Saturday night. That means it’s time for the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. Don’t forget, it’s available in ebook and trade paperback from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.
The van was old. Old enough that it could not support a database implant uplink, and they had been developed before Jo departed Gliese on the run back to Earth that had changed everything. Jo supposed it would not have been difficult to upgrade the van’s electronics, but for whatever reason its owners never bothered to. Now that Citizens For Liberty – she finally found out what they called themselves, though she still called it the Undeground, at least in her own head; CFL seemed a bit trite – used it, Jo had no doubt its electronics would never be upgraded. The lack of connectivity suited their need for stealth and security well.
Jo rolled her shoulders. She and her companions had been sitting in van at their pre-determined location for two hours, awaiting the signal. And the passenger seat, however well padded, was beginning to wear on her. She was developing a kink in her upper back.
“Should be any time now.”
Jo glanced aside at her companion in the van’s cockpit, a chubby guy dressed, as she was, in a loose black jumpsuit and matching gloves. He had greying black hair, a thick beard, and small, beady eyes. His name was Henri. Over the last week, she had gotten to know him fairly well. Well enough to know that he was cool under pressure, at least theoretical pressure, and that he had little love for the ideals that others in the CFL shared. He was driven by anger. Somehow, some way – he never explained how – the government screwed him, and he was out to screw the government back.
He never explained exactly what he meant by that either.
“You’ve been saying that for the last hour, Henri,” said Raúl, from the passenger area behind them.
Jo was surprised that Raúl was with them. After the doctor fixed up his arm, Pedro gave him money to cover his expenses from the evening, plus extra for his trouble, and lined him up with people who could furnish a new, fake, identity for him. But for whatever reason, he opted to continue providing his services to the CFL. Maybe he wanted to screw the government too.
Or maybe they just paid better than he was used to.
“No sense griping,” Jo said. They had known it could be a long wait. Their information was imprecise at best.
Raúl sniffed and went back to monitoring his instruments. When the call came in, he would be the first to see it.
It had taken a while to get Malcolm to agree with her idea, let alone Pedro. The NSA had Becky in their Field Office. The CFL had been able to learn that much from the few contacts they had that still talked with them. But the Field Office was hardly set up for long-term prisoner detention. At some point they would have to move her to a proper prison. When that happened, the CFL would have an opportunity to bust her out.
It was risky. Odds were it would just result in a lot of them getting arrested as well. But if it worked, and they got Becky out, they could get to the backed up data drives and proceed with the plan. The only other alternative was to admit defeat, and Jo was not about to do that.
She was surprised that Malcolm was not onboard immediately. But he eventually agreed, and from there it was fairly short work for the two of them to browbeat Pedro into it.
Not that he came along for the operation himself. He had other things to do.
Jo smirked and shook her head. It was just as well. He was a bit too green for this sort of thing anyway.
Not that Jo was much more experienced in this area either. She was honest enough with herself to admit that much. Leadership, command, organization – those things she could do in her sleep. Blatantly flaunting the law, though… That was still new, and took some getting used to.
A burst of static followed by a series of electronic beeps issued momentarily from the speakers mounted in the van’s rear. The noise shut off abruptly, and Jo looked over her shoulder to see Raúl hunched over the workstation there, headphones pressed to his ears while he quickly jotted down notes on the workstation’s interface pad. He must have unplugged the headphones for a short while, and who could blame him? Even the most ergonomically designed unit could become uncomfortable over time.
Raúl finished transcribing and looked up. His expression was tight, nervous, and he appeared a bit pale. Meeting Jo’s gaze, he nodded quickly.
* * * * *
Jaqueline Moore peered at the transport van through her windshield and scowled. It was bad enough she had to take part in this bit of busy-work, but did it really have to be scheduled on a Sunday? Not that she cared for Sundays more than any other day, really. Her parents attended Mass regularly, but she had long ago left that superstition aside. But this Sunday was supposed to be a day off, and she got few enough of them that she did not relish the thought of losing even one to work.
Especially not to mindless work.
