It’s time for another chapter.
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 13 – Deliberation
“Why? Why would someone do such a thing?”
Malcolm spoke before Becky could reply. “Do you really need to ask, Jo? Power. And fear. They see threats everywhere. They long ago sold their souls, and they assume everyone else has as well. It’s especially easy to assume the worst of intentions in this case, because the creatures involved are not even human are they? Therefore, they can justify doing just about anything and not feel even a heartbeat’s guilt or remorse.”
Jo wanted to retort, to deny the truth of Malcolm’s words, but any arguments that sprang to mind rang false even before she gave them voice. Finally, after a long moment of silence, she sighed and nodded.
“Do you understand now why I had to leave?”
Jo looked back at Malcolm as he spoke. His gaze was gentle despite the stern, determined set of his jaw.
“No. You didn’t know this until a couple months ago.”
“But he suspected. And he was pushing. Hard,” said Becky. “We overheard high level chatter with his name on it. Chatter that made it clear if he didn’t stop, he would be in serious danger. So we approached him to let him know he wasn’t alone and to make him aware of the threat.” She smiled faintly. “He didn’t believe us, at first.”
Malcolm shrugged, his gaze dropping for a moment as though he was embarrassed. “I was naive. With what I already suspected, I shouldn’t have been, but…”
“But it’s hard to really believe those who are supposed to be the people’s servants would fall so far,” Becky finished for him. “Until you’ve seen it happen.”
“What convinced you?,” Jo asked.
“After they warned me, I started paying more attention. I noticed the same people around me wherever I went. At the market, on the train, in restaurants…” He scowled. “I realized I was being followed. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together from there. Becky’s friend left contact information. I got in touch, and we made a plan. You know the rest.”
Jo nodded. The fire had been very convincing. No one ever questioned that Malcolm had died there, asleep in his apartment. Oh, there had been whispers around the office about how unlikely it was for a short to cause a fire of that intensity. But no one seriously doubted he was dead. A bunch of rocket scientists were not all that smart after all, apparently. Jo found herself suppressing an amused smirk at the thought.
“I had hoped to show all of this to Reynolds,” Malcolm continued. “Once he saw the truth, he would go to press, and the conspiracy would be laid open for all to see. The government would have no choice but to do the right thing and send the remaining eggs home. But now…” Sighing, he shook his head. “You’re our last hope.”
Jo blinked. “Me? What are you talking about?”
“No one else in our crew will talk. And even if they did, you have the most gravitas among us. If you’re not onboard, the word of a subordinate crewmember can be discounted. That’s why we waited until we had definitive proof. I wanted you there with me to confirm what happened to Reynolds. Now, with him dead…”
“Hold on a minute. There are plenty of other news agencies out there you can go to. For that matter, why don’t you just post it up on the internet yourself? Between that video and Alison’s…” Jo stopped speaking, confusion welling up within her. “For that matter, you said you didn’t have Alison’s video before. How did you obtain it to show it to Reynolds?”
Becky answered, gesturing at the screen. “The mole. He managed to smuggle a copy of the video out. Nearly got caught, but he made it.”
“Ok, fine. So why not upload…”
“We tried that, Jo.” Malcolm’s tone was somber, dejected almost. “As soon as we got both videos, we made an edited version that explained what was going on and uploaded it. It wasn’t easy, because our organization does not operate any computers that are attached to the network. We had to go through an outside entity. But the Feds have bots on the Net, trolling for this sort of thing. Within a few minutes of our upload, the bots deleted the file and initiated a denial of service attack on the connection. An hour and a half later, agents raided the company’s offices and confiscated all of their data storage drives.” His eyebrows lifted high on his head. “Remember that?”
Jo did indeed remember a combination SEC/NSA raid on a local investment banking firm. They had been accused of insider trading and securities fraud, or something like that. But that company had very quickly been cleared of all charges and allowed to resume operation. It had taken them some time to get back up and running, though. They lost a lot of money and more clients. From what she had heard, they were now a shadow of their former selves, small time players at best.
“Ok, let’s say I believe you. What are you proposing?”
