The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Forty-Five

Saturday!  Time for your next dose of The Pericles Conspiracy!

Don’t forget, it’s on sale today for $0.99 on Amazon.  You can also find it on Barnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Forty-Five

Getaway

“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.”

“Yup.”

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.

“Move!”

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!”

“Right.”

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.

“Damnit.”

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.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Tuesday with the next chapter. And remember, you can buy a copy at AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.

If you 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.

Marital Bliss and Other Developments

It’s been well over a week since I last updated the blog here.  No doubt all y’all have been on the edge of your seats wondering what’s become of me.  Well, my half-hearted prediction came true: the business of traveling and the wedding overwhelmed everything else and I was lost in a sea of kids, mothers, aunts, significant others, drunken revelers, and all the others that you would expect at such an event.  It was a pretty good time, even though several times when the better half, the kids, and I walked in, we received blank stares and, “Oh.  We didn’t realize you were coming…with the kids,” followed by a mad scramble to make room, since it seemed there never was enough seating for everyone.  It’s almost as though we hadn’t told anyone we were coming.

Oops.

But wait, it gets better.  Flying back on Tuesday, we were delayed in departing Orlando and thus missed our connection in Phoenix.  So Southwest was kind enough to put us up in a hotel for the night before getting us home Wednesday (yesterday) morning.

But seriously, don’t get the wrong idea.  It was a good trip.  Very good, despite the stress of flying four kids across country.  It’s not every day one’s sister ties the knot, after all, and the ceremony and celebrations were beautiful and tons of fun.  And Florida is a fun place in general.  And for certain the Atlantic is a whole lot more fun to swim in than the Pacific.  Or at least the Pacific along the California coast – can you say freaking cold?  Yeah, I thought you could.

So that’s why there were no chapters while I was gone.  Hardly a surprise, right?  😉  Sorry about that.  I’ll just put the next one up on Saturday and call it even, ok?

Cool.

Speaking of cool, while I was away, three more short audiobooks of mine went live on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.  These are the next three of my Larian Elesir stories – short stories and novelettes all, and thus quite affordable as audiobooks go.  Just $3.95 apiece (less if you’re an Audible member).  I highly encourage you to check them out, if you’re so inclined.  And of course, if you’re not an Audible member and decide to join and make one of my stories your first purchase, I’ll get a nice hefty “bounty” for your head.  Erm…for your business, I mean.  I think it’s $50 – not too shabby.  So anyway, do go by and have a look.  Nick Mortise read them all and I think he did a great job.  Listening to them put a smile on my face.  And reminded me that I really ought to write more Larian stories because he’s cool and I enjoy him.

So that happened.  Let’s see…what else to put out?  Oh yes.

On Saturday, 31 May, I’m putting The Pericles Conspiracy on sale for $0.99 on Amazon.  Actually, I told Amazon to lower the price just a minute ago, so it’ll probably drop sometime tomorrow, so I’m not late.  You see, I decided to experiment with a paid promotion, and on Saturday Booksends is going to feature Pericles.  So it’ll be $0.99 for the day, then on Sunday it’ll go to $2.99.  Then either Monday or Tuesday, depending on how it’s doing, it’ll return to full price.  So if you’ve had the hankering to check Pericles out but haven’t gotten around to it yet, now’s the time.  Or rather, Saturday’s the time.  Kindly wait until then; hopefully the ad will drive a bunch of folks to purchase it on that day, and the more who do the more ranking boost it’ll get, so…wait until then, if you would.  🙂

So that’s what’s new around here.  Hope all’s well with y’all.  Time to get a little work done, then hit the rack.

Until next time.  🙂

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Forty-Four

It’s Tuesday night, and somehow despite having spent the evening in the ER (the Admiral knocked her head on one of the kids’ dresser drawers and gave herself a concussion) and packing for a family trip to Florida tomorrow (my sister’s getting married this weekend) I remembered I owe you guys another chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Amazing that, considering I sometimes forget with a lot less going on!

So yeah, here you go.

And don’t forget, the book is still available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Forty-Four

In And Out

It seemed to take forever, but when Jo checked her wrist chronometer only about ten minutes had passed when the wireless receiver clicked five times.

A second later, the lights over the hill went out.  All at once, and completely.  A second or two later, the sound of an explosion reached them, causing Jo to jerk upright in surprise.  That was not part of the plan.

She was about to signal Grant and Thomas to fall back, but the van next to hers sped off toward the crest of the hill.  Courtney and Jörgen apparently had no qualms about proceeding.

Jo and Malcolm shared a quick look.

“I guess we go,” he said, and floored it.

As they crested the hill, Jo immediately saw the source of the explosion.  At the rear of the camp, an outbuilding was ablaze.  It was too far to see, but she was certain people were rushing to fight the fire.  And were those high-tension power lines running into that building?

Well, that was one way to turn out the lights.

The ride across the desert to the camp was bumpy, jarring, dangerous, terrifying, exciting, and blessedly short.  Their rally point lay only a couple kilometers from Camp Tycho’s main gate, and they covered the distance quickly.  Not quickly enough to catch up with Courtney and Jörgen, though.  Malcolm drove all out, but whichever of those two was behind the wheel drove like a madman.  Madwoman.  Whatever.

Very quickly, they reached the road again and turned toward the gate.  The barrier was wide open.  Jo looked as they sped through and saw three guards lying still on the ground.  A second guard post lay a half-kilometer to the east, near the bend of the camp’s fenceline.  It was hard to tell without binoculars, but there was no movement there.  Jo presumed those guards were in a similar state.  She hoped they were not dead, but at the same time she had to be impressed with Grant and Thomas’ handiwork.

