Fire With Fire – Snippet 25
Richard Downing took his customary seat on the west end of the conference table, which afforded the best view of the white dome of the Capitol building. It was only the first day of spring, so the light was fading fast, sliding down the spectrum from yellow to a tired amber that glowed weakly off the wind-rippled surface of the Reflecting Pool. No sign of the cherry blossoms yet: it had been a cold winter. Twice, snow had shut down the city, to the predictable delight of the children.
Before Downing had finished settling in, the door opened, knob banging into the precisely dented wood paneling behind it: Nolan Corcoran’s usual entrance. Crossing the room, he tossed his deck-coat into a chair, kept moving in a broad arc around the table and toward Richard, smile growing as he came.
His “Good to have you back, Rich” was accompanied by the usual hearty handshake — but there was a subtle thread of tension in the greeting.
Downing smiled. “It’s good to be back. I presume you’ve already read the reports.”
“Scanned them on the suborbital from Jakarta. Lucky thing you reached Junction in time to handle Riordan’s retrieval personally.” Corcoran moved toward his seat at the east end of the table. From there, he could look out at the Lincoln Memorial, now a gold-rimmed box of black shadow. “So, Caine’s going to be okay?”
“Physically, yes. Psychologically — well, Riordan is less resilient this time.”
Corcoran frowned. “Less resilient? To what?”
“To the neural and mental traumas of being rapidly processed — again — out of long duration cryo-suspension. His recent experience of time is not as a steady flow, but as a disjointed set of abrupt, often painful changes. For instance, he enters coldsleep in 2105 with his two parents still alive; he comes out in 2118, and they’re both dead.”
Corcoran avoided Downing’s gaze: he looked at the floor, then out at the Lincoln monument. Downing had the distinct impression that Nolan would not have been able to look full into the statue’s solemn marble face.
Downing continued. “Clinically, Riordan’s reorientation was normative, but one thing puzzled me: do you have any idea why the psychologists inserted so many probes of Caine’s first short-term memory loss into the initial sessions?”
Nolan glanced up from under his hand. “What? No, no idea; frankly, I didn’t notice.”
And indeed, maybe Nolan hadn’t noticed — but then again, maybe he had. It was as if the measurements of Caine’s memory had been designed to surreptitiously assess where his earlier, lunar memory loss began and ended, with an a priori presumption of about one hundred hours. So, had Nolan expected a one-hundred-hour memory loss from the outset? If so, had Nolan instructed his Taiwanese contacts to do more than just ship Caine back to the US after they had swapped him out of their cryocell and into an American model, fourteen years ago? Had they taken “therapeutic” steps to ensure this greater memory loss?
Downing stopped: steady, old boy. Look very carefully at where these inquiries are taking you: toward the notion that Nolan not only took premeditated steps to deny Caine information about what happened during his last one hundred hours on Luna, but that he kept me in the dark about doing so. But what would possibly –?
Nolan’s voice severed that troubling line of thought: “While we’re on the topic of Caine’s cold sleep, I’ve been wondering if his memory loss might have been caused by the kind of cryo-suspension the Taiwanese used. Or maybe it was the rapid shift between their system and ours.”
Downing managed not to flinch: so has Nolan started reading my mind, now? “That shift — is that why they held Caine for about a month after cold-sleeping him on Luna?”
Nolan nodded. “The pharmacology of the pre-toxification approach is radically different from ours. They had to purge their chemicals out of him before ours could go in. It took about two weeks between partial rethaw and full resleep.”
“Ah.” Nolan’s comments about Taiwan’s controversial pre-toxification cryotechnology were accurate, and Caine might very well have spent two weeks having his fluids exchanged. Or, Caine might just as easily have spent two weeks in a drugged stupor, inhabiting a twilit land where the mental fogs induced by serotonin derivatives were intermittently pierced by lightning strokes of electro-convulsive “therapy” sessions.
Nolan leaned forward, his smile a little wider but less relaxed. Downing knew what that signified; the admiral wanted to get off the topic of Caine’s memory loss: “Any other concerns regarding Mr. Riordan?”
