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