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 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 – 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.”
“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 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.
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.