The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Sixty-One

We’re coming down to the end of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Just three more chapters to go!  Remember, if you enjoy this chapter you can pick up the full book from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Sixty-One

Announcing One’s Presence

The aliens’ star dominated the bridge’s forward observation window.  The window was designed to automatically polarize itself to minimize glare from outside, but that ended up blacking out a significant portion of the window.  Just as well that starships weren’t normally flown from visual cues.

It had been a busy day.

Jo, Malcolm, and Grant spent most of the day working in hydroponics, with just a brief interruption when the main engines cut off, right on schedule.  Jo took a few minutes to maneuver the ship to point the system.  Then she initiated ring rotation and went back to work with Malcolm and Grant.

They made good progress, uprooting a good third of the dead plants.  They would not be able to re-plant for some time; thawing from cryo-freeze was a long, delicate process that, if not done correctly, would kill their precious seeds.  It was not something Jo had any intention of rushing.  Besides, the sheer immensity of Agrippa’s interior volume meant they had plenty of time before air quality became a concern, and the emergency rations would last the three of them for months.  They could afford to be deliberate.

The three of them were in the crew’s mess, enjoying a meal of protein paste, when a warbling alert from the ship’s status display on the wall grabbed Jo’s attention.

Jo swallowed and exchanged looks with Malcolm and Grant, a sudden mixture of excitement and apprehension flooding her.

“Sensor data’s ready,” Malcolm said with a quirked eyebrow.

Jo nodded; she had set the alert specifically for that eventuality.

They wasted no time, running out of the mess to the lift for the bridge.

Looking at the polarized window, Jo smirked.  They could have done this from Control.  But there was just something about being up on the bridge.  The enhanced visibility of it just seemed a more appropriate place for a journey of discovery.  And besides, the bridge was located on the ship’s hub, not in one of the rings.  With the main engines secured, they could enjoy zero-g for a time, something they could not partake in on the rings.  Might as well have a bit of fun while they could.

“Let’s see what we have,” she said, and tapped the sensor analysis display to life.

Her earlier passive scan revealed that it was a binary star system.  She should not have been surprised by that; far more systems were binary than single-star.  But the system’s primary star – G-type, with about ten percent greater mass than Sol – out-shined its brown dwarf partner so completely that Jo missed the dwarf with her naked eye.

That was all well and good, but Jo wanted planetary data, and the passive sweep had been inconclusive for planets, except for one probable gas giant at the outer edge of the system’s Goldilocks Zone.  If there had been more time, she could have gotten more data passively, but the analysis required to eek out planetary effects on the star was a long process.

Which was why they had been awaiting the active radar scan so eagerly.

The system took a few seconds to compile the data.  The system chart, when it popped up, turned Jo’s blood to icewater.

“Oh crap,” she breathed.

Four planets.  The gas giant they had already found and three worlds that were likely rocky but also were far too close to the stars to support life, or at least life like humans or the aliens she had encountered on Pericles.  And that was it.

“What do you mean, oh crap?” Grant said.

“Where is it?” Malcolm asked, right on his heels.

Jo shook her head.

“Where is what?”  Real fear was in Grant’s voice.  He was completely out of his element, and if Jo and Malcolm had reason to be worried, how much worse would it be for him?

Jo drew in a deep breath.  “The aliens’ homeworld.  It should be here, but…”  She trailed off, mystified.

Grant’s eyes widened and he went pale.  “It’s not here?”  He was almost shouting now, and Jo could not blame him.  “How could it not be here?”

Jo shook her head.  “I know we read the star map correctly.”  She glanced at Malcolm.  “Didn’t we?”

He spread his hands helplessly.

“Oh God,” Grant said.  He pushed himself away from the command station and floated over to the rear of the bridge.  He ran his hand through his hair and looked around frantically at the expanse of space all around them.  “Oh shit.”  He was about to lose it.

“Grant,” Jo said, moving over to him.  “It’s ok.  Relax.”

In a flash of movement, Grant grabbed her by the collar of her underway coveralls.  Before she knew what was happening, her shoulders slammed painfully into the plastiglass of the port side observation window.  Grant stared at her through eyes that were narrowed into angry, almost murderous, slits.

“We risked everything for this.  My brother died for this.  And now, these fucking alien critters AREN’T HERE???”  The last came out in a roar of fury, and of pain so deep Jo felt for a moment she might drown in it of her own accord.

She opened her mouth to reply, but what was there to say?  Apparently, she had been wrong, oh so wrong, in her analysis of everything.  Maybe the aliens had not meant for them to bring the eggs here.  Maybe…  No, that made no sense.  She had looked the alien leader in the eye as he – she? – made his request.  As he gave them payment.  The message could not have meant anything else.  Could not!  She must have misread the star map.  There was no other explanation that made sense.

Jo began to apologize, but Malcolm interrupted.

“You two might want to take a look at this.”  He sounded calm and cool, as though nothing untoward was going on in the slightest.

Grant gave a little jerk and looked away from Jo, his eyes still seething.  “What?” he demanded.  His expression said clearly that once he was done with Jo, Malcolm would be the next target of his ire.

Malcolm stood – floated really – with his arms at his side, his face a mask of calm.  He gestured toward the sensor display.

Slowly, agonizingly slowly, Grant let up the pressure on Jo’s shoulders.  He pushed himself away and bobbed over to Malcolm’s side.  Jo took a moment to compose herself; her limbs were shaking and she felt a fright she had not experienced in some time.  Even her brawl with Agent Moore had not called up this much fight or flight response.  But then, she had gone into it reasonably sure she had a chance against Moore.  With Grant…  Jo did not deceive herself.  She had some residual skills from her studies as a youth, but Grant was a trained expert.  If he really meant to do her ill, she would not be able to stop him.

She shuddered, then drew a deep breath and forced herself to calm.  Well, mostly calm.  Then she maneuvered toward the two men.

“I don’t get it,” Grant said.  “What am I looking at?”  The fury, the terror, was gone from his voice, replaced by puzzlement and curiosity.

Malcolm smiled ever so slightly and turned his gaze on Jo.  “A moon,” he said.  “One of the gas giant’s moons.”

It hit Jo like a ton of bricks.  Of course!  It was well known that a large enough moon revolving around a gas giant could conceivably harbor life, though such places were so far exceedingly rare.

Jo halted herself next to Malcolm – on the far side of Malcolm from Grant – and peered at the display.  Sure enough, the gas giant’s fourth major moon appeared to be about Earth-mass, though its radius was significantly smaller – it was likely heavy metal rich.  That would explain the aliens’ compact size and great strength; the moon’s gravitational field would be substantially greater than Earth’s, at that radius.

Assuming that moon was what they were looking for.

“Track in a camera,” Jo said.  She sounded a bit breathless, even to her own ears.

Malcolm nodded and brought up the observation camera control screen, then trained the camera toward the moon.  It took a long minute or two for the camera to align itself and then track on the small body.  Then, finally, the image from the camera came up, and Jo’s jaw dropped.  Her growing tension flew away, replaced by amazed wonder.

The moon was just emerging from the gas giant’s night side.  It was covered by a mass of swirling white clouds overtop a mottled blue and green surface.  But Jo had seen that sort of planet many times.  What caught her breath, and made her shiver a little, was a glittering ring, clearly a construction of some sort, that seemed to surround the moon.  It was thick: from a more acute angle of approach than the one she was taking, Jo surmised it would probably obscure much of the moon itself.

“But what is that?” she asked.  “Can you zoom in further?”

Malcolm frowned and tapped the magnification control.  A moment later the image zoomed until the moon took up the entire display.  The ring became clear.  Jo could see several pylons of some sort that rose from the moon’s surface and joined with the ring.  They could only be support structures for space elevators, which meant the entire ring had been constructed in geosynchronous orbit.  Amazing!

