Posted by: Michael Kingswood | July 22, 2014

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!

Posted by: Michael Kingswood | July 19, 2014

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Fifty-Five

Time for the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy!  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-Five

Pursuit

Rifle fire greeted Jo as she met up with Malcolm and Grant.  She flattened herself again the tunnel wall and peeked out, and saw several men in black advancing quickly, those in front on one knee and laying down covering fire for those behind.  She did not take time to count, but there must have been a half-dozen or more.

The fact that Grant and Thomas had taken down half the force was pretty impressive, all things considered.  But not impressive enough.

“We need to get this door shut,” Jo said.

The men nodded agreement.  Jo took a minute to look them over.  Malcolm was sound, and had his rifle.  Grant was without his weapon, and badly wounded.  But his eyes burned with fury and determination.  Jo’s own rifle lay where she had left it, up on the driver’s seat; far to exposed to get it right this moment.

Jo pressed her pistol into Grant’s hand then looked him and Malcolm in the eye.  “Cover me.  I’ll get the loader in here and then we’ll seal the door.”

Malcolm looked as though he was going to protest, but then he nodded.  Sometimes he was a very smart man.  He helped Grant lean up against one edge of the door, then he took station on the other.  Jo drew a deep breath and nodded.

The two men began to fire.  Instantly, the advancing troops stopped.  Those in the clear ducked behind the closest cover they could find.  The others returned fire, but it was more sporadic than a moment before; they had to be careful not to hit their fellows as they darted out of the line of fire.

It was by no means a clear dash to the loader driver’s seat, but it was only a couple of meters, and there would not be a better time to go.  So Jo went.

She almost got shot immediately; a plasma ball just missed hitting her in the face, but the act of flinging herself onto the driver’s boarding ladder got her head out of the way in time.  Still, the heat of the passing shot singed her.  Again.

Twice in less than a minute.

That was too much good luck for any one person.  Jo scrunched down as tightly as she could, shoved the motor into gear, and floored it.

Fortunately, Malcolm had managed to get the loader aligned with the door before he got back down to help Grant, so flooring it was all the thing required to surge through the door into the tunnel beyond.

“Malcolm!” Jo shouted as she rocketed past him.

Nothing else needed saying.  She stopped the loader and turned around on the seat in time to see the door shut as Malcolm activated the control pad on the inside of the tunnel.

Or rather, in time to see the door almost shut.  The two halves of the door slid out from their housings on either side of the doorway, but very quickly began to shudder and jerk until they finally stopped with a half-meter of open space between them.

“Son of a bitch,” Jo breathed.  The door’s operating mechanism must have been damaged by all the plasma bolts.  Lucky they moved at all, if that were the case.  More loudly, she said, “Malcolm, help Grant up here.  That’s not going to slow them down much.”

Malcolm was way ahead of her.  As soon as the doors began to move, he darted across the opening – and almost got shot for his effort – to Grant’s side.  Again looping his arm around Grant’s shoulder, Malcolm half-pulled half-carried him toward Jo and the loader.  He paused only for a brief moment to look back as Jo spoke.  Then he breathed a curse and redoubled his effort.

In a moment they had Grant perched on the driver’s seat next to Jo.  She had to squeeze over, and even then he only got a very narrow bit of the seat, but it was the best they could do on short notice, and he had plenty of handholds.

“Hold on,” Jo said, earning a nod from Grant and a look that screamed, “I’m not stupid.”  She quirked an eyebrow at him, then hit the accelerator again.

*  *  *  *  *

Three hundred meters does not seem like much, but when you are running from a bunch of goons with guns who are intent on shooting or arresting you, it seems like forever.  Or at least it did to Jo.  At its best, the loader was not slow; a tad faster than the average running man.  But right then it felt like she was riding a tortoise, with a half-dozen hares coming up fast from behind.

She looked back over her shoulder several times during the drive down the airlock tunnel.  At first, the only things moving were Malcolm as he labored to keep up – he gave up on that early on and just hopped up onto the boarding ladder below Grant – and Agent Moore.  She managed to push herself up onto her feet and got over to the inner door’s control pad, but all her blind tapping at it was to no avail.  The door operating mechanism must have been completely shot, because it did not move at all.

That was good.

Not good enough, though.  Shortly, troops began squeezing through the gap, and soon a quartet of them joined Agent Moore in the tunnel.  They paused a moment to free her hands from the cuffs, and to grab her pistol from where it had fallen – and why had Jo not thought to grab it?  Then they were off at a sprint.

“Well that didn’t take long,” Malcolm noted, his voice tight with strain.  “Where are the others?  I could have sworn there were two or three more still up.”

Grant adjusted himself on his precarious perch, and hissed in pain as he jarred his injured leg.  “Probably going to the other personnel airlock,” he said, gritting his teeth.

“Crap.”

Jo ran the numbers in her head.  Airlock 2 lay a quarter of the way around the ring; a walk of a little less than a kilometer.  But the troops would not have to walk.  The loading rings had transport trams, similar to the intra-ring transport system aboard the starliner itself.  The tram would get them to the airlock entrance in a minute, maybe a little more.  Then it was a short sprint to the inner door, then three hundred meters to the junction with Agrippa.

“It’s going to be close,” Jo said, “but once we’re onboard I’ll be able to seal the ship’s hatches.  We should be secure, then.”

“Unless they override it.”  Grant was always so cheerful.

Jo shook her head.  “Can’t do it.  Safety interlocks prevent access without permission from within the ship itself.”

“Ok.  But they could – “

A plasma ball shot past, interrupting Grant’s words and making him duck down reflexively.

“Son of a bitch,” Malcolm cursed.  “Are they stupid?  You don’t shoot rifles inside an airlock tube.  It could cause a breach!”

Jo glanced back again, and saw one of the pursuing troops had lagged behind the others.  He bent over to pick something up – his rifle.  Looked like his fellows had upgraded him.

Jo’s group was almost to the outer door, and the junction with Agrippa; just thirty meters to go.

“I’m going to need to hop off to get the door open,” Jo said to Grant.  “Can you drive this thing with your leg?”

He took a second or so to answer, considering.  Then he nodded.

“Good.”  Jo shot him a half-smile.  “Looks like you’re coming with us after all.”

He just grunted, scowled.

Fifteen meters.  Ten.   Five.

Jo stopped the loader and hopped off.  She did not bother with the ladder; it would be too much trouble to dislodge the men, and it was not that far a drop, nothing she had not done before.  So naturally, she rolled her ankle painfully as she landed.  “Damnit,” she muttered.  She may have broken something – or had she just sprained it?  No time to worry about that now.  She forced herself to push past the pain and limped over to the control pad.

Moment of truth.  Again.  She swiped her holocard and entered the code again.

