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Chapter XLII

Hugo Simplex caught up with Spaceman and his escorts out of the orientation room. Bastard wanted to watch it first-hand. Well, Spaceman wasn’t unhappy to see him.

The cigarette, although foul, had focused Spaceman’s mind, made certain considerations possible. Helped ground him in the real world. Cast sincerity aside, he whispered to himself, trust in the lie.

But lies needed truth the way the head of a coin needed its tail. Hugo was here to remind him of that. He might know exactly where he wanted to go, but he wouldn’t be able to go there without certain corrections made to the ACs. There was altogether too much professionalism at work in the Delta Omega Base. Too much careful attention to detail. It wasn’t becoming.

He raised his hand in greeting to Hugo as they approached. A sneer crossed good old Hugo’s face, no doubt conjured there by visions of Spaceman’s impending operation. He made an elaborate bow, as though stopping low in the presence of great royalty.

“Why thank you Hugo,” Spaceman said. “I do appreciate the chance to see you once more. I had no idea that that my formal induction into the Anti-Cerebrist movement would inspire such interest in you.”

“No interest,” Hugo said. “Professional satisfaction.”

“Ah,” Spaceman said. “This is the desired outcome of your no doubt carefully laid plans.”

“Something like that, Spaceman. Are you ready for the trepanation process? I’ve taken the liberty of waiving the anesthetic. Why adulterate your experience?”

“Why thank you my good man,” Spaceman beamed. “I’d have it no other way.”

“Indeed,” Hugo said. “Indeed.”

Spaceman’s escorts looked back and forth between Spaceman and Hugo, plainly understanding none of this. Spaceman suspected there was an upper limit to the bandwidth of information each drone could process.

Most people had that problem.

“I’ve just had a very pleasant conversation with the Master,” Spaceman said.

“I can only imagine,” Hugo said, the sneer returning. “If the result of that conversation was a visit to this room, I can only imagine how well it must have gone.”

“Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, Hugo,” Spaceman smiled, holding Hugo’s gaze for a long moment. “Well, must be off. Mustn’t keep the doctors waiting.”

The escorts began bringing him into the surgical theater. He saw two technicians on either side of a chair in the center of the room. The arm rests had manacles dangling from them and the head rest came equipped with a halo of surgical steel. Still, if there was one thing Spaceman knew how to do it was to play a role. He strode towards the chair as though heading for a Swedish massage. He had almost sat down in the cracked and stained green leather when Hugo’s voice came from the other side of the door.

“Wait,” he said. “What did you mean by that last part?”

“Nothing,” Spaceman said. “Forget I said anything.”

“You told him something,” Hugo’s brow had begun to sweat. “Didn’t you?”

“I had some theories to share. The Master was curious about how his vessel had come to be so corrupted. I shared some of my recent past with him.”

“You are a junkie,” Hugo said. “The Master would not believe anything you said.”

“Perhaps,” Spaceman said, now settling into the green chair. “I did have some suspicions about that though. Things I shared with the Master.”

“I had nothing to do with Laos,” Hugo said. “That was the Jackal’s doing.”

“Jackal doesn’t work for himself. Maybe someone paid him. Anyway, I’ve got a busy afternoon. I hope you have luck sorting this whole business when you get a chance. The Master did seem quite perturbed.”

The muscles on either side of Hugo’s jaw twitched. He stared at Spaceman as though he expected the force of his gaze to melt the Section Starfire agent into a puddle of goo. When this somehow failed to happen, he stormed into the surgical theater and swatted away the technicians.

“Enough,” Hugo screamed. “Enough of this nonsense! You will tell me what you told him.”

His hand lashed out, clamping savagely on Spaceman’s jaw. Hugo squeezed, looking for some weakness in Spaceman’s eyes. Some trace of deception he could use. But the Russian cigarette gave Spaceman the focus needed for this moment. He simply smiled.

“If you have questions,” he said. “Maybe you should ask someone with the answers?”

Hugo shoved him back into the chair. His face was red, a few strands of his thinning hair plastered to the sweat of his brow. He pointed at the technicians.

“Bring him back to his cell. I’m going to sort this out and then I’m going to take a saw to his head myself.”

Spaceman watched Hugo stalk away and then turned to the same bewildered technicians. “While we’re waiting, I don’t suppose you could turn on the gas for me?”

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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 LIX

“Do not worry,” said Necropolis. He was sitting at one of the pews, his legs kicked up on the headrest in front of him. There was a hymn book flopped over one knee and Nikolas was smiling. “What we need to do is not complicated.”

“Are we talking about the ten-hour long ceremony with an entire freight car of exotic compounds and rare animal parts, and enough priests for a baseball game? That ceremony? The Gemini program seems somewhat less complicated.”

“Reasonably complicated, is how I’d describe it.”

“Then what are you talking about?”

“The ceremony is window-dressing. I need the priests and their descendants to keep this place sacred and unmolested, and they need something to believe in. We both get something.

“No, Spaceman, what I was referring to was your part in all of this. All you have to do is survive. After that your life will become as complicated or as simple as your will dictates.”

“I don’t buy that either.”

It was late in the day, and the change had begun for Necropolis. His face…

Chapter LXI

“Frankie, listen to me. You have to pull the trigger.”

Frankie was silent. The rifle rested at his shoulder, just like he had practiced. He had D sighted, the slender cross-hairs pointing to spot just over her right eye. There was a slight Eastern wind which would pull the rifle to the left. He made his calibrations and rested his finger on the trigger. Perhaps a dozen men who could make this shot. He was one of them.

“This is the way it has to be, Frankie,” Marcus said. Was that nerves in his voice, or genuine terror. “If she doesn’t die, then The Master will just go on. We get this one chance and that’s it.”

In the scope, D was going through a strange contortion. Her body shuddered and she threw her head backwards as she rose first to her feet and then straight up into the air, suspended a full foot above the ground. When he had her reacquired, she was looking right at him. This was impossible, but it was plainly and obviously true. The girl knew where they were.

“Why do we need to kill…