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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.
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…”
“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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.