Lots And Lots Of Shorts

You may have noticed I’ve fallen off the short story bandwagon lately.  There are a lot of reasons for that, which don’t really bear going in to now.  One of the things I intend to do this year is get back into the habit, though, because there is a lot of goodness to short stories.  And because I can’t enter Writers of the Future without writing them (or at least novelettes).

That said, I have a few short stories sitting around on my computer that have not found homes in publications.  I’ve meant to put them out myself, but haven’t gotten around to it.  For that matter, I’ve a couple novelettes still sitting around that need to go up as well.  Well, I’ve decided that from now on Sunday is going to be my official “work on publishing, not writing” day.  When I have stuff that’s ready to go up, that is.

So this past Sunday I got all of my short stories together into a big collection, including the couple that haven’t been published yet, and  formatted them into a collection.  I  also created a cover.  I was all set to push publish when it hit me: Copyright Registration.  Is it strictly speaking necessary?  No, not really.  But it does open the door to statutory damages, and it records my pseudonym for posterity and to avoid confusion.  Problem was, several of the stories had already been published, but not registered.  So how do I handle that?  I decided to wait until I could talk with the Copyright office, because their circular wasn’t completely clear on that question.  I spoke with them on Tuesday, got the copyright registered last night, and pushed publish earlier today.

And so, without further ado:

10-Pack (600x900)

The Short Story 10-Pack.  $4.99 on Amazon.

A bundle of ten science fiction and fantasy short stories – a 50% discount compared with buying the stories individually.

Lords of the Remnant – Aliens strike at the Centauri colony, overrunning it completely. Then, sooner than anyone imagined they could, they arrived at Earth to continue their conquest. An infantryman, certain resistance is futile, nevertheless deploys with his unit to fight against the first wave of invaders. As his comrades die around him and all hope seems lost, he finds the courage to fight on, but is confronted with a choice that will not only affect his own future, but that of all mankind as well.

How NOT To Rescue A Damsel In Distress – Bandits stabbed Larian’s father and kidnapped his girl. Confident in his freshly-learned swordsmanship, Larian set out to track them down, avenge his father, and rescue his first damsel in distress. Things did not exactly go as planned.

The Blob On The Rock – A scientific expedition to deep space makes a discovery that will re-shape what we believe about life in the universe. As long as it doesn’t kill them first.

Falling Softly – An assassin and his partner embark on the biggest job of their careers. The payment if they succeed is enough to set them up for life, potentially allowing the assassin to get out of the business and finally live a normal life. But even succeeding in a high profile job like this carries its own danger.

The Memory Of Justice – In the future, mankind outlawed capital punishment. Instead, the worst convicts had their memories erased and new personalities implanted. Then the authorities set them up in a far-away place and left them to live out their lives. This process worked well, to everyone’s approval. Except for the families of the victims.

Measuring Up – Larian Elesir, a young recruit in the Citizens’ Army, arrives at his first post. Eager to join the war effort, he is nonetheless nervous in his new environment and worried about setting a foot wrong. During his first day in camp, his new companions put him through his paces as they both learn who he is and teach him the basics he’ll need to survive in his job in the army.

A Chat Before Dinner – A record of a Zombie’s rant about the trials and tribulations of his life as a dis-respected member of the Undead. His rant centers around humans’ inherent racism, and he attempts to cajole his human listener into understanding his point of view. Darkly humorous and snarky, this story paints a new picture of a Zombie’s life.

First Blood – Intelligence told the High Command that the Mar Tabban, arch enemies of the Citizens’ Army, had moved into the territory garrisoned by Larian’s Regiment. In response, the Regimental Commander sent the B company scouts, Larian’s unit, out to investigate. On his first operational assignment, Larian has to overcome inexperience and his own fear and uncertainty if he wants to survive and get the information his Regiment needs to emerge victorious.

Who Ate My Sock? – A single sock missing from the wash – the source of universal frustration and untold family bickering. Justine never gave thought to what happened to those missing socks, and where they went. Until the day her mother sent her into the basement to change a load of laundry, and she learned the terrifying truth behind it all.

Brother In Law, Brother In Blood – A great hero can come from a humble past. Great love can bloom from the embers of conflict. And sometimes the two can happen at the same time, to the near ruin of both.

It is up now, and ready to read.  Enjoy!

 

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Twenty

Tuesday afternoon, and the sun is bright, the weather warm (hey, I’m in San Diego.  Sue me.  😛 ).   That means it’s time for another chapter from The Pericles Conspiracy.  We’re now almost a third of the way through; it’ll take a few more months to reach the end.  As always, if you don’t want to wait you can go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Twenty

Taking Flight

In spite of the hour, the short term parking lot at Quito International Airport was still about a third full.  The last flights would not depart and arrive for another hour or so.  That was some comfort; they would stand out completely in an empty parking lot.

Malcolm drove through the swing-arm gate and into the lot.  Sitting in the passenger seat, Jo looked over at the terminal and, for a moment, the irony of the airport naming convention struck her.  It’s not like there still were nation states to speak of – just the Coalition itself and its member states, then the various provinces and localities beneath them.  Yet still people called some airports International and some Regional.  It was funny now that she stopped to think about it, just like starfarers using nautical terminology onboard ship.  Jo supposed it was comforting, or something, to harken back to old traditions like that.  But still, funny.

“Look for a yellow van,” Malcolm said, bringing Jo back to the present.  He turned down the first row of parked cars and drove slowly down it, peering side to side intently.

Jo shook herself back to alertness.  This was no time to be daydreaming.  Or nightdreaming, she smirked to herself as she glanced at the car’s chronometer.

They traversed the parking lot twice without spotting the van.  Malcolm frowned and pulled into a spot near the exit gates and turned off the car’s lights.  He left the engine running, though.

“I guess we wait,” Jo said.  “This guy is reliable, right?”

Malcolm half-shrugged.  “He’s not the most punctual person ever.  But he knows his stuff and is good in a pinch.”

Jo turned to look at the parking lot entrance, an anxious knot beginning to grow in her belly.  This was bad.  They needed to keep moving, not sit around where Agent Moore and her comrades could catch up to them.  But moving would not do much good unless they removed the locator.

Crap.

Jo found herself wringing her hands as the minutes ticked by, no matter how many times she forced herself to stop.  Finally a yellow van pulled up to the entrance gate.  She perked up and nudged Malcolm, who followed her gaze to the van and nodded.

“That’s him,” Malcolm said.

The van meandered around the parking lot for a few moments, almost as though the driver could not decide where to park.  Finally it pulled into the space next to them.  The driver did not get out.

Malcolm looked at Jo seriously.  “All set?” he asked.

She took a deep breath and nodded.  Malcolm returned the nod and turned off the car’s engine.  “Make sure you have everything,” he said.  “We may have to leave in a hurry.”  Then he opened the car door and stepped out.

Jo did a quick check of her belongings.  She did not have much: just her handbag and the weapons she took from the agents in the Parque.  Hardly enough to make it for very long on the run.  But there was not much choice was there?  Shaking her head, she got out of the car.

Malcolm stood at the passenger-side door of the van.  The window was rolled down, but Jo could not see inside from her angle.  Malcolm nodded in response to something she did not hear and the side door in the rear of the van slid open.

The inside of the van was set up like a lab, a first aid station, and a communications center all rolled into one.  Surprise made her not notice the man who stepped back from the driver’s seat until he spoke.

“Are you going to introduce me, Robert?”

The man, Raúl no doubt, was short and slender, with thin limbs and a pencil neck that clashed with his unexpectedly broad shoulders.  He kept his black hair tied into a ponytail at the nape of his neck and a short beard on his face.  He wore jeans and a t-shirt depicted the logo for a band that Jo had never heard of, and sandals on his feet.  His skin was well tanned, though he looked pale compared to Malcolm, and his eyes were dark behind wire rimmed spectacles.  Jo was surprised by that; glasses were almost unheard of these days, with the ease of corrective surgery or implants.  But then, a person without a database implant was a rarity too, so who was Jo to judge?

Malcolm gestured toward the man in the van and said, “Jo, meet Raúl Ramirez, a legend in his own mind.”

Raúl made a sound that was halfway between a snort and a chuckle and reached with his right hand toward Jo.  She shook it and was pleased to find he had a strong, confident grip.  She smiled in a manner that she hoped was friendly and said, “Nice to meet you.”

Raúl returned the smile with a broad grin.  “The pleasure is mine, Jo.”  Releasing her hand, he looked from Jo to Malcolm and rubbed his hand together.  “Well, if you’ll join me inside, we can get down to business.”

They stepped up into the van and Raúl tapped a control panel.  The door slid shut silently, cutting out the outside world.  Once the door closed, Raúl looked Jo over again.

“I assume you have the locator, no?”

Jo nodded and pointed at the meat of her shoulder.

Raúl nodded.  “Sub-cutaneous injection, huh?”  He looked back at Malcolm.  “How much time do you have?”

Malcolm spread his hands in a gesture of ignorance.  “No idea.  They could be coming around the corner any minute for all we know.”

Raúl shook his head and gestured toward the racks of communication gear in the front of the van’s cargo area.  “No one’s mentioned you on the police bands.”

“And they won’t,” Malcolm replied.  “It’s an NSA operation.”

“Hijo de puta,” Raúl muttered.  More loudly, he said, “That’s going to cost you double.”

Malcolm scowled and opened his mouth, no doubt to protest, but Raúl beat him to it.  “Double, Robert, or you can get the fuck out right now.  I don’t need to spend any more time in the lockup.”

Malcolm and he traded stares for a brief moment, then Malcolm nodded.

