Marque of Caine – Snippet 49

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Marque of Caine – Snippet 49

Chapter Thirty-Three

May, 2124

Washington, D.C., Earth

In the same drab Arlington office complex, Kyle Seaver held the elevator door open for Lorraine Phalon. “Such chivalry,” she said with a roll of her eyes.

“Just trying to get on the boss’ good side, get a bigger raise.”

Now Phalon did laugh. She was neither Kyle’s boss nor in position to give him a raise. “Manual,” she instructed. The elevator’s previously blank display illuminated, showing virtual buttons. She pushed “B2”: the elevator headed briskly for the subbasement.

The doors opened moments later, revealing a single security guard in a gaudy rent-a-cop uniform. She was chewing her gum loudly and looked bored. But when the guard saw who it was, she dropped the act and rose into parade rest. “Commander.”

“At ease. Are we expected?”

“Absolutely, ma’am.”

Phalon and Seaver went through the only door, where they found a waiting room furnished with dull paintings. After two minutes, they were buzzed in.

After navigating a dog-leg in a short corridor, the real nature of the facility became evident. They went through a battery of scans conducted by men and women who were well-armed and looked like they’d be pretty deadly even if they weren’t. After passing the print, retinal, and DNA checks, Phalon and Seaver were ushered into a long, plain hallway. There were no numbers on the doors. Either you knew where you were going or you didn’t belong there. Phalon crooked a finger at Seaver, led him to the left.

“We can talk business, again,” she muttered over her shoulder. “Do you have anything more on the surgical records of Downing’s past operatives?”

He caught up, paced her. “No, Commander. But there’s something else you should know about Trevor Corcoran: the witch-hunters aren’t going to bypass him this time.”

“Why not? He wasn’t at Turkh’saar, never had anything to do with the Lost Soldiers or Riordan’s disappearance.”

“No, Ma’am, but he and Riordan were the only two humans captured during the Arat Kur sneak attack at Barnard’s Star 2c. So until two years ago, the only person who’d logged more hours with Arat Kur was Caine Riordan. And some of what they saw and heard is now becoming highly sensitive.”

“Mr. Seaver, I prefer my information without a side helping of suspense.”

Seaver sounded apologetic. “Yes, Ma’am. Trevor Corcoran had a ringside seat to the frictions that not only existed between the Hkh’Rkh and their Arat Kur hosts, but among the Hkh’Rkh themselves.”

Phalon bit her lip. “So the Procedural Compliance Directorate will lasso him as a resource to help the Interbloc Working Group decode recent events in the Patrijuridicate.”

Seaver nodded. “But ultimately, that will just be window dressing to conceal their real motivation: to use Corcoran’s reputation as leverage over his godfather, Richard Downing.”

Phalon frowned. “And how would they do that? Corcoran is squeaky clean.”

Seaver shrugged. “Once the Directorate is authorized to get a look at his full dossier, they’re going to find confidential after-action reports from his early career. Specifically, from surgical strikes conducted in countries that are now major members of the Developing World Coalition.”

“Yeah, well, that was then and this is now.”

“Yes, Ma’am, but with respect, the news venues won’t care. Which means the Directorate can threaten a public pillorying of Corcoran unless Downing explains how Riordan left so quickly. And that will lead them to Weber and ODINS and rejuvenate their efforts to, er, ‘find,’ the Lost Soldiers.”

Phalon nodded.”Good catch. Get in touch with Trevor, tell him that if he’s approached by either the Procedural Compliance Directorate or Interbloc Working Group, he is to deny or disavow and then report to us ASAP.”

“Yes, Commander.” They stopped before a large black door. Seaver’s eyes widened. “Is this it?”

“This is it,” she confirmed as the door opened. A man in street clothes stepped out before they could enter. “It’s an honor to meet you, Commander Phalon. Mr. Seaver, if you would please follow me.”

Phalon made to fall in behind them. The man stopped, shook his head. “Just Seaver, Commander.”

She let slip an ironic smile. “You do know I’ve been inside before, right?”

“Yes, Ma’am. But at that time, things were less . . . complicated.”

 So it’s come to this. She nodded. “So now protecting yourselves means keeping me out?”

“We’re not just protecting ourselves, Commander. We’re protecting you, too.”

“Is that so?”