The screen flashed red, then a fake-sounding female voice said, “Access Denied.”

Oh hell.

“What’s the problem?” Malcolm asked.

Jo tried again.  Maybe she had mis-typed.

“Access Denied.”

“Son of a bitch,” Jo said for what felt the hundredth time that day.  “Their techs must have seen the code I used back there and changed it, or removed its access.”

“Isn’t there a backup?”  Grant asked.

Jo scowled.  “Just Agrippa’s internal access codes.  I’m not sure if they’ll work out here or not.”

The two men looked at her flatly.  Right.  Only one way to find out.

Jo replaced her personal holocard and pulled the other one, the one that IT had made specifically for Agrippa’s network, from her pocket.  She took a deep breath, then swiped it and entered the code.

There was a long pause.  Too long.  It was not going to work.

Then there was an electronic beep and the screen flashed green.  The same female voice said, “Welcome Aboard.  Enjoy your flight.”

The door began to open.  They were in.

* * * * *

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 | July 18, 2014

Proofing the Peak

Yeah, that’s right.  The paperback proof of Tollard’s Peak arrived yesterday.  Observe.

IMG_3384

The front. Duh.

IMG_3385

The Back. Duh. Duh.

IMG_3386

The Spine. Triple Duh.

IMG_3387

Here’s the map Jared Blando made for Glimmer Vale a couple years ago.  It works for the entire series, of course. Awesome isn’t it?

Looks pretty great doesn’t it?  When I opened the box and pulled it out, the Admiral immediately sighed, “Oooooo,” and swiped it out of my hands.  And then proclaimed that this is the best cover I’ve ever had.  Hard to argue with that.  It looks great on screen.  It looks even better in real life, let me tell you.

I’m really happy with how this book has turned out.  Now there only remains to give it one last proofread and we’ll be ready for release on the 31st.

I’m pretty psyched.

:)

Posted by: Michael Kingswood | July 15, 2014

Cover Reveal: Jim Morgan and the Door at the Edge of the World

And now we shall take a moment to pimp a writer friend of mine.

I met James Matlack Raney last summer at Mysterious Galaxy, a well-known independent bookstore here in San Diego.  He was participating in a local author event they held.  I attended as a customer because I was still relatively new to town and I didn’t want to be that guy who just walked into the bookstore and said, “Hey let me pimp my stuff will you?”  I wanted to be a good customer first and foremost.  :)  Anyway, we hit it off and I bought his book, Jim Morgan and the King of Thieves because he was cool and it looked interesting.  And it’s aimed at young readers (I think middle grade is the official category - the main character is eleven), and since I have several youngsters in the house…

We met again last Christmas at Mysterious Galaxy; this time I was one of the local authors participating with him.  We exchanged business cards and became Facebook and Goodreads friends, and have corresponded since then.  And I picked up his next book, Jim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull.

I’ve been reading Mat’s books to my oldest and I’m enjoying them a lot.  And more importantly, so is she.  :)  I think she’ll enjoy them even more when she’s older; some parts are a little over her head.  But hey, she’s six.  :)

Anyway, Mat has continued to plug away and the final book in the series is almost ready.   Here’s a peak:

Jim Morgan and the Door at the Edge of the World is the climactic follow up to the IndieFab Book of the Year FinalistJim Morgan and the Pirates of the Black Skull, and the final chapter in the Jim Morgan series. Check out the first two books here, and look for Door at the Edge of the World in Fall 2014.

Jim Morgan 3 Cover

 

Pretty awesome, right?  Be sure to mark your calendars; I’m going to.

Posted by: Michael Kingswood | July 13, 2014

Cover Reveal – Tollard’s Peak (Glimmer Vale Chronicles #3)

EDIT – So much for scheduling posts on WordPress.  I meant for this to go at 1800 Pacific Time.  Instead it popped just now, at 1725.  *sigh*  Oh well, can’t win them all.  :)

 

As frequent visitors to my blog (all three of you) know, I’ve been working on Tollard’s Peak, the third installment of the Glimmer Vale Chronicles, for a while now.  I got started on it during NaNoWriMo last fall and got about 30,000 words done on it before I had to stop due to buying and moving into a new house.  I think that’s a good excuse for not winning NaNoWriMo, don’t you?

Anyway, after the New Year (since the holidays were a wash with family and unpacking and the lot) I got restarted, and finished the initial draft in…mid March I think it was?  Right around then.  Anyway, between then and now I’ve been soliciting first reader inputs, making editorial changes, formatting the trade paperback version of the book, writing the back cover copy, and working with Lucky Bat Books and Jim Beveridge to get the cover art squared away.

The cover art took a while, going through several iterations, but I think you’ll agree it was worth the work, and the wait.  Here it is!

The ebook cover:

Tollard's Peak Ebook Cover - 600x900

 

And the trade paperback version:

Tollard's Peak Paperback Cover - 1800x1300The back cover copy:

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.

Sounds good, right?  ;)

Look for Tollard’s Peak at the end of the month.  Between now and then, I’m looking for a few good readers who want a free advanced reader copy (ARC) in exchange for leaving an honest review on Amazon and Goodreads once the book goes live.  If anyone’s interested, drop me a line and we can work something out.

I’m really looking forward to getting this one out to you, and I hope you enjoy it as well.  See you at the end of the month!

 

Posted by: Michael Kingswood | July 12, 2014

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Fifty-Four

I missed Tuesday again.  I think I sense a trend.  *sigh*

Anyway, before we get to today’s chapter, a little bit of housekeeping.  I have the finalized cover art for my new novel, Tollard’s Peak (Glimmer Vale Chronicles #3), which is scheduled for release at the end of the month.  I’m going to do a cover reveal tomorrow evening at 1800 my time (Pacific time zone in case you’re wondering).  The cover rocks pretty hard, so I think you’ll dig it.  So swing by tomorrow night to check it out.

Ok, with that out of the way let’s get to the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  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-Four

Standoff

Malcolm spun around, bringing his rifle to bear on Agent Moore, but held up short as she made a little tsking sound and flexed her fingers on the grip of her weapon.  Her index finger slipped into the trigger guard; she was ready to shoot.

“Chandini would rather I take you two alive,” she said, “but if you prefer otherwise…”

Another flash-bang detonated off to the right.  Jo hoped that meant Grant was gaining ground against his group of troops, but right then that was the least of her concerns.

“You know,” Moore said, “I thought Chandini had lost it when she deployed us up here.  There was no way you would be stupid enough to show your face.”  She pursed her lips and gave a little shake of her head.  “Guess I was wrong.”

“Put down the gun, Jaqueline,” Jo said in her vintage Cool Under Pressure Captain voice.

