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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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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…

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 …

Chapter II

Agent Spaceman did not have much difficulty leaving the embassy. He had features and a demeanor easy to forget. Only his habits left their unsavory, distinctive marks.

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