The zoomed-in view revealed a multitude of vessels docking with and departing the ring.  It was impossible for her to evaluate what each vessel’s purpose was just by looking at them, but Jo found herself calling certain smaller ones tugs, others ferries, and still others cargo carriers.  Then a new kind of vessel, larger than the others, got underway, and Jo’s breath caught.  She had seen that sort of vessel before.  Crescent-shaped, off-white in color, with a small blister on its dorsal section that must have been its bridge, the vessel was the same make as the one they encountered on Pericles, all those years ago.

She traded looks with Malcolm and he nodded.  He recognized it as well.

Jo swallowed, a shiver of both excitement and anxiety going down her spine.  There was no doubt about it: this was the place.

“Son of a bitch,” Grant said.

“That about sums it up,” Jo replied, shooting him a quick grin.  “I guess we know where we’re heading.”

Jo adjusted the ship’s heading to intercept that one special world.  Then she left the bridge.

*  *  *  *  *

Grant surprised her.

He found her an hour later as she was walking down the main passageway in the crew’s section of Ring A, about halfway between Control and the Captain’s cabin – her cabin.  He approached slowly, almost tentatively, his normal confidence giving way to uncertainty.  Jo found herself quirking an eyebrow, odd as his approach was.

Grant coughed and looked at the deck.  “Jo, I,” he ran his hand through his hair, then hurried on.  “I wanted to apologize for how I acted on the Bridge.”  He paused and looked back up at her.  “No excuse.”  His voice regained some of its normal assurance as he finished, but his eyes carried an unspoken plea.

The apology took her aback.  She did not expect one, and really, one was not needed.  They had all been through a lot, sacrificed a lot for this mission, but Grant more than she and Malcolm.  It was completely understandable that he would feel anger if it turned out that his sacrifice, so large as it had been, was for nothing.

“Thank you,” Jo said.  “I can’t begin to know how you are feeling…”

“I said, there’s no excuse.”

Jo paused, considering.  “That’s true.  But there is an explanation, and a valid one.”

Grant’s eyes narrowed as he considered her words, then he nodded quickly.

“I trust nothing like this will happen again.”  Jo used her Captain-Means-Business voice.  Sometimes it helped to assume an authoritative stance, and Grant seemed to be the sort who wanted and needed a hierarchy to belong to.

He nodded again, more deeply.  “No, it won’t.”

Jo held his gaze for a long moment then nodded.  “Very well.  See that it doesn’t.”

Grant turned away then, and walked back toward Section B, where Hydroponics was located.  He almost wore a smile as he left.

*  *  *  *  *

After a short nap, Jo went back on to the bridge and strapped into the pilot’s station.  The straps were not necessary, but they saved having to constantly adjust herself in the zero-g environment.  After a while sitting there staring at the camera display of their destination, she frowned.  There was something odd, but she could not put her finger on what.  The little voice in the back of her head quipped that the entire situation was odd, but she paid it no heed.  Something was missing from the picture.  Something that should be there.

She frowned and called up the spectrographic analysis display.  The moon’s atmospheric conditions were what she expected from her last encounter with the aliens: primarily Nitrogen and Oxygen, with CO2 and Helium levels that were significantly higher than Earth’s.  That was not it.

Maybe it was just the anticipation of the upcoming meeting, and of her relative inaction now, after so much running around before.  Preparations for the meeting were made as well as they could be, and she found she was more hindrance than help down in Hydroponics.  Ripping a bunch of dead, dying, or decayed plant matter out of the bins and preparing them for new seedlings was not something she was particularly good at.  And besides, someone had to monitor their approach to the moon.

But still…

It nagged at her for almost an hour before she hit upon it.  It was so obvious she was surprised she had not noticed it before: the silence.  The entire time they drew nearer to the system, and to the moon, Agrippa’s communications equipment had not picked up a single signal, in any frequency range, except normal background static.  That was unheard-of, in Jo’s experience.  The channels should have been full of navigational beacons, traffic control, entertainment networks…the list went on.  But here there was nothing.

The aliens sure did not seem to be talking with each other.

Jo frowned and looked back at the moon, now fully visible on the gas giant’s day side.  The mass of vessels docking and getting underway, transiting the area, or just sitting in a stationary orbit, was no less than it had been the first time she saw it.  But if that was so, why no radio chatter?  Surely an operation as complex as that ring would require an extensive communications network to avoid conflicts and ensure things ran smoothly.

Jo checked the receivers again, then ran the self-diagnostic utility.  Everything was in good working order; there was simply nothing to receive.  It was very puzzling.  Perhaps they did not use radio.  But if not radio, what?

That was a rabbit hole with no end, and pointless.  Even if the aliens did not use radio channels to communicate, they must surely be able to receive them.  It was her broadcast from Pericles to the crippled ship that initiated their first meeting, after all.

Jo glanced at the navigation display: about 10 light-hours from the planet.  They should arrive in about a day.  Politeness dictated announcing their arrival beforehand, and Jo figured this was as good a time as any.  She called up the communications controls again.  Now, what did the first contact procedure for starliners say about the communications system?  Although it had been years since she accessed the contact protocols aboard Pericles, Jo remembered the keystrokes as though it had happened yesterday.  She tapped them in, hoping the algorithms had not been changed.

Her hope was rewarded as the screen shifted to a yellow-bordered command access display.  The controls were exactly as Jo remembered from the encounter aboard Pericles.  She pointed the directional antennas at the planet then, a couple taps later, the ship’s antenna status indications lit up across all bands.

If the aliens had not detected Agrippa already, they would in a few hours.  Now there was little to do but wait.

*  *  *  *  *

The beeping of the proximity alarm roused Jo from a fitful sleep.  She was still on the bridge, at the pilot’s station.  She must have dozed off without realizing it.  She began cursing herself for allowing that to happen before experience made her stop.  Sleep was a weapon, and a necessity.  It would be far worse to push herself past endurance than to grab a little shuteye when opportunity presented itself.

Jo shook her head and, wiping sleep from her eyes, tapped the control pad to wake up the sensor display.  Even though she knew intellectually what was out there, she gasped and felt a surge of adrenalin when she saw it on the display.  Two crescent-shaped off-white ships just like the one she saw earlier were paralleling her course, one on either side of Agrippa, at a distance of ten kilometers.

It looked as though her message had been received.

*  *  *  *  *

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!

Tollard’s Peak – LIVE!

Ok, it actually went live yesterday, and I neglected to to you about it.  Sorry about that.  But it’s true: Tollard’s Peak (Glimmer Vale Chronicles #3) is now live for sale.

Tollard's Peak Ebook Cover - 600x900

Winter in Glimmer Vale – a time to remain close to shelter or, preferably, indoors. Most definitely not a time to brave the mountain peaks surrounding the valley. Raedrick and Julian certainly have no intention of doing so until a man from their past, nearly dead from exposure, appears at the outskirts of Lydelton. Once recovered, he tells them of his friend who lies injured on the flank of Tollard’s Peak, the tallest mountain in the region. Unable to ignore the stranded fellow’s need, the two Constables form a party to rescue him.

But there is more to the story than it first appeared, and very soon Raedrick and Julian find themselves struggling against far more than the elements as they brave the perilous peak. It will take all of their strength and resolve to survive their quest and get to the bottom of the mystery that drew these men into the bleak cold of the mountainside. And they are not the only ones who are searching.

It’s priced at $2.99, and you can find it on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Google Play.  It’s not live on iTunes yet because Apple is still processing it.