And then they were through, and speeding toward the camp’s main building a bit less than a quarter kilometer away.  Lights were beginning to come back on around the building, but just a few and those were not particularly bright.  Emergency lighting, run on batteries and usable mainly to guide people out of the building in an emergency.

Jo found herself surprised.  An important outpost like this must surely have a backup generator somewhere.

Like in that outbuilding?

The explosion made all the more sense, if that were so.

Malcolm turned left, hard, and it seemed never took his foot off the accelerator because for a second Jo thought the van was going to turn over.  But then it steadied up and she gave him a hard look.  Or at least she would have, had her goggles not obscured her eyes.

“Sorry,” Malcolm said.  He did not sound it.

They turned again, toward the side of the main building where, from the schematics Winston showed them, a group of loading docks was located.  And sure enough, as they rounded the corner the docks came into view, along with Courtney and Jörgen’s van, which was already parked before the first dock.  Jörgen stood watch at the base of the stairs leading up to the dock doors, and Jo saw Courtney already at work on the door’s control pad, doing her thing.  Malcolm eased their van into place beside theirs, and he and Jo hopped out.

“Took you long enough,” Jörgen hissed.

“You drive like a maniac,” Malcolm replied, his tone a mix of awe and annoyance.

Jörgen snorted.  “Wasn’t me.”

Courtney chuckled softly, from where she was working the lock.  “Just because you two are pansies…  Aha!  Got it!”  The door’s control panel beeped – apparently the emergency power fed the doors too, which made sense – and she turned back to Jo and the two men.  “We’re in.”

*  *  *  *  *

The corridor stretching ahead looked familiar, and no wonder.  It was the same corridor Winston had filmed through his implant.  Of course, it looked the same as a million other corridors in buildings everywhere, but all the same it felt like a place Jo had known forever.

As though a few weeks now constituted forever.

Ahead, the corridor bent to the the right.  If the video recording was any indication, the guard post leading to the lab itself lay not far beyond the bend.

“Wait here,” Grant hissed.

He and Thomas had joined back up with the group at the loading docks, per plan, and led them through the dark and mostly deserted corridors, using the route the group had agreed upon and memorized during their planning session.  The two looked pristine in their fatigues, as though they had not just been running through the desert and fighting with armed guards.  Apparently their reputation was well-earned, but there had been no need for their skills to this point.  The only people the group encountered were janitorial personnel and one man in a white lab-coat who had evidently been working the midwatch.  They all surrendered without a fight or found themselves tied and gagged before they even knew the group was nearby.

That lack of resistance would likely not last, if the guard post remained manned.  And there was no reason to think it would not be.

Jo nodded, and Grant and Thomas moved toward the bend on swift feet that nevertheless made little if any sound.  Those were some nice boots they had on.

Thomas reached the bend first and paused.  He pulled something out of one of the pouches that were built into his web gear, a little camera from the look of it, and fed it to the very edge of the bend where it could just peek around the corner.  He studied the camera’s screen for a second, then retracted it and turned back to Grant.  He held up four fingers.

Grant nodded and moved up next to his brother.

Jo could not see precisely what they did next, but they took out gadgets of some sort and slid them around the corner.  A few seconds later a pair of dull THUMPs echoed down the corridor, followed by the softer sounds of bodies hitting the floor.

Thomas darted around the corner.  Grant turned toward the rest of the group and waved for them to come along, then followed his brother.

Jo traded looks with the other three.

Courtney just shrugged.  “They know their stuff,” she said, then she hurried to catch up with the brothers.

They did indeed.  When Jo reached the guard post, she found Grant zip-tying the last of the four guards’ arms and legs together behind his back.  The other three were trussed up the same, and gags shoved in their mouths despite the fact that they were still unconscious.  A strange odor lingered around the guard post, sweet but with the undertone of something burnt or rotten, almost rancid.  The leftovers of whatever had knocked the guards out, Jo surmised.

Grant looked up as she passed and Jo thought he grinned.  “Stun drones,” he said.  “Same as we used outside.”

That was good to know.  At least no one was getting badly hurt.  That was the last thing Jo wanted.

“The lab should be just ahead,” Malcolm said.

Jo nodded.  “Let’s keep moving.”

As before, the brothers led the way, rifles at the ready.  Also as before, there was no resistance until they emerged onto the catwalk that ringed the research area.

Stepping out onto that catwalk felt almost like stepping into a dream.  More like a nightmare.  As Jo looked down into the darkened room – bright to her through her lowlight goggles, but lit only faintly by emergency lights – she could not suppress a shudder over what had happened there.  Such an atrocity, and for what?  What purpose did it serve, considering the aliens had given their technology freely?  All they asked was the safety of their children, and this was how humanity responded.

No.  Not humanity, just bureaucrats in positions of power within the government.  Had humanity, or even humanity’s representatives in the Assembly, been consulted there was no way this would have happened.  But the government had to have its secrets, didn’t it.

Right then, Jo found herself agreeing wholeheartedly with Isaac’s whacky dogma.  Almost.

Jo shook her head, reminding herself to keep her mind on the business at hand.  This was no time for philosophizing.

“Contact left,” Thomas whispered.

Jo looked that way and saw a number of men and women in lab coats standing in a loose group on the machine shop portion of the lab floor.  Of course, Winston had told them the researchers were working three shifts so it was not exactly a surprise to see them.  What was a surprise was the immediate impulse Jo had upon seeing them.  These were the perpetrators of the atrocity.  They had not made the decision to start the project, but they had participated willingly.  They could not claim to be “just following orders”; they were criminals of the highest degree.

She almost ordered Grant and Thomas to kill them all.  Only the certainty that they would have done so without hesitation stopped her.

That, and because vengeance was not why she was there.  Those monsters would receive justice, one way or another.  But that was not hers to dispense, and certainly not without a trial.

