Posted by: Michael Kingswood | September 23, 2014

Max Interval Destruction

It’s Week 6 of Insanity, which means it’s time for another fit test.  Behold, the results:

Insanity Fit Test 9-22-14Pretty good.  Making progress still.  I’m pleased.  :)

However, after the fit test, the workout had to go on, and here’s where it gets painful.  Going into it, I heard that the Insanity world totally changes in Week 6.  What had become a difficult workout just gets taken to a whole new level.  And I believed it, because that just makes sense to do.  All the same, I wasn’t quite ready for the reality of it.

Put it this way.  By the end of Week 4, I won’t say the workouts had become easy, because they hadn’t.  But I had definitely become used to them.  I knew what to expect, where the real ball-buster parts were, and I’d gone through all of the various workouts enough so that I was comfortable with them.  And then last week, the Recovery Week, the workouts pulled back a step or so in intensity, which made me even more confident.

Tonight was Max Interval Circuit.  The first thing that stood out was its length – a full hour, as opposed to 37 minutes for its equivalent in the first month.  Add to that the fact that the Fit Test took 25 minutes, and I was already fairly tired at the beginning.  Not to mention by the middle.  Nkechi Kwenu, who I mentioned before is my favorite of the people who documented their Insanity experiences on YouTube, said at the end of this day’s workout, “Shaun T is a murderer.”  I’m not going to go that far.  But it was pretty intensely challenging.

Great fun!

This next month is going to be pretty interesting, looks like.  I’m looking forward to it.  :)

 

Posted by: Michael Kingswood | September 2, 2014

Fit Test

Two weeks into this Insanity bit, and tonight’s task was taking the program’s fit test for the second time.  Now, fitness tests are nothing new for me; I have to take one every six months in the Navy.  But let’s face it, the Navy PRT is pretty easy.  2 minutes of sit-ups, 2 minutes of pushups, and a 1.5 mile run.  You would have to TRY to not pass it.  But yet, somehow, I know of people who have failed the dang thing, multiple times.

Anyway, rolling into the fit test on Day 1, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I also wasn’t too terribly intimidated by it.  And yeah, the exercises are different than what I’d been used too, but it was not too bad. I had a harder time with some of the exercises than I thought, and an easier time on others.  You know, the usual.

Tonight, knowing what to expect, and with my previous scores in hand, I wasn’t nervous per say but I was mindful of the desire/need to show progress, if only to myself.  So how’d it go, you ask?

Insanity Fit Test 9-1-14

 

So yeah, showing some improvement.  The only areas that didn’t go up were the Globe Jumps and Power Knees.  Globe Jumps – I just hate them and I think they’re a little silly, and I suck at jumping.  But still, that should have gone better.  And the Power Knees…I think the reason for that is I did it with my right leg for the first test, and the left for this one.  Dumb – should have kept it consistent and my left is my weak side.  But it is what it is.

So already seeing some good effects from the program.  Hard to argue with raw numbers, eh?  Although amusingly enough, you wouldn’t know there’d been improvement from looking at the scale.  *shrug*   Oh well, no doubt that will come.

Ok, time to hit the rack.

Posted by: Michael Kingswood | August 27, 2014

Too. Much. PT.

As I stated before, I am totally ramping up the amount of PT I’m doing, because Hooyah.  But even considering that, the last few days have been…strenuous.

A little background.

On Saturday, we decided to splurge and order out for dinner (we don’t do that very much – budget, dude.  Budget.).  We had some Olive Garden gift cards, so what the heck right?  ;)  So I roll on out to pick up the yummy vittles, and on the way to the restaurant, I came down HARD on a dip in the road that I didn’t see coming until it was too late.  Didn’t think much of it though, because these things happen.

Fast forward to Monday morning.  The car starts up just fine, but will not shift out of park.

Crap.

So I rode my bicycle to work.  It’s 23.6 miles each way.  I’ve done it before; in fact many weeks I’ll ride to and from at least once.  But typically I’ll drive in one morning with my bike on the rack, ride home in the afternoon, then ride back to work the next morning and drive home.  Used to be, when I lived closer to work, I’d ride my bike there every day.  Not so much these days.

Anyway, you can do the math – I cranked out 47 miles on the bike on Monday.  Then still had to do Insanity Monday evening.  It was very tempting not to, but of course I couldn’t skip out.  Because what am I, a slacker?

Yesterday, I drove the Admiral’s minivan to work because she had a light day, and I had to pick my Mom up from the airport on the way home and that would be tough to do on my bicycle.  :P  I was freaking tired last night, and the hustle and bustle around the house didn’t really die down until about 2245, but hang it all I did my Insanity.  Last night was Pure Cardio; that one’s a grinder, too.

Today, I rode my bicycle in to work again, and I’ll ride it home.  So another 47 mile day.  And no, I’m not going to skip tonight.  Probably going to do the same tomorrow.  Thankfully, Friday is a day off at work, so I’ll get a little break there.

Long story short, I’m getting a metric butt-ton of PT this week.  95 Weightwatchers activity points worth so far, and it’s only Wednesday (by way of comparison, I’m allocated 45 points of food a day, and last week between Insanity, Pull-ups, and running a few times I only generated 73 activity points).  That’s pretty awesome.  Feels good.  :)

I know what you’re thinking, though.  Kingswood, what’s up with your car?

Well…  I didn’t anything done with it until this morning.  I figured it was a transmission problem or maybe an interlock sensor issue (you know the brake-transmission interlock; if the brake ain’t depressed the gears won’t shift.  If the brake sensor dies…).  Now, the car’s 10 years old, but I have an extended power train warrantee that I bought when I purchased the car last year.  Normally, I don’t go for those sorts of things, but I may end up being happy I did this time.  Problem was, I couldn’t find the information the policy until last night, so I only just this morning called USAA to tow the car to a service station.

Interestingly enough, when the tow truck lifted the car up, the driver found a ton of transmission fluid on the street beneath.  Which has me thinking maybe that dip in the road from Saturday has something to do with this.  Which could make it an insurance claim as opposed to a warrantee claim.  So looks like either way I’ll avoid a HUGE financial hit.  It still sucks though.

So that’s the latest around here.  Go buy some books, will ya?

