Raising Caine – Snippet 25

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Far orbit; Sigma Draconis Two

Shethkador wasted no time entering the Sensorium and only partially infusing the essence of one Catalysite. Left undrained, it would hopefully regenerate: they were a finite resource, so far from home. Once on the cushions, he brusquely pushed himself into the entangled particularities of time and space that defined the symbiot’s natural state of sensory awareness. The Autarchs felt the summons and responded with extraordinary speed. Tlerek Srin Shethkador smiled: he might not be well-liked, but he was evidently well-respected. Or feared.

The formalities and obligatory obeisances were quickly performed and Tlerek informed them of his impending departure to system V 1581. His given reason, to reclaim Red Lurker, was accepted as a matter of course. The small craft could not be left behind indefinitely, and if its limited endurance compelled it to rise up out of the gas giant in which it had been hidden, the possibility of its discovery increased dramatically.

Beren Tval Jerapthere’s question came with a peremptory edge. “What about reestablished contact with the Arat Kur? What progress have you made?”

“For three weeks after our last Reified contact, I endeavored to achieve that daily. I received no response. I believe the Arat Kur are convinced that we, not the so-called ‘Terrans,’ are responsible for the cataclysm that nearly destroyed their society approximately fifteen millennia ago.” A conclusion which was, frankly, inevitable and uncontestable.

“So you believe the Arat Kur are lost to us?”

“Yes. Which is not the same thing as saying that they will become allied with the Terrans. Many of them remain suspicious of all humans. Some are amenable to contact with the Aboriginals. However, the contentious nature of the current negotiations will serve to poison the well of amity for some time to come. And even if the Arat Kur were to put aside their reservations and make common cause against us with the Aboriginals, they would contribute very little to such an effort. The humans are bleeding them dry of ships and industrial output.”

“I did not suspect the Aboriginals would be so materially rapacious.” Ulsor Tval Vasarkas’ comment was slow, measured.

“Most of them are not, but they are divided both between and within their blocs. There are still strong and insistent voices calling for xenocide. To balance against this, moderate factions support the aggressive dismantling of the Arat Kur’s military capabilities, thereby reducing the popular fears upon which the xenocidalists prey.”

“And weakening the Arat Kur so profoundly that they will probably be of no use to our enemies in the next war. Excellent.”

“Yes, but the Aboriginals may make better use of these arrogated ships and resources than the Arat Kur would have. It is difficult to foresee which would have been the better alternative, in light of our future plans. However, a more immediate threat to those plans has arisen: the Slaasriithi invited an Aboriginal envoy to their homeworld mere hours after my last Contact with you.”

“And did the Aboriginals accept?”

“Immediately. They departed that same day.”

Beren Tval Jerapthere’s response was unpleasantly barbed. “This is unacceptable, Srin Shethkador. How did you allow this to occur?”

“Esteemed Autarch, had my advice been followed, it would never have occurred at all. Instead, heavy-handed initiatives have characterized our operations in this entire region of space. This is why the provocative arrival of Ferocious Monolith was ill-conceived. Without the alarm it caused, the Slaasriithi might have maintained their typically glacial pace of cultural contact and exchange. But instead, they pressed for and obtained an immediate diplomatic mission from the Aboriginals.”

“You must contrive a way to stop them from realizing their objectives.”

“What method do you propose?”

“The most reliable: follow their ship and destroy it.”

“I reply with as much deference as I may muster, and more respect than such a plan is due: nothing could be more injurious to our plans. Our willingness to destroy such a mission will signal to both powers that we fear nothing so much as the possibility of a swift alliance between them. And so, they will be quick to conclude one.”

Tlerek could almost hear Beren’s teeth grinding across the many parsecs. “I do not propose the elimination of the envoy be done openly.”

“I do not suppose you did, but we cannot ensure secrecy if we undertake the ambush you so blithely suggest. We are not familiar with Slaasriithi space. They have been the most reticent of all the races and have been most effective patrolling their borders against our covert surveys, despite their lower technological level.”

Ruurun’s confirmation was patient, studied. “The Srin is correct. We would be proceeding blindly and without any plausible pretext.”

“Precisely,” Shethkador agreed, grateful that House Tharexere did not have as much vigor as it had wisdom. “And if such a trespass is detected, the probable loss of the ship conducting would be a paltry matter compared to the diplomatic damage it will do. We will have pushed two races together into an alliance against us, whereas, unprompted, they might require years of diplomatic exchange before concluding such a pact.”

Davros’ contact was cautious. “Agreed, but is detection so likely? The Slaasriithi are most decidedly our technological inferiors.”

“The Slaasriithi are well behind us in military and space technology, but their sensors are subtle, small, predominantly nonmetallic. And the Slaasriithi are patient. Their seeming lethargy conceals an extraordinary unity of action and fixity of purpose. Unlike the Aboriginals, who will bicker over plans incessantly and change them midcourse, the Slaasriithi are doubtless responding to the late war by increasing the sophistication, precision, and quantities of their remote sensor platforms.”

“Not active, crewed defenses?”

“Not at first, and not primarily. The Slaasriithi will, rightly, be more concerned about furnishing the Custodians with incontrovertible evidence of any violations of their space.”

Ulsor’s contact was grim. “And so, they would have the Custodians do their fighting for them.”

“Yes, which is also the path of action stipulated by the Accords. So, in reporting our intrusion, they would both have the legal right of the matter, and also awaken the one foe that might still defeat us if sufficiently aroused and committed: the Dornaani. That is an eventuality we must avoid at all costs.”

“Your contact grows weak, Tlerek Srin Shethkador,” Davros sent with extra strength.