You can also obtain it in trade paperback for $15.95.  At the moment the only place to get it is through the Createspace e-store, but it will show up on all the usual print channels shortly.

 

And don’t forget, Glimmer Vale is now free on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iTunes, Google Play, and Smashwords, in case you’d rather begin at the start of the series.  All I ask is you leave a (glowing) review on Amazon and Goodreads, and anywhere else you care to.

 

So that’s the big exciting news.  I know I owe you a chapter.  I’ll give it to you tomorrow.  🙂

For now, go.  Read.  Enjoy!

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Fifty-Seven

Another Saturday, another chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  We’re getting down toward the end now, and the action’s heating up.  🙂  Remember, if you enjoy this chapter you can pick up the full book from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Fifty-Seven

Piloting

Maneuvering a starliner away from a Station is a slow, complicated process.  Normally, the Station and ship decouple from each other simultaneously, after tugs have attached to the ship’s tow points.  The Station Pilot, an expert on that particular Station’s quirks who augments the crew for underway and docking, issues orders to the tugs, and they carefully extract the ship from the Station’s mating tunnels, which never fully retract.  The ship’s thrusters, much larger and more powerful than the tugs, were never used.  The slow process ensured no damage would occur to either ship or Station.

Jo did not have time for any of that.

For one thing, it was not like that Station was going to just oblige and retract the mating tunnels.  Oh, the Station personnel probably would – they would not want the Station damaged – but Jo doubted Chandini would allow them.  To do so would be to admit defeat, or worse, to allow Jo to get away, and Jo did not see Chandini going there.  Beyond that, every moment they lingered was a moment Chandini and her goons could try something else, like, for instance, an EVA into Agrippa’s shuttle bay, which lay open to space.  It would be damn hard to stop that, and all the mischief they could cause once inside there.

So it fell to Jo to get the ship underway.  Herself.  Without help.

She had never done that.

“I need to get to the bridge,” Jo said.  She could operate the thrusters from Control, sure.  But the bridge afforded much better visibility and, frankly, she felt more comfortable trying this from there.  “Are you ok to stay here?”  She looked at Grant.

He looked like hell warmed over.  The bleeding had stopped from his head wound, but his face was covered in clotted blood.  His eyes were red and it was obvious he was in a great deal of pain: physical, and otherwise.  Jo was not sure how he had not shut down completely, considering.

He nodded.  “Good to go.”

Jo suspected he was lying, but there really was nothing much to be done about it right then.  “Ok.  Keep an eye on the security feeds.  Let me know if you see anything untoward.”  She pointed out the internal communication pad to the left of his workstation.  “Use this channel to reach me.”

He nodded again.  “Good luck.”

“Thanks.”

She was going to need it.

*  *  *  *  *

Like on Pericles, Agrippa’s bridge lay in a bulbous protrusion near the forward end of the ship’s hub.  It took a couple minutes to get there, and Jo sweated every second.  But she was reasonably sure the time she spent in transit was not enough to allow Chandini to do anything too bad to throw a wrench in her plans.  Hopefully.

The bridge was simply arranged: just a pilot’s station forward, with ship’s control and diagnostic workstations to the front and left and communications to the right, and the command station, directly behind and above the pilot.  Each station was designed like a high-end lounge chair that was hard mounted to the deck, allowing no swiveling, only a forward and aft adjustment.  All around the two stations was plastiglass, allowing a 360 degree azimuthal view, as well as a mostly unimpaired view upward.

Being located on the hub, zero-g ruled at the present, but that would not always be the case.  During the year of acceleration away from the origin star and of deceleration as the ship approached the destination, the thrust from the main engines would create acceleration forces down the length of the ship.  Since the bridge had to be used then as well, the deck around and between the two stations was tiered to act as stairs, and ladders were mounted to allow access from the bridge entrance corridor to the stations.

Jo did not like the bridge during acceleration and deceleration.  Working there during that time meant sitting with your back on the floor, essentially.  It could be awkward.  Zero-g made it a lot easier to maneuver around.

But that was neither here nor there.  Jo strapped herself into the pilot’s station and keyed the internal comms channel to Reactor Control.  “How we looking, Malcolm?”

Malcolm’s voice came back clear and strong, but strained.  “This plant is nice,” he said.  “A lot easier to operate than what we had on Pericles.”

“Great.  What’s your ETA?”

There was a short pause.  “Going to be another ten or fifteen minutes.”

Damnit.  Well, she knew getting the plant up very much quicker than normal had been a long shot.  As it was, Malcolm was setting a speed record.  “Ok.  Report when you’ve completed.”

“Yes, ma’am.”  Jo was certain she heard more than a bit of irony in that.  She rolled her eyes.

Next, she keyed up the 1MC, which would allow her to talk ship-wide.  “All hands prep for acceleration forces.  Initiating maneuvering thruster firing.”

She paused, in case Malcolm or Grant had any objections.  Ten seconds passed with no word.  Good enough.  She called up the maneuvering thruster controls and took a moment to assess the situation.

The main problem was the mating tunnels, on the Station’s Loading Rings.  They rotated in time with the ship’s rings, being driven by their own turning motors that were synched up with the ship’s upon docking.  With the ship decoupled, though, The difference in mass between the ship’s rings and the Stations’ meant that the two sets of structures would begin to change their rates of rotation, relative to each other.  Normally this would not be an issue since standard procedure entailed the Station securing rotation and retracting the rings.  That did not happen this time, beyond the initial retraction that went along with decoupling.  People on the station could not have stopped that if they wanted to; it was automatic, and pulled the mating tunnel back two meters away from the ship to avoid any inadvertent impact before ring retraction.

Jo looked out at the slowly moving tunnels all around her, like the bars of a great cage, and swallowed hard.  There was enough mass in one of those tunnels to seriously damage Agrippa.  Maybe not cripple her, but it would make driving her very difficult.  Not to mention the fact that anyone within those tunnels would be seriously injured or killed by such a collision.

She was going to have to time this perfectly.

Jo reached out for the control stick but had to stop to wipe the sweat from her palm.  She was more nervous than…  She could not recall when she had been this nervous.  Even breaking into Camp Tycho seemed routine compared with this, maybe because she really did not know all the risks involved then, the countless things that could go wrong.  But here, in her own element…  Jo found she was suddenly terrified.

She should not have been surprised when the communication station beeped just then, indicating the ship was being hailed.  That did not stop her from all but jumping out of her seat; she might have, had she not strapped herself in.  Jo glanced to the right and saw Chandini’s face on the comms display.  From the room behind her, she was most definitely onboard Gagarin; in the Station’s Control Center unless Jo missed her guess.  Unlike the last time, in the lift, Chandini did not look the least bit pleased, or amused.  If anything, her expression could be said to indicate a towering fury.

At least she did not look so damn smug anymore.

Jo considered ignoring the hail.  But decades of underway etiquette, and no small amount of curiosity, rebelled against that.  So she reached over and tapped the console, accepting the hail.

“Deputy Director,” Jo said, nodding in greeting.  She kept her tone neutral, professional.  Might as well keep things cordial, if possible.

“I applaud your determination, but this madness has gone quite far enough, Captain,” Chandini said.  “Recouple that ship immediately and surrender yourselves.”

“Why on Earth would I do that?”

“Jo.”  Harold’s voice intruded into to the conversation.  The camera zoomed out a little, and Jo saw him sitting next to Chandini.  He looked stressed, worried.  He looked to be in handcuffs.  “Do as she says, Jo.  Please.”

Jo sat still, stunned into silence.

“You are surprised to see Mr. Jameson.”  Chandini said it as a statement of fact.  “You should not be.  He is in custody because of you.”