The man, whom she had never seen at ODINS before, folded his hands. “Let’s presume that our office comes under investigation for some unforeseeable reason.” He almost smiled. “The more contact we’ve had with you, the more likely you’ll get swept up in that investigation. And the more likely those investigators will then push their inquiry to the levels above you.”

So you’re not really protecting me. You’re protecting Silverstein, Rinehart, Sukhinin. Everyone, all the way up the tree. Which was, of course, the smart move.

Phalon shrugged. “Yes, well . . . I was just dropping Mr. Seaver off.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” replied the man. “I hope we’ll meet again.” Which sounded an awful lot like, “Goodbye forever.”

As the door closed behind Seaver, another door opened: the one by which people exited ODINS. Richard Downing emerged, saw her. He smiled. “Hello, Commander Phalon.”

Well, well: just the guy I need to talk to. Probably here to get his own one-way ticket off Earth. “Hello, Director Downing. I wonder if I could have a moment of your time. Lieutenant Seaver recently turned up some very interesting information.”

Downing stopped in front of her, folded his hands. “I’m sure Mr. Seaver turns up interesting information every day. Why don’t you tell me about it as we head to the elevators?”

“Happy to, sir.” They started, very slowly, to their joint destination. “Mr. Seaver has been conducting some precautionary background research into the operatives you employed during the final weeks of the invasion.”

“Old news, I’m afraid.”

“Yes, sir, mostly. Except in the case of Major Opal Patrone, whose medical records were gutted by redactions that date from months before the invasion. That led Seaver to wonder if they were motivated by something other than her classified contact with exosapients.”

“Oh? And what does Mr. Seaver propose as the actual reason for the redactions?”

“Ongoing operational security, sir. Specifically, he suspects that Major Patrone was not just Riordan’s bodyguard. She, too, had been equipped with a scrambler to bring down the Arat Kur’s c4i network.”

Downing smiled faintly.

“Seaver speculates that there had to be contingency plans in case Riordan was never in range of the enemy’s systems. So he went back through the records of your other operatives and discovered a number of surgical events–or staged opportunities–similar to the one used to implant the Dornaani scrambler in Commodore Riordan’s arm when he was ostensibly attacked on Mars.

“Specifically, it appears that Trevor Corcoran was also fitted with a virus transmitter during his treatment for a fracture on Barney Deucy. Opal Patrone’s was evidently implanted during an interruption of her cold sleep while returning from Convocation. “

Downing nodded. “Mr. Seaver is to be congratulated. Of course, we knew that the redactions themselves might attract undue attention. But given what we had to conceal . . . well, it was Hobson’s Choice from the start.”

So Seaver was right! “I will pass your kudos along to Mr. Seaver. However, my immediate concern is that the Directorate’s witch-hunters will eventually piece together the same information and come to the same conclusions. If they do so just as Trevor’s past service record in DWC countries comes to light, they’ll use that against him. Or more likely, against you. And if, as I suspect, you are in the process of expediting your own exit scenario–“

Downing stopped. “They’ll only have Trevor left. And they’ll crucify him.”

 “Sir, it could go further than that. The authorities could compel him to undergo surgery to have the implant remov–“

“No!” It was the first time Phalon had ever heard an edge of desperation in Downing’s voice. “That would kill him. Only the Dornaani can remove an implant safely. In Caine’s case, the procedure was performed during the same operation in which their surgeons repaired the injuries to his spine and liver.”

Phalon felt her brow heating. “Director Downing, given the danger, was it wise to allow Trevor and the others to remain unaware of their implants?”

Downing shook his head sharply. “Commander, we’ve all been under intense scrutiny since before the war. If I had tried, and failed, to inform Trevor or the others surreptitiously, leadership would have insisted upon removal. I’d have been killing my own godson. That’s why I intended to warn him to leave Earth soon after I did: to take an extended holiday until they’re finished ranting about me.”

Downing put his forehead in his hand. Phalon had a fleeting impression that he might faint. “But now I’m . . . I’m out of time, Commander. There’s no safe way to tell him about the implant or even get a message to him.”

“Then I’ll be your courier, Mr. Downing.”

“You? You’ll get him a message?”

“All things considered,”–and given what all of you did for all of us–“I think it’s the least I can do. So if you have the time to come with me…”

Downing checked his wristlink. “I do. Just barely.”

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