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Chapter II

Agent Spaceman did not have much difficulty leaving the embassy. He had features and a demeanor easy to forget. Only his habits left their unsavory, distinctive marks.

Apparently there had been some kind of intrusion into the embassy. Every hall, staircase and exit was blocked by yellow-suited mercenaries of the AC’s. There was a time in the dim, distant past where this situation would have demanded his attention, his action. Thankfully, he had moved past such concerns.

Why had he even bothered coming out of his ‘retirement’ in Morocco? His inactive status stipend had been more than generous for his limited needs and the climate had been more favorable to his health. Really, if hadn’t been for that fever dream he would have stayed there the rest of his life. Having secured the object of his curiosity, he intended to return as soon as possible.

Which meant he needed money.

Finally finding a room with a broken lock on its window, Spaceman made his exit. A brisk run across the embassy’s lawn and he was out into a more familiar environment – the byzantine, windy, mysterious streets of an old world capitol. Vienna was not one of his favorite haunts but he had certainly spent time there; he knew which streets would contain the people he needed. Their faces would be unfamiliar, their names unimportant – he cared only for the money in their pockets.

For Agent Shield he spared little thought, expecting at any moment a loud explosion to mark the passing of their brief acquaintance. Pity, given a few more years he might have been someone worth talking to.

Spaceman entered grungier, uglier sections of Vienna, where the streets curved around themselves like intricate scars. Near a street lamp in the protective shadow of an old alley, he saw his man.

“You looking for someone,” said the man in the shadows, his German heavily accented with Turkish.

“I’m looking to make a trade.”

The man studied him and pulled out a pair of Russian cigarettes. “Don’t do trades, at least not to strangers.” One of the cigarettes he popped into his own droopy mouth, the other he offered to Spaceman.

Supplying a lighter, Spaceman lit the other’s cigarette and then his own. The orange glow revealed a younger man, with a sprinkling of whiskers along his cheeks. Something began to nag at his attention. “Maybe a purchase then…”
The man motioned for Spaceman to show what he had. He withdrew the vials he had pilfered from the corpse, the liquid inside glittering.

“This is what, opium paste?”

“I have no idea.” The thing about grifts is that you have to start as close to the truth as possible. He had to make enough on the sale of one of the vials to secure a ticket back to Casablanca with the other. “But it’s exotic and you’re likely to find someone with the need to sample it.”

“Look hard enough, you’ll find all matter of filth in the Old Quarter,” the man in the shadows mumbled and Spaceman discerned something unpleasant in his voice. He withdrew the vials and backed away.

“I would stay where you are, if I were you,” the man dropped his Turkish accent and pulled out a revolver and a badge. Spaceman cursed his luck. He looked around but couldn’t see the man’s partner. He could feel the first of the shakes set up in his hands.

No choice. Spaceman charged the cop, knocking the pistol out of his hands before he had a chance to bring it to bear. Then Spaceman was whipping down the same alley the cop had been lurking in. He ran with as much speed as he could, weaving between piles of sour trash and the occasional hissing alley cat. He slowed down only blocks later, at last convinced he had shed his pursuer. Finding a soft pile of garbage, Spaceman slumped to the ground, physically and psychically drained. His hands opened of their own accord, the vials from the corpse rolled free. He noticed that in his escape the seal on one had been damaged, was already leaking its amber contents onto his exposed skin.

The substance filled his nose with an unfamiliar fruity smell and numbed his hand where it pooled . A drug he had no experience with -- a decidedly rare pleasure. With unsteady hands, Spaceman wrapped the vials in a dirty plastic bag. He had no fear of death, having spent years building up a tolerance to a wide spectrum of toxins. He stored the bag in the pocket of his overcoat and waited for the effects to take hold.

At first there was nothing, only a dull ache in the center of his brain, almost like a hangover. Interesting, he thought, maybe it works in reverse. Then, a brief pop of light was followed by waves of tremors traveling through every corner of his body.

He saw the vast limb of the earth, as if from space, emerge from the dark of the alley. Clearly a visual hallucination and yet dismayingly real. A force tugged him away from Earth, slipping further into space. A disembodied, terrified voyager, he soon found himself in orbit around the moon. Only it wasn’t the moon, it was a human skull. And it wasn’t just a skull because there was a purple and green serpent uncoiling through one of its empty dry sockets. The head of the serpent was repulsive, rugose and slimy like the nose of a bat. This demon serpent reared above the moon skull and struck fast, blindingly quick. It buried two tremendous fangs on either side of the skull and jerked away. The fangs were left behind, still pumping their amber venom into the skull.

After that image there was only nothing for a very long time. This shows some promise he thought to himself.

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