But that was how it went sometimes. Two weeks ago, she had been riding high. She had silenced a potentially huge security leak, was responsible for taking down the largest CFL cell ever discovered, and had secured the cooperation of a well-placed informant who could no doubt lead her to even more arrests in short order. As a result, she had received commendations from the entire chain of command, up to and including Deputy Director Chandini. There was talk of early promotion for herself and Jesús, and maybe a transfer away from this God-forsaken pit of a city to someplace more livable.
And then it all went to hell.
“Fucking DiStefano,” she muttered under her breath.
The driver, a rookie agent in a nondescript navy blue suit with a weak tie, whose name she forgot, looked at her curiously. “Ma’am?”
“Nothing. Just keep driving.”
The rookie blanched and looked back to the street ahead, his lips compressing into a tight scowl. Jackie almost felt ashamed; she probably did not need to have used so cutting a tone. But she was not in the mood to talk, at least not to the likes of him. The fact that she was stuck with him until Jesús recovered – if he ever did; Ngubwe’s plasma bolt had taken off most of his kneecap – just made the situation more annoying.
But she did have to work with the guy. Jackie sighed and looked back at the rookie again.
“Sorry. It’s been a tough week.”
He flashed an understanding smile at her. “I can only imagine.” They rode in silence for almost a full minute, then he piped up again. “Is it true Chandini threatened to send you to Titan for life?”
Jackie blinked. Where had he heard that one? Ah, the water-cooler rumor mill. She had always hated that.
“No. Not even close.”
Chandini had, in fact, threatened her if she failed to correct the situation quickly. But not with anything as pleasant as being stuck on Titan for the rest of her life. She almost shuddered as she recalled the conversation, but forced herself to stillness quickly. It would not do to show weakness in front of the rookie.
“That’s good. I’d hate to see that happen to you.” The rookie smiled at her again. He was actually not bad looking; she had not noticed that before. “You know, I… OH FUCK!”
He slammed on the brakes and their vehicle fishtailed, almost losing control completely as the wheels struck a leftover puddle from yesterday’s rainfall.
But Jackie hardly noticed. Her whole attention was riveted ahead, as she watched her life end.
* * * * *
The truck slammed into the side of the prison transport van, sending the van careening sideways for several meters before it slammed into the metal and concrete guardrail separating the edge of the street from the pedestrian walkway beyond. An assortment of people, from businessmen in expensive suits to vacationers in shorts and t-shirts, leapt away from the impact zone, lest they get crushed.
Jo was relieved to see the guardrail held; they were not there to hurt anyone, after all. Not if they could help it.
She glanced aside at Henri, who nodded curtly. Then they both pulled dark ski-masks down over their faces and he put the van into gear.
In the intersection ahead, traffic had come a standstill. The truck effectively blocked most of the oncoming lanes, and those that were not quickly blocked themselves as cars screeched to a stop. Some of them contained the other teams in their little raid, Jo knew, but still she felt exposed as they sped toward the scene.
Henri slammed on the brakes as they came even with the truck, then put the van in park and hopped out. Jo followed, drawing her plasma pistol as she did.
The prison van driver and the man riding shotgun were visible through the cracked plastiglass of the windshield and side windows. They looked too stunned to do anything right at the moment, but that could change quickly.
To her right, two men in black ski masks like hers hopped out of a stopped car. One trained a rifle on the cab of the prison van – it was his job to make sure the two men in the van did not do anything rash – and the other covered the street to the right.
Jo followed Henri as he hurried toward the back of the prison van, but noticed the truck driver descending from his driver’s seat and also shouldering a rifle. Malcolm’s eyes glinted with excitement and…glee?…and he shot a wink at her as she passed him before turning his attention to the the street to the left.
Was he any good at shooting a rifle? Jo could not recall; she hoped he had been practicing.
Henri reached the back door and pulled a small roll of what looked like paper out of the pouch on his belt. Unrolling it quickly, he pressed it to the seam where the van’s two rear doors met and tapped it in two places, then stepped back. The strip quickly turned red, then a scalding white as light and heat, intense enough that Jo had to step back and look away to avoid being dazzled by the glare and temperature, flowed out of it and into the metal of the doors. Whatever locking mechanism the van had could not stand up to that.
Within seconds, the strip had burned out, leaving only blackened ash marking its place.
Henri glanced at Jo; she could see the question in his eyes. All set?