Raúl smiled again.  “All right.  Robert, drive the van.  Stay on the main roads where there’s still traffic.”

Malcolm nodded and moved up to the driver’s seat.

Raúl turned back to Jo.  “Have a seat and roll up your sleeve.  This should just take a minute.”

As Jo moved to the bench at the very rear of the van, she felt the engine start up and the vehicle begin to move.  Then she lost her balance and fell onto the bench with a thud as Malcolm hit the breaks a little too hard.

“Hey,” she shouted.

“Sorry.  Brakes are tighter than I’m used to,” came the reply from the front.

Raúl shook his head and smirked.  “Many men have trouble with control when it’s tighter than normal, am I right?”  He winked at her and raised his eyebrows in a lecherous manner.

Jo glowered and almost smacked him, but thought better of it before doing so.  He must have realized it though, because his smirk faded quickly, replace by a wary, almost disappointed expression.

“Let’s just get on with it, Raúl,” she said, and rolled up her sleeve until the fabric bunched up around the top of her shoulder and armpit.

The van moved forward again as Raúl pulled a drawer of various tools out from a bin in the wall.  He fished around inside for a moment, then emerged with a portable MRI and what looked like a pair of pinchers.  Jo recognized the MRI unit from the medical supplies onboard ship.  They were extremely expensive; more than she earned in a run from Sol to Gliese and back.  Where the hell did Raúl get it?  He did not look the type to be rolling in money.  Jo almost asked but realized she probably did not want to know.

“Alright.  Hold still for a second,” Raúl said.  He attached the clamps on the MRI to either side of the meat in her shoulder then spent a brief moment adjusting some of the machine’s settings.  After a moment he nodded to himself and tapped the control pad.  The MRI began to hum.

In Jo’s experience, portable MRIs did not require much time to warm up, but this one seemed to take forever.  Although, she was forced to admit it could have been her nerves that made to seem to take as long as it did.  Finally, the unit made a soft beeping sound and Raúl tapped the control pad again.

A display built into the wall of the van flashed to life, revealing a false-color image of the inside of Jo’s shoulder.  She blinked, fascinated, and leaned forward to see better.  She had seen MRI readouts before, but never before one of her own body.  It was a very different experience.

“Ah.  There’s the little bugger,” Raúl said in a slow near-purr of satisfaction, and pointed to the lower left quadrant of the scan.

Even with his direction, Jo could not find the locator for a long moment.  When she finally did, she was underwhelmed.

“That’s it?” she said incredulously.  The thing could not have been more than two millimeters long, maybe three.

Raúl nodded.  “It does not have to be large.  It gets its power from the electric potential within your body and only transmits when queried from elsewhere.  When it transmits, the Feds triangulate its position using the web nodes nearby.”

Interesting, but right then Jo could have cared less how the thing worked.  Get it out, already, she wanted to shout.  Instead, she just nodded.

“Now,” Raúl said as he began adjusting his pincher tool, “if I’d had more time to prepare, I would have a good anesthetic ready.”  He looked up from his tool with an apologetic expression.  “As it is, I’m afraid this may hurt a little.”

Oh great.  Jo gritted her teeth and nodded again.  Might as well get on with it.

Raúl made one last adjustment on his pinchers, then hefted them and leaned forward.  He paused for a moment, studying the MRI display again.  Then he nodded to himself and moved the pinchers toward Jo’s shoulder.

A sudden lurch sent Raúl stumbling forward onto Jo.  They both slid across the bench into the van’s wall with a painful thump, followed by a metallic rattle as the MRI unit became dislodged from her shoulder and fell to the floor.  The MRI display went black.

“What the hell, Robert?” Raúl shouted as he and Jo extricated themselves from each other.

Malcolm’s voice was strained as he replied, “I think they’ve found us.”

“Son of a bitch,” Jo and Raúl said in unison.

*  *  *  *  *

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 Nineteen

It’s Saturday, so it’s time for another chapter from The Pericles Conspiracy.  We’re now almost a third of the way through; it’ll be a few more months to reach the end.  As always, if you don’t want to wait you can go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Nineteen

Into The Fire

Jo pushed a low-hanging branch out of her way and stepped into the clearing, her heart pounding in her chest and Agent DiStefano’s plasma pistol in her right hand alongside her thigh.  The scene in the clearing made her stop in surprised shock.

Agent Calderon was on the ground, groaning through gritted teeth and grasping at his left knee, which was scorched and blackened by what Jo assumed was a plasma shot.  His pistol lay on the ground about three meters from him – a kilometer away for all the good it would do him.  Agent Moore stood in a shooter’s stance almost directly in front of Jo, her pistol held in both hands and trained on Malcolm and the third agent.

Malcolm stood behind the third agent.  Jo could see the metal bands of the handcuffs around his wrists, but the chain between them had been severed somehow.  He had his left arm wrapped around the agent’s neck, pinning the agent close to his body.  In his right hand, he held a plasma pistol pointing at the agent’s temple.

“Put down the weapon, Ngubwe,” Agent Moore said, her tone crisp and professional, though it also carried a hint of frustration.

Malcolm shook his head and took a step back, dragging the agent with him.  “Back away,” he shouted in return.

Agent Moore showed no sign of complying.  She moved forward in time with Malcolm, her pistol never wavering as she sighted in on him.  Malcolm was almost a full head taller than the agent he held captive.  Jo imagined it would not be hard for Agent Moore to shoot him in the head, if she meant to.

Malcolm called out, “Put your gun down and back away.”  He was beginning to sound desperate.

Jo saw Agent Moore flex her hands on the grip of her pistol and cock her head slightly.  She was getting ready to fire.

Before she realized what she was doing, Jo took two steps forward, out from beneath the canopy of branches and into the open, and raised the pistol she was holding, pointing it at Agent Moore’s back.

“Do what he says,” she ordered in her best Captain tone.

Agent Moore froze and glanced back at Jo.  Malcolm’s eyes widened in shock.

“Jo…”

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Agent Moore said, her expression and tone growing harsh with sudden fury.

“The right thing.  Finally,” Jo replied.  She stepped forward and to her right, keeping the pistol trained on Agent Moore.  “Put down your weapon and back away.”

The agent swallowed, her eyes flickering between Jo and Malcolm.  She flexed her hands on her pistol again and she swallowed.

“Have you gone mad?  You’re killing yourself, do you know that?”

Jo shrugged and moved over to Malcolm’s side, being careful to keep Agent Moore in her sights.  As she walked, she put on her command face and said, in her best Captain voice, “If I’m already dead, I guess I’ll have no problem taking you with me.  Put.  Down.  The.  Gun.  Now.”

For a moment, Jo had the sinking feeling that she might actually have to follow through on the threat.  It was easy enough to say it, but contemplating actually pulling the trigger…  She was not sure if she could really do it.

Apparently her doubt did not show through on her face, because Agent Moore’s expression changed from cooly in control to doubtful.  She licked her lips and glanced to the side where Agent Calderon still lay in obvious agony – he was out of the fight even if his weapon had been near to hand – then back toward Jo.  Their eyes met and Jo saw the doubt become fearful certainty.  A few seconds passed then, ever so slowly, Agent Moore raised her hands and tossed her weapon off to the side.

“Good.  Now turn around and get on your knees.”

As Agent Moore complied, Jo looked over at Malcolm.  He looked haggard, and no wonder after the last few moments.  Jo did not want to look in a mirror herself right then.  What the hell was she doing?

Malcolm gave her the briefest of smiles and said, “This way, Jo.”

Moving as quickly as he could with the agent in his grasp, Malcolm backed away toward the trees on far side of the open area.  Jo followed and in short order they stood beneath the overhanging branches.  Agent Moore had not moved, no doubt expecting a plasma shot in the back if she did.

“Now what?” she asked.

In response, Malcolm twisted his foot between the agent’s legs and pushed forward, sending the man sprawling.

“Don’t move,” Malcolm ordered.  Then he turned to Jo and said, “Let’s go.”

Malcolm sprinted away.  Jo hesitated only a heartbeat before running to join him.

 *  *  *  *  *

“What made you change your mind?”

Jo gritted her teeth and clung to the handle on Malcolm’s car door as he took a turn at a higher rate of speed than she would have preferred.  As in their last meeting, he had parked not far outside the Parque.  This time he did not bother with the blindfold or the security walk around, though.  They just hopped in and he floored it.

Tires squealed as the car skidded for a moment, then Malcolm righted it and sped away north down Bahía del Caraquez.  They passed a hospital on their right, then he turned the car hard to the right again, onto Ambato.

“Where are we going?” Jo asked, not bothering to answer his question.

“We established a new safehouse north of the city,” he replied in clipped tones.  “If we can get on Highway 35, we should make it there relatively quickly.”

And that would be the reason Malcolm picked such a late hour for their meeting.  It was not just some cliché cloak-and-dagger act, after all.  A getaway in Quito’s middle-of-the-day traffic would have been laughable.  But now, they just might make it.  Except…

“That’s not going to happen,” Jo said, a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that was caused by more than Malcolm’s hard turn to the left onto Venezuela.

Malcolm glanced at her and, seeing her expression, grinned and let off the accelerator.  “You’re right, of course.  It wouldn’t do to get pulled over for speeding, would it?”

Jo shook her head.  “No, but that’s not what I mean.  I…  Aw crap.  Don’t hit anything for a second.”  She unhooked her seatbelt and leaned forward then shrugged out of her jacket.  Quickly checking that she had everything from its pockets, she rolled down her window and tossed the jacket out into the night.

Malcolm raised one eyebrow.  “Bugged?”

