The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Thirty-Nine

I’ve been a week away from the blog, and from chapters.  All kinds of reasons for that, but nothing worthy of voicing.  For now, it’s time for the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Read and enjoy, but don’t forget, the book is available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes. You won’t hurt my feelings if you decide to purchase a copy.  After all the cash I had to fork out this weekend, every little bit will help.  😉

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Thirty – Nine

Counting The Cost

“Are you sure about this, Jo?”

Jo turned toward Malcolm in surprise and quirked an eyebrow at him.  “It’s a bit late to ask that question, don’t you think?”

It was late.  In every sense of the word.  They had spent a long afternoon and evening analyzing the layout of the lab – Camp Tycho, Winston called it – and planning their incursion.  Jo had not realized how bone weary she was until Jervis at long last declared an end to the day and had an assistant lead her and Malcolm to their quarters: a pair of simple bunk rooms in the rear corner of the building, one on either side of the hall from the other.  The mere act of walking toward her bed suddenly allowed all the efforts of the day to fall upon her, and it was all she could do to not sink to the floor and fall asleep right then and there.

But she made it, back to her room.  And was about to go in and flop down on her bed – and to hell with brushing her teeth or getting out of her clothes – when Malcolm asked the question.

Malcolm smirked in amusement for a brief moment, but quickly became all seriousness again.  “I’m serious.  Have you really thought about what we’re about to do?”

Her head hurt; too much thinking for one day already.  “Yes, Malcolm.  I’ve thought it through.  That’s all I’ve been doing for days now.  Weeks.”

He shook his head.  “I don’t mean planning.  I mean thinking.”  He took a half-step toward her.  “Think about what we’re about to do.  And I don’t mean the fact that we’re about to steal those eggs back.”

Jo rolled her eyes.  “Then what do you mean?”

“You studied the starmap their Captain gave us.  Their system is two hundred and sixty-three light years away.  If we’re successful and get the eggs aboard Agrippa, and then manage to get underway and out of the solar system…”  He shook his head.  “Even taking time dilation into account, we’re talking about a seventy year trip, give or take.  One way.”

“Yes.”

“No one’s ever been in cryo-suspension that long.  They’ve never even done tests for that long a suspension.  Even if all goes well…”  He pursed his lips.  “On the trip from Gliese to Earth the passengers are in suspension for about eight years, and age six months.  On this trip, we’ll age almost six years.”

Jo snorted.  “Six years is nothing.”

Malcolm raised an eyebrow.

She sighed, and nodded.  She opened her mouth, but Malcolm beat her to it.

“And that’s even assuming we awake at all.  How much life does Agrippa’s reactor have left?  Can it even remain hot for seventy years?”

“That’s not an issue,” Jo said.  “I checked.  Agrippa is one of the newest fusion drive ships.  They burn a lot more efficiently than the plant we had on Pericles.  She should be good for as long as we need.”

Malcolm nodded, conceding the point.  “Fine.  But there are still other potential problems.  I operated one of those new plants once, a few years ago.  They’re highly automated, but it’s much different from what I’m used to.  Even if I can make it work, what if…”

“So look up the technical manuals and study up.  They’re not classified or anything.”  She drew a deep breath to try to dampen the annoyance his questions were beginning to invoke.  “Look, Malcolm, I know the risks.  What would you suggest?  We just put the eggs aboard and send it burning off on automatic?  Hope the aliens find it and figure out what to do with it?”  She shook her head.  “That’s just silly.”

“It’ll be on automatic most of the trip anyway.”

“Except for the most important part: contact.  We need to be there, to explain what’s happened.  To apologize.”

“Even if it means not coming back?  We won’t have fuel for the return trip.  If they’re unable, or unwilling, to refuel us, we’ll be stuck there.  Forever.”  He shivered slightly, and Jo was tempted to do the same.  “Are you really willing to take that risk?”

That thought had crossed Jo’s mind once or twice, and it terrified her.  To live out the rest of her days – and there would not be very many of them – so far away from anyone and anything familiar.  To die alone, maybe at the hands of the very beings she was trying to do right by.  It was not something she wanted to even think about.  But Malcolm was right: it was a very real possibility.

So what was she supposed to do, shrink away from that possibility?  Maybe if there was another alternative…but there was not.  Jo had to believe that these beings, advanced as they were, and as honorable as they appeared during their brief meeting aboard Pericles, would see that she – that they – were trying to do the right thing, and treat them accordingly.  And even if they did not, it would be worth it to prevent an even worse impression when they eventually learned the truth of what humanity did to their babies.

