Saturday! Time for your next dose of The Pericles Conspiracy!
“Now what?” Jo wished she did not sound quite so plaintive.
Malcolm looked around the room for a second, then spread his hands helplessly. “I suppose we could try to lift it. We could probably carry it out as a group.”
Jo just looked at him for a moment, then turned away in disgust. They were never going to get out of there without handcuffs on if they tried to move the incubator that way. “See if you can find something to lever it with,” she said over her shoulder. Then she stalked over to where Jörgen and Courtney were working.
At least things were going better there.
As Jo approached, Jörgen pumped one fist over his head. “And that, my friends, is how we do that,” he said and stepped away from the console. Turning toward Courtney, he made a little half-bow and said, “Over to you.”
Courtney just shook her head and pulled her safecracking tools out of her pack, which lay on the floor next to her. Then she got to work.
“Well done,” Jo said. She meant it; that was quick work. Pretty impressive.
Jörgen merely nodded in reply, but from the way his mask moved Jo was pretty sure he grinned.
“See if you can help Malcolm. We’re going to have to carry or haul that thing out of here,” she jerked her thumb at the incubator, “and we’ll need a lot of mechanical assistance.”
Jörgen’s smile, if that’s what it was, vanished. “Fuck.”
He moved quickly over to Malcolm’s side, and the two of them began talking. Brainstorming, Jo assumed.
Jo reached into the cargo pocket on her left thigh and pulled out the wireless unit from the van. “Thomas,” she said into the microphone.
A burst of static preceded Thomas’ voice. “Go.”
“See if you can find a cargo loader, or a dolly, or something. We’re going to have to move the incubator the old fashioned way.”
A few seconds of silence passed. Then Thomas replied, “Roger,” and the wireless went dead.
Jo checked her wrist chronometer. They had been inside the lab complex for fifteen minutes. How long before responders put out the fire in the outbuilding? How long before someone thinks to check on the lab?
She shook her head. They were running out of time, and this snafu with the incubator might just doom them all.
* * * * *
Once again, it was Grant and Thomas to the rescue. That was getting a bit old, actually.
Courtney made short work of the safe, and turned the rod over to Jo with a professional nod. Jo turned the rod over in her hands and inspected it; no sign of damage. But just to be sure, she pressed each button in turn and watched first the starmap, then the alien Captain giving his speech, then the first few frames of the technical schematics. A bit of her tension went away. The thing still worked. That was good. Key, in fact.
Jo took off her pack and zipped the rod inside, then donned it again.
And then they all gathered around the incubator and tried to come up with a plan. They had gotten precisely nowhere when Thomas strode through the airlock door from the medical section. Or at least Jo presumed it was Thomas since he seemed to be the one to take the lead.
“We found a wheeled cart,” he said. It was Thomas. “But it will never fit through that airlock.”
Jo groaned and looked back at the incubator, sitting there in all its massive glory.
“Well,” Jörgen said, not even a hint of enthusiasm in his voice. “We’ll just have to lug it through the airlock then.”
“I’ll get Grant,” Thomas said.
A minute later, the four men had the incubator lifted up in the air to waist level.
“It’s not so bad,” Grant said, though the strain in his voice put the lie to that.
“Shut the fuck up,” said his brother. Thomas turned his head to Jo. “Hold the doors open.”
And so Jo held the inner door open and Courtney took the outer, and with a lot of grunting, cursing, and sweat, the men got the incubator out into the medical lab and to the cart the brothers found.
Cart was a misnomer. It was more a small platform with wheels on it. The thing was maybe a meter on each side, and did not look particularly sturdy.
“That’s not going to work,” Courtney said as she eyed it skeptically.
“Not much choice,” Grant said, through gritted teeth from the sound of it.
The men lowered the incubator down onto the little cart with sighs of relief. Jo more than halfway expected it to collapse, but to her amazement the little cart held, and before long they were off.
To say it was slow going would be an understatement. It seemed one end of the incubator or another overbalanced and struck the ground for every ten meters of progress they made, to everyone’s consternation.
There was never a hope that Thomas and Grant could scout out ahead. It required all four men to keep the incubator even slightly balanced. So the task fell to Courtney, who sounded decidedly unpleased with the notion. But with little choice in the matter, she darted ahead, wireless in hand to warn of threats to the front.
The minutes stretched out, and Jo felt more and more certain that they would be set upon and captured at any moment. Surely there were interior security cameras. And surely those cameras also received power from the emergency supply. Someone in the security shop would vector guards down upon them at any moment, and they would be done.
Except that did not happen.
Somehow, they made it through the lower level corridors to a long, circling ramp that led up to ground level. They stopped at the top of the ramp to give the men a break from pushing, and Courtney came to rejoin them.
“Mostly clear ahead,” she said. “But I’m not sure for how long. I heard some guards go past down the main corridor a minute or two ago. Said something about somebody not calling in their hourly sitrep.”
“Son of a bitch,” Thomas said. “We gotta move. Now!”
