I’m a little late on this. My intention is to get these chapters up on Tuesdays and Saturdays. But Tuesday night and last night were a little nuts in my world. So I’m putting the next chapter up now. Sorry about that.
So without further ado, here’s chapter eighteen of The Pericles Conspiracy. As always, if you have a hankering you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.
Out Of The Frying Pan
“We will handle the rest.”
Agent Moore’s words echoed in Jo’s mind as she walked into the Parque La Panecillo again. Without realizing what she was doing, she found herself touching the seam of her jacket where the NSA agents had implanted the listening bug. As it registered, she jerked her hand away.
It almost felt dirty, touching it.
It took most of a week, but Agent Moore was correct; Malcolm made contact. Jo had spent a hard week in the office getting the Kennedy ready for departure. By the time she got home after spending most of last night in McAllister’s traffic control center watching the starliner depart – and secretly wishing she was aboard – Jo was completely drained, both physically and mentally.
So she was completely unprepared to walk into her condo and find a message waiting in her televid queue. At first she thought it would be Wu Shin or Harold, but when she tapped the control pad to start the message, the screen showed a dark figure sitting before a darker background. She could not make out the figure’s features, but his overall build and the way he carried himself resembled Malcolm. A voice, garbled from electronic distortion, was no help in identifying the person either. It simply asked her to meet in the Parque at 2230 the next night.
She had spent a restless night tossing and turning in her bed only to wake an hour earlier than normal feeling as though she had not slept at all. Looking at herself in the mirror as she brushed her teeth put the lie to that feeling, as the shadows beneath her eyes were much improved from the day before. She still felt like hell, though.
And no wonder, with everything that had happened.
She had been distracted most of the day, only paying cursory attention to the weekly briefing from her department heads. Her thoughts kept wandering to what she had learned in Malcolm and Becky’s command center and to what she had gone through since.
Agent Moore had again assured her, during their preparations this afternoon, that she was doing the right thing, but Jo was not sure. What was the right thing to do? Her heart told her that betraying Malcolm and his compatriots was wrong, that they were on the right side in this matter.
Images sprang into her mind, memories she had not recalled earlier from her encounter with the aliens aboard Pericles. Twin burns, as though made by plasma torches hundreds of times stronger than any torch in any of the shipyards she’d seen, running perfectly parallel across the port side of the aliens’ ship. Gasses venting to space through those two burns where the hull had been breached. She and her crew had speculated at length on what could have caused those burns. The only thing they had come up with was a weapon of some sort.
If the aliens had been engaged in a battle before she met them, there was a lot more to their situation than met the eye. Given that, was it not prudent for the government to do everything it could to learn as much about the aliens as it could? The Coalition’s first responsibility was the security of its citizens, after all.
But that did not justify slaughtering the aliens’ children. Did it?
Further self-debate stopped as she rounded a corner and emerged into a clearing below the Virgen. Malcolm sat, apparently calm and collected, on a bench a short distance away. His clothing was rumpled as if he had slept in it, and he looked tired. Jo stopped, almost turning to leave before he noticed her, but Agent Moore’s stern warning from earlier in the day about what would happen if she did not come through sprang to mind and she hesitated.
The brief hesitation sealed the deal. Malcolm turned his head and spotted her. The quick flash of a smile graced his face as he stood. By the time he walked over to her, though, his expression was all business.
Jo managed a smile of greeting. “Malcolm.”
He looked at her closely, his head cocking to the side as though he could sense something was wrong. “Are you…”
Agent Calderon’s voice barked through the evening air, bringing Malcolm up short. Calderon stepped into the open from the trees to Jo’s right. At the same time, another agent, Jo never got his name, emerged from the left.
Malcolm’s eyes widened and he looked at Jo, a shocked, stricken look on his face. She felt a wrenching in her gut, almost a physical pain at the hurt her betrayal had caused him.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered as she backed away and the two agents advanced toward him.
Malcolm turned and ran, but he only went a few paces before he was brought up short by Agent Moore and a fourth as they sprang from concealed positions on the other side of the clearing. They leveled plasma pistols at Malcolm and he froze, raising his hands above his head.
“On the ground. Now,” ordered Agent Moore in a clipped, businesslike tone. Malcolm obliged, slowly going to his knees and then onto his belly. Agent Moore and her backup advanced toward him quickly, the man pulling a pair of handcuffs from a pouch on the back of his belt.
Agent Calderon remained in position as they moved, covering them over the sights of his pistol. “We’ve got it from here, Captain. DiStefano, take her back to the truck.”
DiStefano, the man who had arrived at Jo’s left, nodded in response to Agent Calderon’s command and holstered his sidearm. Then he stepped to Jo’s side and placed a gentle hand on her arm that nevertheless directed her away with a forceful intensity. “This way, Captain.”
Jo complied with DiStefano’s direction and walked away. She looked back over her shoulder once and saw Malcolm, on his knees with his hands cuffed behind his back. In spite of his situation, he did not look defeated.
Then she lost sight of him as they turned the corner. Had she done the right thing? She was not sure, and the thought that she had no choice was small comfort.
