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