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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 beneath a heap of blankets and comforters, wrapped around him as he sat curled within a wheelchair.

This then was the Master.

The two guards detached themselves from Spaceman's side, one taking the handles of the Master’s wheelchair and positioning him in front of the Section Starfire agent. The other walked to the chest, opened it, and drew out a shotgun. He began loading shells into the breach of the weapon as the Master addressed Spaceman.

“You are with me now so I may make a decision,” the papery old man rasped. “Answer me truthfully and the entire world shall be laid in front of you. Lie to me, even once, and my servants will end you.”

The AC clicked another shell into the shotgun.

“Could I have a drink?” Spaceman asked.

Almost imperceptibly, the old man nodded. The second AC drone went over to a small cabinet, fumbled through the contents until it produced a glass and a mixer. The drone found a bottle of vodka and schnapps, staring at them for a long moment, as though divining their purpose.

“Agent LeHaze said you wished to make me an offer,” Spaceman said. “I also have an offer for you.”

“Yes?”

Again, Spaceman was reminded of the efficacy of the truth. He remembered the small package he had opened in Casablanca, the wonder of a new corner of the world previously denied him.

“I’d like to offer my service to a new vision for the world.”

Another click into the shotgun.

“The venom from the snakes,” Spaceman said, trying to keep his words from rushing together. “Your…other self said it was something you created. I’m guessing it’s not the only thing like that. You have some way of bringing the drug to a great many people.”

The second AC unstoppered the schnapps and poured a messy splash into the shaker tin, before adding a considerable amount of vodka. It attempted to cram an entire lime into the tin before realizing it would need to be sliced.

“It’s medicine,” the Master said.

“Medicine that could change the world. No matter what else you might think of me, know that I am sincere in this. I joined Section Starfire to help change the world. To fight for ideals of fraternity, equality, and liberty. I thought such things could be achieved through courage and direct action, that man could be elevated through education and example. I was wrong.”

The old man chuckled, a sound as dry as pebbles tumbling down a gulch. “You think the medicine could make the difference.”

The shotgun AC fished around the chest, keeping his blank eyes on Spaceman. The cocktail AC found a chopping knife and started butchering the lime.

“But not like your Anti-Cerebrists think. You want to create slaves but I think the venom, properly cut, could in itself have the power to cure. It’s desire that’s poisoned this world, the constant, relentless need to take and hold and never let go. The venom cures that. It is a self-destroyer, a mind vaccine.”

The final shell clicked home and the AC chambered a round.

“Do you want slaves or do you want to change the world?” Spaceman asked and for an instant, despite himself, it dawned on him he was no longer even trying to manipulate the man in front of him. He believed what he was saying. He wanted the Master to agree with him because it would be the right thing. For him, for Spaceman, for the entire world.

“My dear Spaceman, do you understand what I am?”

“I think you are a great man who has the power to make this world great again.”

The cocktail AC shook the tin vigoursly and slopped its contents into a tumbler. The drone brought it to Spaceman's waiting hands.

“I am a god,” the Master said, almost sadly. “I arose when the world was new and have lingered on this planet all the vast ages of man. I’ve experienced everything this world has to offer many, many times. I’ve gone through long periods certain I could help humans. I created paradises on earth in Ur, Egypt, Crete, Xi’an, and Peru. And do you know what I’ve learned from those experiences?

Spaceman tried to keep his hands from shaking as he sipped at his drink, bits of pulp and seed floated at the rim. The first drone kept his shotgun at parade rest, staring at the agent with blank shark eyes.

“Human beings don’t deserve happiness. They can’t comprehend it, mistrust those who provide it, and ultimately rebel against the systems designed to sustain it. What you call civilization is your species’ pale mockery of my tireless efforts. The only thing that has changed is your cunning has finally been able to catch up with my ambition.”

He raised a frail hand towards the AC drones. “This is my vision for the world. The only thing I need are bodies vigorous enough to complete my vision. I am a gardener, Spaceman, I have watched bloodlines for millennia, waiting for the proper alignment of genes and traits. You were meant to be my chariot, and instead I see the world has already claimed you.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You were brought here for me to see with my own eyes if you would suffice as my next vessel. Your addictions and cowardice concerned me, but not much as what I’ve just heard. Your mind is infected with ideas, my dear Spaceman. Rife with philosophy. I am sad to say, you are no longer suitable to bear my glory into this new world.”

“I…I want to help you,” Spaceman said. “It’s the only thing I can remember honestly wanting other than junk in ten years.”

“You will help me,” the Master said. “Once the trepanation procedure is complete, I imagine I will find many uses for you. Believe me when I say, Spaceman, I do not blame you for your failures. There is a flaw in your species and I’ve grown accustomed to the pang of disappointment.”


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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 …

Chapter XLVIII

Spaceman found it very easy to leave the station. His coterie of friends kept growing with each attempt at intervention until a kind of critical mass arrived. Whether or not he was a prisoner, or a Section Starfire agent, or a notorious addict became immaterial. Spaceman lead, and those looking to follow did so.

Heading up from the bowels of the engineering deck, they passed by the cryptozoological section. It occurred to Spaceman that his escape would be that much easier if the personnel in the station had something distracting them. A command to Mr. Doubtful cut off the emergency power to the pens, cages, and corrals keeping the cryptids at bay.

He figured the result would be a few sasquatch and sea serpents making a break for it. He hoped there were enough penguins in Antarctica to feed a new population of Big Feet. Big Foots? Spaceman chuckled to himself, bummed a cigarette from another engineer and directed his followers upwards.

By the time they reached the main exit, the station a…