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Epilogue

Imagine a space of incredible volume. Now place within its center an enormous ball of hydrogen and helium, collapsing against its own fiery detonation. Imagine a fireball so big that the force of its own illumination prevents light from its center from escaping for millions of years. Now picture the left-over bits from the star’s ignition spinning around in orbit, slowly accreting together over a staggering length of time.

This is the stage. This where all of the acts appear, lit from this ancient fiery torch. This where all of the tragedies and comedies that have ever happened and will ever happen, happen.

Are you getting the hang of it? Can you see this place, this domain? For as long as there are people and intelligences able to record impressions and ideas, this will be the only home of anyone who reads these words. But don’t feel so bad. The solar system is a big place and perhaps bigger than most might know.

For within this enormous system, the…

Chapter LXII

It took only thirty-six hours for a Section Sanitation Team to arrive at Santa Rosa. Leaving the town a smoking ruin was a non-option, especially with half the world on the look out for the Anti-Cerebrists.

It did surprise Shield to see The Chief leading the Sanitation Team. In the year or so he’d been an active field agent, he’d never heard of The Chief traveling more than five miles outside of D.C. The expression on his face suggested travel did not agree with him.

“We would have, of course, preferred if you had taken him alive.”

Shield looked around the remains of the town. Which him was he referring to?

“Sir, Spaceman resisted D with the apparently preternatural assistance of The Master. It was all D could do to put him down.”

“I wasn’t referring to Spaceman, I meant the Master.”

Ah, Shield thought, well that was a bit more awkward. “Actually, sir, he simply died. By the time Agent Two-Eyes and myself had come down from the bluff, he was already in cardiac arrest. Believe me when I say,…

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…

Chapter LX

The flammenstod represented a class of magic most sorcerers avoided. The version of reality permitting such pernicious weapons tended to leave marks. She could feel its influence burn through her arm, shooting tendrils of flame deep inside of her chest.

She cast her hands forward, a whisper of energy leaping toward the assembled priests. Some of the priests had studied the arcane, and knew enough to attempt feeble counters, the rest died. The Master was clawing at the sides of the palanquin, desperate to call help to his side.

Never had a choice, thought D.

Spaceman raised no counters, or did so much as flinch. A service revolver appeared in his hand and he fired.

D felt the impact as a kind of hammer stroke against the whole side of her body. She staggered, the pain a cold iron vise around her chest and shoulder. Spaceman approached.

“You won’t stop this,” he told her. His voice was distant, almost lost within the cacophony of spreading flame and screaming priests.

A hiss escaped from he…

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 LVIII

Marcus and D sat in the land-rover on a low rise above the town of Santa Rosa. Every few minutes, Marcus turned away from the town to search the broken and desolate terrain behind them.

“Timing is going to be crucial,” he said.

“He’ll be here.”

Marcus wasn’t so sure. The whole scenario was screwy and depraved. In a situation that clearly called for finesse and stealth, D was adamant for what amounted to a showdown at high noon. After his overture to Spaceman, their path was as clear and direct as the road leading down in Santa Rosa. That fact tasted coppery in his mouth, like a bit lip.

They waited a minute longer and just as Marcus made to turn around again, D spoke.

“He’s wavering,” she said. “Go to him.”

“He’s not going to listen to me.”

“He will absolutely not listen to me.”

After what she asked of him, Marcus tended to agree.

The dust and gravel crunched under foot and his breath streamed out around him in the chilly air. The vegetation around the town was sparse but peculiar. There was …

Chapter LVII

The one formal road leading into and out of Santa Rosa terminated at the white chapel named “Abode of the Undying Affection of the Virgin Mother for her Blessed Child of Holy Sacrament.” On either side of the road, which while unpaved was kept neat and level, one story wooden buildings stood; some were homes, others businesses. Nothing offered much shade. The day was miserably hot; Shield found himself constantly mopping at the back of his neck with a hand towel.

This might be D's mission but he wasn't going to give up Spaceman without a fight. Maybe she was right and he was beyond help. He knew upon setting foot in Peru that he would need to see that with his own eyes.

So, he strode into town alone and unarmed. The first of these was by choice, the other was not. As a condition for him coming here, D had insisted he do nothing to provoke the Master. There would be a time for that, she assured him, but not yet. Shield was not entirely happy to be striding into the hornet’s nest,…

Chapter LVI

In Frankie’s mind, the plan was simple: D lead the way.

He was in a curious frame of mind; fatalistic but oddly satisfied. D had filled them in about her role in all of this. It was as a detailed a mission brief as Frankie had ever been privy too, and among the least illuminating. Before departing to requisition some Peruvian paramilitaries in case the agents botched their surgical strike, LeHaze asked D what sort of resistance they could expect.

“All of the vermin of the earth.”

