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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.”


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


The intercom clicked and was silent.

“Think they bought it?” Frankie picked up a crowbar, tacitly revealing his opinion on the matter.

The latch of the door jiggled and began to swivel open. Without much time to think, D breathed the shak’Hu khlar, a spell handed down from the days of Ur, a fast and dirty incantation she had first learned almost 10 years ago.

A man leaned out from the cabin, visibly straining to remain vertical on the unstable stairs. He must have figured on sneaking an unfiltered glimpse of the lower deck while everyone was busy with the turbulence.

There was a curious sensation as she passed under the swinging hatch and re-emerged on the other side. She dismissed the khlar and used a once more corporeal hand to shut the hatch tight. A few quick steps took her into the cockpit, which was at once bigger than she expected and almost impossibly crammed with dials, controls and screens. The pilot turned around, his smile fleeing upon seeing her.

“Mukthir hamma Soln,” she whispered, and let a loop of hemp string fall from her ring finger.

“Who are you?” said the pilot. “Oh my God, you’re one of the prisoners.”

“Do not try to stand up,” D commanded but she wasn’t quick enough. The enthrallment was half-botched and the pilot’s right leg was paralyzed. In swinging off his seat, he overbalanced and crashed against the center of the instrument panel. An alarm sounded as the deck heaved backwards.

“What did you do to me?” the pilot gasped, pulling a revolver free of its holster.

“Put the gun away,” she said, reaching for the right tone. Tlchotha was hard to pronounce in stressful situations, and perhaps she had held the glottal a hair too long. The pilot raised his pistol and fired.

It missed her and she was able to swat the gun out of his hand with the back of her hand. She breathed another phrase, this one in high Latin, much easier to pronounce, if slightly less potent. The pilot’s back arched backwards like a bow, his arms flailing to either side of him.

D grabbed the pilot’s shirt and tried to pry him away from controls but the man’s rigidity proved hard to overcome. His hands kept slapping at the buttons and the control yoke. D felt the airplane began to tip backwards, suddenly entering into a steep climb. She grabbed ahold of the back of the co-pilot’s seat, to keep from sliding back towards the radio controller’s station.

Behind her, she heard the roar of the wind. The sound was deafening and over her shoulder she saw why. One of the pilot’s actions had opened the back of the plane. As the door to the cockpit swung freely, she could see the gangplank slide open, everything not bolted down sliding towards the opening maw.

Worse, she saw that the pilot’s one shot had found a mark. It had struck one of the covered crates and now something with bashing away from inside of the crate, something large and very pissed-off.

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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 L

It was immediately apparent they were traveling downwards, not up. Marcus wondered aloud what sort of transportation they were going to find at the bottom of the station.

“A submarine,” Simplex answered matter-of-factually.

“A submarine encased in ice?”

“No,” Hugo said. “Open water.”

“This whole station floats?”

“Of course! That is what it is designed to do. No section of ice, however deep, could be guaranteed to support a structure this massive. What would happen if a freak warming spell intruded into the deep Antarctic? The builders of this place designed it to melt a hole through the ice into the cavern and float there like a rubber duck in a bathtub. This underside is a convenient place to store submarines, no?”

“Very convenient,” D said sunnily.

“Ah, we are coming to the first challenge of our escape from the Delta Omega.”

Ahead of them, the corridor was blocked off by a set of heavy steel doors. Each door had a small round window mounted about eye level. Steam and condensation blocked …

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 …