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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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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 …