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