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Chapter XIII

“It will not doubt be a relief to you, Mr. Duncan, that your wife is nearly finished.” Agent LeHaze, now Mrs. Duncan, applied the last touch of mascara to her eyelashes and pulled back from the vanity. Marcus glanced over, aware they were running behind but determined not to show it. He had finally gotten word from D and they would need to rush to meet the rendez-vous.

Tugging at the cummerbund, Shield grimaced. “Oodles.”

LeHaze had been fidgeting with her makeup and dress all night in preparation for going out. Shield didn’t quite see what the big deal was. They were meeting Agent D at the Spiny Toad, a little roadhouse just inside the town limits. Agent D had flown into Dallas last night, she was liable to be exhausted.

“The plan,” he said, to fill the room with a sound other than female agent’s pacing, “Is to meet her at the rendezvous point, establish mission parameters and follow first contact procedures. There should be no complications. This is the easy part of the mission.”

LeHaze sniffed airily. “Do we have anyway of identifying our fourth team member?”

“Section Starfire operates under Triple Black security protocols during covert missions. Agent D was chosen expressly because neither of us have met and our respective departments only communicate through dead letter drops. This is ideal because it will allow us to interact with each other for this mission and not compromise other operations in the future.”

LeHaze scooped up her red alligator skin purse from the glass table in front of the couch and made for the door. “Fine, if you’re happy with the state-of-affairs, then everything must be going according to plans.”

She was quiet throughout the trip to the Spiny Toad and Shield began to wonder what he had done to set her off. If she remained this distracted, even for a routine meet-up, it could make for a messy interaction. His cigarette lighter made a jarring click each time he flicked it open.

“Look,” she said as the pulled into the bar, “I know that I am simply observing this mission and that you don’t trust me.”

Gravel tickled the underside of the car. Shield found a parking spot and slid the gear shift into park. “It’s not that I don’t want to trust you, Agent LeHaze, I simply don’t have to. These preliminary operations pretty much manage themselves and our main action will be conducted without you. I’m trying to give you a sense of how this department runs things. Beyond that, my obligation to you is fairly minimal.”

“I wish you wouldn’t say it like that,” LeHaze whispered.

Shield gritted his teeth. “How would you like me to say it?”

“How long has been since Corinth Univerisity?”

Marcus turned away. “Two years.”

“Neither I nor the NSA has any hard feelings about your decision to go to Section Starfire.” She extracted a cigarette from her coat and snuck it between her lips. Leaning close, close enough that he could smell the floral notes of her perfume, close enough the front of her blouse softly brushed against his shoulder, she said, “I just want to make sure you’re happy with your decision.”

Her perfume touched strange levers in his mind, and he felt his eyes moisten. His cigarette lighter sparked to life and ignited the tip of her Misty Slim. A long trail of blue smoke extended from her lips and her features awoke in the glow of the cigarette. He wanted very much to reach out and cradle the back of her neck with his hands. Slowly turning his head, he knew he was already lost. Her eyes gazed up at him, impossibly large and vulnerable. A strand of her black hair hung down on the left of her face. It was so quiet in the car that when he brushed it back into place, he could nearly hear the soft susurration of his fingers upon her cheek.

“This isn’t going to help the mission,” she said, a sly smile creasing one corner of her mouth. The spell broke and Agent Shield recoiled as if shot.

“This isn’t about the mission, Melissa, and it can’t ever happen again.”

She struck the ash from her cigarette and offered him a cool, superior glance.

“Then, I want to be in this mission instead of just looking in from the outside,” she smirked. “Otherwise a lady is liable to get bored.”

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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 …