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Chapter IV

Spaceman woke up staring at an old water stained ceiling, surrounded by distressing moans and coughs of the terminally ill. He looked around and saw hospital cots lined up on either side of him. Trying to sit up he found his limbs bound to the rails of his cot with soft leather straps.

“I wouldn’t move too much,” said a familiar voice. “You were brought in here comatose. Electrolyte imbalance.”

Spaceman didn’t bother asking where he was. There was only one sanitarium in Vienna and he had been a guest there more than a few times.

“I’d like some water,” he managed to croak out.

“I bet you would,” said the figure as he came into view. Marcus, the agent he had left in the embassy. He wore his left arm in a sling but was still alive and capable of filing a report. Not good. “We all want something. I, for instance, would like some answers.”

“I was poisoned.”

Marcus casually flipped through a clipboard, humming as he did so. “The doctors identified over a dozen trace chemicals in your blood stream unknown to contemporary science. It is possible one of these could be a toxin.”

“Like I said.”

“Of course, they also had no trouble picking up residue from cocaine, marijuana, heroin and LSD in the same blood sample.”

Spaceman didn’t bother replying.

“I want to know why you did it.”

“I wish to be released.”

“You abandoned a fellow officer in the field. Deserted me.” Marcus’ mouth trembled like a slapped child. This might be one of the first times this graduate of Princeton had ever been betrayed, ever had his world so fundamentally shaken. This whole exchange was growing wearisome, and only with the application of effort could he focus on it. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

Spaceman yawned expansively, “Yeah, sorry about that.”

“Well, I dealt with it,” Shield said, fuming. He paused, as if waiting for Spaceman to ask him how he survived. Unfortunately, he was too busy wondering how often the nurse changed the bedpan. Finally Shield got on with it, “After I disposed of the Demtak Mine, I went back downstairs. The place was in shambles, AC henchmen were running left and right, spraying the ballroom with bullets.”

“Sounds kinda dangerous.”

“Fortunately, I did have the drop on them. I waited until the henchmen had gathered together; herding the surviving emissaries to the center of the room. I was able to trap most of them together in a single force bubble.”

Spaceman scratched the stubble on his chin. That explained the sling. On the flight over to Vienna, Marcus explained that ever greater levels of trauma produced ever larger force bubbles.

“The only problem was, their mission leader got away,” Shield said, his eyes suddenly turning distant. “I saw him there with the detonator and then the next he was gone.”

“What did the mission leader look like?” Shield described a short, hatchet-faced man around 45 with a bad comb over and nervous hands. Spaceman grinned. 

“Hugo Simplex.”

“You know him?”

“Well, not biblically, but yeah I’ve run into him before,” Spaceman tugged at his dingy pillow to reposition it under his head.

Shield threw the clipboard so it struck the wall with enough force to dislodge plaster. Some of the other patients sat bolt upright, like they expected the place to collapse around their ears. “OK, that’s it, Spaceman. I was willing to forgive you the other day’s lapse but you’re leaving me no choice. You don’t even act like you did anything wrong. Like you think none of this is going to wind up in my report. I’m not letting your incompetence affect another Section Starfire mission. You’re through.”

“Hmph,” Spaceman said. “Just check your spelling. Chief hates typos.”

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Link to First Chapter


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Chapter I

When the light came back on, the room was empty save for a corpse and two baffled agents of Section Starfire, the premier Anarchist Spy Agency employed by the United States government.

Two trained pairs of eyes quickly scanned the room and found it devoid of anything worth mentioning besides an old battle-scarred table along one wall and a book shelf against the other and, of course, the body of the man Spaceman had just shot. For his part, Marcus Delacroix, Agent Shield, stood across the room from him, blinking in the sudden light, unable to focus. On the table by his right hand was a squat metal object about the same color and shape as a wheel of cheddar cheese. Instantly recognizing this object, Spaceman allowed himself a rare moment of panic.

Pushing past Marcus, Space dashed to the door and tried the handle. Inevitably, it was locked.

“Do you know what this is?” said Marcus, slowly regaining his faculties.

“Yes,” said Spaceman as he darted to the b…

Chapter L

It was immediately apparent they were traveling downwards, not up. Marcus wondered aloud what sort of transportation they were going to find at the bottom of the station.

“A submarine,” Simplex answered matter-of-factually.

“A submarine encased in ice?”

“No,” Hugo said. “Open water.”

“This whole station floats?”

“Of course! That is what it is designed to do. No section of ice, however deep, could be guaranteed to support a structure this massive. What would happen if a freak warming spell intruded into the deep Antarctic? The builders of this place designed it to melt a hole through the ice into the cavern and float there like a rubber duck in a bathtub. This underside is a convenient place to store submarines, no?”

“Very convenient,” D said sunnily.

“Ah, we are coming to the first challenge of our escape from the Delta Omega.”

Ahead of them, the corridor was blocked off by a set of heavy steel doors. Each door had a small round window mounted about eye level. Steam and condensation blocked …

Interlude: Antarctica and Beyond

She saw all and knew more.

The place of knowledge looked exactly like the waking world in its details, its strangeness revealed only by implication. Looking down at her own body she knew she was dead. And yet the possibilities of her life were not entirely spent. She knew this too. Part of her wanted to simply slip back into her body and let the Charm of Utanghk do its work but she wasn’t ready to do that.

D pulled away from her body and the sub. In the ghostly second sight of the place of knowledge she perceived the submarine had already moved some distance from the dying Delta Omega Base. She watched the sub pass beneath the dark vaults of ice and turned her attention to colossal structure shuddering above.
Standing in front of it in the waking world, the station was simply a structure, impressive but also sterile. From within the place of knowledge she gained an appreciation for the effort that had gone into its creation. To see it brought low was an occasion not for celebration but …