I missed Tuesday again. I think I sense a trend. *sigh*
Anyway, before we get to today’s chapter, a little bit of housekeeping. I have the finalized cover art for my new novel, Tollard’s Peak (Glimmer Vale Chronicles #3), which is scheduled for release at the end of the month. I’m going to do a cover reveal tomorrow evening at 1800 my time (Pacific time zone in case you’re wondering). The cover rocks pretty hard, so I think you’ll dig it. So swing by tomorrow night to check it out.
Ok, with that out of the way let’s get to the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. Remember, if you enjoy this chapter you can pick up the full book from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.
Malcolm spun around, bringing his rifle to bear on Agent Moore, but held up short as she made a little tsking sound and flexed her fingers on the grip of her weapon. Her index finger slipped into the trigger guard; she was ready to shoot.
“Chandini would rather I take you two alive,” she said, “but if you prefer otherwise…”
Another flash-bang detonated off to the right. Jo hoped that meant Grant was gaining ground against his group of troops, but right then that was the least of her concerns.
“You know,” Moore said, “I thought Chandini had lost it when she deployed us up here. There was no way you would be stupid enough to show your face.” She pursed her lips and gave a little shake of her head. “Guess I was wrong.”
“Put down the gun, Jaqueline,” Jo said in her vintage Cool Under Pressure Captain voice.
Moore snorted. “Not going to happen. You’re caught; might as well admit it to yourselves now.” Her lips twisted into a sneer. “So close, and yet so far.”
Jo glanced toward Malcolm. He had lowered the barrel of his rifle so it aimed at the floor near Agent Moore’s feet. Probably did not want to give her a reason to shoot; not a bad plan, considering there was no way she would miss at this range. All the same, it would have been nice if he were a bit more ready, just in case. She drew a deep breath and looked Agent Moore directly in the eye.
“Neither Malcolm nor I want to hurt you.” The sneer returned again; she, at least could not hurt Agent Moore, and they both knew it. Jo tried another tack. “Do you even know why you’re here?”
Agent Moore’s eyebrow quirked upward. “I’m apprehending fugitives who – “ Another burst of rifle fire from Thomas’ direction, too many bursts to have just come from him, interrupted her. The multitude of shots made her lips turn upward into a small smile; her people were winning, and she knew it. She continued, “ – who are attempting make a getaway after having stolen government property. Not to mention having disclosed classified material, evaded arrest, and assaulted a number of Federal officers.” Again with the tsking sound. “You two are going away for a very long time.” Her eyes flicked toward Malcolm. “Put down the rifle, Ngubwe, before you make me nervous.”
Malcolm made no move to comply, bless him, but his rifle barrel did lower a few centimeters. His scowl would have turned Medusa to stone, but it did not phase Agent Moore in the least.
Jo shook her head. “So you really don’t know.” Typical, and not unexpected. Agent Moore was a worker bee. She did not need to know what was going on, not in detail. She just needed to know enough to help her catch her query. And to not ask questions beyond that.
“We encountered aliens, when we were out on Pericles.”
Surprise, followed by confusion and irritation, flashed across Agent Moore’s face. And was that perhaps a bit of wonder, quickly suppressed?
More gunfire, this time in Grant’s direction. It was much closer now.
“They were stranded, dying. They gave us their eggs – their babies – and asked us to return them home. We turned them over to the NSA when we returned, along with the tech they gave us in payment. And do you know what Chandini did?”
“Shut up,” Agent Moore said through clenched teeth. She flexed her fingers on the grip of her gun again. “Turn around and get down on your knees.”
Jo did not move; she kept staring straight at Agent Moore’s eyes. She had flinched a little bit at the word babies. “Chandini sent them to that lab in Australia, the one we raided the other day. They took those eggs and cut them open. Experimented on the alien babies inside and discarded them like so much rubbish.” Again, the slightest of flinches. Jo took a small step forward. “Do you have any children, Jaqueline?”
Agent Moore retreated in time with Jo’s advance. “Get down on your knees. Now!”
She had flinched again, even more noticeably, and her tone was suddenly less certain than it had been. So, she was a mother; rather surprising, actually. Not that she had attracted a mate, but that she had chosen to have a child. She seemed far too focused, too ruthlessly intense about her work, to have that side to her. But then, people had many layers about them, apparently even government stooges.
Jo pressed on, advancing once again. “We’re not stealing from the government, Jaqueline. We’re rescuing the surviving babies. Bringing them home.” Time to play the trump card. “What would you want most if your child was trapped and in danger? Wouldn’t you want someone to help, if she could? Wouldn’t you do anything to rescue him?”