Of course, there is moving and there is moving. Move they did, but it was not nearly as fast as Thomas clearly wanted. Hell, as any of them wanted, Jo included. But there was only so much speed the heavy and awkward incubator would allow. By the time they turned onto the main corridor that ran through the complex, Jo was about to jump out of her skin.
Surely the guard Courtney saw would have found the ransacked guard post outside the lab by now. They would have divided their forces, one or two tending to their comrades while the others went on to check the lab. And then…
“Contact rear!” Grant’s voice cut through Jo’s thoughts. He was at the front of the incubator, working to keep it from hitting the deck. Consequently, he was looking behind the team and saw them first.
Jo spun around. A group of four guards was sprinting down the corridor behind her team, weapons in hand but not yet brought to bear.
“Halt!” ordered the guard in the lead.
As though responding to the guard’s order, Thomas let go of his purchase at the rear of the incubator and turned to the rear, bringing his rifle to bear on the approaching guards.
They scattered before Thomas fired his first shot, the lead guards leaping forward onto their bellies, the guards in the rear diving for cover in a crossing passageway. Thomas fired anyway, a steady stream of superheated particles that kept the guards’ heads down, at least for the moment.
Malcolm and Jorgen redoubled their efforts. They had to, because Grant left his position on the incubator and took a knee, adding his own fire to his brother’s. That was not going to work. Jo hurried back next to Malcolm and helped him push the incubator from behind.
“Courtney,” Jo shouted. “We’ve got trouble. Get the vans started!”
She sprinted ahead and turned left at the next intersection. The loading docks lay just a couple dozen meters past that intersection. They could still make it, if they pushed hard.
From astern, the sound of rifle fire interspersed with curses pushed Jo to greater effort. She glanced over her shoulder; the brothers were holding the guards down well, covering each other as they retreated in time with the incubator. But it was only a matter of time before reinforcements arrived, and then the balance of power would shift.
The intersection to the loading docks was so close now. Just a few moments more.
And then guards appeared from further ahead, and Jo’s heart sank.
“To the front,” Malcolm shouted.
Almost immediately one of the brothers shifted his fire ahead and sprinted forward to the side of the incubator. Again, the approaching guards took cover, but these were more numerous, and a few returned fire. It was far off target, at least for now, but it was more than the nothing the guards to the rear were doing. And it was only a matter of time before they sighted in better.
But the intersection was just ahead.
“Gotta take a hard left here,” Jo said.
Jorgen nodded and pulled with all his might. The little cart the incubator rested on squealed in protest; its wheels were on casters and so could rotate freely, but the immense weight resting on them and the incubator’s forward momentum worked against Jorgen’s attempt. The cart twisted, lining the incubator up with the crossing corridor, but it kept moving forward down the main corridor.
Jo and Malcolm spoke as one and pushed. Jo pushed until she felt she would launch herself to the moon if only her feet were not solidly on the ground. Slowly, ever so slowly, the incubator’s motion changed, veering to the left. Jo almost thought they were going to make it.
And then the incubator slammed side-on into the corridor wall, its rear half extending out into the central corridor in plain view of the guards.
Jo muttered a number of carefully selected curses and ducked behind the bulk of the incubator as the guards to the front renewed their fire. They were more precise this time, and the forward brother joined her in taking cover.
“I’m going to have to take the gloves off.” It was Grant. That meant Thomas stood alone in the main corridor, at least for the moment, covering the rear.
Jo nodded. She hated it, but there was no choice, not if they were going to get out of there with their skins intact. “Do it.”
Grant nodded once and then let his rifle drop down into its tactical sling. He pulled two grenades from where they hung off the webbing on his chest and yanked the pins out with his teeth. Then he stood and threw them both toward the guards approaching from the front. He immediately turned and raised his rifle, shooting back down the corridor toward the guards Thomas had pinned down. Jo knew without asking that he was no longer shooting to keep their heads down; he was shooting to take the guards out.
Multiple shouts of chagrin and outright fear preceded the grenades’ explosions by a second or so. After that, the rifle fire ended and the only noise coming from that area of the corridor were screams of sudden agony. From the other direction, Grant’s shifting fire joined with Thomas’ brought forth equal cries of pain as his shots struck home. Jo wanted to cover her ears, but she could not. If this was the price to be paid for humanity’s penance, then so be it.
Or at least, that’s what she tried to tell herself. It was better than listening to the screams.
* * * * *
The van sped through Camp Tycho’s main gate, passing the still prostrate guards as though they were not even there.
Jo slumped in the passenger seat and did not look over at Thomas. A lot of men had just been badly hurt or outright killed. She had not done it herself, true. But she had given the order, and the guilt of that weighed on her soul. Was it worth it? Could she really think what she had allowed Thomas and Grant to do was justified? She glanced over her shoulder, toward the incubator in the back of the van, and tried to reassure herself that it was. A few had been hurt, some wrong had been done, but it was all for a good cause. To right an even greater wrong that had been done. Sure, those guards had not perpetrated that wrong personally. But they had aided and abetted those who had. They were cogs in the monstrous machine that had done this, like the ancient German guards at Auschwitz.
Somehow, that line of thinking did not make Jo feel much better.
* * * * *
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