Raising Caine – Snippet 29

Chapter Twenty-Nine

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

Caine Riordan had just finished helping up the man who had fallen ahead of him in the darkness — Nasr Eid — when the world shook again. But much harder.

Riordan hit the far wall of the corridor like a rag doll slung across a room. He bounced off, the wind driven out of him, but was glad for the reflexes that brought up his left arm to cover his head and turned his fall into a crude roll. Finally, the long hours of intermittent martial arts practice were paying a muscle memory dividend.

As he rose, a sudden forward-suction draft pulled the air from behind him, the force against his back building swiftly toward hurricane intensity. God damn, explosive decompression up ahead? Nothing to grab on to, no way to —

The growing maelstrom diminished quickly, then stopped. His collarcom, still in his right hand, emitted a wind-chime and flutes tone. He tapped it. “Ambassador?”

Yiithrii’ah’aash’s connection was very poor. “Caine Riordan, can you hear my words?”

“Yes, but not well. Can you give me a sitrep — uh, a situation report?”

“I can, but it must be brief. I am using a personal communicator with low batteries.”

I doubt we have much time to talk, anyhow. “Ambassador, do you know who’s attacking us?”

“We have no sensors, and so cannot tell. You must board your ships and descend to the planet at once.”

“Already under way.”

“Excellent. Do not stop to draw supplies from your cargo module.”

“We’re not. Was it hit? Was that what caused the explosive decompression?”

“It was. Our extrusions have sealed the breach. But the module was not the attacker’s target. Its rotation simply brought it into the path of a beam locked upon the main spin-armature. You must evacuate at once; without power, we cannot stop the rotator arm. The damage and post-explosion vibrations will cause it to tear apart and fly away from the ship.”

Caine, panting, had been sprinting since he’d answered the page and now he could feel that the rotator arm was, in fact, wobbling: the irregular Coriolis effect made deck swim unsteadily under his feet. “Ambassador, our corvette is still in hard-dock and the power is out. Will your biosystems resist our attempts to override your locks or clamps?”

“They will, but — Do any of your personnel have access to the samples of the new markers? If your crew coated themselves with those, that would allow you to –”

“Negative; all the samples are in the habmod. They’d never make it there and back to the corvette in time.”

The bulkhead disappeared from under Caine’s trailing palm; an intersection. Damn it, which way –? Right! He scrabbled in the dark, found the right-hand bulkhead, ran onward, staggering as the deck undulated beneath his feet.

Yiithrii’ah’aash next suggestion was hurried. “I have sent a disabling command through the chemistry of the ship’s biota; it may or may not reach the correct docking ports. But use whatever means you must to break or blast yourself free.”

Yeah; that’s the plan. Caine heard what sounded like a flurry of gunshots up ahead. What the –? “Ambassador, is there any chance that you will be able to get your ship’s power back on-line?”

“Unknown. Hull breaches have restricted our access, and because our ships are far more self-repairing and self-monitoring than yours, our crew is much smaller.”

Although that’s not working out so well for you right now, is it? “Were the power plants hit or –?”

“It was sabotage, Captain.”

“But I assumed that no Slaasriithi would ever –”

“You are correct, Caine Riordan: we do not have traitors. It was one of your people: Dr. Danysh. We do not know how, but he entered the keel access tube and deployed a feedback device that caused cascading overloads. It did not disable our power plant, but has blocked all electrical current to the bow of the ship, including the bridge and its command circuitry. The engines shifted into standby mode the moment they were no longer under positive control. Now hurry: you have little time left. When you commence planetfall, inform me of –”

The channel crackled and died as Caine rounded the last bend, saw that the shuttle’s forward and dorsal boarding tubes were sealed. However, a dim light shone from the dog-legged passageway that connected to the aft airlock nestled between its drives. He reattached his collarcom. “Bannor, do you read me?”

“Five by five, skipper. Where are you?”

“In the shuttle’s aft boarding tube. Get going.”

“I leave when the shuttle’s flight crew tells me the hatch is closed. But be careful: there’s been comchatter about shots fired in the after compartments.”

“Yeah, I heard them.”

“Then don’t waste time talking to me when –” Bannor’s voice was suddenly muffled; he’d leaned away from his audio pickup. “Dr. Lymbery, I need a green light on that cluster-munition drone. Dr. Sleeman, sensor status?”

As Caine rounded the corridor’s final bend, he heard metal groaning behind him: the rotational arm was starting to deform. It almost drowned out Sleeman’s response to Bannor: “Passive sensors are tracking back along the attacker’s firing vectors.”

Riordan ducked through the hatch of the shuttle’s rear airlock — and tripped over something.