As for the rest…  she would have to deal with those issues as they came up.

Jo nodded.  “It’s not an unreasonable risk to take, considering the circumstances.”

Malcolm just looked at her for a moment, staring her straight in the eye.  Jo felt a rush of warmth and had to work hard to keep from flushing at his direct, frank gaze and his subtle musky smell.  He had not looked at her like that since…  No, she was not going back to that again.  She squared her shoulders and forced that bit of excitement down firmly beneath a mantle of professionalism.  Or at least she tried to.  But tired as she was, it was more difficult to do that than she would have thought.

Finally, Malcolm spoke.  “You are remarkable, Jo.  Do you know that?”

She realized she was smiling, she hoped not girlishly.  “So I’ve been told.”  She snorted out a half-laugh.  “Remarkably stupid.”

Malcolm laughed as well.  And then, before she realized it was happening, he was holding her tightly, gently.  His mouth pressed against hers, and she surprised herself by returning the kiss fiercely.  Time seemed to stop until finally, with a regret that she felt down to her bones, she pushed him back to arms’ reach.

Malcolm drew a deep breath; Jo noticed he was shaking.  For that matter she was rather breathless herself.

“I’ve missed doing that,” Malcolm said softly.

Jo nodded.  Not-so-deep down inside, she had missed it too.  But it simply was not feasible, with them on different ships.  And then he got transferred onto her ship and it became inappropriate.  They had both been adults, put it behind them.  But apparently not that far behind.

It’s the stress.  You’re just clinging to the familiar as a coping mechanism.

Jo suppressed the thought, but it rang true enough that she could not ignore it completely.  Now was not the time for this.  Maybe later, after they had put this business behind them and had time to actually think, to feel, without the threat of the gallows hanging over their shoulders.

“Get some rest, Malcolm,” she said.  “It’s going to be a long day tomorrow.”

He nodded agreement, but she saw regret…and need…in his eyes, and for a moment she thought he might try to kiss her again.  She was not sure how she would react to that.

Instead, he turned and went into his room.  The click of the door’s latch snapping into place seemed to ring with a note of finality that made Jo’s heart sink.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Saturday (for real this time) with the next chapter. Of course if you don’t want to bother waiting the weeks it will take to get through the rest book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.  Or even if you just like the story and want to hook me up, that’s works as well.

Oh yeah, and if you’ve read it and like it, please leave a review on Goodreads, Amazon, and anywhere else you can think to.  Every review helps, even the bad ones, believe it or not.  Thanks!

Until next time, then.

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Thirty-Eight

It’s time for the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Read and enjoy, but don’t forget, the book is available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes. You won’t hurt my feelings if you decide to purchase a copy.  After all the cash I had to fork out this weekend, every little bit will help.  😉

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Thirty – Eight

The Mole

Jervis was right.  Jo fell in love with the mole immediately.

Well, not really in love, but for a moment there she was not sure.  He was handsome enough, certainly: young, tall, with striking features, darkly tanned skin, dark hair and eyes, and a dashing smile.  But what made her heart soar was his clothing.

He wore the uniform of a security guard, and it exactly matched those of the guards in the video Malcolm and Becky showed her, back in Quito.

“Jo, Malcolm,” Jervis said as the mole entered the little room, “meet Winston.  He is a member of the security detachment at the lab.”

“Very pleased to meet you,” Jo said, and smiled broadly.  She had assumed the mole was an engineer or scientist, or maybe a technician.  For him to be in security there…this made their task so much easier.  Hopefully.  She could not help but let some of her optimism carry into her tone as she greeted him and shook his hand, and she cringed inwardly.

Beside her, Malcolm smirked, and merely said, “Hello,” before shaking hands with the man.

They sat down around a long conference table that dominated the room, Jervis at the head to Jo’s left and Isaac at the other end, with her and Malcolm in the middle to Jervis’ right.  Winston waited for the rest of them to sit then took a seat opposite Jo, moving with the ease of a man who keeps in good shape.  Becky was not in this meeting, which Jo found surprising at first.  But after thinking it over quickly, it made sense.  She would not have known who this man was, and she did not need to know.  Malcolm and Jo needed to know; they would be working with him, and Isaac…well, Isaac could apparently know whatever he wanted.  His status as the CFL founder afforded him that, Jo supposed, even if he did not make use of it much.