;)

Posted by: Michael Kingswood | August 25, 2014

Moving On Up

This past weekend I experimented with price discounting and promotion again.  Dropped The Pericles Conspiracy down to $0.99 and had a promo through Ereader News Today.  I didn’t put the word out here on on Facebook because I wanted to see what ENT did on its own. 

A picture’s better than words, so…

Pericles 25 Aug 14 Ranking - 0600

 
Look at that!  #1 in Heists for all of Amazon.  :)  Not too shabby.  Haven’t been #1 on a paid list before.

Pericles is $2.99 now.  It’ll go back to it’s normal price in a day or two, depending on what kind of traction it gets – if it starts going like hotcakes now that it’s high on a list, maybe I’ll keep it cheap for a while.  If not…   We’ll see.

Anyway, I’m feeling pretty good about things.  Fun, fun!

Posted by: Michael Kingswood | August 24, 2014

Insanity

Those who know me know I generally keep fairly active.  I do triathlons and running races, train in martial arts, lift weights, things like that.  I also enjoy beer and wine and love good food.  Lots of good food.  Consequently, though I’m in pretty good shape in terms of strength and endurance (my resting heart rate the other day at the doctor’s office was 56), I’ve always had more of a twelve-pack than a six-pack, if you know what I mean.

Hell, in 2008, when I checked off the submarine at the end of my Department Head tour, I had more like a pony keg.  I got a big wakeup call when I transferred to that shore duty, let me tell you.  I had the trifecta of anti-fitness occur, all at once: I went over 30, served as Department Head on a submarine, and got married.  Any one of those three might have been easily overcome, but all together?  *headshake*

November 2008 - Ugh

November 2008 – Ugh

I weighed in at 240 lbs when I checked in to my new command in November of that year, and measured something like 26% body fat.  Unsat.  So I hopped on Weightwatchers, got back into running more, really started hitting the weight room, and by April I’d dropped to 215 and gotten back within the Navy body fat limits.

October 2009, while sailing my sailboat from Annapolis, MD to Charleston, SC

October 2009, while sailing my sailboat from Annapolis, MD to Charleston, SC – much better

At that point, I figured I should keep going, get back below 200 lbs for the first time since 1999.  But I didn’t feel a lot of pressure to do so, so I didn’t.  Subsequently, I transferred to Upstate New York for a couple years, then here to San Diego.  I put some lbs back on (depends on the time of year), but by and large I’ve stayed at the same overall place since 2009.  Except I’m in much better shape now than I was then.  Not as good as when I was  Junior Officer on shore duty (3 marathons in 24 months and five days a week in the dojo will have a good affect on a body), but still pretty darn good.  I beat much younger guys at the Navy PRT (not that this is all that difficult a feat…the PRT ain’t exactly hard).

But, all the same, a few things have been nagging at me.

First, Pull-ups.

I’ve always sucked at pull-ups.  Situps?  I make sit-ups my bitch.  Pushups?  I can crank out a lot.  But Pull-ups… Oy, pull-ups.  Back in 2009, I managed to get to the point where I could do 3-4, but that was the best I’ve ever done with pull-ups.  Well, I guess a month and a half ago, I got to thinking I was sick and tired of sucking at pull-ups, and I found this guy’s website where he described how he made his own pull-up bar using materials from Home Depot.  I thought, “What the hell,” and built one myself the next week, drawing off his plans.

Pull-Up Bar

At the time of it’s completion, I could maybe do 2 pull-ups at once.  But that’s ok.  I decided I’d do 10 sets of 1 every day.  Doing that would inevitably enable me to up my reps, over time.  And sure enough, it worked.  Within a week I was doing sets of two.  Now, I’m doing sets of 3 or 4, depending on the day.  I intend to continue working on them until I’m up to Marine Corps standards (technically I’m past their minimum spec, which if memory serves is three or four pull-ups for the PFA.  Or is it 5?  Regardless, I can do that minimum now.  But they get max points at 20, so that’s what I’m shooting for).  I figure I can be there by the time I get back from deployment in April.

Yes, deployment.  More on that later.

Anyway, I’d been making such good progress on the pull-up front that I got to thinking about the the second thing that keeps irking me: the twelve pack.  And I started thinking about what I’m going to do on deployment.  Obviously I’m going to write a lot.  Read a lot.  Work a lot.  But also work OUT a lot.  And that led to thinking about what manner of workout I wanted to do onboard ship, since i hate – and I meant HATE – treadmills and stationary bikes.

And then I remembered Insanity.

I heard some of the guys at work talking about Insanity and P-90X and the like, but never took part in them.  I had no interest.  But for whatever reason, the middle of last month I got to thinking about it, and I went online.  I found some articles reviewing the Insanity workout, watched some YouTube videos that people made documenting their Insanity experience (he series of videos I enjoyed best was by this lady named Nkechi Kwenu – she’s pretty funny).

And, again, I thought, “What the hell,” and ordered the DVDs.

The Admiral here at home wanted to participate as well, but she had a half-marathon to finish training for and run last weekend, so we didn’t start until this week.

I’m here to tell you, I’ve done some intense workouts over the years.  Conditioning and Sparring at Masters Studios of Self Defense in Charleston (my all-time favorite dojo) kicked my butt thoroughly.  As did each marathon I’ve run, and the Olympic length triathlons.  So I know how to deal with a hard workout.  No lie, Insanity is legit.  A good, hard workout, across the entire body.

It’s hard.  Totally doable, but hard.  And that’s good.

Today (it’s past midnight now but it’s still Saturday night so I’m thinking of today as Saturday even though technically it’s really Sunday) was day 6, and it was a repeat of the circuit workout we did on Tuesday.  Already I can tell it was just a little bit easier than it was just a few days ago.  Easier in that I was able to push a little bit harder before failure, if you know what I mean.

So that’s what I’m up to now.  I’m back on weight watchers, cranking on pull-ups, and working Insanity.  All with the goal of really getting back below 200 lbs by the end of my deployment.  After all, the Admiral at home, post kid #4, has become a PT machine and trimmed down to a size 2, which is smaller than she was when we met in bygone days of yore.  I should probably return the favor.

It’s going to be a lot of fun.  And now that I’ve finished blasting The Pericles Conspiracy at you, I figure I’ll bother you with workout reports for a while.