Moore snorted.  “Not going to happen.  You’re caught; might as well admit it to yourselves now.”  Her lips twisted into a sneer.  “So close, and yet so far.”

Jo glanced toward Malcolm.  He had lowered the barrel of his rifle so it aimed at the floor near Agent Moore’s feet.  Probably did not want to give her a reason to shoot; not a bad plan, considering there was no way she would miss at this range.  All the same, it would have been nice if he were a bit more ready, just in case.  She drew a deep breath and looked Agent Moore directly in the eye.

“Neither Malcolm nor I want to hurt you.”  The sneer returned again; she, at least could not hurt Agent Moore, and they both knew it.  Jo tried another tack.  “Do you even know why you’re here?”

Agent Moore’s eyebrow quirked upward.  “I’m apprehending fugitives who – “ Another burst of rifle fire from Thomas’ direction, too many bursts to have just come from him, interrupted her.  The multitude of shots made her lips turn upward into a small smile; her people were winning, and she knew it.  She continued, “ – who are attempting make a getaway after having stolen government property.  Not to mention having disclosed classified material, evaded arrest, and assaulted a number of Federal officers.”  Again with the tsking sound.  “You two are going away for a very long time.”  Her eyes flicked toward Malcolm.  “Put down the rifle, Ngubwe, before you make me nervous.”

Malcolm made no move to comply, bless him, but his rifle barrel did lower a few centimeters.  His scowl would have turned Medusa to stone, but it did not phase Agent Moore in the least.

Jo shook her head.  “So you really don’t know.”  Typical, and not unexpected.  Agent Moore was a worker bee.  She did not need to know what was going on, not in detail.  She just needed to know enough to help her catch her query.  And to not ask questions beyond that.

“We encountered aliens, when we were out on Pericles.”

Surprise, followed by confusion and irritation, flashed across Agent Moore’s face.  And was that perhaps a bit of wonder, quickly suppressed?

More gunfire, this time in Grant’s direction.  It was much closer now.

“They were stranded, dying.  They gave us their eggs – their babies – and asked us to return them home.  We turned them over to the NSA when we returned, along with the tech they gave us in payment.   And do you know what Chandini did?”

“Shut up,” Agent Moore said through clenched teeth.  She flexed her fingers on the grip of her gun again.  “Turn around and get down on your knees.”

Jo did not move; she kept staring straight at Agent Moore’s eyes.  She had flinched a little bit at the word babies.  “Chandini sent them to that lab in Australia, the one we raided the other day.  They took those eggs and cut them open.  Experimented on the alien babies inside and discarded them like so much rubbish.”  Again, the slightest of flinches.  Jo took a small step forward.  “Do you have any children, Jaqueline?”

Agent Moore retreated in time with Jo’s advance.  “Get down on your knees.  Now!”

She had flinched again, even more noticeably, and her tone was suddenly less certain than it had been.  So, she was a mother; rather surprising, actually.  Not that she had attracted a mate, but that she had chosen to have a child.  She seemed far too focused, too ruthlessly intense about her work, to have that side to her.  But then, people had many layers about them, apparently even government stooges.

Jo pressed on, advancing once again.  “We’re not stealing from the government, Jaqueline.  We’re rescuing the surviving babies.  Bringing them home.”  Time to play the trump card.  “What would you want most if your child was trapped and in danger?  Wouldn’t you want someone to help, if she could?  Wouldn’t you do anything to rescue him?”

Agent Moore’s hand trembled.  “Her,” she said softly.

Jo advanced again; she was almost within arm’s reach.  “If someone hurt your little girl, if he killed her and tried to claim it was in the name of science, what would you do to that person when you found out?”

Agent Moore’s frown deepened.  Almost too softly to hear, she murmured, “I’d kill him.”

“So you see,” Jo said, “we’re not just trying to save these babies.  We’re trying to save the rest of us as well.”

For a second, Jo thought she had gotten through, that Agent Moore would understand and let them past.

And then that second passed.

Agent Moore shook her head.  “No,” she said.  And then, more strongly, she added, “No.  You’ve broken the law.  Even if you think you’re doing the right thing, there are ways to go about it that don’t involve doing what you’ve done.”  She drew in a breath and squared her jaw, returning Jo’s stare with a determined look of her own.  “Get down on your knees now, or I’ll put you down.”  She glanced aside, toward Malcolm.  “Both of you -“

Jo did not let her finish the order.  No sooner had Agent Moore’s eyes left her than Jo bounded forward and to her right, removing her head from the path of the pistol’s barrel and aiming a roundhouse kick at Agent Moore’s navel.

Agent Moore’s eyes flashed in surprise and she darted away.  She was quick, very quick.  But not quick enough.  She had only just begun to move when Jo’s boot struck her.  She bent over double and stumbled backward from the force of the kick, couching as the breath left her lungs.

She still clutched her pistol, though.

“Malcolm, get the loader,” Jo ordered as she stepped forward and grabbed at the gun in Agent Moore’s hands.

From the corner of her eye, Jo could see Malcolm hesitate for a second, clearly torn between helping her and getting their cargo to the ship.  That second quickly passed and he shouldered his rifle and hauled himself up into the loader’s control chair.

More rifle fire, followed by a loud cry of pain, Jo could not tell from where exactly, covered the sound of the loader’s motor shifting into drive.  Not that Jo had the time to pay attention to it.

Stunned as Agent Moore was, she was obviously well-trained and in control of herself.  The moment Jo’s hand touched the pistol, she squirmed and twisted, almost succeeding in evading Jo’s grab.  Only getting her second hand down around Agent Moore’s wrist prevented it; as it was, the pistol came perilously close to pointing at Jo’s chest before she managed to force it away.

And not a moment too soon.  The pistol barked, and superheated plasma lanced out, the heat of its passage charring Jo’s fatigues and causing her to grit her teeth in pain as her skin burned along her lower left ribs, and impacted with the ceiling.

Jo twisted her hips, using the force of her momentum to pull Agent Moore off her feet and send her sprawling to the floor off to Jo’s side.  The impact jarred the pistol loose; for a moment Jo had a hold of it, but only for a moment.  Then she lost her grip and the weapon dropped away and skittered across the floor toward Agrippa’s airlock.

Agent Moore noticed and tried to push herself up onto her knees, to go after it.  Jo’s boot in the small of her back stopped that quickly enough.

Jo pressed down, forcing the other woman to the floor, and pulled her own pistol from its holster on her hip.  “Don’t move, Jaqueline.”

Beneath her, Agent Moore closed her eyes.  “Just do it.”

Jo took a second to glance behind her and saw the loader still at the mouth of the tunnel, motionless.  Where – ?

