Marque of Caine – Snippet 13

Marque of Caine – Snippet 13

Chapter Eight

July, 2123

Nevis, Earth

“If you would please take your seat, Commodore Riordan.” The Marine held it out for him.

Before Caine could sit, an Asian woman sitting behind the table on the other side of the room uttered a sharp correction. “Our visitor is to be addressed as ‘Mister’ Riordan. He is here as a private citizen.”

Lorraine Phalon strode in at the end of her admonishment, a tall, lean man in USSF blue following her. “Ms. Yan, Commodore Riordan is still a reserve officer of the USSF. It is proper and fitting that service persons, as well as any others who wish to do so, address him by his rank.” She sat. The man in the service dress blues, by far the youngest in the room, sat beside her.

Riordan glanced past Lorraine at the young fellow, whispered. “Who’s the new guy?”

“Lieutenant Kyle Seaver. Intelligence liaison. Between JAG and IRIS.”

“And the woman who gave me such a warm welcome?”

“That’s Yan Xiayou, Director of Procedural Compliance Directorate. The older man next to her is Dalir Sadozai, currently the Associate Director. But he’s had a lot of different positions.”

“Where?”

“Any place the DWC needs a hard-liner.”

The youngest person at the opposing table adjusted his collar-mic. “Good morning, Commod–Mister Riordan. I am Enis Turan of the Procedural Compliance Directorate. I am responsible for assessing possible security risks posed by your possible travel to the Dornaani Collective. Specifically, we are concerned that information regarding the existence and disposition of the expatriate group known colloquially as the Lost Soldiers could be shared with Dornaani individuals, thereby compromising the strategic interests of the Consolidated Terran Republic.”

Riordan frowned. “Compromise how?”

“Two years ago, the Ktor ambassador Tlerek Srin Shethkador asserted that if it was revealed that the Ktoran Sphere had kidnapped the Lost Soldiers from Earth, a disastrous cascade of events would follow. The end result: the Ktor would be ejected from the Accord and declare war on us shortly thereafter.”

Riordan leaned forward. “Mr. Turan, since you have obviously read my testimony about that confidential meeting, you know that one of the five people there was the ranking Dornaani on site: Alnduul, a Senior Mentor of the Custodians. So you can be sure the Dornaani Collective is already fully informed about the Lost Soldiers and what is at stake if their true identity becomes common knowledge.”

Sadozai brushed gently at his mustache. “Yes, but Mr. Turan’s statement includes the possibility of your revealing something the Dornaani would not already know: the current disposition of the Lost Soldiers. Which is to say, their present location.”

Phalon’s tone was measured. “Which the Lost Soldiers did not share with Commodore Riordan. As per the Commodore’s testimony the last time he was being grilled in this room.”

Yan nodded. “Be that as it may, Commander, Mr. Riordan’s changed circumstances require that we revisit the existing agreement with him. Specifically: when Mr. Riordan has emerged from hiding, his knowledge of the Lost Soldiers emerged with him. This is too great a risk to go unaddressed.”

“Okay,” Riordan said with a shrug, “what do you need me to do?”

Sadozai shrugged. “To reveal the location of the Lost Soldiers. Of course.”

“Even if I had that information, why would I share it now?” Riordan glared at the three faces across from him. “Both at Turkh’saar, and then later in this very room, your own representatives refused to guarantee the Lost Soldiers’ safety.” Caine paused, considered. “So, let’s try this again: will you now agree, on the record, to guarantee the safety and fair treatment of the Lost Soldiers, and all the other personnel who were under my command at that time? And, if they must be remanded to administrative custody, do you promise that their condition shall be independently monitored to ensure that those guarantees are being met?” Riordan looked at their faces and waited.

But instead of their eyes, he saw Elena’s. Getting more and more distant.

Sadozai waved away Riordan’s questions with a lazy backhand. “Since you evidently perceive us as your adversaries, how can we trust you, Mr. Riordan? How can we approve your travel to the Collective when you might leave timed press releases behind, revealing the existence of the Lost Soldiers?”

Kyle Seaver leaned forward. “It is strange that you are the one talking about trust, Mr. Sadozai. After all, whoever took lethal measures to ensure that Commodore Riordan never left Nevis has the same objective you do: to make sure he cannot leak the location of the Lost Soldiers.”

Seaver ignored Sadozai’s suddenly bristling mustache. “Of course, even though the assassination attempt failed, it’s still likely to achieve the intended result: to keep the commodore from reaching the Dornaani. Because his required presence at inevitable and innumerable hearings and investigations–like this one–was always sure to make him miss the rendezvous.”

Caine worked very hard not to smile while everyone else sat in stunned silence. Thank God Seaver’s on my side.

Phalon folded her hands and spoke to a spot on the wall behind the three representatives of the Procedural Compliance Directorate. “Lieutenant Seaver’s analysis obligates me to initiate an investigation of every agency and organization which had advance knowledge of Commodore Riordan’s departure from Nevis and his pending travel to the Collective.”

