The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Forty-Four

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.

And don’t forget, the book is still available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Forty-Four

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.

“What’s up.”

“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.

Nothing happened.

Aw hell.

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 AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, 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.

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Forty-Three

Time for another chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Don’t forget, if you like it the book is still available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes.

Cool?

Ok, let’s get to the next chapter.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Forty-Three

Camp Tycho

Two days of driving does not sound like much, in the abstract.  But what Jervis failed to mention in his description of the distance, or rather what Jo failed to truly appreciate, was that it was almost literally two days – two entire twenty-four hour periods – from Brisbane to Camp Tycho.  Past the mountains to the city’s west and into the Outback beyond where the settlements were few and far between, and then further still, into the vast desert that dominated the continent’s interior.

They stopped only for fuel – those stops were few enough that they carried extra fuel cans within the vans so they could ensure they made it to the next one – and for calls of nature.  Fortunately, the vans were large enough that they were able to lie down in the back and sleep in shifts.  But the sleep was short and fitful, as more often than not the van would hit an uneven patch of pavement or a pothole and jar the sleepers awake.  By the time they reached their first rally point, two hours from the Camp, Jo was exhausted.

The rally point lay within a small box canyon that descended into the earth beside a butte – Jo had no idea if they called them that Down Under or not, but that was the only word that came to mind – that stood out from the flat countryside like a beacon.  At first she had objected; it was too prominent a landmark.  Surely stopping there would leave them visible to tourists, patrols, you name it.  But the canyon was deep and would shield them from prying eyes, and there was no other option that would even come close to offering good concealment for a long way in any direction.  They needed to rest after the long drive or they would certainly fail, and this was the best place for it.  It was a risk, but a reasonable one.

All the same, Jo made sure to set a watch up near the canyon’s entrance before putting everyone in the rack.

*  *  *  *  *

Thomas brought the van to a halt behind a small rise and turned off the engine.  In the passenger seat, Jo peered out the windshield toward the top of the rise, where the glow of electric lights a small distance away eclipsed the stars.

It was a beautiful night: clear and dark, with no moon.  They had made sure of that during the planning process.  With a few weeks before Agrippa would be ready to sail, Jo’s little team had the luxury of selecting the night of a new moon for the caper.  Convenient.

Of course, no moon meant little with all the high-powered security lights ringing the place.  That was where Winston came in.  Assuming he came through and was not discovered.  That was just one of the many things that could go wrong tonight, but Jo actually felt good about Winston’s role.  He had as much to lose as any of them, maybe more, if this thing went south.

Jo glanced down at her wrist chronometer and frowned.  Five minutes until the second van was due to arrive.

They had waited until just after sundown and staggered their departure from the box canyon in order to draw less attention.  Maybe ten minutes after leaving, they had cut off the road and set off cross country toward this, the second rally point.  It would not have been so bad except they had gone without headlights, or lights of any kind.  Thomas drove using lowlight goggles, but even still he had twice almost driven into a ditch that would have been impossible to get out of.

Jo lowered her window and craned her neck to look behind, straining to make out the other van.

It should have been a relief to not see a thing.  That boded well for their plan, at least for the initial phase.  But instead all she felt was dread.  If they had hit one of those ditches, the plan was shot.  She had planned for a contingency, of course.  She, Thomas, and Jörgen could, probably, accomplish the mission on their own, with Winston’s help.  But it would take longer and the risk would be far greater than with the whole team.  And worse, they would have to leave one of the team behind.  The incubator was too large, it would take up the entire back of the van.  Thomas knew that, and had accepted the risk.  But the thought of just leaving him behind where he would certainly be nabbed by the NSA, whether he chose it or not, made Jo’s stomach lurch.  That was not a choice she wanted to make.

So it came as a great relief when, a moment later, the second van pulled up next to them and shut down.

Everyone piled out of the vans and quickly got about their jobs.  Grant and Thomas checked their weapons, then slung their rifles across their chests in tactical mode and split off, jogging off in separate directions to do a quick sweep of the immediate perimeter; they would subdue any patrols of individuals they found nearby.  Not kill.  Subdue.  Jo had been prepared to fight hard on that matter, back in Brisbane during the planning, but was surprised when Grant beat her to it.

“Better to not hurt or kill anyone, if we can help it,” he said.  “That gets messy fast.”

Watching the two brothers disappear into the night, Jo hoped they remembered that.

Malcolm walked up and held out her pack.  It was black, just like the fatigues they all wore, to better blend into the night.  She accepted it with a quick nod, took a minute to pull a black knit hat out of the pack, then slipped the straps over her shoulders.  Then she pulled the hat on and rolled it down until it covered her face completely, except for her eyes, and touched the pistol on her hip.  Better to not hurt anyone, but there was being humane and then there was being stupid.

Of course, Jo was not entirely sure if she could shoot another person, if it really came down to it.  Hopefully she would not have to find out.