And then she saw Malcolm, standing beside the loader with his arm wrapped around Grant.  The fighting man was bleeding from a cut on his temple and his left sleeve was torn away, revealing a painful-looking burn that ran down most of his upper arm.  He moved stiffly on his right leg, as though he was having troubling bending it.

Where was Thomas?

Malcolm met her eyes and must have seen the question there.  He shook his head, his face grim.

Sorrow, and cold anger, welled up with Jo; she could see the same thing, magnified a thousandfold, in Grant’s eyes beneath the physical pain.  Jo’s heart went out to him.  She had never had a blood brother, but she had a large extended family among her fellow starfarers.  She knew how it was to lose a loved one.  Her eyes flickered toward Malcolm again, and she recalled the agony when he had died, those months ago.  Except that he had not really died.  Thomas would not come back from the dead, like Malcolm had.

But there was no time to dwell on that now.   “Move it,” Jo said in as commanding a tone as she could muster – and that was quite commanding, all things considered.

She turned back to Agent Moore and pressed her pistol to the back of the woman’s head.  Then she reached down with her left hand and felt along her waist until…there.  Handcuffs.  Never leave home without them.  A couple seconds later, Jo had Agent Moore’s hands cuffed behind her back, and she shoved her against the wall so she would be out of the way.

Then Jo hurried back to the loader, and her two comrades.  From the corner of her eye, she saw disbelief on Agent Moore’s face.

* * * * *

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 | July 5, 2014

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Fifty-Three

Happy belated 4th of July, my fellow Americans!  :)

I hope everyone had a great day, and are looking forward to a good weekend.  I’m going to do my part to make it better, with another chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.

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

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Fifty-Three

Through The Front Door

The lift doors opened.

Beyond lay the antechamber leading to the two personnel access airlocks in Agrippa’s forward ring.  Wide, spanning a good third of the loading ring’s circumference, and deep, a good hundred meters or more from the lift entrance to the far wall, it was for the most part open, save for a few structural columns at regular intervals, and brightly lit by recessed lights in the ceiling.  Jo had seen the personnel staging area countless times, but it always struck her, in the hours before passenger loading, as a lonely place.  Sad.

Today, it struck her as ominous.

On the bright side, the wide-open area made it nearly impossible for anyone to sneak up on her group, at least from within the area that was not rendered invisible by the ring’s curvature.  But it also meant they would be clearly visible to any watching eyes.  And there were many of those, lurking around.  The company had myriad security cameras installed, covering every square centimeter of the area, or as close to it as they could.  Same with the access tunnels she had just departed, and the lift.  Jo had no illusions that they had somehow managed to sneak in here unobserved.  Maybe if they had not been discovered earlier.  But now…

For a heartbeat, she considered ordering Malcolm to hit the up button, retreating to Carl’s orbital transport, and fleeing back to the planet.  Just as quickly, she dismissed that thought.  It was foolhardy in the extreme.  There was no chance at all that they could make it back to the craft without being intercepted.

If there was any hope, it lay in moving forward, toward Agrippa.  Yes, she was at a disadvantage here, but if she could get through the airlock and aboard the ship, that all changed.  With the access codes Jervis’ IT people had programmed in for her – codes that were, to any but the most intimately observant eye, authorized by Harold Jameson himself – she could render the ship impregnable.  Or close enough to it.  Close enough to get the thrusters and reactor online, and get them the hell away from here.

Hopefully.

“We going or not?”

Grant’s words jerked Jo out of her reverie.  She realized with a start that she was blocking everyone else’s path, her loader was so large.  Flashing him an apologetic smile, she put the machine in gear and drove out of the lift.

She expected…  Well, she was not sure what she expected.  But silence and a complete lack of action was not it.

As she cleared the lift doors, Grant and Thomas surged forward, past the loader’s rear wheels and into the room.  They spread out wide to the left and right, sweeping the area over the sights of their rifles.  After a few seconds, they glanced at each other.  Despite being separated by a good fifty meters, they seemed to communicate complete sentences with the slightest expression; a second later, Grant waved her and Malcolm onward.

Malcolm looked decidedly awkward with his rifle up against his shoulder as he walked alongside the loader, but he wore the grim expression of a man who means to do business with a weapon.  Right then, Jo could not tell how much was feigned and how much real.

She depressed the loader’s accelerator a bit more, pressing the machine to greater speed toward the hatch at the far end of the room.  It led to the extendable tunnel that linked up with the airlock in Section Four of Agrippa’s forward ring, Ring A.  That was the section that housed the crew living spaces during cruise flight, and the alternate control station.  From there, she would have the same controls as existed on the bridge, which was located on Agrippa’s hub.  She could start up the reactor, engage the maneuvering thrusters, burn the main engines…whatever she needed.  And it was only a few hundred meters away.

They advanced steadily, Grant and Thomas on the flanks, Malcolm at her side, the loader humming along nicely.  As they drew within twenty meters of the airlock hatch, Jo imagined that they would meet no further opposition.  That Chandini had been so flummoxed by their trick on the lift that she had not been able to re-deploy her forces in time to intercept Jo and her team.  They were going to get aboard Agrippa, Grant and Thomas as well as Malcolm and her, and make a clean getaway, and then it was off to the stars, and no more worrying, no more grief and concern.  She would return the aliens’ babies home and be regarded a hero by alien and human alike.

If only.

*  *  *  *  *

They were close, less than twenty meters away from the airlock hatch, when Jo heard it.

Booted feet.  Running.  And getting louder.

She glanced aside and, past the curvature of the floor, saw a flicker of movement off to the right.  Looking left, the same, except the flickering became figures running toward her party.  Figures that were dressed in black assault gear, body armor and everything, and carrying rifles.  About a dozen troops total; more than enough to take her little group down.

Except Jo had just seen Grant and Thomas defeat a half-dozen men, men who were presumably well trained, without effort.  Maybe…

The two brothers shot glances at each other, and Jo saw the hopeless resolve on their faces.  They were outmatched and the brothers knew it.  They did not hesitate though, bless them.

Grant shot Jo a hard look and shouted, “Go!”  And then he ran forward to meet the troops approaching from the right.  Thomas took left.

Jo wanted to tell them there was still time; they could get to the airlock before the troops reached them.  But she knew the truth.  Without something to hold them back, the troops would gun them all down well before she could get the door open.

So she floored the accelerator, and the loader lurched forward.  It surged past Malcolm, who had broken into a run as soon as the troops came into view.

“Get on!” Jo shouted, and he obliged, leaping onto the side of the machine as it passed him.

If they had far to go, he probably would have fallen, as precarious as his perch was, but as it was they crossed the remaining distance to the airlock in just a few seconds.  Even still, he looked relieved when he dropped back to the floor.  Jo swung the loader around to put at least some of its bulk between them and the approaching troops and took it out of gear.

