Raising Caine – Snippet 26


September 2120

Chapter Twenty-Eight

In various orbits; BD +02 4076 Two (“Disparity”)

“They call the planet ‘Disparity’?” Tygg stared at Riordan, who had conveyed the information. “What the hell kind of name is that? What’s it mean?”

“Wish I knew,” Riordan confessed, “but I don’t. Got the name from Yiithrii’ah’aash just a few minutes before we started shuffling gear around for tomorrow’s landing.”

Keith Macmillan, hearing the exchange as he went to get another load from the cargomod, grunted. “I guess we’re going to be staying here a little longer than on Adumbratus.”

“Why do you say?” Melissa Sleeman asked over her shoulder. She was helping — well, more like directing — Tygg as he relocated her test gear to the corvette.

“Because they’re having us pack for a bloody camping trip, and landing us in two boats,” Macmillan answered as he disappeared around the bend.

Which Caine knew to be only part of the reason for tomorrow’s two-vehicle planetfall. After Adumbratus, the Slaasriithi had sheepishly admitted to overestimating the avionics automation of the TOCIO shuttle and had been alarmed when neither their shift carrier nor Adumbratus’ ground station had been able to achieve a solid lascom lock to relay telemetry and meteorological data to it during the unexpectedly rough descent. This time, the Slaasriithi had urged a “buddy-system” landing. The concept was to let the far more robust and cutting-edge Wolfe-class corvette, the UCS Puller, lead the way down, relaying both its own sensor readings and any transmitted data to the shuttle following on its heels.

Few of the legation noticed the change: they were eager to begin this visit, particularly since getting their first look at Disparity yesterday. Easing into near orbit, they had watched as, due to the rotation of their habitation module, the green and blue planet slid swiftly in from the top of their view ports and drop just as swiftly out again every forty-eight seconds. Unlike the outré appearance of Adumbratus, the second planet of BD +02 4076 conformed to the image invoked by the term “green world.”

It was indeed the greenest planet Riordan had ever seen. Only fifty-four percent water-covered, Disparity’s seas followed the equatorial belt, dividing the planet into pole-centered landmasses. There were a few land bridges joining the two ragged collections of top and bottom continents and one seasonally-migrating ice cap. But those land bridges were apparently eroding: coastal archipelagos flanked the remaining spines of once-wide isthmuses.

Disparity’s other unusual feature was the bright blue of its seas, which were much shallower than Earth’s oceans and were reportedly well-populated by analogs of cyan-colored algae and plankton.

But even those colors were faint when compared to the vast verdant swathes extending away from the water on both the north and south continents. Whether light grasslands or dark forests, the rich, saturated hues indicated that the vegetation was not interspersed with many badlands or scrub-plains. With the exception of a few dramatic mountain ranges and small wind-shadow deserts that clung to their upland skirts here and there, the green of Disparity’s landmasses did not suffer interruption or preemption until it grudgingly mixed in with the tans and browns that rimmed the seasonal icecap.

Caine reached the corvette’s portside hatchway and passed his load to Peter Wu, who glanced at the other people approaching with similar burdens. “Captain, don’t the Slaasriithi have robots?”

“Some.” Riordan considered reminding Wu that there was no reason to revert to addressing him by rank again, but thought the better of it. The career military personnel had their own very practical instincts about such matters. In this case, while exchanges remained informal within their own circle, they stuck with the basic formalities of ranks and titles when mixing in with the civilians. Caine had spent as much time as a grass-roots insurgent as he had in true military formations — which was to say, not much of either — but accepted the wisdom of their unspoken but unanimous choice in the matter.

Peter was still looking grimly at the approaching bucket-brigade of packages to be passed through the hatchway. “So where are the robots, sir?”

Caine shrugged. “Far away from us. After the debacle with Buckley, they Slaasriithi have become extremely cautious about bringing any systems into contact with us. However, I am told that stops tomorrow.”

“What happens tomorrow?”

“We get hit with another dose of markers.”

Trent Howarth stooped through the airlock to take the load from Peter. “Yeah, magic dust with mucho mojo, according to Major Rulaine.”

Riordan smiled. “According to Yiithrii’ah’aash, he’ll shower us with a super-strength mix just before we start planetside. The markers will provide us with up to a week of affinity and even influence over the local wildlife. Well, the Slaasriithi biota, that is; not all of Disparity’s flora and fauna have ‘harmonized’ just yet.”

“So why not put the magic dust on us now?” Peter passed the package to Howarth, eyed the next, larger one being carried jointly by Phil Friel and Tina Melah.

Riordan stepped back out of their way. “Gaspard and I wanted it checked out, first. So Ben Hwang has been looking at it from the bio side, Rena Mizrahi from the medical angle, and Oleg Danysh has been pulling apart its atomic structure.” He turned to head back for another load.

Wu sagged under the crate that Tina and Phil passed to him. “How unfortunate for them, having to work so hard.”

Caine smiled, waved, turned the corner around which Macmillan had disappeared and which led to the shuttle and the other modules that comprised their restricted domain aboard the Slaasriithi shift-carrier.

As he went further along the gently curving stretch of corridor, he encountered more of the legation’s sweaty geniuses-become-stevedores, mostly carrying survival packs toward the shuttle. Riordan was considering lending a hand there, as well, when his collarcom emitted a flute-and-wind-chime tone: an incoming signal from Yiithrii’ah’aash. Caine tapped the collarcom. “Hello, Ambassador. How may I help you?”

“Caine Riordan, I trust the relocation of your supplies is proceeding well?”

“Yes. Not without a few mishaps, of course.” But you’re not contacting me to check on our box-juggling follies. “Are our activities causing you any concern, Ambassador?”

“No, but we are experiencing an unexplained malfunction at the berth where your shuttle is docked.”

Caine hardly realized that his pace had slowed. “What kind of malfunction, Ambassador?”

“Power loss. However, it is only affecting the securing clamps and the hatch seals, which have released.”

Riordan came to a stop. “Is there a danger of separation? Do we need to evacuate the bay?”

“That would be precipitous, Caine Riordan. I am sure that we shall have isolated the problem in a few minut –”

The circuit cut out; the lights flickered once and died. The hallway was plunged into darkness, except for the bobbing blue collarcom lights of a few distant team members. One fell with a curse; something she’d been carrying broke with a sound like smashed crockery.