Raising Caine – Snippet 09

Nasr Eid smiled up into the cubist cave. “A toy box for a giant infant.”

“Yeah, just don’t let any of those blocks fall on ya,” Tina Melah chuckled as she moved past with easy familiarity. “Buckley’s not the only one who’s spent some time in these death-traps.” She saw Nasr’s fearful look. “Now, now, no reason to get your jammies in a twist, Nasr. We’ve got steady rotation to keep everything where it’s already locked in place. But, if you go to zero gee, take a few hits, and have a few restraint bars break and lashings tear — well, then you’ve got some serious anvil-dodging fun on your hands!” She strode ahead into the dim bowels of the mod. Most of the others followed as motion-activated lights popped on, marking Tina’s progress down the length of the module. Caine strolled after them.

Coming around a massive cargo pod, he discovered Joe Buckley seated on a small container, his hands covering his face. Keith Macmillan was standing nearby, saw Caine approach, shrugged.

“Damn, it all looked fine at first,” Joe lamented, “but — oh Jesus H. Christ!” Buckley groaned as if he’d been bayoneted in the gut.

“What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong? Christ, just look at it!”

As Tygg and Oleg Danysh walked up, Caine looked around for the wrongness that so afflicted Joe. “Okay. And…what am I supposed to be seeing?”

Tygg frowned, glanced at the hardcopy lading list attached to the cargo pod, checked it against the chip-coded inventory on his palmcomp. “Oh, they’ve bollixed all this right enough. Everything they sent with us is smart-tagged, but they split up most of the individual lots between the different containers.”

Danysh grimaced. “Please, in words we all understand.”

Buckley, sitting with his head in his hands, shouted. “Everything is all mixed up. Food packed in with electronics. Medical supplies layered into survival gear. And the damned index is chock full of errors, too. It’s like some work gang and their robots just pushed every container into the first empty space they could find, going as fast as they could and the hell with anything else.”

Caine nodded. “Joe, this mission was put together in less than twenty-four hours. They pulled equipment and team-members from all around the fleet. That may have something to do with it.”

“Probably has everything to do with it,” Buckley muttered. He looked up. “Captain, this is going to take days to untangle. Maybe weeks.”

“I’ll see what I can do about getting you semi-regular access, Joe.”

“But Captain –”

“Joe, we’re here to open diplomatic relations with the Slaasriithi. Who might be the only species in the Accord willing to be our allies. And they want us all down planetside tomorrow. I don’t know what they might want after that. But here’s what I do know: those jobs come before this job.” Caine waved a hand at the mélange of mismatched bulk containers around them. “And here’s the first part of this job: you are to locate and data-tag all the defense and emergency stores.”

“Well, I can get locator numbers out of the database pretty quickly. But I can’t verify that –”

“We’ll work with whatever data you give us and I’ll provide the backs to move the gear. Get that list compiled and give it to Mr. Rulaine.”

“Yes, sir. When do you need it done?”

Caine stared at Buckley. “Five minutes ago. Any more questions?”

Buckley blinked, shook his head. “No, sir.” He turned and jogged off into the deeper recesses of the cargo mod.

Bannor had just arrived alongside Caine. “Did anyone ever mention that you have a really icy stare, sometimes?”

“Not that I can remember.”

“Well, then I’m the first. No wonder they made you an officer. What next?”

“Next we gather all the security personnel and start moving our gear to the corvette and the lander.”

Danysh started. “Are you expecting trouble, Captain?”

“No, Dr. Danysh, but if it arises, I want to have our defense and emergency gear where we need it and ready to go. It won’t do us much good otherwise.”

“Very well, I shall not intrude upon your preparations.”

Or volunteer to help, Caine thought as the physicist made himself scarce. Riordan took a few steps away from Buckley toward the comparative privacy of a corner. He glanced at Macmillan, who strolled over.

“Yes, Captain?”

“I notice from your dossier that you and I have an acquaintance in common.”

“Oh? And who would that be, sir?”

“Richard Downing.”

Keith smiled a big, congenial, shit-eating smile. “Richard Downing? Never heard of him. Or of you, Mr. Riordan. Or of your walk-about on Dee Pee Three which indirectly brought us to where we’re standing right now. No: never heard of any of that.” Macmillan’s Scottish burr was so faint as to be almost unnoticeable.

Like a ghost emerging from shadows, Bannor drew up from the other side, jerked his head toward Keith. “Told you,” he muttered at Caine.

Caine ignored him. “Mr. Macmillan, what was your mission after providing security for Spookshow Prime?”

Macmillan kept smiling but stood a little straighter. “I have no knowledge of any missions relevant to your inquiry, sir, and would not be disposed to discuss them if I had.”

Okay, so his responses were as genuine as the IRIS ID codes in his dossier. No reason to belabor the point. “I presume you had special orders embedded in the personal effects they shipped with you?”

“Yes, sir. From this same Mr. Downing I’ve never heard of.”

“And those orders are –?”

“I’m to be your eyes and ears within the group, sir.”

So, internal security. Prudent, although it was hard to imagine how even the Ktor could have managed to infiltrate the delegation with less than twenty-four hours’ notice. “Very well, Mr. Macmillan. What’s your cover role in the legation, then?”

“As far as the personnel roster goes, I’m just a warrant officer from the integrated Commonwealth task force. Jack of all trades, master of none. In terms of command structure, I’d be below Miles O’Garran, and on a par with Trent Howarth.”

Caine smiled. “Well, then” — he raised his voice — “Mr. Buckley, do you have a list yet? Mr. Macmillan is still waiting around for something heavy to carry.”

Buckley came over with his palmcomp, transferred the defense and emergency stores inventory to Caine, Macmillan, and Bannor. “I don’t envy you guys. You’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”

Bannor scanned the list. “We’re not going to get this done today.”

“No, we’re not. So let’s get going on the priority items. Bannor, you find Tygg, Wu, O’Garran, and Howarth. We’re going to need all hands for this. Macmillan, you go with Buckley and have him electronically tag all the containers so they show up on our smartmaps.” Caine started to move off.

Bannor held up his hand. “Whoa, Boss. Don’t take off until you tell us where to find you. What will you be doing?”

Caine shrugged. “Moving the boxes. Like I said, ‘all hands.’ Let’s get going.”