Jo nodded.  “But that’s not all.”  She rubbed at her shoulder and imagined she could feel the bump from the locator concealed there.  “They injected me with a locator device.”

Malcolm’s other eyebrow rose and he glanced at the shoulder.  “Crap,” he said, echoing Jo’s words.  “Ok, I know a guy who can take care of it.”  His eyes flicked to the rearview display and he frowned.  “If we can make it to him.  They’ll probably follow us at a distance, set up roadblocks…”

His frown deepened as he turned right onto Jose Mejia.  The intersection with Highway 35 lay ahead, but he did not seem to be relaxing at all.

Jo swallowed despite the dryness in her mouth and tried to suppress the anxiety within her.  They were not caught yet; there was a chance they could still get away.  Wasn’t there?  “We’re not screwed are we?”

Malcolm glanced at her.  His frown lessened and he shook his head.  “Not yet.  But we’ll have to move quickly.”

Keeping one hand on the wheel, Malcolm reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a mobile communicator.  He tapped its screen to life and made a selection.  A few seconds later, the electronic beep which announced his call being answered sounded over the car’s internal speakers, followed by a male voice.

“Robert, do you know what time it is?”  The man’s accent marked him as a local to the Quito area.  His voice was deep and gravelly, and he sounded sleepy and more than a little annoyed.

“I’ve got an emergency, Raúl.”

“What else is new.”  The man on the other end of the line grumbled something unintelligible then inhaled deeply.  In her mind’s eye, Jo imagined him sitting up, throwing his feet over the side of his bed, and rubbing his eyes as he woke up fully.  Finally, he said, “Alright, what’s up?”

“I need an internal locator removed.  Right now.”

“What???”

“I’m serious, Raúl.”

The man groaned softly.  “Robert, that’s a tricky procedure.  I need special tools, a lab…  It’s not just something I can throw together.”

“Well you’re going to have to.  They’re after us and we don’t have a lot of time.  I’ll be at your place in ten minutes.”

“What?  Hell no, don’t come here.”  The man inhaled loudly again.  “Meet me at the usual spot in twenty.  Ok?”

Malcolm glanced at the rearview again and nodded.  “Alright.  Twenty minutes.”

The speakers went silent as the call ended.

Jo looked at Malcolm in confusion.  “Robert?”

Malcolm chuckled.  “I don’t advertise who I am very widely, Jo.  Raúl is a good man, but also a tad,” he looked at her with a raised eyebrow, “shady, if you know what I mean.  But if there’s anyone who can get that bug out of you, it’s him.”

“That’s a comfort.”

Well, it was not, really.  But Jo was committed now.  Even if she was not sure she had done the right thing by siding with Malcolm, there was no going back.  She was just going to have to trust him, and his ‘shady’ friend.  Wonderful.

She took a deep breath.  “Where are we meeting him?”

“In the short-term parking lot at the airport.”  Malcolm must have noticed the confused look on her face, because he chuckled and continued, “It’s controlled airspace, so it’s not likely we’ll be pursued or observed by aerial units.  And there’s always a lot of people coming and going, even at this hour.”  He winked at her.  “Makes it easy to blend in.”

“Ah.  That makes sense, I suppose.”

The airport was a bit over twenty kilometers away, past a line of peaks east of the city.  Throughout the drive, Jo expected to see the flashing blue lights of police cars in the rearview, or blocking the highway ahead.  But there were none.  As Malcolm pulled off the highway Jo managed to relax a little.

Maybe Agent Moore had been so delayed by Calderon and DiStefano’s wounds that she decided to wait.  More likely not, though.  Thinking about it, Jo decided she would not likely use the local police unless she had to; a public spectacle was the last thing the NSA wanted.  So there would likely be no flashing lights and squad cars.  But they did want the rest of Becky’s cell, and Jo had the locator in her shoulder.  Maybe Agent Moore would wait after all, hoping Malcolm and Jo would lead them to the rest of his companions before they got someone to remove the locator.

Jo dismissed the thought.  Agent Moore had never struck her as particularly clever, but she was not a complete idiot.  She would have to know that Jo would try to get the locator out first thing.

Which meant the agents were on their way, and Jo would likely not see them until they were on her.  So much for relaxing.

*  *  *  *  *

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.

Marketing and Pricing

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’m presenting my stories, from a marketing and pricing perspective, and I’ve decided to make a few changes.

First, let’s talk Pericles.

I’ve been wondering for a while whether I chose correctly about its price point.  $7.99 is a very reasonable price – below typical mass market paperback prices.  But I’ve been wondering whether people read Passing In The Night, like what they’ve seen so far, and move on to Pericles…only to be stymied by that price, since it is above what a lot of other people ask for their books.  Maybe I’m just being silly; sales have been creeping along pretty steadily, after all.  But creeping is the operative word.  So I figure what the heck.  A little experimentation can’t hurt.  So I’ve dropped the price down to $5.99.  We’ll see how that does for a few weeks.

Second, short stories.

At first, my policy was $.99 for short stories, with prices rising from there.  But in the spring of 2012 at the workshop with Dean Wesley Smith up in Oregon, we talked about a pricing idea that I thought was neat: combine two shorts together, with story B as a bonus if you buy A and story A as a bonus if you buy B, and charge $2.99 for that.  Nice, huh.  A little extra value.  So I went with that.  The results have been ok I guess.  But then in the last year or so I haven’t put out many short stories, so…  *shrug*  But a couple months ago, another writer on a mailing list I belong to reported getting warning emails from Amazon for doing just what I have, saying the two products are essentially the same, so he shouldn’t have two separate listings up for sale.  And thinking about it, that makes sense.  So I think I’m going to de-double the short story listings.  Of course, if I do that, I’m not going to feel comfortable charging $2.99 for them.  Novelettes and above?  Sure, no problem.  But for a short story?  No.  So, I’m going to drop short stories back to $.99 and go from there.

Finally, Glimmer Vale.

As you all know, Out-Dweller was released about three weeks ago, to rave reviews and the adulation of the masses who were eagerly awaiting it.  🙂  Or not.  In truth, Glimmer Vale, though selling a trickle when it first came out, has been essentially dormant for the last year or so.  So frankly I’m not surprised Out-Dweller hasn’t made much of a splash yet.  So how to help it splash?  Well, I’ve found making Passing In The Night free helped keep Pericles rolling; I’m quite certain were it not for people picking up the prequel, Pericles would not be selling even at its current trickle.  Because what would point people to it?  Given that, I’ve begun the process to make Glimmer Vale free in all outlets.  Now, based on her post today, I suspect Kris Rusch might not agree with this decision.  Or maybe she would.  As it is, Glimmer Vale is generating little or no value, from a cash flow perspective (16 sales in about 18 months….yeah not so good).  But if making it free draws more eyes to the series, and enough of those eyes like what they see, it could be a very good thing.  At the least, it can’t be worse than what’s happening now: nothing.  Of course, there’s always the possibility that Glimmer Vale is just no good, in which case making it free won’t help at all.  But I rather think it doesn’t suck.  So here’s hoping some more visibility does the trick.

Right.  That’s it for now.

Thoughts?  Questions?  Concerns?  Snarky witticisms?  You know what to do.

 

Oh yeah, one last thing.  I’ve not been particularly good at pimping my newsletter signup.  But see that little link in the upper-right of my sidebar?  It’ll take you to the signup form.  The newsletter will announce new releases, special deals, giveaways, and other fun things.  I won’t spam you – just one message a month or so.  So go ahead and sign up.  As a sweetener, you’ll receive a coupon code for a free copy of Masters of the Sun, my first novel.  Hard to say no to that, right?  🙂

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Eighteen

I’m a little late on this.  My intention is to get these chapters up on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  But Tuesday night and last night were a little nuts in my world.  So I’m putting the next chapter up now.  Sorry about that.

So without further ado, here’s chapter eighteen of The Pericles Conspiracy.  As always, if you have a hankering 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 Eighteen

Out Of The Frying Pan

“We will handle the rest.”

Agent Moore’s words echoed in Jo’s mind as she walked into the Parque La Panecillo again.  Without realizing what she was doing, she found herself touching the seam of her jacket where the NSA agents had implanted the listening bug.  As it registered, she jerked her hand away.

It almost felt dirty, touching it.

It took most of a week, but Agent Moore was correct; Malcolm made contact.  Jo had spent a hard week in the office getting the Kennedy ready for departure.  By the time she got home after spending most of last night in McAllister’s traffic control center watching the starliner depart  – and secretly wishing she was aboard – Jo was completely drained, both physically and mentally.

So she was completely unprepared to walk into her condo and find a message waiting in her televid queue.  At first she thought it would be Wu Shin or Harold, but when she tapped the control pad to start the message, the screen showed a dark figure sitting before a darker background.  She could not make out the figure’s features, but his overall build and the way he carried himself resembled Malcolm.  A voice, garbled from electronic distortion, was no help in identifying the person either.  It simply asked her to meet in the Parque at 2230 the next night.

She had spent a restless night tossing and turning in her bed only to wake an hour earlier than normal feeling as though she had not slept at all.  Looking at herself in the mirror as she brushed her teeth put the lie to that feeling, as the shadows beneath her eyes were much improved from the day before.  She still felt like hell, though.

And no wonder, with everything that had happened.

She had been distracted most of the day, only paying cursory attention to the weekly briefing from her department heads.  Her thoughts kept wandering to what she had learned in Malcolm and Becky’s command center and to what she had gone through since.

Agent Moore had again assured her, during their preparations this afternoon, that she was doing the right thing, but Jo was not sure.  What was the right thing to do?  Her heart told her that betraying Malcolm and his compatriots was wrong, that they were on the right side in this matter.