Agent Moore’s hand trembled. “Her,” she said softly.
Jo advanced again; she was almost within arm’s reach. “If someone hurt your little girl, if he killed her and tried to claim it was in the name of science, what would you do to that person when you found out?”
Agent Moore’s frown deepened. Almost too softly to hear, she murmured, “I’d kill him.”
“So you see,” Jo said, “we’re not just trying to save these babies. We’re trying to save the rest of us as well.”
For a second, Jo thought she had gotten through, that Agent Moore would understand and let them past.
And then that second passed.
Agent Moore shook her head. “No,” she said. And then, more strongly, she added, “No. You’ve broken the law. Even if you think you’re doing the right thing, there are ways to go about it that don’t involve doing what you’ve done.” She drew in a breath and squared her jaw, returning Jo’s stare with a determined look of her own. “Get down on your knees now, or I’ll put you down.” She glanced aside, toward Malcolm. “Both of you -“
Jo did not let her finish the order. No sooner had Agent Moore’s eyes left her than Jo bounded forward and to her right, removing her head from the path of the pistol’s barrel and aiming a roundhouse kick at Agent Moore’s navel.
Agent Moore’s eyes flashed in surprise and she darted away. She was quick, very quick. But not quick enough. She had only just begun to move when Jo’s boot struck her. She bent over double and stumbled backward from the force of the kick, couching as the breath left her lungs.
She still clutched her pistol, though.
“Malcolm, get the loader,” Jo ordered as she stepped forward and grabbed at the gun in Agent Moore’s hands.
From the corner of her eye, Jo could see Malcolm hesitate for a second, clearly torn between helping her and getting their cargo to the ship. That second quickly passed and he shouldered his rifle and hauled himself up into the loader’s control chair.
More rifle fire, followed by a loud cry of pain, Jo could not tell from where exactly, covered the sound of the loader’s motor shifting into drive. Not that Jo had the time to pay attention to it.
Stunned as Agent Moore was, she was obviously well-trained and in control of herself. The moment Jo’s hand touched the pistol, she squirmed and twisted, almost succeeding in evading Jo’s grab. Only getting her second hand down around Agent Moore’s wrist prevented it; as it was, the pistol came perilously close to pointing at Jo’s chest before she managed to force it away.
And not a moment too soon. The pistol barked, and superheated plasma lanced out, the heat of its passage charring Jo’s fatigues and causing her to grit her teeth in pain as her skin burned along her lower left ribs, and impacted with the ceiling.
Jo twisted her hips, using the force of her momentum to pull Agent Moore off her feet and send her sprawling to the floor off to Jo’s side. The impact jarred the pistol loose; for a moment Jo had a hold of it, but only for a moment. Then she lost her grip and the weapon dropped away and skittered across the floor toward Agrippa’s airlock.
Agent Moore noticed and tried to push herself up onto her knees, to go after it. Jo’s boot in the small of her back stopped that quickly enough.
Jo pressed down, forcing the other woman to the floor, and pulled her own pistol from its holster on her hip. “Don’t move, Jaqueline.”
Beneath her, Agent Moore closed her eyes. “Just do it.”
Jo took a second to glance behind her and saw the loader still at the mouth of the tunnel, motionless. Where – ?
And then she saw Malcolm, standing beside the loader with his arm wrapped around Grant. The fighting man was bleeding from a cut on his temple and his left sleeve was torn away, revealing a painful-looking burn that ran down most of his upper arm. He moved stiffly on his right leg, as though he was having troubling bending it.
Where was Thomas?
Malcolm met her eyes and must have seen the question there. He shook his head, his face grim.
Sorrow, and cold anger, welled up with Jo; she could see the same thing, magnified a thousandfold, in Grant’s eyes beneath the physical pain. Jo’s heart went out to him. She had never had a blood brother, but she had a large extended family among her fellow starfarers. She knew how it was to lose a loved one. Her eyes flickered toward Malcolm again, and she recalled the agony when he had died, those months ago. Except that he had not really died. Thomas would not come back from the dead, like Malcolm had.
But there was no time to dwell on that now. “Move it,” Jo said in as commanding a tone as she could muster – and that was quite commanding, all things considered.
She turned back to Agent Moore and pressed her pistol to the back of the woman’s head. Then she reached down with her left hand and felt along her waist until…there. Handcuffs. Never leave home without them. A couple seconds later, Jo had Agent Moore’s hands cuffed behind her back, and she shoved her against the wall so she would be out of the way.
Then Jo hurried back to the loader, and her two comrades. From the corner of her eye, she saw disbelief on Agent Moore’s face.
* * * * *
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