Raising Caine – Snippet 22

Yiithrii’ah’aash’s neck seemed to collapse, even retract slightly into his torso. “It is we who must thank you for your patience. We not only regret the haste with which this mission was conceived and launched, but we deeply appreciate your willingness to adapt to our means of communication.”

Riordan shook his head. “I do not understand. Your English is flawless, Ambassador Yiithrii’ah’aash.”

“I do not refer to language. I refer to our insistence that you ‘see’ us rather than ‘read about’ us.”

Gaspard’s smile was gracious, if brittle. “It has been challenging, yes.”

“More than challenging, Ambassador Gaspard. It has been the source of Ms. Veriden’s infractions and the cause of Mr. Buckley’s death. And I am sure it has thwarted your efforts to plan for our negotiations, since your species invariably strategizes how to gain objects you strongly value in exchange for objects you value less.”

Hearing it broken down that way, the legation’s sober diplomatic intents suddenly sounded like well-heeled con artistry.

Gaspard cleared his throat. “These are concerns to us, yes. Are they not also to you?”

Yiithrii’ah’aash’s tendrils seemed to spin for a moment: intense frustration? “Not as you mean it. We too hope to create bonds through exchange. We too hope that these exchanges are materially beneficial to us. And, like you, we will not disclose all our future plans or certain details of our deep history. But our concepts of ‘negotiation’ and ‘gain’ are qualitatively different, and the number of secrets we keep is very, very small.”

Caine experienced both a surge of shame and a stab of wariness. If Yiithrii’ah’aash’s depiction of Slaasriithi negotiations and exchange was even partially accurate, it made humanity look like a bunch of grifters and frauds, by comparison. On the other hand, although the Slaasriithi kept few secrets, they did, by Yiithrii’ah’aash’s admission, keep some secrets. Which suggested, by inverse deduction, that those secrets would be very important. Perhaps important, and problematic, enough to necessitate reappraising an alliance with the Slaasriithi.

“We find similar distinctions between ourselves and almost every other species,” Yiithrii’ah’aash hastened to add. “Less so with the Dornaani, but even they record material exchanges the way you do, as well as the passage of events.”

Gaspard frowned. “So your recording of history is fundamentally different from ours?”

Yiithrii’ah’aash bobbed. “What you call ‘history’ is not a useful concept to us. We notice with interest the linguistic fluke latent in the term you use for narratives of your past: ‘his-story.’ At every level, the focus of your chronicles is upon egocentric personalities: who did what, which group of combatants won and gained specific resources, and how contending philosophies of different peoples sparked both intercultural debates and religious wars.” His neck contracted sharply. “We lack internecine analogs for these events; they only arise when we deal with other races.”

Gaspard raised his hands in appeal. “But in order to deal with the other races of the Accord, you must have kept records of your negotiations, what transpired when you sent or received diplomatic and trade delegations.”

“We welcome such contact, Ambassador Gaspard, but we have experienced much less of it than you might suppose. Only the Dornaani ever displayed much interest in our society. And if you are using ‘trade’ as a synonym for commerce, you must understand that this is not our way.”

Gaspard was silent for a long moment before responding. “I would like to understand what you mean. But I do not.”

“To us, ‘trade’ means exactly that: an exchange. Among ourselves, we do not buy and sell but rather — what is your word for it? — ah yes; we ‘swap’ things. We do not ‘manufacture’ for ‘markets,’ or maintain competing accounts of personal assets, or track what you call ‘balance of trade.’ There are many reasons for this. Arguably, the most prominent is the absence of your universal tradition of attaching the possession of material goods to narrow genetic lineages.”

Caine felt, rather than saw, the consequences. “So, you have no social unit akin to our nuclear family?”

“Correct. Biologically, our reproductive process is considerably different from yours, as is the manner in which we raise our young. It follows, then, that our species’ individual affiliations and social patterns are equally distinct. For example, because of the innate differences between our taxae, there are no ‘class struggles.’ Our individuals are born to their tasks, and evolved to find them more gratifying than any others.”

Good grief; their evolution has made them the ultimate communists. “I can see that there might be no basis for commerce among your own people, but is there no way for our respective societies to accommodate each other in the matter of material exchanges? If only to facilitate cultural and political connections?”

Yiithrii’ah’aash emitted a slow clicking noise from his tightly-furred thorax. “I am certain we may find ways to do so, but I suspect we will seek very different ends from those exchanges. It is in the nature of your species to use commerce as a means of consolidating power. It is in our nature to see exchange as an opportunity to create further harmonies and interdependencies among all biota, in the interest of establishing a peaceful and stable macroecology.”

Gaspard seemed to be grasping for words. “And what sort of — of trade item would be of interest to you, in that context?”

Yiithrii’ah’aash’s answer rode over the top of his eager buzz. “We have read much about your honey bees, particularly the variety you label the ‘bumble-bee.’ We do not know if we would find their sugar-intensive byproduct palatable, but there are other species that surely would. Logically, it would be a powerful ‘reward object’ with which to accelerate behavioral modification in those species. Another byproduct — the pure wax they generate in constructing their shelters — would be useful in various material processes. Lastly, the bee’s selfless communal defense instincts interest those of us who are tasked with refining the security response templates for our various autonomous drones and missiles.”

Caine’s train of thought staggered to a halt, spun about, began inexpertly down a path he had never considered before. “Are you saying that your computers are partly biological?”

“Yes, although some would be more accurately described as partly mechanical. Those systems, which we call OverWatchlings are rare but also more crucial to us.”

Riordan was careful not to look at Gaspard. Who, he sensed, was pointedly not looking at him. No matter how friendly the Slaasriithi seemed, it would be imprudent to give any outward sign of how pivotal Yiithrii’ah’aash’s last revelation was, and how decisively it might figure in any future negotiations or possible alliance. Caine shifted the topic slightly. “How extensive are your defense needs?”

“Until now, fairly minimal, but we project that the recent hostilities are merely precursors of more to follow. The war resolved very little. The Arat Kur have been temporarily neutralized. The Hkh’Rkh have been contained, but will not remain so for long. The Ktor are stalemated. The Dornaani were not sufficiently alarmed to pay closer heed to the warnings of the Custodians. Your own species has already begun to capitalize upon the technological insights derived from your attackers’ equipment, and is entering its characteristic post-crisis phase: spatial expansion combined with political consolidation. This post-war environment is inherently unstable; there will be further conflicts. We must prepare.”