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Chapter XXII

Spaceman reclined in one of the leather chairs towards the back of the room, entertaining potential customers with tales of old Morocco. Attuned to the ebb and flow of such gatherings, Spaceman took immediate notice of each disturbance, no matter how small. In the brief between one conversation and the next, a man had appeared by the bookcase, dressed almost entirely in black with a deep blue shirt open at the neck. Spaceman noticed other party-goers went to elaborate lengths to avoid contact with him, walking around him and talking through him as though they couldn’t see him at all. Spaceman also noted this interloper was staring back at him. Asking a debutante about the stranger, the girl confessed not knowing much about him other than his name: Nickolas Necropolis.

“He’s a business associate from Greece,” said a nearby rancher hand rolling a cigarette. “Kind of an ugly reputation in these parts.”

“Ugly?” Spaceman smiled, “And yet still invited to all the best parties.”

The rancher chuckled dryly. “Search me, Gunther’s deal.”

As quickly as he had appeared, Necropolis left the room. Spaceman decided to follow.

The barn into which Necropolis walked was clearly not open to the public this late at night. There were no lights and the stranger struggled with the locked doors. Once his quarry went inside, Spaceman slipped through after him.

The interior was dark with no lights and little moonlight. Spaceman crept through the lobby and nudged open a metal door marked “Hall of Specimens.”

The hall featured row after row of Plexiglas crates containing different exotic habitats and barely visible inhabitants. A few of the frogs Spaceman recognized from a spirit quest to Manaus several years ago. Licking the back of the strange amphibians was high on his list of regrets.

He heard a noise and crept closer. Heat lamps provided light, revealing Necropolis standing in front of a large glass aquarium. Necropolis turned and faced the Section Starfire agent.

“You followed me,” the Greek said.

“Didn’t mean anything by it,” said Spaceman, “Just curious what might be in the building.”

“Several hundred varieties of painful death,” said Necropolis.

“Sounds like fun.”

A knowing smirk crossed Necropolis’s mouth. “This is one of the worst of them all.”

At first Spaceman didn’t see anything in the aquarium. A twisted tropical tree with large leaves obscured the interior. A bad mural posed as dense rain forest. It was only gradually that he saw that not all of the green was foliage. A snake the same brilliant green color as the surrounding leaves lay draped along the length of the tree. It had its eyes open and seemed to be taking the measure of the two of them.

“What’s that?” asked Spaceman.

“You know what it is. It’s what you came for.”

A little trill of alarm jolted Spaceman. “It’s a Burmese Tiger Snake.”

“Exactly,” said Necropolis. “Its glands produce two separate types of toxins. The first is a nerve agent, the victim falls into a completely helpless, catatonic state. This is the toxin the snake uses for hunting – the poison immobilizes the victim as the snake goes on to dine on one of its body parts.”

“That’s if it’s hungry, I guess.”

“They’re always hungry,” said Necropolis. “Gunther keeps the snakes underfed. Tomorrow he intends to use them as the main attraction in a pit fight for the amusement of his guests.”

“Why are you showing me this?”

“I wanted to see your reaction to them,” Necropolis said. “I wanted to see if this was really what brought you here – a few obscure snakes.”

Sulimann looked at Necropolis. Up until this moment, if asked why he was on the mission, finding the Burmese serpents would have been the answer. Ever since experiencing their venom’s effect first hand, he had become intrigued by the possibilities they offered. Agent Shield might not understand but then there was a lot Marcus didn’t understand.

“I’m curious to how these snakes wound up here and what their purpose is.”

Necropolis nodded, as though this was the answer he was expecting.

“I created them to help me,” Necropolis said. “They serve my purpose.”

Spaceman froze. “What do you mean you made them?”

“I would love the opportunity to show you," his voice softened. "After tomorrow’s tedious exercise in vulgarity, I’ll be traveling south. Would you like to join me?”

“How far south are we talking about?”

“All the way,” Necropolis said, finishing his wine. “The plane has an extra seat, should I inform the pilot to expect a guest?”

Spaceman watched three more snakes appeared from the undergrowth, silently testing the air with their forked black tongues.

Shaking his head he wondered who they managed to find stupid enough to fight a bunch of venomous snakes.

“I am intrigued,” Spaceman said. “Let’s speak more tomorrow.”

Link to Next Chapter

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 …