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Chapter XXXIV

After a few hours, the guards came back. They found Spaceman huddled in one corner of the room, shaking violently. Oblivious to his sickness, they hauled him to his feet and marched him out the door.

Even if he had wanted to ask them questions, their venom rigs suggested the answers wouldn’t be terribly illuminating. He bided his time, keeping his mind open and free of judgement. In dealing with people, Spaceman preferred two general strategies. The first was talking, and the other was listening. Talking was for emergencies, listening was for everything else. Most people Spaceman knew thought of listening as a passive act, a reception of information. It was not. An aggressive listener could often accomplish much with little more than an open and accepting demeanor. You just had to find the right moment to listen and the right moment to ask a question.

The elevator he and the guards used was impressive. The walls were done in brushed steel, with neon mounted in glass panels th…

Chapter XXXIII

Amateurs, Frankie thought. Goddamn amateurs.

Was there anything worse than dying at the hands of the inept? If he gave them a few pointers they’d break him in a matter of minutes. Probably save them all a lot of grief.

As it was, they wasted minutes wrestling him off of the chair into some great big metal apparatus in the front compartment. Frankie didn’t make it easy for them. When they had released one hand, he rabbit-punched the commando on his left. That drew a round of beating. Then, thinking him subdued, they tried lifting him off of the chair. He lashed out again, this time smashing a venom shunt on one of their heads. The commando shrieked, slapping at the bore-hole spurting viscous green fluid. He collapsed to the deck and stopped moving.

Another torrent of blows followed, inexpertly administered but effective. They manacled him to the metal apparatus, his head clamped firmly inside a Mayfield surgical adaptor. If the commandoes were still fully human, this would…

Chapter XXXII

Spaceman followed as Necropolis stalked over to Simplex.

“What is the meaning of bringing that women here?” he asked. Simplex followed Necropolis’ gesture and shrugged.

“She was a part of the plan. It seemed reasonable to have her on hand as we approach its fruition.”

“And you were aware of her involvement in the American Intelligence service?”

“Of course,” Simplex seemed genuinely baffled by Necropolis’ questions. “That’s the point of a double-agent, don’t you think?”

“Exactly,” Necropolis said, turning to Suliman. His eyes had taken on a different, more appraising cast. “Now that we have that obvious point established, let’s revisit your own identity.”

“Rasheed Suliman,” Spaceman said. “Importer/exporter of-“

“That’s not who you are,” Necropolis shook his head as though embarrassed for Spaceman. “If you were, in fact, Rasheed Suliman, you would currently be lying in a shallow grave outside of Waco, Texas.”

“Ah,” Spaceman said, suddenly feeling very un…

Chapter XXXI

“The fact is,” Gunther said. “Time has come and gone for me to move up in the organization. You’re going to be my ladder upwards.”

Marcus focused on the little bits of broken glass he imagined digging into his broken ring finger. Whoever had restrained him had a done a thorough job, he could barely wiggle a finger. But even a wiggle was agony. Agony he could use.

“I wouldn’t get too comfortable with the idea of me helping you,” Marcus said through gritted teeth.

There was another scream from the room behind him. He thought he saw D shift in her seat. Maybe she was finally returning to consciousness. He wiggled his finger again, hearing the tiny clink of micro-bubbles striking the deck beneath him.

“You are going to help me,” Gunther said. “You’re going to help me and help yourself. Don’t you see how much this helps us both?”

Marcus flexed his finger and nearly had to bite his own tongue to avoid screaming out. He felt another swarm of force bubbles fall into his palms. He could also feel o…

Chapter XXX

The form of the Delta Omega base came before its function. The shape, the massive disk lying on the flat uninterrupted plane, appealed immensely to its architect Igori Splendov. How had this come to be? Igori was unable to answer. He saw limitless possibilities in the disk, the power of the curving walls.

