The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Thirty-Five

It’s a little late, but here’s then next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Don’t forget, the book is available in ebook and trade paperback from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes. Purchasing a copy would definitely help me feel even better, so have at it! 😉

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Thirty – Five

Plotting

“Well,” Jo said, glancing at Malcolm for support, “that is the question, isn’t it? Your files are gone, as are the backups. No one’s going to take our word for what’s going on, so we’ll have a hell of a time blowing the lid on this thing now.” She paused, looking back at Isaac, then at Becky and Jervis. “Unless you have another copy of the files hanging around somewhere?”

Becky flushed and lowered her eyes, clearly ashamed. “No,” she said. “They’re all gone.”

Jo nodded. “And I expect your mole’s been picked up already. If you recorded from his implant, the meta-data…”

Jervis interrupted her. “No, we were quite thorough in removing all identifying data. As of this morning, he is still quite well, and at work with no one the least bit suspicious of him.”

“That can’t last.”

Jervis shrugged. “You may be surprised.”

Jo pursed her lips, pondering. Maybe the mole could make another recording, or get some other piece of evidence that they could use to take this thing public. It might work.

“I see those wheels turning, girl. Might be you should rethink that plan.”

Jo looked at Isaac askance. “What plan is that?”

He rolled his eyes. “This is not my first rodeo, girl. You’re thinking we can just proceed as before, try to get a press conference going. Maybe with some new piece of evidence or somesuch.” He snorted. “Not going to happen. Before, they didn’t know we had them. But now they know we know, and they’ll be ready for it.”

“So what would you suggest?”

Isaac spread his hands and gave her a knowing smile that did not touch his eyes, and remained silent.

Wonderful. Real helpful.

“Think, girl. What’s the core of the problem?”

Jo frowned. “They’re mistreating the eggs.”

“No. What’s the core of the problem?”

Where was he going with this? Sudden movement from the side brought her gaze to Malcolm, who sat bolt upright in his chair as though he had been poleaxed. His eyes were wide; he looked dumbfounded.

“They’re not returning the eggs home, like the aliens asked us to.”

Isaac’s eyebrows rose high on his head and he pointed at Malcolm in approval. “Precisely. Now,” he settled back into his chair and pulled it close to the table again, “how can we help you?”

“You know where the lab is, and you have a mole who could help us get inside.”

Isaac’s eyes were positively twinkling as he nodded in response to Malcolm’s words.

Malcolm frowned. “But that doesn’t do us any good. We’re stuck here in Quito. Unless you wanted to have your people go it alone?”

Jervis spoke up. “We are quite capable, mate. But I think you’ll want to be there won’t you?”

“Then I don’t see – “

“I have a plane,” Isaac said.

Malcolm blinked, then grinned. “Ok, that takes care of that. It still doesn’t help. Even if we could get them out of the lab…” He trailed off, his eyes growing even wider as he turned to look at Jo.

What he was getting at sunk in, and Jo felt like her stomach had fallen out of her body and struck the floor. He could not be serious.

Could he?

“The biggest problem I see,” Isaac said, “is transportation off planet. That is beyond my realm of expertise.” He grinned. “Do either of you know a trustworthy pilot?”

And, just like that, the entire caper came together in Jo’s mind.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Tuesday for the next chapter. Of course if you don’t want to bother waiting a couple months to read the rest book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.

Big Trouble In Little China

…is just about my favorite movie of all time, second only to Aliens.

Maybe.  Depending on the day and what kind of mood I’m in, it may even cast Aliens from the throne and stomp on it.  That’s how awesome that movie is.

For that matter, it’s really hard to go wrong with any mid-80s John Carpenter movie.  They Live, anyone?  Brilliant!  But nothing compares with Jack Burton and the Porkchop Express for sheer fun and bravado.  It’s just so full of awesome, I don’t even know how to describe it.

It’s also a little sad, because I can’t see Hollywood making fun cheesy movies like that anymore.  Cheesy, yes.  But fun, the way Little China is fun?  No way.  They’d CGI it up, or worse try to make it relevant or some jackassery like that, and ruin it.

But why do I bring up this timeless classic?  Two reasons.  One, I watched it last night via Amazon Prime streaming, for free!  🙂  Now, I own the DVD of course, but the BluRay player in my PS-3 died (I’m waiting on the box from Sony to send it back for repairs).  I was really in the mood for the adventure of Jack and Wang, though, so in desperation I checked Amazon…and it was in the prime streaming library!  Score!

That made for a fun evening.  The kids loved it too.  🙂

Second, I encountered this last night, and it is so full of awesome I just had to share it:

So yeah, that’s all I had.

Have a great day.  🙂

Copyright Abuse

Once upon a time, I played a lot of computer games.  Well, maybe not a whole lot, but a decent amount.  Then I got busy.  Then I bought a Mac, and while I love my Macs, I truly miss the gaming experience that comes from PC computing.  For a number of years I lamented that decision.

Then came 2008.  In early 2008, the Navy moved us from Maine to DC (back to my home town) for shore duty in the Pentagon (Holy God does Pentagon duty suck…more on that sometime…maybe…when I feel like torturing you.  No, really.  Jesu Cristo, the head-exploding potential is HUGE there).  We moved into a house in Annapolis after a couple months at my Mom’s house in Kensington while we waited for our house in Maine to sell (we ended up having to do a Short Sale on that one…we got one offer in almost a year on the market and took a $50k loss.  Ouch.  Not that I expect pity from anyone – I know plenty of people took a greater loss than I did.  But that’s haunted us to this day – we’re a few months away from finally paying off the last of the note from that deal).  As we moved in, the Admiral looked at me and said, “We should get a new TV as an anniversary gift to ourselves.”  It was coming up on our official first anniversary at that point.

What man in his right mind would refuse a spousal demand like that?  Not I, said the fly.

I hooked up with an old Elementary School buddy who I still keep in touch with, who worked putting together home theater setups for people, and he got us squared away with a pretty decent system for not a whole lot of $.  Included in that system was a PS-3.  Because “it’s the best Blu-Ray player around”.  Made for a great excuse, right?  🙂

It wasn’t long before I was back to buying video games, only on my console, not on my computer.  Now, this was a big departure for me.  I’d always preferred PC gaming, for a number of reasons, mostly deriving from the purity of it, I think.  I grew up on our Apple IIc, and then my dad’s Compaq portable, and then my own 486/33, and spent a whole lot of time playing awesome INFOCOM games like Zork, then EA games like The Bards Tale and Wing Commander, then moving on to innumerable titles that followed.  To me, video games were COMPUTER games – PC games.  The consoles were pissant wannabes.

But with my new PS-3, that changed.  I couldn’t get awesome games on my Mac, so the awesomeness flowed through my PS-3.  Then, once the kids became old enough to work the controls, they came to like the PS-3 games as well (those that we let them play).  Add to that the kick-ass movie experience that comes from a Blu-Ray player and the cool apps that we could get on the console (Netflix, Hulu, MLB TV, etc), and I had a new electronic love.

So I’ve accumulated a new collection of video games – spoken, console games – for our PS-3.  Along the way, I found a couple online video game reviewers that I like.  Chief among them is Angry Joe.  Well, that’s not really accurate.  I love Angry Joe, and he’s the only one I watch with any frequency.