“Can you disable them like the guards?” Jo asked, and received only a derisive snort in response.

Then Grant and Thomas went to work.

*  *  *  *  *

Jo stepped through the little airlock into the chamber where the NSA stowed the incubator, her heart in her throat.  This was it, what she had come here for.

Are there any eggs left?

Jo froze midstep, her blood going to icewater at the thought.  She had never even considered that.  The NSA had been doing its experiments for months, and was on the verge of wrapping up.  Why would they keep any of the eggs intact, if that were the case?  Much easier to dispose of those that would not be needed for their ghastly research.  Oh Lord, please let them not have done that, or this all would be in vain.

Steeling herself for the worst, she pushed through the inner airlock door and stepped into the chamber beyond.

The incubator stood just as it had in Winston’s video, from this angle apparently untouched and undamaged.  Jo could not restrain herself from darting to its side and pressing the button the alien Captain showed her, the one that opened the incubator’s lid.

It cracked open with a slight hiss of escaping gasses and light mist poured out, like dry ice melting.  Jo lifted the cover the rest of the way up and peered within, waving with her free hand to clear the mist away.  What she saw within broke her heart.

When the alien captain turned the incubator over to her, it had been full of eggs, dozens of them.  Now…  Now the incubator was less than half full.  Tears borne of fury and sadness over what had been done welled up, despite Jo’s attempts to stop them.  No, she was not going to break down.  This was business, and she had to see it done.

It did not help that she could not wipe the tears away, with her goggles on.  It took a minute of deep breathing to regain her calm.

“Fucking bastards.”  That was Grant.  He stood to Jo’s left, and was looking over her shoulder into the incubator.  Jo had not noticed his approach, so caught up was she in her burst of emotion.

Jo nodded in agreement, then closed the lid with a solid click.  “Well,” she said, feeling proud of how steady her voice sounded at least to her own ears, “we’ll make things right, won’t we.”

“Damn right.”  He cleared his throat, then said, “The next room’s clear.  One of them got to the exit, though, and Thomas had to shoot him.”

Jo’s breath caught in her throat.  “He didn’t…”

“No.  Got him in the thigh.  He’ll be alright in a few weeks.”

Jo nodded.  That would have to be good enough.  It was too much to hope that no one would be hurt in this venture.

She turned away from the incubator and moved a few paces away with Grant following at her side.  As she left, Malcolm moved around to the back side of the incubator, where the researchers had installed their power feeds and probes.

On the far side of the room, Courtney stood next to a safe inlaid in the wall, tapping her foot impatiently.  Next to her, Jörgen worked on a computer console.  This was why Jörgen was on the team; according to Winston, within that safe lay the rod the alien Captain gave Jo, along with the incubator.  The rod contained the starmap to their home system and the recorded message for his fellows, and the safe was wired with extensive security algorithms that had to be bypassed before Courtney could even begin to crack it.  It would be beyond useless to make off with the incubator without that rod.  Jo hoped Jörgen was a good as everyone said.  Then again, so far the rest of the team had more than proven their worth, so she had no reason to doubt it.

“I think we have it under control here,” Jo said to Grant.

He nodded and turned on his heel, then disappeared through the airlock leading into the medical lab section, where Thomas was waiting.  Together they would reconnoiter, as they called it, through the lower level corridors that the team would need to use to get out of the complex.

Jo watched him go and tried not to think of all the things that could go wrong with the team split up like this.  But they needed to know what lay ahead.  They would not be able to move as quickly with the incubator in tow.  Good thing it had that hovering system, or moving it would literally take forever; it was very heavy.

“Um…Jo, we’ve got a problem.”  Malcolm stuck his head up from behind the incubator, sounding pained.

“What’s up.”

“I don’t see the hovering units.”

Jo blinked, dread surging within her again.  “What do you mean?”  She hurried over to Malcolm’s side and squatted down next to him.

He pointed to two open spaces within the incubator’s innards.  “The hovering units were here and here, if you recall.”

Jo bit back a rebuke.  She recalled all right.  She had been furious when she learned that Malcolm had opened the unit up and tested the controls while they were still underway on Pericles.  He had insisted it would cause no harm.  He was just observing what did what, and anyway he had already opened it once, to analyze its power needs and install a power supply.  But it was one thing to go into it to make sure it kept power.  It was another thing to go tinkering inside it just to see what was what.  That was an unacceptable risk to take.  After Malcolm’s transgression, she had ordered the incubator locked away in cargo stowage, and changed the code to allow only she and her fellow Duty Captains access to it.

“You can’t be sure that was the hovering system, not after only that one look.”

Malcolm leveled a direct stare at her.  Or what passed for a level stare beneath his goggles.  “That was not the only look I got.  You are not quite so clever with codes as you think you are.”

Jo’s jaw dropped open in shock.  He had not!

But even beneath his mask, it was obvious Malcolm wore that self-satisfied smirk that always annoyed Jo to no end.  He had.  That insubordinate, obstinate fool of a man!  She bit back a snarl and stood, moving over to the incubator’s control panel.  She tapped the control that the alien Captain – and she and her crewmembers after the aliens left – used to put the incubator into hover.

Nothing happened.

Aw hell.

She tapped it again.  Still nothing.

“Son of a bitch.”

Malcolm nodded, also standing.  “Told you.”

Jo had to restrain herself from hitting him.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Saturday (assuming wedding events don’t overcome my ability to post, in which case it may not be until Sunday) with the next chapter. And remember, you can buy a copy at AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.

If you 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 Forty-Three

Time for another chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Don’t forget, if you like it the book is still available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes.

Cool?