The room was on the second floor, down the hallway and to the left from a control center that was very similar to Becky’s in Quito, if not quite as robust and technically up-to-date.  That made sense too, since Brisbane was at best tertiary when it came to the monitoring and control of the Earth-Luna space sectors.  All the same, for what it was, the control center was impressive: efficiently laid out, apparently well maintained.  Jo was beginning to suspect that more than a little of the funding Becky and Malcolm described came from Isaac’s shell companies as much as from any legitimate businesses that sought the CFL’s help.  One control station of Quito’s capability was one thing.  If all the CFL sectors had command and control setups like Brisbane’s, and Jo suspected they did, that would take a hell of a lot of money to establish and maintain, not to mention the bureaucratic know-how to make the required purchases without showing up on some agency’s radar.

It was pretty impressive.

“So…”  Jo looked from Winston to Jervis and raised her eyebrows.  It was their show.  Time to see what they had.

Jervis smiled knowingly and gestured for Winston to proceed.  The security guard cleared his throat and, inclining his head briefly toward Jervis, said, “Activity has increased severalfold in the fortnight.  The scientists are working three shifts; word is there is massive pressure coming down from above to finish the current projects, and then we’ll be shutting down altogether.  In the meantime, they’ve nearly doubled the security force.”  He shook his head.  “Something’s got them spooked.”

That checked with the chart.  Chandini had to know there was a possibility they were going to blow the whistle on the whole thing or take more direct action.  She, and her superiors, would be stupid not to get rid of the evidence as quickly as possible.  Jo was actually surprised – pleasantly surprised – they had not simply pulled chocks already.

“How much time do we have?” asked Malcolm.

Winston shrugged.  “I’m not a techie.”  He frowned thoughtfully for a few seconds, then perked up.  “But I heard a couple of the senior engineers talking as they left a few days ago.  Sounded like they only thought a month, maybe a little more.”

Jo smiled.  “Perfect.  That’s all the time we need.”

Winston looked at her askance.  “Ma’am, this is a maximum security facility.  We all have greater than Top Secret clearance.”

“So do I.”

He did not look impressed.  “You did.  You’ve been specially flagged in the system, you know.  Everyone in security knows your face on sight.”  He glanced at Malcolm and added, “Both of you.  And even if they didn’t, they’ve got crack troops on security detail.  If you think you can just waltz up there without thorough planning, you’ve got another thing coming.”

“Ah, but we have an ace in the hole,” Jo replied, giving Winston a sharp, meaningful look.

He snorted.  “I’m just a guy who stands watch.  I don’t have authority over anyone but myself.”  He leaned forward and tapped his fingertip against the top of the table.  “Point is, you’re going to have to plan this to the tee.  Even with my help.  And even then, I wouldn’t give greater than a 50-50 chance of getting in, getting your video, and getting out again without being caught.”

Video?  Jo blinked and looked at Jervis.  “You didn’t tell him?”

Jervis returned her look with one of annoyance.  “I’ve been with you this whole time.  When was I supposed to tell him?”

Winston frowned in confusion.  “Tell me what?”

Jo sighed.  “We’re not going in to get video.”

She explained, and his jaw dropped.  He remained silent for almost a full minute after she finished.  She was about to lean over and shake him when he finally shook his head and spoke again.

“You’re insane.”

Jo opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off, standing and wagging a finger at her as he spoke.

“You are bloody bonkers.  If you think…”  He trailed off and just looked at her incredulously for a moment, then he snorted and threw up his hands.  “To hell with this.  I’m out of here.”  He turned toward the door.

And found Jervis blocking his way, his arms crossed over his chest.

“Where do you think you’re going, mate?”

“Away from her,” Winston replied.  “I pass you information, not…”  He drew a deep breath and said, more calmly, “Look, I can’t be involved in this sort of thing.  I’m fucked if I do.”

Jervis scowled at him.  “You’re fucked if you don’t.”

“But -“

“No.  Listen.”  Now it was Jervis who was wagging a finger – right in Winston’s face.  “You came to us, mate.  Said what was going on in there was some fucked up shit.  Said you wanted to help put a stop to it.  Well now’s your chance.”

“Bollocks.  I meant getting the word out, not some loopy scheme to rob the place!”

Malcolm spoke up, his deep voice carrying easily across the room despite the fact that he barely spoke above a whisper.  “We tried that.  It didn’t work.  There are no other options.”

Winston scowled and shook his head.  “No.  Fuck this.”