Angry Joe is awesome.  He riffs off one of my all-time favorite cartoon shows (and comic books, and action figure lines) – GI Joe – and makes hilarious but also hard-hitting reviews of newly released games.  He also comments on developments in the gaming community while keeping it all kinds of fun.  He gets hundreds of thousands of hits on his videos and apparently makes his living through his video game reviews and other content that he posts.  I love tuning in to his videos, whether on YouTube or through his website.

Which is why it pains me to see what YouTube and various copyright holders have been doing to him and other reviewers like him.

Watch these for the details:

 

 

I’m admittedly a little behind the times on this, but regardless it pisses me off.  As a Copyright holder myself, I am very sensitive about the rights of the Copyright holders involved here.  But clearly he is using this material for parody and review purposes, which is explicitly protected under US Copyright law.  But despite this, Joe is (was? the last update he posted was two months ago; who knows what’s happened since then.  I only hope it’s good) in danger of losing his business – and thus his livelihood – over this.  IMHO, this is an example of big-money people trying to strong-arm someone with less resources, and YouTube just going along with it blindly.

From what I can tell, YouTube’s policy on these matters is BS.  Joe, and guys like him, gets strikes on his account based on whether someone submits a DMCA takedown notice against him.  Three strikes and his account – his channel, his method of making money for his business – is taken down for good.  And it doesn’t matter if any of the claims were judged invalid later.  Three strikes, no matter their validity in court, and he’s done.  Apparently there’s no appeal.  And worse than that, apparently even if he uses 10 seconds of a property in a 30 minute review, once the notice is put in place the property owner gets 100% of the ad revenue from that video, and never mind  that Joe put hours of effort into making the remaining 29 minutes and 50 seconds of that video, which SHOULD legally be his intellectual property.

On the surface that might sound ok to some.  But a DMCA takedown notice is not a legal finding by a court.  It’s a claim by a copyright holder.  It’s essentially a statement of willingness to sue unless something is done – a demand.

Seems to me a guy like Joe, who is acting in good faith, ought not be paupered over an unsubstantiated threat that has not been borne out by a court finding.  Now, I get that YouTube – Google – does not want to expose itself to unnecessary liability.  But surely a company that boasts the motto “Don’t Be Evil” – and what HELL does that mean?  Talk about a motto for douchebags – and that makes a whole lot of money every quarter can absorb the cost of doing the most minimal investigation to determine which claims have a potential of being valid and which are total BS.  It doesn’t take a lot of effort to differentiate between an honest guy like Joe and a criminal.  Surely Google can do this.

But apparently not.

I really hope Joe’s troubles are resolved satisfactorily.  He’s not the only one to be harassed like this, and IMHO it’s total BS.  If you can afford it, I really hope you’ll go to Joe’s website and show him some support, either via a comment or through a donation.  I don’t know him personally, though I get the impression I’d like to, but he seems like a good guy who doesn’t deserve the BS he’s being subjected to.

Joe, for what it’s forth coming from me, a nobody who owns copyrights that no one cares about at this point in time, I really hope you emerge victorious.  Because this is total BS.

The Beastly Novelette And The Ebook Store

Just a quick note to let all y’all know The Beast And The God-Woman is published!  It’s live now on Amazon, ready to be downloaded at your pleasure.

Beast Cover (600x900)

The greatest terrors come from within.

Yili never questioned the Gods’ decrees, as handed down to the people from the elders. Do not tarry long on the beach, for there lurks the Beast. Do not venture beyond the breakers, for the sea holds nothing but death and man lives on the island alone.

Until the day a strange object approached the island, borne by the wind and waves toward Yili’s home until it broke apart on the reef and deposited a woman and a man, who could only be Gods themselves, onto the beach. The Beast wants to destroy them. The elders distrust them. And Yili finds himself helplessly drawn to the God-Woman, at the risk of all he knows and loves.

Check it out!

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Thirty-Four

Today has been especially difficult for me – I crashed my bicycle and got a hell of a road rash this morning on my way to work.  So I’ve been medicating with whiskey. That’s helped a bit.  What’ll help more is to share the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Because that’s how I roll here.  😉  Don’t forget, the book is available in ebook and trade paperback from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.  Purchasing a copy would definitely help me feel even better, so have at it!  😉

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Thirty – Four

The Birth of a Movement

“Jesus Christ,” Malcolm breathed. “I had no idea…”

“Of course you didn’t,” Isaac snapped. Back to his regular, considerate self again, it seemed. “It’s not a story I tell to just anyone.” He scowled at Malcolm, but after a second mollified his expression. “But it is important you two know, so you will understand why I do what I do.”

He took another long draw from his glass, and Jo found herself mimicking him. It was good scotch, but even were it not, she would not have cared. Not after hearing Isaac’s story.

“What did you do?” Jo asked after swallowing. And how did you not die yourself, she did not ask. She never married, and had no children, but she could hardly imagine the pain of his loss.

I would just curl up and die.

Isaac shrugged. “I recovered, such as it was. Spent weeks in the hospital and months learning how to walk again. The board appointed an interim CEO while I was recovering, and they kept me apprised of what was going on with my business, but as you can imagine I did not care a whit. I don’t think I have to tell you how much pain I was in; I was burned over sixty percent of my body, but even worse, I kept seeing the expressions on their faces when Henderson listed my sins against him. The disgust, the loathing, from Helen and Avi both. That was my last image of them before they died, and it haunted me.”

He emptied his glass again, but when Becky reached over to refill it he waved her off. “There are several paths a man can take when his soul is laid bare for him to see, in all its ugly truth. He can repent, change his ways. He can double down on his path, convincing himself that he is not as bad as it appears. He can go mad, or end it all.” Isaac chuckled ruefully. “He can grow enraged and blame the world and everyone around him for his state. Or he can do what I did, and run away. It was the cowardly way, but it was all I could think to do. I left, went to the earth and roamed from one den of iniquity to the next. For years I lost myself, or tried to, in drink and women and drugs – whatever I could think of to dull my mind, to not think about what I had done, what I was, what I had lost.

“But slowly, I came out of the pit of self-pity that I had dug and began to notice the world around me. I saw – really saw, for the first time – how many people were being held back from what they could be, what they could have. Wicked men, men like me, wielded power that kept them from advancing. And why were they able to do it?” He jabbed a finger up into the air to emphasize his point. “Because we, all of us, allowed it. We invested excessive power in bureaucrats and a government far from us, and entrusted them to oversee things for the good. But we forgot that they are just people, and people look out for their own interests first.”

“As well they should,” Becky murmured.

“Of course,” Isaac replied. “But when a person with power is insulated from the consequences of his decisions, as most in government are, and particularly when he is spending not his own money, but someone else’s…” He shook his head. “Then his perspective gets warped and he begins to think his self interest really is the interest of everyone. Then he grows power-hungry and corrupt, and unethical men like me are able to buy him to do their will.” He leaned forward, fixing Jo with a steely stare. “But if we limit his power, put bonds on the economic influence government is allowed to wield, we can maybe stop the cycle of corruption and despotism, bring back honesty in business and competition. If we unfetter normal people so they are able to pursue their dreams without being crushed from above, we can all be better off.”

