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.
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.
“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.
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 Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, 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.