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Chapter XLIX

The force bubble was a nearly perfect one way reflector of energy; under ideal circumstances, the sphere should be able reflect a thermo-nuclear explosion. This was not an ideal circumstance; the closed hallways reflected the energy back on the bubble. This quickly raised the surface of the sphere past the melting point of steel. None of this heat reached the Starfire agents but it was enough to cause the floor to sag and buckle noticeably. All the while the eye was fixed on Shield, its pupil squeezed into a nearly imperceptible singularity of wrath directed at them. Shield knew that if he let the bubble down for a second all three of them would be incinerated in an instant, but the pain clawed more and more of his attention away. He could feel the tendons pulling from his muscles from the exertion. He felt something on his upper lip and wasn’t surprised to discover he had developed a nose bleed. Still he pressed on. He resisted. He endured. As the monster slowly pressed down on him w…

Chapter XLVIII

Spaceman found it very easy to leave the station. His coterie of friends kept growing with each attempt at intervention until a kind of critical mass arrived. Whether or not he was a prisoner, or a Section Starfire agent, or a notorious addict became immaterial. Spaceman lead, and those looking to follow did so.

Heading up from the bowels of the engineering deck, they passed by the cryptozoological section. It occurred to Spaceman that his escape would be that much easier if the personnel in the station had something distracting them. A command to Mr. Doubtful cut off the emergency power to the pens, cages, and corrals keeping the cryptids at bay.

He figured the result would be a few sasquatch and sea serpents making a break for it. He hoped there were enough penguins in Antarctica to feed a new population of Big Feet. Big Foots? Spaceman chuckled to himself, bummed a cigarette from another engineer and directed his followers upwards.

By the time they reached the main exit, the station a…

Chapter XLVII

The trio of agents quickly discerned that they were not be leaving the way they had come in. The Cryptozoologicals had turned the outer rim of the station into a slaughter house. Armed soldiers carrying rifles, machine guns, and the occasional heavy ordinance prowled the intersections. Whether AC or Red Brigade, no one seemed to be much in the mood for asking questions. Shooting was the order of the day.

The agents snuck down the ring corridor for nearly an hour, but found no way outwards not blocked by paramilitaries or worse. D announced she would cast a ritual to find a way forward. Frankie and Shield lurked close by, hoping to get a warning shot off at least, if something discovered them.

D withdrew from her bag a number of brass beads, a length of twined leather cord and copious amounts of red and ochre sand which she heaped in intricate kabbalistic patterns on the deck. She spoke in an indistinct voice, occasionally repeating the same word, mukthir. Pronouncing this word seemed to…

Chapter XLVI

“So, let me get this straight,” said the technician, wiping a grubby, oil-stained sleeve across her brow. “You want us to let you into the control room. You want us to activate the over-pressure release command, while simultaneously shutting main valves B, C and E. Then, and this is the part that I really want to be clear about, you’re ordering us to stand back while the reactor overheats, melts down and carries the station down with it. Have I understood what you’re saying completely?”

“Crazy orders, huh?” Col. Chapmann said, winningly.

“There’s crazy and then there’s just plain insane. Who wants this done?”

“The Command Director of the Anti-Cerebrists.”

“He wouldn’t be able to get this past the executive committee. Who else?”

“Sanislov Jarowski, Manuut Noruto, and Kethlen Von Delt.”

“You’re just rattling off names.”

“They’re the right names.”

A voice came from further in the rattling clamor of the engine room. “Karla, does he have a work order?”

K…

Chapter XLV

The three Section Starfire agents crossed another intersection and paused to get their bearings. Emerging from the tunnel they had been greeted by a thunderous alarm echoing through the corridors. There was another helpful map unhelpfully written in Cyrillic. Frankie knew a little Russian from his days in the CIA but couldn’t make much headway against imponderables such as “Section for the Dissemination of Critical Anti-revisionist Expulsion Media Center.”

“That’s right up here,” D suggested, pointing at an obscure corner of the map.

Shield, to Frankie: “Nothing that says ‘snake house,’ or ‘place where we keep dangerous reptiles’ or ‘Section Starfire Agents, please blow this lab up?’”

“Well, there’s this group of labs right here that’s interesting. Not too far away.”

“Yes?”

“They have it labeled with jargon I’m not familiar with, ‘hidden-beast-study and relict-population-house. Russians usually save obscure words for things they want to keep extra mysterious.”

Chapter XLIV

“Where are you taking me?” Spaceman asked his two escorts.

One of the human robots, the one to his right, briefly glanced at him, the other blindly trudged forward. The Section Starfire agent wanted to believe the former, who he thought of as Mr. Doubtful, had retained some degree of his humanity.

“Is this the way to my quarters?”

Again Mr. Doubtful glanced over, a puzzled expression passing through his blue eyes like a passing cloud.

“You are not permitted to talk,” the other one said, who Spaceman thought of as Mr. Glower.

