Raising Caine – Snippet 12
In orbit; GJ 1248 One (“Adumbratus”)
Caine started awake. He tried to get off his back, get to Buckley —
Hands he hadn’t noticed were holding him down. And he wasn’t in the cargomod anymore.
“That was fast,” commented Bannor’s voice, just behind him.
“The effects of the gas are immediately dispelled by the antidote,” Yiithrii’ah’aash’s voice answered.
Riordan tried to rise up on his elbows. “Buckley is –”
Rena Mizrahi’s face was over his; she was wielding a diagnostic stylus. A light stabbed into his left eye briefly and went away. “Let’s worry about you for now, Captain. Contraction and dilation already normal. Vitals normal.”
“As I assured you,” Yiithrii’ah’aash said. His tone was not impatient or even disappointed; it was sad.
“Thank you, Doctor. And you as well, Ambassador.” Gaspard’s voice was more distant. Caine’s voluntary nerve functions finally began catching up with the restoration of his senses and involuntary reflexes; he rolled his head to the right, saw Gaspard standing in the doorway to the dispensary. Closer, almost out of his field of view at the head of the bed, were the edges of one human torso and one alien torso: Bannor and Yiithrii’ah’aash, respectively. Now realizing that Joe Buckley would have been found and assisted long before he was, Riordan simply asked: “Buckley?”
Bannor moved into Caine’s field of vision, shook his head.
Riordan had expected that answer, but it felt like a physical blow to his stomach, even so. He swallowed. “Ambassador Yiithrii’ah’aash, I take full responsibility for –”
Gaspard interrupted. “Captain, I have already reviewed the events with Ambassador Yiithrii’ah’aash, whose surveillance systems recorded everything. He knows you are blameless.”
Blameless? Bullshit: my man, my fault — “Ambassador, with all due respect –”
“Caine Riordan.” Somehow, Yiithrii’ah’aash’s interruption didn’t feel like one; it sounded like a gentle but firm request for attention. “I am aware of the scope of your duties. I am also aware that no being may fully anticipate the actions of another, particularly one so briefly and incompletely known to you as Mr. Buckley.”
“Please allow me one further statement. Mr. Gaspard has also acquainted me with the contents of Mr. Buckley’s dossier. There is nothing within it to suggest that he might behave in such a way. Furthermore, none of his prior actions or statements validated taking any abnormal precautions. Indeed, your newly awakened legation members might have construed such precautions as signifying that you distrusted us, or them, or both. In short, you made the best decision, given all the variables and available data.”
“Yes, but it was the wrong decision, nonetheless,” Riordan insisted. “I am the head of security. Even if you — dubiously — insist that I didn’t make any bad decisions, it’s still my command. That makes it my responsibility, and my fault.” Caine saw a slight wrinkle quirk the corner of Bannor’s mouth: a rueful smile which translated as, they’re not going to understand. Ever.
Yiithrii’ah’aash’s tendril fingers straightened into columns, were still. “I am only slightly familiar with this human predilection for elevating an individual’s level of responsibility above their ability to assure desired outcomes. I note that it is a particularly strong tradition in your human militaries. Am I correct?”
Before Riordan could fashion a reply, Gaspard rolled his eyes and sighed. “You are quite correct, Ambassador. And you are not the only sentient being that finds these superhuman expectations absurd.”
Two of Yiithrii’ah’aash’s tendrils rose: a motion calling for a pause. “I am not suggesting it is absurd. Indeed, given the relationship between your species’ sociology and expressions of authority in crises, it is probably inevitable.”
Bannor raised an eyebrow. “Ambassador, would you care to explain what you mean?”
“Certainly. Most simply, it is inarguable that there are events for which no individual has sufficient agency to affect the outcome. Yet, those members of your species who are assigned to confront extreme challenges are, by rituals of ranks and oaths, made ‘accountable’ for just such outcomes. This is inherently illogical.”
“Precisely,” Gaspard agreed.
“However,” Yiithrii’ah’aash continued, “this absolute accountability is required in order to overcome your species’ powerful self-preservation instinct. Only because there is no acceptable excuse for failure will an individual court certain death in the discharge of a crucial duty.”
Caine swung his legs over the side of the bed. “And the Slaasriithi have no such instinct toward self-preservation?”
“We do not have it in your measure.”
“And why is that?”
Yiithrii’ah’aash emitted a short, faint purr. “The answer to that is best seen, not explained.”
Well, that’s certainly a convenient all-purpose deferral. “I welcome the opportunity to see and understand. In the meantime, I assure you that there will be no further unauthorized human presences on your ship. This module’s access airlock will be secure-coded, locked, and guarded at all times.” He glanced up at Bannor. “I suspect it already is.” Rulaine’s nod was as faint as his smile. “However, I doubt those precautions will be as effective as the legation’s detailed knowledge of just how Buckley paid for his trespass.”
“Caine Riordan, Mr. Buckley’s death was not a consequence of his trespass. Our ship’s security systems only immobilize intruders, as demonstrated against the others in your own group. Mr. Buckley’s death was simply the result of blocking our power interface extrusion. As I warned you, our systems have not yet been coded to recognize humans as a higher life form.”