Bullshit.  “Harry had nothing to do with this.  He didn’t know…”

Chandini chuckled softly.  “Someone has to be held responsible.  If you make your grand getaway,” she said that with oceans of sarcasm, “which you will not, I assure you, the responsibility falls to him.”  Her lips turned upward in a vicious little smile.  “The burden of command.  But then, you know all about that, don’t you Captain?”

Jo swallowed.  So that was how it was going to be.  Emotional blackmail.  “And how are you going to explain that one?”

“The story writes itself.  A corrupt corporate executive plots with his underlings to steal a multi-billion credit ship with the intent of selling it to the black marketeers on Muir Solace.  A pity he got caught before he could meet his compatriots in orbit.”  His brow furrowed.  “And a still greater pity that his accomplices were killed when they refused orders to surrender and heave to.”  She shook her head.  “The CO of the warship in pursuit received a nice decoration and promotion, though.  And McAllister’s insurance more than covered the loss.”

Chandini’s words caused a hollow feeling in the pit of Jo’s stomach.  Of course they would send a warship.  She had considered that possibility, and discounted it as being too public, impossible to cover up.  Apparently she should not have.  Agrippa had no weapons, save for small arms for the crew in case of an encounter with pirates or some internal disturbance.  There was no way they could fight off a warship, if one was vectored at them.

The only hope would be to outfly it.  Jo did not place much hope there, but it was all she had.

“Thank you for the warning,” she said, then looked at Harold.  “I’m sorry, Harry.”  And she meant it.  The pain she felt, knowing he was going to take the fall for this, was like a knife in the heart.  But she could not turn back.  Whatever slim hope she had here, aboard Agrippa, there was no hope at all in surrender.

She looked away from the Comms display and tapped the control stick to port.  The starboard side thrusters fired, ever so briefly, pressing Jo against the side of her seat for a moment, and Agrippa began to move laterally.

“Jesus Christ,” someone said in the Control Station behind Chandini.  “She’s actually fucking doing it!”

“Retract the Loading Rings,” ordered an authoritative voice, causing Chandini to spin around.

“No!” she ordered.  “Do not touch those controls.”  Her voice was command itself, and would brook no objections.

But, bless him, the Station Commander – it could only be him, and it was a he on Gagarin, a pleasantly efficient fellow whose name Jo could not remember just then – raised an objection anyway.  “But ma’am, if she hits those rings, it could destroy the ship and the loading rings both.  We’d be risking a hull breach, depressurization…”

“Then the ship gets destroyed,” Chandini snapped.  She jabbed a finger at him, or at least Jo assumed it was a finger, it was hard to see from the angle.  “If you touch those controls you will never see the outside of a prison cell, I promise you.”

Silence, the kind of silence that only comes from sudden fear, followed her words.  Chandini watched them all for a long several seconds, then turned back to Jo.  Her lips were pressed together in a thin, angry line.  “Have it your way, Captain.”

Just before the comms display went dark, Jo thought for a moment that she saw the faintest shadow of a smile on Harold’s face.

*  *  *  *  *

Jo had no time to dwell on the future, whether hers or Harold’s.  The ship was moving, and the rings were getting closer.

She had been very careful to apply only lateral thrust, and was gratified to see the ship slipping easily away in a straight line from its moored position.  That was the first place the maneuver could go wrong, but a quick look around showed that the mating tube couplings had cleared the ship’s rings cleanly, at least for the moment.  While the port side of the ship was clear, the hub and the starboard side still were in danger.

The hub was the key problem.  As long as she did not impart any forward or aft thrust, the starboard side of the rings should clear just fine.  The hub, though…  Go too slowly, and the mating tunnels would strike the hub straight on.  The tunnels were not particularly resilient, and Agrippa’s hub had been built to withstand up to 1.5g’s of acceleration.  But that was mostly in the bulkhead structure.  The skin of the ship was relatively thin, to conserve on mass.  There was a good chance that a direct impact could breach the hull in several locations, and if that happened…

No sense dwelling on it.

The ship slipped further to port, the hub drawing ever closer to the rotating tunnels.  Fortunately, there were only four of them.  But…were they speeding up?

Her eyes did not deceive her.  The loading rings’ rotation had begun to speed up markedly, and showed no signs of stopping.  Jo hoped they had cleared all personnel out of them before doing that.  Already the g’s would be well above Earth-normal.  Too much more, and they could injure people.

It would also make Jo’s task that much harder.  It was one thing to time a constantly moving object.  An accelerating object, though…

This was going to be bad.

One hundred meters.

Sweat trickled down Jo’s brow and she wiped it away with annoyance.  It was just flying.

Fifty meters.  One of the tunnels was approaching.

Twenty meters.  The tunnel swooped down through her field of vision, passing the hub to port.  The next one was coming up quickly.  It was now or never.

Jo applied port thrust, a long drawn out burn that pressed her against the side of her seat again for several seconds.  Agrippa began moving more quickly, shooting for the gap.

Jo looked up and saw the next tunnel sweeping down toward her at what appeared to be great speed.  She cringed; if it struck, it would crush the bridge, and her with it, like an aluminum can.  Better than dying in a vacuum.

The tunnel passed directly overhead, perilously near now.  Jo braced herself.  It would hit in a second.

And then it was past, sweeping down the starboard side of Agrippa’s hub with maybe centimeters to spare.  If this had been an old science fiction movie, she would have expected a WOOSHING sound, and just then, ludicrous as such a sound effect was in space, it seemed like it would be more fitting than the silent brush with death that had just occurred.

Jo breathed a sigh of relief and applied port thrust again, and, just like that, the starboard side rings were clear as well.

It was time to get the hell out of here.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Saturday 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!

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Fifty-Six

Holy cow!  It’s Tuesday and I’ve actually remembered to post another chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy!

I think this may be a sign of the Apocalypse.  Or something.

Anyway, here goes.  Remember, if you enjoy this chapter you can pick up the full book from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Fifty-Six

Agrippa

The relief Jo felt as she closed Agrippa’s inner airlock door was palpable, like she had been carrying a couple tons and suddenly threw them off.

It only lasted a second.  There were still a thousand things that could go wrong, not the least of which involved the other troops boarding Agrippa through the second personnel access airlock.  If they did not just come in through the cargo airlocks.  Or the airlocks in Ring B.  Or if they were not already onboard the ship.  Or if…

Stop it.  No time for this.

Jo turned back to the men.  Malcolm was helping Grant down from the loader, which he had parked on the far side of the airlock access parlor.  It took up a good chunk of the available room; Jo was fairly certain they were not going to be able to maneuver it through the ship’s corridors either.  Starliners had a lot less interior volume than the Station.

“We don’t have much time,” Jo said, in her best no-nonsense Captain voice.  “Get the reactor started up, Malcolm.  Grant and I will secure the ship and get us underway.”

Malcolm nodded, his expression focused.  She could tell he was already stepping through the startup procedure, re-checking in his mind which steps he could reduce or eliminate altogether, how to best trim down the amount of time needed to get them up and running.  “I’ll be in touch,” he said.

And then he was off, sprinting down the corridor toward the lift to the ship’s hub and then to the reactor, two kilometers aft of the rings.

Jo did not stop to watch him go, but instead turned to the control workstation adjacent to the airlock doors.  She brought it to life with a tap, then entered her access code.  It had been too soon after using the code in the tunnel for it to have been compromised, or so she hoped, but all the same she experienced a moment of dread after she tapped ENTER, while the ship’s network processed it.

No need.  The Command Access screen popped up, and she smiled with satisfaction.  From this screen, she could access all basic ship’s functions.  Some of the more specialized things, like starting up the maneuvering thrusters and the main engines, had to be done from the Bridge, located in the ship’s hub, or in Control, here in Ring A.  But this screen provided all she needed for her immediate purposes.  First thing, she severed the ship’s network connection with the station.