There were the several appealing and beautiful mathematical concepts embodied in its form. Why its very circumference contained his favorite number, pi. In contrast to the United States with its polygonal military hive, the USSR would have the more human, the more enlightened, wheel. There was something rational, welcoming, and universal about this shape. He would explain this to anyone who’d listen. He saw a modular living space to open up the wastes of Siberia. He saw smaller disks submerged beneath the arctic ice, silently monitoring enemy submarines. Disks could be brought to the moon, transported to the Mare Traquillitatis one wedge at a time. No matter how cold the environm…

Chapter XXIX

Spaceman had just finished another martini when the pilot announced the plane had reached its destination. Looking out the window, he didn’t see anything suggesting a destination. What he saw, what he had been seeing for hours, was the icy wastes of Antarctica.

Necropolis looked bored as the plane banked for its descent. Only then did Spaceman catch sight of where they were going.

“The Delta Omega base,” said Necropolis. “Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Shaped like a gigantic hockey puck, the Delta Omega base was roughly the same size as the Pentagon. Instead of rings of office buildings, the Delta Omega base consisted of a single immense dome. Equipment sheds and guard emplacements surrounded it, all dwarfed by the scale of the base. Some distance beyond lay the airstrip, in reality little more than a patch of level ice. Landing could be interesting.

“How could you have built this thing?”

“Oh, building is not so difficult,” said Necropolis. “Designing: that was the challeng…

Chapter XXVIII

Marcus awoke bound to a chair in a cold room that shook violently around him. Looking around, he found Agent Two-eyes watching him with the enthusiasm of a man observing mushrooms emerge from a lawn.

“They put us on a transport plane,” Frankie said, his voice indistinct in the cacophony. “A C-130 from the sound of it.”

“You’re alive,” Marcus said.

“You sound surprised.”

“I’m not the one who voluntarily wrestled a pack of snakes.”

“Ah, they were pussy cats,” Frankie said. “I wouldn’t be in this chair if she hadn’t knocked me out.” His eyes flicked to the side, signifying to Marcus where this agent of sabotage could be found.

Marcus leaned forward as much as his restraints allowed, catching sight of Agent D slumped in her own chair to Frankie’s right. Her eyes were closed but moved fitfully beneath the lids.

“What happened to her?”

“Who knows? Maybe she exhausted herself putting a spell on me, maybe she’s hibernating. I don’t have much experience with wit…

Interlude: Greece, 1941

The young man was born in Dymi, a small village on the northern coast of the Peloponnesus. The village had seen its share of history down through the millennia but the young man considered it a relatively uneventful, drowsy corner of the world. He was born into a fisherman’s family and expected to join the fleet by his sixteenth year. Secretly, he thought he might have enjoyed that fate.

His name was Nikolas and what he formerly wanted is of little concern to this story.

One warm June morning Nikolas walked from his house to the coast. He had vague plans to meet up with friends there but if they hadn’t woken yet he would take a swim and find something else to occupy his time. He encountered a pleasant lemony fragrance on the air and took a detour through a olive grove to see if the linden trees had bloomed. The fragrance, however, led him from orchard to a lonely tree clutching the edge of an eroded cliff. The Adriatic Sea thundered below and Nikolas sat down to watch it. He s…

Chapter XXVII

Frankie took a step backward, keeping his eyes on the serpents as they writhed on their hooks. While still out of striking range, the snakes lashed from one side to the other, desperate to sink their fangs into his skin. Two choices and two choices only. The first was letting them enter the pit and taking a few down quickly and wear down the rest. That might be the smart move if his opponents were smaller but the sheer size of the snakes argued against that approach.

So, on to Plan B.

While the snakes still descended into the pit, Frankie dashed forward, leaping in the air. His knife flashed and two of the snakes hung limply, blood raining down. Another jump and he caught a third by surprise. A fourth snake nearly caught him in the shoulder but he deflected it. He landed badly, out of position for the remaining serpents as they dropped from their hooks. Normal snakes might have slithered away but not the tiger snakes.

Frankie snap rolled right, dodgin…