It all clicked into place, like a puzzle going together. “You created Citizens For Liberty,” Jo said.

Isaac bowed slightly in his chair. “Took you long enough to figure that out, girl.”

“But…” Malcolm stopped and shook his head, clearly perplexed. “I don’t understand. You don’t have a hand in any of the decisions. You’re around the periphery. Hell, I’ve spoken with you five times in a year and a half. Counting today. If you’re the founder…”

“…why aren’t I in charge?” Isaac finished for him.

Malcolm nodded, and Isaac rolled his eyes.

“The point, boy, is to dilute power. Spread it back to the people so Smith’s invisible hand can actually work. Doesn’t do much good for an organization devoted to liberty to itself have a despot, does it?”

Malcolm did not answer, but from his expression he remained confused. Jo could relate completely. Why not have the man whose vision created the organization lead it?

Isaac looked between the two of them and sighed. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. You starfarers are even more inclined toward hierarchy than us, what is it you call us, planetbound?” His eyes twinkled and he chuckled briefly. “Perfectly understandable, of course. A ship needs a Captain. But, and here’s the point,” he leaned forward again, “people do not.”

Isaac sat back in his chair, expectantly. Jo really wished she had a good response ready, but she had nothing. Glancing aside, Malcolm was similarly silent. Isaac sighed again.

“Maybe this will help you understand,” Isaac said. “For a while, I was indeed the leader. As the CFL spread from Bangkok, where I first had my revelation, to other cities, I was ecstatic, and happy to direct its efforts. You have to understand that I truly thought I was alone when I realized what a poison the philosophy of collectivism is. But as more and more people joined us, or began expressing similar values, it was like mana from heaven for my soul.” He smiled faintly. “At first, CFL was open about its goal, and I proudly proclaimed the cause of liberty to all that would hear it. How foolish I was. The forces of collectivism and despotism – they are the same, of course – have no tolerance for dissent, and especially for philosophies that differ from their own. We were pilloried in the press and I was dismissed as a madman who had cracked under the pressure of losing my family the way I did.”

Maybe he did. Jo suppressed the thought ruthlessly, but was not successful in preventing it from registering on her face, as Isaac looked askance at her for a moment and then burst out laughing.

“You’re wondering if they were right?” He laughed again, and shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe I have gone off the deep end into extremism. To that, I will quote a mid-twentieth century politician – a politician, if you can believe it! – who said ‘Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice’.” He lifted an eyebrow at Jo. “Hmm? What say you to that?”

Jo shrugged. “I’d say I’m waiting for you to get to the point. What does this have to do with our situation now?”

Isaac’s mouth shut with the clack of teeth striking each other, and his smile vanished. He stared at her for a long moment, then nodded. “You’re right, of course.” Looking back at Malcolm, he said, “Suffice it to say that before long I became the public face of CFL and then shortly thereafter we were driven underground. I’ll spare the gory details; you likely read about them in your history books in school…” He drifted off, then cursed under his breath. “No you probably saw them on the televid, or read about them after you got back from one of your cussed trips to the stars.” Under his breath, but still loud enough that Jo could hear him, he muttered, “I keep forgetting they’re both older than me, damn them.”

That took Jo aback, and she found herself sinking back into her chair as though pushed there, her surprise was so great. She thought back over her life, and her travels. Like most starfarers, she was born aboard a starliner, and raised there. Her entire existence until her age of ascendency had been a series of year-long shifts, with years of cryosleep in between shifts, and then months of upkeep at the destination worlds where she was able to see and experience something of planetbound life before she set out again. She had gone through one major overhaul that took her from ages 8 to 12, but aside from that most of her childhood years had been spent aboard ship. When she turned 16 and was able to choose her life, she chose to remain. Not all starfarer children did, and that caused their parents no end of heartache as they struggled with an impossible decision: what was more important to them, the life they loved or the children they loved? Most picked their children, but some managed to find a happy medium, doing short runs from Earth to Centauri or somesuch, where they would only miss a few years here or there. Families whose children left were the main reason McAllister had to recruit new hires at all.

For Jo, there had never been a question. She loved navigating the stars, running the ships, seeing new worlds. But she had never considered the other side of it. What did the planetbound think of her people, the starfarers, and the lives they led? By Earth standards, Jo had been alive for several centuries, and yet she had not reached her sixtieth waking year; not even middle aged! She had never before considered that some might be resentful of a starfarer’s apparent longevity.

She opened her mouth to protest that she had not lived nearly as much as Isaac assumed she had, but he beat her to it, raising a silencing hand before he spoke.

“I know, I know. Time dilation. You don’t have to tell me.” Isaac snorted and made a gesture that screamed, “Hey, what can you do?” Then he went on. “Point is, about fifty years ago, CFL went underground and I had to scramble to get my investments out of public view before they were all confiscated.”

Jo did some quick math in her head, then double-checked it to make sure she was correct. If what Isaac said was true, and she had no reason to believe it was not, that meant he was at least a hundred-twenty, if not a hundred-thirty years old. Not excessively old by any stretch of the imagination; people had been known to live to a hundred-fifty these days. But he definitely had a baby face, strange as that seemed when she thought about it.

“For a few years after that,” Isaac continued, pulling Jo’s attention back to his story, “people in CFL looked at me like I was a God. My every word was a command, and no one was willing to do a damn thing unless I gave the go ahead. I realized that I had created my own little kingdom and it was in danger of becoming just another petty despotism, just like the government CFL was created to temper. So I stepped down. Disappeared. I left Bangkok and didn’t tell anyone where I was going, except for a trusted few. I’ve moved around, living off my investments, starting a new company or two here and there. And every so often I check in on a CFL compound to see how things are going.”

Isaac scowled. “Unfortunately, some of the leaders were entirely too bright, and figured out who I am.” He glared at Becky, who smiled beatifically. Isaac rolled his eyes. “But I suppose that’s not entirely bad. It let me step in now, where it matters.” He stood up then, pushing his chair back with the soft sound of the chair legs scraping against hardwood. “I’ve seen, and caused, a lot of injustice in my life, but I have never before seen anything as despicable as what’s going on with those alien eggs.” His eyes grew hard as he leaned forward and smacked the tabletop with his palms. “CFL is my baby, and I’ll be damned if I’ll let some snot-nosed punk like Pedro pull it out of this just because he has his panties in a bunch.”He drew a deep breath, then gave Jo a look that was all business, full of command. “So. How can we help you?

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Saturday for the next chapter.  Of course if you don’t want to bother waiting a couple months to read the rest book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.

Covering Down

Sunday is my publishing work day.  I think I mentioned that before, didn’t I?  I got a lot of good stuff done over the last couple weeks, and I just thought I’d share.

Last week, I worked on getting my novelette, The Best And The God-Woman, ready to go.  I wrote this one something like a year ago.  Don’t recall exactly.  I submitted it to Writers Of The Future, and it either got straight-up rejected or an Honorable Mention.  I don’t recall, which is pretty bad.  Anyway, after that I sent it around to the other venues that will accept submissions of its length (16,500 words) but had no joy.  And then I just let it sit.  I had other things in my crosshairs (Pericles and Out-Dweller primarily) so I didn’t do anything with it.  Anyway, it’s the last of my completed works that’s not out there for the world to enjoy, so I decided to fix that.  Here’s what’s in store:

Beast Cover (600x900)

The greatest terrors come from within.

