The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Five

I am posting The Pericles Conspiracy for all y’all to read here on the blog.  Two chapters per week.  Given there are 63 chapters in the book,  if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Five – The Agency

It took several minutes for Steven to make the connection, but finally he came back over the intercom.

“Deputy Director Chandini on the line for you, Mr. Jameson.”

Harold thanked him and tapped another part of his desk controls.  The display screen on his wall came to life, and Jo found herself looking eye-to-eye with the Deputy Director.  A woman in her late middle-years, probably into her nineties from the look of her, she had darkly tanned skin and long hair that still showed black in a few places beside wide streaks of silver.  Seeing Harold, she smiled in greeting, but Jo noticed that her eyes were sharp as razors.

“Harry.  To what do I owe the pleasure?” Chandini asked.

Harold cleared his throat and gestured toward Jo.  “Ms. Chandini, I believe you remember Captain Ishikawa?”

“Of course.  Good to see you again, Captain.”

Jo inclined her head politely, but remained silent.  This was Harold’s conversation to lead, and Jo hoped to have to say as little as possible.

“We’ve got a situation here that you need to know about.  Last night, Captain Ishikawa received an unexpected visitor at her home.  Malcolm Ngubwe.”

“Ngubwe.”  Chandini said his name slowly, almost like she was tasting it.  For a moment, she was motionless, then her eyes flashed with recognition as both eyebrows rose on her forehead.  “Isn’t he dead?”

“Apparently not.  I’m sending you a video feed from Captain Ishikawa’s home security camera now.”

Chandini looked away from them, toward something off-screen.  Her lips pursed as she saw the video, but she didn’t say anything.  She looked back toward them, her expression expectant.

Harold cleared his throat.  “Apparently, he faked his death, and has fallen in with some sort of conspiracy theorists.  Captain Ishikawa and I are concerned that he may attempt something foolish, and harm himself or others.”

“Understandable.  Captain, did he give any indication as to what his plans might be?”

Jo shook her head.  “No, ma’am.  But he was definitely angry over what happened after we docked Pericles.  Whatever he’s up to, it has something to do with that.”

Chandini nodded, her expression becoming grim.  Her eyes flickered toward Harold.  “Harry, would you leave us alone for a moment?”

Harold looked taken aback.  For that matter, Jo was surprised as well.  That sort of request was unheard-of.

To his credit, Harold handled it well.  “I can, ma’am, but…”

“I do apologize, Harry, but you’re not cleared to hear the questions I need to ask the Captain, or her answers.”

Jo could tell Harold was put out by the suggestion.  He looked sidelong at her, his mouth turning downward into a scowl, and she shrugged, putting what she hoped was an apologetic expression on her face.  Harold sighed and, turning his eyes back toward Chandini, he nodded, then walked out of his office.

Chandini shook her head slightly, then fixed her eyes on Jo.  “I’m going to secure mode, Captain.  Let me know when you’re ready.”

“Yes, ma’am.  One moment.”

Jo went over to Harold’s desk, a large wooden monstrosity, and found the controls.  Tapping the secure broadcast button, she nodded to Chandini.  “Ready.”

Chandini moved her hand, presumably to press something off screen.  The seal of the United Earth Coalition flashed in the center of the screen for a moment, then retracted to the lower left corner.  The display was now ringed in a yellow line, and the words “Top Secret/Rama” were written in yellow on the top and bottom of the viewable area.

Jo blinked.  “Rama?”

A slight smirk crossed Chandini’s face.  “We changed the code name recently.  Someone in Classification is a fan of ancient Science Fiction literature.”  The smirk faded, Chandini’s face returning to a business-like expression.  “Now then, what did he say to you?”

Over the next several minutes, Jo related the substance of Malcolm’s visit, the previous night.  She left nothing out.  It would have been foolish to do so, considering not just Chandini’s power, but also her ability to apply resources to get Malcolm the help he needed.  When Jo finished, Chandini’s expression was troubled, almost to the point of being distressed.

“Son of a bitch,” Chandini breathed.

Jo nodded agreement.  “I don’t know where he got such crazy notions into his head.  I can only surmise that his new friends are at least partly to blame.”

Chandini appeared lost in her own thoughts as Jo was speaking.  She only roused herself when Jo came to an end.  Chandini nodded, saying, “Yes, of course.  He definitely needs help, that much is clear.”  She paused for a moment, then asked, “Do you know of anyone else he may have spoken with?”

Jo started to shake her head, then stopped.  “I’m not sure.  But he may have spoken with a reporter.”

Jo thought she saw alarm on Chandini’s face.  “What makes you think that?”

“A reporter found me a couple months ago, asking questions about Pericles.”

Chandini’s eyes widened, and her lips compressed in anger.  “Why have you waited so long to inform us?”

Jo shrugged.  “He didn’t know anything.  It was obvious he was on a fishing expedition.  And then the Hephaestus went down, and it slipped my mind to tell anyone.  Besides, freedom of the press…”

“Is not absolute.”

Jo blinked in surprise.  Given the Constitutional protections the press received, a high public official like Chandini making an assertion like that was impolitic, to say the least.

Chandini must have seen the skeptical look on Jo’s face.  Her lips compressed slightly and her eyes flashed with irritation before she spoke again.  “A wise man in ancient America once said, ‘The Constitution is not a suicide pact.’  Those creatures you encountered constitute a clear and present danger, not just to the security of Earth, but of every colonized world.  If word of your encounter were to get out before we had a plan to deal with them…”  Chandini shook her head.  “You think the Hephaestus incident was a media circus?  That wouldn’t even compare.  There would be cultural upheavals, panic, religious crises…  No, the consequences of not handling this first contact correctly are too horrible to contemplate.  You know this.”

Reluctantly, Jo nodded.  She wasn’t entirely convinced things would be as chaotic as Chandini seemed to think they would be, or that the creatures were as hostile as she and others assumed, but Jo had lost that argument long ago.

“Who was this reporter?”

“Jeremy Reynolds, from Star News.”

“Well, he works for an editor, who has a boss.  I’m sure we can get his efforts pointed in other directions.  And in the future, you will inform us of inquiries like this promptly, is that understood, Captain?”

Chastened, Jo nodded.  “Yes, ma’am.”

Apparently satisfied, Chandini said, “Going non-secure,” and pressed something offscreen.  The yellow border around the display and the Top Secret banners disappeared.  “Tell Harry he can come back now, please.”

Jo went to retrieve him, and he returned quickly.  Chandini was suitably brief.  “I’m informing the local office in Quito about Mr. Ngubwe.  You should be hearing from them later today.  I expect your full cooperation with their investigation.”

“Of course, ma’am,” Harold replied.

Chandini inclined her head, as though receiving supplication, and broke the connection.

Jo smirked.  “She didn’t even say goodbye.”

