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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.
Ok. With that, let’s get to the next chapter.
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, 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.