Ok, let’s get to the next chapter.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Forty-Three

Camp Tycho

Two days of driving does not sound like much, in the abstract.  But what Jervis failed to mention in his description of the distance, or rather what Jo failed to truly appreciate, was that it was almost literally two days – two entire twenty-four hour periods – from Brisbane to Camp Tycho.  Past the mountains to the city’s west and into the Outback beyond where the settlements were few and far between, and then further still, into the vast desert that dominated the continent’s interior.

They stopped only for fuel – those stops were few enough that they carried extra fuel cans within the vans so they could ensure they made it to the next one – and for calls of nature.  Fortunately, the vans were large enough that they were able to lie down in the back and sleep in shifts.  But the sleep was short and fitful, as more often than not the van would hit an uneven patch of pavement or a pothole and jar the sleepers awake.  By the time they reached their first rally point, two hours from the Camp, Jo was exhausted.

The rally point lay within a small box canyon that descended into the earth beside a butte – Jo had no idea if they called them that Down Under or not, but that was the only word that came to mind – that stood out from the flat countryside like a beacon.  At first she had objected; it was too prominent a landmark.  Surely stopping there would leave them visible to tourists, patrols, you name it.  But the canyon was deep and would shield them from prying eyes, and there was no other option that would even come close to offering good concealment for a long way in any direction.  They needed to rest after the long drive or they would certainly fail, and this was the best place for it.  It was a risk, but a reasonable one.

All the same, Jo made sure to set a watch up near the canyon’s entrance before putting everyone in the rack.

*  *  *  *  *

Thomas brought the van to a halt behind a small rise and turned off the engine.  In the passenger seat, Jo peered out the windshield toward the top of the rise, where the glow of electric lights a small distance away eclipsed the stars.

It was a beautiful night: clear and dark, with no moon.  They had made sure of that during the planning process.  With a few weeks before Agrippa would be ready to sail, Jo’s little team had the luxury of selecting the night of a new moon for the caper.  Convenient.

Of course, no moon meant little with all the high-powered security lights ringing the place.  That was where Winston came in.  Assuming he came through and was not discovered.  That was just one of the many things that could go wrong tonight, but Jo actually felt good about Winston’s role.  He had as much to lose as any of them, maybe more, if this thing went south.

Jo glanced down at her wrist chronometer and frowned.  Five minutes until the second van was due to arrive.

They had waited until just after sundown and staggered their departure from the box canyon in order to draw less attention.  Maybe ten minutes after leaving, they had cut off the road and set off cross country toward this, the second rally point.  It would not have been so bad except they had gone without headlights, or lights of any kind.  Thomas drove using lowlight goggles, but even still he had twice almost driven into a ditch that would have been impossible to get out of.

Jo lowered her window and craned her neck to look behind, straining to make out the other van.

It should have been a relief to not see a thing.  That boded well for their plan, at least for the initial phase.  But instead all she felt was dread.  If they had hit one of those ditches, the plan was shot.  She had planned for a contingency, of course.  She, Thomas, and Jörgen could, probably, accomplish the mission on their own, with Winston’s help.  But it would take longer and the risk would be far greater than with the whole team.  And worse, they would have to leave one of the team behind.  The incubator was too large, it would take up the entire back of the van.  Thomas knew that, and had accepted the risk.  But the thought of just leaving him behind where he would certainly be nabbed by the NSA, whether he chose it or not, made Jo’s stomach lurch.  That was not a choice she wanted to make.

So it came as a great relief when, a moment later, the second van pulled up next to them and shut down.

Everyone piled out of the vans and quickly got about their jobs.  Grant and Thomas checked their weapons, then slung their rifles across their chests in tactical mode and split off, jogging off in separate directions to do a quick sweep of the immediate perimeter; they would subdue any patrols of individuals they found nearby.  Not kill.  Subdue.  Jo had been prepared to fight hard on that matter, back in Brisbane during the planning, but was surprised when Grant beat her to it.

“Better to not hurt or kill anyone, if we can help it,” he said.  “That gets messy fast.”

Watching the two brothers disappear into the night, Jo hoped they remembered that.

Malcolm walked up and held out her pack.  It was black, just like the fatigues they all wore, to better blend into the night.  She accepted it with a quick nod, took a minute to pull a black knit hat out of the pack, then slipped the straps over her shoulders.  Then she pulled the hat on and rolled it down until it covered her face completely, except for her eyes, and touched the pistol on her hip.  Better to not hurt anyone, but there was being humane and then there was being stupid.

Of course, Jo was not entirely sure if she could shoot another person, if it really came down to it.  Hopefully she would not have to find out.

She reached into the van and pulled her night vision goggles from where she had left them on the dashboard.  She had not bothered to wear them during the drive; she had tried for a short while but found them heavy and disconcerting to wear.  But there would be little choice about using them now.  Slipping them onto her head overtop the mask, she adjusted the straps and hit the power switch.

It was like someone turned on the sun.  What a moment ago had been lost in shadow was now clear, down to the little pimple on Courtney’s chin before she pulled on her own mask.

Jo took a moment to survey her team.  Everyone looked ready.  As soon as the brothers finished their sweep, they would make the signal to Winston.  And then…

The soft sound of boots on rocks behind her made Jo jump.  She spun around, hand landing on the grip of her pistol, and found Thomas – she thought it was Thomas, but it was hard to tell with his mask down – standing there, his rifle held at the ready.  Jo could not see his eyes behind the lenses of his goggles, but his tone when he spoke was disapproving.

“You make more noise than a herd of teenage girls,” he said, his voice low and serious, businesslike.

Jo blew out in a mixture of relief and exasperation, but nodded.  This was a job that required stealth, at least in the initial stages.  She needed to keep that in mind.

Thomas returned the nod and joined the group.  A moment later, Grant emerged from a hollow of ground a few meters off to the left.  Pretty impressive.  Jo would not have thought it possible to hide with the goggles making everything so bright, but he managed it somehow.  Training.  Lots of training.  He exchanged fist bumps with Thomas, who gestured for them all to huddle up.

