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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 small uses for him in the early days of the Cold War: ferrying defectors and agents back and forth across Checkpoint Charlie; black bag jobs in Cuba; things he wasn’t sure he was supposed to think about (let along talk about) in Brazil. Frankie didn’t just perform his tasks well, he did them with pleasure and initiative. The future looked promising.

Watching the Burmese Tiger Snake uncoil and spill like strands of thick green fettuccini on to the deck of the plane, Frankie again wondered how it all gone so wrong. Unlike the pit, the snakes controlled the timing and the arena. They moved with malevolent purpose and cunning, working together to guard their flanks, sending their larger members to strike first one and then other prisoners in the center of the cargo bay. The men slumped, eyes rolling up into the heads.

He clutched the metal railing, pinioning one arm against his body to resist the pull of gravity. His head felt weird, like it was floating a few inches off of his shoulders. He felt little horror watching the snakes work their toxins into the prisoners. The snakes worked together in long braids, pulling themselves out of the crates, squirming through the avionics and frame of the plane, coming closer and closer. Part of him welcomed their approach, welcomed the possibilities they offered.

Marcus was still clinging to the cargo net, but the fabric was pulling away from the floor of the bay, sending more and more of the material to flap outside of the plane. It was only a matter of time before the action of wind and Shield’s weight sent him plummeting out of the plane.

He shook his head, gritting his teeth. Several snakes looped around the railing of the staircase and began winding up towards him. He waited until one of the closer snakes reared back before chopping down at strut of the railing. The axe bit into the metal and then the whole length of metal bent backwards, the shriek of metal joined terrified screeches of the snakes. At last giving way, the railing tumbled end over end, before striking the big crates holding the rest of the snakes. The impact dislodged the rest of the stays, each metal clip giving way in a sound like the rattle of a machine gun. Crates started sliding out of the back of the plane, one by one. Some fell away like stones, but others deployed drop chutes.

“Shield!” Frankie screamed, realizing what he had done.

Marcus swung back into view, still clutching the ragged end of the cargo netting, dangling a full ten feet beyond the edge of the cargo door. He would be freezing to death out there, he knew, the air pumped out of his lungs by the difference in pressure. Marcus looked up, his face almost sad, and he let go.

“Time to leave,” a voice said next to his ear. He looked up at Agent D, who was standing upright, despite the howling wind. There was something odd about her appearance, something translucent. She held up a piece of yellow thread and carefully wound it around the sleeve of his shirt.

“Go where?” he screamed. “We don’t have parachutes.”

“Don’t let the thread touch your bare skin,” she told him. “It creates terrible scars.”

Snakes threading their way through the frame of the skin were very close now. They had surrounded them both, their eyes locked on his. Again he felt the tug of some instinct to surrender. The toxin he realized, had worked into his blood stream.

“Agent D…”

He wasn’t sure what he was about to say. Not that it mattered. Agent D at once regained substance and flung herself from the staircase into the open air. The thread stretched out from his arm, almost like a long elastic string. He felt a slight pressure on his arm and then an insistent tug, and then an irresistible force prying him free of the stair case. He fell out of the back of the cargo plane, a few tiger snakes taking strikes at him as he passed.

He fell through the great pale blue gulf of the sky, the wind savage against his face and neck. He tried to ball up, to preserve body heat. Far below he could trace the line of Agent D’s thread to her form, rocketing downwards. Her speed accelerated Frankie along with her and so by the time Agent D had caught up with Marcus, so had Frankie.

She had another length of string prepared, which she flicked towards Marcus’ unconscious body. The thread looped around his arm and cinched tight. Within moments the three of them were together, flipping and falling in the air, the white expanse of ice rushing up towards them.

Frankie laughed at the futility of it all. With all of Agent D’s power she’d only managed to ensure their craters would be a little closer together. But seeking out her eyes, Frankie found her unconcerned. She positioned the thread she had tied to Marcus in front of her and gave it a savage little twist. Even over the roaring wind, he heard Marcus’s arm break.

Agent D smiled as the world slid inside a silver mirror.

Link to Next Chapter

Link to First Chapter


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Chapter I

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