Yan’s riposte was heated. “A breach of security within IRIS is an IRIS matter.”

Phalon nodded calmly. “Normally, yes, but in this case, the part of IRIS that handles internal affairs is under suspicion itself: namely, your own Directorate, Ms. Yan. Consequently, I’ll be reporting directly to IRIS’s Director Vassily Sukhinin of IRIS, whose regard for the commodore is, I presume, well-known to you.”

Yan reddened. Dalir went pale. Turan, nervously noting the uncertain silence of the other two, asked, “Could this investigation be . . . avoided, somehow?”

Phalon shook her head. “No. Attempted murder requires an investigation. However, it can be mounted in a less immediate, and less aggressive, manner. Indeed, if the primary witness–the commodore himself–should happen to be travelling in the Dornaani Collective, the investigation would be severely delayed.”

Riordan watched the combative look on Yan’s face transmogrify to resignation. And checkmate.

Yan ordered her notes, folded her hands, and stated, “This board can find no immediate reason to deny Mr. Riordan the opportunity to travel to the Dornaani Collective as a private individual. However, since he has remained uncooperative in addressing the security and intelligence concerns of this board, and that of various political entities–“

–translation: “the Developing World Coalition–“

“–it will also be necessary for him to be interviewed and approved by the Interbloc Working Group on Exosapient Interaction.”

Phalon’s jaw stiffened. “And how long will that process take?”

Yan’s smile was wan. “Who can say?”

Riordan leaned forward. “I think I can. Specifically, if I reveal the location of the Lost Soldiers now, the process will take less than a day. However, if I don’t give you what you want, the process will drag on for as long as it takes to keep me from reaching the Dornaani in time.”

Yan looked uncomfortable. “It would certainly streamline the process were you to agree to our one request.”

Seaver tapped his dataslate meditatively. “So because Commodore Riordan does not give you information that he doesn’t even possess, you are going to procedurally stymie his ability to travel?”

“If he will not cooperate, the Interbloc Working Group is likely to do that, yes,” she replied.

Riordan leaned forward. “Director Yan, which scenario do you like less: me being the first human to visit the Dornaani, or getting absolutely no useful intel on them? Intel which might finally provide us with an adequate strategic snapshot of this area of space, since Dornaani are the only ones who can tell us what was going on in this stellar cluster twenty thousand years ago. They are the only ones who might be able to explain the unfathomable preponderance of genetic compatibility and even conformity that we have encountered on the majority of green worlds. They are the ones whose technology shows us, and gives hints at the pathways to, the capabilities humanity might achieve in the years and centuries to come. And lastly, they are the only ones who could, and yet don’t, autocratically lord it over all the species in known space–but why? And more importantly, what might cause them to change their minds?”

Riordan opened his hands in appeal. “This is not just about my going to the Collective to find Elena Corcoran. This is about getting answers and intelligence we desperately need. As a species. Don’t you want that information, so that we can adequately prepare for our next contact with the Dornaani? Don’t you want to respond to their first gesture since the war, pave the way for an exchange of envoys, then delegations, and finally, consulates and embassies?”

Turan looked inquiringly at Yan, who pointedly did not return his gaze: her eyes were locked with Caine’s. After several seconds they faltered; he imagined he might have seen a hint of regret in them. She answered in a low voice. “What you and I want is not the only consideration, here, Mr. Riordan. But be assured: I will send the Interbloc Working Group your assessment regarding the consequences of blocking your travel.”

Seaver smiled mirthlessly. “Which the Working Group will doubtless ignore until after the Commodore has missed the window for contact.”

Yan waved a listless hand. “There are no perfect answers. These are the only ones I am able to offer you.” She rose. “The Interbloc Working Group will give Mr. Riordan’s replies and perspectives due consideration and will notify you when they are ready to commence their hearings.” She nodded briefly and led the other two out of the room.

Riordan smiled crookedly at Phalon and Seaver. “That seemed to go well.”

Phalon’s response was a faint frown. “Actually, it might have gone too well.”

“Is that possible?” Riordan wondered.

Seaver nodded. “Dalir got nervous and pushed too hard on the Lost Soldiers.”

Riordan nodded. “He knows that someone in his bloc is still looking for them. He may even be a part of the operation, himself.”

Seaver smiled ruefully. “Either way, he tipped his hand and now we know that he knows. Which means that, before the end of the day, Sadozai is going to be on a plane to somewhere we can’t subpoena him and threaten to pursue an embarrassing line of questions. Which have given us enough leverage to stare down the Working Group.”

 Phalon nodded, yanked the door open. “Now, they’re likely to sequester you again, Commodore. As soon as they can set a date for the first hearing.”

Riordan shrugged. “Any guess how long the Working Group can tie me up?”

Seaver’s eyes and voice became grim. “Too long.”

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