“The position is secure,” Thomas said in that same low tone of voice.  “Looks like they have beefed up security since our last brief from Winston, though.  I counted a half dozen guard posts.”  He paused and looked at Grant, who nodded, confirming the count.

Jo cursed softly.  “Is it too much?”

Thomas did not answer for a long moment.  Then he shook his head.  “No.  They’re spread out enough that we ought to be ok if we can take two of them down.  But we’re going to have to move quickly.  Once Winston cuts the power, there will be a few minutes of confusion.  In that time, you’ll have to get the vans in and out of sight, or we’re done.”

“What about the guards?”

“We’ll take care of it.”

He said no more, and Jo decided she did not want to know.  “Alright,” Jo said, “everyone ready?”

Again, nods all around.

“We’ll wait for your signal,” she said, and Thomas nodded.

The two brothers departed swiftly, again disappearing like ghosts despite the better visibility from Jo’s goggles.  She shook her head at their prowess, then stuck up her index finger and made a little circle in the air.  Mount up.

She got back into her van and turned on a small wireless receiver that lay in the console between the two front seats.  A moment later Malcolm joined her, taking the driver’s seat.  She was not sure because of his mask, but she could have sworn he was grinning.

“What?”

Malcolm turned to her and made the little finger-circle again.  “Really?”

Jo rolled her eyes but did not reply.

Malcolm just chuckled and started the motor.

And then they sat, awaiting the signal that would set the path for the rest of their lives.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Tuesday with the next chapter. And remember, you can buy a copy at AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.

If you 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 Forty-Two

Ok, time for another chapter.  Don’t forget, if you like it the book is still available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes.

Cool?

Ok, let’s get to the next chapter.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Forty-Two

Underway

Two vans.

Two vans did not seem enough, to Jo’s mind.  Not for the task that lay ahead.  A half-dozen people, and all their equipment, would completely fill the first.  The second was mostly empty, to transport the objective, as Jervis had taken to call it.  It seemed like a caper of this magnitude would require more.  But then, how much help would more people be?  Her crew on Pericles only numbered over a dozen because of the various crewmembers’ children, and they had charge of the starliner for an entire year.

Not the same thing.

But it was not that dissimilar, in principle.  A group of people working as a team to accomplish a goal.  If the team became too large, the group dynamic could break down as dissent and social loafing interfered with operations.  Jo understood that, but it was easier to accept in the familiar environs of a starliner than here, well past the line of criminal behavior.

Jo shoved the doubt aside.  It just came from her own nervousness, a natural reaction to a wholly new set of circumstances.  It was not an easy thing to do.  She watched as Jervis’ men loaded the last of their equipment into the vans.  As they slammed the tailgates shut, she found herself swallowing despite the fact that her throat was dry.  She felt like a new hire, just getting underway for the first time.  Or at least, she felt how she imagined they would feel, how they had described it to her.  Having grown up on the starliners, she never got to experience that apprehension, not in the same way they did.

“Nervous?”  Isaac’s tone was wry, but beneath that concerned, the way an older captain might feel for a pilot standing her first qualified watch on the bridge without an instructor to keep an eye on her.

Jo smiled slightly at that tone and looked back at him.  He stood in the doorway leading from the CFL headquarters’ loading garage into the building proper, and was dressed simply, in a white collared shirt and khakis.  He seemed particularly partial to that combination.  He met her gaze and smiled ever so slightly as she shrugged.  “I’d be lying if I said no,” Jo replied.

Isaac nodded.  “Good.  Means you’re not nuts.”  He walked forward to her side, on a small concrete landing above a small flight of stairs that led down into the garage proper, where the two vans were parked.  “Though some here would probably disagree with that assessment.”

“I might just agree with them.”

Isaac snorted.  Or maybe he chuckled.  Or maybe both.  His lips turned upward more broadly as he patted her on the shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.  “The plan’s good,” he said.  “Simple, straightforward.  Nothing fancy to screw up, and you’ll have our best people with you.  You’ll be fine.”

Jo returned the smile, but shrugged.  “We’ll see.”

Isaac was right: it was a straightforward plan.  As far as Jo could see, the greatest risk ran in the rendezvous with Carl.  The closest civilian airfield to Camp Tycho was only a couple hours’ drive away, just outside Alice Springs.  But that would be too obvious a place to go, so they had selected a field to the north, near Darwin.  It was a long drive, though.  The map predicted about eighteen hours.  A lot could happen in that time; there were plenty of ways for the NSA to find them, and once they did…

Jo suppressed a shudder.  That did not bear thinking on.  What would be, would be, and she needed to focus on doing whatever she could to make sure the mission turned out well, not poorly.

She turned her eyes back to the floor of the garage, where her team, dressed casually in clothes that would not garner any attention between here and Camp Tycho, was forming up.  Jervis stood to the side, along with Shani; they would not be going along, of course.  He had higher-level responsibilities to deal with and Shani…well, she was not cut out for field work, that had become clear very quickly.  For organization and planning though, she was a whiz.

To Jervis’ right was a slight woman with greying hair and amber-brown eyes named Courtney who, so the others in Brisbane said, could crack any safe or cypher known to man.  Jörgen, tall, blond and ugly, with a face like a cinder block and a body to match, knew about computers and security systems.  Thomas and Grant were brothers.  They were both young and muscular, and had they look of military men; it helped that they bore a number of weapons visibly, and likely many others that she could not see.  From the word around headquarters, they were very good in a fight.

And then there was Malcolm.  And her.

