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Chapter XXV

In this part of Texas, mornings wake up befuddled and lost, as if unsure about what sort of day they will become. Even in the fieriest depths of the summer, one might wake up with a chill, seeing dew on the ground. This hesitation only disappears in the mid morning, when the sun resumes its jurisdiction in the high, open sky and sears the land into submissiveness.

Frankie Two-Eyes woke up at 10:30 am and slowly unraveled himself from the sheets. Sweat coated him like a slime trail; he wanted nothing more than to just flop off of the bed and lay on the cool floor like a beached fish. The humidity was palpable, a miserable wet thing pressing down on his face and lungs. His head felt like a dropped egg, wrapped back together with masking tape, his every motion inviting dire nausea.

Carefully peeling off his night shirt, he staggered around until he found some water to splash on his face. He wrestled with the room’s window, looking to open it to a breeze, gave up when it proved painted shut. He retreated to the shower, standing beneath it until he felt capable of escaping the room.

Most on the ranch appeared heat struck and hung over. They lurched into the breakfast hall, sat down at their places and stared at the cantaloupes, homefries, sausages and omelets like people facing their own mortality.

Perhaps because of the heat, there was not as much conversation about the impending pit match as Frankie expected. When he entered a few heads turned his way but most were lost in abject misery. As a playground for the richest and most powerful men on the planet, the Thulewaite Ranch was awfully skimpy on the air conditioning.

Nevertheless, he kept himself alert to his target. Walking into the room, she seemed wary, her eyes passing over Frankie but not pausing on it for even a fraction of a second. Frankie smiled. This wasn’t Agent D’s first time at the rodeo.

As breakfast wore on, a few guests came up to Frankie and congratulated him on his courage and wished him luck. He noted a strange casualness to these exchanges. Perhaps some of them had a strong opinion about plopping a barbaric blood sport in the middle of Texas ranch, but Frankie couldn’t detect it. The expressions of their faces were peculiar: calm, reserved and mildly expectant. Exactly the sort of faces he’d expect many to wear to a Boston Symphony concert. And yet, without fanfare or evident excitement, the ranch nevertheless turned up to the last guest in the red event barn behind the main building.

The pit itself was a depressed oval surrounded on all sides by wooden bleachers of the type employed for sporting events. All that was missing was a scoreboard and group of cheerleaders. There was little shade and most of the spectators brought umbrellas to hold up.

Spotting “Mr. and Mrs. Duncan” in one of the first rows, Frankie headed for the entrance to the fighting pit. A farm hand helped him strip to the waist before handing him a simple Bowie knife. Agent Two Eyes registered D choosing a spot close to the edge of the pit and leaped nimbly down into the pit. He was glad she had picked the closer vantage point, he would need her close at hand when his chance arrived.

The crowd began to get more anxious, the women affecting dismay over the contest while their husbands began laying down wagers. Only when Gunther appeared from the same door Frankie had used did the crowd resume their previous solemnity.

“Friends and guests,” Gunther, obviously accustomed to the undivided attention of others, began without preamble. “We join together today to witness another test of man against nature. Another trial on whether the power of a brave man is enough to triumph over adversity or fall before the weight of impossible odds. We face these challenges daily in our private and public lives, and here we are given the chance to observe a dramatization of these universal problems as it is visited upon him.”

Across the barn, Frankie finally spotted Agent Spaceman, sitting with a tall pale man he didn’t recognize. Frankie noted that the pale man had fixed his attention a target close to the edge of the ring. Frankie followed his gaze down, finally resting upon Agent D. Apparently oblivious to any of this, D sat on her bench, hands folded primly in her lap, her dark eyes locked on Frankie.

“Within five minutes,” Gunther drawled, “We will loose upon this pit several creatures of such unrelenting ferocity and malice that I’m not sure ten strong men could be reasonably expected to prevail. Among you today, I am sure there are one or two who may be aware of the awfulness, the sheer malignant danger of a species of serpent from the Indochinese jungle. I am talking of course about the Burmese Tiger Snake.”

He paused for effect, but the response was subdued. Most of the people around her looked frankly confused. D reflected that as dangerous as Gunther’s chosen animal was, it did suffer from a certain obscurity. Perhaps sensing this defect in his entertainment, Gunther quickly strove to educate his audience – detailing the difficulties his company endured in securing these animals. The lengths they had to go to just to trap one live snake. The costs in terms of money and human lives.

From the ceiling were lowered six of the fiendish creatures to height level with the high plank of the bleachers. This was the first good look Frankie had gotten of the Tiger Snake and he wasn’t much taken with them. Their color was a drab, brutal green, each specimen around 10 feet long, the length of their twirling, curling bodies crisscrossed in pink hatchings that resembled old, badly healed wounds. But far worse were their obscene faces, a cruel wedge-shaped mask ridged and rippled like a vampire bat.

The crowd was already growing alarmed when one of the creatures lashed out and sank its fangs into the flank of a neighbor. Its target convulsed, its entire length arcing backwards into a rigid U-shape. Burst capillaries turned its eyes bright red, and the Tiger Snake sagged on its hook, blood trickling from its open maw.

“Ah, the hemolytic venom,” Gunther said. “They only employ that toxin when they are in a foul temper.”

Frankie watched this for a moment, the bowie knife dangling loose from his fingers. For the first time, Frankie understood the magnitude of his mistake.


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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.

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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.

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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 …

Chapter XLVIII

Spaceman found it very easy to leave the station. His coterie of friends kept growing with each attempt at intervention until a kind of critical mass arrived. Whether or not he was a prisoner, or a Section Starfire agent, or a notorious addict became immaterial. Spaceman lead, and those looking to follow did so.

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He figured the result would be a few sasquatch and sea serpents making a break for it. He hoped there were enough penguins in Antarctica to feed a new population of Big Feet. Big Foots? Spaceman chuckled to himself, bummed a cigarette from another engineer and directed his followers upwards.

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