She reached into the van and pulled her night vision goggles from where she had left them on the dashboard.  She had not bothered to wear them during the drive; she had tried for a short while but found them heavy and disconcerting to wear.  But there would be little choice about using them now.  Slipping them onto her head overtop the mask, she adjusted the straps and hit the power switch.

It was like someone turned on the sun.  What a moment ago had been lost in shadow was now clear, down to the little pimple on Courtney’s chin before she pulled on her own mask.

Jo took a moment to survey her team.  Everyone looked ready.  As soon as the brothers finished their sweep, they would make the signal to Winston.  And then…

The soft sound of boots on rocks behind her made Jo jump.  She spun around, hand landing on the grip of her pistol, and found Thomas – she thought it was Thomas, but it was hard to tell with his mask down – standing there, his rifle held at the ready.  Jo could not see his eyes behind the lenses of his goggles, but his tone when he spoke was disapproving.

“You make more noise than a herd of teenage girls,” he said, his voice low and serious, businesslike.

Jo blew out in a mixture of relief and exasperation, but nodded.  This was a job that required stealth, at least in the initial stages.  She needed to keep that in mind.

Thomas returned the nod and joined the group.  A moment later, Grant emerged from a hollow of ground a few meters off to the left.  Pretty impressive.  Jo would not have thought it possible to hide with the goggles making everything so bright, but he managed it somehow.  Training.  Lots of training.  He exchanged fist bumps with Thomas, who gestured for them all to huddle up.

“The position is secure,” Thomas said in that same low tone of voice.  “Looks like they have beefed up security since our last brief from Winston, though.  I counted a half dozen guard posts.”  He paused and looked at Grant, who nodded, confirming the count.

Jo cursed softly.  “Is it too much?”

Thomas did not answer for a long moment.  Then he shook his head.  “No.  They’re spread out enough that we ought to be ok if we can take two of them down.  But we’re going to have to move quickly.  Once Winston cuts the power, there will be a few minutes of confusion.  In that time, you’ll have to get the vans in and out of sight, or we’re done.”

“What about the guards?”

“We’ll take care of it.”

He said no more, and Jo decided she did not want to know.  “Alright,” Jo said, “everyone ready?”

Again, nods all around.

“We’ll wait for your signal,” she said, and Thomas nodded.

The two brothers departed swiftly, again disappearing like ghosts despite the better visibility from Jo’s goggles.  She shook her head at their prowess, then stuck up her index finger and made a little circle in the air.  Mount up.

She got back into her van and turned on a small wireless receiver that lay in the console between the two front seats.  A moment later Malcolm joined her, taking the driver’s seat.  She was not sure because of his mask, but she could have sworn he was grinning.

“What?”

Malcolm turned to her and made the little finger-circle again.  “Really?”

Jo rolled her eyes but did not reply.

Malcolm just chuckled and started the motor.

And then they sat, awaiting the signal that would set the path for the rest of their lives.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Tuesday with the next chapter. And remember, you can buy a copy at AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, 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.

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.

Cool?

Ok.  With that, let’s get to the next chapter.

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.

If you’ve read  and 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.

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Forty

An important announcement, before we get to the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  We (the royal we of course) decided to try an experiment in price-pulsing.  So we contacted some bargain ebook sites, and lowered the price of Pericles to $0.99 for a little while.  The sale only lasts 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.

Cool?

Ok.  With that, let’s get to the next chapter.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Forty

The Best Laid Plans

Jo’s head hurt.  Again.  The sort of hurt that comes from thumping her mind against the wall repeatedly for days without the wall giving an inch.  It made her empathize with migraine sufferers a bit more, as piercing as the ache was.

She looked across the table at Jervis and Isaac and scowled.  This was getting very old.  Hell, it was well past old; it was decaying in a grave.

It had been three days, and she had not seen the outside of the CFL building.  Of its innards, she had seen little else besides the conference room where she had met Winston before, her quarters, and a small mess hall down the corridor.  They had not let her back into the operations center.  If she did not know better, she would have suspected they did not trust her, and wanted to keep her from seeing anything more than she absolutely needed to.

That makes good sense.

Her scowl deepened.  Of course it made sense; she would probably do the same in their place.  What she was about to embark upon was risky.  If she was captured…again…their best hope would be for her to have only limited information that she could pass along to the NSA when they inevitably broke her.  It was not a pleasant thought.  Certainly not one she wanted to acknowledge or give credence to, however much she understood it.

“Now comes the hard part,” said a voice from Jo’s right.

She turned her head and looked past Malcolm, who as always occupied the chair next to her, toward the last member of their small planning cell.  A chubby woman of middling height who hailed from the Indian subcontinent from her facial features and skin tone, she wore her black hair down past her shoulders and had a severe face that made her look as though she was never content with anything.  Her clothing was nothing to brag about: an off-white collared shirt and jeans that could have been bought at any department store.  Her only jewelry was a thin silver necklace, and a matching silver wedding ring.  She was Jervis’ second and his chief of operations, and she had displayed a remarkable penchant for details so far.

“I’m glad you think getting the incubator out of the lab will be easy, Shani,” Malcolm replied in a wry tone.