 *  *  *  *  *

The agents arrived just after lunch, and were ushered up to Harold’s office, where he and Jo awaited their arrival.  There were two of them, a man and a woman.  The man was a bit taller than average, with the kind of powerful looking body that comes from many hours in the weight room and dark hair and tanned features suggesting a Central or South American origin.  He was handsome, but no more so than half the men Jo walked past on the street.  The woman, however, was stunning: tall, with a slender, toned body and legs to forever, wavy dark brown hair, lightly tanned skin, and a heart-shaped face that would, and did from what Jo could see, draw every male eye in the area.  Both were dressed conservatively, in dark suits that were almost cliché in their similarity.

The woman took the lead, shaking hands with Jo and Harry ahead of her partner.  “Good afternoon, Mr. Jameson.  Captain Ishikawa.  I’m Special Agent Jaqueline Moore.  This is Special Agent Jesús Calderon.”

“Nice to meet you both,” replied Harold, and he gestured toward the chairs around his coffee table.  “Please have a seat.”

“Mr. Jameson, we mostly have questions for Captain Ishikawa.  If you don’t mind…?”

“We can just go to my office, Harry,” Jo offered, but Harold shook his head.

“I’m sure they’ll want to speak with both of us once you’re done, correct?”

Agent Moore nodded, and Harold, putting on a smile of acceptance that Jo saw right through, left his own office for the second time that day.  Once the door shut, Agent Moore gestured to the chairs, and the three of them sat down around the coffee table.  Agent Calderon pulled out a tablet and stylus, and punched in a few commands.  Then he nodded to Agent Moore, who looked at Jo with a half-smile.

“Now then,” she said in a crisp, businesslike tone, “would you please recount your conversation with Mr. Ngubwe for the record, Captain Ishikawa?”

“Of course,” she replied.

For the third time that day she told the story.  It was becoming a bit irritating having to repeat herself, especially since she had no doubt the entire conversation with Deputy Director Chandini had been recorded.  But Jo was careful not to let her irritation show.  If she had learned one thing over the years, it was that government types don’t like to have it pointed out when they were behaving stupidly.

The two agents kept their faces neutral during the telling and they sat still, except for Agent Calderon’s note-taking.  When Jo was finished, Agent Moore nodded slowly.

“Did he give any indication where he’d been for the last year and a half, or where he was staying?”

Jo shook her head.  “None, but I think I can guess what he’s thinking about doing.”

Agent Moore’s eyebrows lifted.  “Oh?  What’s that?”

Jo gave her the patented Ishikawa ‘What are you, an idiot?’ stare.  “He’s going to find a medical research lab, convince himself it’s the one doing all those dastardly things, and break in or something.”

“You sound as though you believe him.”

“What?”  Jo shook her head emphatically, irritation welling up yet again.  “No, I said before that he seemed unstable, and probably delusional.”  This lady was dense, and if she was in charge, Jo didn’t have much confidence that Agent Calderon was much better.  It was good to know they were getting the varsity team on this case.

“Alright.”  The two Agents shared a look, then Agent Moore said to Jo, “I think we can have Mr. Jameson rejoin us now.”

Once Harold returned and had joined them around the coffee table, Agent Moore spoke again.

“These sorts of investigations are always difficult.  Finding one person, particularly a person as intelligent and resourceful as Mr. Ngubwe, is hard enough when he doesn’t believe anyone is looking for him.  But after last night, he must assume that you came to the authorities, and has begun taking precautions.”

That made sense.  Malcolm had always been clever, and the fact that he had managed to convince the entire world he was dead for more than a year spoke to how well he had transferred his skills to the underworld.  “So what would you like me to do?”

“For now, nothing.  Continue to go about your normal routine.  We may occasionally stake out your house overnight, and with your permission we’ll place a tap on your communication lines…”

“What?  Why?”

“It’s unlikely, but he may try to contact you again.  If he does, we need to be able to track him.  We can get a warrant if you prefer, but that will take more time.  Also, since he’s likely been living in the underworld since he disappeared, he may have contacts who can hack into the court records.  If there’s no record of a warrant, there’s nothing to tip him off.”

Jo and Harold shared a look.  He looked uncertain about this line of discussion.  For that matter, so did Jo.  There were Constitutional restrictions on wire tapping for a reason.  At the same time, Agent Moore’s point about hackers was a good one, and it’s not like Jo had anything to hide.  After a moment’s thought, she nodded.

“Ok, go ahead.  But I want a list of what you install, and where.”

“And you’ll have it.”

The rest of the conversation was more nuts and bolts, and boilerplate.  She was to report if she had any further contact with Malcolm, as she expected.  There was a brief discussion about possibly asking her to wear a wire at some point, but Harold objected to that, and Agent Moore tabled the topic for a later date.

Finally, after about an hour, the two Agents stood and, promising to stay in touch, shook hands with them, and left.  As the door closed behind them, Jo quipped, “Well I feel safer already.”

Harold looked sidelong at her, as though wondering if she was being serious.  She returned his look with a smirk, and he chuckled.

*  *  *  *  *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Four

I am posting The Pericles Conspiracy for all y’all to read here on the blog.  Two chapters per week.  Given there are 63 chapters in the book,  if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

Or, if you want a chance to get the whole thing for free, check out my giveaway on Goodreads.  Enter to win one of 5 copies of The Pericles Conspiracy; the giveaway ends tomorrow night.  Good luck!

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Four: Back From The Dead

“Malcolm!” Jo exclaimed in disbelief, her fatigue forgotten in the shock of seeing him.

“It’s good to see you,” Malcolm replied.

“What do you mean, it’s good to see me?  You’re supposed to be dead!  Where the hell have you been?”

Malcolm’s smile faded and he pushed himself off the wall.  With a quick, furtive glance both ways down the hallway, he stepped toward Jo and spoke more quietly.

“I need your help, Jo.  Can we talk inside?”

She was tempted to say no, to tell him to go away.  If he had faked his death – and what other explanation was there – he was certainly up to no good, and that was trouble Jo did not need.  But he had been a good friend, and once, long ago, more than that.  She found herself nodding, and then following him into her condo.

As usual, the lights turned on as they entered, and her classical mix began to play along with the slideshow of alien landscapes.  She closed the door and rolled her suitcase over to the closet.  When she turned back toward Malcolm, he was watching the slideshow with a far away look in his eyes and an amused grin on his lips.

“Remember that time on Talos, when we took that picture?  You almost…”

“Stow it, Malcolm,” she said, placing her hands on her hips and assuming the tone she reserved for times when a subordinate was being particularly stupid.  “What are you doing alive, and who the hell did we cremate, a year and a half ago?”

Malcolm looked sidelong at her, saying nothing for nearly a full minute.  Then he nodded, as if coming to a decision, and sat down in her stuffed chair.  He drew a deep breath before replying.

“The body was a homeless man.”  Seeing her expression, he raised his right hand in a placating gesture, and quickly added, “We didn’t kill him.  We found him dead in a back alley.  Probably drank himself to death.”

