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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 shrugged.

“You would credit the word of a criminal mastermind and a CIA agent over your own partner? Spaceman took you under his wing, Shield. This is how you repay him?”

Marcus looked at the radio board. Not for the first time he wondered why they were bothering to get back to Section Starfire. “Look. We have capture Simplex. We would like to turn him over to the authorities. Where would you like that to happen?”

The radio remained silent. Marcus was about to ask if the Chief was still on the line when it crackled back to life.

“You will proceed North West to Adelaide, Australia. At such time Simplex will be released into the custody of the local government.”

“Then what?”

“Then you will meet me in Washington D.C. for a full accounting of you and your team’s actions during this debacle.”

“Or we could go straight to Pearl Harbor or Guam or any number of other places. Why are we going to Australia?”

“Those are your orders, Agent Shield. Make them happen.”

The radio clicked off and Marcus sat back.

“Nothing like a little gratitude,” Simplex said softly.

Marcus rubbed at the back of his neck. It was cramped in the submarine and the air inside the cabin reeked.

“I need some fresh air,” he said. “Frankie can you manage?”

“Been managing.”

The ceiling of the galley had a small hatch leading to a con tower. In a craft only the size of a yacht, this didn’t seem like the best use of space but perhaps it was an unwritten rule that soviet submarines had to have con tower. In any case, he welcomed the chance to stand out in the chilly polar air, breathing in the salty wind. Far off near the horizon a lone albatross glided over the white-caps. The ocean rocked the small craft with dismaying urgency.

Their mission was over. His second mission of record and probably his last. When all was said and done, he had survived and captured of the head of a now defunct terrorist group. They had uncovered and watched a here-to-fore unknown soviet base collapse and sink into the Ross Sea. They had uncovered and then joined forces with a CIA double agent. If that was all he ever did for Section Starfire, he’d be fine with that.

The cry of the albatross reached him. The sound haunted him, magnified his loneliness. He lowered his head, feeling the ocean swell around him, each wave arising from mysterious points beyond the horizon to crash unseen on distant shores.

D appeared below, and he nearly tumbled from the conn tower.

“D!” he said, recovering. “You’re up.”

D looked up at him. “We need to go to South America.”

“Excuse me?”

“We’re going to Australia. That’s our destination?”

“That’s...that's where we’re going, yes,” Marcus said. “D, how are you on your feet?”

“Bullets are of little concern to me.”

“Oh.”

“We must go to the Atacama Desert. We must finish our mission.”

Why did everyone think that their mission wasn’t over? “D, our team is exhausted. You’ve been shot. We need to get back to civilization as soon as possible.”

She scowled. “This will be a lot easier with your cooperation, Marcus. The danger is still present and growing. We must go to Peru before it’s too late.”

Marcus was about to protest but D had already disappeared out of view of the hatch. Marcus remained in the conn tower for a few minutes, watching the endless waves. Of course the mission wasn’t done. They weren’t all dead yet; how could it be over?

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