There.  Now no one from outside could interfere.  Or at least, it would take them some time to do so.  Until she actually detached the Station Support Umbilical, there would still be a physical network connection, but it would take an IT type a fair amount of time to force a software link.  Or at least that’s what Shani’s people had said.  Here’s hoping they were correct.

“How long will the startup take?” Grant asked.

“I’m not entirely sure,” Jo replied absently as she tabbed through to the airlock status screen.

“What?”  He sounded shocked, chagrined.  “What do you mean you don’t know?  Don’t you do,” he made a sweeping gesture with his hand, “this for a living?”

Jo chuckled and gave him a wry smile.  “A normal startup takes four hours.”  Grant’s jaw dropped open, a look of dread coming over his face.  Jo continued before he could interject.  “But we don’t have four hours, so Malcolm is going to use the emergency procedures, and skip a number of steps from them.  He thinks he can have the reactor up in a half hour, maybe forty-five minutes.”

Grant swallowed.  “If he doesn’t blow us all up.”

Jo shrugged.  “There is that, yes.  Don’t worry.  Malcolm is very good at what he does.”

On the display, the remaining seven ship’s airlocks showed red – all were open.  Jo frowned and tapped over to security, then called up the video feeds from the airlocks and their access parlors.  All showed clear, except…

Jo’s heart skipped a beat.  The troops were clearly visible in Ring A’s second airlock camera.  They were sprinting down the tunnel, less than thirty meters out.  In a rush, Jo tapped back to the airlock status screen and hit the command to close Airlock 2 and lock out its local controls.  On the security feed, the doors began sliding closed.  The troops redoubled their efforts, pushing themselves as fast as they could go.

“Come on,” Jo murmured.  The door was almost closed.

With a final leap, the lead trooper hurled himself through the swiftly contracting space, landing inside the airlock a heartbeat before the outer door closed.  On the security feed, he lay still for a moment, then he pushed himself to his feet and rolled his shoulder, where he had landed.  Then he turned toward the control pad on the wall and tapped it.

Jo smirked.  Good luck with that, buddy.

The trooper tapped the control pad again, and again, clearly growing agitated when it did not respond.  Then he turned around and stopped cold.

Beside her – Jo had not noticed his approach – Grant snorted.  “Didn’t think about the inner door, did he?”

Jo shook her head.  “Apparently not.”  She tapped the command to close the remaining airlocks, feeling quite smug for a second.

“We’re not going to just leave him in there, are we?”

The smugness faded.  Grant had a point.  If they left him in there, he would suffocate before too long; there were no standard ventilation ducts into the airlock, for obvious reasons, just equalization blowers.  But did they dare let him aboard?  He was just one man, but he could still make a lot of trouble.  And fat chance he would just leave if they opened the outer airlock door for him.

Crap.

“We’ll figure it out later.  For now, we’re secure.  We need to get the incubator and loader stowed, then get up to Control so I can get us underway.”

*  *  *  *  *

Agrippa’s Control room was more spacious than on Pericles, but the basic layout was the same: support workstations at the front of the room, facing the main display screens, and the command station at the rear on a slightly raised platform.  Sitting in the command chair felt like coming home, even if she was stealing it.  That thought did not feel at all comfortable, but she pushed it from her mind.  Can’t make an omelet, and all that.

The maneuvering thrusters warmup procedure took five minutes.  During that time, she shifted the ship’s electrical loads from station power to the ship’s electrical distribution system – at this point just the battery, but it had plenty of juice to keep them for a while – and opened the Shore Power Breakers.  Then she secured the other connections – water, sanitation, atmospheric – and initiated the umbilical separation procedure.

Very shortly, the only thing connecting them with Gagarin Station would be the airlock tunnels.  She would wait for the maneuvering thrusters before detaching them.

“Looks like they’re bringing in cutting torches,” Grant reported.  He sat at the piloting support workstation and had brought up the security feed.  The external cameras from both Airlocks 1 and 2 showed the troops bringing in a lot of heavy gear.  He was right; those looked like cutters.  Grant pursed his lips.  “They don’t have suits.  Doesn’t seem too smart of them.  We could just pop the connection, and they’d be…”  He trailed off and looked back at Jo with a faintly sick look on his face.

She could understand.  It was one thing to shoot a guy.  It was another to subject him to the vacuum of space.  Jo once saw what happens to a person in space; she never wanted to again.  The worst part is that the person would be aware, feeling his blood vessels explode all over his exposed skin, his lungs burst, his blood boil.  It was a bad way to go.

“We’re not barbarians,” Jo said.  Reaching over to her command control pad, she pulled up the communication feed to Airlock 1’s external control pad.  A soft beep indicated the system’s readiness, and Jo looked toward a small camera mounted at eye level off to her right.  “Call your men back, Jaqueline,” she said.

On the security feed, Agent Moore – she had been clearly visible on the security camera, if only because she was the only one not wearing a helmet – gave a surprised jerk and whipped her head around to look at the airlock control pad.  Then she walked briskly over and touched the control pad.

The sound was poor, but Jo could hear the sneer in her voice as Agent Moore responded.  “Not a chance.”

Jo shrugged.  “It’s your choice.  In one minute, I’m going to open the outer door to Airlock 2, so your man can leave.  Thirty seconds later, I’m breaking the soft seal between Agrippa and the Station.  I highly suggest you have your outer doors closed before that happens.”

Agent Moore laughed.  “You’ll do no such thing.  Your reactor won’t be ready for at least another hour,” she replied, “and we control the airlock couplings.”

That’s what she thought.  “Coupling requires linkup from both ends, Jaqueliine.  Once I release mine…”  She left the rest unsaid.

Agent Moore did not reply, but on the security feed Jo thought she could see uncertainty appear on her face.

Grant cleared his throat.  “Not to tell you your job or anything, Captain,” he said, “but she’s right, isn’t she?  The Reactor’s not up yet.  Can we get underway without it?”

Jo smiled, trying to appear confident, for Grant’s benefit, despite the butterflies doing flips in her stomach.  What she was about to do…  Well, it was not anything she would ever have considered, ever, before today.  It was just not done.  “The maneuvering thrusters will be online in a minute, and we have plenty of juice in the battery.  We can get underway on the thrusters and get clear of the station while Malcolm finishes the startup.”

Grant just stared at her for a long several seconds.  “That sounds…dangerous.”

Jo shrugged.  “It is.”  That was an understatement.  “But so is everything on this mission.”

“Have you done this before?”

She paused.  “No.”  Grant’s face fell a bit, and Jo put on a confident smile.  “We can’t fully light off the main engines until we’re well clear of the Earth-Luna system anyway.  It’ll be fine.  I’m a great pilot.”

Grant nodded slowly, licking his lips.  He looked positively unnerved.  Funny how a guy could face down a squad of armed men without flinching, but a little thing like getting underway without full propulsion sets him all on edge.

Jo snorted inwardly.  It set her on edge.  On the razor freaking edge.  What she was about to do was one hundred percent against about fifteen different procedures and regulations, precisely because it was so dangerous.

Oh well.  It was not like she had not violated an ass-ton of regulations already in the last few days.

Jo hit the comms control again.  “Thirty Seconds, Jaqueline.  What’s it going to be?”

Agent Moore did not answer.  Or at least, she did not answer Jo.  Her head was cocked to one side, and from time to time her lips moved; she was talking with someone; her superior most likely.

“Fifteen seconds.”  Jo began to feel irritated.  It would be one thing if Agent Moore forced Jo to decouple, and thus kill her, as the ultimate “Fuck You” to Jo and her mission.  It would be something else if Agent Moore and her troops died because she was talking too damn much!