And yet…

Images sprang into her mind, memories she had not recalled earlier from her encounter with the aliens aboard Pericles.  Twin burns, as though made by plasma torches hundreds of times stronger than any torch in any of the shipyards she’d seen, running perfectly parallel across the port side of the aliens’ ship.  Gasses venting to space through those two burns where the hull had been breached.  She and her crew had speculated at length on what could have caused those burns.  The only thing they had come up with was a weapon of some sort.

If the aliens had been engaged in a battle before she met them, there was a lot more to their situation than met the eye.  Given that, was it not prudent for the government to do everything it could to learn as much about the aliens as it could?  The Coalition’s first responsibility was the security of its citizens, after all.

But that did not justify slaughtering the aliens’ children.  Did it?

Further self-debate stopped as she rounded a corner and emerged into a clearing below the Virgen.  Malcolm sat, apparently calm and collected, on a bench a short distance away.  His clothing was rumpled as if he had slept in it, and he looked tired.  Jo stopped, almost turning to leave before he noticed her, but Agent Moore’s stern warning from earlier in the day about what would happen if she did not come through sprang to mind and she hesitated.

The brief hesitation sealed the deal.  Malcolm turned his head and spotted her.  The quick flash of a smile graced his face as he stood.  By the time he walked over to her, though, his expression was all business.

“Hello, Jo.”

Jo managed a smile of greeting.  “Malcolm.”

He looked at her closely, his head cocking to the side as though he could sense something was wrong.  “Are you…”

“MALCOLM NGUBWE!”

Agent Calderon’s voice barked through the evening air, bringing Malcolm up short.  Calderon stepped into the open from the trees to Jo’s right.  At the same time, another agent, Jo never got his name, emerged from the left.

Malcolm’s eyes widened and he looked at Jo, a shocked, stricken look on his face.  She felt a wrenching in her gut, almost a physical pain at the hurt her betrayal had caused him.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered as she backed away and the two agents advanced toward him.

Malcolm turned and ran, but he only went a few paces before he was brought up short by Agent Moore and a fourth as they sprang from concealed positions on the other side of the clearing.  They leveled plasma pistols at Malcolm and he froze, raising his hands above his head.

“On the ground.  Now,” ordered Agent Moore in a clipped, businesslike tone.  Malcolm obliged, slowly going to his knees and then onto his belly.  Agent Moore and her backup advanced toward him quickly, the man pulling a pair of handcuffs from a pouch on the back of his belt.

Agent Calderon remained in position as they moved, covering them over the sights of his pistol.  “We’ve got it from here, Captain.  DiStefano, take her back to the truck.”

DiStefano, the man who had arrived at Jo’s left, nodded in response to Agent Calderon’s command and holstered his sidearm.  Then he stepped to Jo’s side and placed a gentle hand on her arm that nevertheless directed her away with a forceful intensity.  “This way, Captain.”

Jo complied with DiStefano’s direction and walked away.  She looked back over her shoulder once and saw Malcolm, on his knees with his hands cuffed behind his back.  In spite of his situation, he did not look defeated.

Then she lost sight of him as they turned the corner.  Had she done the right thing?  She was not sure, and the thought that she had no choice was small comfort.

“How long do cases like this take to go to trial?” she asked.

DiStefano sniffed.  “What?”

“How long until the trial?”

He snorted but did not answer.

Jo stopped, a sudden chill going up her spine.  That snort had been far too dismissive.  They couldn’t intend to…  Unbidden, Reynolds’ face appeared in her mind and Jo found that she could not tell herself that they wouldn’t just get Malcolm out of the way and to blazes with the trial.

It took DiStefano two steps to realize she was no longer beside him.  Turning with a scowl, he said, “Come on, let’s go.”

“What are they going to do with Malcolm?”

DiStefano looked at her like she was an idiot.  “He’s out of the picture now.  You need to worry about what happens with you.”  He stepped over to her and she found herself craning her neck to meet his eyes.  He was very tall.  “Don’t do anything else stupid and you’ll come out of this smelling like roses.”

“But…”

A sharp sound came through the trees from the clearing and Jo’s heart skipped a beat.  That was a plasma pistol!

“Malcolm!”

Jo turned back to the clearing, needing to see.  She heard DiStefano moving a heartbeat before she felt his hands slide beneath her upper arms, then over her shoulders and up toward the back of her neck.

She reacted instinctively, straightening her arms, dropping to her back on the ground in front of DiStefano, and kicking upward before he could close the full-nelson lock he was trying to put on her.  Clearly not expecting resistance, he froze in surprise as she slid from his grasp, then doubled over as the toe of her boot struck him just above his navel.

DiStefano stumbled away and Jo sprang to her feet.  Perhaps she should have run, but she remained frozen in place, surprised.  She had not practiced very much over the last several years, but she clearly had not lost all of the skills her father had taught her, so very long ago.  The slight pleasure she felt at that discovery was quickly eclipsed as she realized what just happened.  She had assaulted an NSA Agent!

Then she lost the opportunity to think.

DiStefano righted himself and turned toward her.  His hand snaked into his jacket, where he wore his plasma pistol in a shoulder holster, and he spat, “BITCH!”

Jo’s eyes widened as his hand came back out, weapon held in a tight grip.  He had a murderous look in his eyes.

Only a couple meters stood between them.  Moving with a desperate speed, Jo sprang toward him as he leveled the gun.  Her hand struck his the instant he pulled the trigger.  The pistol barked, deafeningly loud at such close range, but the superheated ball of gas that launched from its muzzle passed harmlessly to the side.  Jo grabbed onto DiStefano’s gun hand and forced it down and to the side.  The pistol barked a second time as he reflexively fired again.

His face was a mask of fury as he pulled back forcefully against Jo’s grip.  She felt his hand slipping and knew he would be free in a heartbeat.  Once that happened…

Jo twisted her body, using her weight to pull against DiStefano’s arm, straightening it.  Then she struck upward with the palm of her left hand.  It struck the back of his elbow before he could adjust to her changing tactic.

The sharp snap of breaking bone and DiStefano’s sudden howl of pain ended the fight.  His hand spasmed and the pistol fell onto the ground at Jo’s feet.  Shifting her weight again, she kicked his feet out from under him and he landed on his back with a “HUFF” of air leaving his lungs.

She picked up the weapon and turned toward the fallen agent.  His eyes, so hostile and superior a heartbeat before, were wide with surprise, pain, and sudden terror.  He raised his good hand in a pleading gesture.

“Don’t…” he coughed, slowly regaining his breath.  “Don’t shoot.”

Jo stood frozen in shock over what had happened.  Her gaze went from DiStefano to the hand which held his weapon.  It was trembling visibly.  What the hell was she doing?

He saw her sudden uncertainty and seemed to regain some confidence.  Drawing a deep breath, he said, “Don’t do anything you can’t pull back from.”  His words were quick, his tone anxious but also practiced, professional.  “We had a misunderstanding is all.  Put the gun down and we can still work this out.”

“Yeah right.  I’m not a total idiot.”  Although a not-so-soft voice in the back of Jo’s head screamed at her that she was indeed an idiot.  A complete and utter fool.

From the clearing behind her came shouts and the sound of another plasma pistol discharging.  What was going on?  Jo peeked over her shoulder but saw only trees.

A shuffling from DiStefano drew her eyes back to him.  He had snaked his good hand down toward his ankle.  Seeing her eyes on him, he froze.

“What’s that?  A backup?”

He nodded slowly, watching her with wary eyes.

“Take it out and throw it to me.  Slowly.”

DiStefano scowled, but did as she ordered.  The weapon landed on the ground at her feet and Jo slowly bent her knees.  Taking her left hand from the grip of her pistol, she snatched it up then quickly straightened.  Then she tucked the backup behind her belt in the small of her back.

“Do not move from this spot, Agent DiStefano,” she warned, and she backed away, slowly at first, then more quickly.

“Don’t be a fool, Captain.  He’s done, but you don’t have to be.”

Jo put a tree between herself and DiStefano, then turned and ran back toward the clearing.

*  *  *  *  *

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 Seventeen

Time for the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  As before I intend to put out a couple chapters a week, which means it will take another 3-4 months to get through the rest of the book.  Of course, if you don’t want to bother waiting that long, 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 Seventeen

To Be A Mole

“I don’t see how I can be of any further help.”

They were back in the original interrogation room.  Jerome sat at Jo’s right this time.  Agents Moore and Calderon sat opposite them.  Agent Moore raised an eyebrow in response to Jo’s statement.

“Ngubwe is among those who escaped.  You and he are…friends.”  She said the last with smirk and a tone of distaste.

Jo snorted.  “We stopped being friends a year and a half ago.”

Agent Moore waved her hand in a dismissive sort of way.  “From your perspective, perhaps.  But he still trusts you.”

“I doubt he does anymore.”

“You may be surprised.  There are any number of ways we could have discovered the cell’s hideout.  He is likely counting his blessings that he was not there when we executed the raid.  I expect he may try to contact you again.”

Jo shook her head.  “He’s not that stupid.  He has to know that I’ve been in custody for the last several days.”

Jerome cleared his throat softly and gave Jo an apologetic look.  “Actually, you’ve been on the Gagarin Station, overseeing the deployment of a new array of navigation satellites.  McAllister made a press release to that fact the day after your arrest.”  He smiled slightly.  “Damage control, you understand.”

