On to the next chapter.
I am posting The Pericles Conspiracy for all y’all to read here on the blog. Two chapters per week. Given there are 63 chapters in the book, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.
Chapter 12 – Evidence
“We keyed in on the Pericles situation shortly after you docked,” Becky said as she tapped the control pad at the command station.
On one of the display screens that lined the far wall, a video clip began to play. Jo recognized it as the news footage from Pericles’ arrival. She recalled there had been minor media attention when they did not unload immediately, but it had quickly faded. The video was nothing special: just a long panorama of Pericles’ two and a half kilometer long hull and the two counter-rotating rings which contained the ship’s main living and cargo storage spaces.
“Who is we?”
Becky looked sidelong at Jo and hesitated for a moment before answering. “A group of concerned citizens. Over the years, we’ve observed the Coalition government becoming more closed and secretive, taking a more oppressive stance toward the civil and economic rights of the citizenry. A number of us, who value liberty and would not see it perish, gathered together to monitor the government’s activities and bring its misdeeds to light.”
Oh boy. Jo had heard about these kooks, or at least about people like them. Conspiracy theorists who saw malice in every act, no matter how mundane. From what Jo gathered, there was little to be said to convince them otherwise, either.
“And have you found very many misdeeds?”
Becky nodded. “More than we feared we would. But none matching what they did with the eggs you brought to earth aboard your ship.”
Jo rolled her eyes, looking from Becky to Malcolm. “Malcolm made that same claim to me before. Do you have anything to back that up besides conspiracy theories?”
Becky glowered at her, and opened her mouth to reply, but Malcolm beat her to it.
“After what happened to Reynolds, do you still believe the Coalition is on the up and up?”
Jo hesitated. Was she sure they were wrong? What happened was awfully coincidental, after all. No, that was not enough. “You haven’t shown any evidence to make me think otherwise.”
Becky jumped back into the discussion, gesturing toward the video of Pericles.
“At first, all we had was suspicion. The government’s behavior after you docked was completely irregular. Which was odd, but the virtual news blackout at the same time made us certain something was amiss. Then we met Malcolm, and he described what you encountered out there.”
Jo glanced at Malcolm. She was sure her continued disapproval showed, but he returned her gaze with a level stare of his own. “I can’t imagine you just took him at his word. What convinced you, the video Alison shot?”
Malcolm shook his head. “I didn’t have a copy of the video when I met them, just the technical schematics. Those were enough for them to believe my story, at least at first.” He gestured to the back of the room, where the men in lab coats were working. “The group’s engineers were just as intrigued as I was when I first saw the documents. Working together, we made more progress in three months than I had made in nine aboard Pericles. And since then…”
In spite of herself, Jo felt a surge of curiosity. “What have you discovered?”
Malcolm smiled, an expression of wonder and eagerness that made him seem a young boy for a moment. “It’s amazing, Jo. Because the aliens only have three fingers and a thumb, they use a base-eight number system…”
“We knew that much on the ship.”
He nodded. “Of course. You remember how difficult it made deciphering the documents, though. How frustrating it was. Well, about six months ago, we finally learned enough of their mathematical language to translate the schematics. Jo, they’re plans for an artificial gravity device!”
Jo felt her eyebrows rising high onto her forehead.
Malcolm’s grin grew more broad, and he bobbed his head. “You see it, don’t you. With such a device we could build more efficient ships that won’t require spinning rings. We could build new propulsion systems, hovering systems, you name it. It’s so exciting!”
“That’s a year after these people met you.” Jo looked back at Becky. “You’re very trusting. That was a long time to go without any real evidence to back up his claim.”
Becky shrugged. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s the value of caution, and of patience. Malcolm made himself more than useful during that time. And if his claims amounted to nothing…” she spread her hands “…we at least got good work out of him.”
Beside her, Malcolm smirked slightly at Becky’s words, but she did not seem to notice. Or at least, she ignored it.
“But it didn’t come to that. Within a few months, we received confirmation, of sorts. One of our informants within the NSA passed word that something strange had been unloaded from Pericles. Something not on the shipping manifests. If it had been narcotics or other contraband, the news would have been awash with reports of your arrest and trial.”
“That’s a big leap to make, from narcotics to alien beings and their artifacts: right past common sense to the fantastic. You didn’t think it could possibly be anything else? You don’t seem that dumb.”
Becky glared at Jo again, then tapped, more like jabbed, the control pad, and the display shifted. The video of Pericles was replaced by an image of a long corridor, lit by recessed lighting in the ceiling. The image bounced around slightly, as though the cameraman was walking.
“We investigated very carefully. It took many months to learn where the NSA brought the eggs. But finally, just a few months ago, we managed to get a person inside,” Becky said. Despite her obvious irritation, Jo noted that Becky’s voice was calm and serious, and found herself impressed. Becky at least was not a complete amateur.