:)

Hope you don’t mind.

Now, it’s time to hit the rack.  Later.

Posted by: Michael Kingswood | August 23, 2014

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Sixty-Three (aka – The End)

Took long enough, but we’re down to it.  The last chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Whew.  Took long enough, right?  If you’ve liked it, please leave a review on Goodreads or elsewhere.  And, of course, pick up the full book from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwordsGoogle Play, or iTunes.

It’s just $0.99 this weekend, to celebrate.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Sixty-Three

From Out Of The Blue

Ilena Dmitrikov yawned and leaned back in her chair, rubbing at her eyes to ward off sleep.

It had been a long shift, and there were still four hours left to go.  Her brain felt fuzzy and it was all she could do to keep her eyes open.  It was her own damn fault, of course.  She knew better than to stay out late the evening before she had the duty.  But it was Jasmine’s last day aboard the station, and Ilena would never have forgiven herself if she missed the going away party.

And the after party.

Another yawn burst forth and she kicked her chair back from her station.  She needed to stand up.  Move around, get the blood flowing.

Her back, stiff from sitting for so long, protested as she straightened.  Grimacing, she raised her arms up over her head, the loose white fabric of her uniform blouse falling down around her shoulder as she did so, and stretched the way her Yoga instructors taught her.  She went all the way up onto her tip toes, her soft pseudo-leather shoes flexing easily as though part of her skin, and she felt a slight pop from somewhere in the middle of her back.  All at once, the discomfort went away and she was left with only a blissful feeling of relaxation.

Exhaling slowly, she lowered her arms and sunk back down onto the flats of her feet.  Much better.

A sudden sensation, very like someone poking at her with a blunt piece of soft plastic, brought her attention back to her station.

Unless one was logged in, the station did not look like much: just an empty space at the end of a small, oblong room with grey-blue walls and faux-wood paneled floor and ceiling.  But to her eyes, the space was alive with data.  The readouts from every craft in this sector of the outer solar system, the status of every communications relay, every outpost were instantly available to her if she but reached for them.

She sat back down and slid forward, and found herself surrounded by space in all its immensity.  Even just her little portion was awe-inspiring.  As always, it took her a moment to re-acclimate, to force down the mixture of vertigo and exhilarated joy she felt as she floated in the void, observing all that occurred.  Of course, it was just a simulation, but what did it matter?  It still was enough to take one’s breath away.

The moment passed, as it always did, and the tugging at her consciousness drew her attention to the far edge of her assigned sector, to the southeast-by-east edge of the Oort Cloud.  Two objects that were not present before she went through her wake-up routine caught her eye immediately, as much because they were outlined in glimmering silver, a construct of the sim that was designed to draw attention to new contacts, as because they were so much different than anything else flying.

The first was a long cylinder-shaped craft with several great spheres surrounding its after half and what looked like two rings – rings! – About a third of the way from its bow.  The second was larger, off-white, and crescent-shaped.

Ilena frowned.  Where had they come from?

A thought reversed the sim image of the two vessels – they could only be vessels – until they suddenly vanished again.

She blinked, and the sim began playing forward again.

There was a momentary flash of light and then…something happened.  It was like space itself bent and twisted.  Ilena would not have noticed except a star opposite the area where it occurred suddenly became distorted and then vanished.  In its place was only a reddish-yellow circle that hung there for a second or two, doing nothing.  Then, the cylinder-ship shout out of the circle, followed by the crescent, a few seconds later.

The strange circle, or hole, or whatever it was closed abruptly behind them, and space returned to normal.

The sim froze as Ilena realized what she had just seen.  A wormhole.  Hyperspace portal.  Whatever the different theorists called it, it was supposed to be nigh-on impossible to create.  And yet, what else could it have been?

Her earlier fatigue long-since forgotten, Ilena gave quick thought to a report for Headquarters, in Geneva, and reset the sim to current time.

The two objects drifted together, the crescent having taken station off the cylinder’s port side.  The orbital computations took less time than it took to query for them.  They were on an intercept heading for Earth.

The message popped into Ilena’s vision and she checked it over quickly, then with a thought sent it flying.  They were several light hours away.  Conceivably there would be plenty of time for follow-up before the two craft could pose a serious threat, but given what she had just seen there was nothing to be gained from delaying her report for further analysis.

Which did not mean she was not going to investigate further.

The sim zoomed in on the pair of ships and Ilena’s breath caught in her throat.  At the higher magnification, she recognized both instantly.  The cylinder ship was an old Achilles-class starliner.  What the hell was one of those doing flying around?  The last of them were decommissioned over two hundred years ago, when the Higgs-Carpenter drive rendered their plasma-impulse engines and centripetal rings obsolete.

But the other….

For her entire NSA career, Ilena had seen images of that other ship.  Grainy images, by modern standards, shot through old-style telescopic cameras centuries ago.  Images of an alien craft that housed beings with the ability to invade a person’s mind, turn otherwise good and loyal men and women against their own race.  A craft that she and her comrades must constantly guard against.

A craft that now appeared in her sim display.

Ilena swallowed hard against the surge of fear that swept over her.  She had to stay under control.  Record as much as possible.  Any piece of data, no matter how seemingly insignificant, could make the difference between survival and destruction at these beings’ hands.

But she had never thought to really see such a craft.

For a full minute, she just watched the two craft drift in formation, every second bringing them closer to Earth.  She could not think of what to do.  The boogey-man from her earliest training was here.

And she did not know what to do.

Finally, she pulled her attention back and looked to the nearest defense outpost: the Charon battery.  The two craft were almost within range.  Maybe the battery could intervene.

That small action got the rest of her mental gears turning.  She thought out a follow-up message for Earth, including her intentions to intercept with Charon, and sent it, chopping Charon in the transmission.  Then she settled back to wait for a response.  Local time appeared over the two crafts and the battery on Charon when she thought of it, along with the crafts’ time to Closest Point of Approach at Charon.

Ilena frowned.  They would reach CPA in about three hours.  There was no way she would receive a reply from Earth in that time.

It was up to her.

Ilena reached out with her thoughts to the Charon battery, and a heartbeat later she was part of the systems on the icy moon.  The systems came online at her mind’s touch, the weapons began powering up from their long slumber.  Death incarnated into plasma, fusion pulse torpedoes, and less exotic missiles and mass cannons came to train on the patch of space where the approaching crafts would pass.