Yili never questioned the Gods’ decrees, as handed down to the people from the elders.  Do not tarry long on the beach, for there lurks the Beast.  Do not venture beyond the breakers, for the sea holds nothing but death and man lives on the island alone.  Until the day a strange object approached the island, borne by the wind and waves toward Yili’s home until it broke apart on the reef and deposited a woman and a man, who could only be Gods themselves, onto the beach.

The Beast wants to destroy them.  The elders distrust them.  And Yili finds himself helplessly drawn to the God-Woman, at the risk of all he knows and loves.

Stay tuned; The Beast And The God-Woman will be available by the end of the month.

But wait!  There’s more!

Yesterday, the Admiral (my better half) ran the Hot Chocolate 15k in downtown San Diego.  After cheering her on, I got to work again.  First up – an audiobook cover.

Yes, I said audiobook.  I decided to get rolling on that side of the business a couple weeks ago, prompted by ACX’s impending shift in royalty split.  That change has been discussed ad nauseum elsewhere so I don’t feel the need to opine here except to say I’m conflicted about it.  On the one side, screw them.  There are other distributors out there.  On the other side, while several of those distributors offer a better split (I found one that does 80/20 to the writer), after audible takes its cut that split ends up being less than the new rates under ACX.  So although the abrupt and unexplained change pissed me off, from a strictly monetary perspective it won’t pay to go elsewhere.  It’s going to take some heavy thought to decide how to roll on this one.

Ah decisions, decisions…

Anyway, I put all of my short stories and my two collections up for audition with the hope of getting deals finalized before the deadline.  Only my short stories because I want to pay for the production vice do royalty split and I don’t have the $ to do the novels.  *shrug*  Maybe I should have done the novels under royalty split, but I don’t like the notion of 7 years of royalty splits – that could get VERY expensive if the audiobook does well.  As it is I’ll wait until the novels bring in enough $ to justify the outlay for the audiobooks myself.  The short stories, though, are much less expensive, even the collections.  So I’ve got 6 or 7 audiobook titles in production as we speak.  I would have liked to get them all done – I told the guy who auditioned for the collections to audition for the individual shorts as well; since he would record the stories anyway it made sense to knock them all out.  But he didn’t get auditions in for them all by the cutoff.  *shrug*  Oh well.  Another guy auditioned for a couple of them, so I’ll just pay the other guy separately.  It’ll end up costing more, but them’s the breaks.

Anyway, the second voice actor, Nick Mortise, finished up his rendition of How NOT To Rescue A Damsel In Distress on Saturday night.  Sunday I went into ACX to look at what I need to do now – review and approve it and supply cover art.  Then fun thing about cover art is it’s a different size than for an ebook.  Ebooks I generally make 2000×3000; the audiobook needs at least 2400×2400, square.  So I couldn’t just use the same cover art I had before.  And besides, I don’t really like the cover art I had for Damsel, or really any of my Larian short stories.  They were done a while ago, and I’ve learned a lot about cover design since then.

Observe:

How NOT To Rescue A Damsel In Distress Cover Measuring Up Cover First Blood Cover Grandfather's Pendant

Not very good, right?  They’re not very appealing and they’re not branded for the series (it’s not really a series per say, but they’re all stories about Larian so they ought to be similar) or for author.  Genre?  I guess they do that ok.  But still they needed an overhaul.  Since Nick is going to voice all of them (I think) I figured I might as well do the overhaul now.

Here are the new Larian stories covers:

Damsel Cover (600x900) Measuring Up Cover (600x900) First Blood (600x900 Grandfathers Pendant (600x900)

Much better, right?  I am a big believer in simple = elegant = better, so I figured I’d just keep the basic design the same, changing only the image in the middle and the title.  That works much better for branding too, I think.  I like them.

In case your wondering, here’s the cover for the Damsel audiobook:

Damsel Audio Cover (600x600)

 

The same design, but with a different aspect ratio.  Looks nice, right?

I only had one concern, once I finished.  The new covers looked very similar to the cover for Brother In Law, Brother In Blood.  They’re both plain white with black text, with a single image in the center.  Brother In Law is not a Larian story, and I worried that the similar designs might cause confusion.  For a minute I considered throwing out the new designs, or the Brother In Law design altogether.  Then I hit on the answer: just change Brother In Law’s color scheme a bit.  A simple transparency layer in the GIMP file did the trick.

Brother In Law (600x900) Brother In Law (600x900)

It’s not a big change. It’s pretty subtle.  I may darken it up a little bit more, but not too much because I don’t want to spoil the image.  As it is I think it works to differentiate the branding from Larian.  What do you think?

So that’s what I’ve got for now.  Look for that audiobook in the next week or so, along with God-Woman, with more audio versions of my short stories to follow.  Pretty sweet.  🙂

Have a good one!  See you tomorrow for the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Thirty-Three

It’s Saturday and I’m not being a slacker this week, so let’s to the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy, shall we?  Don’t forget, it’s available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.  You will most definitely not hurt my feelings if you decide to purchase a copy.  😉

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Thirty – Three

Isaac’s Story

Jo was prepared for a lot of things.  She was not prepared to see Isaac walk into the living room followed by Becky and a tall, skinny man in his middle years with black hair that was greying at his temples.  Both Becky and the stranger were dressed well: she in grey slacks and a light blue collared shirt, he in a dark grey sports coat and matching slacks, with a somber tie to complete the ensemble.  And they both wore serious, if not quite grim, expressions on their faces.

Isaac, for his part, was dressed more casually, in a grey sweater pulled over a white collared shirt, and khakis.  He nodded familiarly to Jo and Malcolm as he lead the other two into the room and said, “Good evening.  I believe you already know Becky.”

She smiled and nodded in greeting to the two of them.  Jo thought her smile grew a tad more warm when she greeted Malcolm, but she was not sure.

Isaac continued, “This is Jervis.  He is the leader of the CFL compound in Brisbane.”

Jo was taken aback.  She realized her mouth had fallen open in astonishment and quickly shut it, but noticed that Malcolm took a bit longer to recover.  “Nice to meet you,” she managed.  She glanced quickly from Jervis to Becky to Isaac and back.  “You…”  She swallowed and tried again.  “You’re with the Underground in Australia?”

He nodded, looking more than a little amused.

“How…?”  Jo turned her gaze on Isaac, baffled.

He smirked in response.  “I think we’d better sit down.  And get some drinks.  This will take a while.”

 *  *  *  *  *

“When I was thirty, I became a millionaire.”

Isaac said the words as though they had little meaning, and mattered even less.  But they hit Jo like a ton of bricks.  She had known a number of people who were well-to-do.  Hell, Harold did pretty damn well; he probably made a million or more per year as COO of McAllister.  But he did not flaunt it, and he certainly never talked about it.  On those occasions when his salary or wealth came to be hinted at, he always deflected the subject, as though it was not something to dwell on.  Like it was a sacred subject, not to be discussed.  She had never met someone who was so matter-of-fact about his wealth as Isaac.

