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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.
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.
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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.