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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 one or two lodged inside the fabric of the rope around his wrist. He wrenched another few bubbles into existence around them and began to pry the cord loose, only fractionally, but enough. Enough, that is, if Gunther gave him time.

“Let’s say I’m interested,” Marcus said. “What exactly do you want me to do?”

“Kill Hugo Simplex,” Gunter said with a laugh. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“Kill your boss?”

“Hugo’s not my boss,” Gunther flashed. “He’s middle management.”

Marcus paused in weakening his restraints with bubbles. Wait a minute, the AC dossier didn’t mention anyone calling the shots besides Simplex. What was he going on about?”

“When am I going to see Simplex? Are you taking me to him?”

“Yes,” Gunther said. “But we can’t rush things. That’s the mistake you made, remember? Not getting the lay of the land, boy. Once we’re at Delta Omega, we can figure out the situation and when I judge the moment right, I’ll have you deliver the killing strike.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because it’s what you want to do anyway. Your mission is to take out the ACs. I’m giving you their nominal leader on a silver platter.”

“But not their real leader,” another few threads snapped. He could wiggle more of his fingers now, cause himself even more discomfort.

“Technicalities,” Gunther said. “In any case, you’re not going to be killing Necropolis. There’s no killing him.”

Who? Marcus wondered. That was a name completely unfamiliar to him.

“And yet,” Marcus said. “You seem to have faith I can kill Hugo Simplex.”

“With me running the operation, even a Section Starfire freak like you couldn’t screw it up. It’ll be a perfect kill.”

Marcus was silent. Gunther smiled. “Don’t think too long – there are still plenty of other things to do before we reach Antarctica.”

“I do have one more question,” Marcus asked, moving his fingers into position, applying pressure on the old break in his fifth intermediate phalange.

“Yes?”

“How are you going to do any of this without a head?”

Gunther’s face registered bafflement before it split apart and dissolved into a spray of red blood and tissue. The Texans’ bulk stayed upright for a moment and then toppled over like an old barn. The force bubble that had killed him trembled in the air, held in place through Marcus’s will. He heard a shout of surprise behind him and whipped the force-bubble at its source. The shout ended.

He quickly pulled off the rest of the rope, holding his pinkie as immobile as possible. He was going to have to find a make-shift splint. His ankles were lashed to the legs of the chair and he untied them. By the time he was on his feet again, D was stirring in her restraints.

“Did you do that?” she considered the mess in front of her with little emotion.

“Yes,” Marcus said, freeing her. “Now, get yourself together. We have to save Frankie.”



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