Jo’s initial surprise gave way quickly to understanding.  She had supervised a few spin sessions designed to mitigate potentially damaging events in the past.  It just made sense.  If McAllister could get out ahead of the news cycle, they stood a better chance of controlling the narrative.  And limiting any negative impact bad news would have on the stock price, of course.

All the same, the Mendeleev Cluster deployment was routine in nature.  It had been scheduled for months and had been proceeding on schedule and on budget.  Her supervision had consisted solely of receiving periodic status reports from the Mendeleev team; with everything proceeding smoothly there was no need to insert herself and there were other things that required her attention.

Idly, Jo wondered how McAllister planned to handle the crew on Gagarin Station.  They had to know she never came aboard, and the Mendeleev team certainly would know she was not personally overseeing their deployment.  Of course, they were all operating under Non-Disclosure Agreements; it was a standard part of the employment contract.  But still, people talk and the presence of a specific person at the launch would likely not fall under the NDAs.  Jo suspected their year-end bonuses would be quite a bit higher than normal.

But that was neither here nor there.

“So what’s the plan?”

Agent Moore replied, “Now you go back to work.  You’ll go about your normal duties and behave as though none of this happened.  You will submit a detailed report on your activities to myself or Agent Calderon each day.  Sooner or later, Ngubwe will contact you again.  When he does, you will agree to meet him and inform us.  We will handle the rest.”

“That’s it?”

Agent Moore smirked.  “Not entirely.  Obviously we cannot let you wander around unsupervised.  You are, after all, a convict.”  Outrage welled up within Jo; she was no such thing!  But then she caught herself.  With a guilty plea on her record, she was indeed a convict now.  Sonofabitch.

The two agents exchanged glances and Calderon stood.  His broad hand snaked inside his jacket and for a heartbeat Jo thought he was going to pull his weapon.  When he instead produced a small syringe, she let out her breath in a sigh.

Then he began to walk around the table toward her, and tension rose up within her.  She pushed back from the table, her chair scraping softly across the floor, and said, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Josephine,” began Jerome, but Agent Calderon spoke over him.

“This is a monitoring device.  It will let us know your location at all times and keep us apprised of your vital functions so we can render assistance if you are accosted.”

Jo felt her skin crawl as she looked at the syringe with revulsion.  She had refused to get a database implant not just because she did not trust it would be any use by the time she returned from her next run to Gliese but because she felt strongly the need to keep at least part of herself private.  The implants potentially opened everything to prying eyes.  And now the NSA wanted to put a bug inside her?

“Hell no,” she spat, looking from Calderon to Moore and then to Jerome fiercely.

“Then we have no deal,” Agent Moore said flatly.  “You can go back to the criminal justice system and take your chances at the sentencing hearing.”  She leaned forward, her dark eyes flashing in the light from the lamps in the ceiling.  “But the prosecutor will recommend the strictest punishment.”

Jo swallowed hard.  She had no doubt the prosecutor would get whatever she asked for, and the strictest punishment meant Jo would likely never again see the outside of a prison unit.  They had her over a barrel and there was nothing she could do about it.

“You’ll take it out once this is done?”

Agent Moore nodded.  “Before you launch on your next starliner run.”

Jo blinked.  “Pericles won’t be ready for another twenty-two months, maybe twenty-three.  And then there are space trials and workups before she can be certified for another commercial run.  That’s a very long time to…”

“We can no longer trust your judgment in this matter, Captain.  The directive came down from the highest level – you will not be released without monitoring.  So,” Agent Moore clasped her hands on the tabletop and fixed Jo with an unblinking gaze, “what will it be?”

 *  *  *  *  *

“It’s good to have you back, Jo,” Harold said.

She sat in his office, in one of the chairs surrounding his coffee table.  His apparently genuine smile and pleased tone should have been complimentary but for some reason Jo found them disconcerting.  Maybe it was just the stress of the last several weeks and the discomfort of her new implant – she found herself rubbing at the muscle of her shoulder where they injected it every now and then, almost like a nervous tick – but Harold’s greeting rang hollow to her.

Jo shrugged and managed a weak smile in response, but said nothing.

Harold’s smile slipped slightly.  Silence reigned for a few moments, then he cleared his throat softly.  “I’m glad to see Jerome was able to work everything out.  He’s a miracle-worker sometimes, that one.”

“Yes, he was very helpful.  Is there anything I need to know before I get back to my duties?”

Harold’s smile broadened again and he shrugged slightly.  “Wu Shin covered things pretty well.  There were no big crises, except for the Mendeleev deployment, but you know all about that, right?”  He winked conspiratorially at her.

Jo rolled her eyes.  “The deployment was successful, yes?”

Harold nodded.

“Well that’s something at least.  I guess I’ll go get caught up then.”

She moved to stand, but Harold stopped her with a light hand on her knee.  “There is one thing we need to discuss, Jo.”

“Oh?”

“Chandini told me you’re going to be working with the Agency as part of your deal.”  He paused for a moment, then took a deep breath.  “I don’t know exactly what you’re into, but be careful.  She is not happy with you at all, and that can be…dangerous.”

Jo cocked her head to the side and smirked.  “Harry, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were worried about me.”

Harold snorted.  “I am worried.”  He stood and walked over to the window.  He had a great view of downtown Quito and the mountains to the east and north from his office.  For a long moment, he just looked out there.  Finally he seemed to come to a decision about something.  He inhaled and nodded, then turned back to Jo.  “Get whatever business you have with them done as soon as you can.  Then I’m putting you on the next starliner out of here.”

Jo stiffened, almost feeling as though she had been slapped.  “But…Pericles…”

Harold scowled.  “You don’t have time to wait for Pericles, Jo.  Agrippa departs for Talos two months from Thursday.  I’m transferring you to her, assuming you’re done with whatever the NSA needs you to do by then.  Captain Dorsey will take your place on Pericles.”

Chagrined, Jo stood and stalked over toward Harold.  “You just can’t swap the Captains of two different crews,” she said.  “The crews have their own ways of doing business, their own cultures.  It takes…”

“I can, and I am.  No argument, Jo!”

Jo just stared at him for a moment.  Harold had been planetside for years, but he had flown in starliners for the first several decades of his career, even commanded a starliner and a colonial field office.  He knew the upheaval he was about to set off.  It was hard enough when Captains changed out in the normal rotation, but at least in that case there was time to prepare for it.  Doing it this suddenly…  The two crews in question would take months, if not years, to get back to their current levels of performance.

She shook her head.  “I appreciate your concern, Harry, I really do.  But I think you’re overreacting.”

Harold shook his head.  “You’ve not lived here very long, Jo.  I’ve seen what can happen to people the NSA finds inconvenient or dangerous.  Trust me, you want to get off this rock as soon as you can.  I’m half-tempted to put you on the Kennedy, and to blazes with what Chandini wants.”

Jo blinked.  Kennedy was set to depart at the end of the week.  Harold was worried.  Christ…  Part of her wanted to take Harold up on the offer, to blast away from Earth and all of the trouble that had reared up around her.  But she had no doubt that would get Harold into a lot of trouble.  Possibly her other friends here as well.  And beyond that, there was still the matter of the eggs.  She could not just flee without knowing how that situation had been resolved.  She shook her head.

“No, Harry, I have to take care of this first.”

He nodded.  “Yes you do.  But then it’s Agrippa, in two months.  Got it?”

Jo sighed and nodded acquiescence.  Harold looked relieved.

*  *  *  *  *

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 Sixteen

Time for the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  As before I intend to put out a couple chapters a week, which means it will take another 3-4 months to get through the rest of the book.  Of course, if you don’t want to bother waiting that long, 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 Sixteen

Visitation 

Most of a day passed before the two thugs returned and led her out of the cell again, though that day was marked only by the changing time display on Jo’s wrist chronometer and the periodic deliveries of food through a slot at the bottom of her cell door.  Eating in the darkness was difficult and messy, but based on the flavor of the food Jo suspected maybe she was just as happy she couldn’t see it.

She spent most of her time on the cot, trying unsuccessfully to not think about her situation.  Her mind kept whirling back through the events of the last several days, visiting every conversation, every decision she made that had led her here.  And she found she would make the same decisions again, even the decision to go with Malcolm in the park.  A big part of herself wanted to lash out at him, and at her own stupidity for going with him.  But that part of her mind was silenced by the memory of what Malcolm and Becky showed her, in their headquarters.

And then, after the evening meal, by her memories of her encounter with the alien beings aboard Pericles.  The exhilaration of discovery, the terror when it looked like the encounter was going to collapse into violence.  The feeling of crushing responsibility when the alien leader’s request for their eggs became clear, and the awed respect at the way the adult aliens met their fate.

The crushing burden of responsibility.  It was hers.  She had accepted the aliens aboard her ship, allowed them access.  She had allowed them to place their offspring into humanity’s hands – into her hands.  She did the best she could, under the circumstances.  Pericles only had enough fuel for the deceleration burn on approach to Sol and to maneuver within the solar system, and she had a little over five thousand passengers under her care, to say nothing of the monetary value of the cargo in her holds.  Jo could not have changed course to the aliens’ system then and there under any circumstances, not without sacrificing the lives of everyone on the ship.  So she had trusted that the authorities would do the right thing once she reached Earth.

Apparently not.

It was the only choice she had, but that did not change the fact that she carried some measure of responsibility for what was happening to those eggs.  She was the one who said yes.  The feeling of revulsion she experienced when she first saw Malcolm’s video returned, more pronounced than before because it was tinged in guilt.

She fell asleep amidst those feelings, and only awoke when the cell door swung open and the thugs entered.