“Could we be a bit more specific?”

“Scorpions will be a problem.”

Whatever they’d face, she wasn’t leaving anything to chance. Everything Frankie needed fit neatly into a single duffel bag. Shield received a change of clothing and a toiletry bag. D was still doing inventory on the three crates they found waiting for her in a dusty section of the Lima airport. Frankie had surreptitiously looked at one of the invoices and discovered the listing “assorted dried animal parts.” Fair enough. Frankie was accustomed to a…

Chapter LV

It didn’t take long for Spaceman to discover what had happened at Port Adelaide. The simple fact was the people of the church liked Spaceman. They were rooting for him. Freed for the first time in decades from the junk, Spaceman found it easy, almost liberating, to simply be charming. That this brought the knock-on effect of bending their loyalties to him was a pleasant surprise.

“I told him that he should not attempt the rescue,” said Iglesias.

Despite the transparent lie, Spaceman smiled. Iglesias meant well and that counted for more than a little.

“You did the right thing,” Spaceman comforted the slender, nervous man. “Where can I find The Master?”

“He has not left his quarters in many days,” and seemed once more nervous. This reaction mystified Spaceman until he realized Iglesias had assumed they all already knew this. The preparations for the transference had claimed most of his attention. Spaceman saw that he had put himself in an awkward position, the assumed su…

Chapter LIV

As the mini-sub pulled into a quay at Port Encounter in South Australia, the light began its slow transition into evening. Only a few people gathered on the dock, a few seamen with mooring lines held loose in their hands, an officer of the watch standing at attention.

“Well, this isn’t quite the welcome I expected,” said Frankie. D stood up from the fold-out chair behind him and coughed once. The interior of the sub had been silent for days and now the impromptu crew of the sub, which they had dubbed, “The Exodus,” began to stretch.

They heard the sharp metal thud as the hull of the Exodus struck the quay. The mooring lines splashed on the other side of the sub, the fabric of the ropes rasping against the metal surface. Shield clambered up the conn tower, flipped open the hatch and hailed their small welcoming party.

“Welcome to Australia,” the officer called up to him. His smile was wide and friendly. “If you can disembark we will begin the process of completing your arri…

Chapter LIII

The Supreme Archon arrived the next morning and entered the Master’s chamber with an obsequious bow.

“We have located the other vessel, my lord,” the Archon said in a soft voice. The Master’s trust for him had not wavered despite the many years since their last conversation. If only the Archon had possessed the traits he needed for a vessel. It would have made many things simpler.

But alas, The Master had to make do with this man’s unwavering support.

“Where?” The Master said. The night’s decrepitude was lingering on his current body, the youth of Nicholaus slow to return to his body.

“Australia. Adelaide.”

“Do we have resources in place?”

“Soon.”

The Master succumbed to gravity and let his still frail body fall back onto the bed. To kill or capture. He did not trust Spaceman but Hugo’s incompetence couldn’t be overlooked. Perhaps a struggle was required. Bring Simplex to the church unbeknownst to Spaceman and let them duel for the privilege of being a ve…

Chapter LII

The tiny submarine surfaced north of the Antarctic circle on June 22nd. The passengers were able to establish contact with a listening station in New Zealand and eventually got routed to a secure line with the Chief. Marcus was at first tempted to lock himself in the forward cabin with the radio but what would be the point? It was clear from the Chief’s incredulous tone he had long written off the entire team.

“I simply not understand how you could abandon a member of your team on the field, Shield,” the Chief said.

“He abandoned us, sir!” Marcus said, about to smash his crippled hand on the radio board before thinking better of it. “He turned double agent, Chief. Both Simplex and LeHaze confirmed it.”

Simplex, lashed to one of the fold-down chairs in the cabin, shouted over to the radio. “It’s true!”

Frankie shot him a look from the pilot chair of the sub. Simplex gave a half-hearted smile and then regained his silence. Melissa looked up from her control panel and sh…

Chapter LI

Part 3:

The church, Inglesia del Amor Inmortal de la Virgen Madre por su Santisima Nino de Santo Sacremento, stood as it always had, at the back of the town at the end of the road in the middle of Atacama Desert. A long, long time ago the ground beneath the inglesia had been a temple, a simple stepped mound of the sort The Master commissioned everywhere he stayed more than a fortnight. At some point those original people disappeared and the sand swallowed all their labor.

The church offended him. All these later religions were either acts of rebellion or the crude approximations of his dreams, nothing but the work of people. He had little respect for those.

Back when he had dwelled in this part of the world he had been known as “The Staff God,” a fertility god for the most part. They credited him with the advent of potatoes, or quinoa, or maize. He tended to lose track after a while. He had not created every animal of use to mankind in the world but some of his more drastic int…

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 …

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 …