“Bullshit.  They verified the body through DNA analysis.”

Malcolm’s eyebrows rose high onto his brow.  “Well, I’m here.  Clearly they were mistaken.”  He made a powerful case, she had to admit.  “We knew they would run tests, so we made sure to set the fire in a manner that would render the body unidentifiable.  But as a little extra insurance…”  He raised his left hand, and Jo’s breath caught in her throat.  His little finger was gone, cut off except for a small bump where the last knuckle would be.  “It doesn’t take much to leave a lot of DNA.”

Jo sank onto the couch and shook her head in disbelief.  “Why would you do that?  And who is we?”

Malcolm leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.  “Do you remember when we docked?  The debriefings?”

“Of course I do.  What does that…”

“Almost from the beginning, I realized that the government was not going to do right by our new friends.  When they brought out the non-disclosure agreements and swore us to secrecy, I knew for sure.”

Jo snorted, and Malcolm frowned slightly.

“Don’t believe it?  I studied the incubator, and the technical documents, for almost nine months before we turned over the watch and went back into cryo-suspension.  I checked with the others when we woke up before docking and no one else had bothered to even look at it.  I knew more about what those creatures gave us than anyone else alive, so why wouldn’t the Agency accept my help, unless they meant ill?”

“You faked your death because your ego was bruised?”  Jo knew she sounded incredulous, but it seemed appropriate.

Malcolm shook his head vigorously.  “it’s not about me!”  He stood up suddenly, and paced over to the window.  “I tried, Jo.  After we were released, I tried to get them to listen…”

This was getting ridiculous.  “Listen?  Listen to what?  You don’t have security clearance.  You’re just an Engineer on a starliner, or you were.  And a damn good one.  But why would they need your help when they have world-class PhDs on their payroll?  Especially when you were going out of your way to be a pain in the ass!”

Malcolm turned back at her, looking startled.

“Oh yes, I heard about the little stunt you pulled at NSA headquarters.  What were you thinking?  You’re lucky they didn’t lock you up!”

Malcolm waved off her comment.  “They wouldn’t have done that.  Too much press if they did.  Too many questions.”  He walked back to the sitting area and took his seat in the chair again.  His expression was serious as he continued, his eyes taking on a fierce light.  “But then I met some people.  I don’t know how they heard about it, or how they found me.  But they had suspicions about what had happened up there, and they confirmed my worst fears about what the government was up to.”

“Some kooks tell you a tall tale, and you buy it?”

“Of course not.  I thought they were crazy at first too, just as you think I am.”

“I don’t think you’re crazy.”

He smirked.  “Yes you do.  But they showed me evidence of what the government had done in the past in other cases, and it was compelling.   When I showed them my copies of the technical documents…”

“Copies?  You made copies of what they gave us?”

Malcolm nodded.  “I knew they’d be confiscated, but I wanted to continue studying them, so…”

Jo threw her hands up.  “And you wonder why the Agency wasn’t going to trust you?  Did you ever even once think about just trying to work within the rules?”

“The Agency’s rules are about exclusion.  About keeping information away from the populace.  About keeping them enthralled with bread and circuses while the government…”

Jo stood up.  “I’ve heard enough of this.  I don’t know what happened to you, Malcolm, but I’m tired and I’ve got an early day tomorrow.  Take your conspiracy theories and leave.”

She turned away, toward her bedroom door.

“The government has no intention of sending those eggs back, Jo.”

Malcolm’s words stopped her in her tracks.  She looked back at him over her shoulder.  His face was stricken, almost as though he was in physical pain.

“What are you talking about?  Of course they will.”

He shook his head.  “No.  They’ve got the eggs in a lab, and they’re running tests on them.  When they’ve learned all they can, the eggs will be discarded.  Meanwhile, the government is using the technology in those documents to build weapons to use when we encounter them again.”

Clenching his fists as he rose, Malcolm took a step toward her, and Jo backed away without realizing it.  Now he looked enraged, ready to commit violence.

“They entrusted us with their eggs – with their babies – and the government is using them like lab rats!”

This had gone far enough.  Malcolm’s rapidly changing moods were making Jo more than a little nervous.  “I’m going to bed now, Malcolm.  Please show yourself out.  Don’t make me call the police.”

He recoiled as if slapped.  For a second, Jo thought maybe he was going to lash out at her.  But then he slumped, looking defeated, and, nodding, he turned toward the door.  He half-turned as the door slid open, and he looked like he was going to say something else.  But he must have seen in her face that she didn’t want to hear it.  So, with a sigh, he walked out of her condo.

As the door slid shut behind him, Jo let out a tense breath.  What had happened to him?  He used to be poised, decisive, passionate, brilliant!  Now…well, he was still passionate, that much was clear.  But the rest?  He was twisted, hardly resembling the man she once knew.

Jo locked up and went to bed.  But she was unable to sleep for a long time.  Instead, she replayed the encounter in her head over and over.  She couldn’t help but feel sorry for her old friend.

 *  *  *  *  *

Jo pushed past Harold’s secretary, ignoring his protests that Mr. Jameson was in a meeting and wasn’t to be disturbed.  The double doors to his forty-fifth story office were solid, probably mahogany, and beautifully stained.  She shoved them open, and they swung through their full range of motion, smacking into the walls within his office with a loud crash.

Harold was seated at his coffee table with three other men, all dressed in fine business suits.  They were going over documents on the display screen built into the table, but all looked over in unison at the noise, surprise turning to chagrin on the faces of the three guests as she walked in.  Harold’s face was a thundercloud.  He stood up, pulling off his reading glasses and glowering at her.

“Jo, what…”

She gave him no time to complete his sentence.  In her best no-nonsense tone, she said, “I need to talk to you, Harry.  Right now.”

Harold knew her well enough to recognize that tone.  His expression moderated a bit, but from the tightness around his eyes, Jo could tell he was very annoyed.  Well, it was about to get worse.

“Will you excuse us for a moment, gentlemen?” Harold said to his companions.

The three men looked from Harry to Jo and back, then the fellow who seemed to be the leader nodded.  They stood, the younger of the three pausing to turn off the display, then walked out.  All three of them gave Jo appraising, and questioning, stares as they walked past her.

Harold closed the doors behind them and turned to face her.  “Alright, Jo, this better be good.”

“Malcolm Ngubwe is alive.”

Harold’s jaw dropped open, the annoyance leaving his face, replaced by confusion.

“What are you talking about? He was confirmed dead a year and a half ago.”

“Then I guess it was a ghost that came by my condo last night.”  Jo stepped over to the televid control on the wall across from Harold’s desk and touched her holocard to it.  A moment later, her homepage came up, and she tapped her video cache twice.  The feed from the security camera outside her door came up on the televid screen, showing her encounter with Malcolm, or at least the part of it that occurred in the hall.

Harold stepped toward the screen, his eyes widening.  “My God, it is him.  How?”

“He faked his own death.”

“But, why?”