When they took her this time, they turned left when they reached the end of the corridor.  The corridor turned twice then ended at a set of double doors that led into a long, narrow room.  The room was split in two down the center by a row of cubicles that was bisected by a wall of transparent plastiglass.  Jo had seen enough crime shows on the televid to put two and two together: it was a visitors’ gallery.  But it was empty except for her and her guards.

They led her halfway down the room and deposited her into a chair in one of the cubicles.  Then they left.  But they didn’t go far, only about four meters, before they stopped, their backs against the wall and their faces locked into stern, expressionless facades.

Jo sat in silence for a long several minutes.  Finally, a door on the other side of the plastiglass wall opened and Harold walked into the room.  He did not look happy.  In spite of herself, Jo felt a flash of nervousness as he sat down across from her.

Harold tapped the table in front of himself, and a dialogue window popped up on the plastiglass between them.

“You look like hell, Jo,” he said.  His voice sounded a bit hollow, almost metallic, as it came through the window.

Jo shrugged.  “Harry, I…”

“Save it.  What the hell were you thinking?”  He shook his head in disbelief.  “What did that guy do to you that you decided to whack him?”

A chill went down Jo’s spine.  “Wha-”

Harold raised a hand to silence her.  “I saw the video, ok?”

Just a few hours earlier, that would have made Jo relieved.  But…Harry thought she had killed someone?  Who?  What video had he seen?

“I’m sure you had a reason for it,” Harold continued, “but you’ve really put us in a bind here.”

“Listen to me, Harry.  I didn’t kill anyone.  It’s a setup.”

“Yeah? By who?”

Jo leaned forward and spoke in a softer tone.  “The NSA.  They…”

Harold snorted.  “I told you not to go all conspiracy theory on me.  Why would they, or anyone else for that matter, want to set you up?”  He shook his head again.  “You’ll have to come up with a better defense than that.”

Jo sat in shocked silence for a moment.  Then, with a sinking feeling, she shrugged and leaned back in her chair.  “That’s all I’ve got.”

Harold scowled at her response.  “Well you’ll have some help.  I’ve got our legal team spinning up.  I’ll probably catch hell from the Board for it, but you’re one of the best we have and I’m not going to leave you in the lurch.”

Harold stood up and put on a grin that Jo presumed was supposed to be warm and comforting.  It only made him look like a hooligan.  Still, the knowledge that she wasn’t completely alone helped.  A little.

“Don’t worry.  We’ll get that public defender replaced by someone who knows what he’s doing.  I’m sure we’ll have a favorable decision faster than you can say ‘Gliese’.”

With that, Harold turned around and strode out of the room.

 *  *  *  *  *

It was days before Jo met her new lawyer.

By then, she had almost become accustomed to the conditions in her holding cell.  There is something that happens to a person as a routine sets in.  The person gets used to it, comes to rely on it.  To be comforted by it.  Jo had experienced that several times in the past with new hires on the ship.  First they were awkward, uncomfortable with the conditions onboard, but after a while they grew used to them.  Most grew to like it; a few to love it.

But though she had seen that adaption before in others, and experienced it herself many times before, she never would have thought she would get used to conditions like she found herself in now.  All the same, she found herself counting the minutes between each feeding, relishing the small amount of light that came in as much as the food.  It became the highlight of her daily routine, almost a joy.

The rational side of her found that extremely troubling.  It meant she was slowly becoming institutionalized.  She began to wonder if they left her in this state for long enough, would she just confess to whatever they said, to avoid leaving the comfort of her routine?  She scoffed at the thought, but could not rule it out completely.

So it was with a mixture or relief and fear that she encountered a disruption to that routine some days later.

First, the guards brought her to a small room, empty except for a shower nozzle.  They told her to strip down, tossed her a bar of soap, then watched as she bathed.  She could have refused.  Maybe should have.  But she stank, even to herself, and she felt grimy and crusty all over.  So she endured their stares, and the luke-warm water of the shower, and managed to find some enjoyment in washing off the accumulated dirt of a week or more.

Her clothing was gone when she finished, replaced by the orange prisoner jumper that she was used to seeing on the televid.  That had taken long enough.  The guards did not rush her, but Jo wasted no time getting dried and dressed.  Without the small distraction of the shower, she felt their eyes on her acutely.

Then they led her out.  But instead of turning down the long corridor of cells to her home, or what passed for it, they led her to a small room that did not look all that different from the interrogation room.  Except it was not an Agent waiting for her, but a grey-haired man who looked to be in his late nineties.  He was dressed in a dark grey business suit with a blue and white striped tie.

He stood when the guards led her in and nodded in greeting.  The guard on her left fished a small tablet from his pocket and gave it to the man.  He scanned it and nodded again, then pressed his thumb against the screen before handing it back.  With that, the guards stepped out of the room and the door slid shut.

There was a brief pause while Jo and the man looked at each other.  He had sharp grey-blue eyes that twinkled with intelligence.  His face was lined as any middle-aged man’s face would be, but he had more smile lines than most.  He looked vaguely familiar.

“Captain Ishikawa.  I’m Jerome Middleton.  I work at the firm Ernst, Middleton, and Young.  McAllister Transport hired me to handle your case.”

Middleton extended his hand and Jo shook it.  His grip was firm, confident, unyielding, as Jo would expect.  At the mention of his firm, she remembered where she had seen him before.  He and his partners had handled the defense of a high-profile celebrity who had been accused of murdering his wife and her lover a year or so ago.  As Jo recalled, the defendant had gotten off.  Suddenly her position did not seem quite so helpless.

“Glad to meet you, Mr. Middleton.”

“Please, call me Jerome.”

He gestured toward one of the chairs, and she took a seat.  He did the same, across the table from her.

“Your case,” Jerome said, “is a tricky one.  The laws governing…”

“Could you start by telling me what I’ve been accused of?”

Jerome blinked, then nodded.  “Forgive me.  I forgot you have limited experience with the current legal regime.  The charges in cases such as yours, that touch upon matters of Planetary Security, cannot be read in open court, for security reasons.”

He leaned over and picked up his briefcase, which lay on the ground next to his chair, and sat it on the table to the side.  Snapping it open, he pulled out a ream of, of all things, paper documents.  Jo’s eyes widened in surprise.  Jerome noticed and smiled again.

“There are also no electronic records kept.  It would not do to have sensitive material leaked inadvertently.”

He shuffled through the documents for a moment, then pulled a single page out.  “Now then, you are charged with conspiracy to commit treason, conspiracy to reveal sensitive material, and the second degree murder of one Lars Hamilton.”

Jo blinked in surprise.  “Lars?  They’re saying I killed Lars?”  She leaned back in the chair.  In spite of the dire situation she was in, she found herself laughing.  “What possible reason would I have to do that?  I’ve met him once.”

Jerome shrugged.  “In these sorts of cases, it is not necessary to show motive.  They have you on tape interacting with and then shooting him.”

“What?  How is that possible?”

“The terrorists’ lair…”

“They are not terrorists.”

Jerome raised an eyebrow at her, then shrugged again.  “Their lair had multiple security cameras.  No less than three show you entering and leaving in company with a known fugitive, then returning a short while later, as Mr. Hamilton was leaving, and gunning him down in the street outside.”

Jo could not believe what she was hearing.  “How does that make any sense at all?  The NSA took me into custody as soon as I got home.  The timetable does not work at all, never mind the fact that I was not there to be recorded in the first place.”  She leaned forward and tapped the table with an index finger.  “You need to change my plea.  That idiot of a Public Defender did not even consult with me…”

She trailed off as Jerome shook his head.  “I’m sorry, but that is not possible.  In these sort of cases a plea, once entered, is firm.”

Jo looked at him, stunned.  “So I’m screwed.”

“Not necessarily.  Your case is now moving to sentencing.  If we play our cards right, we may be able to get the judge to be lenient.”

“What does lenient mean?”

“That depends entirely on you.”  He pulled another sheet of paper out of the stack and perused it for a moment.  “The prosecutor is willing to accept a minimal sentence, in recognition of your status in the starfarer community, if you assist in the remainder of the investigation and prosecution.”

“What is a minimal sentence?”

Jerome shrugged.  “Could be anything from 5 years with some probation to time served.  It all depends on how valuable your assistance is to the prosecutor.”

Time served!  She should be so lucky.  But…  “What else is there to do?  The NSA already raided their headquarters.”

Jerome shook his head, his expression sad.  “Apparently the terror..”  He stopped and corrected himself.  “The suspects were ready for the raid on their lair.  All but a handful managed to escape, though agents confiscated all of their equipment and data files.  The prosecutor believes you may be able to assist in capturing the remaining fugitives.  Or, barring that, there are other cells in existence besides this one.  You could assist in taking them down.”

Jo snorted.  “I don’t see how.  Malcolm came to me, not the other way around.  I doubt he would come again after all that’s happened.”

“Nevertheless, the offer is on the table.  I suggest you take it.  The alternative…”  He spread his hands.  “Well, let’s just say the prison system is very unpleasant these days.”

Jo swallowed, then nodded.  Whatever it took to get out of there.

*  *  *  *  *

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.

Goals and Results

Hello friends.

I meant to discuss how 2013 went and my goals for 2014 a while ago.  But, you know…life.  Pesky life intruded, and I did not.  Now it almost feels too late to talk about it, seeing as the year has already begun to move on.

But I’m going to do it anyway.

In 2013, I set a goal of writing 300,000 words.  Included in those words would be finishing The Pericles Conspiracy, Glimmer Vale 2, and Dawn of Enlightenment 2.  I was also going to submit to Writers of the Future every quarter.  So…how’d it go?

Meh.

