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Chapter XXXVIII

The way Frankie figured, he could have either joined the CIA or gone to prison. His background didn’t provide many other options. He kept his nose clean and while his family was not particularly wealthy, his Uncle certainly was. In high school he became fascinated with driving fast cars and getting what other people already had. College showed him the skills to do both of those things to perfection. But his life could have still gone in a very different direction. He was not what his father would have called “book smart,” nor was he especially good at covering his disdain for dull fraternity letter types. Left to his own devices, he would have dug up some kind of trouble even his uncle couldn’t have saved him from.

The CIA had many ways of unearthing the talent it needed, countless favors it could call in. Maybe his uncle even reached out. They identified his potential and gently, firmly turned him to espionage.

A born field operative, the Central Intelligence Agency found sma…

Chapter XXXVII

Shield struck out with his hand, but the man coming out of the door ducked, sending his fist into a bulkhead. He was typically adept at rolling his punches to avoid contact with the occasional broken finger, but without his braces, he couldn’t avoid the sudden flare of pain. A cluster of force bubbles popped into being, falling to the deck with a sound like loose change. One bubble apparently manifested inside the intercom, causing a shower of sparks to spray everywhere.

The pilot grunted, side-stepped Shield’s next punch, and then placed a well-aimed kick into his gut. Shield slammed into Frankie, sending both men toppling to the deck. While the Section Starfire agents worked to disentangle themselves, the pilot escaped out of view.

“Get off of me!” Frankie hollered, pushing Shield away. Marcus rolled to his feet, looked over the edge of the balcony to find the pilot leveling a pistol at him. He jerked back, a bullet clipping the metal railing. The sound of the gun was deafe…

Chapter XXXVI

Spaceman entered the final double doors having a pretty good idea what he’d find. He was completely wrong.

The room was smaller for one thing. A man like Necropolis, who had impressed Spaceman with the grandeur and indefatigable determination of his ideas, seemed the type to go for a palatial pent-house. Not so.

The room was large, but not impressively. It was also unusually stark, the burnished steel walls of the rest of the station left unadorned. A single desk occupied the far wall, noticeably turned away from the small port-hole like window on the opposite side of the room. Aside from a few books, the only other object of note was a small wooden chest.

And, of course, Necropolis.

The change he had noticed on the tarmac had reached some kind of apotheosis within his quarters. He had become a shriveled prune, his skin stretched tight across his nearly bald scalp, puckered into myriad wrinkles and folds around his mouth. His body had collapsed into itself, nearly lost…

Chapter XXXV

Agent D ran for the stairs; above the handrail was a grubby white intercom box with a big red call button on its front. Before Frankie pressed the button, D motioned for him to wait. She quickly climbed to the second level and pressed her hands on the door to the cabin. Squinting her eyes shut, she mumbled a few simple words in the dead Tlchotha tongue. The words stuck to the back of her tongue and tasted bitter.

“It’s ‘snake,’” whispered Frankie, “It has to be – Burma Snake. Try it.”

“No,” said D. “That’s not it…”

“Stencil, do you copy?” the intercom squawked. “Burma. Repeat, Burma.”

D mouthed a word to Shield and he tapped the button. “Road,” he barked.

There was a nerve-wracking pause before the reply, “Is the situation secure?”

“Secure,” said Shield. “What’s up?”

“I wanted to let you boys know we’re going to go through some turbulence.”

“Bad?”

“You’ll want to buckle up and secure the cargo,” the voice said, “All of it, I suppose.”

“Check.”