Marque of Caine – Snippet 45

Eyes shifted toward Glayaazh. She spread her fingers wide upon the table before her. Her voice was soft, almost entreating. “Caine Riordan, just because the Custodians possess an investigatory capability, it does not invariably follow that it is always wise, or practical, for them to employ it.”

Riordan frowned. “Are you suggesting that the Custodians chose not to investigate the Ktor, despite suspecting them of misrepresenting themselves?” The patient look on Glayaazh’s face told him he’d missed something. “Or is it that the Custodians were prevented from conducting that investigation?”

Glayaazh’s mouth twisted slightly as she answered his question with one of her own. “Have you not wondered, Caine Riordan, what might occur if the Custodians took a position, or conducted an investigation, to which the Collective objects?”

Riordan nodded. “Reductions in funding, staffing, maintenance. The political equivalent of a preemptive strike.”

Glayaazh spoke slowly, carefully. “And if the Ktoran duplicity had been officially confirmed, their flagrant violation of a crucial Accord would have become a matter of record, not suspicion. And so, corrective action would have to be taken.”

Riordan nodded. “And most Dornaani will do anything to avoid war.” Okay, time to toss a little chum into the water. “So in effect, the Dornaani Collective aided and abetted the Ktoran violations by ensuring they went uninvestigated.”

Laynshooz’s eyes were wide. “That is absurd.”

“Is it? Once you became complicit, the Ktor had leverage on you. And I’ve got to wonder: did they use that leverage to get appointed as Assistant Custodians? With primary oversight of Earth? Because if that’s true, and humanity ever learned the truth about the Ktor, it’s a short step to blaming you for enabling them to kidnap thousands of our soldiers and then almost bash us back to the Bronze Age with the Doomsday Rock.”

Nlastanl unfolded his fingers. “An interesting but erroneous analysis, since two of your presumptions are incorrect.”

Good: please educate me, pedant. “What two facts do I have wrong?”

“Firstly, when the Ktor expressed interest in becoming Assistant Custodians, it was the Custodians themselves who petitioned the Collective to accept their offer.”

Huh? Riordan turned toward Glayaazh. She stared back at him, gaze steady, unblinking, almost like a challenge.

That’s when it hit him: “Of course. That gave the Custodians a mandate to observe the Ktor serving in that role. So you were able to gather intelligence and evidence without opening an official investigation.” Riordan watched her eyes cycle in slow affirmation, then turned toward Nlastanl. “You said I was in error on a second point?”

Nlastanl waved two undulating fingers. “The event you call the Doomsday Rock was in direct opposition to the policies the Ktoran Sphere. That is why its initiators, House Perekmeres, were not merely Exiled but Extirpated. They certainly hoped to undermine both the plans and preeminence of the older Houses by dragging them into an ill-timed war. However, they also intended to drive up the price of the Lost Soldiers by using Doomsday Rock to eliminate most of Earth’s other promising genelines.”

Riordan suddenly felt disoriented. “What do you mean, ‘drive up the price of the Lost Soldiers’?”

Suvtrush spoke slowly. “This is actually your third error, human. You assumed that the Lost Soldiers were left on Turkh’saar to be activated as a black flag operation. You are wrong. Their abduction was motivated by the economics of Ktoran eugenics. When the Assistant Custodians of House Perekmeres overreached and came under scrutiny, they were unable to bring their genetic prizes back into the Sphere. And so, they cached the Lost Soldiers on Turkh’saar, like buried treasure.”

Riordan leaned forward. “And why do the Ktor need terrestrial genetics?”

“Because without unaltered human genelines, the Houses of the Sphere teeter on the edge of eugenic disaster.”

Riordan frowned. “No: that doesn’t make sense. After the invasion, they had access to almost unlimited cell samples, everything they’d need to prevent their problems with–what? Inbreeding?”

Heethoo raised a finger on either hand. “The Ktor eugenics problem is not inbreeding. At least, not as you mean it.”