Shani rolled her eyes and glanced at Jervis, who smirked but remained silent.

“Up to this point in the operation,” Shani said, “it is not much different than other operations we have undertaken in the past.”  Malcolm’s mouth opened, but she went on before he could speak.  “Tighter security, but the basic premise is the same.  However,” she looked between Malcolm and Jo with a deep, steady gaze, “we’ve never transported something off-plant before.”

“That’s all been arranged already,” Jo said, trading looks with Isaac.  “Right?  Carl will pick us up and get us to Gagarin.  From there we just load the incubator onto Agrippa and get underway.”

“Just like that.”

“Yes.”

Isaac cleared his throat.  “I have no doubt your man will come through, Captain,” he said.  “My company has already begun making the arrangements that will see him where he needs to be.  I am curious, however, as to just how you intend to make off with a starliner.  Surely the passengers will object?”

Jo found herself grinning mischievously.  “This is why I told Winston we had plenty of time.”  She picked up a pitcher of water that rested in the middle of the table and poured herself a glass, then took a sip.  “It takes just over two weeks to fuel a starliner for departure.  The fueling process is potentially hazardous, so we don’t begin loading cargo and passengers until the procedure is complete and the fuel tanks have settled.  That means we’ll have a window of three or four days between completion of fueling and onload.”

Shani pursed her lips.  “How long does cargo loading usually take?”

Jo shrugged.  “A week.  After that, there are two days of underway preps, and then off she goes.”

“So if Agrippa is scheduled to depart on the 28th of this month, we need to be off by the 19th, or try for the next ship.”

Jo nodded.

Shani frowned.  Jo could see her running the numbers in her head.  It was the 5th now.  Two weeks.  Could they pull this off in two weeks?  There were a lot of preparations to make, details to see to.  They would not get much rest, but it was doable.  It had to be.

Jervis looked troubled.  “So you’re thinking to take the ship during the fuel settling timeframe.”

Jo nodded.

“Won’t that be dangerous?  I expect you have to let the fuel settle for a reason.”

Malcolm piped up.  “There is some risk of over-pressurization and an explosion if the engines are brought online too soon after fueling.”  He held up a calming hand as Isaac opened his mouth to speak.  “But the risk is small, and there are procedural steps we can take to minimize it.  There is an emergency reactor and engine startup procedure just for cases like this.”  He smirked.  “Well, not quite like this, but you get the idea.”

Jervis nodded slowly, exchanging a doubtful glance with Isaac.  “Ok, but you’ll still need two days to get ready for underway.”

Jo shook her head.  “That’s mostly for stowing consumables, moving the crew in, filling out paperwork.  With just the two of us, we shouldn’t need more than the minimal consumable load the company always maintains aboard the ship.  And we’re sure not going to file a flight plan.”

“Fine.  But surely you can’t just walk aboard a starliner and fly away.  There must be security.”

Jo nodded.  “There is.  Only the ship’s Captain can authorize a reactor startup, or disengage the docking mechanism.”

“Ok,” Jervis said, trading glances with Shani, who completed his thought.  “So how do you intend to get past that?”

Jo’s smile stretched ear to ear.  “I’m Agrippa’s Captain.”

All eyes around the table widened.  All jaws dropped in confusion. It was brilliant.

“Harold Jameson transferred me from Pericles to Agrippa a few weeks ago.  When he did that, IT added my account to the list of those with authority to get the ship underway.”

The silence that followed was not as satisfying as Jo thought it would be.  Jervis, Isaac, and Shani all traded incredulous, doubting glances.  Why doubting?  Jo looked aside at Malcolm, who was staring at her as though she was daft.

After several seconds, the silence became a bit too much.  “What?”

“Jo,” Malcolm said, “you’re not the Captain anymore.”

“I know that.  So?”

Isaac cleared his throat carefully.  “So…”  He stopped and smiled apologetically.  “The company has certainly removed you by now.  They won’t be foolish enough to maintain a fugitive from the law on their security access lists.”

Shani looked disgusted.  “Really?” she said, her tone dripping scorn. “This was your plan?”  She shook her head emphatically.  “Forget it.  We’re fucked if we go for this.”

They did not see.  But then, Jo should have expected it.  None of them had the sort of access she had enjoyed.  None of them knew the inner workings of McAllister’s security like she did.  She had to force herself to stop from grinning even wider.

Jo held up her index finger and wiggled it slightly.  Shame, shame.  “I would agree with you, Shani, except for one thing.”

Shani’s eyebrow quirked upward, but she did not speak.  She merely gestured for Jo to continue, her doubting frown saying all that needed saying.

Jo explained.  “Harry transferred me personally.  I was with him when he did it, and I watched him enter his access code.”

The doubt left Shani’s face, replaced by incredulous surprise, followed by a wide, conspiratorial smile.  Beautiful.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Saturday with the next chapter. And remember, it’s on sale until next Tuesday at AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.

Oh yeah, and if you’ve read it and 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.