He moved to push past Jervis and then…something happened.  Jo couldn’t see, it happened so quickly.  One moment Winston looked as though he was going to push Jervis aside and get through the door.  The next, after a confusing twisting of limbs that happened too quickly for her eye to follow, Jervis had him pinned face-first against the wall, his arm pinned behind his back while Jervis grasped his throat in a choke-hold.

Winston’s eyes were wide in shock – no less so than Jo’s were, she was sure – and he made little choking sounds as he tried to speak.

But Jervis talked over him, quietly into his ear.  “You listen, mate, and listen well.  You’re tied to us.  You’re going to help with this.  If you don’t…  If you betray us, or do anything that hampers this operation, I will personally see to it that the authorities know exactly what you’ve been doing for us this last year.  And about your other little side job.”  Winston’s eyes widened even further, in stark, naked fear.  “Are we clear?”

Winston nodded.  Or tried to.  But it was clear enough.

Jervis released him with a quick shove that sent him staggering back toward the chair he had abandoned.  He caught himself from falling by placing both hands on the chair back and stood there, doubled over and breathing in deep gasps of air for a while, his eyes darting between the four of them in fright.

Jo was surprised to find she was standing.  A familiar tingling excitement swept through her, the byproduct of adrenalin, she knew, and she had to force her arms not to tremble as she, too, took hold of the table’s edge.  She leaned forward and looked Winston in the eye.  He met her gaze reluctantly, but her patented Captain stare held him once he did.

“I know this plan scares you, Winston,” Jo said.  “Believe me when I tell you if there were any other way, I would take it.  But what Malcolm said is correct.  The video you got out of there before is gone; the NSA took it.  We have no evidence, and no time to gather any more.  If we’re going to prevent the wholesale slaughter of those creatures, this is the only way.”

He was starting to get his breath back, and more importantly, she could see he was beginning to understand, and accept.

“Help us, Winston.  Please.”

Winston held her gaze for another long moment, then dropped his own gaze to the tabletop and nodded.  Good.  There was a chance that Jervis’ strong arm tactics would be enough to make him go along well enough.  But there was also a large chance that Winston would find some subtle way to betray them that they would never know.  Far better to use reason to convince him to give his help; then he would go all in for the mission.

Of course, it would have been better if Jervis had not jumped the gun, and she could have convinced Winston straight off.  They were back to amateur hour again, it seemed.  Jo turned a baleful eye on Jervis, who did not even have the grace to acknowledge the unspoken rebuke.  He just shrugged back at her and made a little “Get on with it” gesture.

Jo had to stop herself from grinding her teeth.

* * * * *

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 the weeks it will take to get through the rest book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.  Or even if you just like the story and want to hook me up, that’s works as well.

Until next time, then.

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Thirty-Seven

Now that I’ve recovered from my computer’s death by drowning, it’s time for the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Read and enjoy, but don’t forget, the book is available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes. You won’t hurt my feelings if you decide to purchase a copy.  After all the cash I had to fork out this weekend, every little bit will help.  😉

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Thirty – Seven

Brisbane

The airplane lifted off the tarmac, blazing away into the Boston night, and Jo sank back into her chair with a sigh of mixed relief and trepidation.  It was done; Carl was onboard, and the way ahead was clear.  Except it was not.  Eight million things could still go wrong, and any one of them could spell the end of their little caper, and more than likely the end of them as well.

Little caper.  She snorted softly to herself.  Had there ever been a bigger caper than this?

“It went well then, I take it?”

Jo turned her head away from the porthole next to her seat and looked at Isaac, seated in his chair across the jet’s small aisle.  She nodded.  “He’s onboard.”

“And you’re sure he won’t betray us?”

This time her snort was loud enough to carry throughout the plane’s cabin.  “Carl is nothing if not loyal, and discrete.  Alison as well.”

Isaac frowned, but said nothing more; he sipped at his drink instead.

The plane’s attitude eased from the steep nose-high angle of its initial climb into a more moderate cruise climb to its assigned altitude, filling Jo was a greater sense of ease.  However much she had travelled, she had never grown particularly comfortable with airplanes.  At least not in the way that she was with spacecraft.  A starliner could not just suddenly drop out of the sky; it flew on an orbital trajectory through the galaxy, even when its engines were not firing.  Nor did it ever really deviate from a straight-and-level attitude.  An airplane, though…  Cut off those engines and they were all going down.  It was not a particularly comfortable thought.

All the same, it was a good thing Isaac had access to this jet.  He had been unclear whether he owned it or had just hired it, but regardless, travel through the general aviation sections of the airports had much less security hoops to jump through than the commercial side, so they were able to avoid the damning identification process that had left Malcolm stranded in Quito for so long.

