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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, dodging a strike aimed at his neck and then another at his arm. They slid around him, following the curve of the pit.

Abruptly, he felt a surge of anger. He was not going to die here, not as another hidden statistic of the Cold War. A snake reared up to his left and he swept his knife in a wide arc. Its head fell into its own coils. Another came at his legs and he stabbed down. In its death throes it wrapped its body up his right arm, trapping the blade.

The audience was clapping politely now and giving him encouragements. Frankie felt a weird certainty that he was going to make it. Something else seemed to be guiding his hands and lending speed to his actions. Frankie was fast, but he wasn’t this fast.

One more left, and it left the pit wall, its long green body undulating in long, sensuous waves. He had known human adversaries with less grit and determination. Backing up, he waited until it struck to his right. Frankie flung his coil-snared arm in front of him and the snake took the bait, chomping down on its dead compatriot. Frankie grabbed the living snake with his free left arm and broke its neck. Both snakes slipped from his arm.

The crowd fell silent as Frankie climbed out of the pit. Some were already filing out of the barn, show over. Gunther too made his way out of the barn, disappointment clearly written on his face. Frankie looked up and saw D, her eyes opaque and distant, hands clenched in front of her. She had done something for him, he realized, some sort of spell or witchcraft to keep him in the fight.

She snapped out of her trance and looked down at Frankie. Her gaze held a terrible awareness of his intentions. She knew why he had joined the mission and had saved him anyway. As the crowd milled out of the stands, part of him knew that this was his chance. He looked down at his blade and let it fall from his dumb fingers. If LeHaze wanted D dead, she’d have to do it herself.

It was at that moment that a group of men came spilling out of a nearby equipment shed. Before Frankie had time to do more than wipe the sweat off his brow, he and agent D were flanked on all sides by armed men, weapons leveled at them. Gunter stepped from behind the screen of guards, a smug grin stuck on his face.

“Well, done Marvin Lain,” Gunter said. “Very impressive.”

“You have a funny way of celebrating,” Frankie said.

“Funny? There’s nothing funny about this, Mr. Lain. You lied to my face about who you are and who you work for. I don’t reckon that’s much of a joke at all.”

Considering his options, Frankie let his eyes rest briefly on the knife at his feet. Better to go down fighting, he thought, a warrior to the end. Before he moved a finger, though, he felt a curious itchy sensation crawl across this arms and back. Had D said something? Frankie saw a flash of green, and flew from the ground. He fell face-first in the dust, biting his tongue, already spinning off into the black.

(This concludes Part One of "Agent Shield and Spaceman")

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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.

“Why do we need to kill…