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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes. You won’t hurt my feelings if you decide to purchase a copy. 😉
Chapter Thirty – Six
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.
“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.”
“And then you want me to help you fly them up to Gagarin.”
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.”
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…
“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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.