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.

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