The Latest Goings-On

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and I figured I’d fill all y’all in on what’s been going on.

I spent a week up in Everett, WA two weeks ago, giving some training to a couple commands at the Naval Station there.  Then last week, I flew to Japan for an exercise at the base in Yokosuka.  Flew back on Saturday, and boy are my arms tired.  Yuck, Yuck.  🙂  Anyway, the travel was all for work, but it was also fun.  I like traveling, even when it’s to places I’ve been a dozen times or more (like Yokosuka).  There’s always something new and cool to see and do…and I get per diem.  🙂  That certainly helps.

Yesterday, my wife and I ran the Spring Sprint Triathlon, which takes place in Mission Bay here in San Diego.  We ran it together last year as well because it fell on our anniversary.  I managed to trim a minute from last year’s time overall, so not a bad showing.

And then today was our wedding anniversary.  🙂  Though we didn’t do much today – yesterday was our real celebration day.  But still, it’s cool.  Seven years.  Wow.  It feels like fifteen.  😛  Just kidding, of course.  🙂  It’s been lots of fun so far.  Challenging at time, but then what isn’t that’s worthwhile, right?  We’re looking forward to lots more good years ahead.  The more the better, right?  🙂

So that’s all cool.  But there have been some goings-on in the writing world to tell y’all about as well:

First, and the most fun, a relatively new book review blog, The Good, The Bad, & The Bizarre, wrote a very nice review of The Pericles Conspiracy the other day.  It appears they liked the book quite a bit, which tells me they are people of impeccable good taste.  So all y’all ought to go over and read, not just the review of my book, but their other offerings as well.

And then, if you haven’t done so already, now would be a great time to pick up The Pericles Conspiracy.  Because of goings-on #2: I decided to do an experiment in price pulsing, so for the next week, the book’s discounted to $0.99.  Just to see what happens when that happens.  🙂  Spread the word, eh?

Ok.  Goings-on #3.  Nick Mortise, the guy who read How NOT To Rescue A Damsel In Distress, has finished his audio renditions of my other three Larian Elesir stories.  I’ll be reviewing them over the next day or so, and then they should go on sale on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes within a couple weeks after that.  So stay tuned.

Lastly, the cover art for Tollard’s Peak, Glimmer Vale Chronicles #3 is just about ready, and I got the first set of comments back from my first readers.  At this point, I anticipate a mid-June release.  More to follow, including the cover reveal as soon as the last few action items for the cover are done and the bill paid.  So stay tuned for that as well.

So that’s it.  As you can see, a fair amount’s been happening while I’ve been silent.  Now that I’m back home and back in a normal routine, I’ll get back to posting chapters of The Pericles Conspiracy more regularly.  Until then, have fun, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.

🙂

Yeah, yeah, I know.  That doesn’t leave out very much.

You’ll just have to use your imagination.

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Thirty-Eight

It’s time for the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Read and enjoy, but don’t forget, the book is available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes. You won’t hurt my feelings if you decide to purchase a copy.  After all the cash I had to fork out this weekend, every little bit will help.  😉

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Thirty – Eight

The Mole

Jervis was right.  Jo fell in love with the mole immediately.

Well, not really in love, but for a moment there she was not sure.  He was handsome enough, certainly: young, tall, with striking features, darkly tanned skin, dark hair and eyes, and a dashing smile.  But what made her heart soar was his clothing.

He wore the uniform of a security guard, and it exactly matched those of the guards in the video Malcolm and Becky showed her, back in Quito.

“Jo, Malcolm,” Jervis said as the mole entered the little room, “meet Winston.  He is a member of the security detachment at the lab.”

“Very pleased to meet you,” Jo said, and smiled broadly.  She had assumed the mole was an engineer or scientist, or maybe a technician.  For him to be in security there…this made their task so much easier.  Hopefully.  She could not help but let some of her optimism carry into her tone as she greeted him and shook his hand, and she cringed inwardly.

Beside her, Malcolm smirked, and merely said, “Hello,” before shaking hands with the man.

They sat down around a long conference table that dominated the room, Jervis at the head to Jo’s left and Isaac at the other end, with her and Malcolm in the middle to Jervis’ right.  Winston waited for the rest of them to sit then took a seat opposite Jo, moving with the ease of a man who keeps in good shape.  Becky was not in this meeting, which Jo found surprising at first.  But after thinking it over quickly, it made sense.  She would not have known who this man was, and she did not need to know.  Malcolm and Jo needed to know; they would be working with him, and Isaac…well, Isaac could apparently know whatever he wanted.  His status as the CFL founder afforded him that, Jo supposed, even if he did not make use of it much.