Jo felt an upwelling of sadness for her friend as she related the substance of their discussion to Harold.  She was circumspect about the eggs, and the other items they brought back on Pericles.  Harold did not know the details about what happened up there.  He took over as COO three months after Pericles docked, and he was not cleared to learn the details.  As far as he was told, and from what Jo could tell as far as he cared, something had happened that the government cared about.  But it was not safety related and it did not affect the operation of his starliner fleet except for a short delay offloading that one ship, so he had not asked questions.  He knew better than that.

All the same, he looked quizzically at Jo as she came to the end of her tale.  “I know you can’t say what could possibly have gotten him so riled up, and I really don’t want to know, but…?”  He left the rest of the question unspoken.

Jo spread her hands in an expression of helplessness.

Harold waved a hand, as though dismissing his own question.  “Well, the authorities are going to want to know he’s alive.  And if he’s as unstable as you say…”  He shook his head.  “Pity how people fall apart sometimes, isn’t it?  Well, I’m sure when they catch up to him they’ll get him the help he needs.”

Harold checked the time and paused for a moment.  Jo could almost see him computing the time difference in his head.

“It’s four o’clock in Geneva now.  Better let Chandini know.”

He reached toward the controls for the intercom to his secretary, but froze as Jo spoke again.

“There’s something else, Harry.  A reporter’s been asking questions about what happened on Pericles.”

“What?  Who?”

Jo shrugged.  “A guy named Reynolds.  Jeremy Reynolds, from Star News.  He approached me at a bar.”

“When did this happen?”

“The night the Hephaestus had her accident.”

Harold slammed a fist onto the top of his desk.  “Goddamnit, Jo!  That was almost three months ago, and you’re just telling me now?!”

“It slipped my mind in the furor of trying to save over five thousand lives.  Sorry.  Next time I’ll get my priorities straight.”

Harold managed to look a bit sheepish as he nodded, conceding the point.  “True enough.  Well, hopefully no harm no foul.  Brace yourself though, Jo.  You know the Feds aren’t going to like this one bit.”

With that, Harold tapped the intercom control.  His secretary’s voice came through.

“Yes, Mr. Jameson.”

“Steven, get me Deputy Director Chandini of the NSA.”

There was a long silence on the other end of the intercom.  For a moment, Jo wondered if Steven had heard the order.  But then he spoke again, his voice quavering as though he were suddenly very nervous.

“Yes, Mr. Jameson.”

The intercom clicked off, and memories from Pericles’ docking rushed into Jo’s mind, primarily the interviews with the NSA agents who took charge of her crew’s debriefing.  They were cold and aloof, seemingly ready to find fault with her people and haul them away at any moment; a far cry from the customs agents from the Interplanetary Commerce Administration that starliners normally dealt with.  They were cordial, almost warm in a professionally familiar sort of way.  But the NSA people…  They were in the law enforcement and solar system security business, and on the murkier side of law enforcement at that.  It made sense for them to take over, considering what happened, but dealing with them was uncomfortable, to say the least.  And Chandini herself…  Jo had to stop herself from wrapping her arms over her chest, protectively.  Chandini was not someone to be trifled with.

Jo glanced over at Harold.  From his expression, she could tell he was thinking the same thing she was: it was going to be a very long day.

*  *  *  *  *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

Or, if you want a chance to get the whole thing for free, check out my giveaway on Goodreads.  Enter to win one of 5 copies of The Pericles Conspiracy; the giveaway ends tomorrow night.  Good luck!

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Three

I’m a little behind putting this one up.  I flew to Japan last weekend for an exercise planning conference and have been busy doing things like…conferencing (I’m sure that’s a word).  And eating yummy Japanese food, drink Chu-Hi…and doing a little writing.  I also re-formatted the paperback version of The Pericles Conspiracy, because I realized the original version was too thick – it made the price I would have had to charge to get good distribution excessive.

So that’s what’s been going on.  And now, our regularly scheduled programming.

I am posting The Pericles Conspiracy for all y’all to read here on the blog.  Two chapters per week.  Given there are 63 chapters in the book,  if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

Or, if you want a chance to get the whole thing for free, check out my giveaway on Goodreads.  Enter to win one of 5 copies of The Pericles Conspiracy; the giveaway ends on 23 September.  Good luck!

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Three – Old Friends

Carlton Hersch met Jo at the baggage claim in Logan Airport.  She was just turning away from the carousel, pulling her checked bag behind her, when he saw her and waved with a grin.  She returned the grin in kind, her face brightening as it always did when she smiled, and gave him a hug in greeting.

“Looking good, Cap’n,” he said, then winced at the look of reproach on her face.  “Sorry.  I mean, you look good, Jo.”

Try as he might, and no matter how often she told him to do otherwise, he always found himself addressing her by her title when talking to her, almost without realizing it.  Serving under her command aboard Pericles for five years was hard to get past, but he was out of that game now, wasn’t he?

“Good to see you, Carl,” she said, the reproachful look changing to a familiar, friendly smile.  “How are Alison and the kids?”

“She’s fine.  Tim’s enjoying first grade a lot.  He has a girlfriend.”  Carlton found himself shaking his head in amusement at that.  “Malcolm’s starting to say a few words.  Or at least I think they’re words.”

“You didn’t have to come all the way out here to meet me, you know.  I’ve ridden the T before.”

Carlton waved off the comment dismissively.  “Least I can do.  You’ve had a tough few weeks.”

They stepped outside into the crisp winter afternoon.  Carlton noticed Jo shivering, heck nearly convulsing, as she pulled her jacket tight about herself.  Too much time along the equator’s making her blood thin, he thought.  Not that he didn’t find it a bit chilly for his taste, as well.

He was parked in the short-term lot.  It only took a few minutes to reach his car.  Jo whistled appreciatively when she saw it, a brand new Mercedes, painted in a green so dark it was nearly black.

“Not bad, Carl.  The Airline’s treating you well, I see.”

He chuckled.  “Alison paid for it.”  Alison was an Attending at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital and made much more money than he did as a senior instructor at Delta’s Orbital Flight Academy.  He could not complain about his work schedule, though.

The drive from Logan to his and Alison’s house took a bit less than an hour.  It was after rush hour, but someone from out of town would not believe it from the number of vehicles on the roads.  Most people commuted on the T, or in automated taxis or public transport buses, but even still the roads through town were almost always packed.  Eventually, he turned right off the Riverway onto Longwood Avenue and drove into the residential area adjacent to the medical district.  It was like driving back in time.  The rest of the city had long ago turned into towering skyrises, but here the residents still maintained old, quaint homes on quiet, wooded streets.

They pulled into the driveway, and Carlton helped Jo with her luggage.  Alison was waiting on the porch, beaming a wide smile.  She and Jo embraced fondly, and walked into the house, chatting away already.  Typical, Carlton chuckled to himself as he trailed behind and lugged the bags up the stairs and into the house.