Finally, Agent Moore nodded and touched the control pad.  “You win, Captain.  As soon as our man is free, we’re pulling back.”

Jo blew out a breath she had not realized she was holding.  A second later, her command workstation beeped.  Jo shifted to the airlock status control and entered the command to open Airlock 2’s outer door.  A moment later, the trapper trooper was back with his fellows, and Jo shut the outer door again.

The Station outer doors slid shut, and then a few seconds later Jo released the soft seal couplings.

There was a subtle change in the ship’s motion, or apparent lack thereof.  They were free.  Almost.

* * * * *

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. I’ll be back on Saturday 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!

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Forty-Eight

Another Saturday, another chapter.  Let’s get to it!

If you enjoy this chapter, please do pick up a the full book from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Forty-Eight

Welcome Wagon

The craft rotated ninety degrees and Jo had to brace herself for a moment against the sudden acceleration.  This was always the worst part, the final docking.  Station Control’s guidance systems were always more jerky than when a pilot was running things himself, or even when the onboard autopilot handled ship’s guidance.  Someone must have left out consideration for the crew and passengers when he designed that algorithm; no doubt that designer had never been on a small transport craft, or cared about much except getting the code completed ahead of schedule so he could get the bonus stipulated in his contract.

Definitely a government operation.

Beside her in the cockpit, Carl winced as the thrusters fired to arrest the craft’s rotation.  “Hate this part,” he muttered.

Jo worked hard to keep an amused grin from her face.  “Shut up,” she said.  She still had to be in character, for his safety.

Carl shot her a withering glance.  He was good at this game.

Too bad they would never be able to sit down over a drink to reminisce over this one.  It would have made a good story to tell.

The craft lurched as the docking apparatus locked on from above.  Then the only sensation was that of a small forward acceleration as the mechanism overhead began to pull them into the waiting hangar bay.

Unlike larger ships, which could not be accommodated in a bay, orbital transport craft like Carl’s were always docked within one of hundreds of bays in the station’s administrative support rings.  It made onload and offload easier, with g’s in place and an atmosphere to breathe.  It also made for less of a jarring transition for the planetbound who travelled to and from the surface of the planet below.  For the purpose of this trip, their hangar bay assignment was ideal: number 657, on the “upper”-most ring, closest to the starliner mooring facilities.  The less real estate she and her team had to cross with the incubator, even bundled up so as to look like just another piece of cargo, the less chance they would be waylaid.

The craft came to an abrupt halt and a humming sound reverberated through the hull as the hangar bay doors slid shut behind them.  Then came a louder hiss as atmosphere – not Earth normal, but breathable for a good long time without bad side effects – flooded into the bay.  Then the craft slowly lowered to the bay floor, and the grapple released them and retracted into the docking mechanism proper, where it remained housed in the ceiling directly over the craft.

“Well,” Carl said, eyeing her with thinly-veiled contempt.  “We’re here.”

Jo frowned and shook her head, but kept the pistol pointed at him.  “I’m sorry it had to be this way, Carl,” she said.

In truth, there was no other way to have it, not without jeopardizing his safety.  But she hated to have their last interaction play out this way, feigned or no.  Because it would be their last interaction, ever.  Whether she was successful or not, whether she got the eggs onto Agrippa and away, whether the aliens killed her or not, whether she returned victorious to Earth, he would not be alive to see it.  Jo found herself biting back pre-emptive tears for the loss of such a dear friend.

Carl’s only reply was a cynical smirk.

Jo waggled the pistol at him.  “You first.”

He complied, getting up from his seat and leading the way back into the small passage between the cockpit and the passenger compartment, where the crew access hatch allowed ingress and egress.  Past his shoulder, Thomas, Grant, and Malcolm were on their feet at the front of the passenger compartment, waiting to get moving.

Carlton feigned shock at Malcolm’s presence.  “Malcolm,” he gasped.  “How?  Why?”  He looked between Jo and the once-dead man and managed to look convincingly dumbfounded.  She never knew he was such a good actor.

“It’s a long story, Carl,” Jo said, “and we don’t have time for it.  Open the hatch.  And then I must apologize, but we’re going to have to tie you up and leave you here.”

Carl reached out and activated the hatch controls at Jo’s command, but froze at the mention of tying him up.  He had been frowning for most of the last hour.  Now he was frowning.  Carl shook his head, but before he could say anything, Grant sprang at him from behind.  In seconds, the brawny Aussie had Carl pinned on the ground.  Less than a minute later, Carl was back on his feet, his hands bound behind him with zip-ties.  He worked his jaw slowly, his frown now an all out scowl.

“I’m sorry, Jo,” he said, softly.

That took her by surprise.  What did he have to be sorry for?

A moment later, she found out.

*  *  *  *  *

Through the open access hatch, the thud of booted feet running carried, followed by a terse shout in a deep baritone.

“The craft is surrounded.  Release the crew and come out with your hands up!”

The shouted command was like a smack across the face.  Jo had to stop herself from cringing away from the force it exerted on her psyche.  How?  She gave Carl a forceful look, the one she knew from experience would break even the hardest of space dogs from their silence.

“What did you do?”

Carl met her gaze for a moment, but that was all, before turning his eyes to the floor of the craft.  “I tuned the transponder to the hijacking code.”

“Son of a bitch!”  Thomas growled through gritted teeth; he looked ready to kill Carl right then and there.  His brother looked the same.  Malcolm was not far off.

Jo could sympathize, but she was in command.  She had to remain cool, in control if they were going to get out of this with their skins intact, let alone if they were going to accomplish the mission.

“Why, Carl?  You were going to be free to go your own way.  There was no reason…”

His snort cut her off.  He looked back up at her fiercely, his eyes narrow and burning with a deep anger.  “Like hell.  If I didn’t turn you in they’d find out.  They’d know, sooner or later.”  Jo opened her mouth to protest; they had given him all the cover he would ever need.  But he beat her to it.  “You’re leaving, Jo.  I have to live here, and I’m not going to do it as a fugitive.”  He looked away again, but Jo could tell it was more out of defiance than from shame.  “I won’t do that to Alison, or my boys.”

It stung.  More than that, it filled her with a fury that she had seldom felt before, and even then not in years.  But…

But he was right.

It was dreadfully unfair of her to ask this much of him.  She could run roughshod over the law, because she was leaving.  Malcolm too.  Thomas, Grant, Jörgen and Courtney, the others in CFL…they had all volunteered, decided of their own free will to join the cause, without having to be asked.  Carl and Alison though were content to live their lives in Boston and neither bother nor be bothered.  Until she had imposed on them.  The fact that she had no alternative did not matter; she had upset their lives, and she could not blame Carl for doing what he thought was best for his family.

She nodded slowly.  “I understand.”

The other members of her team looked at her incredulously.  All except Malcolm.  His expression had softened as Carl spoke, and he nodded at Jo’s words.  He understood as well.

“We’re going to have to gag you, Carl,” she said.

He nodded.

Jo looked at Grant.  “Do it.  Don’t make it too tight.”

The fighting man scowled and grabbed Carl by the scruff of the neck, then dragged him into the passenger compartment.  The soft sound of scuffling issued for a few seconds, followed by Carl crying out, “Ow” momentarily before his voice was muted by the gag.  After another brief period, Grant rejoined them next to the hatch.

He gave Jo a quizzical look in response to her glare.  “What?  He’ll be fine.”

Jo rolled her eyes.

Thomas had taken up position just inside the hatch.  He peeked out for a second, then hurriedly pulled his head back under cover.  “Half a dozen men,” he reported.  “Looks like station security regulars.  Riot Gear and rifles.”

