Fire With Fire – Snippet 01

Fire With Fire
Charles E. Gannon

Book One: Contact


Perry City, Luna

September, 2105

Captain Chen of Taiwan’s External Security Bureau stood very straight when his temporary commander — USSF Admiral Nolan Corcoran — rounded the corner. Chen bowed quickly. “Admiral Corcoran, I –”

Corcoran, a tall, broad-shouldered man whose sharp blue eyes and trim physique belied his advancing age, raised a silencing hand. He ignored Captain Chen’s waiting covert ops team, and moved instead to the cryogenic suspension unit resting on a gurney just behind them. “Is that the intruder?”

“Yes, Admiral. We found him right outside the door to your quarters. I’m sure you have the report by now.”

“Yes,” answered a second man who came around the same corner that Corcoran had. “But the details are sketchy.”

Chen did not recognize the man, who spoke with an English accent. “Apologies, sir: I relayed what I had at the time.”

The tall, thin Englishman looked up from his dataslate. “So you weren’t present at the incident?”

Chen stood straighter, stared straight ahead. “Nonetheless, I am the team leader, sirs.”

Corcoran canted his head toward the Englishman. “Mr. Downing is not implying you were at fault, Captain Chen. We know it’s your job to report quickly and to take responsibility for what happens on your watch. Even if you weren’t there yourself. Now, what more have you learned since alerting us?”

“The subject — Mr. Riordan — was detected near your quarters at 2020 hours GMT, Admiral. He was behaving in a suspicious manner, apparently attempting to force entry. Since you had shared classified information with him earlier today, we feared that he intended to steal additional, sensitive data from your suite.”

Downing stared at the cryogenic suspension unit with unblinking brown eyes. “And he resisted so strongly that you had to render him unconscious and stick him in a cold cell?”

Chen felt sweat rising on his upper lip. “That was, in hindsight, an excessive response. However, when accosted, Riordan turned sharply and his hand was concealed in a bag. Our operative had originally conjectured it might hold tools, but now feared that it might conceal a weapon. So the subject was — subdued.”

Corcoran nodded, but, Chen noted, without the peripheral signs of approval that were common among Western commanders. “That explains why he’s unconscious. Why did you put him in a cold cell?”

Chen’s upper lip was now thoroughly wet with perspiration. “Sirs, you were on the Far Side. I had no way of knowing if you had received our communications. And we had to act quickly.”

Downing folded his arms. “Why?”

“I reasoned that Mr. Riordan’s books might have made him too well-known for us to detain until you returned. And if the local authorities had discovered him in our custody, that would have necessitated explaining why my team is here at all, thereby attracting more attenti –”

“Yes, I see the problem,” Corcoran said. And Chen saw that he meant it, but was also disappointed: the American flag officer — famed for his boldness — would probably have waited longer, accepted a greater risk to avoid this outcome. Because now that Caine Riordan was in cold sleep, there was no way to awaken him without calling attention to the covert activities being undertaken on Luna. Which meant that —

“Have you informed our contacts that we will need to initiate a ‘missing, presumed dead’ scenario to cover up Mr. Riordan’s disappearance?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very good. Mr. Downing will need access to the corridor security footage. We’ll overwrite the recording of the incident with ‘neutral view’ footage. See to that quickly, Rich: it would be just our luck for someone to be reviewing the video logs already.”

The Englishman grumbled. “Let’s just hope we’re not too late.” He moved off to establish communication with their operative inside Perry City’s security force. Corcoran turned back to Chen. “And what were the contents of the bag?”

Chen handed it to the admiral, who looked inside as Downing called over, “We’re clear; no spot checks on the security footage.”

The retired admiral stared down into the bag for several seconds before handing it back to Chen. “Keep the contents with Mr. Riordan for now. I’ll have need of them later.”

Chen did not allow himself to look puzzled. “Yes, sir.”

Downing had returned. He looked at Caine Riordan’s deathly white face, made blue by the glass of the cryocell’s lid. “You know, I believed Riordan when he said he wouldn’t reveal our work here.” He shook his head, ran a hand rearwards over his prominent widow’s peak. “Somehow, I still believe him.”

Corcoran’s response was quiet. “Well, that’s a moot point now.”

Downing shrugged. “No tools for breaking and entering, then?” He scanned the area. “So what was in the bag?”

“Nothing,” answered Corcoran. “Nothing of importance, at any rate.”

Chen almost started in surprise.

Downing shook his head again. “I’ll make arrangements to have Riordan’s cold cell shipped to our holding facility in –”

“No, Rich. The Taiwanese will have to transfer Caine from their cryogenic system to ours, first. We can’t take receipt of a foreign cryocell: too likely that someone will ask an awkward question.”

Downing nodded. “Right,” he said. “I’ll set up the exchange paperwork now.” He moved off to send the necessary orders.

When Downing was well out of earshot, Corcoran looked down at the cold cell again and spoke to Chen in a very low tone. “Because your cryogenic technology is so different from ours, I imagine Mr. Riordan will experience a difficult reanimation.”

“Oh no, Admiral,” Chen corrected in a voice that was both deferential and enthusiastic. “This cryocell utilizes Taiwan’s improved pre-toxification system. It is vastly superior to our current models. Memory loss has been reduced to the same level as your ‘slow freeze’ technology. Indeed, recent studies –”

Corcoran looked up from the cold cell, his eyes unblinking and direct. “I said, Mr. Chen, that this will be a difficult reanimation. In fact, it will be very difficult, and I’m sure the memory loss will be even worse than with your older models.” Corcoran still did not blink. “Do I make myself clear?”

Chen had come to the conclusion that Western commanders were not particularly good at fixing underlings with stern, even terrifying, stares. Now, looking into Nolan Corcoran’s blue eyes, he suddenly found himself revising his opinion. “Y-yes, Admiral. Mr. Riordan’s reanimation will be most difficult. Singularly difficult.”

But Corcoran was staring down at the cryocell again. The look on his face puzzled Chen: was it guilt, regret, resolve — or all three?

Chen turned to his security detachment. “Flag Mr. Riordan for ‘augmented’ reanimation prior to transfer back to the US authorities.”

“What kind of augmentation?” asked his adjutant, already scribbling busily on his datapad.

“Short term memory suppression. Chemical and electroconvulsive.”

“How intensive?”

Chen fixed his underling with a baleful stare of his own. “Do you really have to ask?”