Alison had dinner ready: a marvelous concoction of braised beef, simmered greens, seasoned mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, and a fine Cabernet that they had decanted earlier in the afternoon.  And, of course, mashed up baby food for little Malcolm, who proudly wore his meal on his bib before Alison finally gave up trying to pilot any more starships into the tiny docking bay that was his mouth.

After dinner, the ladies took Malcolm to the family room while Carlton took Tim upstairs to get ready for bed.  The usual routine of bath, pajamas, and bedtime story went off without a hitch, and before long Carlton kissed his son on the forehead goodnight and shut the door.

When he got back downstairs, Alison and Jo were deep into another bottle of wine.  Malcolm was lying on Alison’ s lap, drowsy eyes halfway closed in sleep that he was clearly fighting.

Carlton gestured to the little guy.  “Want me to carry him up?”

“No, he’s fine.  Come join us,” replied Alison, pointing to a filled glass that was sitting on the end table next to his chair.

Settling down into his chair, Carlton took a sip from his glass and smiled.  It was a Malbec from Argentina, one of his favorites.  “So, ladies.  What are we talking about?”

“Not much.  Just reliving some old sea stories.”

Carlton always found it funny how starfarers called tales of what happened onboard the starliners “sea stories”.  There was no denying that many nautical traditions had translated over into the culture and procedures of operating spacecraft.  All the same, to still use the term after all this time was strangely amusing.

The conversation lasted late into the night, only interrupted for a few minutes while Carlton carried Malcolm upstairs once he was good and fully asleep.  But after a while, Carlton noticed Jo drifting off into her own world.  Frowning, he glanced at Alison, who shrugged slightly.

“Jo, is everything ok?”

She gave a little start.  “Oh?  Yes, fine, thank you.  My thoughts were just wandering.”

“Where to?” queried Alison.

Jo took another drink of wine and was silent for a long moment.  Then she sighed and asked, “Do either of you ever think about our last shift?”

Surprised, Carlton shared another look with Alison.  “Of course we think about it.  How could we not?  But, well…”

Alison picked up his slack.  “It’s out of our hands now, and we’re not supposed to talk about it.  So we don’t.”

Jo nodded slowly.  “I hadn’t thought about it for a long time.  I’ve purposely kept myself from thinking about it.  But a few weeks ago, a reporter came by, asking questions.”

Alarm bells went off in Carlton’s mind.  “You didn’t tell him anything?”

“Of course not.  You haven’t heard from him have you?  Jeremy Reynolds.”

Both he and Alison shook their heads.  “Does he know anything?”

“Just conjecture, and even that is far from the truth.  It got me thinking though.”

“Well that’s something, at least.”  Carlton shook his head.  “What did Harry say about it?”

Jo took another drink.  “I haven’t told him yet.”

Alison’s eyes widened in shock, and Carlton knew his were as well.  “You haven’t?  Jo, you know the protocol on this.”

“I know, I know!”  Jo stood up and strode over to the window.  From her gait alone, Carlton could tell she was annoyed.  “I’ll tell him when I get back.  But look,” she turned back to them, fully back in the present and talking in her ‘I mean business’ tone.  “This guy might come calling.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he did,” replied Carlton.

Jo stayed with them for three days, but they never again spoke of what happened on their last shift aboard Pericles, or of Jeremy Reynolds.  It was a fun visit.  She had been to Boston before, but it had been years.  So for those few days, Carlton and Alison got to be tourists in their own town, showing her all the sights.

Jo’s flight back to Quito departed early in the morning of the fourth day.  Once again, Carlton drove her.  They sat in silence for most of the trip to Logan, listening to the morning news.  When they pulled up into the passenger offload area, Jo smiled and clasped his hand.

“Thanks for your hospitality, Carl.  It’s been great seeing you two again.”

“You too, cap’n.  Don’t be a stranger.”

And then she walked away, into the terminal.  Carlton waited a minute, in case she forgot something in the car.  But she didn’t return, so he drove off.  When he got back home, he found Alison just returning from dropping Tim off at school.

“She make it ok?”

Carlton nodded.  “Ought to be in the air by now.”

“You’re heading back up to Luna tomorrow morning, right?”

“Yes, but only for a week this time.  Should be back for Tim’s birthday.”

“What will I do without a babysitter during the day?”

Carlton chuckled and shook his head.  “Good to know I’m loved for who I am.”

Alison smiled and gave him a kiss on the cheek.  “See you this afternoon.”  And then she headed out for work.

Carlton spent the day taking care of Malcolm, as he did most days when he was at home and Alison at work.  It was a pleasure, for him and Malcolm both.  The little guy cooed and giggled as they played, and occasionally babbled the beginnings of a word.

But as the day wore on, Carlton’s mood grew darker.  As he looked at his little boy playing, the conversation from four nights ago came to mind, and he started thinking about what had happened onboard Pericles.  And about his friend, the man his son was named after.  And then there were the things they had been given, and what they had been asked to do.  What had become of those things, he wondered, after the government took over?

He would probably never know.

 *  *  *  *  *

The lift door opened, and Jo stepped out onto her floor.  Pulling her suitcase behind her, she walked slowly toward her condo, yawning into the back of her hand as she went.  It had been a long flight, made the worse by weather delays over Columbia.  It was almost 1 o’clock in the morning, more than three hours later than she thought she would be getting home, and she had a meeting at 8:30.

She reached her door and pressed her holocard against the door control.  The identichip interfaced with the locking mechanism and the door slid open.

“Hello, Jo.”

Shocked, Jo jumped backwards, landing in a defensive stance as she turned toward the deep voice.  It registered in her head that the voice was familiar in the same instant that she saw the man standing there, leaning casually against the hallway wall.

He was tall, dressed casually in khaki slacks and a dark blue collared shirt.  He had a lean runner’s body, dark skin, and close-cut black hair that grew in tight curls.  His face was narrow, but not unattractive.  His eyes were dark, his gaze direct and intelligent.  As she landed, he grinned, revealing gleaming white teeth.

She knew him at a glance, but there was one problem: he was dead.

*  *  *  *  *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

Or, if you want a chance to get the whole thing for free, check out my giveaway on Goodreads.  Enter to win one of 5 copies of The Pericles Conspiracy; the giveaway ends on 23 September.  Good luck!

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Two

I am posting The Pericles Conspiracy for all y’all to read here on the blog.  Two chapters per week.  Given there are 63 chapters in the book,  if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

Or, if you want a chance to get the whole thing for free, check out my giveaway on Goodreads.  Enter to win one of 5 copies of The Pericles Conspiracy; the giveaway ends on 23 September.  Good luck!