He smiled knowingly at her, his brow lifting.  “I know.  I am supposed to be ashamed of the fact that I made more money than most people can ever hope to earn in their lifetimes.”  He shook his head, snorting.  “Bollocks.  I made a lot of money then.  I’ve made even more since, and I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit it, or shove it in anyone’s face who tells me I should be.”

Jo glanced at Malcolm, unsure how to proceed.  He sat next to her at Isaac’s dining room table, across from Isaac, Becky, and Jervis.  Jo saw that he was as taken aback as she.  And no wonder.  She had just met Isaac a couple weeks earlier.  He probably had known Isaac for a year or more.  But then, she had suspected from the start that he had money; his clothing gave him away back at the motel.  If Malcolm had not taken note…  Jo smirked.  Men often failed to notice obvious things like that, though.  Was she really surprised that Malcolm had?

Isaac’s brow quirked upward, but instead of commenting, he raised his glass, filled with two fingers of scotch on the rocks, and took a sip.  He remained silent as he lowered the glass to the table, looking at Jo with a challenging stare.

She took a breath and asked, cautiously, “But you were so casual before.  A simple car.  Unobtrusive clothes.  And…”  She gestured with her left hand toward Isaac’s burn scars without realizing she was doing it.  Abashed, she pulled her hand down and took a sip from her own glass, scotch again, to cover up her slip.

“And I never had my scars repaired,” Isaac said, completing her thought.  He looked down at the table, where he cradled his glass in his hands, and for a long moment was silent.  Then he sighed and said, more softly, “I keep them as a reminder.”

Again Jo glanced at Malcolm.  His eyes met hers, his expression as questioning as she was sure hers was.  But neither he nor she voiced the obvious question.  For her part, Jo figured Isaac would explain in his own time, if he wanted to.

And so they all sat in silence for a while.  How long, Jo was unsure.  They simply sat looking at each other, occasionally taking a sip from their glasses until finally Isaac smirked slightly.

“As I said, I made my fortune very early.  I studied Engineering in University and went to work at a promising design firm in Madrid.  But after a few years, I had an idea for a new product and it became clear to me that my firm had neither the ability nor the inclination to make anything of it.”  Isaac sipped at his scotch again.  “So I started my own business.  Within two years, my product was gaining market share at a spectacular rate.  We were beating the competition in both quality and ease of use, and they became frightened.”  His eyes twinkled and he grinned at her.  “I entertained, and turned down, no less than three different offers to buy my company, and the rights to my invention.  The lowest of the offers was for over a billion credits.”

Beside her, Malcolm choked on a sip of his scotch.  Jo could not blame him.  A billion credits was…unimaginable.

The merry twinkle that, for a moment, had lit Isaac’s eyes faded, as did his smile.  He looked at Jo, his expression becoming as grim as a mortician.  “Less than a month after I refused the last offer, a swarm of government regulators descended on my business.  They found us guilty of violating regulations I had never heard of before.  Hundreds of citations against dozens of rules that, from what I could tell, had either only been enacted within the last several weeks or had not been enforced in decades.  The fines bit into my cash flow for that quarter, but I was able to continue.  But,” his tone became flat, bitter, “the next quarter there were even more citations, more fines.  I tried to appeal, but was rebuffed.  I filed lawsuits requesting redress, but all were denied because there was no violation of the law, only of regulatory rules.  With all of my time and spare cash flow going to deal with the never-ending violations, I began to lose market share to a new competing product, one that was disturbingly similar to my invention.  I tried to sue for patent infringement, and was denied because my competitors had been issued a patent that superseded my own.”  Isaac’s nostril’s flared, and Jo could see the rage, still red hot after all those decades, within him.  “Finally, I had no choice but to close the business and sell off the assets.  But that was not enough to pay off the debts I had accumulated in starting up and in trying to fight the harassment.”

“Were you…?”

Isaac shook his head.  “When all was said and done, I still had a goodly amount of money left.  Enough to live comfortably.  But I was ruined, all the same.”  He drew a deep breath and drank again, draining his glass completely.  When he spoke again, his voice was quiet, somber.  “Have you ever heard of an early twentieth century writer named Ayn Rand?”

Malcolm shook his head, but the name rang a bell in Jo’s head, somewhere.

Isaac smiled slightly at Jo’s recognition.  “In her book, Atlas Shrugged, the businessmen, the successful people, have enough of the burdens foisted upon them by the world and go on strike, bringing society down so it can be rebuilt.  I only read that book a few years ago, and I will tell you it is tripe.”  His eyebrows lifted, and that sarcastic smirk Jo had seen him wear several times returned.  “I agree with some of the principles she discussed, but it could never work.  There are too many idealistic, naive young people who come of age and want to do great things.  Too many people who would never quit trying no matter what.”  He looked down at the glass he held cradled in his hands and tumbled the ice around for a second.  “And too many men like me.”

Isaac went silent and his face twisted into a grimace.  He worked his jaw for a long several moments as he fought to hold back some deep emotion that Jo could only guess at.

Beside him, Becky leaned forward and gently took the glass from his hands.  She stood and moved over to the liquor cabinet – she moved stiffly, with a pronounced limp, Jo noticed – and refilled Isaac’s glass, then returned it to him and sat back down.

“Thank you, my dear,” Isaac said, and took another drink, smaller this time, barely more than a sip.  Then he drew a deep breath and looked back up at Jo.  “It was obvious what happened.  My competitors were large conglomerates with deep fingers into government power, and they used that power to shut me, an impudent upstart, down so I could not threaten their position.  I resolved to never let that happen again.  So, I started over.  But this time I spent most of my time courting favor in Geneva: contributing to campaigns, dining politicians and regulators, supplying favors, that sort of thing.  By the time I had a new product to offer, I had a firm cadre of cronies in the government, and this time they were able to shield me.  Over the next forty years, I became a behemoth.  Growing my influence, and with it my marketshare.  Eventually, I became big enough that the major conglomerates that once tried to destroy me welcomed me into the club with open arms.”

He shuddered.  “Along the way, of course, I had to eliminate my own competition, whether by acquiring them or forcing them out.  I knew that I was committing the same sin that had been done to me, and ignored it.  To use a term from the Bible, I actively seared my conscience so that eventually I never even felt a hint of guilt as I loosed the power of government to bring them down and enhance my own standing.  Until one of them forced me to see what I had done.

“Peter Henderson was his name.  He had a promising software company that was on the rise.  And, like me, he refused to sell.  So I crushed him.  Or rather, I had my cronies in Geneva do it.  They even managed to find a little known criminal statute that would allow them to prosecute.  Not only did he lose everything he had built, but he spent five years in prison.  All for daring to challenge me.  My friends,” Isaac smirked bitterly.  “Not friends.  I had no friends, only business associates and co-conspirators.  They all cheered what I had done to Mr. Henderson, lifted it up as the greatest coup in memory.  And it was.  But when he got out of prison, he was fixed on revenge.  He did not blame the prosecutor, or the bureaucrats who had snuffed out his business.  No, he knew where the blame truly fell, and he came to find me.

