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Chapter XLI

“Yep, I think they spotted us,” Frankie said, leaning over the steering wheel. The idling diesel engine rumbled beneath the seat, but at least the heaters of the soviet snow tank still functioned, filling the cabin with enough warmth to prevent further frost bite.

While they waited for the sorceress to regain consciousness, Marcus decided they would wait inside the snow tank. They found a map inside the cabin, along with a fat book of instructions written in Cyrillic. Neither spent much time looking at it. The engine worked. The steering wheel worked. If they encountered any problems on ice sheet, they would probably die. No sense wasting time puzzling out instructions on the cup-holders.

Frankie suspected that before too long they might have visitors. During their brief hike to the snow tank, he had seen the glow of a distant explosion and a trail of greasy smoke marking the crash site of the C-130. Even in the vast wasteland of Antarctica, that would have to attract attention.

“What is it?” Marcus asked, “Can you see?”

Frankie wiped at the windshield, clearing a swath of window from fog and ice. A helicopter circled past, big rotors pounding the air. Beneath the bulge of cockpit canopies was a big red upside down ‘Y,’ the mark of the Anti-Cerebrists. Marcus saw the same thing he did.

“Do you want to go out and say hi, or let them come to us?”

Marcus gestured to his shattered humerus. “Let’s keep them guessing for as long as possible.”

The Hind helicopter circled one more time, its stubby wide wings festooned with rocket pods and heavy machine guns. Frankie could guess what the pilot was thinking. Here was a working snow cat, sitting in the middle of the tundra, not acknowledging any radio hails, within spitting distance of the crash site of cargo plane carrying Section Starfire agents. On the other hand, wasn’t it just as easy to imagine Gunther Thulewaite surviving the catastrophe in the snow tank, clinging to life despite horrific injuries?

If Frankie was the pilot he would have already lit up the tank and left one more greasy crater on the wasteland. Apparently the pilot was of a more forgiving nature. The helicopter descended, a curtain of white snow and ice pushed from the landing site, obscuring the form of the helicopter. Once wheels touched the ice sheet, a trio of AC commandoes hopped out, guns at ready, sprinting towards the snow tank.

“Can you take care of the helicopter?” Frankie asked.

“If you can take care of the commandoes.” Marcus replied.

Frankie gave a low, humorless chuckle, already putting the tank into gear. The snow tank lurched forward, the treads straining to catch grip on the ice. The AC’s were slow to react, but when it dawned on them Frankie wasn’t stopping, two of them raised their rifles. The bullets met a sudden cluster of force bubbles. Marcus shuffled the spheres to protect the windshield from the next volley and then swept them forward. The pilot was already wrenching the Hind from the ice field, the big rotors pounding the air as the machine strained to reach the sky.

Two big force bubbles connected with the main rotor assembly, punching precise holes through the airframe. Flames sprouted from the engine and Frankie got a glimpse of the pilot’s surprised face as the rotors separated from the housing, cartwheeling off into the air. The snow tank passed beneath the wheels of the helicopter a split second before it struck the hard Antarctica ice, exploding into a sheet of flame and molten shrapnel. Frankie heard a series of eerie musical clangs; pieces of debris deflected by Marcus’ force bubbles. The roar of the explosion faded and they were racing free and clear across the tundra.

Breathing hard, Marcus clamped down on his upper arm. Frankie snuck a glance and didn’t like what he saw. The mission leader was going into shock, a fine silvery precipitation of force bubble condensing in the air around him, plopping onto the fabric of the seat and the plastic of the dashboard.

The surge of victory chilled rapidly. They were still in the middle of the trackless wastes of Antarctica. Any human settlement they came across would now be well-motivated to kill them on site. Marcus was dying by inches and they had perhaps a day of fuel left.

He felt a stirring at his right elbow and looked over to see Agent D’s eyes calmly appraising him. She lifted a hand, yawned.

“You’re going the wrong way,” she said.



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