Just then, rifle fire erupted from Thomas’ direction and the loud THUMP of a flash-bang echoed from Grant’s.  Jo looked and saw the two men crouched behind separate columns.  Thomas’ troops scattered in the face of his fire, darting to find their own cover while shooting back, wildly from all appearances.  Two of the men approaching Grant were down, stunned by the grenade.  The remaining four split up, moving two by two toward his flanks.

It was not going to take long at all to overwhelm the brothers.

“Hurry, Jo!”

Malcolm grabbed her shoulder and pulled.  She slid from the driver’s seat and had to catch herself to keep from sprawling out onto the floor.  Irritation flashed through her, sublimating the fear that had reared up when she heard the troops coming.  She almost gave him a tongue lashing, but the deadly serious expression on his face, the tightness around his eyes that bespoke his own fear, drew her up short.  He was right, of course.  This was no time to screw around.

She nodded to him instead and turned to the airlock control pad.  He shouldered his rifle and sighted in on Thomas’ troops.  Maybe he could help hold them off.

Malcolm’s rifle barked, but Jo paid it no heed.  Fishing her old holocard from the cargo pocket on her thigh, she pressed it against the control pad.  The pad flashed a message in red: security code validation required.  Now was the moment of truth.  Harold’s access codes should have given the IT guys all the clearance they needed to make her access codes work.  It had been so logical; everyone agreed it would work, and their test runs had been flawless.

But it was one thing to hack into the system from afar so Jo could verify the codes worked on a remote workstation.  This was something else entirely.  If those codes did not work…

She wiped sweat from her brow and tapped in the ten digit alpha-numeric code: P3R!CL3S:).  Not super-inventive, that.  But it was easy to remember and appropriate.

The system seemed to process the code for hours, though in truth she knew it took less than a second.

The control pad flashed green and the doors began to open.  It was like being thrown a lifeline while drowning.  They were in.  It was going to work.

Jo glanced over her shoulder.  “Malcolm, come on -“  Her words stuck in her throat as she turned her head back to the now open airlock, and the tunnel beyond that led to Agrippa’s outer airlock door.

Agent Moore stood just inside the doors, dressed in black combat fatigues with her hair pulled back from her face.  She wore a grim expression and had her plasma pistol in hand, held at the ready and pointing right at Jo’s head.

“Hello, Captain Ishikawa,” she said, in a tone that would freeze molten steel.

* * * * *

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 | July 2, 2014

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Fifty-Two

Time for the next chapter of The Pericles Conspiracy.  We’re coming near to the end here, and the action is picking up!

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

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Fifty-Two

Round And Round

The Starliner levels were arranged differently from the ring levels.  Each level was actually divided into two, about three and half kilometers apart.  Level A attached to the bow of the starliner; B to the stern.  Within each sub-level there were no rotating doorways, no rotation at all.  Zero-g ruled until one actually reached the loading rings, which turned along with the starliner’s two living and cargo rings to generate artificial gravity in the loading sections of the station and aboard the starliner itself.  Consequently, navigating from the sled station to the loading ring access tubes was a bit more complicated than from the station to the station rings.  Once Jo’s party left the sled station, they had to maneuver around the outside of the transport tube complex until they reached their desired berth – Berth Three – and then they could push themselves “upward”, using guide cables to maintain their course, until they reached the access doors on the hub’s outer wall.

“This is terribly inefficient,” Grant muttered as they touched down, for lack of a better word, adjacent to the doors.  “Floating cargo around like this?”

Jo smirked and gestured toward the hub’s inner wall adjacent to the doors.  Embedded into the wall was a large conveyer-belt looking device, with davits where standard-sized shipping containers could be strapped.  “No one ships large cargo loose, like we have it.  It all goes into containers, and has a different access to the ship.”  She gestured upward along the axis of the hub, where a few tens of meters away were larger doors that led into separate tubes, specifically designed to ship cargo into the loading rings, and then downward toward a separate set of connections that led from the hub wall toward a different sled station than they had used.  From its size, it was built only for cargo containers.  “The sled we took was for passengers, and for their personal baggage.”

Grant blinked.  Then his eyes widened as his eyes tracked toward where she was pointing.  At first, she thought he was impressed by the size and elegance of the design.  Then he scowled, surprising her.  “You mean to tell me we could have just hidden ourselves away inside a cargo container and saved all this sneaking and stalking and maybe getting shot at?”

Jo recoiled slightly, his irritation getting the better of her for a second.  Oh, it was understandable, considering what he and his brother faced.  But it was so wrong.

“There is no way to open those containers from inside, Grant,” Jo said as gently as she was able.  He opened his mouth to protest, but she held up a hand, silencing him.  “And they are all lined up a month or more before loading, and are all inspected.  Even if we could have put ourselves into one and shipped it, we would either have suffocated within it or been killed by the scanning devices.”  Those were particularly high-energy, and were the reason why one did not ship pets or other livestock aboard starliners, at least not as cargo.  Each ship carried a small number of cryo-suspension units that could accommodate animals, but the waiting list to get into one of those was long.

And for good reason.  The last thing one would want to do was to bring an alien creature onto a different world.  Some number of pets or other domesticated animals were likely to escape, and they would have no natural predators on the new world.  Even just a few members introduced from an alien species could have cataclysmic consequences for the world’s ecosystem.

Grant nodded slowly, the bitterness that had flooded into his gaze leaving as quickly as it came.  He gestured toward Thomas, who pressed the control pad for the loading ring access doors.  A moment later, with a slight gust of air as the pressure between the loading rings and the hub equalized, the doors opened.

Jo’s group proceeded onward.

*  *  *  *  *

The access tube stretched a kilometer or more away from the hub proper, running straight and true, and wide enough for a dozen or more people to float in file down its entire length.  But now, as before, there was no one else visible anywhere.  This was not so unusual; procedure dictated that the ship be cleared of personnel and only minimal personnel allowed within the loading rings during fueling and settling.  And most of the loading ring personnel would be stationed within the cargo holds: security guards, inventory clerks, and the like.  There would be no need for commuter assistance personnel until time to load the passengers next week.  So Jo fully expected to encounter only electronically secured access doors the whole way into the ship.

All the same, for whatever reason, the lack of people made Jo nervous.  Looking aside at her compatriots, she was not the only one.  Time for a pep talk.  She turned around to face the others, her momentum continuing to push her backwards toward the end of the tube.  But Thomas spoke before she was able.

“They’re waiting for us up ahead.”  It was a statement of fact, not a question.  There was no doubt in his eyes.

Next to him, Grant had a similar look.  Dread, but below that steely determination.