“And find me he did.  I was in Fiji, along with my daughter, Helen, her husband, and their newborn baby.  It was Helen’s birthday and I decided to take them all on a trip to celebrate.  It took everything I could muster to convince them to come; we had not spoken in years, not since her mother and I split, and she was angry with me.  But somehow I convinced her husband that I wanted to make amends – I really did – and they came for a week of fun in the sun.”  Isaac’s voice broke and he lifted his hand to his mouth to cover up a small sob.  “Oh how I wish they had not.”

It took a minute or more for Isaac to compose himself, but when he did it was obvious he still was holding back strong feelings.  His lips were tight and Jo thought he trembled a bit.  But his eyes were resolute as he raised his head and looked her in the eye.  “I had security guards, of course, but what I did not know was that Henderson had, before University, served with an elite unit of the armed forces.  My guards were no match for him.  And so he burst into my villa, brandishing a gun, as I was preparing to serve dinner to my family.  He cursed me – oh how he cursed me – as a thief and a coward.  He spelled out every detail of what had happened to him in prison, how his wife had left him.  But worst of all, he told me he would have been content to lose a fair competition with me, if only I had allowed it.  All those things rang true, but it was this last that struck a part of my conscience that I did not know still existed, for that was exactly how I felt when they had destroyed my first company, all those years ago.”

Isaac sighed, a sigh so filled with regret and remorse that it almost broke Jo’s heart to hear it.  “I tried to tell Henderson that I understood, that this was not the end for him.  That he could start again and overcome, as I had.  He just laughed and said he would rather die than be a soulless wretch like me.”  His voice caught again, but he did not look down this time; he let the tears well up openly.  “I noticed the remote detonator in his free hand a second before he pressed the button.  He was wearing five kilograms of explosives beneath his shirt.”

Jo gasped in shock.

Isaac continued.  “I was standing behind the counter.  It was made of marble, and shielded me from most of the blast.  Helen and her family, though…”  He looked away then, revealing his scars more fully for Jo’s eyes.  “Even without these,” he gestured to the scars, “I could never forget.  But they are a reminder, nonetheless.”

*  *  *  *  *

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 a couple months to read the rest 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 Thirty-Two

Well I suck.  I missed Saturday’s chapter and I missed Tuesday’s.  Sorry about that.  Without further ado let’s get to the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy, shall we?  Don’t forget, it’s available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Thirty – Two

New Allies

Jo was speechless.

Apparently Malcolm was as well, because his only reaction was to fall into the cushions of his chosen chair as though his legs had given out from underneath him.

Isaac smirked and walked over to them.  As he rounded the couch, he said, “I assumed you would make your way here.”  He paused and, leaning over, held out a glass to Jo.  She took it with a trembling hand and took a long drink.  It was scotch.  And good scotch, at that.  Isaac turned away, toward Malcolm.  “I hoped you would not.  It was a foolish thing to do.  Pedro wasted no time in spreading the word.  If anyone else were to find you here…”  He left the rest unsaid, instead handing the glass to Malcolm, who accepted it silently but did not drink immediately.

Isaac snorted loudly and took a seat in the other stuffed chair.  “So.  What should we do with you two, hmm?”

The fact that he bothered to ask the question thawed the ice that had formed in Jo’s stomach at his approach.  If he was not sure whether to put them out, or turn them in, or let Pedro know what they had done maybe there was a chance they could get out of this without having something worse happen to them.

Then it hit her.  This was not just an opportunity to avoid further trouble.  He said if anyone else had found them it would be trouble.  Maybe…  Maybe he would help them?  It was too much to hope for, but Jo found herself clinging to that hope like a life vest.

“What…”  She cleared her throat and took another sip of the scotch, then started again.  “What did you mean this is your house?”

Isaac looked at her like she was daft.  “I meant what I said, girl.  It’s my house.  It’s owned by a company that I own.  So therefore…”  He shook his head and rolled his eyes.  “I see you listen just as well as you make friends.”

His tone was scornful, but Jo expected little else, based on their last meeting.  She also suspected his gruff exterior was a cover for what lay beneath, based on their last meeting.  All the same, that comment stung.

“We’ll be on our way then, Isaac,” Malcolm said.  He rose from his chair.

“Sit down, boy,” Isaac snapped and gestured peremptorily for Malcolm to do just that.  Malcolm complied, his expression wary, worried.

Silence loomed for a while, Isaac looking at the two of them in turn and them watching him.  Jo was reminded of the exhilarating yet terrifying moment when the aliens first stepped aboard Pericles.  What were they?  What did they intend?  They were armed, as her people were.  Was their meeting to end in bloodshed?

Finally Isaac broke the silence.  “Pedro…”  He broke off and shook his head with a disdainful smirk.  “Pedro is even more a fool than the two of you.  But at least you’re honest about your foolishness.  Pedro, though.”  He paused, looking Jo straight in the eye.  “He sees power games more than anything else.  He’s always wanted to be in charge and now he’s found a way to do it.  Makes me wonder why he’s with CFL at all; he misses the point entirely.”

That little spark of hope that seemed too much to cling to now grew into a flickering flame within Jo.  “What are you saying, Isaac?”

His eyes narrowed.  “I’m saying, girl, that Pedro doesn’t speak for all of us.”  He snorted softly and managed a half-grin.  “Least of all, not for me.  We all thought this alien business stank to high heaven and we needed to help make it right.  I for one – and I’m more than just one – still think that, regardless of what that boy says.”  Isaac stood up, abruptly.  “Make yourselves at home.  We’ll talk more later.”

He walked out of the room, moving quickly in spite of his hunched posture.  As he disappeared down the hallway, he said over his shoulder, “Bedroom at the end of the hall is mine.  Don’t let me catch either of you in there.”

Jo, speechless once again, looked back at Malcolm.  His jaw hung wide open; he could not have looked more shocked if Jo suddenly sprouted feathers and flew away.

 *  *  *  *  *

It should have been a very comfortable night.  The house was comfortable enough, the bed soft enough, the blankets thick enough.  But Jo found she was unable to sleep.  She tossed and turned all night, unable to make sense of the sudden turn in her fortunes.  To go from having nowhere to turn to suddenly having an ally again, and from such an unexpected source, had her thoughts and emotions in a whirl.  Finally, sometime late in the night – or rather, early in the morning – she drifted off into a fitful slumber.

Her dreams were strange, a mixture of being chased and finding a hidden treasure, and other things she could not recall when she finally awoke to the early morning sunlight streaming in through the window.  She stretched, luxuriating the the expanse of bed and blankets, and was tempted to just lie there.  She was certainly tired enough; her eyes felt gravelly, as though she had not slept at all.

But there were things to do, and suddenly it seemed there was hope for the future.  So, regretfully, she got up and went about the morning routine.  She lingered perhaps a bit too long in the shower, but it was so good, and considering the circumstances a little indulgence was probably warranted.

She felt like a new woman when she donned freshly-laundered clothes and descended the wide stairwell to the house’s first floor and turned into the kitchen.  And boy was it a kitchen: spacious, state of the art, immaculately clean, and perfectly organized.  A person could make some real art in a kitchen like that.  She was the first one down, apparently, so she put on a pot of coffee and looked through the cupboards for something to eat.

A few minutes later, while she was busy scrambling some eggs, Isaac walked into the kitchen.  He was fully dressed in slacks and a white collared shirt and tie, and looked as though he had been up for a while.  He raised one eyebrow as he saw what she was doing.

