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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.

Link to Next Chapter

Link to First Chapter


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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 …

Interlude: Antarctica and Beyond

She saw all and knew more.

The place of knowledge looked exactly like the waking world in its details, its strangeness revealed only by implication. Looking down at her own body she knew she was dead. And yet the possibilities of her life were not entirely spent. She knew this too. Part of her wanted to simply slip back into her body and let the Charm of Utanghk do its work but she wasn’t ready to do that.

D pulled away from her body and the sub. In the ghostly second sight of the place of knowledge she perceived the submarine had already moved some distance from the dying Delta Omega Base. She watched the sub pass beneath the dark vaults of ice and turned her attention to colossal structure shuddering above.
Standing in front of it in the waking world, the station was simply a structure, impressive but also sterile. From within the place of knowledge she gained an appreciation for the effort that had gone into its creation. To see it brought low was an occasion not for celebration but …