The room was on the second floor, down the hallway and to the left from a control center that was very similar to Becky’s in Quito, if not quite as robust and technically up-to-date.  That made sense too, since Brisbane was at best tertiary when it came to the monitoring and control of the Earth-Luna space sectors.  All the same, for what it was, the control center was impressive: efficiently laid out, apparently well maintained.  Jo was beginning to suspect that more than a little of the funding Becky and Malcolm described came from Isaac’s shell companies as much as from any legitimate businesses that sought the CFL’s help.  One control station of Quito’s capability was one thing.  If all the CFL sectors had command and control setups like Brisbane’s, and Jo suspected they did, that would take a hell of a lot of money to establish and maintain, not to mention the bureaucratic know-how to make the required purchases without showing up on some agency’s radar.

It was pretty impressive.

“So…”  Jo looked from Winston to Jervis and raised her eyebrows.  It was their show.  Time to see what they had.

Jervis smiled knowingly and gestured for Winston to proceed.  The security guard cleared his throat and, inclining his head briefly toward Jervis, said, “Activity has increased severalfold in the fortnight.  The scientists are working three shifts; word is there is massive pressure coming down from above to finish the current projects, and then we’ll be shutting down altogether.  In the meantime, they’ve nearly doubled the security force.”  He shook his head.  “Something’s got them spooked.”

That checked with the chart.  Chandini had to know there was a possibility they were going to blow the whistle on the whole thing or take more direct action.  She, and her superiors, would be stupid not to get rid of the evidence as quickly as possible.  Jo was actually surprised – pleasantly surprised – they had not simply pulled chocks already.

“How much time do we have?” asked Malcolm.

Winston shrugged.  “I’m not a techie.”  He frowned thoughtfully for a few seconds, then perked up.  “But I heard a couple of the senior engineers talking as they left a few days ago.  Sounded like they only thought a month, maybe a little more.”

Jo smiled.  “Perfect.  That’s all the time we need.”

Winston looked at her askance.  “Ma’am, this is a maximum security facility.  We all have greater than Top Secret clearance.”

“So do I.”

He did not look impressed.  “You did.  You’ve been specially flagged in the system, you know.  Everyone in security knows your face on sight.”  He glanced at Malcolm and added, “Both of you.  And even if they didn’t, they’ve got crack troops on security detail.  If you think you can just waltz up there without thorough planning, you’ve got another thing coming.”

“Ah, but we have an ace in the hole,” Jo replied, giving Winston a sharp, meaningful look.

He snorted.  “I’m just a guy who stands watch.  I don’t have authority over anyone but myself.”  He leaned forward and tapped his fingertip against the top of the table.  “Point is, you’re going to have to plan this to the tee.  Even with my help.  And even then, I wouldn’t give greater than a 50-50 chance of getting in, getting your video, and getting out again without being caught.”

Video?  Jo blinked and looked at Jervis.  “You didn’t tell him?”

Jervis returned her look with one of annoyance.  “I’ve been with you this whole time.  When was I supposed to tell him?”

Winston frowned in confusion.  “Tell me what?”

Jo sighed.  “We’re not going in to get video.”

She explained, and his jaw dropped.  He remained silent for almost a full minute after she finished.  She was about to lean over and shake him when he finally shook his head and spoke again.

“You’re insane.”

Jo opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off, standing and wagging a finger at her as he spoke.

“You are bloody bonkers.  If you think…”  He trailed off and just looked at her incredulously for a moment, then he snorted and threw up his hands.  “To hell with this.  I’m out of here.”  He turned toward the door.

And found Jervis blocking his way, his arms crossed over his chest.

“Where do you think you’re going, mate?”

“Away from her,” Winston replied.  “I pass you information, not…”  He drew a deep breath and said, more calmly, “Look, I can’t be involved in this sort of thing.  I’m fucked if I do.”

Jervis scowled at him.  “You’re fucked if you don’t.”

“But -“

“No.  Listen.”  Now it was Jervis who was wagging a finger – right in Winston’s face.  “You came to us, mate.  Said what was going on in there was some fucked up shit.  Said you wanted to help put a stop to it.  Well now’s your chance.”

“Bollocks.  I meant getting the word out, not some loopy scheme to rob the place!”

Malcolm spoke up, his deep voice carrying easily across the room despite the fact that he barely spoke above a whisper.  “We tried that.  It didn’t work.  There are no other options.”

Winston scowled and shook his head.  “No.  Fuck this.”

He moved to push past Jervis and then…something happened.  Jo couldn’t see, it happened so quickly.  One moment Winston looked as though he was going to push Jervis aside and get through the door.  The next, after a confusing twisting of limbs that happened too quickly for her eye to follow, Jervis had him pinned face-first against the wall, his arm pinned behind his back while Jervis grasped his throat in a choke-hold.

Winston’s eyes were wide in shock – no less so than Jo’s were, she was sure – and he made little choking sounds as he tried to speak.

But Jervis talked over him, quietly into his ear.  “You listen, mate, and listen well.  You’re tied to us.  You’re going to help with this.  If you don’t…  If you betray us, or do anything that hampers this operation, I will personally see to it that the authorities know exactly what you’ve been doing for us this last year.  And about your other little side job.”  Winston’s eyes widened even further, in stark, naked fear.  “Are we clear?”

Winston nodded.  Or tried to.  But it was clear enough.