“I do appreciate a woman who knows her way around the kitchen,” Isaac said.

Jo rolled her eyes, but found herself chuckling.  “Do you want some eggs?”

“Don’t mind if I do.”  He pulled out one of the stools that rested next to the counter and took a seat.

Jo scooped some eggs onto a plate, pulled a fork out of the drawer, and slid both across the counter to him.  “Why are you helping us, Isaac?  Really.”

He shrugged.  “Doesn’t really matter, does it?  What matters is you’re not as out in the cold as you thought you were.”

That was hardly satisfactory, but Jo had to admit he had a point.  “So what happens now?”

Isaac shrugged and took a bite of his eggs.  He chewed slowly and swallowed, then nodded approvingly.  “Not bad, girl.  You might have a future.”  Then he grinned, showing his teeth, which were shiny white and perfectly straight.  Jo had not noticed that about him before, but she was hardly surprised.  Aside from his burn scars, Isaac was the image of understated wealth.  At least as long as you did not look at his house.  He stood and walked around the counter to a cupboard, where he retrieved a glass, then poured himself some water from the sink.  “In a little while,” he said after taking a shallow drink, “I have some people coming over later.  Friends of mine,” he looked at her and raised an eyebrow, “and of yours.  We’ll have a palaver and decide how to proceed, then we’ll be off.”

“Off where?”

Isaac snorted and sat back down on his stool.  He cast a withering glance at her, then went back to eating his eggs and said nothing more.

 *  *  *  *  *

Isaac disappeared after breakfast without saying another word.  He simply returned his plate to the sink and grunted at Jo, again giving her a look of disapproval, as though she had said or done something to offend him.  Then he left, leaving her to wonder what the hell had just happened.

Not long after, Malcolm rose from the evening’s rest and came down to the kitchen, clad in a bathrobe.  Jo was just about done cleaning up from her and Isaac’s breakfast when he arrived, looking around the kitchen curiously.

“How are you feeling?”

Jo shrugged and, not trusting herself to speak, just kept on scrubbing at the pan she had used to cook the eggs.  Malcolm gave her a curious, wary look, but said nothing more.  He just grabbed some bread and jam and made himself some toast, then he left to get ready for the day.

It was not that she did not want to talk with Malcolm.  It was more that Isaac had her baffled.  What was he playing at?  He put on a show of being an uncaring, callous old man – though truth be told he was not really all that old – but there was clearly much more going on with him than that.  He worked for, or rather with, the Underground, but he was more than willing, eager even, to break with them as soon as he disagreed with what they were doing.  And yet he allowed them to use his home, or at least one of his homes, as a safe house.  It could not be that hard to trace the house’s ownership, and if the NSA or another agency found out how the house was used it would doubtless cause no end of trouble for him.  He was a walking contradiction.

It was intriguing.  And unsettling.  If he was so willing to go against the Underground after clearly having cast his lot with them, how eager would he be to back Jo and Malcolm if they got in real trouble?

Jo grit her teeth and attacked a particularly stubborn bit of grit on the pan.  She hated answering to someone else for her wellbeing.  Absolutely hated it.  It was much better to be in charge, to make her own decisions and rise or fall based on that, not someone else’s whims.  Which she supposed is why she loved being Captain so much, and why she was good at it.

It did not take long to finish cleaning up, and she stalked away to freshen up before Isaac’s friends arrived.

She might as well not have. Isaac was coy about exactly when his guests were to arrive, or who they were.  So there was little to do except wait.  Fortunately, the house was marvelously equipped with all the amenities a body could want, so Jo spent the morning and most of the afternoon camped out in the upstairs library with a book tablet that she had always meant to read but never got around to.

At one point, not long after lunch, the strangeness of her situation struck her.  Only now that she was a wanted fugitive did she finally have free time to read.  Even during the year-long shifts aboard ship, she generally kept busy enough with her duties that reading eluded her.  Or she just kept herself entertained with other things.  But now, with maybe her life literally on the line, she found the time.  It was odd.

Finally, as the sun was beginning to sink below the mountains to the west – at first it surprised her because it was still early, but then she remembered they were deep in the valley – Isaac came to join her in the library.

“They will be here in about an hour,” he said.

Jo tapped the tablet display and put it to sleep, then stood and returned it to its places on the small shelf that held Isaac’s reading collection.  “Will you tell me now who I’ve been waiting for?”

Isaac smirked.  Or was that a half-smile?  “I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.”

With that, he left her alone again.

Jo sighed.  This cloak and dagger bit was starting to get very tiresome.  Very tiresome indeed.

 *  *  *  *  *

Jo took a few minutes to freshen up and change into clean clothes.  Not that the clothes she had on were particularly dirty, but after having been on the run so often lately, Jo found she had become attentive to every little blemish and wanted her shirts, at least, as clean as possible.  And she wanted to make a good impression on whomever these mysterious visitors were, and the t-shirt she had on was not going to do the trick.  When she descended the stairs in a nice, conservative collared blouse and slacks, she felt more than ready to face whatever came with at least a bit of dignity.

She was not prepared for Malcolm, as she entered the living room.

He had, over the last couple weeks, become as rumpled as Jo felt, even during their short stay with the Underground.  Planning Becky’s rescue had taken so much time and effort that neither Jo nor he had been able to get much rest.  But this evening he had apparently decided to become human again as well.  And he did it with style.  He wore dark blue, pleated slacks and an off-white shirt, open at the collar, and over that a sports jacket that fit well enough that Jo wondered if it had been tailor made for him.  Overall, he projected an image of understated style, and it was hard not to stare.

Malcolm turned to face Jo as she entered the room and smiled, inclining his head in greeting, but he did not say anything.  Hs eyes spoke enough, though, as they gave her a quick, approving once-over.  In spite of herself, Jo felt a little rush of pleasure at his approval.

Enough of that.  They were not first-tour crewmembers on a their first run away from their parents, playing at romance anymore.  She was the Captain, and he…

Well, he wasn’t in her crew anymore, was he.  And she was not the Captain.  That admission pained her, all the more because she had never allowed herself to think it before.  She was no longer the Captain.  For good or ill, that part of her life was over.  Even if she managed to come through this without being crucified by the NSA or any number of other government agencies, it was beyond unlikely that McAllister would take her back on.

It was like a piece of her died.  Or rather, like a piece of her had already died, and she just now realized it.  The momentary pleasure faded, replaced by a sense of loss more profound than she would have thought.  It was just a job, after all.

Right.  Go on telling yourself that.

Malcolm’s smile faded a bit.  “Jo?  Are you alright?”

Jo forced a smile onto her lips.  She nodded.  “Yes.  Just thinking.”  She took a deep breath and walked over next to him.  “Do you know – ?”

The doorbell rang then, drawing her eyes toward the entranceway.

“I think we’re about to find out,” Malcolm replied.

*  *  *  *  *

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 a couple months to read the rest book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

Bragging Rights

I know I missed posting the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy yesterday.  Look for it later this afternoon.  For this post, however, I feel like bragging a bit, and I’m not even going to be humble about it.  😛

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, physically.