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Two – Emergency Control

Corporate Headquarters of McCallister Stellar Transport was located just outside the Quito launch complex fence line, on the south side of the city.  A sprawling campus of just over twenty acres housed the corporate buildings nestled together inside a guarded wall: a large center tower, that stood some fifty stories in height, seven or eight smaller outbuildings, and the cargo warehouses at the back of the campus along the fenceline with the launch complex.  The entire campus, with the exception of the warehouses with their railway terminals and sprawling parking lots for heavy lift trucks, was carefully maintained and planted with the finest greenery available on any of the known habitable worlds.  Paved walkways joined the various buildings.  No vehicles were allowed inside the campus except for the chief executives’ and the cargo trucks, but the truck roads were concealed from sight behind carefully planted trees in front of stout concrete walls.

It was a quick five minute cab ride from Jo’s condo in the light evening traffic; this time of night, more vehicles were going from the campus than towards it.  She could have walked it in about half an hour, and most days she did.  But between the weather and the urgency of Harold’s message, she hopped into the first cab she could find.

The guards at the campus entrance noted her identity as she approached and waved her through with only a cursory glance.  Supposedly the process would be quicker and easier with the new implants, but she never had any problem with the identichips in her security badge or holocard.

The Emergency Control Center was located on the thirtieth floor of the main tower.  The lift from the ground floor brought her up with barely a whisper.  The noise inside the ECC was quite a bit louder.  Large status displays dominated the wall directly to the left of the entrance.  A glance showed her they were being updated by the latest feeds from the stellar Lagrange point navigation satellites as well as those from a pair of starliners: Chamberlain and Leonov.  Workstations for the various support organizations were scattered around the floor below.  Directly opposite the status displays, on a raised platform above the support workstations, the command table was fully manned by the usual people, except for the Incident Commander’s station at the center.  Li Wu Shin, her principal assistant, was sitting there, and looked relieved when she walked in the door.

“Jo, where’ve you been?” Wu Shin asked, echoing Harold’s earlier words as she walked up to the incident commander’s station.  He stood up, tapping the control console to log out from the command and control voice network as he did.

Jo didn’t bother to answer Wu Shin’s question; it didn’t matter anyway.  She settled down into the command chair and inserted the earbud resting there specifically for her use.  Most of the other principals had database implants, so they didn’t need one.

“What’s the situation?”

Wu Shin leaned over her shoulder as he filled her in.

“The Hephaestus suffered a containment breach in her fusion core.  Took out the after third of the ship.  They managed to close off the airtight bulkheads, but they’re without propulsion and adrift.”

“Son of a bitch.  Any casualties?”

“The Shift Engineer and a Reactor Tech were in the access tunnel troubleshooting the problem when it blew.”

“And the passengers?”

“Cryo-suspension is uninterrupted.  All indications are they’re fine, for the moment.”

Jo breathed a sigh of relief.

“When did this happen?”

“Earlier today.  The distress signal reached us this afternoon.”

“Have we notified next-of-kin?”

“The casualty assistance office is beginning the process, but they have not yet made contact.”

“Very well.”

Jo tapped the command screen and called up the Hephaestus’ manifest.  “They only left two weeks ago.  Their velocity can’t be that high yet.”

Wu Shin shook his head.

“No, a little under twelve thousand kilometers per second.”

That was something, at least.  The most dangerous portion of any starliner’s voyage was the initial acceleration away from port.  When the plasma generators that powered the main engines were in standby, the ship’s reactor plant operated at only a fraction of its rated power.  But during acceleration, it gradually increased its power output until it reached one-hundred percent, in order to achieve an even acceleration as relativistic effects increased the ship’s mass.  And it did so for just about a full year, in order to achieve nominal cruising speed of ninety-five percent of the speed of light.  If anything were to go wrong, it was most likely to happen at those higher power levels.  And while a rescue from a mishap during the deceleration phase was relatively simple, a mishap during acceleration was a different matter entirely.  Two months out from the originating star system, it would be virtually impossible to mount a rescue, since the distances involved, and the speeds required for intercept, were beyond the capabilities of most conventional rescue vessels.  And, of course, by the time the ship reached the destination star, if it ever did, everyone onboard would be long dead.

Jo inwardly gave thanks for small mercies, that this disaster had not occurred a few weeks from now.  Two public funerals would be bad enough.  At least there was still a chance to avoid five-thousand.

“Have you had a tug powered up?”

Wu Shin nodded.  “Tugs T-3 and T-8 will be underway in fifteen minutes.”

Jo nodded and waved him away.  He took a seat at a support console behind the command table.  Tapping the control console to log into the command and control voice network, she spoke up.

“This is Captain Josephine Ishikawa.  I have relieved as incident commander.”

*  *  *  *  *

After the initial burst of activity, the next several weeks within the ECC were less frantic and exciting, but by no means easy.  There were countless details to manage, from interfacing with the various levels of government, to rerouting incoming starliners into a holding orbit so the tugs could have unimpeded access to the docking facilities, to offering official condolences to the families of the dead crew members.

And, of course, there were the press conferences.  As Incident Commander, Jo was obliged to sit beside Harold each afternoon and field questions, each more inane and brainless than the last.  How the hell was she supposed to know what the people stuck onboard Hephaetus were feeling about their situation?  How the hell did that news bimbo think they were feeling?  Each press conference was an exercise in frustration, and she often left with her jaw aching from grinding her teeth so hard.  She understood where the reporters were coming from.  They had their deadlines and were fighting for ratings so they could keep their jobs.  But really, would it kill them to at least review basic physics before coming up with their questions?

But after the first week, with nothing new happening and nothing more dramatic to do than wait for the tugs to rendezvous with the stricken vessel, Harold, at the press corps’ request and to Jo’s relief, moved the press conferences from daily to twice a week.  There was another brief flurry of press interest when the tugs made up with Hephaestus and began the long, slow process of re-directing the starliner back toward the Sol system.  But when it all went according to plan and no one else was killed, the interest quickly faded once again.

When Hephaestus docked, it was almost anti-climactic.  The news media noticed, of course.  But the coverage was light, limited to blurbs on the evening news shows and little else.  Of course, the docking was not the end of the job by any means.  But with the crisis stabilized, it was time to stand down the ECC.  The normal command and control system could handle it from here.

Jo had spent the last two and a half months living out of the ECC and her personal office on the thirty-fifth floor.  She slept on a couch in her office, and showered and changed clothes, using spare clothing she kept in her office for just that purpose, in the employee gymnasium, which was located in one of the outlying buildings on campus.   She was more than ready for a long bath in her own bathtub, and then a little vacation.

Before the crisis hit, she had planned to go up to Boston, to visit Carlton and Alison.  They had both been as disappointed as she when she cancelled, but they understood.  They had lived the starfarer’s lifestyle their whole lives up until a year ago.  It still seemed strange to think those two wouldn’t be returning to space with her when she got underway again, in a little more than two years.  And to think that when she returned, they would both be in their late seventies, suddenly, from her perspective, older than she was.  It was odd, and more than a little sad, for her.  But it was their decision, and they had made it for their own reasons.  Who was she to judge?

As soon as she finished the last details in the ECC, Jo called Harold and informed him that she was going to take her vacation.  He raised no objections so she booked herself on the next flight to Boston, leaving early the next morning.

