Marque of Caine – Snippet 35

Riordan forced himself to take a deep breath. The voice, the face, the small gestures, the nuanced shift between facial expressions that were as unique to Nolan Corcoran as his fingerprints: Christ, how did they do this? “So, how. . . how about telling us something about yourself that we probably don’t know?”

Corcoran scratched his ear. “Well, to do that, I need to know what your readers are likely to know about my career.”

Riordan realized that he would get through this interview if he followed two strategies. Firstly, not to look at the Corcoran-image for more than two or three seconds at a time. Second, redirect that focus to the script. “Our audience will surely be familiar with your roles in the Highground War, the Belt Wars, and particularly, the mission to intercept the Doomsday Rock. And almost as many will remember your name in conjunction with the subsequent military initiatives that made the UCAS the CTR’s preeminent space power, and ultimately, transformed humanity into a star-faring race.”

“Well, it’s very kind of you to think so, but I doubt that my name is as closely associated with those activities as you presume.”

“On the contrary: yours is the name most associated with them. But today we’re hoping to get a different, more personal sense of who Nolan Corcoran really is. So, here’s the first question: which of your activities, including those of which we are not aware, are you the most proud of?”

“You mean, aside from my children?”

Riordan didn’t have to fake the script-cued laugh. “I wasn’t aware they were part of your resume.”

“They aren’t. And frankly, they are not the outcomes of my efforts.” The Corcoran simulacrum frowned, interlaced his creased fingers tightly. “After learning that the Doomsday Rock had been pushed at us by exosapients, my life was no longer my own. Which means I was not present for my children or wife anywhere near as much as I wanted–as I needed–to be. So when it comes to my greatest sources of pride–Elena and Trevor–all the credit goes to my wife Patrice, who somehow managed to be both an all-star physician and family locus. She was the glue that held us all together.” His head sagged wearily. “So I’m not proud of what I did as a father and a husband. I’m proud that my family thrived in my absence. For the most part.”

Riordan scanned the next line, felt his heart sink further. My God, do I really have to ask him this? “It sounds as though you’re ambivalent about your life’s work.”

Corcoran forced himself to look up, unfolded his hands. “I think we can safely call that an understatement.”

“Then I wonder if you wouldn’t mind telling us what aspect of your career you feel most ambivalent about?”

Corcoran’s chin came up; his voice was sharp. “Circumventing due process.”

Riordan would have asked the next question even if he hadn’t been prompted. “I beg your pardon?”

“Circumventing due process,” Corcoran repeated firmly. “I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. But when you take that oath, you never envision that you might wind up not merely authorized, but mandated, to suppress facts, avoid ready accountability, create the illusion of transparency where none exists, and just plain lie. All at the behest of my Commander-in-Chief, mind you, with a unanimous sign-off from the Joint Chiefs. All approved by the relevant Senate subcommittees.

“But none of that removes the raw reality of looking in the mirror every day and asking, ‘How is it that I am fulfilling my oath of service by doing all the things I swore not to do?'” Corcoran sighed deeply. “And of all the circumvention and clandestine misrepresentation I had to carry out, the case of Caine Riordan is right at the top of my list of regrets.”

Riordan could barely keep reading ahead on the dataslate. How can this be happening?

There was sudden sound in the actual room behind him, as though Alnduul had raced over to Thlunroolt and was now whispering urgently.

In the HUD, the copy on the dataslate altered, then flashed red three times. Riordan choked back a rush of tangled emotions–surprise, confusion, indignation, but most of all, mourning–and refocused on following the script. “I can see that this is a sensitive topic for you. However, it’s also a natural segue into a related question that I’m sure you were expecting.

“Specifically, your detractors charge that you not only used information control and influence peddling to manipulate organizations, corporations, and even governments, but used it to maintain one of the longest conspiracies on record. How would you respond?”

Corcoran sat straighter; there was no longer anything casual in his expression or his voice. “Well, firstly, I was in charge of a ‘covert operation,’ not a ‘conspiracy,’ and there is a profound distinction between the two. I was not operating as a rogue agent nor against the orders or interests of the United States of America. In the wake of the evidence discovered on the surface of the Doomsday Rock, a top secret collective was created to coordinate global intel containment and assessment: the Institute for Reconnaissance, Intelligence and Security. Its formation and mandates were expressly ordered by the Executive Branch, following unanimous recommendations by a blue-ribbon panel from the Senate Near Earth-approaching Asteroid Response subcommittee, chaired by Arvid Tarasenko. Within five years, IRIS had official buy-in and clandestine assistance from the European Union, the Russian Federation, and select elements of what later became the Trans-Oceanic Commercial and Industrial Organization.”

Riordan discovered that his emotional discomfort was rapidly giving way to intense curiosity: he’d guessed at the origins of IRIS, but had never had them confirmed. Although I’m presuming the simulacrum will be as accurate about that topic as it’s been about the others. “Let’s go back a moment. Arvid Tarasenko was a friend from your days at the Naval Academy, correct?”

“Correct. And once our activities became a matter of public record a lot of people misconstrued my work with him as evidence of some kind of ‘Bilderbergers in the Making’ relationship.”

“Which your critics have since done. Repeatedly.”

Corcoran nodded. “Naturally. However, that’s putting the cart in front of the horse. Arvid and I were not late-met schemers who fell upon an opportunity to power. We were old friends who could trust each other and were in the right places to support any initiatives that accelerated Earth’s accrual of the advances it would need to survive.”

Riordan frowned. What the hell are the Dornaani after with these questions, or with having them answered by this simulacrum they’ve concocted? “As I’m sure you are aware, your detractors prefer the first interpretation of your relationship with Tarasenko: that you were power-seeking illuminati.”

Corcoran’s smile was rueful. “I’m sure they do: it makes for better copy. But if they stopped to think through the details, they might find some contradictions that they’d be at pains to explain away.” The simulacrum stopped, frowned, seemed puzzled. “I must admit, though, that I can’t remember the specific accusations of those detractors. Or their identities. But, er, your report of their existence doesn’t surprise me. It’s just that I, I–“

The HUD blanked to white.

Riordan started, ripped off the headset, jumped up. “What just happened?” Then, flooding in behind the disappointment of having Nolan taken away all over again, was a wash of horror at the technology which had brought his simulated ghost to life. “Why the hell are you doing this?”