And then she waited.

Gradually, imperceptibly except for her sim-heightened awareness, the crafts drew closer.  She thought up the countdown timer.  CPA in one hour.

Ilena licked her lips in anticipation.

Then something else tugged on her consciousness.  Something new, and unexpected.  Unexpected because she had not sensed this particular tug in years, since her training back on Titan.

She frowned and cast a thought toward the new stimulus.  The communications window flashed open, familiar and set up just as it always was.  Her frown deepened.  What was it?

And then she saw it.  At the bottom of the display, an old group of frequencies and modulation patterns that went out of use more than a century ago.   She had always wondered why the NSA bothered to include them in its monitoring algorithms anymore, why they had trained her on them.  Looking at the ancient starliner, apparently back from the scrapyard, she suddenly realized exactly why.

The people in charge were expecting an encounter like this.

That spike of fear flooded through her again.  Ilena tried to push it away, to no avail.  She pulled away from Charon – it was set to go and would take care of itself, only needing her input for the final engagement sequence – and shot out through the void toward the pair of ships.  This time she zoomed in as far as she could, until the starliner appeared nearly life-size in front of her.

There, on the port bow.  Markings.  Hard to read in the dim light from the distant sun, despite the ship’s hull illumination lights.  But she managed to see the vessel’s name: Agrippa.

Ilena recoiled, physically and mentally, and almost pushed herself out of the interface station again.

Agrippa.

It could not be!

But then, the other vessel from her training was there, large as life.  Why not the traitorous Agrippa as well?

What else were you expecting?  What else could you expect?

The thoughts were true, but knowing what ship that was and seeing it for true were two different things.  If this was Agrippa….  Was it possible her Captain drove her still, like some ghost ship out of ancient legend?

It was nonsense, of course.  Ghosts did not exist, and people did not live nearly long enough for her Captain to still be aboard.  But if not…who was flying the famous, cursed ship?

Without realizing what she was doing, Ilena returned to the communications controls and keyed the old channels to life.

The sim in front of her flickered, then coalesced into a quadrilateral of static for a brief half-second before resolving into the image of a more than handsome woman of east-asian descent.  Her hair was long, black but heavily streaked with silver, and pulled back from her face into a ponytail.  She wore black fatigues of some kind and sat in a chair facing her transmitting station, no doubt.  Flanking her were two men: one tall and slender, African, with even more grey than she had, the other shorter and more stocky, of central European descent from the looks of him and only a bit of grey at his temples.

Ilena’s heart skipped a beat.  She knew those faces.  The traitors.  On instinct, she moved her thoughts to the Charon battery, but the craft were too far out of range to do any good.

The asian woman smiled ever so slightly before speaking.

“Earth Control, this is Josephine Ishikawa aboard the starliner Agrippa, over.”  Or at least that’s what Ilena thought she said.  Some of Ishikawa’s words were indecipherable, a dialect that Ilena had never heard before.  The sim did its best to fill in the gaps, but it still was difficult to be certain she had heard correctly.

Ilena licked her lips, trying to restore some moisture to her mouth.  What to do?  Before she realized what she was doing, she heard herself say, “This is Sol Approach, Haley sector.”

Ishikawa’s eyebrow quirked upward at the identifier that would be, to her, unfamiliar.  “Haley sector, this is Ishikawa, aboard Agrippa.  Malcolm Ngubwe is here with me.”  The tall African nodded gravely.  “As well as Grant Gilford.”  The European flashed a quick smile that almost looked forced.  “We’ve come home, and we’ve brought some new friends with us.  Request safe passage through the solar system, and permission to approach and dock at Earth.  We have a lot to discuss, and our friends are eager to meet with Earth’s leadership.  They pledge non-aggression for the duration of our stay.”

Ilena found herself unable to put a coherent thought together for some time, let alone respond.  They were really here, the demons and traitors everyone had been warned about.  She should just blast them out of the sky.  Her superiors would advise her to do just that.

And yet, looking at the Ishikawa woman’s eyes, serious but unguarded, and those of her companions, Ilena suddenly found it hard to assign the raving lunatic label to them even though it had been passed down for so many years.

Why not?

She did not know how to answer her own thoughts.  But something told her that this woman and her crew was not an immediate threat.  And besides, there were many more batteries ready and able to unleash death in all its forms the closer to the inner solar system they approached, and they were only two ships.  If they were indeed a threat, it would become plain soon enough, and the batteries and ready warships could take care of it.

Ilena made her decision.  With a thought, she secured the battery at Charon, putting it back into sleep mode.  Then she replied, “Permission granted to transit, Agrippa.  For docking, contact orbital approach control on 327.483, modulation Alpha-six-two.”

Ishikawa’s eyebrows raised and she mouthed the channel identifiers to herself, then glanced at Ngubwe.  He frowned but, after a moment, nodded.  Apparently the ship’s communications array could handle that channel.

Ishikawa returned the nod then faced forward.  “Roger, Haley sector.  Thank you.  Agrippa out.”

The transmission winked out.  Ilena thought up an update to headquarters and sent it.  Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew her lack of action here might incur the wrath of her superiors, but somehow that seemed alright.  She stared for a long time at the old starliner, drifting with its unknowable companion, and some of that fear she had felt before receded, replaced once more by exhilaration.

“Welcome home,” she said, to no one, and to everyone.

*  *  *  *  *

I hope you enjoyed The Pericles Conspiracy.

If you liked 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.  And remember, you can buy a copy at AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, SmashwordsGoogle Play, or iTunes.  Thanks!

Posted by: Michael Kingswood | August 20, 2014

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Sixty-Two

Two more chapters to go on The Pericles Conspiracy.  I need to start thinking about what to share with you guys next, I suppose.  More to follow on that.  For now, it’s on to chapter sixty-two.  And don’t forget to pick up the full book from AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboSmashwords, Google Play, or iTunes.

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Sixty-Two

Reunion

“My God,” Grant breathed, his voice hushed, awed.

He was looking out the port side observation window on the bridge at the alien ship in formation with them, his mouth agape.

