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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 that pulsed a cool blue light as the car passed floors. The Soviets may have built the station, but they hadn’t built this. Thinking on it, Spaceman doubted the AC’s had gone to the trouble either. The elevator door slid open and he was staring at a wide room filled with control stations, computers and bustling functionaries. Out a tall, floor-to-floor window, the wide expanse of Antarctica was observable. Simplex must love to come up here to watch his domain. His entire kingdom of ice and nothingness.

The reflected light was as gentle and warm on his eyes as a handful of ground glass.

The floors were black, polished slate that clicked underfoot. The control stations were labeled in Russian and English, one said Gyro-stabilizers, another Reactor Coolant Passive Control. Spaceman wanted to linger but his guides kept him moving at a brisk clip.

Along the far wall, leaning against a light blue rail that prevented over-proximity to the window, was Melissa LeHaze. She looked somewhat different than in Texas. Her hair was disheveled, and she looked sleep-deprived. Even after the guides introduced him, she offered a hand. Spaceman could not believe his good luck. He grasped her hand with what he hoped was a limp and lingering shake and then stood back, smiling into the waste. She gestured for a chair, which he took, and she picked up a clipboard holding a sheaf of forms and a black pen.

“You can leave us,” LeHaze told the guides, gesturing with the pen. “Tell your boss that I’ll finish the negotiations.”

Spaceman chuckled. “Oh, and I’m going to say no?”

“It’s doesn’t greatly concern the Master whether you do or not. You are here so I can begin the debriefing process.”

Spaceman yawned.

“Your visit here will be profitable to us on a number of levels. Firstly, that dummy drug cartel that Section Starfire runs must be brought to more practical uses. You will help us transfer control of the Suliman family business to the AC’s. Then you will need time to prepare for your meeting with the Master.”

Spaceman knew she meant Necropolis.

Responding to his silence, she said, “You realize, of course, that things are not going to go well for you.”

“And you’ll be doing that much better?”

She didn't reply immediately, busy scribbling down notes on the clipboard. She looked up, and gave him an effortless, toothy grin. “In three months no one will have the intellectual capacity to remember my name or what I may or may not have done. I would have thought a stay in the room would have made you a little more eager for conversation, Spaceman. Maybe you want to go back?”

“Ask your questions.”

She flipped through a few pages, her pen tapping on the clipboard. “Our assets lost contact with you three years ago. What provoked your retirement from the intelligence world?”

“Heroin. Next question.”

“And this had nothing to do with what happened in Saigon?”

Spaceman reflected. At times honesty could be useful. He let his face fall, adopting a pose of infinite regret and exhaustion.

“I didn’t know anyone knew about that.”

“We did.”

He sagged in his chair. Let her see his weakness. Weakness only partly feigned. He sighed.

“The flames were too slow,” he said in a low voice. “And I wasn’t quick enough.”

“You loved her.”

He nodded, shifting his eyes away from her.

“The Master thinks you learned something very important in that moment.”

“Nothing I didn’t already know.”

LeHaze leaned in. He sensed a change in her, an eagerness. “You’re lying,” she said.

“What do you want me to say?”

“The truth.” She was close enough to reach out and touch. Spaceman considered her usefulness as a hostage. But her over-confidence was as much a ruse as his frailty. She wanted him to overplay his hand.

“The truth is I learned it didn’t matter. The cause. The mission. My life. None of it. I learned that a human being is like a bit of gristle dropped into a grinder, whether it winds up in the sausage or stuck to the gears is unimportant.”

“Very poetic.”

“I didn’t know then what had twisted her, subverted her. I only knew something had changed her. When I saw how complete the change was, how little of her remained... I think a part of me didn’t want to be here anymore.”

She nodded, her eyes sparkling. “That is why the Master’s offer interested you.”

“Yes.”

“Would you like to meet him?”

“And I haven’t met him yet?”

“You met his costume, his clothing,” she said. “You didn’t meet The Master.”

Inwardly Spaceman felt a surge of optimism. She had not intended to reveal that. An audience with the Master, whomever that was, would happen sooner or later, but his confession had purchased the right to talk to him while he still maintained some degree of leverage.

“I don’t know if I’m up for that,” Spaceman said, letting his arms slip from the hand rests, his skin sag on his face.

“I promise you will not be harmed,” LeHaze said. “You may even find the experience invigorating.”



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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…