Caine raised an eyebrow. “Just how many kinds of inbreeding can there be?”

Glayaazh folded her hands. “Many of the alterations made to the Ktor genecode were inelegant and crude, ignored subtler implications and epigenetic connections. These omissions undermine the Ktors’ sustainability as a subspecies, both genetically and behaviorally. Infusions of unmodified, or ‘aboriginal’ genelines mitigate this trend.

“However, they also dilute or even supplant the enhanced traits of the Ktor. So before their Breed mothers can make use of aboriginal genecodes, they must be ‘uplifted’ through several generations of carefully managed breeding.”

Riordan nodded. “So a simple genetic sample isn’t enough. What the Ktor really need is breeding stock that brings the desired nature and nurture to the eugenics program.” And hearing himself say that, Caine was suddenly back on Turkh’saar, reliving the moment when one of his team, Peter Wu, turned away from scores of Lost Soldiers still in Ktoran cryocells and asked, “So, are you saying that the Ktor ultimately wanted to–to breed these troops?” The answer had been right there, but Caine had steered away from it: “I think we’d need to know a lot more about the Ktor before we can make a guess at that.”

But there was a loose end in all of this: “So how is it that the Dornaani don’t officially know that the Ktor are human, yet do know that their ruling Houses are teetering at the edge of a eugenic crisis?”

Suvtrush leaned away from the table. “That is a reasonable question, Caine Riordan, but one we may not answer. Like you, there is some data we are not allowed to share.”

Caine nodded. “Fair enough. But clearly, you have a conduit that gives you access to the Ktoran Sphere. Unfortunately, that kind of conduit almost never runs one way. Which means that whatever information you get from me could wind up with them.” He saw Elena’s eyes fade away as he steeled himself to utter his only possible decision. “So I can’t share the information you need. Even if I had it.”

Chapter Thirty

May, 2124

Glamqoozht, BD+80 238

Hearing Riordan’s flat refusal to cooperate, several of the lower-ranking Dornaani rose or reached holographic hands to cut out of the link, but none of the Senior Arbiters showed any sign of moving. “Your decision is unfortunate, Caine Riordan–” Nlastanl began.

“Unfortunate?” interrupted Laynshooz. “The human’s prevarication is as outrageous as his insults. I remind this group that we have methods of extracting–“

Nlastanl spoke harshly. “I am this gathering’s moderator. If you are incapable of recognizing my authority, recuse yourself. Immediately.”

Laynshooz’s voice was small, brittle. “I shall be less emphatic.”

Nlastanl’s attention returned to Riordan. “I am disposed to believe your assertion that you are unaware of the locations we had hoped to learn from you. However, I wish to make a final and more limited appeal that you share peripherally related information that would be of no interest to the Ktor. Rather, these inquiries are solely concerned with your race’s ultimate safety. And fate.”

Riordan, struck by the sudden gravity of Nlastanl’s tone, nodded.

“Some of the Ktoran cryocells actually preserved their occupants using biodynamic principles.”

Riordan nodded. “Yes. There were dozens of those units, mostly unopened. They almost looked organic.”

“They are. But not in the way you mean.”

Riordan frowned. “Organic is organic. How many ways could I mean that?”

Nlastanl assayed a stiff human nod. “Allow me to rephrase. They do not follow the paradigms you associate with any fauna or flora you have ever observed. Those differences could prove very hazardous.”

Riordan felt his heart quicken. “Are the occupants in danger?”

Nlastanl waved a lazy finger in the air. “I do not speak of danger to the individuals still in them. I speak of danger to your entire species. It would be profoundly unwise for your researchers to experiment with the biological compounds of those units.”


“They may induce unpredictable mutations and other perils.”

“You mean, they harbor contagious organisms? Pathogens?”

Heethoo clasped her hands for emphasis. “No, Caine Riordan. It would appear the opposite, at first. The biological compounds would seem beneficial, readily applicable to various vaccines, therapies, even life prolongation. But over time, other effects would manifest.”