And who could blame him?  Not one but two alien starships – or perhaps warships – running in clear view in a tight formation with your own ship was not exactly an everyday sight.  It was one thing to know intellectually what was coming.  It was another thing entirely for it to actually happen, for you to definitively see that not only was there other intelligent life in the galaxy, but it was more advanced than man.

Jo could relate.  Even though it was not her first meeting with these creatures, she still felt a giddy excitement mixed with primal terror, just looking at them.  Of course, even had this been her thousandth meeting with them, she expected her reaction would be the same, considering her mission this time.

“How do we play this?” Malcolm asked.

Jo looked over to where he hovered on the starboard side of the bridge, his arms crossed over his chest in an almost defensive manner and his brow furrowed in thought, or worry.  Again, who could blame him, if it was the latter?

Jo shrugged.  “Same way as on Pericles.  We secure ring rotation and the exterior illumination lights, shine the mooring lights on the airlock we want them to come aboard through, and wait.  Unless you have a better idea?”

Malcolm remained silent for a short while, considering.

Grant spoke before he did.  “If it was me, I would not just come over to an unknown vessel just because they shined a spotlight on their airlock.”

“Why not?  It worked before, and – “

“Before, they were stuck in a lifepod after their ship blew up, right?”

Jo nodded.

“So they had no choice.  These guys,” Grant jerked a thumb at the ship to port, “do.  And they’re probably wondering who or what we are, and what we want.  If we go making sudden moves like running darkened ship, they might take that as showing hostile intent.”

Jo’s blood went cold.  That would be well past bad.  It would not do at all for them to have gone to all the trouble of bringing the eggs back here just to be shot down by the people they meant to deliver the eggs to.  She tried to think of a way around Grant’s logic, but after a moment she realized he was right.  How would she react if one of those alien ships just showed up in the Sol system and started acting strangely?  How would United Earth Military react?

“Good point,” Jo said.  “Do you have a suggestion?”

Grant nodded.  “They obviously received our signal.  Why don’t you play that message you supposedly have in that black flashlight-thing for them over the radio?  That ought to show them we are on the level.  Then we can work out how to bring them aboard, so we can give them their kids back.”

It boggled Jo’s mind how she could miss something so obvious.

Shaking her head in chagrin, she said, “I’ll be right back,” then headed below.

The trip down the lift to Ring A seemed to take forever, though it was only a few minutes.  From there it was a quick jog to the cargo space where they had stowed the incubator and loader.  The black rod the alien Captain gave her onboard Pericles was right where she left it before hitting the cryo-tank: safely enclosed in a small bin, a few spots down from the incubator, that was meant to hold delicate items that needed to be stored separately.

Feeling an almost reverent rush, she lifted the rod out of the bin and stared at it for a moment.  So many monumental things had happened because of the information in this thing, and the precious cargo within the incubator.  It seemed odd that such a small device could do so much.

Malcolm’s voice over the 1MC broke her reverie.  “Get up here, Jo.  I think they’re getting antsy.”

Crap.  Jo hurried from the cargo space, sprinting toward the lift, and the bridge.

*  *  *  *  *

Jo gave Malcolm a hard look.  “We need to talk about your definition of antsy.”

Malcolm shrugged as if to say, “Hey, don’t look at me,” but did not reply.

Rolling her eyes, Jo turned away from him and looked out at the alien ships.

Two kilometers.  They had maneuvered two kilometers closer and then stopped, holding position on both quarters, as before.  They were just drifting along in time with Agrippa, not doing anything.  And he called that acting antsy.

Easy for you to say now.

And that was true.  Had she been up on the bridge when they maneuvered, Jo may have had the same reaction Malcolm did.  Maybe.  But, and she often forgot this, he was an Engineer, not a pilot.  He had little to no experience in the way ships interact and how they maneuver, especially when in close proximity to each other.  And it was not like they were dealing with other humans here.  He could be forgiven for being a little jumpy.

For his part, Grant looked slightly amused, though there was a tightness about his eyes that belied his little grin.  He was more tense than he put on.  Hard to blame him there, either.  Jo felt it too.

“Ok,” she said, and moved past the men toward the pilot’s station, and the communications panel to its right.  “Let’s see how this works.”

A few taps on the display called up the first contact protocol display again.  She paused and glanced back at Malcolm.  He shrugged again, and said, “It’s worth a shot.”

Jo activated the local microphone and looked down at the rod, at the three little buttons inlaid into one side.  The first called up the starmap and the third the technical schematics, their payment.  The second was what she needed now, but for some reason she hesitated to play the message.  It almost felt like a sacred act, doing that.  Like playing the message would consummate everything she had worked for these last weeks.  Last decades.  Better to not listen to that little voice.

Jo shook her head at her silliness and tapped the transmit button, then she pressed the second button on the rod.  The image of the alien Captain’s face appeared in the air, a holographic projection, and began speaking in the aliens’ language of barks, growls, and hisses.  The Captain continued for some time, explaining, Jo hoped, what had happened to their ship and that they had entrusted the eggs to Jo and her crew.

Of course, he could be saying something else entirely.  He could be telling his brethren to kill them and use the starmap to invade Earth, now that humans had been foolish enough to reveal themselves.

Jo forced such thoughts away.  She would not give in to paranoia.  And anyway, it was far too late to do anything to avert that invasion, if such was really the aliens’ intention.  Which it wasn’t.

Lord, let it be so.

*  *  *  *  *

One airlock looks much the same as any other, but this one held particular importance to Jo.  It was here, or at least at the equivalent airlock on Pericles – and they were identical – where she greeted the alien Captain and his crew as they stepped aboard her ship.

And you almost got your throat ripped out.

Jo ground her teeth and tried not to remember that part of the first meeting.  She drew a deep breath and looked at Malcolm.  He floated weightlessly at the airlock control panel, at the ready.

Just as Grant proposed, after playing the message over the radio circuits, he and Malcolm had moved the incubator into position at this airlock.  Then Jo secured ring rotation and all external illumination except for the running lights and anti-collision strobes, and turned the mooring spotlights onto the airlock outer door.  Then she transferred ring rotation and external sensor control to the airlock workstation and hurried to join Malcolm and Grant here.

The aliens had been stoic in their response to the message, in that they did nothing.  At least nothing that Jo could see before she left the bridge.  By the time she joined the men at the airlock, that nothing had changed to…nothing.