Final 2013 TallyI didn’t hit the word count goal – 196,000 words total on the year, or about 2/3s of the way there.  Which isn’t too bad.  But still not what I wanted.  This brings my total word count since I started being serious about this to 569,000 words (since 2011).  Just over 1/2 way through the mythical 1,000,000 words of crap.  Of course, I think I got through several of the million words earlier, before I began tracking and being serious.  But I’ve no idea how far, and it could be I’m deceiving myself as to my level of suckitude.  Time will tell, I guess.  🙂

So that’s word count.  Novel output?  Much better.  Pericles and Out-Dweller are done and out there.  Glimmer Vale 3 is about 80% done.  I didn’t make any more progress on Dawn of Enlightenment 2; it still sits at about 8,000 words or so.  So overall not too bad.

Writers of the Future?  Fugetaboutit.  I dropped the ball on WotF completely, after the second quarter of last year.  It’s now been…two?  Three?…quarters since I submitted to them.  Why?  Well frankly I haven’t wrote any short fiction in a while; I’ve been concentrating on longer works.  I need to get back on the horse there, I think.

So as far as goals go, 2013 was a mixed bag, but more good than bad.  What about business metrics?

Well, I accrued more royalties in 2013 than I did in 2011 and 2012 combined, so that’s good.  If that trend continues in 2014 (and I expect it shall, with what I’ve got planned), it promises to be quite a nice year.  I also got some books into a local bookstore, which is great.  They seemed pleased with how that worked out, so I expect I’ll be invited back again.  Which is also great.

So things are going pretty well.

That said, I feel the need to kick things up a notch.  So I’ve set the following goals for 2014:

1) Write 500,000 words – because I want to hurry up and get past that 1,000,000 words written milestone.  Broken down as I did last year, assuming a 40 week writing year I need to write 12,500 words/week.  I did better than that several weeks last year; I just have to be consistent about it this year.  Now…is this doable?  If you look at my first three years’ output (229,000, 144,000, and 196,000) you might say it’s not likely.  And you might have a point.  But it’s totally doable if I focus, and you know what?  Even if I don’t make it I’ll write more than I would have without the goal.  So it’s all good.

2) Publish Glimmer Vale 3 by the end of March.

3) Finish Dawn of Enlightenment 2 and 3, and publish in the summer and fall, respectively.

4) Write that crime novel, 30 Hours, that’s been percolating in my brain for 2 years now.

5) Get going on The Penitent, which has also been percolating for a couple years.  It’s going to be a long one, so I’m sure I won’t get it finished, not with everything else I want to do this year.  But it’s going to rock, so I want to get going on it.

6) Submit to Writers of the Future each quarter.

Whatcha think?  Is that enough?  I hope so because  that’s what I’ve got.

Last year, I fell away from revealing my weekly word counts, like I’d planned on doing at the beginning.  That was bad; it removed accountability.  So I’m going to get back to doing that reporting here this year.

So that’s it.  The plan for the year.  It’s going to be fun!

🙂

 

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Fifteen

Time for the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  As before I intend to put out a couple chapters a week, which means it will take another 3-4 months to get through the rest of the book.  Of course, if you don’t want to bother waiting that long, 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 Fifteen

Holding Pattern

For a moment, Jo stood there in shock and growing panic.  Alone and helpless in the dark, she began to imagine all manner of horrors stalking her.  Berating herself for being foolish and trying to focus her thoughts on the remembered layout and dimensions of her cell helped a little, but not much.  Unbidden, fear kept welling up within her, joining with the guilt that weighed on her mind already and threatening to reduce her to a weeping, huddling caricature of herself.

In the end, though, her bladder accomplished what willpower failed to, as immediate physical need drove her psychological turmoil down to a manageable level, at least for the short term.  It took several moments to stumble and feel her way, first to the cot, then to the wall, and then finally around to the toilet.

That taken care of, Jo stumbled over to the cot and sat down.  She tried not to cringe at the remembered grime on the blankets, but in the darkness did it really matter if they were dirty?  Then all at once, exhaustion from a very long night combined with the stress of everything she had learned and experienced that evening crashed down upon her.

Sleep took her before she could think another thought.

 *  *  *  *  *

Light, bright against her eyelids, caused Jo to wake.  Groggy and disoriented, she couldn’t register what was going on for a moment.  Bright, blinding light streamed through a rectangular shape…a door?  People, their features indiscernible as they were silhouetted in the light, stepped into the room and, bending over, grasped her by the forearms.

She found herself lifted onto her feet.

The figures all but dragged her suspended in the air between them as they led her from her cell.  They turned left outside and began walking down a long, monotonous corridor.  Where the hell was she?  In her half-dreaming state, Jo couldn’t figure it out for the longest time.

But finally she began to gather her wits about her and regain her footing.  She glanced right and left as she moved with the two guards, but she might as well have stared at the floor.  The passing walls were the same drab color and bare of decoration.   Every few paces they passed another pair of doors.  She stopped noting the numbers on them when they passed seventy-five.  How many souls were incarcerated here in cells devoid of even the hint of light?

She shuddered to think about it.

After several minutes, she and her escorts reached the end of the corridor and turned right.  Before long, they came to a plain wooden door that had a picture of the blindfolded Lady Justice painted on it.  Jo tried not to ponder the irony of that picture given the nature of her accommodations as the two men pulled her through and into the room beyond.

It was a courtroom.

A man in a bailiff’s uniform nodded familiarly to the two fellows who served as Jo’s escorts and handed a tablet to the man on her left.  The man scanned the text on the screen and nodded, then touched his thumb onto the bottom of the screen.  The tablet beeped.  Apparently satisfied, the bailiff made a gesture for Jo to follow him.  She complied, noting that the two guards took seats next to the door.

She had come in through a side entrance, near the jury box, which Jo noted was empty.  The observation gallery behind the counsels’ benches was empty as well, except for a small grey-haired woman sitting in the back row.  Jo didn’t linger on her for long.  Instead, her gaze was drawn to a stately-looking man in black judge’s robes who was seated opposite the counsels.  He had the stern look of a fellow who sees miscreants all day long and has allowed that experience to tarnish his view of all mankind.  Or he just had a good game face.

“Prisoner Ishikawa,” the Bailiff said quickly as he led Jo around to the Defendant’s bench.  “Your case is next on the docket.  Please wait here until you are called.”  He gestured to a seat two rows behind the Defendant’s bench.  Jo sat down without bothering to reply.

Another prisoner was standing before the judge.  Tall but pudgy, the man had an unruly mop of red-gold hair and was wearing a plain yellow jumpsuit.  Beside him was a young man in an obviously cheap imitation of a quality business suit.  The youngster couldn’t have been older than twenty-five.  Jo hoped for the defendant’s sake that was a younger relative who’d come to lend moral support, and not his attorney.

“Trial is set for January 24th at ten o’clock,” said the judge, and he rapped his gavel onto the plate on top of his desk.  The defendant turned to the youngster next to him and shrugged.  Then the two of them shook hands and the defendant turned and walked past Jo toward the main entrance doorway.  Jo watched him stroll out and felt a pang of jealousy.

“Josephine?”  The sound of her name turned Jo’s gaze away from the departing man and back toward the speaker.  It was the youngster.  He smiled at her – at least he had a nice smile, and gorgeous deep green eyes – and extended his hand.  “I’m Wesley Thompson.  I’m the public defender.  This is the preliminary hearing.  Lots of procedures to follow, t’s to cross, and i’s to dot.  It can get pretty thick with legalese, so just relax and let me do the talking, ok?”

Before Jo could respond, a bailiff near the judge’s raised lectern spoke loudly, “Docket Number 24483, United Earth Coalition vs Josephine Yukio Ishikawa.”

Thompson gestured for Josephine to move forward and she obliged.  Following him to the defendant’s bench, she took a moment to size up the prosecutor.  Tall and willowy, with legs that never quit, an overly large bust that strained against a business suit that was perhaps a size too small for her to be wearing in public, and striking features framed by flowing golden locks right out of a fairy tale, Jo hated her on sight.  Then she spoke, and her nasal voice made Jo smirk slightly.  Miss Stunner was not so perfect after all, was she?  It was a petty thought, Jo knew, but she couldn’t help but taking satisfaction in it.

So it took a moment for the prosecutor’s words to settle in.

“What did she say?” Jo asked quietly, disbelief making her breathless.

Thompson glanced sideways at her and shook his head, a look of annoyance flashing across his face for a heartbeat.  “Let me do the talking,” he said.

“How does the defense plead?” asked the judge as he turned his severe stare on Jo and her attorney.

“Defense pleads guilty, your honor,” Thompson said, to Jo’s amazed disbelief.

“The hell I do,” Jo burst out.  “She didn’t even read the charges!”

The loud CLACK of the judge’s gavel striking its plate drew her gaze back to him.  “The defendant will remain silent,” he said, an unspoken threat in his tone and his stare.

“Your honor, I…”

“ENOUGH!  Bailiff, remove the prisoner!”

“I told you,” Thompson said softly, with a rueful shake of his head.

Rough hands grabbed her from behind.  Jo looked over her shoulder to see the first bailiff.  She struggled against his grip, but his fingers were like iron as they grasped her arms and she found herself being dragged away.

“This is a travesty,” she yelled.  “I demand…”

She reached the door then and her two earlier guards moved forward.  One grabbed her on either side of her jaw, and she felt her mouth being forced open.  Then he forced a rag into her mouth and his compatriot wrapped a cloth around her head to keep the gag in place.  Gag she did as the thug tied the cloth in place a bit too tightly and the rag in her mouth tickled the back of her throat.  Jo doubled over involuntarily as her stomach heaved and she tasted bile, along with a tangy, metallic flavor from the fabric in her mouth.

