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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.”

“Bad?”

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

“Check.”

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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“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.

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