“So this place is where, exactly?” The corridor could be in any number of buildings Jo had seen over the years.
“Deep in the Australian outback. Far from observing eyes.”
“Uh-huh. And who is this person doing the filming?”
“Just someone who works there and decided he didn’t like what was happening. You’d be surprised how many government employees come to us for just that reason. He, however, was…a bit more emphatic about it.”
Jo held off replying, as the mole turned a corner and approached a wide antechamber that contained a security checkpoint. Half a dozen men, armed and armored in the latest government issued gear, manned several scanners of various makes. The image bobbed, and Jo realized the bobbing was caused by the mole nodding to the security foreman. She blinked in surprise.
“He recorded this through his database implant?” Jo asked, feeling even more incredulous than she sounded. “How? Secure facilities have building-wide bug jammers so people can’t do that sort of thing.”
Becky crossed her arms over her chest and smirked. Her voice was positively smug as she replied. “It wasn’t too terribly hard to design an algorithm to overcome that. It has a pre-programmed lifespan, so it will delete itself and be undetectable later, but it’s more than sufficient to get the recordings we need.” She lost some of her smugness as she added, “Unfortunately, it’ll only record video, not audio. But it’s better than nothing.”
Jo had to concede that was a pretty impressive feat. From what she had learned during her security indoctrination, that sort of thing was supposed to be impossible.
On the display screen, the mole left the security checkpoint behind and walked through a pair of double-doors and onto a narrow walkway that ringed a large, open room. The mole looked down over the railing that ran along one side of the walkway, and revealed that the room was two stories deep. Jo could see from this high vantage point that it was divided into thirds. The nearest area was set up like a lab of some sort. Over by the far wall, it looked like there was a machine shop or something. The central third of the room was covered, preventing a recording of its contents.
The mole turned away from the work floor and moved over to a set of spiral stairs at the far end of the walkway. Quickly descending to the ground level, the mole passed by a round fellow in a lab coat who was waiting at the bottom of the stairs and stepped into a work area. The image panned slowly around and Jo could see it was much more than the machine shop she’d taken it for from the overhead image. There were lathes, drill presses, and all the other sorts of machines one would expect from a shop set up along one wall. But the rest of the work area was filled with computer workstations and electronic devices of all kinds. That was not unusual, of course, but Jo could see no less than three clean room containments and a vacuum chamber, and along another wall a series of pages containing odd symbols. It took her a second to realize those pages were recreations of the pages of mathematics she had seen in holographic form aboard Pericles, projected from the alien leader’s black rod.
At least thirty people, all wearing lab coats, were working in the area. A few nodded familiarly to the mole, but he did not pause to engage them in conversation.
Instead, the mole walked over to the wall dividing the work area from the central, covered area of the room. A single door in the center of the wall provided access. The mole stepped through and into an airlock. A few seconds passed, probably for the airlock to shift over to the internal atmosphere, then the mole pushed open the inner door and stepped into the second area.
It was wide open, with hardly any furniture. In the center of the chamber rested the aliens’ incubator, or egg stasis unit, or whatever the right term was. About two meters long, a meter wide, and a meter and a half tall, it was colored black with the exception of the control panel on one side and the frosted-over transparent lid on top, it appeared the same as when Jo saw it last.
“Everything looks in order,” Jo said, not trying to keep the doubt out of her tone.
Becky cast an annoyed look her way. “Wait until you’ve seen the rest,” she replied in a biting tone.
The mole walked past the egg machine, and Jo saw that it was not as intact as it first appeared. One whole side of the machine had been removed, revealing its innards. Numerous probes and leads ran from a console set up nearby into the machine, to monitor or sustain its function, Jo surmised. That wasn’t so very surprising. The researchers would want to learn how the machine worked, but also would not want to disturb its function if they could help it.
The mole did not linger, but instead made his way through another airlock door which again stood in the center of the far wall.
“Son of a bitch,” Jo breathed. She did not need to look away from the display to know that Becky wore a deprecating smirk as she voiced the words.
The laboratory beyond the airlock was clean, antiseptic even. Yet it was also ghastly.
In an anti-microbe containment not far from the door sat an egg. An elderly man with a kindly face that did not match what he was doing had his hands stuck into gloves built in the wall of the containment. He was cutting into the egg with a scalpel. Another containment several meters away contained what Jo had to presume was an alien embryo. It was dead, dissected. Nearby, three lab-coated men stood looking at an electronic microscope display of what could only be a part of the embryo and chatting amongst themselves. One of them laughed.
Jo felt sick.
“Seen enough?” Becky asked.
Jo nodded, and Becky tapped the control pad again. The video playback stopped.
* * * * *
I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.