She nodded and raised her pistol, sighting in on the door and whomever might be inside.
Henri grasped the door’s handle and pulled it open.
* * * * *
Jackie threw the passenger side door open and leapt from the car almost before it came to a halt, drawing her sidearm with practiced speed as she went.
Though there had been speculation about possible trouble with this or another prisoner transfer, she never really expected the CFL to be so bold. Always before they had kept to the shadows, working their little schemes and playing their cloak and dagger games. They would occasionally contribute to something big enough to draw attention to themselves, but they never came out directly.
Which is why it had been so difficult to locate them. If not for the chink in the armor they had revealed during their interaction with Ishikawa…
Jackie scowled. She was involved in this. Jackie knew it instinctively. This sort of direct, aggressive action was exactly the sort of thing Ishikawa would go for. Her bio and psych profile had made that very clear; she was a woman of action, and would not readily sit in the shadows. Jackie had to admit a grudging respect for the erstwhile Captain; a pity she had gone so far off the rails.
But that was neither here nor there. They were not going to get this prisoner. Not on her watch, with that sentence hanging over her head.
All that passed through Jackie’s mind in a split second, long enough to hunker down in a crouch behind the car’s hood and survey the scene.
Two perpetrators were at the rear of the transport van. They had applied a cutting strip to the doors and would have them open in short order, if their placement was even halfway competent, which Jackie did not doubt for a second. A third peered over the sights of a plasma rifle down the street toward her, but he was mostly focused on the area to her left. It did not appear he had noticed her or the rookie.
Jackie smiled thinly and flexed her fingers around the grip of her weapon. The sentry’s oversight was going to doom their whole gambit.
She glanced to her left, where the rookie was just emerging from their vehicle, from the passenger side, the side away from the action, just as the book said. At least the Academy still taught the basics correctly. He was flushed, his eyes narrowed. He was certainly nervous, frightened even, but he did not show it, at least not overtly. Jackie found her initial opinion of him improving. There might be some substance there after all.
A quick series of hand-gestures later, the rookie nodded and slid back toward the rear of the vehicle, crouching to maintain cover. Jackie moved to the front bumper and peaked over again.
The transport van’s rear doors were open. The guards inside were cowed, hands raised under the aim of one of the Libertarians, a female. The prisoner, bleary-eyed from her sedatives, was slowly exiting with assistance from the other bandit. Jackie looked back toward the sentry. He was looking backward, toward the prisoner.
It was now or never, and the fool had just given her all the opening she needed.
Jackie made a chopping gesture with her left hand, signaling the rookie to move out. Then she rose and moved around the bumper, bringing her weapon up to a firing position. In her peripheral vision, she saw the rookie do the same.
And then he went down, flung from his feet by a ball of plasma that streaked in front of Jackie from out of nowhere.
Dropping to the ground, she rolled to her right and brought her weapon to bear.
And found herself looking down the barrels of a pair of plasma rifles, the left-most one still releasing a small wisp of post-discharge gasses from its muzzle.
The two men watched her cooly, eyes flat behind their black ski-masks. They stood behind the hood of a car ten meters to her right. How had she not noticed them before?
They had the drop on her. She knew it; they knew it. It only took a second to decide. Chandini’s punishment would be bad, yes, but it would not be death. Live to fight another day, and all that.
Jackie, lying there on her belly, raised her hands and tossed her weapon aside.
The men relaxed visibly; the one on the left glanced to the side. Jackie followed his glance and saw the prisoner getting into a van, the one that had followed the truck to the scene. The woman who had covered her exit from the transport and the un-attentive sentry were close behind.
A moment later, the van doors closed, its motor started, and it sped away.
The sound of a motor off to her right drew Jackie’s gaze back in that direction. The two riflemen were also gone, their car speeding away after the van.
Jackie got to her feet and retrieved her weapon, and was relieved – and surprised at that – to hear the rookie groan behind her.
“Son of a bitch!” he muttered as he struggled to his feet.
“Glad you remembered your vest.”
“Damn right.” He stumbled forward to her side and looked around. He whistled softly, then shook his head. “Son of a bitch. We’re fucked.”
He had no idea how right he was.
* * * * *
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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.