Jo nodded.  “Only a fool would not have people stationed at the access hatches, and these people are not fools.  Agrippa is the only starliner leaving in the next two months.  Where else would we go?”

No one responded for a minute or so.  Finally, Grant said, “Why not have them stationed on the ship itself?”

That was one thing that had worryied Jo to no end.  If that were the case, there was a good chance they would never know it until far too late.  Worse, they would never know whether they had cleared the ship or not.  Even if they made it out of the solar system, they would potentially be placing themselves into cryo-suspension with hostiles onboard, ready to do them in while they were helpless.

Of course, that would doom the hiding troops to live out the rest of their days on a starliner that was hurtling off toward a far distant star.  Jo found it hard to believe NSA people had the expertise to operate a starliner at all, let alone navigate it back to Sol.  No, that would likely be a suicide assignment.  Hard to motivate a person to take a job like that.  Especially when one of those sexy warships moored a couple dozen kilometers above Agrippa could just as easily get underway and blow Agrippa out of the sky.

That was not likely, though.  It would mean spreading word far and wide about what was going on here.  Or maybe not.  It would be easy to just make up a cover story that seemed plausible and give the order.  To call what ran down Jo’s spine right then a chill was to call a glacier a little pile of snow.  That was an angle she had not ever really considered before.  She had presumed the NSA would keep this in-house, to avoid bad press and maybe to avoid losing face with other Agencies.  But what if they deemed stopping her so important that they threw all that to the wind?

There was no way to know.  And, frankly, she could not worry about everything; that would leave her incapable of taking action at all.  An old friend had once said, “Sometimes you have to just grab sack and go for it.”  Walter had always been a colorful guy, but off as his turn of phrase was, he had a good point.  Fortune favors the bold, and all that.  Sometimes there was nothing for it but to just go and give it your all, and see where things end up.  Endlessly fretting accomplishes nothing.

Jo shook her head and replied to Grant, “Safety precautions, remember?  No personnel are allowed aboard ship for another day.  They would be putting their people in greater danger, and what benefit would they gain?”

Grant pursed his lips, considering.  Then after a moment, he nodded.  “Makes sense.  Once we’re on the ship, they’ve lost a bit of the initiative, too.  Best to keep us off the ship.  And they’ll do that by meeting us at the airlock.”

Jo nodded.

“Ok then.  We’ll hold them off long enough for you two to get aboard.  I hope you have some way to stop them from following after that, though.”  The implication was clear: he and his brother would not be around to offer resistance for long after shots started flying.

Jo swallowed, but kept her Captain In Charge face on full display.  “As soon as we’re through, I’ll close all airlocks and break seal with the forward and aft loading rings.  That should buy us enough time to initiate an emergency reactor startup and get underway.”  She frowned, a thought occurring to her..  “You could come with us, you know.  Four will not use much more resources than two.  There’s no need…”

Thomas cut her off.  “Don’t think we haven’t considered that one.”  He and Grant exchanged a long look that ended in mutual shrugs.  “If we see a way to make it aboard without jeopardizing the mission, we’ll take it,” Thomas said finally.  “But don’t wait for us.”

There was not much left to say after that.

*  *  *  *  *

The remainder of the journey to the loading rings’ hub passed uneventfully.  Just as with the station itself, the loading ring access tubes were arrayed radially, with the lift access hatches revolving slowing around the hub’s circumference.  Also as in the station hub, there were separate lifts and accesses for cargo and for personnel.

Jo’s group took care to avoid the former in choosing a lift, and before long they were ensconced in a lift, smaller than the they had used earlier but still spacious enough to fit the loader in without too much difficulty.  As always when entering a lift from the zero-g side, the wall seemed to come up and crash into them – gently -  and they found themselves pressed up against it until they pushed themselves down to the lift’s “floor”.  The g’s were not much, not yet, but they were enough to at least give them a sense of up and down.  From the looks on Grant and Thomas’ face, that was quite a relief.

Agrippa’s rings were only a kilometer across and the loading rings had been sized to fit her, so the trip to the lower level and the main access airlocks placed was quite a bit quicker than the trip up the station’s ring had been, as was the increase in g’s.  In just a couple minutes Jo found herself flexing her muscles and working her joints as they hit full Earth-normal acceleration.  It felt good, but also a little awkward, even after such a comparatively short time in zero-g.

And then an electronic chime announced the lift’s imminent arrival at Deck One.

Grant and Thomas unlimbered their rifles and raised them to a ready position.  Malcolm did the same as Jo hopped back aboard the loader and restarted its engine.  It was time to meet their fate, whatever it was.

* * * * *

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!

Posted by: Michael Kingswood | June 28, 2014

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Fifty-One

Saturday!  Time for another chapter!  So here we go.  :)

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

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Fifty-One

Hub

Past the hub access doors was a wide expanse of open air.  In a different environment, it would have been impossible to navigate.  But in zero-g, it was child’s play to push off from the doorway leading into the lift and propel themselves outward.  Or rather, inward.

As many times as she had been here over the years, the central corridor of the station – of all five stations, really – always took Jo’s breath away.  It stretched apparently endlessly in both directions with only the transport tubes in its center to break up the hub’s expanse.  In eight locations around the hub’s circumference, constantly moving as the ring they led to rotated, were pairs of matched doors, identical to the ones Jo and her party came through, but no one else was immediately visible.  The area was well-lit by lighting bolted to the walls in every direction, but still it seemed a place of mystery, as odd as it was compared with normal existence on board ship or planetside.

Jo looked back as they floated toward the transport tubes in time to see the doors they had passed through close, sealing them in.  There was no turning back, even if they had been so inclined.

It only took a few moments to reach the central transport tubes, and Jo was relieved to find a transport sled waiting ready to receive them at this level’s station.  The sleds were designed to move cargo as well as people, and it only took a few minutes to latch the loader in place, along with its cargo, and then the four of them strapped in to the couches in the forward area of the sled.  A few seconds later, after Jo selected their destination level on the control console, they were off, heading “upwards” toward starliner level three, where fate awaited them.

The acceleration was impressive.  Jo felt herself pressed forcefully against her couch, a familiar sensation that very nearly matched the force she felt on initial liftoff from any number of launch complexes, except that this acceleration lasted a fraction of the time.  She barely had time to register the force and brace herself against it before it was gone, and the sled had moved from the station into the transport tube, hurtling toward its stop several kilometers away.

In just a short couple of minutes, the sled’s brakes fired and it veered off of the main tube, causing Jo to once again brace herself against acceleration forces, although this time she felt as though she was going to fly forward out of her seat and past the sled’s bow.  And then, just as soon as it came, the acceleration was over and the sled coasted to a stop at another station, identical to the one they departed except for the large sign that read, “Starliner Level 3A” off to their right.