Downing folded his hands. “Riordan has every reason to hate us — and to distrust us. I’m uncomfortable with our decision to let him present his own findings at the Parthenon Dialogs. He could decide that an international summit is exactly the right forum in which to expose IRIS, its manipulation of foreign governments, and his displeasure with it.”
Nolan smiled. “We anticipated this risk from the first day we reanimated Riordan. Face it, Richard: the part of him that is a polymath is impossible to predict. They never do just one thing, or follow just one path, for very long. It’s not in their nature. Unless they become authors. Or troublemakers. Or both.”
“You mean like Caine.”
“You said it, not me.”
“So how do we make sure he stays in line?”
“By appealing to the part of him that is the Boy Scout, the straight arrow. By reminding him what’s at stake and then bringing him inside — all the way inside.”
“Nolan, if we do that –“
“If we don’t, he’ll only resent us more. And it’s the least we can do. Besides, as a purely cultural operative, he’d be invaluable. Once the publicity surrounding Caine dies down, he’ll have a dim, but permanent, halo of historical fame, which will get him through just about any door, into any party, onto any invite list.”
Downing shrugged: there was no arguing that point. Riordan had a future — if he wanted it — on the lecture and book-signing circuit. He’d be sought after, but not a star, and his deeds would be much better known than his face: all advantageous for the kind of operative Nolan was envisioning. He shrugged. “Very well — and he probably won’t want to make a scandal out of himself along with us. He’s got the pluck to do it, but is prudent enough to know it’s simply not the best move for him, or for the planet.”
Nolan smiled broadly. “You named him pretty well.”
“Odysseus — the code name you hung on Riordan. Odysseus was no coward, but he always looked before he leaped.”
“Yes, I suppose, but that has nothing to do with how Riordan got his code name. It came from a play on words — on names, actually.”
And suddenly, Downing was reliving the moment now one year past.…
Caine was recovering from drowning himself during the circuitry training exercise: Richard brought him a towel and sat down.
Caine shook his head. “This whole scheme of yours is nuts, you know. I’ve only written about the military and intelligence work — and now you think you can teach me to be a field operative in just a few weeks?”
Downing made sure his nod was relaxed. “We’re simply asking you to collect information, just as if you were researching another book. And don’t think of me as a teacher; think of me as your mentor.”
“Mentor, huh? And that makes me who? Odysseus?”
Downing smiled at the Homeric pun. “If you like.” He leaned back. “We need a code name for you, anyway. Would ‘Odysseus’ suit you?”
Caine shrugged. “Sure: I’m ‘Odysseus.'”
Nolan’s voice startled Downing out of the recollection. “Anything else on Riordan?”
“Just this footnote from the psychologists: this time, his recovery may also be complicated by feelings of guilt.”
Nolan frowned, turned his face back toward the darkening windows. “How so?”
“Yes. Over the loss of the Tyne.”
“Has he said anything about feeling guilty?”
“No, but he does seem a bit distracted…”
Caine took another sip of water to rinse out the faint fish-and-glycol aftertaste that followed reanimation. It was no good: the foreign tastes and smells kept seeping out of him, making Caine feel alien in his own skin.
Downing laid his dataslate down on the black wire-frame table. “I think that’s enough for today. You’re doing very well.”
What a lovely lie. “Great. So when do I get to ask a few questions?”
Downing shrugged. “You may do so now, if you wish.”
“When am I going to get my short-term memories back?”
“So far as I can tell, your short-term memories from the Tyne are quite complete. In fact –“
“Cut the bullshit: you know what I mean, Richard. I’m talking about the memories from fourteen years ago, on Luna: when am I going to get those one hundred hours back?”
“Difficult to say. The loss may be permanent. The doctors speculate it was the duration of your suspension. Some speculate that the particulars of your deanimation may have played a role, also.”
“What do you mean, ‘the particulars’?”
“In 2105, the Taiwanese were still using a pre-toxification system.”
“You mean where they almost kill you with poisons before they begin the cryo-suspension?”
“So the toxins retroactively scrambled more of my memories than our slow-freeze method?”