Jo felt decidedly out of place and inadequate, right then.  That was a feeling she knew well; it was an old companion, often encountered but rarely journeyed with for long.  She had encountered it as that scared young newly-qualified pilot who took watch alone for the first time; when she had conned the ship into port the first time, even under that Captain’s watchful eye; when she had taken command and every member of her new crew eyed her with uncertainty as they made their first assessments of her qualifications and quality.

She had proven equal, more than equal, to every one of those situations, but knowing that did not make the anxiety go away.  It never did, not until it decided to leave of its own will, not hers.  But while it decided when exactly to do that, she had work to do.

Jo cleared her throat and raised her voice.  “Are we ready?”  Silent nods from her team and a quick smile, somewhat forced she noticed, from Malcolm, who stood apart from the others a small distance, were the only response.  Jo inhaled and paused, collecting her thoughts.  This was one of those times when the leader is supposed to make an inspirational speech.  She had never been good at those.

“We’ve got a tough job,” she said, “one that I never thought I would be involved in.  If you’d asked me six months ago, I was going to remain on Earth for another couple years, treading water until my ship got out of the yards and I could go home again.”  That evoked some strange looks from the assembled people, planetbound all.  Few of them could understand how a ship was a crew’s, and especially her Captain’s, true home no matter where they came from or how long they might stop planetside from time to time.  “I never wanted anything else than to travel the stars, see what is out there.  I certainly never thought I would give it all up to get into politics planetside.”

A smattering of chuckles answered her.  Courtney wore an open grin of amusement; the two brothers matching smirks.  At least they had some sense of humor.  That would be helpful.

Jo paused again, a sudden upwelling of emotion forcing her to get control.  She had never said it straight out like that – she would never again be Captain.  At least, not on a ship she did not steal.  It was one thing to know it; it was something else entirely to admit it aloud, to others.  She surprised herself in the depth of loss that the telling drew out from within her.  So much for being at peace with it.

Jo sniffed and forced a half-smile onto her face.  “But there are some things you can’t turn away from.  Some things that make it impossible to just go along, safe in your own little world.  Or at least there are for me.  What’s happening in that lab is wrong, more wrong than anything I’ve ever heard of before.  Our first encounter with intelligent aliens, and we treat their children like…”  She paused, suddenly finding herself out of words.  The silence lingered for a long several seconds, then she drew herself up and made her face hard, taking on her best ‘Captain Means Business’ expression.  “It has to stop, and we have to stop it.”

She was surprised by the applause as she walked down the stairs to her waiting team.  Not just from them, but from everyone present: the men who had manhandled their heaviest gear into the truck, Jervis, Isaac, the pair of mechanics who had just finished giving the vans a final once-over, a few interested CFL members who had come just to see them off.  Everyone clapped for her little speech as though it had been the most inspirational thing ever.

Even Malcolm was clapping.  He wore a broad, proud grin as she stepped off the final stair.  “Great speech,” he said quietly as he fell in alongside her.

Jo snorted, but she could not help but smile.  The anxiety was gone, eclipsed by a warm glow of satisfaction.

It was time to get underway.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Saturday with the next chapter. And remember, you can buy a copy at AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.

If you 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 Forty-One

Ok, time for another chapter.  But first a quick reminder:  The Pericles Conspiracy is just $0.99 until next Tuesday, 13 May 2014.  So if you’re going to grab a copy, you’d better do it quick.  The book is available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes.

Cool?

Ok.  With that, let’s get to the next chapter.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Forty-One

Mazel Tov

Jackie pressed her finger against the call box controller and settled back into her chair, to wait.  Her heart beat rapidly; the part of her mind that was linked to her implant took note of the rapid beat and shouted an alarm, her heartbeat was so much higher than normal for her resting state, but she ignored it.  She simply watched the televid display and waited, her heart literally in her throat.

After what seemed forever, the display flashed to life, revealing a man in his mid-youth, just as Jackie was.  Well-built, with a strong, handsome face and a winning smile, he could have been on the cover of a news-zine.  And he had been.  His hair was bleached blond, nearly white, but that was to be expected from a man who spent most of his time on a surfboard in the tropics.  He never had been one for a real job, but somehow he was the one with all the money.

Jackie pushed the angry thoughts that threatened to burst through aside with a grimace that she did not quite hold in.

“Jackie,” the man said,

“Steven,” she replied by way of greeting.  “Is Celeste there?”

Steven’s lips turned down into a frown, an unnatural-seeming expression that turned his handsome, joyous face into something cold, bitter.  “She’s getting ready,” he said.  He glanced offscreen and paused for a moment before looking back at Jackie with an expression that screamed accusation.  “This is a big day for her, you know.  She cried for an hour when I told her you wouldn’t be here.”

Steven’s words hit her like a physical blow.  The last thing she ever wanted to do was hurt Celeste.  She would cut her heart out before doing that.  But…  But duty called, and some things took precedence, whether Jackie liked it or not.

And you wonder why you lost your daughter.

That thought was too much like the accusation in Steven’s eyes.  “Just put her on.”

Steven scowled, and for a moment Jackie thought he would just disconnect the call.  Part of her would not have blamed him if he had, and she braced herself for the screen to go black.

Instead, he nodded and said, “Just a sec.”  Then he tapped something offscreen and his hold pattern flashed up onto the televid.  It was an image of Steven, smiling and giving a thumbs-up, riding his surfboard through the tube of a breaking wave.  Probably on the North Shore, knowing him.

Several minutes passed before the televid sprang back to life.  Celeste sat there, beautiful in her bat-mitzvah dress – her father insisted on keeping his traditions, even though Jackie had turned her back on religion – her dark brown locks, so similar in tone to Jackie’s own, pulled back from her face by a pair of berets.  She looked sad.  No, angry.  It was like a lance through Jackie’s heart.

“Hi baby,” she said.

Celeste snorted loudly.  “Don’t bother, Mom,” she said.  “I’m only talking to you because Dad made me.”

