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.

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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.

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Until next time, then.