Jervis released him with a quick shove that sent him staggering back toward the chair he had abandoned.  He caught himself from falling by placing both hands on the chair back and stood there, doubled over and breathing in deep gasps of air for a while, his eyes darting between the four of them in fright.

Jo was surprised to find she was standing.  A familiar tingling excitement swept through her, the byproduct of adrenalin, she knew, and she had to force her arms not to tremble as she, too, took hold of the table’s edge.  She leaned forward and looked Winston in the eye.  He met her gaze reluctantly, but her patented Captain stare held him once he did.

“I know this plan scares you, Winston,” Jo said.  “Believe me when I tell you if there were any other way, I would take it.  But what Malcolm said is correct.  The video you got out of there before is gone; the NSA took it.  We have no evidence, and no time to gather any more.  If we’re going to prevent the wholesale slaughter of those creatures, this is the only way.”

He was starting to get his breath back, and more importantly, she could see he was beginning to understand, and accept.

“Help us, Winston.  Please.”

Winston held her gaze for another long moment, then dropped his own gaze to the tabletop and nodded.  Good.  There was a chance that Jervis’ strong arm tactics would be enough to make him go along well enough.  But there was also a large chance that Winston would find some subtle way to betray them that they would never know.  Far better to use reason to convince him to give his help; then he would go all in for the mission.

Of course, it would have been better if Jervis had not jumped the gun, and she could have convinced Winston straight off.  They were back to amateur hour again, it seemed.  Jo turned a baleful eye on Jervis, who did not even have the grace to acknowledge the unspoken rebuke.  He just shrugged back at her and made a little “Get on with it” gesture.

Jo had to stop herself from grinding her teeth.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Tuesday for the next chapter. Of course if you don’t want to bother waiting the weeks it will take to get through the rest book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.  Or even if you just like the story and want to hook me up, that’s works as well.

Until next time, then.

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Thirty-Six

Tuesday Night – time for the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Read and enjoy, but don’t forget, the book is available in ebook and trade paperback from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes. You won’t hurt my feelings if you decide to purchase a copy.  😉

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Thirty – Six

Recruiting

Carlton pulled the throttle to idle and eased back on the stick, lowering his airspeed to just above stall speed while he applied a touch of right rudder.  A moment later he felt the barest hint of contact as his wheels touched down on the runway – dead on centerline, as always.  Or at least, as always in his mind.  But what the mind conceives and reality dictates are not always the same.  He had flown more than his share of rough landings, landings so hard he felt like his back had nearly been thrown out from the impact.  But not tonight.  Tonight, he nailed it, and he could not help smiling in spite of the circumstances.

“Delta Seven Five Zero Four, take taxiway Charlie.”

The ground controller’s voice was bland, unemotional, almost as though he did not know who he was addressing, or what was going on.  Very likely he did not, not exactly.  But he had to have noticed that Carlton had been given priority clearance through the traffic pattern, had been allowed to cut in line ahead of half a dozen planes filled with hundreds of travelers with connections to meet.  He must surely be wondering who Carlton was to rate such treatment, though you could not tell from his tone or inflection.

Hell, Carlton wondered that himself as he acknowledged the taxi orders and turned his craft off the runway.  He had never received orders like he had this day.

Well, almost never.

Carlton frowned and shook his head, forcing himself to not think about those initial weeks after Pericles’ last docking.  He and Alison had put that behind them, and done a great job of it too.  Maybe he was just getting a promotion; Delta’s Director of Pilot Training had his office in Boston, conveniently, and the airline’s brass could certainly pull the strings needed to get Carlton preferred treatment.

But he had never heard of someone getting that treatment just to learn he had been promoted a step up the ladder.  Doubts lingered as he stopped the craft in front of a ground traffic director, who stood with his glowing guide rods crossed in an X over his head in front of the craft, and powered down the engines.

He took a few minutes to secure the craft’s systems, then stepped out of the cockpit and activated the controls that opened the craft’s hatch and extended the boarding stairs.  He stepped out onto the top step and froze cold.

Parked just past the port wing was a large black limo.  Alison stood beside it, looking confused.  Flanking her were a man and a woman he did not recognize, both dressed in business casual though the woman looked less than comfortable with it.  They both wore calm, serious expressions that revealed nothing.

What the hell was going on?

*  *  *  *  *

“Where are the boys?” Carlton whispered to Alison.

They sat beside each other in the back of the limo – it was luxuriously appointed, Carlton was forced to admit.  Their two guides, or guards, or whomever, were up front and the privacy screen was up, so if he did not know any better he could almost pretend he and Alison were out for a fancy night on the town.

Almost.

“They’re staying at Greg and Kiko’s house,” Alison replied.  Carlton felt a surge of relief that faded as Alison spoke again.  “Carl, what the hell is going on?  I got a call to meet you here tonight, that you had something important to tell me?”

Carlton frowned, his worry growing stronger by the moment.  “First I heard of it, babe.  I thought I was here for a meeting of some kind.  I was thinking maybe it was a promotion, but I’ve never heard of this being done just to promote a guy.”