“Who said?”

Mr. Glower stopped and went over to Mr. Doubtful. They touched heads briefly and then, without comment, resumed their trek down the endless corridors. Mr. Doubtful still looked perplexed, like he was trying to figure out whether he’d left his car lights on.

They were passing through some underused section of the station, where fewer people appeared and those visible all wore venom rigs. If he was going to make his move, thi…

Chapter XLIII

In gloom of early morning, the base appeared as a long sloping wall, embedded in the ice. Frankie had suggested abandoning the snow tank several rises back to make a more stealthy approach to the headquarters of the AC’s. There were three layers of security between them and the outside of the station but none of them looked overly formidable. The big problem was there didn’t seem any obvious gate for them to enter. At least none left unguarded by any less than a platoon of AC henchman.

“I’m surprised they brought this much security out here,” Frankie whispered.

“Got to keep out the penguins,” Shield replied.

D gestured for the binoculars. Adjusting the focusing wheel, she got a good view of the buildings surrounding the structure. “That shack off to the left, did either of you find it peculiar?”

“Seems far from the airstrip and not tall enough for a guard tower.”

Frankie pointed out a few low dome-like structures just beyond the anomalous shack. “Those are munition…

Chapter XLII

Hugo Simplex caught up with Spaceman and his escorts out of the orientation room. Bastard wanted to watch it first-hand. Well, Spaceman wasn’t unhappy to see him.

The cigarette, although foul, had focused Spaceman’s mind, made certain considerations possible. Helped ground him in the real world. Cast sincerity aside, he whispered to himself, trust in the lie.

But lies needed truth the way the head of a coin needed its tail. Hugo was here to remind him of that. He might know exactly where he wanted to go, but he wouldn’t be able to go there without certain corrections made to the ACs. There was altogether too much professionalism at work in the Delta Omega Base. Too much careful attention to detail. It wasn’t becoming.

He raised his hand in greeting to Hugo as they approached. A sneer crossed good old Hugo’s face, no doubt conjured there by visions of Spaceman’s impending operation. He made an elaborate bow, as though stopping low in the presence of great royalty.

“Why …

Chapter XLI

“Yep, I think they spotted us,” Frankie said, leaning over the steering wheel. The idling diesel engine rumbled beneath the seat, but at least the heaters of the soviet snow tank still functioned, filling the cabin with enough warmth to prevent further frost bite.

While they waited for the sorceress to regain consciousness, Marcus decided they would wait inside the snow tank. They found a map inside the cabin, along with a fat book of instructions written in Cyrillic. Neither spent much time looking at it. The engine worked. The steering wheel worked. If they encountered any problems on ice sheet, they would probably die. No sense wasting time puzzling out instructions on the cup-holders.

Frankie suspected that before too long they might have visitors. During their brief hike to the snow tank, he had seen the glow of a distant explosion and a trail of greasy smoke marking the crash site of the C-130. Even in the vast wasteland of Antarctica, that would have to attract attentio…

Chapter XL

Four Months Ago


The man awoke on a very narrow bed on a very thin mattress. His limbs were in awkward, improbable positions and he felt the ache of the sickness. The ceiling above him was more recognizable to him than the faces of old friends. Was he home? Looking around he decided he was.

His mouth felt old, full of desert. It was a hot day and the sweat poured from his body. On the floor near the door of his room was a fat brown envelope. Some residual optimism suggested it was his pension, but he had made it very difficult for the Federal Government to find him.

That someone had managed to find his address disturbed him greatly.

He opened the flaps and peered inside. There were a few pages of vellum and what appeared to be a small plastic baggie. He reached for the baggie, sprinkled a white powder onto his palm. He really should not touch this stuff, he knew. It could be poison or weaponized anthrax. He dabbed a moistened finger into the powder and ran it beneath his li…

Chapter XXXIX

D stood a few feet outside her body, watching the way her black hair flopped over her face. She was still lying at the bottom of a sizeable crater created by Marcus’ indestructible force bubble. She knew the cold would kill her soon but waited patiently for Frankie and Marcus to stir. Even if she could speak in a way they could hear, her encouragements or pleading would do little. Frankie bundled her up close to his chest and walked out of the crater. He saw the still flapping parachute from the biggest cargo crate and began walking towards it. Good. To their right was Marcus, cradling his arm, as he fought to remain upright. She knew an incantation that would knit bones and sponge away his pain but would need her fingers and mouth to produce it.

The strands of hair from the ul-mara goddess had been an enormous drain, and she was too exhausted to remain in the driver’s seat of her own body. Marcus would have to endure until she had recovered. Going ahead, she made sure the lump i…

Chapter XXXVIII

The way Frankie figured, he could have either joined the CIA or gone to prison. His background didn’t provide many other options. He kept his nose clean and while his family was not particularly wealthy, his Uncle certainly was. In high school he became fascinated with driving fast cars and getting what other people already had. College showed him the skills to do both of those things to perfection. But his life could have still gone in a very different direction. He was not what his father would have called “book smart,” nor was he especially good at covering his disdain for dull fraternity letter types. Left to his own devices, he would have dug up some kind of trouble even his uncle couldn’t have saved him from.

