Tuesday afternoon, and the sun is bright, the weather warm (hey, I’m in San Diego. Sue me. 😛 ). That means it’s time for another chapter from The Pericles Conspiracy. We’re now almost a third of the way through; it’ll take a few more months to reach the end. As always, if you don’t want to wait you can go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.
In spite of the hour, the short term parking lot at Quito International Airport was still about a third full. The last flights would not depart and arrive for another hour or so. That was some comfort; they would stand out completely in an empty parking lot.
Malcolm drove through the swing-arm gate and into the lot. Sitting in the passenger seat, Jo looked over at the terminal and, for a moment, the irony of the airport naming convention struck her. It’s not like there still were nation states to speak of – just the Coalition itself and its member states, then the various provinces and localities beneath them. Yet still people called some airports International and some Regional. It was funny now that she stopped to think about it, just like starfarers using nautical terminology onboard ship. Jo supposed it was comforting, or something, to harken back to old traditions like that. But still, funny.
“Look for a yellow van,” Malcolm said, bringing Jo back to the present. He turned down the first row of parked cars and drove slowly down it, peering side to side intently.
Jo shook herself back to alertness. This was no time to be daydreaming. Or nightdreaming, she smirked to herself as she glanced at the car’s chronometer.
They traversed the parking lot twice without spotting the van. Malcolm frowned and pulled into a spot near the exit gates and turned off the car’s lights. He left the engine running, though.
“I guess we wait,” Jo said. “This guy is reliable, right?”
Malcolm half-shrugged. “He’s not the most punctual person ever. But he knows his stuff and is good in a pinch.”
Jo turned to look at the parking lot entrance, an anxious knot beginning to grow in her belly. This was bad. They needed to keep moving, not sit around where Agent Moore and her comrades could catch up to them. But moving would not do much good unless they removed the locator.
Jo found herself wringing her hands as the minutes ticked by, no matter how many times she forced herself to stop. Finally a yellow van pulled up to the entrance gate. She perked up and nudged Malcolm, who followed her gaze to the van and nodded.
“That’s him,” Malcolm said.
The van meandered around the parking lot for a few moments, almost as though the driver could not decide where to park. Finally it pulled into the space next to them. The driver did not get out.
Malcolm looked at Jo seriously. “All set?” he asked.
She took a deep breath and nodded. Malcolm returned the nod and turned off the car’s engine. “Make sure you have everything,” he said. “We may have to leave in a hurry.” Then he opened the car door and stepped out.
Jo did a quick check of her belongings. She did not have much: just her handbag and the weapons she took from the agents in the Parque. Hardly enough to make it for very long on the run. But there was not much choice was there? Shaking her head, she got out of the car.
Malcolm stood at the passenger-side door of the van. The window was rolled down, but Jo could not see inside from her angle. Malcolm nodded in response to something she did not hear and the side door in the rear of the van slid open.
The inside of the van was set up like a lab, a first aid station, and a communications center all rolled into one. Surprise made her not notice the man who stepped back from the driver’s seat until he spoke.
“Are you going to introduce me, Robert?”
The man, Raúl no doubt, was short and slender, with thin limbs and a pencil neck that clashed with his unexpectedly broad shoulders. He kept his black hair tied into a ponytail at the nape of his neck and a short beard on his face. He wore jeans and a t-shirt depicted the logo for a band that Jo had never heard of, and sandals on his feet. His skin was well tanned, though he looked pale compared to Malcolm, and his eyes were dark behind wire rimmed spectacles. Jo was surprised by that; glasses were almost unheard of these days, with the ease of corrective surgery or implants. But then, a person without a database implant was a rarity too, so who was Jo to judge?
Malcolm gestured toward the man in the van and said, “Jo, meet Raúl Ramirez, a legend in his own mind.”
Raúl made a sound that was halfway between a snort and a chuckle and reached with his right hand toward Jo. She shook it and was pleased to find he had a strong, confident grip. She smiled in a manner that she hoped was friendly and said, “Nice to meet you.”
Raúl returned the smile with a broad grin. “The pleasure is mine, Jo.” Releasing her hand, he looked from Jo to Malcolm and rubbed his hand together. “Well, if you’ll join me inside, we can get down to business.”
They stepped up into the van and Raúl tapped a control panel. The door slid shut silently, cutting out the outside world. Once the door closed, Raúl looked Jo over again.
“I assume you have the locator, no?”
Jo nodded and pointed at the meat of her shoulder.
