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Chapter XLIII

In gloom of early morning, the base appeared as a long sloping wall, embedded in the ice. Frankie had suggested abandoning the snow tank several rises back to make a more stealthy approach to the headquarters of the AC’s. There were three layers of security between them and the outside of the station but none of them looked overly formidable. The big problem was there didn’t seem any obvious gate for them to enter. At least none left unguarded by any less than a platoon of AC henchman.

“I’m surprised they brought this much security out here,” Frankie whispered.

“Got to keep out the penguins,” Shield replied.

D gestured for the binoculars. Adjusting the focusing wheel, she got a good view of the buildings surrounding the structure. “That shack off to the left, did either of you find it peculiar?”

“Seems far from the airstrip and not tall enough for a guard tower.”

Frankie pointed out a few low dome-like structures just beyond the anomalous shack. “Those are munitions dumps. Saw enough of those in the Corps.”

Shield thought for a moment. “So, let’s put together a theory here. We have a small little shack some ways from the place they keep all of their ammunition…”

“Emergency shelter?”

“At the very least we might find something better than submachine guns and pistols to assault the station.”

“At best maybe a guard or two we can pump for information.”

The trio moved on, low to the ground, stopping periodically to take their bearing. The outer fences were not difficult to breach. The first two weren’t even electrified. More challenging was avoiding detection by the guard towers. There was a spell that distorted the light reflecting off of them but it relied on the ritual burning of little scraps of ancient manuscript. D was down to her last strip by the time they got to the shack.

“Get down!” Frankie barked. The trio threw themselves to the snow. The shack was a dozen tantalizing meters ahead.

“What did you see?” Shield said, already wiggling a finger free of his bulky gloves. The long bumpy ride to the station had given D a chance to fix the break. So soon after getting his arm back in shape he wanted to hold off before his next fracture, no telling what they’d meet after penetrating the station.

“More of the zombie dogs,” Frankie kept his voice low. They watched the hounds march past, each one’s head equipped with a venom rig like the henchmen.

“Do they smell us?”

“Not yet,” Frankie reached for the binoculars. “The wind’s in our favor.”

“Let’s keep moving, Frankie,” Shield suggested.

“Yeah,” he said but it took a long time for him to pry himself away from his fascination for the creatures. Marcus and D exchanged a glance, both knowing tiger snake venom still ran through his veins.

They watched Shield creep forward and try the latch. Before he could stop it, a gust of wind tore the door from his grasp and slammed it against the corrugated side of the shack. All three agents threw themselves down into the snow. Dawn was beginning to emerge from the behind the jagged seracs behind them.

“Do they see us?” D asked Frankie.

“Don’t worry, this door probably bangs open all the time. They don’t seem too concerned.” Frankie said. “Oh wait, no, here they come!”

There were about five of them walking briskly from their shelters by the main gate to the station. Three were heavily armed, the others were probably elites and armed with only a pistol and radio controller. Both agents picked themselves up from the snow and rushed towards the open door. Shield saw them and waited until they were in to shut the door.

The shack was small and filled with crates and empty pallets. Nothing suggested weaponry or explosives.

“They definitely know something’s up now,” said Frankie. “We need to get out of here.”

“How’s this?” said D, pulling back a long swath of grubby canvas. Beneath was a trench cut right into the ice. There were tracks laid on the bottom of the trench, the sort you’d see in mines for ore carts. The three reached an unspoken decision and dropped, one-by-one, into the shaft.

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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 …