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Well, that was certainly impressive. It usually took thirty-six hours for awakened cold-sleepers to become ambulatory, another twelve to twenty-four to become fully functional. Whatever methods the Slaasriithi had used to shorten this cycle would be extremely interesting and valuable to the people in exosapient technical intelligence. Assuming that Caine could get the Slaasriithi to share the details..."Ambassador, although I'm sure this unusual process was warranted, you did circumvent our own reanimation protocols and systems. Did you seek permission to do so?"

Yiithrii'ah'aash was still for a moment; his neck twitched in surprise. "I did not consult the human that your superiors left in waking oversight of your care. There was no time. It also seemed unnecessary, since our collective interests are served by your swift reanimation."

"I don't disagree, Ambassador. But in my role as acting ambassador plenipotentiary, I must point out that my government's medical experts will want to review the procedures and substances you used. Otherwise, the issue of quarantines between our species could arise again."

Yiithrii'ah'aash was still for a moment, then his neck contracted slightly. His verbal response rode over a series of clicks and a rough buzz: grudging compliance and a hint of amusement. "You shall have the protocols and samples of the compounds we used." The clicks subsided, the buzz slid into a faint purr. "It is good to see that your resourcefulness is unimpaired."

Riordan responded with a lopsided smile. "As you say, your reanimation methods are extremely effective. Now, you mentioned a human who remained conscious during our journey?"

Nods and waves greeted Caine as he and Yiithrii'ah'aash moved slowly down the module's center aisle. The Slaasriithi continued his explanation. "Your superior, Richard Downing, assigned a human to watch over you and, I presume, to brief you upon reanimation."

"Brief us? About what?"

"New information has come to light about our destination and how recent events upon the system's main world, Turkh'saar, may be amplifying political tensions in the Hkh'Rkh Patrijuridicate. Furthermore, Mr. Downing was able to provide some additional forces for this mission."

"Then why not send them instead of us?"

"Because they too are in cryogenic suspension and have been for some time."

Riordan heard the extra emphasis that Yiithrii'ah'aash had placed upon the final phrase. "Just how long have they been in cold sleep?"

"Their last memories date from before your species became aware of what you label exosapients."

Caine stared at the Slaasriithi. "You mean, before the Convocation and the invasion of Earth?"

The ambassador's sensor cluster inclined slightly. "I infer they were part of the ground forces that your late strategist Nolan Corcoran put into cryogenic suspension as a counterattack force to accompany the fleet that you named Relief Task Force One."

Good grief, the amount of disorientation those sleepers will experience upon awakening— "How long has it been since we were cold-slept and left Delta Pavonis?"

"Just over three of your months."

Riordan did the mental math, back-calculating along the calendar of frenzied recent events. "So they've been asleep at least two years. Possibly more."

"That is consistent with what Mr. Downing intimated. It is also why we did not feel safe waking them. They do not know of our, or any other, species. We feared that their reactions to our unexpected appearance might be—unpredictable."

Well, Yiithrii'ah'aash's tact remained as extraordinary as ever. "I think that's a fair assessment, Ambassador. I revise my initial reaction: you certainly made the right choice leaving them in cold sleep. But you said that Downing left someone in charge of the mission?"

The Slaasriithi stared at Caine. "Yes. You."

"No, no. I mean, someone who stayed awake to oversee the welfare of those of us in cold sleep?"

"Yes. A Mister Duncan Solsohn. As I understand it, there was some tenuous personal connection between him and Mr. Downing. It was a distant familial connection, I believe. I confess that the more nebulous human associational matrices continue to elude my understanding."

"That's okay, Ambassador; sometimes, they elude my understanding, too."

"I beg your pardon: such relationships also elude your understa—? Ah, now I perceive: you speak ironically. I am sure that if I were human, I would find your remark witty."

Caine was glad his self-worth was not vested in comedic aspirations. "Or maybe you wouldn't." They had arrived at the docking hatchway that provided ingress to the corvette that had seen Caine and his team through more than a few battles and tight spots: the UCS Puller. "Now, since you say it's an emergency and there's no time to waste, how about you tell me why you felt it necessary to jolt us out of cold sleep?"

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