Jo was beginning to wonder whether they really had received her transmissions, either of them, when the workstation beeped an alert.  She tapped the screen and the display shifted to the aft upper camera, which was trained on the alien vessel to starboard.  The display showed a small, round object drop from the ventral section of the alien ship and proceed a few hundred meters down then stop completely before advancing at a brisk pace toward Agrippa.

“Looks like they got the message,” Grant said from beside her, a certain satisfaction in his tone.

Jo nodded.  “They’ll be here in a minute.  Take station.”

And so they arrayed themselves, Jo in the center of the room next to the incubator, Malcolm at the airlock controls, and Grant over to the right.  Despite his satisfaction that his suggestion had payed off, Grant looked nervous and downright uncomfortable.

Probably feels naked without a gun.  

Jo smirked inwardly.  Well, maybe not entirely inwardly.  Grant had pressed hard to have at least one of them armed, preferably himself, for this meeting.

“It makes sense,” he said.  “I have the most training.  If we need to defend ourselves – “

Jo had cut him off with a shake of her head and a raised hand.  “If we need to defend ourselves, we’re dead anyway.   Even if we fight the ones in the shuttle off, the ships will just open fire.  I am not going to risk this meeting going wrong.  Not this time.”

Grant hated it, but he was forced to concede to her logic, and acquiesced.

Now, looking at him, so obviously ill at ease, Jo knew she was right not to let him grab a gun.  He just might shoot before thinking.  Not that he had ever even come close to doing that before, but that was just another added risk onto a mission that was risky enough already.

“Everyone ready?” Jo asked, trying to keep her voice calm and in command.  She was actually surprised at how well she accomplished that.

Nods all around.

Jo turned her attention to the workstation display.  Malcolm had called up the airlock’s external camera, and it revealed the alien shuttle on approach.  It was remarkably similar to the lifepod Jo remembered from the first ship, with a number of circular protuberances on various locations and strange hieroglyphs that Jo presumed were the aliens’ language.  The biggest difference she saw was while the lifepod had been roughly spherical, the shuttle was flat on one side.  Jo surmised that side housed landing gear of some sort.  Maybe it was capable of atmospheric re-enty?  Agrippa’s shuttle could not do that; no need, or at least so the designers had said.  But Jo could see all sorts of useful reasons for that capability.

The shuttle stopped even with the airlock then rotated until the flat side faced the ring’s outer edge.  A moment later, one of the protuberances bulged slightly, then parted allowing a circular tunnel to cross the intervening distance between the shuttle and the airlock outer door.  Just before it reached the airlock, the end of the tunnel warped and convulsed, then settled into a shape that Jo knew exactly matched the airlock’s seating surface.

A soft thunk penetrated the hull as the tunnel made contact, followed by a very soft sucking sound that lasted for less than a heartbeat.

The airlock control panel beeped, and a light flashed green.

Malcolm read the display and turned back to Jo, nodding.  “Soft seal.”

“Very well.  Restore ring rotation.”

“Aye.”  Malcolm tapped a control on the workstation and a moment later the faintest hint of a rushing noise reached Jo’s ears.  “Thrusters firing,” Malcolm reported, referring to sets of thrusters mounted tangential to the rings that were used to get the rings started initially.

Slowly, ever so slowly, the bulkhead to Jo’s left began moving toward her.  It always took a few moments to overcome inertia before…

“Turning motor engaged,” Malcolm said.

The wall began to speed up, and a moment later Jo found herself pressed up against it.  She slid down to the deck and stepped away from the bulkhead, moving slowly to avoid bouncing off the deck in the extremely low, but steadily building, simulated g-forces.  The men were moving similarly.  In another circumstance it would be almost comic.

On the camera display, the aliens’ tunnel flexed and shifted slightly, but the airlock seal held and soon enough the shuttle was revolving in time with the ring as it slowly built up to its Earth-normal turning rate.

Malcolm did not wait for an order.  He tapped the airlock controls, and a red light over the inner door began flashing as the outer door slid open.

Nothing happened for several minutes.  Then, just as on Pericles, a doorway opened at the far end of the tunnel.  For a second or two, the only thing visible from within the shuttle was a soft white-orange light.  But then a pair of figures eclipsed the light and walked onto the tunnel.  The doorway shut behind them.

The aliens were just as Jo recalled: short, stooped, wearing grey jumpsuits and breathing masks over their elongated snouts.  Their yellow-green, scaly skin seemed to glisten in the tunnel’s lighting as they approached.  And, as before, they were armed.  Or at least, Jo assumed the staff-like handles that stuck up over their shoulders were the grips to weapons of some sort.  She shifted on her feet uncomfortably, recalling the feel of the alien Captain’s powerful fingers clenching her throat and how those wicked-looking claws had extended from the fingertips of the Captain’s free hand.

They hardly needed any other weapons at all, if the aliens meant to do them harm.

Malcolm shifted the display to the airlock’s inner security camera as the aliens stepped over the threshold.  Their movements became slightly awkward as they crossed from their tunnel into the airlock.  Jo recalled that happening on Pericles as well, probably a result of them leaving their artificial gravity field and entering Agrippa’s.  They recovered quickly, though, and shortly reached the inner airlock door.  There they waited for a moment.  Then the one on Jo’s right – it was slightly larger than its fellow and Jo presumed it was the leader – pulled the staff-looking thing out of its shoulder-harness and rapped the end of it against the airlock inner door.

“Knock knock,” Grant quipped.

Malcolm snorted out a little laugh, then tapped a command into the airlock control panel.  A moment later a soft hissing sound announced the equalization of air pressure within the airlock and tunnel.  He took a moment to read the display then looked back at Jo and nodded.  “Equalized.  Atmospheres nominal.”

“Very well.”  Jo got back into position and smoothed out her clothes.  Not that coveralls really needed smoothing, but it just seemed the thing to do.  Then she looked her little crew over.  They had done well.  Damn well.  Now came the payoff.

She nodded at Malcolm.  “Well,” she said.  “Here we go.”

Malcolm tapped the control panel, and the inner door slid open.

*  *  *  *  *

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, Google Play, 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!

Posted by: Michael Kingswood | August 16, 2014

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!