“Celeste, I really wanted to be there, but…”

“If you wanted to be here,” Celeste snapped, “you would be.  But you’re not.  And I’m the only girl whose Mom ditched her on the most important day of her life.”

Oh, but there would be far more important days in the future, Jackie wanted to say, and I’ll be at all of them.  But she knew that would be small comfort.  And maybe not even true.  She had always told herself she would be there for Celeste, but it was one thing to lie to herself; it was another to lie to her daughter.

“I’m sorry,” Jackie said, as plainly and honestly as she could.  “I want you to know I’m proud of you.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Celeste said.

Then the screen went black.  Celeste had cut the line.

Jackie hung her head as tears welled up.  She sat that way for a long time.  Or at least it felt that way, but when she raised her head and pushed herself back from the call box, a glance at the chronometer on the wall – she had her implant chronometer turned off, like normal; it was a terrible distraction – she found that only a couple minutes had passed.

She stood and smoothed her blouse and slacks.  Best to not look disheveled.  Then she turned and strode through the doorway toward the rest of her office’s working spaces.  She did not look at the window adjacent to the call box.  The view of Earth, continually spinning around like a dish caught in a vortex, had never set her stomach at ease.  But today of all days, the image of her home swirling around as she stood on a station tens of thousands of miles away, on a mad quest to apprehend a woman who probably had far too much sense to ever show her face here…  That image would have made her break down and weep for what she had given up to be here,

As she drew a deep breath to calm herself, Jackie could not help but wonder whether it was worth it.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Tuesday with the next chapter. And remember, it’s on sale until next Tuesday at AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.

If you’ve read  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 Forty

An important announcement, before we get to the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  We (the royal we of course) decided to try an experiment in price-pulsing.  So we contacted some bargain ebook sites, and lowered the price of Pericles to $0.99 for a little while.  The sale only lasts until next Tuesday, 13 May 2014.  So if you’re going to grab a copy, you’d better do it quick.  The book is available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes.

Cool?

Ok.  With that, let’s get to the next chapter.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Forty

The Best Laid Plans

Jo’s head hurt.  Again.  The sort of hurt that comes from thumping her mind against the wall repeatedly for days without the wall giving an inch.  It made her empathize with migraine sufferers a bit more, as piercing as the ache was.

She looked across the table at Jervis and Isaac and scowled.  This was getting very old.  Hell, it was well past old; it was decaying in a grave.

It had been three days, and she had not seen the outside of the CFL building.  Of its innards, she had seen little else besides the conference room where she had met Winston before, her quarters, and a small mess hall down the corridor.  They had not let her back into the operations center.  If she did not know better, she would have suspected they did not trust her, and wanted to keep her from seeing anything more than she absolutely needed to.

That makes good sense.

Her scowl deepened.  Of course it made sense; she would probably do the same in their place.  What she was about to embark upon was risky.  If she was captured…again…their best hope would be for her to have only limited information that she could pass along to the NSA when they inevitably broke her.  It was not a pleasant thought.  Certainly not one she wanted to acknowledge or give credence to, however much she understood it.

“Now comes the hard part,” said a voice from Jo’s right.

She turned her head and looked past Malcolm, who as always occupied the chair next to her, toward the last member of their small planning cell.  A chubby woman of middling height who hailed from the Indian subcontinent from her facial features and skin tone, she wore her black hair down past her shoulders and had a severe face that made her look as though she was never content with anything.  Her clothing was nothing to brag about: an off-white collared shirt and jeans that could have been bought at any department store.  Her only jewelry was a thin silver necklace, and a matching silver wedding ring.  She was Jervis’ second and his chief of operations, and she had displayed a remarkable penchant for details so far.

“I’m glad you think getting the incubator out of the lab will be easy, Shani,” Malcolm replied in a wry tone.

Shani rolled her eyes and glanced at Jervis, who smirked but remained silent.

“Up to this point in the operation,” Shani said, “it is not much different than other operations we have undertaken in the past.”  Malcolm’s mouth opened, but she went on before he could speak.  “Tighter security, but the basic premise is the same.  However,” she looked between Malcolm and Jo with a deep, steady gaze, “we’ve never transported something off-plant before.”

“That’s all been arranged already,” Jo said, trading looks with Isaac.  “Right?  Carl will pick us up and get us to Gagarin.  From there we just load the incubator onto Agrippa and get underway.”

“Just like that.”

“Yes.”

Isaac cleared his throat.  “I have no doubt your man will come through, Captain,” he said.  “My company has already begun making the arrangements that will see him where he needs to be.  I am curious, however, as to just how you intend to make off with a starliner.  Surely the passengers will object?”

Jo found herself grinning mischievously.  “This is why I told Winston we had plenty of time.”  She picked up a pitcher of water that rested in the middle of the table and poured herself a glass, then took a sip.  “It takes just over two weeks to fuel a starliner for departure.  The fueling process is potentially hazardous, so we don’t begin loading cargo and passengers until the procedure is complete and the fuel tanks have settled.  That means we’ll have a window of three or four days between completion of fueling and onload.”

Shani pursed her lips.  “How long does cargo loading usually take?”

Jo shrugged.  “A week.  After that, there are two days of underway preps, and then off she goes.”

“So if Agrippa is scheduled to depart on the 28th of this month, we need to be off by the 19th, or try for the next ship.”

Jo nodded.

Shani frowned.  Jo could see her running the numbers in her head.  It was the 5th now.  Two weeks.  Could they pull this off in two weeks?  There were a lot of preparations to make, details to see to.  They would not get much rest, but it was doable.  It had to be.

Jervis looked troubled.  “So you’re thinking to take the ship during the fuel settling timeframe.”

Jo nodded.

