”

“None of us were, but it was either go now or not within the foreseeable future,” Caine said sympathetically — just before the external airlock page double-chimed.

Riordan stood. “I think we have company.”

* * *

After remaining in the airlock for three minutes so that those humans unaccustomed to his appearance could absorb it, Ambassador Yiithrii’ah’aash entered the module. “Greetings, honored guests. I thank you for allowing me to intrude.”

Gaspard glanced at Caine as if to say: so liase, liaison. Caine obliged: “Your arrival is a gift, not an intrusion, Yiithrii’ah’aash. And I have the pleasure of presenting the entirety of our legation to you, but most especially, our ambassador, Etienne Gaspard, Consul of the Consolidated Terran Republic.” The last phrase caused a few starts among the lately awakened team members, who had entered their cryocells when Earth’s fledgling polity was still called the World Confederation. Gaspard approached his Slaasriithi counterpart. Who extended his many-tendrilled “hand” adding, “If the form of my appendage troubles you, we may forego this ritual. I offer it in recognition of your traditions.”

Gaspard took the alien hand. If he felt any repugnance, he did not show it, although he withdrew his hand promptly. “Ambassador Yiithrii’ah’aash, what is your customary manner of greeting? I would assay it.”

Yiithrii’ah’aash burbled spasmodically: laughter? “You could not do so. You lack the correct pheromones. However, we are eager to share our ways with you. Accordingly, I have come to invite you to visit this system’s world tomorrow.”

Those who were enthusiastic about this news, including Caine’s five cabin-fevered fellow travelers, made sounds of approval. Those who were not so ready to debark upon an alien world were markedly silent.

Riordan made note of the most reluctant faces, asked, “How large a party should we prepare?”

The Slaasriithi’s finger-furlings and -unfurlings paused. “All may visit.”

“That is most generous, Ambassador, but our security policy prohibits full attendance. Some must remain behind with the habmodule.” Not that you’d go rummaging through our drawers, but protocols are protocols.

Yiithrii’ah’aash frozen digits came to life in a sudden roiling motion. “Understood. However, those who do not make this first journey may not leave this module for subsequent journeys.”

“They will be restricted to this ship?”

“They will be restricted to this habitation module. To be safe in our places, you must visit them. So we cannot guarantee the safety of those who do not visit. This is the requirement for access to our worlds. We regret if it is inconvenient and we accept that some of your legation may not be able to comply.”

Yeah, but, we didn’t come out here to leave any of our experts corked up like genies in a lamp. Caine glanced at Gaspard —

— who nodded his approval.

Riordan flashed him a grateful smile — he does have his moments — and nodded at Yiithrii’ah’aash. “I am happy to say that all will go.”

“And we are happy to hear it. In preparation for your journey, we will allow free access to your two ships, as well as protected access to your cargo module, so that you may get any equipment that you consider prudent. We have automated transportation waiting to carry the entirety of your legation there and back. However, be warned: it would not be safe to return there unescorted, so be sure to collect all the supplies you require before we depart.”

Hwang bowed slightly, waited until Yiithrii’ah’aash had turned his “face” toward him. “Ambassador, every time you mention entering your ship, you speak of these dangers. Do you have guards that would harm unauthorized visitors?”

The exosapient’s ostrich neck pulsed through a quick set of peristaltic ripples. “Not such as you mean. It is simply that our ship would not recognize you.”

“And so its systems would attack us?” Tygg asked.

“No, but they would not know to avoid you. Which could be just as bad. They would not desist from functions that might be injurious to bystanders. Before we reach our next stop, you will have been added to their recognition template. In your parlance, it is a biochemical database in which your genotype can be coded as being a friend.”

“Or a foe?” Caine inquired.

Yiithrii’ah’aash turned back toward him. “Yes. That, too. Now, let us go.”