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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 deafening in the enclosed bay of the cargo plane.

Frankie pointed to himself and indicated he would work to flank the pilot. Marcus nodded, feeling for an old break in his ring finger. Frankie breathed out and Marcus leapt to his feet, already running. A quick savage twist broke the joint, his natural instinct for self-preservation summoning the force bubble directly in the path of the pilot’s next shot. The bullet ricocheted, a faint tracery of orange marking its trajectory towards the covered crates towards the rear of the plane. The pilot corrected his aim, squeezed the trigger, and cried out when the next ricochet caught him high up in his leg. By that time, Frankie had dropped from the balcony, already covering the distance to the pilot. The pilot saw him, extended his pistol, but Frankie’s boot smashed into his chin. The pilot flew backwards against a desk, dazed and bleeding. Shield, now down on the main deck, chopped the pistol from his hand and put him in a choke hold. The pilot struggled until Marcus had wrestled him to the ground. Frankie grabbed the man by his blonde hair and slammed him face-first on the deck.

“Good night,” he said, wiping at his face with the back of his hand.

Marcus stood up from the pilot, breathing hard and cradling his throbbing his right hand. Practiced fingers found the fresh break, set the bone, pain manifesting in a cloud of tiny mirrored spheres.

The plane lurched, leaving everyone scrambling for some kind of grip on the bucking, sliding deck. Marcus looked back and saw open sky appear in a line as the loading door began to open. A new sound filled the cargo bay, hurricane strength wind sucking at his clothes. Two of the chairs the agents had been tied into rattled against the floor, toppled, and flew out of the gap in the bay.

“Hold on to something!” Frankie yelled, already hauling the pilot to the railing of the stairway. Marcus was too far from the balcony to reach safety, and found himself sliding forward to the opening door. Reaching out with his left hand, the cargo net slipped out his grasp. His body thudded heavily against the side of the crate and now he was spinning on the deck, tumbling towards the sky. He made one last desperate grab for the cargo nets, snagging a hand hold with his injured right hand. Pain again jolted up his arm and he cried out.

The wind snatching at his clothes and limbs, the cold seeping into his the bones of his arms, the net he was clutching slipped. As he tried to climb closer to the edge of one of the crates, for a better grip, he suddenly saw the canvas over the boxes heave upwards, accompanied by the sound of breaking wood. He stretched forth his strong hand, as long serpentine coils bulged beneath the tarp, sharp fangs jabbing out through the fabric. He had almost reach the edge of the crate when the net, its stays weakened by the serpent’s struggles, slipped completely free of the crates. The net went slack and sent Marcus plunging towards the loading ramp of the plane and the open air beyond.

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