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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.”


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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.

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