“So now what?” Isaac asked.  “Straight on to Brisbane?”  Facing him, catty-corner to Jo in his own seat, Jervis perked up, interested.

“I don’t see why not,” Jo replied.  “We have a lot of planning to do, and we’ll need access to your personnel and information to do it.”  She inclined her head to Jervis, who grinned.

“Way ahead of you, mate,” he said.  “My people are gathering up as we speak; even bringing the mole in.”

“Just who is the mole?” asked Malcolm, who sat opposite Jo, directly across the aisle from Jervis.

Jervis just smiled.  “Wait and see.  I guarantee you’ll love it.”

Malcolm frowned but did not reply.

*  *  *  *  *

Jo awoke to the airframe shuddering as the landing gear touched the runway.  It took her a moment to realize where she was; at first the unfamiliar faux-wood of the cabin’s ceiling made her blink in surprise, and she felt a momentary panic.  Then memory returned and she relaxed.  A bit.  Through her little porthole, the world quickly slowed as the pilot applied the brakes, then turned off onto the taxiway.

“Welcome to Bris-Vegas,” Jervis quipped.

He looked wide awake, as though he had gotten a good night’s sleep, showered, had breakfast, and was ready to get going.  It made Jo want to hit him.  Twenty-plus hours on this little plane – lavish as it was, it was still small – was not her idea of comfort, no matter how soft the seats and how far they reclined.  She had a kink in the middle of her back, between her shoulder blades, and her skin felt sticky; she was in dire need of a shower.

Jo sat up, pushing the button to raise her seat to a sitting position, and rolled her shoulders.  “What time is it?”

Jervis grinned at her.  “Ten o’clock.  Right on schedule.”  He glanced up forward, toward the cockpit.  “I really ought to fly in one of these more often.  It’s more timely than the commercial birds.”

From his seat, Isaac snorted.  “You would not like the bill.”  He looked as ruffled as Jo felt; clearly he had just awoken as well.

Jervis shrugged.  “Likely not.”

Malcolm and Becky were still asleep, for a wonder.  After the plane stopped and the flight crew opened the hatch, they had to shake the pair of them awake.  Amazing.

The sun shone down brightly as Jo exited and descended the stairs.  Lately she had mostly spent her time in the northern hemisphere when she was not actually on the equator in Quito, so Jo found herself a bit disoriented at first.  Her instincts wanted to tell her that the sun, nearing its zenith in the sky to her left as she left the plane, was pointing her toward the south.  It took a moment to recall that, as Australia sat, the ecliptic plane lay to the north.  It made her pause for a moment to re-arrange her thinking.

A van was waiting for them outside the Fixed Base Operation – Reliant Aviation, it was called – and they piled in.  The driver was a lanky man with greying blond hair and a wry smile who greeted them with a cheery “G’day” but said little else.  As soon as they were all inside, he put the van in gear and set off.

Jo settled back onto her seat and looked at Jervis.  “Why do you call it Bris-Vegas?”

He chuckled and shrugged.  “We’ve called her that for years,” he said.  “Centuries.  Started because of the casino downtown by the river and all the tourists who came through.  The casino was destroyed in the Tribune Wars, but the name stuck anyway.”

That made sense, to an extent.

The rest of the ride was filled with small talk.  Jervis pointed out landmarks as they drove past and shared tidbits of local lore; in general he seemed to like playing the tour guide.  Maybe it was because so few opportunities arose to do so.  Jo recalled a bit of Australian history; not much, but a bit.  Brisbane, during the Tribune Wars, was reduced nearly to rubble.  The seat of State government had moved during the wars, and there was no reason to move it back after.  Trade had moved on as well, and other cities further up the coast – Townsville and Cairns, if she remembered correctly – drew in the tourists that had once flocked to Brisbane.  Over the years, the city had been rebuilt, but it never regained the stature it once had.

Which seemed to make perfect sense for their context, as Jo thought about it.  The NSA’s lab would need to be near a town or city for logistics support, but ideally not a large one.  Large cities meant lots of people, and lots of people meant more people who might find out about the place, or accidentally linger too close, or cause any number of problems.  A modest town would be a much more suitable place for a secret facility.

“So how far is the lab from here?”

Jervis looked sidelong at her.  “A good two days’ drive.”

Jo blinked, and set aside the theory she had just been contemplating.  “Ah.”

Jervis smirked slightly, and chuckled.  “It’s a big country, mate.”