Posted by: Michael Kingswood | August 9, 2014

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Sixty

We’re coming down to the end of The Pericles Conspiracy.  Just four 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

Wakeup Call

Electronic beeping slowly intruded on Jo’s consciousness.  Faint at first, but gradually growing louder, it penetrated her slumber first in her subconscious, evoking odd dreams of being followed by an eternally beeping robot.  Slowly, as she began to wake, the fact that she was dreaming registered.  People don’t dream in cryo-suspension.  Her eyes fluttered open.

The lighting in the cryo chamber was dim to allow her eyes to adjust.  Months, or in her case years, of slumber necessitated a gradual return to normal activity.  But there was light enough to see, so she found the control pad easily enough.  She tapped the controls and, with an audible click and a soft hiss as the tank’s atmosphere equalized with the rest of the ship, the tank’s lid slowly opened.

Pulling the electrodes from her chest and head, Jo sat up and stretched.  She felt weak, weaker than she had ever felt when coming out of cryo-suspension.  But then, to her knowledge, no one had ever been under for as long as she had.  The massage units in the chamber, though adequate to prevent muscle atrophy during shorter journeys, clearly were not able to prevent it completely during her long slumber.

She managed to stand without too much difficulty and looked around.  Malcolm and Grant were still asleep, per the planned wakeup sequence.  The Captain is always the last to sleep and first to rise, at least on Jo’s ship.

Jo hobbled over to the wall console.  She almost fell twice; only reaching the wall and leaning a hand against it stopped her from collapsing completely there at the end.  She was in bad shape.

She tapped the display to life and was unable to suppress a feeling of anxiety.  The fact that she was standing on the wall that was in line with the longitudinal axis of the ship, and not standing on the ring’s outer wall or floating, meant that the engines were firing, decelerating the ship.  But were they decelerating at the right star system?

The navigation status display flashed onto the screen, and Jo breathed a sigh of relief.  Ship’s position plotted exactly on the projected course.  They were about three days from the outskirts of the aliens’ star system, with twelve hours left on the deceleration burn.

Plenty of time.  She forced herself erect and slowly, carefully, maneuvered over to Malcolm and Grant’s tanks and checked their status: five minutes remained on their wakeup cycle.  As their tanks slowly thawed and the two men began the usual pre-waking movements, Jo ran through everything that needed to be done to prepare for the meeting in her mind.  There was a lot to do, but the tasks were mostly everyday, easily accomplished.  That did not make any of it less important, though.

Soft hisses from each tank announced their opening.  Jo put on a smile of greeting as the men groggily rubbed at their eyes and sat up, working their jaws slowly to work the dryness from their mouths.  Malcolm was the quicker to throw his feet out of his tank and stand up, but then he had done this countless times.

“Morning, Jo,” he said, flashing a grin at her.  Then he pushed himself up onto his feet and his knees promptly buckled beneath him.

Jo rushed over and put an arm around his shoulder to help him to his feet.  “Easy.  Take it slow,” she said, as though she was not in about the same shape he was.

Slowly, she got Malcolm up on his feet.  He leaned back against the side of his tank and smirked in embarrassment.  Jo turned to check on Grant.

And found him siting upright, his feet dangling over the edge of his tank.  He was leaning forward slightly, his palms resting on the side of the bed next to his knees.  He looked a little green.

“It’s normal to feel a little bit queasy,” Jo said, trying to sound soothing.  “Especially your first time.”

He nodded and flashed a slight grin at her.  “I’ll be ok,” he said.

Then he doubled over and threw up onto the floor.

*  *  *  *  *

The first thing Jo did, after she, Grant, and Malcolm dressed was go up to the bridge and initiate a full forward sensor scan.

Then she went below to eat breakfast.

You do not know hunger if you have never come out of cryo-suspension.  And this was the longest cryo-sleep in history; her stomach felt like a black hole had taken up residence.  She hurried to the mess, still a bit wobbly on her feet, and found Malcolm and Grant hard at work snarfing down as much food as they could.  None of it fresh, of course, but even powdered and freeze dried tastes like a king’s feast after a long cryo-sleep.

“Do you think the plants survived?” Jo asked in between bites of something that tasted of strawberries but was certainly not.

Malcolm shrugged.  “With no one to tend them for so long?”  He paused, considering.  “They probably overgrew their containers a long time ago.  Could be at least some of them are ok still.  We’ll see.”  He took a bite of his food, chewed with relish and swallowed with a grin.  “Grant and I will check on them, and on the other supplies, after this.  I presume you’ll be on the bridge.”

Jo nodded.  Wild horses could not keep her away from the bridge for long, not now.

Malcolm chuckled.

Jo took another bite and looked at Grant.  He sat silently, eating slowly and with little sign of relish.  Physically, he looked great.  His time in cryo-suspension had healed his wounds from the assault on Gagarin; Jo could hardly see the scar on his temple and forehead and he had only a slight limp to show from his leg wound.  Aside from a smattering of grey above his ears that had not been there before – ah the joy of aging while sleeping away the flight – he looked the same man Jo had met, all those trillions of kilometers and decades before.  But he was subdued, more than the serious, businesslike manner he had about him before.  If she did not know better, Jo would say he was depressed.

“You ok?” Jo asked.

Grant looked up from his plate and shrugged slightly.  “Just thinking.”  He paused, frowning slightly as though unsure whether, or how, to proceed.  Then he shrugged again.  “I wonder what Thomas would think about all this, if he was here.”

The question took Jo by surprise, though it really should not have.  They may have slept away years, but the passage of those years did not heal the mind the way that their passage in a waking state would.  Jo knew that for a fact; just thinking back to the events that led up to Thomas’ death brought to mind Bunker Hill, and her crew members who had died at Jo’s hand.  It was like a knife in the gut still, because she had not really had the time to heal.  Neither had Grant.

Jo forced the surge of guilt and regret down ruthlessly and glanced at Malcolm.  He sat quietly, chewing on his food with a pensive expression.  He did not look like he had anything to add.

“I don’t know, Grant.  I,” Jo paused to find the right words.  “I think he would be proud.”

“Yeah, probably.”  Grant swallowed and looked at the food on his plate for a moment, then sighed and stood, pushing the plate away.  He looked at Malcolm and quirked an eyebrow at him.  “You ready to do this?”