“My gratitude for your counsel and attention, Autarchs.” Shethkador let the link slip away — and suddenly he was back in the Sensorium, fixed in one time and one place, perceiving no greater connections to the universe around him than those which could be established by the reach of his eyes, ears, nose. His nose might be particularly useful, now, he reflected: he wondered if he could smell the stink of Olsirkos’ fear, who was no doubt waiting just beyond the well-guarded iris valve.

Shethkador was not disappointed in half of his prediction; his executive officer was waiting there, but without any discernible odor of fear. “I have news, Fearsome Srin.”

I’m sure you do. “Inform me.”

“There is, as you suspected, a deeper plot that connects the murder of the cargo worker aboard the Ladoga, and the outcome of the duel fought aboard Ferocious Monolith. The communications trainee had no quarrel with the second communications officer. He was paid to instigate the duel, and then send one of several prearranged signals to the lighter’s mother ship. What is most interesting is that the person who secured his services in exchange for this assistance –”

“– was the first alternate communications officer, the one who ultimately replaced the dead officer aboard Red Lurker.”

Olsirkos dropped behind; he had stopped walking. “You knew.”

Shethkador managed to repress a smile. Mostly. “The interrogation of the duelist was simply a matter of confirming the obvious. Is he still alive, by the way?”

“Yes, Fearsome Srin. Shall I vac him?”

“Imbecile! This is not deep space, back home. We must protect our genelines from Aboriginal analysis for as long as possible.”

“Then how do you wish me to dispose of him?”

Shethkador considered: there was no value to retaining the traitor. His employers would doubtless have understood — far, far better than he — just how likely this outcome was. He would not possess any evidentiary or informational value whatsoever. “Send a summons to all autarchons and lictors who came into Aegis service because their Houses or Families were Extirpated. Have them gather in the observation gallery of the after docking bay. Place the traitor in the bay and evacuate the atmosphere slowly, without opening the doors. Let them watch his death and be reminded that this is what befalls those who would help to restore genelines upon which Extirpation has been decreed.”

Olsirkos frowned. “As you order, it shall be, Fearsome Srin, but…”


“Why such emphasis upon Extirpated Houses and Families?”

“Because that was the root of all these crimes. Have you examined the background of the communications officer you ultimately assigned to Red Lurker?”

“I am ashamed to say that I completed the interrogation mere minutes before arriving at the Sensorium.”

Probably true. “Here is what you will find: her name is Nezdeh, a former Srina of House Perekmeres. She was behind much, if not all, of the planning and collusion and bribery that we have now uncovered. You will also find, if you research deeply enough, that many of the Undreaming who were awakened to round out the crew of the Lurker were not who they were purported to be. They were more renegades from House Perekmeres.”

Olsirkos shook his head. “But to what end would they fashion such a strange plot? If they seize Red Lurker, where may they go? Without us, they will remain stranded in system V 1581.”

“Will they? They are too adept at overcoming obstacles for me to rely upon that assumption. They have suborned human agents among the civilian auxiliaries of the Aboriginal fleet. They were able to infiltrate cryocelled Terran collaborators into a diplomatic mission with only twenty-four hours notice. So I am unwilling to make any presumptions regarding what capabilities they do and do not have. We may only be sure of this: as renegades, they will take every possible precaution to remain undetected. And also, having no House left to support them, they must have sponsors among either the Autarchs, the Hegemons of the Great Houses, or both.”

“Yes, Fearsome Srin” — and Olsirkos did genuinely seem to be awestruck at Shethkador’s calm, confident unfolding of the conspiracy — “but I still do not understand how the architect of this plot could be located in V 1581 and yet be influencing events that were taking place here.”

“That mystery is not solved by a single answer, but rather two. The first part is that the Slaasriithi invitation to the Aboriginals was not wholly unforeseeable. Therefore, it is possible, if unlikely, that the duelist you just interrogated was left with a complex flowchart of contingency orders to execute, as dictated by subsequent occurrences. This alone could have produced the chain of events we have uncovered. But I suspect there is a second, more likely, answer to how these renegades managed to influence events in another star system.

“Only hours after Monolith left V1581, another preaccelerated Arat Kur prize hull — Mimic — shifted into that system from Sigma Draconis, probably carrying a warning of our sudden appearance there. It seem likely that the ex-Srina Perekmeres — or her sponsors — had agents aboard Mimic, who reported the Slaasriithi’s diplomatic overtures to the Aboriginals. The ex-Srina then contacted the new second communications officer.”

“So she is Awakened?”

“Almost certainly.”

“But what are these traitors hoping to accomplish?”

“That we cannot know until we track them down. But they clearly intend to compromise the Aboriginal legation to the Slaasriithi homeworld.”

“So our travel to V 1581, to retrieve Red Lurker, is a stalking horse to conceal our investigation into the connections between this plot and rogue elements of the former House Perekmeres.”


They had returned to Shethkador’s spin quarters. “Dominant Srin,” Olsirkos breathed, “you have been inconceivably kind to show me the workings of your mind, that I may be inspired and educated by them.”

Shethkador resisted the urge to rub his eyes. “Yes, of course. Now, Commence preacceleration for shift to V 1581. I had expected to depart this wretched region of space as soon as I was repatriated. Now I must investigate a pack of meddlesome renegades who should have been culled with the rest of their scrofulous breed.”

“At least, being renegades, they are desperate and possess little real power. After all, how much damage could they do?”

Shethkador fixed Olsirkos with a brutal stare, compelling his irises to contract into pinpricks of contempt and dismissal. “Since they have nothing to lose, what won’t they do?”