Raising Caine – Snippet 23

Yiithrii’ah’aash’s summary was breathtaking in its ruthless and egoless accuracy. “So how large a defense increase will you require? How extensively have you settled this region of space?”

The Slaasriithi’s tendrils waved languidly. “Where life has arisen, there we have remained. And we have had a long time, even by our standards, to nurture biota on even the most inhospitable worlds.”

So, pretty extensive settlement. “I take it, then, that you are well-furnished with shift-carriers, to serve so many systems.”

“Not so well-furnished as you might expect, Caine Riordan. The great majority of our expansion has been effected by slower-than-light ships, many of which are directed by semiautonomous machine biots.”

Gaspard’s question was slow, calm, careful. “You have living, self-directed ships?”

“That characterization would imply a greater degree of awareness than is possessed by these craft. Each ship’s semiautonomous system resembles a highly advanced hive-mind. Its task is simply to deliver its payload from one known place to another known place.”

“I understand,” Gaspard replied in a tone that suggested he might not. “But why do you not prefer to use a crew of intelligent beings? We have seen at least one subtaxon which you specially evol — er, induced, to meet the challenges of working in space. Why not create an even more narrowly specialized subtaxon to live upon your STL ships?”

“Because we eschew generating more subtaxae than is absolutely necessary. The capability to induce a new subspecies or subtaxae does not mean that one should do so whenever it would be most convenient. So, instead of complicating our polytaxic society with yet another subtaxon, we attain our objectives by relying upon the universe’s most underappreciated and yet greatest force.”

Gaspard leaned forward. “And what force might that be?”

Yiithrii’ah’aash purred faintly. “Time, Ambassador. As your own aphorism has it, time changes all things. It wears down mountains, moves continents, even exhausts stars. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we do not record history similarly to other species: our relationship to time itself is different. Your species and the others manipulate time to your own ends, your own pleasure, and even to assure that you will, for at least a while, transcend its limits.”

“You mean, that we perform deeds or create objects that will be associated with us, even after we are dead.”

“Precisely. We do not have these motivations. Indeed, understanding what they truly mean to you remains our greatest interspeciate challenge, since we lack any serviceable analog. We imagine them as a hypertrophied amplification of our self-preservation instinct. But even our self-preservation instinct, while strong, is not so overpowering as your own.”

“Do you mean that you don’t fear death?”

Yiithrii’ah’aash purred again. “That question is the one we hoped you humans would ask. It is worth all the mishaps this mission has stumbled through thus far, if it has prompted you to ask it so soon.”

Gaspard’s eyes were wide. “So you do not fear death?”

Yiithrii’ah’aash’s purr diminished. “I did not say that. But our attitude towards it is so different from yours that you cannot understand us without understanding that difference. We are not defined — even in our diplomatic exchanges — by the number of ships, or planets, or weapons that are at our disposal. We are defined by our macroecological impulse. And no force shapes that impulse more than patience and its corollary: an egoless conceptualization of time. Which, in turn, also shapes our perception of death.”

Caine smiled. “I suspect this is only the first of many conversations we shall have on this topic.”

Yiithrii’ah’aash’s purr grew along with Caine’s smile. “Understanding another race is not something that happens swiftly. But for your species to identify, and to question, this signal difference between us is the beginning of the process of knowing.”

Gaspard rested his chin in his palm. “So this is why your primer mentions no historical figures, cites no earlier Slaasriithi by name.”


Caine frowned. “But if you have no history of conflict, and your leaders must now deal with it, what models do they have for emulation?”

Yiithrii’ah’aash’s head turned slowly back in Caine’s direction. “This is a matter of deep concern to us. As you have no doubt discerned, we are happy to appease, just as we are willing to be appeased, when disagreements arise. To do so, to compromise, is our preferred method of interaction where harmony has not yet been established. However, we lack a taxon which is inherently capable of conflict, what you might call a warrior caste. If members of such a taxon had existed any time in the last ten millennia, they would have encountered no challenges, no need for their skills. Indeed, they would have been counterproductive to our harmony. According to apocryphal tales of the last such taxon, they devolved into hermits, whose once valuable decisiveness ultimately became disruptive impulsivity.”

Caine tried to tame his leaping speculations to follow only the most pertinent track. “You had other taxae, at one time?”

Yiithrii’ah’aash’s head bobbed. “We have had many for which our need diminished, and ultimately disappeared. But in some cases, that disappearance need not be permanent.”

“You mean you can reverse the process?”

“It is not a simple matter, genetically or socially, to reintroduce a taxon. Sometimes it is impossible if it was lost too long ago or too completely. Our polytaxic structure has many strengths but its complexities can make it especially vulnerable to disasters. If either our social or reproductory matrices are shattered, we are likely to revert, to become a different and devolved species.”

“Like on Delta Pavonis Three,” Caine murmured.

“Just so. As I once said, the natives of that planet are of us, but are not us, not today’s Slaasriithi. They are a genetic throwback to when we had fewer taxae. Consequently, you have already seen a Slaasriithi community that has been shattered. Today you saw one in its infancy, facing an uncertain future: we cannot know if the changes we mean to induce on Adumbratus will become strong enough to create an equilibrium between our biota and the indigenous life. Finally, in a little more than a week, we will show you a Slaasriithi community on the cusp of becoming one of our primary colonies.” Yiithrii’ah’aash stood. “Speaking of which, refueling will soon be complete, and we will begin preacceleration for our next shift. The members of your legation will be permitted to have free access to your ships and your cargo until then. Prepare for a longer sojourn: we shall examine the next planet more closely, as there is much more to see.”

Gaspard smiled. “And fewer untamed dangers to encounter?”

Yiithrii’ah’aash’s voice was grave. “We find that an environment’s dangers do not reside in any of its creatures.”

“No? Then where does the danger reside?”

“In the mind of any visitor who makes the mistake of believing that any environment is ever without danger. Good day, Ambassador, and you as well, Caine Riordan. Please prepare your people for departure.”