“Won’t that be dangerous?  I expect you have to let the fuel settle for a reason.”

Malcolm piped up.  “There is some risk of over-pressurization and an explosion if the engines are brought online too soon after fueling.”  He held up a calming hand as Isaac opened his mouth to speak.  “But the risk is small, and there are procedural steps we can take to minimize it.  There is an emergency reactor and engine startup procedure just for cases like this.”  He smirked.  “Well, not quite like this, but you get the idea.”

Jervis nodded slowly, exchanging a doubtful glance with Isaac.  “Ok, but you’ll still need two days to get ready for underway.”

Jo shook her head.  “That’s mostly for stowing consumables, moving the crew in, filling out paperwork.  With just the two of us, we shouldn’t need more than the minimal consumable load the company always maintains aboard the ship.  And we’re sure not going to file a flight plan.”

“Fine.  But surely you can’t just walk aboard a starliner and fly away.  There must be security.”

Jo nodded.  “There is.  Only the ship’s Captain can authorize a reactor startup, or disengage the docking mechanism.”

“Ok,” Jervis said, trading glances with Shani, who completed his thought.  “So how do you intend to get past that?”

Jo’s smile stretched ear to ear.  “I’m Agrippa’s Captain.”

All eyes around the table widened.  All jaws dropped in confusion. It was brilliant.

“Harold Jameson transferred me from Pericles to Agrippa a few weeks ago.  When he did that, IT added my account to the list of those with authority to get the ship underway.”

The silence that followed was not as satisfying as Jo thought it would be.  Jervis, Isaac, and Shani all traded incredulous, doubting glances.  Why doubting?  Jo looked aside at Malcolm, who was staring at her as though she was daft.

After several seconds, the silence became a bit too much.  “What?”

“Jo,” Malcolm said, “you’re not the Captain anymore.”

“I know that.  So?”

Isaac cleared his throat carefully.  “So…”  He stopped and smiled apologetically.  “The company has certainly removed you by now.  They won’t be foolish enough to maintain a fugitive from the law on their security access lists.”

Shani looked disgusted.  “Really?” she said, her tone dripping scorn. “This was your plan?”  She shook her head emphatically.  “Forget it.  We’re fucked if we go for this.”

They did not see.  But then, Jo should have expected it.  None of them had the sort of access she had enjoyed.  None of them knew the inner workings of McAllister’s security like she did.  She had to force herself to stop from grinning even wider.

Jo held up her index finger and wiggled it slightly.  Shame, shame.  “I would agree with you, Shani, except for one thing.”

Shani’s eyebrow quirked upward, but she did not speak.  She merely gestured for Jo to continue, her doubting frown saying all that needed saying.

Jo explained.  “Harry transferred me personally.  I was with him when he did it, and I watched him enter his access code.”

The doubt left Shani’s face, replaced by incredulous surprise, followed by a wide, conspiratorial smile.  Beautiful.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Saturday with the next chapter. And remember, it’s on sale until next Tuesday at AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.

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 Latest Goings-On

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and I figured I’d fill all y’all in on what’s been going on.

I spent a week up in Everett, WA two weeks ago, giving some training to a couple commands at the Naval Station there.  Then last week, I flew to Japan for an exercise at the base in Yokosuka.  Flew back on Saturday, and boy are my arms tired.  Yuck, Yuck.  🙂  Anyway, the travel was all for work, but it was also fun.  I like traveling, even when it’s to places I’ve been a dozen times or more (like Yokosuka).  There’s always something new and cool to see and do…and I get per diem.  🙂  That certainly helps.

Yesterday, my wife and I ran the Spring Sprint Triathlon, which takes place in Mission Bay here in San Diego.  We ran it together last year as well because it fell on our anniversary.  I managed to trim a minute from last year’s time overall, so not a bad showing.

And then today was our wedding anniversary.  🙂  Though we didn’t do much today – yesterday was our real celebration day.  But still, it’s cool.  Seven years.  Wow.  It feels like fifteen.  😛  Just kidding, of course.  🙂  It’s been lots of fun so far.  Challenging at time, but then what isn’t that’s worthwhile, right?  We’re looking forward to lots more good years ahead.  The more the better, right?  🙂

So that’s all cool.  But there have been some goings-on in the writing world to tell y’all about as well:

First, and the most fun, a relatively new book review blog, The Good, The Bad, & The Bizarre, wrote a very nice review of The Pericles Conspiracy the other day.  It appears they liked the book quite a bit, which tells me they are people of impeccable good taste.  So all y’all ought to go over and read, not just the review of my book, but their other offerings as well.

And then, if you haven’t done so already, now would be a great time to pick up The Pericles Conspiracy.  Because of goings-on #2: I decided to do an experiment in price pulsing, so for the next week, the book’s discounted to $0.99.  Just to see what happens when that happens.  🙂  Spread the word, eh?

Ok.  Goings-on #3.  Nick Mortise, the guy who read How NOT To Rescue A Damsel In Distress, has finished his audio renditions of my other three Larian Elesir stories.  I’ll be reviewing them over the next day or so, and then they should go on sale on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes within a couple weeks after that.  So stay tuned.

Lastly, the cover art for Tollard’s Peak, Glimmer Vale Chronicles #3 is just about ready, and I got the first set of comments back from my first readers.  At this point, I anticipate a mid-June release.  More to follow, including the cover reveal as soon as the last few action items for the cover are done and the bill paid.  So stay tuned for that as well.

So that’s it.  As you can see, a fair amount’s been happening while I’ve been silent.  Now that I’m back home and back in a normal routine, I’ll get back to posting chapters of The Pericles Conspiracy more regularly.  Until then, have fun, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.

🙂

Yeah, yeah, I know.  That doesn’t leave out very much.

You’ll just have to use your imagination.