Becky exhaled, tension seeming to leave her in a rush. “You and Malcolm will hold a press conference and reveal what happened onboard Pericles to the world, as well as what’s happened since. I believe we can guarantee most of the largest networks in the world will be in attendance. It will be exceptionally difficult to shut down a gathering like that, or make it disappear.”
“Then,” Malcolm said, “we wait to see what the government does, and whether we’ll have to take more…drastic…action.”
That sounded rather ominous. Jo inhaled and looked away from Malcolm and Becky. As her gaze swept over the room’s displays and equipment, she found herself focusing on the readout of a starliner leaving Gagarin Station. From its displayed trajectory, it was on a heading for the Talos colony.
As she considered the vessel’s course, memories welled up, of the Vine Peaks of Talos and of the days she’d spent there with Malcolm, so many years ago. Other memories followed. Dozens of exotic locales and celestial phenomena, more than most planetbound ever dreamed of seeing, passed through her mind’s eye.
Jo felt blessed to have been born a starfarer. Some starfarer natives, in their teen years, rebelled and left, choosing the life of the planetbound over the one they’d been born into. But Jo had never even considered that. The magic of traveling the stars had called to her from her earliest memories.
To do what Malcolm suggested would put the life she had always lived in jeopardy. If it went wrong… The notion of spending years in prison, followed no doubt by never being allowed aboard a starliner again, was unacceptable. It was a big risk. But at the same time… Jo looked back at the image frozen on the main display: the dissected alien embryo. Could she just let that go?
“I don’t know,” she said. “I need some time.”
From the corner of her eye, Jo saw Malcolm and Becky exchange glances. Becky wore an annoyed expression, but when Malcolm replied, his tone did not reflect his partner’s opinion.
“Fair enough. But time is something we’re running short on. Before too much longer, they’ll call that portion of the project complete and dispose of the remaining eggs. When that happens…” Malcolm spread his hands in a helpless expression.
They stood in silence for a long moment. Then Malcolm cleared his throat and spoke again. “Come on, Jo. I’ll drive you home.”
* * * * *
Malcolm dropped Jo off a kilometer from her condo, in a small park that was devoid of streetlights. They sat for a moment in the car as Jo removed her blindfold and collected herself.
“I’ll be in touch in a day or two. I hope by then you’ll have decided to do the right thing,” Malcolm said.
Jo looked away, not sure how to respond for a moment. Finally, she just nodded and stepped out of the car.
The darkness masked their identities, but as Malcolm drove off, Jo could not help but feel nervous as the night closed in around her. This area of town was not particularly crime-ridden, but it was not the most secure either. She had read about a woman being attacked in this very park seven or eight months ago.
Pulling her light jacket tight about her body, Jo hurried through the park toward the main street. Not normally given to flights of fancy, she nevertheless found herself suspecting eyes were upon her. And were those footsteps behind her? Her breathing became rushed, and her brisk walk became a slow run, then a sprint. Surely the man behind her would catch her before she took her next step!
Jo emerged from the park next to a streetlight and almost collapsed next to it, panting from exertion. Leaning against the metal framework of the light for support, she looked back over her shoulder, half-expecting to see a burly, lecherous attacker emerging from the undergrowth behind her.
Instead, there was only the nighttime breeze moving the tree limbs in the park with a gentle rustle.
Jo managed a short laugh as relief flooded through her. A heartbeat later, chagrin and embarrassment followed. She wasn’t a silly girl, scared of the world, and unsure of herself. She was a grown woman, successful and strong! She commanded a starliner crew who followed her orders without question, and respected her judgment implicitly. What was she doing, jumping at shadows?
Annoyed with herself, Jo pushed off from the street light and, pushing her hair back from her eyes, walked down the street toward her condo, standing as straight and tall as she could manage. But, confident exterior or no, she couldn’t shake the feeling of impending danger.
It must have been the things Malcolm and Becky showed her. Jo wasn’t about to admit it to them, but the video had shaken her to the core. She had always proceeded from the assumption that the government was a force for good. Keeping the order, providing a stable structure where people could live, pursue their passions, and conduct business that benefitted not just themselves but everyone else. These were good things, necessary things, that people needed government for.