Malcolm looked surprised.  He glanced at Jo quickly, and she gave a little nod.  Better to keep Grant busy, if he really was depressed.

Malcolm swallowed down a gulp of water and stood.  “Let’s go.”

The two men took their plates to the sanitizer, then strode out of the mess.  As they passed, Malcolm gave Jo a little smile and a wave.

Jo watched them go, concern for Grant weighing on her mind almost as much as her guilt.  Almost.

*  *  *  *  *

Jo made her way back to the bridge and settled into the command seat.  She frowned at the active sensors display, suppressing a surge of annoyance at the lack of results.  But then, they were a number of light-hours away still; the returns from her radar sweep would not make it back to the ship for some time.

That did not preclude a passive search, though.  Jo keyed in a standard spectral analysis sweep from the two aft observation cameras – she would have preferred to use the forward cameras, which would not have the ship’s wake to contend with, but the stern faced the star system, so the forward cameras would not be of much use – and settled back to wait on the results.

A few minutes later, the intercom beeped and Malcolm’s voice came through.  “Hydroponics is a total loss,” he said.

Well.  That put a damper on things.  “There’s nothing retrievable at all?”

“Not enough to make it worthwhile.  We’ll have to pull the emergency stock from cryo and replant everything.”

Jo frowned.  That would be a long, involved bit of work, and neither she nor Malcolm was a botanist.  Grant certainly would not know his way around a hydroponics plant; very few of the planetbound had a clue about that sort of thing.  But then, Grant was not really planetbound anymore, was he?  Curious.

“Alright.  Go ahead and get started.  We’ve got,” she glanced at the ship’s status display, “nine hours left on the burn.  See what you can get done in that time.”

“Aye aye,” Malcolm replied.  The intercom went dead.

Jo spared a minute to consider their situation.  The hydroponics gardens supplied most of the food for the crew.  Most of the plants were high protein content, and used to make sim-meat – it was a lot more tasty than the planetbound Jo described it to assumed – and the other staples that saw them through.  But the ships carried freeze-dried stores and protein paste tubes for emergencies.  The stock should last a good long time.  More importantly, the gardens were the ship’s primary atmospheric processing system, scrubbing the CO2 from the crew’s exhalations and replenishing the oxygen supply.  There were backup chemical systems, and water stores that could be broken down to bleed oxygen back into the air, but their capacities were limited.  If Malcolm was not able to restore at least some of the garden, they could have a real problem for the long-term.  It helped that her crew was so very small, but it still warranted attention.

Later.

For now, the immediate concern was their mission.  Long-term survival was important, but there was a greater than zero chance they would not survive the meeting with the aliens.  Making sure that meeting went well, or even went at all, ranked a bit higher on the priority list.

* * * * *

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!

Posted by: Michael Kingswood | August 5, 2014

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Fifty-Nine

It’s Tuesday!  It’s chapter time!  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-Nine

Asleep Beneath The Stars

Jo tapped the cryo-suspension tank’s control panel and its semi-transparent lid slid up into place with a soft click.  Grant was already asleep, looking peacefully at rest.  It was more peaceful than he had appeared in days.  Jo glanced to the cryo tank next to Grant’s, where Malcolm lay asleep, his tank’s lid already frosted over.

She smiled slightly and whispered, “See you in seventy years or so.”  Then she turned away.

She stood alone in the cryo chamber for a moment, looking at the long line of tanks that normally would house Agrippa’s entire crew for the periods of her journey when they were not asleep.  Dozens of tanks, crammed closely together to save on space.  And only two in use.  Three, momentarily.

The pain of her guilt for what she had done to Bunker Hill’s crew still hung on Jo like a heavy cloak, but she had herself back under control.  It took a while, and she had remained on the bridge alone until the worst of it passed.  In that time, she adjusted the engine settings to achieve the normal 1 Earth-Normal g acceleration and verified their course to the aliens’ home system was laid in correctly, then she went below to rejoin Malcolm and Grant.

They ate a small victory feast.  Although victory was probably not the right word for it, considering how much they had paid to get where they were, and the fact that even now there was a good chance their mission would still end in failure.  But there was cause for celebration nonetheless, so they managed.

The following hours contained a myriad of tasks to prepare the ship for their long slumber, from programing the vegetation feeding cycles in hydroponics to securing power and supplies to the cryo-suspension tanks they were not going to use – and there were a lot of them, over five thousand total.  The preparations were tiring, but no one complained.  They would soon get more than enough sleep to compensate for it.

Jo stepped over to the display screen on the wall near the cryo chamber’s door and, one last time, called up the navigation system.  The course looked good.  Programmed wakeup contingencies were all proper, as was the final arrival wakeup point.  Consumable stores were more than sufficient for the trip, and there was no sign of any further pursuit on the sensors.  They were, it seemed, in the clear.  There was nothing else for her to do but go to sleep.

And yet she was strangely reluctant.  Something felt undone, somehow.  But rack her mind though she did, Jo could not think of what.

It’s just nerves.  Leftover stress from the last few weeks.

And that was very likely true.  She had never been all that good at winding down, and she had been strung out on stress for as long as she could remember lately, it seemed.  It was time to put all that aside.  Time for rest before the real challenge – meeting the aliens.  Explaining, somehow, what had happened.

Yeah, that’s the perfect way to stop being stressed out, thinking about that.

Jo shook her head and snorted at herself.  Enough delaying.

She slid off her fatigues and undershirt, all the way to her bra and panties.  Then she slipped into her cryo tank and pulled the thermal blanket up over her body.  This was the part she hated, but she always insisted on being the last one in – it seemed fitting, as Captain.  So she had long ago taught herself how to insert her own IV and hook up her own EKG and EEG probes.  Finally, she strapped the breathing mask over her face and tapped the control pad – there was one built into the interior of every tank as well as an exterior one, just for this reason.  Gas began flowing into her breathing mask and she felt a cool fluid enter her veins from the IV.

Immediately she began to feel drowsy.  As always – and she had never been able to stop herself from doing this – she fought the feeling, trying to remain conscious and alert.  But the drugs won out, as they always did.  The last thing she saw before drifting off was the tank’s lid sliding shut.

* * * * *

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!

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