Two Thursdays ago, my wife’s friend informed her that she was injured and could not run the upcoming San Diego Half Marathon, and would either of us like to run it in her place?  The better half looked at me and asked if I was up for it.  Now, I ran that half marathon back in December, but I’ve not run long distance since then.  I’ve been focusing on my swimming because of the Triathlon I had coming up, swimming being my weakest portion of the Tri.  But I figured what the heck, so I said yes.

And so last Saturday I flashed my wife’s friend’s ID at the race expo and got her bib.  Then on Sunday I ran the San Diego Half Marathon.  I finished in 2:17 – over a quarter hour from my best (I set my personal record in the half marathon back in December – 2:00:26), but not too bad considering I had not trained for it at all and I didn’t even know I was going to run it until three days before the event.

But Lordy Lordy was I sore on Monday.  Hell, I was sore all Sunday afternoon.  It wasn’t until Friday that I was back to my usual self, but even then I had a pain in my left foot.

That was a bit of a problem, because this Sunday (today) I was scheduled to swim/bike/run the SEAL Sprint Triathlon on Coronado.  This I HAVE been training for.  So this morning I rolled out dark and early for the race.  I finished in 1:35.  I finished the same race last year (my first Triathlon ever) in 1:43.  So I improved by 8 minutes overall.  I was two minutes faster in each event (700m swim, 20k bike, 6k run) and trimmed 2 minutes from my swim-bike transition time.  Not too bad at all.  🙂

After the race, the Admiral (my wife) and the kids met me on Coronado and we hung out on the beach for a while, then we came home for lunch – hamburgers from the grill.  Yummy.  We’ve been hanging out in the back yard all afternoon.  The kids are messing around in their kiddie pool and I’ve been nursing a couple beers.  My foot still hurts a bit, but I feel great other than that.

So life is good.

Hope all is well with y’all.

 

🙂

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Thirty-One

It’s time for the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Don’t forget, it’s available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Thirty – One

A House In The Valley

After another kilometer, the dilapidated buildings Jo had almost become accustomed to walking past grew more sparse until they passed a lone refueling station at the extreme southern end of the pitiful little town.  Then it was just her, Malcolm, and the open road.  Jo was tempted to feel guilty that she did not even know the name of the little island of despair they had just departed.  But she would very likely never lay eyes on it again, one way or the other.

It actually became pleasant, walking along the empty road under the midmorning sun.  It reminded Jo of good times in the past, with her family from the starliner.  Hiking the Vine Peaks of Talos.  Braving the winds along the eternal terminator of Gliese.  Watching the aurora on Centauri.  Those and a hundred other wonders that the planetbound never get to see.  Never dream of seeing, because they do not know they exist.  Or if they do, they dismiss them as fancy or something beyond a person’s reach.  It truly was a blessed life Jo had been dealt.  Or rather, that she had chosen.  Even if all of this turned out poorly, which it seemed it was going to however she tried to keep her spirits up, it had been a good life, and she was thankful for it.

The trick was to make sure things did not turn out poorly.

Small clusters of buildings, businesses and residences, began to appear, one and all in much better repair than those in the shanty they had left behind.  Before long, the road resembled more a typical suburban stretch of highway, with businesses and strip malls interspersed with crossroads leading to residential subdivisions.  It was like stepping forward in time from some godawful place in history back to modern times.

They reached a busy crossroads.  Two refueling stations stood catty-corner on either side of the intersection, and opposite them two competing fast food joints, each catching traffic heading in one of the main directions.  The traffic had gotten heavier, but was still far and away from what could be expected down in Quito proper.  Still it was substantial compared to what they had seen for the last couple of hours.

“We go left here,” Malcolm said.

The street was named Vía de la Valle, and true to its name over the next couple kilometers it wound its way higher into the mountains along the side of a steep grade into a sheltered valley.  It was immediately clear that this was a more upscale community: large houses perched higher up the side of the hill, surrounded by carefully sculpted grounds complete, in many cases, with swimming pools.  Schools, churches, restaurants, and all manner of other businesses and entertainments were visible down in the valley and along the side of the hill, all beautifully designed and maintained.  Jo was immediately struck by the contrast with where they had just been.

“Amazing that things are so much different here, only a few kilometers away,” she mused as they stopped for a breather.  “I did not expect the safe house to be so impressive.”

Malcolm chuckled, wiping the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand – it had grown quite warm as the morning turned to afternoon.  “It is not one of those.”  He gestured toward a particularly large house perched atop a rise not far away.  “Our place is down in the valley.  We’ll take the next road down.  It’s not far now.”

That was good to hear.

Of course, not far is relative, as Jo decided when, an hour and a half later, they finally reached the bottom of the valley.  By then she was wet with sweat and feeling quite parched.  Why had they not stopped back at those fast food places?  At the time it did not seem a big deal, but she was feeling the lack of sustenance now.  Jo normally walked a lot, at least compared to most people she knew, but she was all hiked out.  Her feet were throbbing and her legs felt rubbery, and she wanted nothing more than to flop down onto a chair and drink a river.  And then eat a cow.

She looked longingly at an outdoor shopping center ahead that sported no less than three different restaurants.  “Can we get a bite to eat?”

Malcolm pursed his lips, then shook his head.  “The house is stocked.  Better that we keep a low profile.”

Jo understood the notion, and agreed with it.  But damn if she did not feel like taking another step.  At least Malcolm looked about as beat as she did, but he voiced no complaint, just kept on hiking.  She adjusted her bag on her shoulder and followed.

 *  *  *  *  *

Malcolm had not been entirely truthful about the safe house.

It was no mansion, to be sure, but it was one hell of a nice place.  At least from the outside.  Two stories tall, with a large front porch and quaint, welcoming architecture, it sat on a secluded lot a hundred meters or so from the nearest neighbor.  Somewhere Jo heard the trickling of running water, and she presumed a stream ran somewhere through the grounds.  Whoever owned this place had some money to his name.  Jo wondered how the Underground had gained use of it.

The door was locked, naturally, but the security system had not been updated to accommodate database implants.  Or at least, it still retained just a simple keypad so a person could enter the security code manually.  Whether an implant would work or not was anyone’s guess, but it did not matter.  Malcolm knew the code, and within moments they were inside.

Less than a minute later, Jo flopped onto an incredibly comfortable leather couch in the first floor’s spacious living room.  Spacious did not even begin to describe it, actually.  It was almost as big as Jo’s entire condo, and was impeccably decorated with tasteful artwork on the walls, a couple of nice sculptures, furniture that all looked at least as comfortable as the couch, and a large brick fireplace with a televid display above the mantel.

“This,” Jo said, “is one hell of a safe house.”

“Thank you,” said a voice from behind her.

Malcolm froze where he stood, halfway into sitting in one of the stuffed chairs near the fireplace.  His eyes widened in shock, in sudden terror.  In confusion.

Jo sat bolt upright and looked behind her, toward the hallway leading deeper into the house.

Isaac stood there, dressed casually in jeans and a burgundy collared shirt and holding a glass filled with an amber fluid – scotch? – In each hand.  He looked at them with something that could either be irritation or amusement and said, “Welcome to my home.  Would you like a drink?”

*  *  *  *  *

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 a couple months to read the rest book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or  iTunes.