But she had hardly ever lived under this particular government’s thumb. Jo was forced to admit, as she walked through the night, that she had been very insulated in her little world aboard ship. If she saw some injustice here, or on one of the other colonized worlds, she often would just shrug it off. It did not concern her, because she would be gone in a few months, or a couple of years at most. As one of her mentors once said, she could stand on her head for two years if she had to. That was nothing.
All the same, she had never before been confronted with an injustice, a duplicity, of this magnitude. And from the very people she’d trusted to do the right thing! When she had left the security debriefings, Jo felt sure the NSA, and the other government bodies that would inevitably become involved, would do whatever analysis of the aliens’ artifacts was necessary, then hurry the eggs on to their homeworld. That was the decent and right thing to do, wasn’t it?
Jo had upbraided Malcolm for his cynicism, for his distrust. She had actively helped push him out of the loop, recommended against his being included in the team the NSA put together to perform their analysis. In the brief time between her crew’s release from debriefing and when the Deputy Director asked her opinion, Malcolm had simply become too distrusting. Outright paranoid.
And now, it turned out he was right all along.
Jo blinked in surprise as a familiar doorway appeared off to her right. Had she reached her building already? Snorting in a mixture of disgust and self-deprecating amusement, Jo turned and walked into her building.
The lift ride was slow, as always. During the wait to reach her floor, fatigue suddenly set in. It had been an exhausting evening. Glancing at the chronometer on her wrist, she was shocked to find that it was 2 o’clock in the morning. It had been an exhausting night! And she had an 8 o’clock meeting with Jan Sholsburg, the navigation training department head, tomorrow. He planned to pitch his latest idea for new hire training. She had not been looking forward to sitting through the presentation, since Jan was, at his best, dry as a stack of well-seasoned firewood. As tired as she knew she would be in the morning, the briefing would be intolerable. It was too late to get out of it now, though.
Jo stifled a groan as the lift doors opened. Wanting nothing more than to grab what few hours of sleep remained for her, she hurried down the corridor to her doorway and pressed her identicard against the controls.
She crossed the entryway in a rush and was just opening her bedroom door when she heard a deep male voice behind her.
“Good morning, Captain Ishikawa.”
* * * * *
Jo whipped around, her fatigue forgotten as she instinctively dropped into a ready stance. Her weight settled evenly between her feet as her hands raised into a guarding position before her torso, the way her father taught her all those years ago, and her eyes quickly scanned the room.
The man was sitting on her couch, apparently taking his ease. She recognized him at once: Special Agent Calderon, of the NSA. Red hot anger rushed through her, replacing her momentary fright.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing here?” she demanded through gritted teeth. “Get out!”
Agent Calderon either didn’t hear her demand, or he just ignored it. She suspected the latter, as he replied, “You’re out quite a bit later than normal tonight.”
“Like that’s any of your business. Get the…”
Before she could repeat the command, Agent Calderon tsk’d softly, shaking his head. “It is very much our business when someone who is supposed to be helping our investigation goes off the reservation.”
A chill went up Jo’s spine. What did he know? But she maintained a straight face, her anger at his presence overcoming the uncertainty she suddenly felt.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’ve no right to be here. Get out, now, or I’ll call your superiors and have you brought up on charges.”
Agent Calderon laughed, a mirthless chuckle that did not touch his eyes, hard as agates beneath his bushy brows. “You have it backwards, Captain. You have no right to keep us out. And if anyone should be worried about prosecution, it is you.” He stood up quickly, his powerful frame moving with a fluid grace that Jo would not have expected him to be capable of. “You’re going to have to come with me.”
Jo snorted. “The hell I am.”
Agent Calderon shrugged, the movement of his shoulders somehow concealing the movement of his right hand as it dipped into his jacket pocket. Jo did not even notice it until the hand emerged, carrying a small plasma pistol that he proceeded to point straight at her heart.
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to insist,” Agent Calderon said in a quiet, no-nonsense tone.
* * * * *
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.