Alison frowned as well and clasped his hand tightly.

Through the windows, the city of Boston flashed across Carlton’s vision and he thought back to all the months he had spent here, during his down time between training sessions on Luna.  He had grown to love this town.  It had such a different feel than Quito, the only other city on Earth he had lived in.  He distinctly did not think about his last months there, or at least he tried not to.  But it was hard to forget, even if he tried his best to act as though it had never happened.  Especially after the news of what had happened with the Captain – with Jo – dwelling on those sorts of things was not worth it.

“Where are they taking us?”

Carlton began to shake his head, but stopped.  He recognized the building they were stopping in front of from the news a while back.  It was the headquarters of Sturdivant Sequencing, a pharmaceutical firm that had made headlines not long before he and Alison moved to Boston.  What were they doing here?

The car stopped and, a moment later, one of their guard/guides opened the door, gesturing for them to get out.

“Mr. and Mrs. Hersch,” said the man, in a deep Australian accent, “they’re waiting for you.”

*  *  *  *  *

Carlton saw who was in the room he and Alison had been led to and promptly turned around to leave.

“Carl, wait.  Please listen to me for a minute.”

“Hell no, Jo!  I don’t want anything to do with this,” he said over his shoulder.  He grasped Alison’s hand to lead her away and was surprised to find her resisting.  He looked back at her, ready to snap at her to hurry the hell up.  But then he saw the expression on her face and he pulled up short.  “What’s wrong?  We need to get out of here right now.”

“Carl,” Jo said.  “You know me.  You know I didn’t do those thing they’re saying.”

He knew no such thing, but he sure as hell did not want to stand around and debate it.  Whatever she was in to, he wanted no part of it.  “I thought I did.  Come on, Alison.”

Alison pulled her hand from his grasp and Carlton felt his jaw drop from shock.  “Just give her a minute,” Alison replied, her eyes locked on Jo as though both wishing she were not there and wanting to believe her at the same time.  “Please.”

Carlton muttered a curse under his breath.  They were going up the river if they spent too much time with her.  But he couldn’t refuse Alison’s entreaty.  So instead of leaving he took a seat at the table.

They were in a medium-sized conference room, about five meters square with doors on either end, that was dominated by a standard-issue conference table, complete with controls for the wall televid display to the right.  There were even glasses and a pitcher of ice water on the table.  It was almost like a real conference.

“Ok, Jo,” Carlton said, only realizing after he said it that he had left off the honorary Captain for perhaps the first time ever.  “What do you want that’s worth risking our kids growing up with parents in prison?”

Alison cast a disparaging look at him as she sat down beside him, but he could tell she did not fully disagree.  This was one hell of a risk to take, meeting with a fugitive.  For her part, Jo at least blanched, whether from embarrassment or anger was hard to tell.  Carlton hoped the former.

“It’s not just what I want,” Jo said, and pressed a button on the table’s control panel.

A moment later, the door he and Alison had not entered through opened, and Malcolm walked into the room.

Carlton’s jaw hit his chest.

*  *  *  *  *

“This is insane.”

Malcolm – Carlton still could not wrap his mind around the fact that his late friend was sitting there, alive, at the same table with them – quirked an eyebrow.  “Why?”

“You want to waltz into a secure NSA facility.”

Malcolm and Jo both nodded.

“Steal back the stuff those cat-men gave us.”

Again nods.

“And then you want me to help you fly them up to Gagarin.”

More nods.

Carlton threw his hands up, for a moment speechless.  “Why would I ever even think about doing something like that?”

Jo – when did she stop being the practical one? – leaned forward in her chair.  “Carl, there isn’t much time.  As soon as the NSA is done with its experiments, they’re going to kill all the embryos and dispose of them, and they’ll just disappear.”

“So?”

Jo blinked.  “What do you mean, so?  Don’t you see how wrong what they’re doing is?”

Carlton sighed and looked away.  He saw it just fine.  He was just as appalled as they were, but what they were asking…  It was crazy.  And not just crazy, dangerous.  If it was just him, he might be inclined to help.  He probably would help.  But he had Alison and the boys to think about.  He couldn’t go gallivanting around, flaunting the law.  It’s not like he could just hop on a starliner in a month or two…

Oh shit.

“Son of a bitch,” Carlton breathed, and he looked back at the pair that until tonight he had thought he knew so well.  “You’re going to steal a freaking starliner to take those things back home, aren’t you?”

Poker faces from them both, but Jo flinched just a hair.  That was exactly what they were going to do.

Carlton stood up.  “You are both certifiable, you know that?  You’ll be lucky if they only lock you up and throw away the key.“

“Carl, stop.”  It was the first time Alison spoke since Jo and Malcolm had described the situation, and their plan.  He looked at her and his heart sank.  She had that look on her face.  Every woman has it, that look specific to her that she reserves just for her husband, which says she’s going to be stubborn.

“Babe, don’t tell me you’re actually considering this?”