*  *  *  *  *

The van left them in front of a small commercial building in Brisbane’s western suburbs.  It was low, only two stories, painted a faded shade of blue, and windowless except for a few small openings at the corners of the second floor.  Not exactly inviting.

But then, the neighborhood was not that great, either.  Not that it was run down per say, but everything was just noticeably in a state of slight disrepair.  The paint was starting to peel, the grass had not been mowed in a couple weeks, the windows were smudgy.  Not completely neglected, but just little enough maintenance that a person knew things were not going as well here as they could have been.

Jo looked around and frowned.  “Nice place.”

Jervis gave her a little smile and shrugged slightly.  “It’s not much, but it’s home.”  He turned and led the way to the building’s front door.  “Shall we?”

Becky and Isaac moved to follow without comment.  Malcolm remained and shared a glance with Jo.

“You alright?” he asked.

Jo nodded.

“After you.”  He swept out his arm gallantly, indicating she should lead the way.

Jo could not help but laugh as she followed the others into Jervis’ lair.  Malcolm did as well.

* * * * *

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 the weeks it will take to get through the rest book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.  Or even if you just like the story and want to hook me up, that’s works as well.

Until next time, then.

The 2014 Chenin Blanc Incident

I nearly lost a child at noon on Saturday.

 

So there I was, sitting with my littlest with a tasty glass of…Chenin Blanc, I think it was…watch The Voice on Hulu via my laptop, while his bigger siblings did their own thing downstairs on the big TV.  Why The Voice?  I blame Dean.  But that’s neither here nor there.

At some point, I needed to leave the room.  I set the wineglass down and took care of business.  When I got back, the bigger kids were in the room, the 3-year old sitting in my office chair.  I noticed the glass was empty, but didn’t think anything of it.  I must have finished it off, naturally.  So I went downstairs to get a refill.  Came back up, and as I approached the desk (where the other two bigger kids were spinning the 3 year old around and around on my chair), I noticed it: a great big pool of fluid, completely covering the keyboard and trackpad of my laptop.

You know those scenes in movies when a bad thing happens, and the character moves in slow motion, shouting, “Noooooooo…..” to no avail?  Yeah.  That was me.

I dashed over, grabbing up towels from the bed (I had been folding laundry before The Voice) and shoving little kids aside.  Must.  Sop.  Up.  Wine.  But it was not to be.  The screen flickered and went out right as I got there, and despite my best efforts to dry the machine, it had been completely flooded out.

It never started up again.

My 3 year old is lucky to be alive.  As it is, he will never go to College, at least not on my dime.  That little fiasco set me back over $3,000 – the Apple Store examined the laptop the next day (I was stuck at home on Saturday because the Admiral was running a Ragnar Relay with her friends, and had the minivan with her.  There’s not room for all the kids in my Jetta) and determined the logic board was completely hosed, and since I had just outlived my Applecare plan…I ended up buying a new computer instead of paying almost the same amount for a repair – and if you figure time value of money 15 years from now, I figure I just used the money I would have used for his tuition to fix the disaster he caused.

Well. I didn’t really spend almost the same amount as the repair would have been.  My philosophy on computers is to get the most suped-up, whamydine model I can, so it will last for a good long time.  Thus, I got a new Macbook Pro (alas only 15″ as they no longer make 17″, which is what I had before) that’s maxed out on processor, RAM, and Flash drive capacity (since it doesn’t use a hard drive – that’s pretty sweet, but also odd since the thing doesn’t make any noise at all).

Luckily, I had backed the computer up less than a week before this happened.  Also luckily, I didn’t do much writing last week.  So I didn’t really lose anything.  But still, there’s a principle at stake here.

Or something.

Anyway, I’m digging the new “wheels”, so to speak.  But the cash outlay still hurts.

As you can imagine, this is why I didn’t get the Pericles chapter up on Saturday.  I generally do it in the afternoon, and Mr. 3-year old’s evil plot knocked me offline around noon.

*sigh*

So that’s all I have to say about that.  I’ll get the next Pericles chapter posted in a little bit.  Until then, have a nice evening.

🙂

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Thirty-Six

Tuesday Night – time for the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Read and enjoy, but don’t forget, the book is available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes. You won’t hurt my feelings if you decide to purchase a copy.  😉

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Thirty – Six

Recruiting

Carlton pulled the throttle to idle and eased back on the stick, lowering his airspeed to just above stall speed while he applied a touch of right rudder.  A moment later he felt the barest hint of contact as his wheels touched down on the runway – dead on centerline, as always.  Or at least, as always in his mind.  But what the mind conceives and reality dictates are not always the same.  He had flown more than his share of rough landings, landings so hard he felt like his back had nearly been thrown out from the impact.  But not tonight.  Tonight, he nailed it, and he could not help smiling in spite of the circumstances.

