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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, 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. 😉
Chapter Thirty – Seven
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.
“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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, 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.