Alison was thrilled when Jo called to tell her the news.  It was obvious Alison wanted to chat more, but as much as Jo enjoyed the discourse, she was exhausted.  So she begged off, promising they would have all the time they needed to catch up when she arrived.

*  *  *  *  *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

Or, if you want a chance to get the whole thing for free, check out my giveaway on Goodreads.  Enter to win one of 5 copies of The Pericles Conspiracy; the giveaway ends on 23 September.  Good luck!

I Mentioned It Before, But…

…I didn’t really call attention to it.  Not really.

I’m doing a giveaway on Goodreads.  Observe:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Pericles Conspiracy by Michael Kingswood

The Pericles Conspiracy

by Michael Kingswood

Giveaway ends September 23, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

5 print copies of The Pericles Conspiracy are up for grabs.  All ya gotta do is roll on over and enter to win.  The giveaway ends on 23 September, so there’s still plenty of time.

Good luck!

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter One

Hola amigos.

As promised, I’m going to start posting The Pericles Conspiracy for all y’all to read here on the blog.  Right now, the plan is two chapters per week.  Given there are 63 chapters in the book, you can do the math on how long I’ll be doing this.  🙂

So here we go.  Of course, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or  iTunes.

Or, if you want a chance to get the whole thing for free, check out my giveaway on Goodreads.  Enter to win one of 5 copies of The Pericles Conspiracy; the giveaway ends on 23 September.  Good luck!

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter One – Pickup Lines

La Chupacabra was almost empty.  A few patrons sat at tables along the wall opposite the bar and two more were at the bar itself: a plump middle-aged man in dirty work coveralls at the near corner and, at the far end, a slender woman with short-cut black hair dressed in dark business attire.  The bartender idly wiped down the taps halfway down the bar, and a lone waitress chatted with a patron at one of the tables.  Vidscreens behind the bar displayed the latest headlines and sports scores, but the volume was muted.  A tune from the middle of the pop charts played over the bar’s speakers, just loudly enough to make it difficult to hear a conversation from more than a few feet away.

He would have expected more business, considering it was hump day.  Just two more days until the weekend after all.  But he was just as happy for a sparse crowd.  He hated having to search through a throng to find his mark.  As it was, a quick survey as he paused at the tavern’s entrance revealed this evening’s objective.  He smiled slightly and walked to the far end of the bar.

He paused as he reached the chair around the corner of the bar from the slender woman.  He cleared his throat, but the woman already noted his presence, favoring him with a slight frown and a quirked eyebrow.

“Is this seat taken?” he asked.

She shrugged and looked away, back to the closest vidscreen, where, from what he could tell from the closed-captioning, some talking head was pontificating about what effect the latest elections on Centauri would have on interstellar trade.

Her choice of programming made sense, considering her occupation.

As he sat down, he was struck by the woman’s appearance.  Ten year-long shifts as Captain on a starliner, plus the time to move up through the ranks to reach that station meant she had to be in her early to mid 50s at least.  Still, he could have sworn she still had a few decades before she reached her middle years: she did not look a day over forty.  Her bio said she was the product of a marriage between a Japanese man and an English woman.  In his experience, women from east Asia tended to age well, but even still he was impressed.

The bartender sauntered over.

“What’ll it be?”

“Bud Light.”

He noticed the woman smirk ever so slightly before taking a sip of her drink as the bartender moved back to the taps.  He figured she would prefer to drink something more exotic from one of the colony worlds, but unless he missed his guess, she was drinking a Seven and Seven.  Hardly the height of sophistication itself, and not exactly a perch from which to scoff at his beer.

“You ever study ancient history?”

She glanced back at him and rolled her eyes.

“I’m not looking for company right now.”

“Sorry.  Don’t mean to impose.”

She sniffed and turned back to her newsvid.

A moment later the bartender returned with his beer.  He accepted it with a smile of thanks and tapped the paypad on the bar.  His database implant interfaced with the pay system and applied his standard tip rate automatically.  The bartender looked surprised, then pleased, and voiced his thanks before moving away.  Tipping well was often useful for opening doors, he found.

He sipped at his beer for a few minutes, watching the newsvid with only the vaguest of interest.  It was a moot discussion; whatever effects the election caused had already occurred more than four years ago.  Folks on Earth were only now hearing about it, of course.  But whatever changes they made in response would also be extremely time late in reaching Centauri ears.  So what was the point?  Glancing back at the woman, he noted that she too looked a bit amused at the discussion.  Of course, she would know the futility of it more than most.

Time to try again.

“So I was reading the other day about an ancient Athenian ruler.  Guy named Pericles.”

She stiffened slightly when he mentioned the name, but quickly recovered, sipping her drink again without bothering to look at him.

“Is that right?”  She sounded annoyed.

“Very interesting man.”  He took another drink of his beer.  “He took over while Athens was rebuilding from the Persian wars.  He fostered the arts, built the Acropolis, endorsed Athenian expansionism.  During his reign, Athens became the greatest political force in the region.  But then, of course, he pressed too far.  Made Sparta nervous.  And so, the Peloponnesian War.   He didn’t live to see it, but eventually Athens fell beneath Sparta’s military might.”

“Fascinating.  Look, I really don’t want company, so…”

“I heard a story about another Pericles recently.”

She froze, her expression suddenly becoming wary.  He continued on.

“Starliner by that name comes in from the Gliese system, just like normal.  But there’s nearly a week’s delay in unloading the cargo.  The crew is sequestered.  Interviewed by government agents, they say.  All but the fourth shift are out within a week.  That shift’s sequestered for more than a month.  Six months later, Malcolm Ngubwe, the fourth shift’s Engineer, dies under, shall we say, mysterious circumstances?  Then that same shift’s pilot, one Carlton Hersch, and his wife Alison, the shift’s doctor, leave the starliner company for work planetside.”  He shrugged.  “Not so unusual, except he was in line for promotion to Captain.  Strange time for a career change, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes you do.”  He leaned toward her, noting her expression shifting from wariness to nervousness.  “What happened out there to cause so much fuss, Captain Ishikawa?”

She swallowed, pulling away from him.

“Who are you?”

He tapped his thumb and forefinger and waited for a moment.

When nothing happened, he sniffed in annoyance.  He figured she would have upgraded to the interactive database implant by now.  She had been back long enough, and those implants made forgetting names a thing of the past.  He always kept old-style holocards, though, just in case.  Pulling one from his pocket, he slid it across the bar to her.  His credentials were plainly visible: Jeremy Reynolds, Investigative Reporter, Star News.

She picked it up, her eyes narrowing as she read it.  Then she stood, dropping the card onto the bar.

“I’ve got nothing to say to you, Mr. Reynolds.”

She turned to leave, but stopped as Jeremy grabbed her arm gently.

“There are rumors of a new strain of disease onboard.  The public has a right to know the truth, Captain.”