She stopped with that look, but her tone was no less serious.  “What if it was little Malcolm?”

Carlton blinked; her question took him aback.  For that matter, it seemed to take Malcolm by surprise as well, as he gave a little start and his eyes widened.  Or maybe it was the fact that he had a namesake.

Whatever.  That was not the point.

“This has nothing to do with our son, Alison.”

“But what if it did?  What if he was stuck somewhere and the people we trusted to bring him back instead abused him, and maybe were going to kill him?”

That hit him like a ton of bricks.  Just the thought of something like that happening to their little guy, to either of their little guys…  It both terrified and enraged him at the same time.  He realized he was making fists and forced his fingers apart.

Alison could see it on his face.  “We need to do this, Carl.”

“But it’s such a risk…”

She gave him that look again.

He sighed and nodded.  When she was right, she was right.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Tuesday for the next chapter. Of course if you don’t want to bother waiting a couple months to read the rest book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Thirty-Five

It’s a little late, but here’s then next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Don’t forget, the book is available in ebook and trade paperback from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes. Purchasing a copy would definitely help me feel even better, so have at it! 😉

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Thirty – Five

Plotting

“Well,” Jo said, glancing at Malcolm for support, “that is the question, isn’t it? Your files are gone, as are the backups. No one’s going to take our word for what’s going on, so we’ll have a hell of a time blowing the lid on this thing now.” She paused, looking back at Isaac, then at Becky and Jervis. “Unless you have another copy of the files hanging around somewhere?”

Becky flushed and lowered her eyes, clearly ashamed. “No,” she said. “They’re all gone.”

Jo nodded. “And I expect your mole’s been picked up already. If you recorded from his implant, the meta-data…”

Jervis interrupted her. “No, we were quite thorough in removing all identifying data. As of this morning, he is still quite well, and at work with no one the least bit suspicious of him.”

“That can’t last.”

Jervis shrugged. “You may be surprised.”

Jo pursed her lips, pondering. Maybe the mole could make another recording, or get some other piece of evidence that they could use to take this thing public. It might work.

“I see those wheels turning, girl. Might be you should rethink that plan.”

Jo looked at Isaac askance. “What plan is that?”

He rolled his eyes. “This is not my first rodeo, girl. You’re thinking we can just proceed as before, try to get a press conference going. Maybe with some new piece of evidence or somesuch.” He snorted. “Not going to happen. Before, they didn’t know we had them. But now they know we know, and they’ll be ready for it.”

“So what would you suggest?”

Isaac spread his hands and gave her a knowing smile that did not touch his eyes, and remained silent.

Wonderful. Real helpful.

“Think, girl. What’s the core of the problem?”

Jo frowned. “They’re mistreating the eggs.”

“No. What’s the core of the problem?”

Where was he going with this? Sudden movement from the side brought her gaze to Malcolm, who sat bolt upright in his chair as though he had been poleaxed. His eyes were wide; he looked dumbfounded.

“They’re not returning the eggs home, like the aliens asked us to.”

Isaac’s eyebrows rose high on his head and he pointed at Malcolm in approval. “Precisely. Now,” he settled back into his chair and pulled it close to the table again, “how can we help you?”

“You know where the lab is, and you have a mole who could help us get inside.”

Isaac’s eyes were positively twinkling as he nodded in response to Malcolm’s words.

Malcolm frowned. “But that doesn’t do us any good. We’re stuck here in Quito. Unless you wanted to have your people go it alone?”

Jervis spoke up. “We are quite capable, mate. But I think you’ll want to be there won’t you?”

“Then I don’t see – “

“I have a plane,” Isaac said.

Malcolm blinked, then grinned. “Ok, that takes care of that. It still doesn’t help. Even if we could get them out of the lab…” He trailed off, his eyes growing even wider as he turned to look at Jo.

What he was getting at sunk in, and Jo felt like her stomach had fallen out of her body and struck the floor. He could not be serious.

Could he?

“The biggest problem I see,” Isaac said, “is transportation off planet. That is beyond my realm of expertise.” He grinned. “Do either of you know a trustworthy pilot?”

And, just like that, the entire caper came together in Jo’s mind.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Tuesday for the next chapter. Of course if you don’t want to bother waiting a couple months to read the rest book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.

The Beastly Novelette And The Ebook Store

Just a quick note to let all y’all know The Beast And The God-Woman is published!  It’s live now on Amazon, ready to be downloaded at your pleasure.

Beast Cover (600x900)

The greatest terrors come from within.

Yili never questioned the Gods’ decrees, as handed down to the people from the elders. Do not tarry long on the beach, for there lurks the Beast. Do not venture beyond the breakers, for the sea holds nothing but death and man lives on the island alone.

Until the day a strange object approached the island, borne by the wind and waves toward Yili’s home until it broke apart on the reef and deposited a woman and a man, who could only be Gods themselves, onto the beach. The Beast wants to destroy them. The elders distrust them. And Yili finds himself helplessly drawn to the God-Woman, at the risk of all he knows and loves.

Check it out!