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Chapter XXVI

Watching the snakes descend, Marcus decided the moment to leave had arrived. Whether Two-eyes survived or not was out of his hands, but the mission had to succeed. D could fill out the lost agent report, he was going to trace the snakes back to their source.

Luther Van Krossen was standing some distance behind the bleachers and Shield approached him about previous night’s offer of a tour. Van Krossen jumped at the chance to avoid witnessing the slaughter.

“I’ll be honest with you,” he said holding open an access door behind the barn. “Gunther gets entirely too much pleasure out of these little events.”

“I’m surprised they happen at all,” offered Shield. “Even in Texas this kind of thing must raise a few eyebrows.”

“Fewer than you think,” he said but didn’t elaborate.

The Thulewaite Pharmecutical factory was apparently contained underground. Suggesting this was a little unusual, Luther explained that the heat demands for their process were rather extreme. Indeed, as they walked down a large straight corridor, Shield could catch glimpses through windowed doors of large surgical steel pasteurization vats and automated filling machines. For a complex of this size, Shield was surprised how few people were around.

They came to a door marked simply A-23 and Luther began fishing for the right key.

“What’s behind door number 23?”

Luther looked up and gave a strange half smile. “Believe me when I say, you’re going to have to see that for yourself.”

Behind the door was a long corridor with glass panels. Before he entered the corridor he knew what he would see behind that glass.

Thulewaite had gone to a lot of expense for his snakes; the corridor turned out to be a catwalk over a large drum-shaped chamber filled with tropical trees and plants. The far walls had been covered in a Rousseau jungle scene, complete with strangely paralyzed monkeys and lions gazing stiffly out of the composition. He caught a glimpse of pink striations as a snake plunged into thick undergrowth. The animosity of the snakes for their captors was a tangible thing, a pervasive force that raised little hairs on the back of his neck. He crossed the catwalk in about three steps and didn’t look back until they were in the next room, a multilevel atrium containing workstations and banks of grey filing cabinets.

“So, what do you think of the snakes?”


“Try working here day after day,” Krossen paused and leaned in close. “Someone last year died right on that catwalk. That’s why they walled it in glass. The fucking snakes found some way to latch onto the bottom of the bridge. They cooperated. A few snakes wrapped around the struts and served as anchors for one of the really big ones. Imagine being that luckless bastard: on your way to get some coffee and then BAM! You’re taking a one way trip down some reptile’s throat.”

Shield, already searching through the file cabinet for shipping invoices, buy reports, and records of transport, gave his reply as a grunt.

“Never even recovered the body,” came a new voice, dimly familiar. “Just too expensive to open up of those wonderful creatures up every time they eat someone.”

Shield swiveled, already pressing down on his index joint. He saw Melissa and the gun pointed at her head.

“I wouldn’t try that, Mr. Duncan” said Hugo Simplex, pressed a gun close to Agent LeHaze. “Or should I say, Agent Shield?”

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Link to First Chapter


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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.

“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.”

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“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.

“Why do we need to kill…