“Delta Seven Five Zero Four, take taxiway Charlie.”

The ground controller’s voice was bland, unemotional, almost as though he did not know who he was addressing, or what was going on.  Very likely he did not, not exactly.  But he had to have noticed that Carlton had been given priority clearance through the traffic pattern, had been allowed to cut in line ahead of half a dozen planes filled with hundreds of travelers with connections to meet.  He must surely be wondering who Carlton was to rate such treatment, though you could not tell from his tone or inflection.

Hell, Carlton wondered that himself as he acknowledged the taxi orders and turned his craft off the runway.  He had never received orders like he had this day.

Well, almost never.

Carlton frowned and shook his head, forcing himself to not think about those initial weeks after Pericles’ last docking.  He and Alison had put that behind them, and done a great job of it too.  Maybe he was just getting a promotion; Delta’s Director of Pilot Training had his office in Boston, conveniently, and the airline’s brass could certainly pull the strings needed to get Carlton preferred treatment.

But he had never heard of someone getting that treatment just to learn he had been promoted a step up the ladder.  Doubts lingered as he stopped the craft in front of a ground traffic director, who stood with his glowing guide rods crossed in an X over his head in front of the craft, and powered down the engines.

He took a few minutes to secure the craft’s systems, then stepped out of the cockpit and activated the controls that opened the craft’s hatch and extended the boarding stairs.  He stepped out onto the top step and froze cold.

Parked just past the port wing was a large black limo.  Alison stood beside it, looking confused.  Flanking her were a man and a woman he did not recognize, both dressed in business casual though the woman looked less than comfortable with it.  They both wore calm, serious expressions that revealed nothing.

What the hell was going on?

*  *  *  *  *

“Where are the boys?” Carlton whispered to Alison.

They sat beside each other in the back of the limo – it was luxuriously appointed, Carlton was forced to admit.  Their two guides, or guards, or whomever, were up front and the privacy screen was up, so if he did not know any better he could almost pretend he and Alison were out for a fancy night on the town.

Almost.

“They’re staying at Greg and Kiko’s house,” Alison replied.  Carlton felt a surge of relief that faded as Alison spoke again.  “Carl, what the hell is going on?  I got a call to meet you here tonight, that you had something important to tell me?”

Carlton frowned, his worry growing stronger by the moment.  “First I heard of it, babe.  I thought I was here for a meeting of some kind.  I was thinking maybe it was a promotion, but I’ve never heard of this being done just to promote a guy.”

Alison frowned as well and clasped his hand tightly.

Through the windows, the city of Boston flashed across Carlton’s vision and he thought back to all the months he had spent here, during his down time between training sessions on Luna.  He had grown to love this town.  It had such a different feel than Quito, the only other city on Earth he had lived in.  He distinctly did not think about his last months there, or at least he tried not to.  But it was hard to forget, even if he tried his best to act as though it had never happened.  Especially after the news of what had happened with the Captain – with Jo – dwelling on those sorts of things was not worth it.

“Where are they taking us?”

Carlton began to shake his head, but stopped.  He recognized the building they were stopping in front of from the news a while back.  It was the headquarters of Sturdivant Sequencing, a pharmaceutical firm that had made headlines not long before he and Alison moved to Boston.  What were they doing here?

The car stopped and, a moment later, one of their guard/guides opened the door, gesturing for them to get out.

“Mr. and Mrs. Hersch,” said the man, in a deep Australian accent, “they’re waiting for you.”

*  *  *  *  *

Carlton saw who was in the room he and Alison had been led to and promptly turned around to leave.

“Carl, wait.  Please listen to me for a minute.”

“Hell no, Jo!  I don’t want anything to do with this,” he said over his shoulder.  He grasped Alison’s hand to lead her away and was surprised to find her resisting.  He looked back at her, ready to snap at her to hurry the hell up.  But then he saw the expression on her face and he pulled up short.  “What’s wrong?  We need to get out of here right now.”

“Carl,” Jo said.  “You know me.  You know I didn’t do those thing they’re saying.”

He knew no such thing, but he sure as hell did not want to stand around and debate it.  Whatever she was in to, he wanted no part of it.  “I thought I did.  Come on, Alison.”