Her head began to swim.  Jo saw Thompson shaking his head, a regretful, almost pitying expression on his face, as the door swung shut behind her.  Somewhere in her rapidly fading consciousness she realized the rag was probably drugged.

Then she faded out completely.

 *  *  *  *  *

Jo awoke some time later, though it took a while for her to realize she really was awake in the darkness of her cell.  Finally, the smell of food convinced her that she was not just dreaming.  She struggled to a seated position, but fell to her knees the moment she tried to stand.  Whatever drug had been on that rag was a strong one.

That would have been fine, but she contacted something made of metal as she fell.  She heard a ringing clang as whatever it had been flipped up and then clattered back onto the ground.  Groping hands soon enough discovered what happened: she had upended the plate of food as she fell.

Jo gritted her teeth and resigned herself to not eating after all.  But rumbling from her abdomen and a feeling like her stomach was a giant empty hole in her belly eventually compelled to eat her meal off the floor.  Whatever small satisfaction having a less empty stomach brought was overwhelmed by a feeling of shame that welled up within her as she sat back up on the cot.

Had she been reduced to behaving like an animal so quickly?

She fell asleep again a short while later.  The sounds of her own weeping acted as a twisted lullaby.

*  *  *  *  *

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 Fourteen

It’s been a while.  A lot’s gone on in real life that distracted me, so we left Jo cooling her heels with Agent Calderon for perhaps a little bit longer than we meant to.

Sorry about that.

But now things are (mostly) settled in the Kingswood household and I’m starting to sort of figure out a routine.  So I’m getting back on track again.  Which means it’s time for the next chapter of the story.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Fourteen

Incarceration

The room was moderate sized, not that much smaller than the bedroom in her condo.  It was sparsely furnished with a single table in the center of the room that had two chairs facing each other and another, smaller, table off in the corner.  The wall next to the second table was clearly a console of some sort, but it was dead and resisted any of Jo’s attempts to turn it on.  The walls were bare and painted white, as was the single door in one of the corners.  Jo could not see any video or listening devices, but she had no doubt there were several present.  This was an interrogation room, after all.  Or so she assumed.

Agent Calderon had been polite, but firm, the entire drive to NSA’s Quito field office.  He never laid a hand on her, though he made it clear without saying it that things would go badly for her if she did not do exactly as he ordered.  Despite the unspoken threat, Jo could not bring herself to be afraid of physical harm.  He was a federal officer, after all, and they did have rules.

She followed him into the field office and, when he directed her through a nondescript door on the second floor, she entered without question.  And found herself locked in this room.  Alone.

By the chronometer on her wrist, that was two hours ago.

Her initial nervousness, her worry over what the NSA knew or suspected and how much trouble she was in, had long since given way to irritation, then annoyance, then anger.  Not to mention a steadily worsening need for the bathroom.  If someone did not show up soon, there was really going to be hell to pay!

No sooner had that thought crossed through Jo’s head when she heard the click of the door lock retracting.  Then the door swung open and Agent Moore walked in.  Dressed in a stylish pants suit that was elegant in its simplicity, the NSA agent paused just inside the door and looked Jo over for a moment.

“Please take a seat, Captain,” Agent Moore said, her tone polite and businesslike.  Then she sat down herself and placed her briefcase onto the table.

There was no point in making a fuss, so Jo sat down as instructed.

The two women sat in silence for a long moment.  Jo’s anger faded a bit, replaced by a slowly growing amusement.  Did this girl really think that silence was going to intimidate her?  Memories of her father – dead for almost ten waking years now – and the discipline he taught flashed through her mind, and it was all Jo could do not to laugh.  This lady had no idea what it was to embrace silence, to commune with one’s own subconscious for hours.  Agent Moore had another thing coming if she thought a little silence and a weak stare-down was going to intimidate her.

After a short while, Agent Moore cleared her throat and flipped open the latches to her briefcase.  “I must say, Captain, I’m very disappointed.”

“Well you bought the suit.  Next time, bring a friend along when you try on clothes.”

Agent Moore scowled, her eyes narrowing with what could only be irritation.  She pulled a small tablet from the briefcase and set it down on the table between then.  Tapping the screen to life, she made a few more gestures, and a video began to play.

Jo’s spirits sank as she saw the images on the screen.  There was Malcolm, talking with her in the Parque.  And then, in the soft-green tint of a low-light camera, the image of herself getting out of his car and walking through the park near her condo.  What the hell?  Jo looked from the screen to Agent Moore, astonishment leaving her speechless for a moment.

Agent Moore’s eyebrow quirked upward, and she said, “Yes, we had you under surveillance.  Mr. Ngubwe very effectively lost our pursuers when you left with him, but he was…less careful…when he dropped you back off again.  He led us right back to his compatriots.”  Her tone became amused, mocking at the end there.

Jo sat back in her seat and crossed her arms over her chest, suddenly feeling vulnerable.

Agent Moore leaned toward her, pressing her advantage.  “What did you think you were doing, Captain?  I told you to contact me if you heard from Ngubwe again, and instead you got into a car with him!”

Jo spread her hands in a gesture that she hoped was placating.  “It seemed the right thing to do at the time.”

“The right thing?”

Jo shrugged and looked from Agent Moore to the door.  “I think it’s time I spoke to a lawyer.”

A loud snort was Agent Moore’s initial reply.  “A lawyer?  No lawyer would have you, Captain.”  A hearty smack on the console in the wall made the wall flash, then turn on.  Jo was only halfway surprised to see that most of the wall was, in fact, a display screen.

A slideshow of images appeared on the wall display, and Jo’s breath caught in her throat.  Lars, the handsome muscular guard, sprawled on the ground in an expanding pool of blood.  Becky, her face bruised and battered and her hands cuffed behind her back, being led into a police cruiser.  Other faces, people she recognized from her brief stay with Malcolm’s organization though she could not recall their names, flashed past in various states ranging from dead to beaten or merely defeated, hopeless.

Jo looked, aghast, from the display to Agent Moore, her jaw dropping open.

Agent Moore smirked.  “I suppose we should thank you.  We’ve been searching for this particular cell for almost four years.  They were very adept at avoiding detection.”  Her eyebrows rose in time with her words.  “Until you came along.”

Jo sunk back into the chair, the enormity of what had happened crushing down upon her.  Guilt welled up, threatening to overwhelm her, as she considered the shattered lives on display before her.  Frantically, she sought the peace of meditation that her father had taught her all those years ago, but it would not come.  Lord, she was a fool!

“You’re a fool, Captain,” said Agent Moore, echoing Jo’s own thoughts as she sat back down into the chair across from Jo.  “If you’d played it right, you could have gotten credit for this take-down.”  Agent Moore’s smirk became a twisted grin as she went on.  “Hell, they’d probably have given you a medal and a reward credit.  But as it is?”  She shook her head.  “You’re an accomplice.  A co-conspirator.”

Agent Moore put the tablet back into her briefcase and snapped it shut, then stood and walked to the door.  The door swung open easily at her touch.  She paused and looked back at Jo with eyes that almost appeared pitying.

“Such a waste.  You could have been off in your precious starliner in a few months, a rich and respected woman.”  She sighed, shaking her head again.  “I hope you’re not claustrophobic.”

At Agent Moore’s gesture, two lean, muscular men stepped into the room.  They moved around the table toward Jo.  She backed away, but quickly found herself pressed up against the wall.  The two men wore identical stern yet apathetic expressions as they drew nearer.

The man on the left reached out to grab her, and muscle memory from hundreds of hours of training in her youth took over.  Jo caught his hand and twisted it around and upward, putting him into a wrist lock that made his eyes bulge in surprise and pain.  The other man, his expression losing its apathy, bounded forward, but Jo forced the first man in front of him with a hard push against the back of the elbow on his trapped arm.  The two men collided and fell to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs.

Jo leapt away from them and turned toward the door.  She froze as she found herself looking down the barrel of another plasma pistol.

“Don’t make this harder on yourself than it already is, Captain,” Agent Moore said, her tone icy as she flicked off the pistol’s safety.  Jo swallowed.  To her right, the two men were regaining their feet, their faces dark with chagrin.

For a heartbeat, Jo considered making a try for it, but just as quickly shelved the idea.  There was no way she could cross the three meters between her and Agent Moore without getting a plasma ball in the face.  Besides, even if she made it, where the hell was she going to go?  It was not like they would just let her walk out of the field office.

With a deep sigh, Jo raised her hands in submission.

Agent Moore nodded to the two men.  They grabbed her by her upper arms and, one on each side, pulled her out of the interrogation room.  Agent Moore led them down the corridor, then down a flight of stairs into the Field Office’s basement.  A uniformed guard sat behind a desk at the bottom of the stairwell.  He nodded familiarly to Agent Moore as she strode past and watched Jo with appraising eyes as she followed.

They trouped down another corridor and through a set of security doors into a long hallway lined on each side by small, sturdy doors with numbers on them.  Agent Moore opened a door numbered ’37’ and pointed inside.  The men shoved Jo forward and she stumbled into the room.

Jo’s first thought was one of relief.  For one thing, her arms had begun to tingle from lack of circulation from the tightness of the men’s grips.  For another thing, there was a toilet in the room.

Her next thought was one of disgust, because the room was nasty.  The only furniture besides the toilet was a ratty cot along the far wall which was covered with dirty sheets.  There was graffiti on the walls and grime in the corners.  What the hell kind of holding cell was this?

Then the door closed behind her and the lights went out, leaving her in near total darkness.

*  *  *  *  *

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.