Rachel leaned back sharply. “Then what did ‘your systems’ think Buckley was?”
“They identified him as a collection of biological resources that also happened to be obstructing. So they harvested needful compounds from his body as they pushed through it to their objective. They regrettably achieved both all too completely.”
Caine glanced at Gaspard. “Has a burial detail been assembled?”
Gaspard became pale. “None is required.”
Damn. “Ambassador Yiithrii’ah’aash, why didn’t your anti-trespass systems stop Buckley? Or me, or Chief O’Garran?”
The Slaasriithi’s fingers unfurled into what looked like an appeal. “We presumed that no intruder interested in stealth would slow or encumber themselves by wearing a vacuum suit. However, because Mr. Buckley did, and because it was sealed, our trespass monitors did not detect a bioform. Consequently, their coding instructed them to act as if the intrusion was being carried out by a mechanism. They attempted to disable Mr. Buckley with localized electromagnetic pulses. They were, naturally, ineffective.”
Bannor folded his arms. “Naturally.” And he didn’t say what Riordan presumed he was thinking: you Slaasriithi have pretty lousy autonomous security systems if they can’t figure out and handle something as simple as an intruder in a vac suit.
Yiithrii’ah’aash’s tendrils writhed without apparent pattern. “I am puzzled, however, by Mr. Buckley’s reason for risking unauthorized entry to our ship. I have heard several of your legation speculate that he may have been motivated by larceny. However, to the extent I understand that concept at all, I cannot see what he hoped to gain. He is extremely distant from any markets where he might liquidate stolen property.”
Caine stood, found his balance unimpaired. “Given how Joe tried to press me for increased access to the cargo module, I suspect he meant to retrieve something incriminating that was mixed in with our shared gear, something he couldn’t get to without raising suspicion.”
Gaspard nodded. “That would explain his power-saw, also. If Buckley wished to remove some object that would bring his checkered past to light, then it would not only be worth the risk of trespassing, but his use of the saw. Once the incriminating object was gone, we might still suspect him of the trespass, but would lack definitive proof.”
“As likely an explanation as any other,” Bannor agreed.
But Riordan’s focus remained on the one failure of the Slaasriithi security system that remained unexplained. “Yiithrii’ah’aash, you still haven’t explained how Chief O’Garran and I slipped through.”
Yiithrii’ah’aash emitted more of a hum than a purr: perhaps he was hoping we wouldn’t return to this topic? “You and Chief O’Garran have been aboard for many weeks. And we met several times. During that time, you were pheromonally marked.” His head angled slightly toward Bannor. “As were you, Major, along with the rest of the conscious travelers. Indeed, your party would not have been gassed at all, had the sensors not detected a weapon.”
Caine shook his head. “That’s not possible. None of my personnel were armed.”
“That is true. But you and your personnel were not alone in responding.”
Gaspard’s pallor became a flush. “Ms. Veriden. Without doubt.”
Yiithrii’ah’aash’s ostrich neck bobbed. “As you say. Usually, our defenses would only physically immobilize intruders. But if a weapon is detected, it activates suppressive gas biots.”
Well, that explains their reaction to Buckley’s hand saw, too. “Ambassador, I offer my personal apologies that a human brought a weapon on board your ship. I am –”
Gaspard shook his head sharply. “No, Captain; this is not your responsibility, even by the letter of the often-absurd laws of military accountability. The culpability is mine.” He turned to Yiithrii’ah’aash. “Ms. Veriden is not part of the legation’s security team; she is my personal, er, assistant. As such, I am to answer for her indiscretions.”
“We thank both of you gentlemen for your forthrightness. It is, as your saying has it, the silver lining to this dark event. However, your protestations of responsibility are as unnecessary as they are illogical. My concern is solely with ensuring that there are no recurrences.” He shifted slightly. “I am also constrained to point out that we must now descend as planned to the planet below us.”
Caine, Bannor, and Gaspard exchanged baffled glances. “We have to leave right now?” Caine asked.
“With all due respect for our itinerary, Ambassador, we should first ensure that there are no other — well, loose cannons — in our legation.”
“I do not know what unsecured artillery pieces have to do with our current situation, but we may not delay. Various activities have been scheduled to coincide with your visit. But, more importantly, we cannot loiter because we dare not presume that this region of space is secure, even though it is well within our borders. Experience has shown us that all borders are porous. The Arat Kur have occasionally proven it to us in this very system.”
“But the Arat Kur are defeated. Word must have reached even their most far-flung units, by now.”
“Agreed. I invoke the Arat Kur only as an example.” Yiithrii’ah’aash’s ostrich neck seemed to shorten slightly. “The Ktor are much more advanced than the Arat Kur, and if they have the ability to enter Arat Kur space as a surprise to all other powers, including the Dornaani, then our safety is not absolute until we reach Beta Aquilae.”
Gaspard had blanched again. “Do you really think we could be pursued by the Ktor? Here?”
“I think that is extremely unlikely. I also think that very few things in this universe are impossible. Let us make haste to the planet.”