The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Twenty-Four

Sorry I’m late with this one.  Tuesday morning, I hopped onto a plane for Japan.  We’re giving some training to one of the Navy units here for the next week or so, a not infrequent occurrence in my current job.  So I’m now sitting in lovely Yokosuka, and the time difference is still messing with me a little.  Right now it’s a little before 7 am on Friday the 14th, but to folks in San Diego where I live it’s afternoon of the 13th.  Fun.

So anyway, my time traveling threw the chapters schedule off.  Sorry about that.

So let’s get to the next chapter, shall we?  As always you can totally go buy the book if you like it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.  I won’t be mad if you do.  🙂

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Twenty-Four

Under The World

The ladder went down a bit less than five meters before ending on a concrete landing.  Jo stepped away from the ladder and shined the flashlight around.  She stood in a small alcove off the main sewer tunnel.  The tunnel itself was maybe four meters across and two and a half high.  Narrow walkways ran along each side of it, with the main flow-way for the storm water in the center.  Every so often, Jo saw narrow spans crossing the flow-way, allowing access across the tunnel, for maintenance, no doubt.

No one else was in sight.  Not that she really expected there to be, but the NSA Agents had been very savvy to date.  Jo did not put it past them to think of looking in the storm sewers for their quarry.  Speaking of which…

“All clear,” she called up.

Raúl made a few grumbling noises as he lowered himself down onto the ladder.  Making the descent one-handed took him quite a bit longer than it had Jo.  But once he got low enough that she could help him with his balance, things sped up.

“Hurry up,” Malcolm called down from above.  “They’re coming.”

In response, Raúl let go of the ladder and dropped the last meter to the ground.  He stumbled as he landed, almost falling over onto his bad shoulder before Jo grabbed him.  He flashed her a small grin of thanks then slid out onto the walkway in the main tunnel.

Above, Malcolm dropped the board they used to pry up the manhole cover down into the tunnel.  Then he quickly descended the ladder, pausing only to move the cover back into place.

“Turn out the flashlight,” he whispered harshly when he reached the bottom.  “They might see the light through the holes in the cover.”

Jo complied, and they were plunged into blackness.  Faint, almost imperceptible light streamed through the cover holes, but it did little to alleviate the gloom.  The soft trickle of water flowing down the central flow-way in the tunnel combined with the sudden pounding of Jo’s heart made an uncomfortable harmony as they waited there in the black.

Then other noises intruded on that harmony.  Jogging footsteps and voices, muffled and almost inaudible from having to pass through the cover.  The noises got louder and Jo slowly found she was able to understand a little of what the voices were saying.

“…can’t have just vanished.”  That sounded like Agent Moore.

“They didn’t come out at my end,” replied a deep male voice, probably belonging to her unwounded comrade.

“Bollocks,” Agent Moore replied, and a metallic clang rang out, as though two pieces of metal had struck each other.  She sounded frustrated; Jo took a certain satisfaction in that.

There was a long silence, then Agent Moore said, “Keep looking.  They have to be here somewhere.”

The voices gradually trailed away, growing impossible to understand again.  Then, after several moments, they faded completely.

Jo let the breath she was holding go in a long exhalation and was comforted to hear Malcolm and Raúl do the same.  Her eyes had adjusted to the faint light while they waited and she could just make out Malcolm’s features where he stood at the base of the ladder.  Their eyes met and he nodded to her; she thought she saw a smile on his lips.

When she flicked the flashlight back on, the smile was not present.  All business, Malcolm stepped out of the alcove and looked both ways down the tunnel.  After a moment’s consideration, he turned left.

“This way,” he said.

“Do you spend a lot of time in the sewers these days, Malcolm?” Jo asked.

He snorted.  “Hardly.  But they crisscross the city and allow movement without being seen so some of my acquaintances have taken to using them from time to time.  If we can get to the areas they use, we ought to be able to make contact.”

“And you’re sure that’s the right way?”

Malcolm looked back at her and shook his head.  “No.  Flashlight?”  He held out his hand to her.

Jo shrugged and passed the light over to him.  If he was going to lead the way he would need it more than she.  Malcolm accepted the light with another small nod, then set off down the tunnel in his brisk, quick walk.  The flashlight’s illumination quickly faded, leaving Raúl and Jo looking at each other in growing darkness.

Raúl shrugged.  “Beats being up there,” he said, with a gesture toward the ladder.

That much was certain.  Jo hurried to follow Malcolm and tried not to think about what might be lurking in the darkness beyond the light’s glow.

The next several hours were a nightmare.  Not so much because of the oppressive darkness, though that was not pleasant.  Or the occasional sounds of scurrying animals – rats, Jo thought, but who knew.  Or the ubiquitous smell of pooling water and mildew, and other more foul scents that Jo managed, through a herculean force of will, to not quite ignore.  No, the worst part was not knowing where the hell she was.  Jo could handle the others, but that ignorance ate at her more and more as time went by.  Even if she had climbed up a ladder and stuck her head out, Jo felt certain she would still have no idea at all.  That ignorance left her helpless in Malcolm’s hands, and it was just infuriating.  She was not used to being helpless.  The fact that, over the last week and a half, she had felt more helpless than in command certainly did not help matters.

