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Chapter XVII

D listened intently as Marcus and Agent LeHaze filled her in on the mission.

“And these tiger snakes, they are the source of the toxin?”

“That’s what the evidence points to, yes,” Marcus said.

“Your role will be mission support,” LeHaze added, handing over a cover identity dossier. “Spaceman is responsible for finding the snakes, Agent Two-eyes and Shield will secure them.”

Agent D flipped through the folder before handing it back.


LeHaze's jaw tightened. “You will need a cover.”

“Agreed,” Agent D said. “And I’ve brought my own.”

She handed over a driver’s license with her photograph but the name Caroline Humphreys. He was about to point out that a cover identity was not the same thing as a fake ID when he realized he knew Caroline Humphreys. They had gone to the same high school and their mothers were in the same book club. He knew her favorite drink was cognac and that she had once been a recognized dressage rider which is where she met Gunther Thulewaite.

It was only through concentration that he could retain the deeper knowledge that he had never actually met this girl in his life.

He gave the card back to her. “Impressive.”

“At heart it’s a simple omnicredentia," she brushed a strand of her glossy black hair from her eyes. "I’ve modified it somewhat.”

Marcus noticed with a pang that his memories of the life he had shared with Caroline were already fading, but not the basic sense of having known her. “Your file didn’t mention you were a…”


“Let’s go with that,” he said. He recognized talent when he saw it, even if he sensed LeHaze had her doubts.

“If you have ‘magical powers,’” said LeHaze, “Why bother traveling around in a car, why not just teleport yourself from one place to another.”

“Doesn’t work like that,” she said.

“How does it work?” LeHaze snubbed out her cigarette.

“If they work, what’s the point of asking her?” Marcus asked.

“Well, for one thing, you may be fine with trusting your life to a bit of hocus pocus, but I’m certainly not. If what this girl’s claiming to be true is in fact, well, true, I’d like to know what her limitations are, what the extent of her power is. I don’t want to get in the middle of a firefight and then find out – ‘oops, my magic doesn’t affect bullets,’” she huffed for dramatic effect. “I’m not going to live under that sort of uncertainty.”

“It’s quite alright, Shield, I don’t mind the questions.”

“See, Shield, she appreciates a skeptical mind. Section Starfire could use more people like that.”

“Skepticism is one of the great obstacles, actually” pronounced D. “As I said, that’s part of the reason why I can’t simply teleport from one side of the country to the other. My mind tells me there is already a way to do that – an airplane. Magic is just like anything else in this life, it seeks the path of least resistance.”

“Are you saying if you believed it was possible to teleport than you could teleport? Let’s see, how about we all start clapping hands and wishing you back to LA.”

Shield shot her a look. Seeing she was nudging the line, Agent LeHaze retreated somewhat. “I just want to know how this works.”

“I believe that the fastest way between two points is an airplane,” said D. “Or, if I don’t have one available, I’d use a car, like we are now. My brain is still not wired to think differently. It’s actually easier to do things that are blatantly impossible than things that machines and technology make convenient. We know what a blender does and how easy it is to use. That very speed and ubiquity makes a blender more than just an assemblage of parts and technical processes,” she paused, as if certain she had already lost her audience. She hadn’t. LeHaze studied D’s explanation like a boxer checking out an opponent’s style for weaknesses. Shield was no less interested, if for the more practical reason that he wanted to know how to utilize her in the mission. LeHaze huffed again.

“So a machine becomes, what, a symbol? A mental shorthand?”

“Yes, with training I’ll find ways around that block, but for the moment I’m stuck with convenience.”

Marcus interjected, “So your magic card, it will get you into the party?”

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” she smiled. “Some of these old establishment types have Masonic connections which could gum up the works, but my specialty is enthrallment and mind hexes. The forgery is undetectable to the naked eye because in a sense the forgery simply shows what that person wants to see.”

That at least was a relief to Shield. He sat back into the driver’s seat of his Oldsmobile and tried to reassert command over his whirling thoughts. The pieces of the mission were falling into place. Melissa and he had the nod for later this evening. Frankie should have coaxed his mark to give him the same. Spaceman was already in, and hopefully laying the groundwork for the rest of the team. If D could hold up her powers than they should have a fully operational strike team right under the AC’s noses by tonight.

Shield took it upon himself to arrange for another room for D down the hall from the ‘Duncans.’ With the chameleon documents it scarcely mattered what cover story she used, but D registered as the Mrs Duncan’s sister, down for a visit from Ohio. A bellhop retrieved her minimal luggage and the trio left for the upstairs. As much as had happened this evening, Shield knew their night was far from over; there was still the Thulewaite Ranch and a confrontation with Gunther and the rest of the AC’s. Even a few minutes rest could make the difference between success and failure.

As LeHaze and Delacroix approached their room, they observed light fanning out from the bottom of their door. Exchanging a quick glance, both drew weapons and took station at either side of the door. LeHaze reached for the handle and Shield charged inside, revolver leveled.

The living area of the suite was undisturbed but the smell of cleaning agents hung in the air. LeHaze side-stepped into the suite, softly shutting the door behind them. They heard the sound of a faucet coming from the shut bathroom door.

After making sure the intruder wasn’t anywhere else, they gathered by the bathroom. LeHaze was smiling, her small automatic pistol extended out in front of her in classic shooter’s stance. She nodded at Marcus.

Agent Shield kicked the door open, his finger ready to squeeze off a double-tap. He found the intruder at the sink, calmly scrubbing at his hands in the sink. A bottle of household bleach sat on the lid of the toilet. Shield lowered his weapon.


“I didn’t expect you so early,” he said, turning off the water.

“Agent Two-Eyes, this is a breach of every code of conduct-“

“I needed more room for my work,” he said with a smile.

Steadying herself, Melissa asked, “Did it work, can you get in?”

“Oh yeah,” Frankie said. “I’m in.”

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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.

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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 …