“How long do cases like this take to go to trial?” she asked.
DiStefano sniffed. “What?”
“How long until the trial?”
He snorted but did not answer.
Jo stopped, a sudden chill going up her spine. That snort had been far too dismissive. They couldn’t intend to… Unbidden, Reynolds’ face appeared in her mind and Jo found that she could not tell herself that they wouldn’t just get Malcolm out of the way and to blazes with the trial.
It took DiStefano two steps to realize she was no longer beside him. Turning with a scowl, he said, “Come on, let’s go.”
“What are they going to do with Malcolm?”
DiStefano looked at her like she was an idiot. “He’s out of the picture now. You need to worry about what happens with you.” He stepped over to her and she found herself craning her neck to meet his eyes. He was very tall. “Don’t do anything else stupid and you’ll come out of this smelling like roses.”
A sharp sound came through the trees from the clearing and Jo’s heart skipped a beat. That was a plasma pistol!
Jo turned back to the clearing, needing to see. She heard DiStefano moving a heartbeat before she felt his hands slide beneath her upper arms, then over her shoulders and up toward the back of her neck.
She reacted instinctively, straightening her arms, dropping to her back on the ground in front of DiStefano, and kicking upward before he could close the full-nelson lock he was trying to put on her. Clearly not expecting resistance, he froze in surprise as she slid from his grasp, then doubled over as the toe of her boot struck him just above his navel.
DiStefano stumbled away and Jo sprang to her feet. Perhaps she should have run, but she remained frozen in place, surprised. She had not practiced very much over the last several years, but she clearly had not lost all of the skills her father had taught her, so very long ago. The slight pleasure she felt at that discovery was quickly eclipsed as she realized what just happened. She had assaulted an NSA Agent!
Then she lost the opportunity to think.
DiStefano righted himself and turned toward her. His hand snaked into his jacket, where he wore his plasma pistol in a shoulder holster, and he spat, “BITCH!”
Jo’s eyes widened as his hand came back out, weapon held in a tight grip. He had a murderous look in his eyes.
Only a couple meters stood between them. Moving with a desperate speed, Jo sprang toward him as he leveled the gun. Her hand struck his the instant he pulled the trigger. The pistol barked, deafeningly loud at such close range, but the superheated ball of gas that launched from its muzzle passed harmlessly to the side. Jo grabbed onto DiStefano’s gun hand and forced it down and to the side. The pistol barked a second time as he reflexively fired again.
His face was a mask of fury as he pulled back forcefully against Jo’s grip. She felt his hand slipping and knew he would be free in a heartbeat. Once that happened…
Jo twisted her body, using her weight to pull against DiStefano’s arm, straightening it. Then she struck upward with the palm of her left hand. It struck the back of his elbow before he could adjust to her changing tactic.
The sharp snap of breaking bone and DiStefano’s sudden howl of pain ended the fight. His hand spasmed and the pistol fell onto the ground at Jo’s feet. Shifting her weight again, she kicked his feet out from under him and he landed on his back with a “HUFF” of air leaving his lungs.
She picked up the weapon and turned toward the fallen agent. His eyes, so hostile and superior a heartbeat before, were wide with surprise, pain, and sudden terror. He raised his good hand in a pleading gesture.
“Don’t…” he coughed, slowly regaining his breath. “Don’t shoot.”
Jo stood frozen in shock over what had happened. Her gaze went from DiStefano to the hand which held his weapon. It was trembling visibly. What the hell was she doing?
He saw her sudden uncertainty and seemed to regain some confidence. Drawing a deep breath, he said, “Don’t do anything you can’t pull back from.” His words were quick, his tone anxious but also practiced, professional. “We had a misunderstanding is all. Put the gun down and we can still work this out.”
“Yeah right. I’m not a total idiot.” Although a not-so-soft voice in the back of Jo’s head screamed at her that she was indeed an idiot. A complete and utter fool.
From the clearing behind her came shouts and the sound of another plasma pistol discharging. What was going on? Jo peeked over her shoulder but saw only trees.
A shuffling from DiStefano drew her eyes back to him. He had snaked his good hand down toward his ankle. Seeing her eyes on him, he froze.
“What’s that? A backup?”
He nodded slowly, watching her with wary eyes.
“Take it out and throw it to me. Slowly.”
DiStefano scowled, but did as she ordered. The weapon landed on the ground at her feet and Jo slowly bent her knees. Taking her left hand from the grip of her pistol, she snatched it up then quickly straightened. Then she tucked the backup behind her belt in the small of her back.
“Do not move from this spot, Agent DiStefano,” she warned, and she backed away, slowly at first, then more quickly.
“Don’t be a fool, Captain. He’s done, but you don’t have to be.”
Jo put a tree between herself and DiStefano, then turned and ran back toward the clearing.
* * * * *
I hope you enjoyed this chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy. Stay tuned in a few days for the next chapter, or, if you don’t want to bother waiting half a year to read the entire book, you can always go buy it (it’s available in ebook and trade paperback) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, or iTunes.