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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 arrival in Adelaide.

“Port Adelaide, actually,” D said below them. “It’s a small suburb-“

Shield shushed her and began freeing himself from the conn tower. Once they had all completed the disembarkation, they stood on the quay, trying to acclimate to the suddenly stable ground beneath their feet. The officer persisted in his warm, generous grin, almost as though he were the person locked in isolation in a small metal can for half a month, now released back into human community.

“Is this the criminal Hugo Simplex?” he gestured to Hugo, who had helpfully put on his own cuffs. After a few weeks together, Simplex had fallen prey to a weird sort of Stockholm syndrome, quick to comply to the directions of the Section Starfire agents.

“’Fraid so,” Frankie said. “Are you taking him into custody?”

“Not here,” the officer told them. “Let’s head for the Port Master building. We’ll take care of the paperwork there.”

Shield felt strange leaving their little metal refuge after so many days locked inside of it. The steady ground and smells of shore left him uneasy and on edge. Also, he kept picking up movement at the corner of his eyes, the sense they were being watched. He was about to chalk this up to the unfamiliarity to being back in civilization until Frankie took him by his elbow.

“Are you ready for some fighting?”

Marcus looked at him. He was about to ask what he meant but then realized he had reached for an old break on his left hand. His body knew more about what was happening then his conscious mind did. Maybe he had finally survived long enough to acquire some survival skills.

After checking to see if the rest of his team had become aware of the situation he quickened his steps to catch up with the officer. At first he thought the officer might be part of the attack but saw at once he had no idea what was going down. He carried himself with the bland assurance of a person not accustomed to surprises. Marcus sighed.

“Sir, is there somewhere we can get cover?”

“Excuse me?”

“We are about to be attacked.”

The officer nearly stopped short and Marcus put a hand on his back, urging him to keep walking. “Don’t stop. Just take us somewhere else.”

“Are you mad?”

“No,” Marcus said. “But I’m about to be.”

Bewildered, the officer lead them away from the door to the Port Authority building to a nearby equipment shed. Frankie started to stroll off to one side, flanking Hugo.

By the time they reached the shed their assailants had adjusted plans and decided to make their move. Marcus snapped a shield into place and two flattened slugs dropped to the ground in front of him and the officer. Frankie did a quick snap roll to the right as another sniper’s bullet whined through the air. D released a long spiraling coil of green fire towards a nearby crane, melting one assailant into the iron super structure. The other sniper fell to the same force bubble Marcus had used to block his bullets. Three more AC commandoes hustled from behind a nearby truck, submachine guns clutched against their bellies. Frankie raised his Baretta, and dropped them in a neat and tidy row.

Of course, all of this gun fire raised all sorts of alarms. Men in Australian Royal Navy uniforms streamed from nearby barracks. Once the officer who had greeted them steadied himself, he was able to defuse the tension somewhat.

Sure the situation was back under control, the Aussies permitted Shield to approach Hugo’s body. All of this way and a bullet from his own men had entered his skull just over his left eyebrow. Marcus waited until he sensed D standing next to him.

“Why did they come to rescue him?” Marcus asked. “There wasn’t any point to it.”

“Not for the ACs,” D said. “But that was never Hugo’s true value.”

“I think it’s time you explained what’s really going on,” Marcus said.

“Yes,” D agreed. “but not here.”


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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 …