Malcolm frowned.  The worry in his eyes mirrored Jo’s own.  “Can you handle them?”

Thomas just grinned.

*  *  *  *  *

Jo would not have believed it had she not seen it with her own eyes.

Grant and Thomas, working as one and moving with a speed and precision that she could not begin to comprehend, took down the assembled security forces with apparent ease.  One moment, the law men were ringing the craft.  The next, and almost before the two flash-bang grenades the brothers threw out had finished going off, they were down, unconscious, with their hands zip-tied behind their backs and their weapons gathered into a tidy pile at the base of the craft’s boarding ladder.

It was all Jo could do to avoid gaping like a schoolgirl.  As it was, she was certain her jaw was going to be bruised from striking her upper chest so hard before she could get herself back under control.

“How the hell did you do that?”  Malcolm sounded breathless, and as stunned as Jo was.

Grant smirked.  “Jervis didn’t send us along for our good looks.”  He did not have a scratch on him, and he was not particularly attractive, at least not to Jo’s taste.  But right then she could have kissed him, and his uglier brother too.

Instead she just rolled her eyes.  Or she would have, if she was not still looking from unconscious body to unconscious body in amazement.

Thomas broke her out of it.  “They’ll be sending backup.  We need to be out of here in three minutes or we’re screwed.”

“Right.”  Jo shook herself and slung her pack over her shoulder.  Then, holstering the plasma pistol she had held on Carl, she darted down the boarding ladder into the hangar bay.

It was not a spectacularly large space.  About twenty meters long and thirty wide, long enough to accommodate a basic orbital transport like the one Carl picked them up in, it nevertheless was as well-outfitted as the larger bulk transport hangars.  Along both side walls hung fuel hoses, hoses for O2 and water replenishment, and those for sanitary pumpout.  At the front of the bay was parked a mechanized loader alongside firefighting gear.

And, of course, there was a windowed-off control space, about five meters up the front wall.  It was fully manned, of course, and Jo could see a number of pale faces watching them with wide eyes.  Three pale faces, actually.  One of them, the supervisor, no doubt, was obviously shouting something, but the other two just stood there as though struck dumb.  And considering what Grant and Thomas had just done, Jo could not blame them.  Finally, the supervisor shoved one of the other two and punched down, probably activating a communications circuit.  He began yelling again.  Jo couldn’t hear him, but he was no doubt calling for help.

“Everything’s under control here, situation normal,” Grant said, his tone highly amused as he watched the supervisor’s antics from Jo’s side.

She glanced sidelong at him, perplexed.  He caught her gaze and rolled his eyes.  “No one remembers the classics anymore,” he muttered.  Then, more loudly, he pointed at the loader.  “Get that thing started up!”

Jo moved to obey and was halfway to the loader before she realized that he had given an order and she had taken it.  That was not right.  She was in command, not…

She looked back and saw that the three men were gone, vanished into the cargo hold in the back of Carl’s craft.  Of course, it made sense.  They were all stronger than she.  It would be difficult enough getting the incubator out of the craft with all of their muscles.  If Malcolm or Thomas were driving the loader instead of she, it might be impossible.

It still stung a bit.

Whatever.  There was work to do.

If you’ve seen one loader, you’ve seen them all.  That was what Jo had always thought, and she was not disappointed with the unit in their hangar.  Its controls were simplicity itself – and it did not require a database implant to start it, thank God.  In less than a minute, she had it running.  Thirty seconds later, she met the men at the bottom of the cargo ramp.

Between the three of them, they could just barely lift the incubator, but it was a good thing they did not have far to go to meet her, or they would have either dropped it or been forced to lay one end down and drag it to her.  Jo had no idea how delicate the incubator’s innards were – not very, she would wager, based on how well it had kept running through all the abuse the lab rats had put it through – but she knew enough about complex mechanisms to know they were designed to function at a certain attitude, and if you tipped them over or left them at a bad angle for long enough, that could cause trouble.

It was a moot point now.  After another few seconds of moaning and groaning, along with a goodly number of curses from all three men, they had the thing secured onto the loader’s twin arms.

There was no time for the wicked to rest on their laurels though.  No sooner had they gotten the incubator squared away than Thomas and Grant hurried over to the main hatch leading into the station’s innards.  Malcolm paused only to pick up a pair of plasma rifles from the small pile at the bottom of the boarding ramp.  He handed one to Jo and shouldered the other, then ran to follow the two brothers.

Jo put the loader in gear and floored it.  The damn things were not all that fast, but she easily caught up to the men as they ran down the adjoining passage toward this level’s central corridor.  From there it should not be too far to the access tunnel to the Station’s central hub, where further transport lifts would take them to Mooring Level Three, where Agrippa was docked.

It was all coming together.  They just needed their luck to hold out for a little bit longer.

* * * * *

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!

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Forty-Seven

The Pericles Conspiracy.  Chapter 47.  Hooyah.  🙂

If you enjoy this chapter, please do pick up a the full book from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, or iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Forty-Seven

Gagarin Station

Carlton parked the company car in its spot outside the hangar and turned off the engine.  But instead of getting out, he sat there, staring at the building.  He was not sure how long he sat there – he normally kept the chronometer function of his database implant turned off because he was still not used to the text perpetually hovering there in his vision – and he did not care.

He had done his best to treat this morning like any other.  He got up at the usual time, went for his morning jog, had a hearty breakfast, and drove leisurely back to the airfield.  Just as he would – and as he always had – during any training flight.  But try though he might, the butterflies were now threatening to burst out of his stomach like the alien creature in that ancient screen play a buddy of his found, way back when.

This was no ordinary day.  No amount of pretending would make it that way, either.

Up until now, it had been all fun and games.  Sure, he had pulled a fast one on the company.  But all that had really done was net him a few extra hours in the cockpit.  Hell, that shell company – it could have been real for all Carlton knew – had even paid for the fake trial student’s lessons, so it’s not like he had cost Delta any money.

Now, though.  Now the shit got real.  If he got on that craft and piloted it up to Gagarin with Jo and her friends onboard, that was it.  Yeah, he had a cover story built into the plan.  Jo had made sure of that.  But even he could see it was flimsy.  The NSA would see right through it.

But would they be able to prove it?

Carlton snorted at his own thought.  The NSA did not need proof.  Not for something like this.  There would be no arrest.  No trial.  That would blow the whistle on the whole thing.  Most likely, he would just vanish.  And maybe Alison and the boys as well.

Right then, Carlton almost started the car back up with the intention of going to the admin building and blowing the whistle on the whole thing himself.  Let Jo and Malcolm fry, and to hell with those alien eggs; they were not his problem.  But the image of Alison’s face, the disapproval and contempt in her eyes when she learned what he had done – and she would – gave him pause.  He had given his word to Jo.  To Alison.  And damnit all, they were both right.  This needed to be done.

Carlton just hated being the one to do it.

Some time later, he inhaled deeply and flung the car door open, then stepped out.  It was time to get it done.

*  *  *  *  *

The preflight check of the craft’s exterior was routine.  The engine outlets, vertical stabilizers, ailerons and flaps on the wings, orbital maneuvering jets, and docking apparatus were all in good shape, as expected.  That much was good.  Jo and her pals had at least not made a mess.

Carlton smirked slightly and keyed open the crew access hatch, then waited while it opened and the boarding ladder folded out, smooth as silk.  Then he climbed up and began his check of the interior.

As normal, he gave a quick sweep of the small passenger compartment – empty, as to be expected on this flight – and then proceeded to the cockpit.  Settling down into the left seat, he inserted his Delta identicard and tapped the main console, and the cockpit displays flashed to life.  A quick scan showed all was as he had left it the previous night.  Fuel state was sufficient to get back to Luna with more than the required fuel reserve, let alone to Gagarin, in accordance with his flight plan.