She hesitated, then pulled away from his grasp.

“Good night, Mr. Reynolds.”

With that, she walked away at a brisk pace.  She was out the door quickly, and never looked back.

Jeremy remained in his chair for several minutes more, finishing his beer and shrugging off the bartender’s quip about him striking out.  There was definitely something there.  And he intended to find out what it was.

 *  *  *  *  *

As the door to La Chupacabra slid shut behind her, Josephine Ishikawa let out a breath she did not realize she had been holding.  It had been two years, and she thought sure interest about her last shift on Pericles had died by now.  Damnit, that’s all she needed, some reporter prying into things.

Muttering angrily to herself, she stalked to the lift at the end of the hall and punched the down button.

La Chupacabra was on the third floor of a commercial tower on the east side of town.  Far enough from her usual stomping grounds that she was unlikely to run into anyone from work.  Not that she didn’t like the people she worked with, but she generally preferred not to mix business with pleasure.  Besides, she saw way too much of them when they were stuck together on a starliner, millions of Astronomical Units from the nearest rock.

A short lift ride later, she hit the streets.

Quito was the major hub for travel to and from low earth orbit in the Western Hemisphere.  Its location, essentially right on the equator, was ideal.  Add in its status as a political hub and its relative proximity to major shipping ports, and it was natural that, as mankind became a spacefaring species, it, along with Mogadishu and Kuala Lampur, would move into the limelight.  That would likely change once the space elevators were completed; the western anchor point was further east, in Brazil, away from the fault line in the Andes.  But that wasn’t scheduled for completion for another decade or more – a worry for a later time.

For the planetbound, anyway.  But Jo, like other starfarers, had a different perspective on the flow of time than most people.  In another two years, once Pericles’ overhaul was complete, she would hop aboard to Gliese once again.  The next time she returned, though only two and a half to three waking years would have passed for her, Earth would have seen over forty.  Some found that disconcerting; culture shock alone accounted for a large percentage of the Company’s attrition among new hires.  But Jo found it fascinating, being able to observe the flow of history from a position outside the normal timeline.  She very much looked forward to seeing the changes when she returned next.

But for now, she was here, and Quito was booming.  Towering skyscrapers, filled with stylish and pricey condominiums.  Fine restaurants on every street corner, catty-corner to the omnipresent Starbucks.  Shopping establishments that ran the gambit from thrift stores to the highest of high-priced.  Quito had it all, and with it, congestion.  It wasn’t worth it to even try to motor yourself anywhere, even if it did not cost an arm and a leg to park.

A cab stand was situated a half-block down from La Chupacabra’s building.  Jo flipped up her collar and hurried the short distance, hunching over in the early evening drizzle in a vain attempt to avoid getting wet.  The forecast had been for clear skies, so she had not brought an umbrella.  She should have known better than to trust the weatherman.

Fortunately, the queue was short and covered with a simple plastiglass canopy, so she was able to avoid the rain while she waited.  Within a few minutes, she found herself settled into the cab’s passenger compartment.  Fortunately, it was an older cab and still had a slot that accepted holocards.

She inserted her card and said, “Home.”

The cab acknowledged in a deep male voice and pulled away from the stand.  Jo would give even odds whether the voice was from a voice-actor or just simulated.  Either way, she suspected it was supposed to make a lady feel secure, or maybe sound sexy.  She had heard the female voice that played for heterosexual male passengers.  Hopefully they found her as silly as Jo found the male.

Settling back into the passenger couch, Jo watched the buildings pass, and her thoughts began to drift.  She remembered the mixture of wonder and fear when Carl called her to the bridge and she saw what he had found.  The exhilaration of applying her crew’s capabilities to an unexpected problem.  The terror when it seemed like it was all falling apart, and then the relief when it didn’t.

She decided two years ago to put it out of her mind.  Even without the security debriefings and non-disclosure agreements, she knew her part of the job was finished.  There was nothing else she could do, and it wouldn’t serve any purpose to dwell on their encounter.  Then, when Malcolm died, it was just one more reason to move on.  She had done a good job of it.

Damned reporters.

The cab stopped, and she stepped out.  Her building was a smaller condo complex on the south side, not far from the spaceport.  More industrial, with less fancy decoration and greenery, it wasn’t a choice neighborhood.  But she hated long commutes, so it suited her purpose.

Her condo was on the sixth floor.  The ride up on the lift seemed slower than normal.  Or maybe she was just more anxious to get home than usual.  It had been a crappy end to a crappy day, and she wanted nothing more than to soak in the tub and hit the rack.

As she entered, the lights automatically turned on and soft music began to play, streaming from her favorite mix site.  As the music started, the televid wall in her small living room lit up with a slideshow from Jo’s travels during her career in space.  Vistas from a dozen worlds flicked past in time with the music.  The eternal terminator on Gliese, where the famed Granite Trees with their massive trunks leaned far into the constantly-blowing hurricane-force winds and sent their branches with their hauntingly beautiful flowers straining toward the star that forever lingered on the horizon.  The barren mountains of Barren’s Holdfast, accessible only in a suit and even then only with permission from colony administration and after extensive EVA training.  The Vine Peaks of Talos, rising higher than a number of mountains on Earth and formed entirely by a single growing plant that housed its own micro-ecosystem and dozens of unique species.  And countless others.

Jo smiled slightly as she took in the slideshow for a moment.  It was good to be home after a long day, but there was where her heart truly lay: out among the stars, on a ship at her command.

Then her smile faded as a dialog box opened on the televid wall.  There was a message from Harold Jameson, the Chief Operating Officer of the starliner company and her boss at the moment.

“Crap,” she breathed, and tapped the televid control pad.

The dialog box turned into an image of Harold, bald head and all, looking tired but alert.  Seeing her, he perked up and scowled.

“Where the hell have you been, Jo?  And when the hell are you going to get an implant?”

“Never.  I don’t want a bunch of electronics in my head that will be obsolete by the time I get back from my next run in forty years.”

“Then why can’t you turn on your mobile, like every other civilized person on the planet?”

Jo rolled her eyes.

“What do you want, Harry?  It’s late.”

Harold’s scowl faded, replaced by a focused, businesslike expression, with a hint of anxiety that only someone who knew him as well as she did would notice.

“I need you back here ASAP.  We’re manning the ECC.”

Jo’s fatigue was instantly replaced by a surge of adrenalin, and annoyance.  So much for her trip to Boston tomorrow.

“What’s happened?”

“Wu Shin will fill you in when you get here.  Hurry.”

The video feed switched off, and the televid switched back to the classical music playlist.  Swan Lake began playing, along with a slideshow of landscape photos from the various planets she had visited during her time with the starliner company.

Jo left the condo before the first ten bars had finished.

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

Or, if you want a chance to get the whole thing for free, check out my giveaway on Goodreads.  Enter to win one of 5 copies of The Pericles Conspiracy; the giveaway ends on 23 September.  Good luck!