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Chapter IX

Shield sat in his chair, a French 75 in front of him, each stroke of the kick drum setting up a ripple in the center of the wide glass. The music from the Ramsey Lewis trio was not so loud it obliterated conversation, but loud enough to dissuade eavesdroppers. That was why Marcus had chosen the spot for meeting the first name on the Chief’s list.

Liaison Melissa. LeHaze powerfully exemplified the advantages of ambitions and high-impact paramilitary training. Her face was strong, with a long thin jaw, a sharply slanting nose and eyes the color of November drizzle. She had a sober, measured manner and a curl to her smile that could cause stage one hypertension.

“I fail to understand why we are following this lead?” her fingers quickly leafed through the mission briefing. Her rifling paused over the photo of Gunther Thulewaite, an unimpressive, sour-faced individual with a severely reduced hairline. “This man? The file says he’s a rare animal trader. What does this have to do with lethal snakes? And what do lethal snakes, for that matter, concern of the US government?”

Spaceman surprised Shield by finally speaking up. He had been nursing a vodka and coke since arriving at the Bohemian Caverns and had said little, even less to Shield. Although it would be flattering to think otherwise, Marcus doubted his partner’s silence had anything to do with him. The inebriate was probably just hung-over. “We think Mr. Thulewaite is responsible for illegally importing these reptiles into the United States for the purpose of a controlled breeding program.”

“I’ll repeat, why does the US government care?”

“We should care because the venom from these animals are being used to create a ruthlessly obedient military force for use against our interests by a radical Anarchist organization,” said Marcus; uncomfortable with the party line.

LeHaze appeared unimpressed. “The Anti-Cerebrists.”

“Yes,” said Spaceman, between sips of his drink.

“I’ve spend the past year cataloguing all of the various threats facing this government, Peruvian Communists, radical Lebanonese nationalists, Quebecois Separatists…I’ve never once come across any memo about a group planning mass brain-washings.”

“Not brainwashing,” Marcus said. “That’s incorrect terminology. Brainwashing implies that certain politically incorrect thoughts are being expunged in favor of a new ideology. The AC’s favor complete mentality deletion. They seek a new human race free of the chains of thought and sentience.”

Spaceman put his drink down and frowned. “There’s some internal debate whether the ideal human intelligence would lie closer to an orangutan or a marmoset, but the intent is clear.”

LeHaze smirked. “Why on earth would they want that, seems like an oddly self-defeating ideology, wouldn’t you say? Do they have very stringent qualifications? If I was a simpleton, for example, would I be overqualified?”

“You don’t get it,” said Spaceman, not elaborating.

“What am I not getting? The Anti-Cerebrists, even if they do exist, are a joke.”

“Yes, but if they have a system to create hordes of brainless automatons, human robots, then they become a threat,” said Shield.

LeHaze sighed and reclined into her chair. “Fine, if this is what the NSA wants me to spend my time, babysitting you two, who am I to say otherwise?”

“That’s the spirit,” Spaceman said without irony.

Sometime later Marcus stepped out of the nightclub to find Spaceman waiting for him. The interrogator was just finishing his seventeenth or eighteenth cigarette.

“What’s the deal with LeHaze?”

“No choice,” Marcus said.

The Chief told him Section Starfire’s active agents were on a drug sting in California; they had to pull some strings to get another qualified agent involved.

“Didn’t she recruit you,” Spaceman asked flatly, apparently already knowing the truth but wanting to see if his partner would level with him.

Marcus nodded. “It’s complicated. She found me for the NSA but…”

“You didn’t have quite the required level of fascism.”

“Something like that.”

“None the less, our new friend did raise an interesting question.”


“Why does the NSA care about the AC’s?”

“Probably nothing,” Marcus admitted.

“So, it hasn’t occurred to you that NSA agreeing to joining our little snipe hunt probably has more to do with the agents involved in our mission than the mission itself?”

“I have no idea what you mean.”

Spaceman gestured with his cigarette at the braces covering Marcus’ hands. “This would be an excellent opportunity for poaching.”

Marcus had to admit Spaceman had a point. The bureaucratic turf wars were beginning to turn decisively against the Section. LBJ had never been a fan, but at least he was a Democrat and understood its use. There was writing on the wall that suggested the next administration would be reactionary in nature. The student movement had turned against institutional liberalism and Hubert Humphrey was handicapped by his own connection to LBJ’s blunders. If the plutocrats returned to the White House, the Section could return to the bad old days of Truman. If the NSA wanted to donate one of their crypto analysts to the cause, let them. She wasn’t going to get in the way.

“So this is it,” Spaceman stubbed his cigarette out. “Us, LeHaze and the desk jockey you’re meeting tomorrow.”

“We do have one more agent,” Marcus pulled out his own pack. “We’re meeting her in Dallas.”

“I don’t think so.”

Shield allowed himself a long, cold appraisal of the man before him. “You don’t think so what?”

Spaceman smiled “I think I’ll leave you the pleasure of meeting Agent D. I’m going to leave tomorrow on a red-eye and set up a safe house.”

“Do you know Agent D?”

“Not her, but I met her predecessor. Charming guy. Nearly collapsed a house on me after we got into a disagreement over by-laws.”

Marcus lit his cigarette. “I can’t imagine how that could happen.”

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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 LIX

“Do not worry,” said Necropolis. He was sitting at one of the pews, his legs kicked up on the headrest in front of him. There was a hymn book flopped over one knee and Nikolas was smiling. “What we need to do is not complicated.”

“Are we talking about the ten-hour long ceremony with an entire freight car of exotic compounds and rare animal parts, and enough priests for a baseball game? That ceremony? The Gemini program seems somewhat less complicated.”

“Reasonably complicated, is how I’d describe it.”

“Then what are you talking about?”

“The ceremony is window-dressing. I need the priests and their descendants to keep this place sacred and unmolested, and they need something to believe in. We both get something.

“No, Spaceman, what I was referring to was your part in all of this. All you have to do is survive. After that your life will become as complicated or as simple as your will dictates.”

“I don’t buy that either.”

It was late in the day, and the change had begun for Necropolis. His face…

Chapter LXI

“Frankie, listen to me. You have to pull the trigger.”

Frankie was silent. The rifle rested at his shoulder, just like he had practiced. He had D sighted, the slender cross-hairs pointing to spot just over her right eye. There was a slight Eastern wind which would pull the rifle to the left. He made his calibrations and rested his finger on the trigger. Perhaps a dozen men who could make this shot. He was one of them.

“This is the way it has to be, Frankie,” Marcus said. Was that nerves in his voice, or genuine terror. “If she doesn’t die, then The Master will just go on. We get this one chance and that’s it.”

In the scope, D was going through a strange contortion. Her body shuddered and she threw her head backwards as she rose first to her feet and then straight up into the air, suspended a full foot above the ground. When he had her reacquired, she was looking right at him. This was impossible, but it was plainly and obviously true. The girl knew where they were.

“Why do we need to kill…