The CIA had many ways of unearthing the talent it needed, countless favors it could call in. Maybe his uncle even reached out. They identified his potential and gently, firmly turned him to espionage.

A born field operative, the Central Intelligence Agency found sma…

Chapter XXXVII

Shield struck out with his hand, but the man coming out of the door ducked, sending his fist into a bulkhead. He was typically adept at rolling his punches to avoid contact with the occasional broken finger, but without his braces, he couldn’t avoid the sudden flare of pain. A cluster of force bubbles popped into being, falling to the deck with a sound like loose change. One bubble apparently manifested inside the intercom, causing a shower of sparks to spray everywhere.

The pilot grunted, side-stepped Shield’s next punch, and then placed a well-aimed kick into his gut. Shield slammed into Frankie, sending both men toppling to the deck. While the Section Starfire agents worked to disentangle themselves, the pilot escaped out of view.

“Get off of me!” Frankie hollered, pushing Shield away. Marcus rolled to his feet, looked over the edge of the balcony to find the pilot leveling a pistol at him. He jerked back, a bullet clipping the metal railing. The sound of the gun was deafe…

Chapter XXXVI

Spaceman entered the final double doors having a pretty good idea what he’d find. He was completely wrong.

The room was smaller for one thing. A man like Necropolis, who had impressed Spaceman with the grandeur and indefatigable determination of his ideas, seemed the type to go for a palatial pent-house. Not so.

The room was large, but not impressively. It was also unusually stark, the burnished steel walls of the rest of the station left unadorned. A single desk occupied the far wall, noticeably turned away from the small port-hole like window on the opposite side of the room. Aside from a few books, the only other object of note was a small wooden chest.

And, of course, Necropolis.

The change he had noticed on the tarmac had reached some kind of apotheosis within his quarters. He had become a shriveled prune, his skin stretched tight across his nearly bald scalp, puckered into myriad wrinkles and folds around his mouth. His body had collapsed into itself, nearly lost…

Chapter XXXV

Agent D ran for the stairs; above the handrail was a grubby white intercom box with a big red call button on its front. Before Frankie pressed the button, D motioned for him to wait. She quickly climbed to the second level and pressed her hands on the door to the cabin. Squinting her eyes shut, she mumbled a few simple words in the dead Tlchotha tongue. The words stuck to the back of her tongue and tasted bitter.

“It’s ‘snake,’” whispered Frankie, “It has to be – Burma Snake. Try it.”

“No,” said D. “That’s not it…”

“Stencil, do you copy?” the intercom squawked. “Burma. Repeat, Burma.”

D mouthed a word to Shield and he tapped the button. “Road,” he barked.

There was a nerve-wracking pause before the reply, “Is the situation secure?”

“Secure,” said Shield. “What’s up?”

“I wanted to let you boys know we’re going to go through some turbulence.”

“Bad?”

“You’ll want to buckle up and secure the cargo,” the voice said, “All of it, I suppose.”

“Check.”

Chapter XXXIV

After a few hours, the guards came back. They found Spaceman huddled in one corner of the room, shaking violently. Oblivious to his sickness, they hauled him to his feet and marched him out the door.

Even if he had wanted to ask them questions, their venom rigs suggested the answers wouldn’t be terribly illuminating. He bided his time, keeping his mind open and free of judgement. In dealing with people, Spaceman preferred two general strategies. The first was talking, and the other was listening. Talking was for emergencies, listening was for everything else. Most people Spaceman knew thought of listening as a passive act, a reception of information. It was not. An aggressive listener could often accomplish much with little more than an open and accepting demeanor. You just had to find the right moment to listen and the right moment to ask a question.

The elevator he and the guards used was impressive. The walls were done in brushed steel, with neon mounted in glass panels th…

Chapter XXXIII

Amateurs, Frankie thought. Goddamn amateurs.

Was there anything worse than dying at the hands of the inept? If he gave them a few pointers they’d break him in a matter of minutes. Probably save them all a lot of grief.

As it was, they wasted minutes wrestling him off of the chair into some great big metal apparatus in the front compartment. Frankie didn’t make it easy for them. When they had released one hand, he rabbit-punched the commando on his left. That drew a round of beating. Then, thinking him subdued, they tried lifting him off of the chair. He lashed out again, this time smashing a venom shunt on one of their heads. The commando shrieked, slapping at the bore-hole spurting viscous green fluid. He collapsed to the deck and stopped moving.

Another torrent of blows followed, inexpertly administered but effective. They manacled him to the metal apparatus, his head clamped firmly inside a Mayfield surgical adaptor. If the commandoes were still fully human, this would…