Raising Caine – Snippet 21

Chapter Twenty-Five

In orbit; GJ 1248 One (“Adumbratus”)

As Caine entered Gaspard’s otherwise empty quarters, he ignored the chair toward which the Frenchman waved an inviting hand. “Ambassador, we just heard that Yiithrii’ah’aash is on his way.”

Gaspard nodded. “I have been alerted, as well.”

“Then we need to settle something before we get down to what will probably be the swiftest, and most insufficient, strategic briefing in the annals of diplomacy. I need to know that, as we go forward, you can either ensure Ms. Veriden’s compliance with the protocols you yourself have approved, or that you put her under my direct command for the duration of this mission. I can’t do my job, otherwise.”

Riordan had expected an argument, possibly a brief tantrum. Instead, Gaspard simply nodded. “You have my apologies, Captain Riordan, and my thanks for salvaging today’s unfortunate situation on the planet. You and the entire legation were placed at risk. As was its chance of success. I have spoken with Ms. Veriden and she will follow the protocols I set for her, or she will spend the remainder of this mission confined to her quarters.”

Caine managed not to reveal his surprise at Gaspard’s frank and eminently sane response. “Thank you, Ambassador.” He took the indicated seat. “Actually, what concerns me most is that she didn’t inform us of her intent to avoid the Slaasriithi markers, and then did not alert us to that fact immediately afterward.”

Gaspard held helpless hands aloft. “I am often at a loss to explain her behavior. She is an intrinsically suspicious and cautious person, and so, she does not say much. Which I usually find quite agreeable in a guard.”

“But not so much, today?” Hwang added with a rueful smile.

Gaspard returned the expression. “It is as you say, Doctor. Today, I could have wished for her to be more communicative, more informative. Which is a natural segue to the business before us: in the matter of the experts’ xenosociological projections about the Slaasriithi, did they advance any theories about –?” The privacy chime sounded. Gaspard sighed. “Reality has preempted theorizing, it seems.” He rose. “Please enter.”

Yiithrii’ah’aash entered the room. He did so slowly, almost cautiously.

He stopped when Ben Hwang rose. “I mean no offense, Dr. Hwang, but you do not have sufficient clearance to remain for this particular meeting. My sincere regrets.”

Gaspard’s chin came up slightly. “Captain Riordan does not have my diplomatic rating, either, yet you are evidently prepared to allow him to stay.”

“Ambassador, Captain Riordan may remain because his standing with us is commensurate with the clearance assigned to you by your government.”

“In what way?”

“Allow me to ask you a question, Ambassador Gaspard. From what authority does your position as ambassador-plenipotentiary derive?”

“The political will of the Consolidated Terran Republic. Through that authority, I am empowered to make decisions for my species.”

“Yes. And Captain Riordan has an oft-demonstrated gift for understanding other species. This makes him a necessary part of our communication and so my race extends him recognition and standing equal to your own. We are pleased to have him remain, just as we were pleased to request him for our first contact in the Sigma Draconis system.”

Ben nodded and started toward the door. “If you’ll excuse me.”

Yiithrii’ah’aash made one deep, slow neck-bob and held it until Hwang had left. “I would very much regret if the doctor was affronted by my insistence upon protocols.”

“I doubt he was,” Gaspard commented diffidently, gesturing for the ambassador to sit. Which he did, although that posture more resembled a well-supported squat.

Yiithrii’ah’aash swiveled his head to focus directly upon Gaspard. “Ambassador, I must regrettably begin our meeting by insisting that you take whatever steps are necessary to exert greater control over your personnel.”

Caine interrupted. “I take full responsibility for Ms. Veriden’s actions –”

Yiithrii’ah’aash raised an objecting pair of finger-tendrils. “It has already been established that Ms. Veriden is not your responsibility. The matter lies with Ambassador Gaspard. It is his personal security assistant who has, within the space of one day, twice violated our requirements.”

Gaspard nodded noncommittally. “Yes, although I suspect the second incident might not have occurred had I been given time to confer with her regarding the full significance of her first violation. But our immediate departure after Captain Riordan recovered from the anti-intruder gas precluded that discussion. Similarly, with more time and warning, we could have better coordinated our visit to Adambratus, or least selected the right persons for inclusion.”

Yiithrii’ah’aash’s tendrils drooped. “While your analysis is no doubt accurate, it ignores our initial stipulation: that every member of your legation must visit these introductory planets. This prepares you to move about freely upon our homeworld, to help you understand and distinguish between the various taxae of my species and how best to interact with them.”

Riordan folded his arms. “While we’re on the topic of interacting with the locals, I noticed that the rover which pursued Ms. Veriden had a marked aversion to me. What did you do to ensure that my biomarkers were so much more effective than the others’?”

Yiithrii’ah’aash waved languorous tendrils. “Your preparation was no different from the others.”

Caine heard the evasive tone. “But that’s not the same thing as saying you don’t know why the rover had a stronger reaction to me.” He waited.

After several seconds, Yiithrii’ah’aash buzz-purred. “No, it is not the same statement. But I only possess conjectures on this matter, not knowledge. And there is no way to conclusively test my hypotheses.”

Gaspard leaned his fine-boned chin into his long-fingered hand. “Even so, I am most interested in your speculations.”

Yiithrii’ah’aash tilted his sensor-cluster in Caine’s direction. “This is not Captain Riordan’s first contact with our biota.”

Caine was stunned that he had not thought of this before. “Of course. The natives on Delta Pavonis Three. They probably still mark fauna, and visitors, with pheromones.”

Yiithrii’ah’aash raised attention-commanding digits from either pseudo-hand. “Since the primitives there have not entirely reverted, and since interspeciate pheromone-marking predates our tool-use, I suspect that you were multiply and powerfully marked on Delta Pavonis Three. But after at least twenty millennia of genetic recidivism and drift, that planet’s primitives may have marked you with pheromones that we no longer recognize.”

“But how would any pheromones remain active so long?” Gaspard wondered, frowning. “The captain visited Delta Pavonis Three over two years ago. Since then, he has twice been purged in preparation for extended periods of cryogenic suspension. How could a marking persist through all that?”

Yiithrii’ah’aash’s fingers writhed in apparent uncertainty. “I cannot say. However, markings have different depths. Most are superficial and can be removed by several meticulous bathings. However, some are not merely external but internal. They introduce microorganisms that produce the needed pheromones for excretion through fluids, perspiration, even wastes. Such markings could persist for years. Perhaps decades. Perhaps longer.”

Caine nodded, forced himself to sit calmly as his mind shouted: And our best decontamination procedures and most advanced biological screening didn’t detect anything? So how the hell do we know what they might choose to put in us now, and which we might be carrying back to the fleet? And then Earth? How do we know these microbes only mark us? And how can we be sure they won’t replicate and spread? Yes, the Slaasriithi have been amicable and helped us against the Arat Kur, but how do we really know they can be trusted? Because they told us so themselves? At the end of Yiithrii’ah’aash’s explanation, Riordan nodded one last time. “That’s very interesting. Thank you for explaining.”