They sat there for a moment, in silence.

“I can’t believe they let us get this far,” Jo said finally.  She had been more than half-convinced that they would meet nothing but the ends of rifles as they emerged from the hub access doors.  The fact that they had made it this far without molestation was amazing.  Troubling.  What was going on?

“Maybe they did not expect us to get out of the lift,” Malcolm replied.  Though his tone and expression were doubtful in the extreme.

“More likely they’re lying in wait ahead,” Thomas said as he and Grant unclipped from their restraint harnesses and kicked themselves up out of the sled.  They both unslung their rifles and panned about, looking down their sights carefully for threats.

Jo frowned.  They had a good point.  Chandini certainly would have had a backup plan at the ready.  It went beyond naiveté to expect anything else.  Given that near certainty, though, Jo felt a surge of guilt.  She and Malcolm would be blasting away onboard Agrippa.  The brothers would be left on their own, to fend for themselves.

To be imprisoned or worse.

She shook her head.  She could not be a party to that.  Unhooking her harness, she kicked herself upward to join them.  “You two stay with the sled,” she said as she became level with them and placed her hand on one of the sled station’s support girders to halt her ascent.  “Malcolm and I will take it from here.”

The brothers gave each other long looks, then Grant spoke.  “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”

Jo glanced between the two of them.  They both looked resolved, serious as hell.  “There’s a lot more trouble here than we planned on,” she said.  “I need to keep going, but you don’t have to.”

Grant just laughed, a bitter but strong sound as he looked at her as though she was daft.

Thomas sniffed.  “You don’t get it, Jo.”  That was the first time he had ever called her anything other than Captain or Ma’am.

Jo quirked an eyebrow at him.

“Jervis did not assign us to this; we volunteered.”  Grant nodded agreement, but let his brother speak for them both.  “We’ve always wanted to do something important, and this…”  Thomas spread his hands and trailed off.

Silence loomed for several seconds, and then Grant, glancing with momentary chagrin toward his brother, took up the conversation.  “First Contact,” he said, his voice awed.  “This is something we – all of us, all of humanity – have been dreaming about for centuries.  And now it’s happened and our dumbass government is going to fuck it up.”  He shook his head.  “We can’t let that happen, not even if it means we…”  He swallowed and shrugged, looking down at the sled and its cargo.  “Well, you know.”

Thomas swallowed and nodded.  “We’ll see you to the ship.  No matter what.”

Right then, Jo could have kissed them both.  As it was, she felt tears welling up, unbidden.  This was not what she wanted.  They were young, just getting started, with so much to look forward to.  It was too much, what they expected her to accept from them.  How did that old phrase go?  The last full measure of devotion.  That was what they were offering; likely what all of them would give, herself included, and likely without achieving their goal.  She could accept that for herself – she had come to peace with it somehow, sometime – but not for them.  She had no right to do so; it was her burden, not theirs.

She shook her head, but Malcolm spoke from behind her, stopping her protest.  “We all knew what we were getting into, Jo.  You’re not alone in this; never have been.”

Grant nodded, smirking.  “Look at it this way.  Someday, they’ll name high schools after us.”  He looked aside at his brother, then his smirk became a peaceful smile that he turned to include her and Malcolm as well.  “All of us.”

She almost broke down then.  Almost.  But years of training, and especially her years as Captain, came to her aid.  She steeled herself to calm and wiped the budding tears away before she realized what she was doing.  They were right, of course.  And even if they weren’t, it was too late to turn back now.  There was no way any of them, even the brothers, would get off the station without a fight, or at all.  Might as well get about their job then.

Jo inhaled deeply, then nodded.  “Ok.  Let’s head out.”

* * * * *

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 | June 25, 2014

The Pericles Conspiracy – Chapter Fifty

It’s almost not Tuesday anymore, but I just remembered it’s chapter day.  So here we go.  :)

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

The Pericles Conspiracy Cover

Chapter Fifty

Stuck In A Box

Silence reigned for a minute.

If no one said anything, maybe that would make what had just happened not be real.  Or maybe everyone else was as stunned as Jo felt.  More than likely the latter.

And why not?  One moment they were hurtling toward the station hub, their goal in sight and getting closer by the minute.  The next they were stopped, thrown up from the floor by the force of their stopping.  It was enough to put anyone off her game.

Finally Malcolm spoke up.  “Maybe it’s a mechanical problem.”  He neither looked nor sounded like he really believe that, but he really hoped it was true.

Grant snorted loudly.  Thomas was a half-second behind.  The looks they gave Malcolm were dubious, almost scornful, as though they could not believe he would say something so stupid.

“I think we all know that’s not what happened,” Jo said.  She slid off the loader and walked to the lift controls, near the doors.  The control panel was dark, lifeless.  It was not going to work.  All the same, she hit the button for the hub level.  Nothing happened.

Jo stepped away from the panel and frowned.

“Now what?” muttered Thomas.

“At least the lights are still on,” Grant replied.

As though his speaking had somehow jinxed it, the lights picked that precise moment to flicker and for a moment Jo thought they were going to extinguish completely.  Then the small display screen at the top of the control panel flickered to life, revealing a woman’s face.  She wore a satisfied smile and her eyes shone with victorious glee.  Jo recognized her immediately.

Chandini.

“You’ve led us a merry chase, Captain Ishikawa,” Chandini said.  Jo blinked, surprised at the audio, before she remembered the speakers mounted in the lift’s walls, to accommodate those who desired music through the several-minutes-long trip from the ring to the central hub.

Jo did not bother to answer; there was no way Chandini could hear her, regardless.

The Deputy Director surprised her, though.  “No need to pout,” she said, her smile growing just a tad bit more broad.  “We’ve been waiting for you for some time.”

“What the fuck does that mean?” Grant said, from Jo’s left.

The Director’s smile did not flinch, but her eyes darted toward Grant.  “It means, Mr. Gilford, that there were only a few courses of action left to the good Captain, and only one place to turn if she followed the most illogical option.”

They must have rigged a microphone in the lift somewhere.  But where…  And then Jo about smacked herself.  The emergency call button.  There had to be a microphone in there, else the passengers could not call for help if something went wrong.  Stupid.  But then, Jo had felt stupid a lot lately, so why should this day be any different?

Chandini’s eyes turned back to Jo.  “You did not actually think you could get away with something like this, did you?”  She definitely sounded amused.

Jo found herself crossing her arms over her chest, defensively.  “I sort of did, yes.”

The Deputy Director smirked.  “I’ll be seeing you shortly,” she said.  Then the screen went dark.

*  *  *  *  *

“Fuck me,” Grant said.  “How the hell did she know who we are?”  He looked at Thomas, who shrugged, spreading his hands helplessly.