Alison pulled her hand from his grasp and Carlton felt his jaw drop from shock.  “Just give her a minute,” Alison replied, her eyes locked on Jo as though both wishing she were not there and wanting to believe her at the same time.  “Please.”

Carlton muttered a curse under his breath.  They were going up the river if they spent too much time with her.  But he couldn’t refuse Alison’s entreaty.  So instead of leaving he took a seat at the table.

They were in a medium-sized conference room, about five meters square with doors on either end, that was dominated by a standard-issue conference table, complete with controls for the wall televid display to the right.  There were even glasses and a pitcher of ice water on the table.  It was almost like a real conference.

“Ok, Jo,” Carlton said, only realizing after he said it that he had left off the honorary Captain for perhaps the first time ever.  “What do you want that’s worth risking our kids growing up with parents in prison?”

Alison cast a disparaging look at him as she sat down beside him, but he could tell she did not fully disagree.  This was one hell of a risk to take, meeting with a fugitive.  For her part, Jo at least blanched, whether from embarrassment or anger was hard to tell.  Carlton hoped the former.

“It’s not just what I want,” Jo said, and pressed a button on the table’s control panel.

A moment later, the door he and Alison had not entered through opened, and Malcolm walked into the room.

Carlton’s jaw hit his chest.

*  *  *  *  *

“This is insane.”

Malcolm – Carlton still could not wrap his mind around the fact that his late friend was sitting there, alive, at the same table with them – quirked an eyebrow.  “Why?”

“You want to waltz into a secure NSA facility.”

Malcolm and Jo both nodded.

“Steal back the stuff those cat-men gave us.”

Again nods.

“And then you want me to help you fly them up to Gagarin.”

More nods.

Carlton threw his hands up, for a moment speechless.  “Why would I ever even think about doing something like that?”

Jo – when did she stop being the practical one? – leaned forward in her chair.  “Carl, there isn’t much time.  As soon as the NSA is done with its experiments, they’re going to kill all the embryos and dispose of them, and they’ll just disappear.”

“So?”

Jo blinked.  “What do you mean, so?  Don’t you see how wrong what they’re doing is?”

Carlton sighed and looked away.  He saw it just fine.  He was just as appalled as they were, but what they were asking…  It was crazy.  And not just crazy, dangerous.  If it was just him, he might be inclined to help.  He probably would help.  But he had Alison and the boys to think about.  He couldn’t go gallivanting around, flaunting the law.  It’s not like he could just hop on a starliner in a month or two…

Oh shit.

“Son of a bitch,” Carlton breathed, and he looked back at the pair that until tonight he had thought he knew so well.  “You’re going to steal a freaking starliner to take those things back home, aren’t you?”

Poker faces from them both, but Jo flinched just a hair.  That was exactly what they were going to do.

Carlton stood up.  “You are both certifiable, you know that?  You’ll be lucky if they only lock you up and throw away the key.“

“Carl, stop.”  It was the first time Alison spoke since Jo and Malcolm had described the situation, and their plan.  He looked at her and his heart sank.  She had that look on her face.  Every woman has it, that look specific to her that she reserves just for her husband, which says she’s going to be stubborn.

“Babe, don’t tell me you’re actually considering this?”

She stopped with that look, but her tone was no less serious.  “What if it was little Malcolm?”

Carlton blinked; her question took him aback.  For that matter, it seemed to take Malcolm by surprise as well, as he gave a little start and his eyes widened.  Or maybe it was the fact that he had a namesake.

Whatever.  That was not the point.

“This has nothing to do with our son, Alison.”

“But what if it did?  What if he was stuck somewhere and the people we trusted to bring him back instead abused him, and maybe were going to kill him?”

That hit him like a ton of bricks.  Just the thought of something like that happening to their little guy, to either of their little guys…  It both terrified and enraged him at the same time.  He realized he was making fists and forced his fingers apart.

Alison could see it on his face.  “We need to do this, Carl.”

“But it’s such a risk…”

She gave him that look again.

He sighed and nodded.  When she was right, she was right.

* * * * *

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 AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.

Audio!

Just a quick note to grin and announce, with happiness, that my first audiobook is now live.

Damsel Audio Cover (600x600)

Bandits stabbed Larian’s father and kidnapped his girl. Confident in his freshly-learned swordsmanship, Larian set out to track them down, avenge his father, and rescue his first damsel in distress.

Things did not exactly go as planned.

 

It’s a short story, so it’s cheap.  I highly suggest y’all check it out.  🙂