Marque of Cain – Snippet 02

But now things were different.

His eyes drifted back to the rearview mirror: he could see more of the sloop’s mainsail, and now some of its jib as well. It was easier when my fear was only for myself, and for others who had come into harm’s way of their own volition. But now, it’s my son. My only son. My only family.

The faces of Riordan’s parents flitted through his mind; they were both gone, and he had been their only child. Connor’s mother Elena was untold scores of light years away, frozen on the edge of death in an alien cold-cell: mortally wounded, so far as human surgeons were concerned. Right here, right now, all Caine had was Connor.

The sails of the sloop continued their uneven progress, disappeared behind the Air Terminal’s main building.

Riordan looked away, tried to see the road ahead instead of Connor’s face. Two years ago, he had not known the boy outside of a few pictures. Now, this young man was one of the two stars around which Caine’s world revolved. And with Elena out of reach in the unresponsive Dornaani Collective, Riordan’s impulses toward family, protectiveness, and love had all fixed upon Connor. A tendency against which he fought, lest the boy–no, young man–begin to feel stifled, smothered, and so, compelled to recoil from the relationship which had developed between them.

And which had changed Riordan’s life in ways he could not have foreseen.

The car plunged into a cut traversing a small stand of palms; The Narrows were no longer visible.

*     *     *

Connor Corcoran glanced at the telltales. Their already-weak flutter was stilling, becoming more of a tremble. He’d have to tack back soon.

He glanced at Amory Air Terminal, looked for the sun-bleached green car in which he’d learned to drive. Not in the parking lot. Not in the pull off at the overlook, either. He smiled. Dad was as good as his word. As ever. In fact, the harder it was for him to keep a promise, the more stringently and meticulously he did so.

That was one of the first things he’d noticed about his father when he met him just over two years ago, in the summer of 2121. Monday, August 18, 2:32 PM, to be exact. Connor smiled into the sun. Not that he had made a special note of it or anything. After all, it had just been a matter of meeting his father for the first time.

Mom had never spoken much about Caine Riordan, and there were almost no pictures of him, not until Connor was in his teens. The few to be found were mostly in wonky news and political websites. Not crazy conspiracy outlets–well, not many of those–but it certainly wasn’t the kind of journalism that reached mainstream audiences. It struck Connor as strange: Caine Riordan seemed to be kind of famous, but only with people who either followed, or were themselves, political insiders.

Mom didn’t say anything about his father when more pictures started emerging in 2119, but she did start acting oddly. She became cautious around Uncle Trevor, Grandma, and particularly his late grandad’s old friend, “Nuncle” Richard. It was as if she had started to suspect them of keeping some kind of secret but couldn’t be sure of which ones were in on it, or what it was about.

Connor brought the sloop around. The sun angled back toward his eyes; his goggles darkened until they reached the photochromatic shading he had preset. The sloop was picking up speed nicely once again.

Shortly afterward, Mom had gone on one of her longer field trips. It was only when she returned a few months later that Connor learned, along with the rest of the world, that she had gone to meet with aliens. But his mother had a more personal revelation for him: she had not only served with his father on that mission, but learned that his memory was damaged, that he didn’t seem to remember her.

However, the rest of the Corcoran clan not only considered Caine Riordan’s memory loss genuine, but proof that he had been forcibly abducted shortly after meeting Elena. Connor watched and listened carefully but never detected any sign that his mom, or even his hyper-protective Uncle Trevor, blamed this Riordan guy. For anything. But they didn’t want to talk about it much, either. Especially Grandma, who seemed more rattled by the news of Riordan’s sudden reappearance than anyone else. So, with Connor’s entire family avoiding any conversations that might have answered his growing questions, he reconciled himself to the probability that, once the initial shock blew over, there’d be plenty of opportunities to get to the bottom of what was keeping them all so reticent on the topic of Caine Riordan.

Except it was just about then that aliens came plummeting out of the sky, dropping nuclear bombs on Hainan and Montevideo while blacking out most of the world with EMP strikes. In the middle of which, his mom went missing. Then Uncle Trevor and Nuncle Richard went totally off the grid as well. That left Connor with his grandma, just like all the other times when Mom had been away on field research. As if being thirteen wasn’t difficult and unsettling enough on its own.

A set of rogue swells started buffeting the sloop. Connor eased his hold on the tiller, rolled with the last half of them, spared a long, sweeping glance at the coastline of Nevis. Nope: no green car pulled off on the side of the road or even hidden in the shade of the few clumps of palms that edged down toward the water. Connor nodded to himself, was grateful that his dad was truly letting him do this on his own.

To his surprise, Connor discovered that made him a little bit sad.

*     *     *

One hundred and twenty meters beyond Charlestown’s much-repaired concrete pier, the crew of a medium-sized freighter emerged from various hatches, blinking into the sun, stretching, and complaining. Both were typical morning rituals, as much a part of life aboard the SS Golden Hold as its dilapidated engines, cranky anchor windlass, and wheezing water condensers. The crew accepted all these defects, and more, with the genial grumpiness of sailors who serve on a hull that will never be the pride of any owner or flag and who prefer it that way.

They started the day with a bit of extra grousing, since, according to their place in the cargo transfer rota, they should have been able to approach the wharf immediately. But an equally unimpressive ship that had been docked there the previous night–SS Grouper, also of Bahamian registry–was still tied to the bollards, unloading the last of her old-fashioned wooden crates. It was a particularly satisfying catalyst for griping, because both the hands and officers of the Golden Hold could participate equally in blaming another ship for preventing them from doing work that they really did not want to do anyhow. Thus, camaraderie and apathy were happily conjoined.

Only one of the crew emerged from a superstructure hatch that faced away from the sun, on the leeward side of the freighter. He checked up and down the walkway that followed the protective wall of the gunwale. No one in sight: the rest of the crewmembers were leaning over the rail on the brightly lit windward side, competing to think up the most original jeers that could be tossed in the general direction of the Grouper.

The crewman ducked back into the shadowed hatchway: an oval inkblot surrounded by a wash of less absolute darkness. He reemerged with a small crate, walked it to the rear starboard corner of the superstructure, pried off the top, removed his new watch, detached a small disk from its back, squeezed it before tossing it inside the container.

A small red LED glowed at the disk’s center as it disappeared into the crate’s lightless maw.