“Maybe your organization in Brisbane is not as secure as you think,” Malcolm offered.

The brothers both cast baleful looks at him, but said nothing.  From the expressions on their faces, it was clear they were not dismissing Malcolm’s conjecture out of hand.

“Never mind all that,” Jo snapped.  “They’ll be coming.  If they don’t just bring the lift back down on remote.” By now, they were well above the ring’s upper levels.  It would be far more efficient to just bring the lift back down, and given they had the ability to stop it, Jo could not see why they would not do that very thing, and quickly.  “Any ideas how to get out of this?”  Lord knew she was coming up blank.

Grant and Thomas looked at each other and frowned a similar frown.  Right then, except for the fact that Grant had a goatee and Thomas was clean shaven, they could have been looking in the mirror, so similar they looked.  Neither spoke; it was like they were working out the details by telepathy or something.

But there was no time for that sort of thing.

Apparently Malcolm felt the same.  He raised his plasma rifle and fired a shot into the control panel.  It blew out in a shower of sparks and slag.

“Well that’ll help,” Thomas said in a wry tone.

“More than you might think,” Malcolm said.  “The internal relays in the controls interface with interlocks in the station’s transit control system.  If those relays are not functioning, they won’t be able to order the lift back down.”  He paused, frowned, then shrugged.  “Or at least, it will take a bit longer for them to be able to do it.”

Jo blinked, surprised.  She did not know that.  Where had Malcolm learned it?

He noticed her expression and quirked an eyebrow at her.  “Engineer, remember?”  He grinned in a self-deprecating manner.  “We don’t get the sexy shore jobs you pilot-types get.  I did a stint or two on these stations, back before I joined you on Pericles.”

“Right,” Grant interrupted.  “Not to spoil the stroll down memory lane or anything, but…”  He left off the rest, but his meaning was clear.  What the hell does that have to do with us getting out of here?

A very good question, and from the smug look on his face, Jo suspected Malcolm knew the answer.  He grinned and gestured toward the ceiling, where the hub access doors were situated.  “Shall we get out of here then?”

*  *  *  *  *

By the time the lift would have reached the station’s hub, all of the ring’s centripetal g’s would have gone away completely.  That meant the doors to the lift could be placed anywhere, since everyone and everything within would essentially be just floating around.  Given that, it made perfect sense to place the hub access doors in the ceiling and keep the ring access doors on the side walls.  Personnel and objects could simply float into the lift from the hub, and as the rotational g’s built up, slide down one of the walls to the floor.  By the time they reached the ring, they could walk or be pushed out, just like on any lift planetside.

Which was all well and fine, except that now neither set of doors opened to much of anything much of use.  The side doors just faced the side wall of the lift shaft, and the hub doors pointed up.  A long ways up.  But that was where they needed to go, so…

“You want us to climb up the rest of the way,” Grant said.

Malcolm nodded.  “There are access ladders along the shaft, between the chutes for the lift cars.”

“What about that thing?” Thomas said, nodding at the incubator, resting on the loader’s twin arms.  “Can’t exactly haul that up a ladder.  It weighs a ton.”

“No, it weighed a ton.  Down there.”  Malcolm pointed downward, toward the floor and the ring below.  “Here, it’s about half that, and it’ll be less the closer we get to the hub.”

The brothers looked dubious, but Malcolm was right.  It could work.

“We’ve got rope,” Jo said, coming to Malcolm’s aid.  “Two of us can climb to the next landing and pull while the other two lift up from below.  It will be difficult at first, but…”

Thomas snorted.  Loudly.  “It’ll be well past difficult.”

Malcolm spread his hands in a helpless gesture.  “Do you have a better idea?”

*  *  *  *  *

Thomas was right.  Difficult did not even begin to describe it.

Even at about half its normal weight, the incubator still had to weigh a good thirty or forty kilograms, easily.  Grant and Thomas, lifting together, could get it up fairly well, but they could only reach halfway to the hub access doors, and later less than halfway between landings of the ladder.  That left Malcolm and Jo to haul the delicate machine the rest of the way.  They took care to use two strands of rope for redundancy, and to tie it off securely enough that the thing was not going to leave the rope’s grip for anything short of someone coming up and actually cutting the rope with a knife.

All the same, for the first several landings, the only thing Jo could think of was what would happen if they lost it somehow.  The incubator would fall, and fall far.  Depending on how they lost it, it could actually fall into a neighboring lift chute, so it would fall all the way to the ring, to its certain destruction.  Even the shorter fall to their stranded lift would likely damage it badly, and after several landings the height became such that it was probably academic which fate would be worse for the incubator.  Jo did not even want to think about that; about what it would mean to, well, to everything.

Fortunately, the higher they got, the lower the g’s.  After a dozen or so landings that required what was probably excessive amounts of effort to bring the incubator up, the device’s weight had lowered to the point that just one man could lift it up from below, and then haul it up from above.

Regardless, all things considered it was tiring work, both physically and mentally.  But finally, after what seemed an age but was in reality probably less than an hour and a half, they made it to the top of the shaft.  There they paused at the hub access doors to catch their breath, and to consider.

“They’re going to be waiting on the other side of these doors, you know that,” Thomas said.

Jo nodded.  In all likelihood he was entirely correct.

He frowned.  “I don’t have much practice fighting in zero-g.”  Thomas glanced at his brother, who shook his head.  He had no training in it either.

“If it’s any consolation, you probably have more idea how to go about it than I do,” Jo replied, earning a look in return that said it was not any kind of consolation at all, and thank you very much.  She shrugged.  “I don’t think station security usually trains for zero-g trouble either, so we’ll be on equal…”

Malcolm snorted.  “Really think it’ll be station security coming after us?”

Jo paused.  He had a point.  The NSA had not involved locals before; they would want to keep things hush-hush, so they would use their own goons.  Probably the same goons, actually, so there was a good chance it was Moore waiting for them.  Did they train for zero-g combat?  There was no way to know, and Jo would accomplish nothing sitting around bellyaching over it.

It was time to go.

Jo took a deep breath.  “Alright, let’s move.  Remember, we’re heading to the transport tube in the center of the hub.  The transports have cargo mounts to carry the incubator, and will get us to the starliner levels in just a couple minutes.”

“Assuming they’re not shut down too,” Grant said.  Wasn’t he just a ray of sunshine.

“We’ll deal with that when we come to it,” Jo said, trying to sound confident despite the fact that her stomach was doing backflips in her belly from nerves.  “Everyone ready?”

Nods all around.

“Ok, let’s do it.”

She nodded at Malcolm, and he pushed himself over to the center of the access doors.  He tripped their actuating assembly, and a moment later the doors slid open.

* * * * *

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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