Raúl nodded. “Sub-cutaneous injection, huh?” He looked back at Malcolm. “How much time do you have?”
Malcolm spread his hands in a gesture of ignorance. “No idea. They could be coming around the corner any minute for all we know.”
Raúl shook his head and gestured toward the racks of communication gear in the front of the van’s cargo area. “No one’s mentioned you on the police bands.”
“And they won’t,” Malcolm replied. “It’s an NSA operation.”
“Hijo de puta,” Raúl muttered. More loudly, he said, “That’s going to cost you double.”
Malcolm scowled and opened his mouth, no doubt to protest, but Raúl beat him to it. “Double, Robert, or you can get the fuck out right now. I don’t need to spend any more time in the lockup.”
Malcolm and he traded stares for a brief moment, then Malcolm nodded.
Raúl smiled again. “All right. Robert, drive the van. Stay on the main roads where there’s still traffic.”
Malcolm nodded and moved up to the driver’s seat.
Raúl turned back to Jo. “Have a seat and roll up your sleeve. This should just take a minute.”
As Jo moved to the bench at the very rear of the van, she felt the engine start up and the vehicle begin to move. Then she lost her balance and fell onto the bench with a thud as Malcolm hit the breaks a little too hard.
“Hey,” she shouted.
“Sorry. Brakes are tighter than I’m used to,” came the reply from the front.
Raúl shook his head and smirked. “Many men have trouble with control when it’s tighter than normal, am I right?” He winked at her and raised his eyebrows in a lecherous manner.
Jo glowered and almost smacked him, but thought better of it before doing so. He must have realized it though, because his smirk faded quickly, replace by a wary, almost disappointed expression.
“Let’s just get on with it, Raúl,” she said, and rolled up her sleeve until the fabric bunched up around the top of her shoulder and armpit.
The van moved forward again as Raúl pulled a drawer of various tools out from a bin in the wall. He fished around inside for a moment, then emerged with a portable MRI and what looked like a pair of pinchers. Jo recognized the MRI unit from the medical supplies onboard ship. They were extremely expensive; more than she earned in a run from Sol to Gliese and back. Where the hell did Raúl get it? He did not look the type to be rolling in money. Jo almost asked but realized she probably did not want to know.
“Alright. Hold still for a second,” Raúl said. He attached the clamps on the MRI to either side of the meat in her shoulder then spent a brief moment adjusting some of the machine’s settings. After a moment he nodded to himself and tapped the control pad. The MRI began to hum.
In Jo’s experience, portable MRIs did not require much time to warm up, but this one seemed to take forever. Although, she was forced to admit it could have been her nerves that made to seem to take as long as it did. Finally, the unit made a soft beeping sound and Raúl tapped the control pad again.
A display built into the wall of the van flashed to life, revealing a false-color image of the inside of Jo’s shoulder. She blinked, fascinated, and leaned forward to see better. She had seen MRI readouts before, but never before one of her own body. It was a very different experience.
“Ah. There’s the little bugger,” Raúl said in a slow near-purr of satisfaction, and pointed to the lower left quadrant of the scan.
Even with his direction, Jo could not find the locator for a long moment. When she finally did, she was underwhelmed.
“That’s it?” she said incredulously. The thing could not have been more than two millimeters long, maybe three.
Raúl nodded. “It does not have to be large. It gets its power from the electric potential within your body and only transmits when queried from elsewhere. When it transmits, the Feds triangulate its position using the web nodes nearby.”
Interesting, but right then Jo could have cared less how the thing worked. Get it out, already, she wanted to shout. Instead, she just nodded.
“Now,” Raúl said as he began adjusting his pincher tool, “if I’d had more time to prepare, I would have a good anesthetic ready.” He looked up from his tool with an apologetic expression. “As it is, I’m afraid this may hurt a little.”
Oh great. Jo gritted her teeth and nodded again. Might as well get on with it.
Raúl made one last adjustment on his pinchers, then hefted them and leaned forward. He paused for a moment, studying the MRI display again. Then he nodded to himself and moved the pinchers toward Jo’s shoulder.
A sudden lurch sent Raúl stumbling forward onto Jo. They both slid across the bench into the van’s wall with a painful thump, followed by a metallic rattle as the MRI unit became dislodged from her shoulder and fell to the floor. The MRI display went black.
“What the hell, Robert?” Raúl shouted as he and Jo extricated themselves from each other.
Malcolm’s voice was strained as he replied, “I think they’ve found us.”
“Son of a bitch,” Jo and Raúl said in unison.
* * * * *
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.