Caine fell forward: something soft, warm, and wet broke his fall at the same instant his collarcom crackled back to life. “Captain Riordan, you are on board, yes?” Humanity’s premier crash-lander, Raskolnikov, sounded impatient.

“Yes, I’m — ”

“Excellent. We are leaving. Strap in.”

But Caine, seeing what he had fallen on — or into — almost recoiled back out the auto-closing hatch, which bumped against his spine and pushed him closer to —

A tangle of bodies. And blood.

“Captain Riordan: strap in!”

“Go — go; I’ll…I’ll be there. Soon. Undock and go.” It wasn’t a prudent order, but Riordan needed five more seconds to memorize the forensic details of the murders he’d discovered:

— Rena Mizrahi, body twisted, eyes open, arrestingly pale, three bullet-holes in her torso, one center-lined on the sternum through which blood had flowed freely. A dated Steyr-Aug ten millimeter caseless pistol lay just beyond her limp fingers.

— Gaspard’s assistant Dieter, crumpled in heap, like a marionette with all its strings cut. He had been killed by a single round to the back of his head which had exited at the top of his left eye’s orbital ridge. A gory red and maroon hole revealed brain tissue.

— Oleg Danysh, laying his length across the deck, an Embra-Mitsu dustmix pistol still locked in his hand. He had been hit four times in a tight pattern stretching from the base of his neck to his right upper chest. The other entry wounds — arm, leg, hip — were equally wide: almost certainly the handiwork of ten millimeter fast-expanding hollow points from the gun beside the late Dr. Mizrahi’s hand.

Riordan jumped up, sprinted toward the combination ship’s locker and main cabin access foyer. The drives behind the bulkheads on either side of him shrieked with sudden, deafening urgency. He yanked open the hatch to the foyer/locker, dove through —

The shuttle pulled sharply to port, away from the crippled Slaasriithi ship, and then upward, rearing like a horse and twisting as it did. Caine’s body went sideways as he entered the foyer. His gut and floating rib slammed into the coaming, bent him like a pretzel just before tossing him aside, rather than back down the passage toward the airlock. “I’m in,” he grunted into his collarcom.

The hatch behind him rammed shut as the shuttle’s next maneuver threatened to throw him across the foyer.

But having been in enough desperately maneuvering vehicles to distinguish sudden engine thrust from a hit, Riordan was able to ride the wave of motion. He rolled sideways as he neared the door into the cabin and hung there until the shuttle righted. He slammed his palm at the door release, then tumble-crawled through the opening door —

Just as the shuttle dove sharply. He bounced off the ceiling. The craft veered briskly to port: he crashed into an acceleration couch.

Riordan struggled to hold on to the couch, the world indistinct and grey as he swam up out of the successive blows and shocks. Far away, his collarcom crackled: “Captain, strap yourself in. I must resume evasive actions in three seconds.” The new voice — calm, unflappable, and deadly serious — was Qin Lijuan’s, who was now handling the shuttle as though it was a stunt plane. This was Qin’s forte, was why she’d been multiply decorated after the Second Battle of Jupiter.

Caine had clambered into the couch, struggling with the straps, when she resumed her corkscrewing evasive maneuvers. He looked out his passenger window — its cover had frozen in the half-closed position — and saw the rotational arm begin to flop like a limb with multiple fractures. Its crippled contortions carried Puller into view. One of the corvette’s laser-focusing blisters emerged and swiveled toward the berthing arms. Each docking clamp flared as if an invisible brace of gigantic arc welders were cutting at it. The clawlike protrusions flew back in pieces, tumbling end over end — and directly toward the shuttle. Closer. And closer —

— and missed the shuttle by five meters. The tube connecting Puller’s ventral airlock to the shift carrier exploded outward in a sharp orange flash: explosive bolts had blasted its hatch and outer coaming away from the vehicle, freeing it from the rapidly disintegrating rotational arm. Puller was dense enough that the rapid unmooring didn’t sling it off like a spinning top, but Karam was going to have his hands full correcting the significant three axis tumble.

The chaos at the bow of the Slaasriithi ship fell away as Lijuan tumbled the shuttle and boosted back along the shift-carrier’s keel, getting distance from the tangle of flying debris and thrashing rotational arms.

Caine had just started to become aware of his immediate surroundings — the whimpering of at least two passengers, his own rank sweat, his blood-splattered duty suit — when a flurry of bright flashes speckled the shift-carrier’s aft-mounted spheres, the ones which housed both fuel tanks and power plants. Riordan knew what he had seen: impacts by a dispersing pattern of rail-gun sub-projectiles.

Two of the globes exploded in silent, self-shredding fury, sent a wave front of small debris racing outward.

Straight toward the shuttle.