Satisfied, Carlton tapped the console and called up the engine start procedure.  He was halfway through it when he felt a hard piece of metal press against his right temple.

“Do exactly as I say,” Jo said, her voice calm and cold.  Almost as cold as the metal of the plasma pistol she held to his head, but then Carlton had never particularly liked guns.

*  *  *  *  *

The atmosphere outside the cockpit windows changed quickly from a normal sky blue, to navy blue, and then to black as the craft propelled itself upward into orbit.  Carlton focused on that, and on his instruments, and tried to ignore the fact that Jo had not taken the pistol off of him since she first joined him in the cockpit.  Oh, she had taken it away from his temple – she had to so he could don his headset and talk to flight control – and settled down into the copilot’s seat.  But she had kept the gun leveled on him the whole time.

She had to, of course.  Every aspect of the flight was recorded, from power-up to power-down, by recorders within the craft’s systems and by audio and visual recorders in the cockpit and passenger compartments.  It would not do to make it look like Carlton was anything but her hostage, doing her bidding against his will, or he would be screwed in the post-incident investigation.  And there would surely be one.  Concealing the fact that she had gotten up to Gagarin with her prize in his craft would be nigh on impossible.  At least this way allowed a slim chance that he would not share in the blame.

Yeah right.  And pigs could launch themselves into orbit.

“You’re not going to get away with this, you know that,” Carlton said, trying his best to look and sound nervous but not out of control.  “Security will nab you as soon as we dock.”

“Let me worry about that,” Jo growled, and waggled the gun at him.  She was overdoing it a bit.

Carlton rolled his eyes.  “Put down the gun, Jo.  We both know you’re not going to shoot me.”

She glared at him.  “We do?  I can fly this crate too, you know.”

He snorted.  “When’s the last time you logged an hour in the pilot’s seat?  Fifteen years ago?”  He glanced sidelong at her.  “Longer?”

Jo’s lips compressed into a scowl and she did not respond.  She also did not lower the gun.

The console beeped and Carlton glanced down.  The display told him what he already knew from the lack of g-forces.  Orbital insertion was complete; the main engines were secured and the orbital maneuvering thrusters were powering up.  Right on schedule.  The familiar feeling of free-fall began to register in the pit of his stomach as the craft coasted along on its low earth orbit trajectory.  It was strangely calming, that little bit of queasiness.  Carlton had lived with it, off and on, for most of his life.  It was like an old friend, in a way.

This was no time to be enjoying zero-g’s though; there was work to do, and a hostage role to play.  Carlton tapped in the command to execute the burn that would place them on an intercept trajectory with Gagarin Station and paused, his hand poised over the Execute touch-button.  He turned his gaze on Jo again.

“This is nuts, Jo.  Think about what you’re doing.  I haven’t deviated from my flight plan.  There’s no need for anyone to know what’s happened here.  Put the gun away and we can forget the whole thing.  I’ll figure a way to get you back from Luna quietly.  Honest.  Mum’s the word.”

“I’m not alone.”  Carlton dropped his jaw open, affecting surprise, but Jo spoke again before he could retort.  “And even if I was, we both know what you said is not true.  You’re supposed to have an under-instruction.  Where is he?”

Carlton winced and looked away.  “That’s not really a deviation,” he began, but stopped when Jo snorted loudly.  Rolling his eyes, Carlton said, “She got space-sick yesterday and bailed.”  In spite of his situation, he shook his head and snorted out a half-chuckle.  “You believe that?  Kid never even bothered to go up once before signing up for orbital flight training.  Now she’s out a bunch of credits and I’ve wasted a lot of time.”  He sighed.  “But that’s why they call them Trial training flights.  Separates the serious from the wannabes.”  He looked back at Jo and his momentary mirth fled.  “Don’t try to deflect the subject.  What do you hope to accomplish with this?”

Jo just continued to stare at him.  She made a little gesture with her gun toward the Execute touch-button.

Carlton sighed and hit it.  The console beeped in response and the orbital maneuvering thrusters fired for a long several seconds before cutting out.  On the navigation display screen, the craft’s orbital track updated to reflect its new heading toward Gagarin.  Estimated Time of Arrival, fifty minutes.

It was going to be a long flight.

*  *  *  *  *

Every time he made an approach to Gagarin, or any of the other geosynchronous space docks, Carlton found himself unable to not stare in awe at the sheer size and complexity of the thing.

A starliner was one thing.  Pericles was about two and a half kilometers long, and she was an older model, smaller than the new Gorshkov class that started rolling off the lines while he and Alison were on Gliese last.  But, big as the starliners were, the station dwarfed them.  Large enough to dock a dozen starliners at once, with room left over for smaller private transports aplenty and a special section for military vessels, the station was probably forty or fifty kilometers long.  The thing could easily be mistaken for a small moon, if one was not looking too carefully.

A small and oddly-shaped moon, though.

The main living and administrative spaces were a series of six stacked rings, several kilometers in diameter and all connected to a central hub by a like number of support struts that also served as passageways.  Each pair of rings rotated slowly in opposite directions to generate g’s within the ring and null out the station’s net angular momentum, just like the rings on a starliner.  From the rings, the hub stretched out in both directions, one side pointing right at Earth, the other out into space.  The Earth-side of the hub contained the station’s reactor complex and planetary communications gear.  The other side contained the docking facilities, and was considerably larger.

The mooring apparatus was arranged radially, with four starliner-sized ships able to dock on each level.  The arrangement was ingenious: great clamps with four passages that locked into the ships from the bow and stern, linking up with each of the four airlocks in the starliners’ rings.  The clamps themselves were mounted on drives that turned them, and the rings they were attached to, in order to generate g’s within the ships and the transition area on the station.  This made loading and unloading cargo and personnel significantly easier.

Looking up as they approached, Carlton could make out a number of starliners moored there.  The sight made him heartsick for a moment.  He loved his life, and his job planetside, but there was something about just blasting away to see what lay out there, among the stars…

What the hell are you thinking?

Carlton glanced over to the copilot’s seat, where Jo sat.  She was no longer watching his every move, but she still held the pistol pointed squarely at him.  She was good at this; he almost forgot for a moment that it was all just an act.

At least for her part.  The closer they actually came to Gagarin, though, the more it felt like he really was the prisoner, the hostage.  He had been roped into this by her.  By Alison.  And they did have a point.  But damnit, it was so much to risk.  After this, he may as well dream of flying using his own two arms as ever think seriously about getting back aboard a starliner.  Or doing anything at all that did not involve the inside of a prison cell, if he was lucky.

You gave your word.

And that was why he had even blasted off with Jo aboard.  But now, just moments away from the intercept point where Station control would take over and guide the craft into its designated docking bay, that suddenly did not seem like a good enough reason.

Alison is thinking with her heart.  I need to think with my head.  For both of us.

He hated thinking what he was thinking.  But it was the only thing that made sense.

Carlton glanced at Jo again.  She was looking upwards and to the right.  He followed her gaze and saw a lone starliner docked on level three of the mooring rings.  Agrippa, he was sure.

She was distracted.  It was now or never.

The craft’s transponder controls were to his left, from Jo’s perspective behind the control stick.  Slowly, so as to not draw her attention with an obvious movement, he moved his hand from the stick to the controls.  Carlton swallowed, hesitated.  Either way, there was no going back after this.  Drawing in a quick breath, he changed the code entered into the transponder from 2570, which was what traffic control had assigned him, to 7500.

His craft had officially been hijacked.

* * * * *

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!

 

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.