So Jo felt more than a little relief when, at the junction between two identical tunnels – really they could have been any of the dozens of tunnels they had traipsed through all night – Malcolm stopped and sighed, his shoulders slumped in defeat.

“Forget it,” Malcolm said, his voice thick with fatigue.  “We must have turned the wrong way.  I’ll never find them down here.  Let’s find a place to lay low, and we can try again in the morning.”

“Hell yeah, man,” Raúl said as he pushed his way past Malcolm and Jo toward the nearby alcove and ladder.  “I’ve had enough of these stinking tunnels.”

Jo was inclined to agree about the tunnels.  But where were they going now?

“Do you have a place in mind, Malcolm?”

He nodded.  “There are plenty of little motels that don’t ask many questions and aren’t strict about checking IDs.  That’s mostly where I’ve been for the last couple weeks.  Since the raid we can’t trust any of the old safe houses.”

Jo frowned and nodded.  That made sense.

A few minutes later, Malcolm pushed the manhole cover back in place and they surveyed their new surroundings.  The street was free of traffic and lined by just a few low, unlit buildings that were spaced well apart from each other.  It was still night, but a faint glow on to the east, beyond the mountains, announced Dawn’s approach.  They must have spent longer in the tunnels than Jo thought.

“Where the hell are we?” Raúl asked.

“My guess is somewhere in the south side,” Malcolm replied, “past the Spaceport.”

“Great,” Jo muttered.  South of the Spaceport, the neighborhoods became progressively less safe.  Though Law Enforcement did their best, some of the neighborhoods had become overrun with gang activity in recent years.  Most people who did not have to go there did not.

There was nothing for it but to follow the plan though, so they set off down the street.  Three blocks down, they came upon a seedy-looking motel.  Just as advertised, the proprietor did not look very hard at them or ask for their IDs.  He simply accepted a few bills from Malcolm without comment and handed over an electronic room key.

The room was tiny and smelled of a mixture of old trash, urine, and smoke.  Two tiny beds stood against one wall and a couch, ratty and looking like it was barely able to hold together, sat beneath the room’s lone window.  In the back of the room, a counter with a sink was mounted to the wall, along with a standard sized mirror.  Adjacent to the sink was a door leading into a small bathroom.

Jo winced just looking around the place, but at least the bathroom was marginally clean.

“I’ve seen worse,” Raúl said in a nonchalant tone, though Jo noted an expression of distaste on his face, too.

“I just hope the shower works,” Jo replied.

She felt covered in grime and sweat.  It reminded her of the horrible few days she spent as the NSA’s guest.  She shuddered as the memories came back.  No need to go there.

A small pile of towels rested in a rack on the wall next to the sink.  She picked one out, went into the bathroom, and turned on the shower water.  Then she closed the bathroom door and proceeded to wash her cares away.

Or at least her dirt.

She emerged from the shower several minutes later feeling refreshed and at least slightly more human.  The concept of putting on the same grimy clothes she had been wearing gave her pause, though.

It flashed through her head that she should have planned things out a bit better.  Somewhere in the back of her head she knew going into the encounter at the Parque that she would not go through with it.  She should have listened to that part and packed a bag or something.  Never mind the unrealistic logistics of it all, she spent several moments chastising herself before forcing herself to stop; she was just delaying putting those clothes back on, and there was no choice in the matter.

When she stepped out of the bathroom into the main room, Raúl was already curled up on one of the beds.  He was fast asleep, though he murmured and wiggled from time to time.  Once he groaned, probably from the pain in his arm.

Malcolm sat on the couch resting his chin on his fist and clearly fighting sleep.  Seeing her, he gestured toward the second bed.  “Take the bed, Jo.  I’m fine with the couch.”

Jo thought about protesting, but the couch truly was a rickety setup.  At least the bed looked halfway comfortable.  She sat down on the edge, facing Malcolm.  Their eyes met and they were silent for a moment.  Malcolm looked tired, harried, but determined.  Jo did not want to think about how she looked; she had avoided looking in the bathroom mirror for that very reason.  It could not be good, though.

The silence weighed on her and she looked away, past Malcolm toward the window.  “What’s the plan?”

Malcolm shrugged.  “That is the question, isn’t it?”  His expression became severe, nearly a scowl.  “The organization has been…disjointed…since the raid.”

Jo felt a surge of guilt even though she knew the raid was not her fault.  All the same, Malcolm had lost friends, either to prison or to the morgue, the night he had brought her to meet them.  What did he think about that?

Almost as if he was reading her mind, Malcolm added, “People are not going to be happy that you’re involved again, Jo.  If this is going to work, I need to know everything that’s going on with you.”

Jo swallowed.  “Malcolm, I didn’t…”

He held up a hand and she fell silent.  “Frankly, Jo, after last night I’m not sure how much I can trust you, and I know you.  If you don’t give me something to tell my people that will help them feel comfortable with you…”  He trailed off.

“What?”

Malcolm did scowl then.  He took a deep breath and said, “They may just decide to cut you lose, let you take your chances on your own.”

*  *  *  *  *

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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