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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, but not altogether uncomfortable to do so either. To hear D tell it, The Master was a man of considerable talent and power, maybe even enough to puncture one of Shield’s force bubbles. After the Delta Omega, he had to admit it was at least possible.

About fifty paces away from the chapel’s first step, the wood door parted and a figure stepped free of the shadow. Obviously male, the gloom hid any other feature. Shield continued forward until he was sure he could be heard.

“I want to speak with Cobra Zebra,” Marcus’ Princeton Spanish sounded out-of-place in this town. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of movement in one of the shuttered windows. Be a decent spot for a sniper. Probably was one. “I want to speak to The Master.”

The man on the church steps laughed and extended his hand. “You are in the right town but the wrong season. He is not here. Not yet.” The man did not sound like a natural speaker, but his pronouncement was delivered casually.

As for what he was saying, Shield had convincing evidence to the contrary. Still, for the moment it was best to play along. “Then how many days must I wait for him to come?”

“Many. If you have a car, I would go back to a town with a hotel and wait there.”

“I’d rather wait here.”

“There is nowhere here for you to stay.”

“Is this not a chapel, don’t chapel offer refuge?”

“Refuge yes, dormitory no,” said the man.

“I must be allowed to meet with The Master, when will he return to Santa Rosa?”

The man left the steps and returned inside the chapel. Shield stood in the street for a time, cheerfully roasting. He could see faces now from the windows of the various homes. He ignored them as best he could. If he came into trouble here would D bother coming to save him? A few days ago, he would have thought yes. Now, he was not so sure.

The doors opened and the man beckoned.

The inside of the chapel was cooler. The walls of the church were thick and feeling the planks of the floor rattle with each of his steps, he got the sense of a deep basement below. There were a few pews set up in the sanctuary, but most of the space in the sanctuary was taken up by a low altar covered with a dark red cloth. Spaceman leaned over the altar, flipping through an enormous book. He took no notice of Shield’s entrance.

“Nice town,” Marcus said.

“Stay much longer and you’ll be buried here.”

Shield rubbed his jaw. There was a kind of dry musty smell in the church that really set off his allergies. “I considered that a possibility.”

“Then you should leave.”

“Spaceman, you don’t seem particularly surprised to see me. After the Thulewaite incident, didn’t it cross your mind we might be dead?”

“I knew you weren’t.”

“You knew that how exactly?”

“I was told.”

“Spaceman, there are only two upper echelon folks left in the Anti-Cerebrist hierarchy. Nicholaus Necropolis and The Master. We’ve got reason to believe they are here. I don’t need your help to capture them, if you want to sit this one out, be my guest. But I do need to know where you stand on all of this.”

Spaceman withdrew a hand from his white slacks to scratch at the side of his nose.

“I do not wish either of those men to be arrested.”

Shield stood his ground. “That’s really not up for you to decide.”

“They are under my protection.”

“Honestly, Spaceman, if I were them, I’d hire a new bodyguard.”

“Your team is composed of a washed-out CIA interrogator, a half-crazed witch, and a double agent.”

Spaceman turned from the altar, his arms crossed in front of him. Shield noticed for the first time that the altar’s carvings were distinctly non-Christian. Between pine trees and shrubs, llamas, dogs and various birds-of-prey gamboled with bestial men.

“You would know,” Shield said.

“I have greater ambitions now. The base has been destroyed. The plans of the AC have been disrupted. When you go back to Washington, you’ll be able to report that much was accomplished with very little lost. The Chief might even be a little pleased when they tally all you’ve accomplished.”

“Any good you might have done is going to be swept away the instant it gets out you joined the enemy.”

“I didn’t join the enemy, Shield. I am the enemy. In a little more than ten hours, something wonderful is going to happen here, in this little town, something that hasn’t happened in decades. There will be a rebirth, a rejuvenation, a new beginning.”

“Does this new start involve you pulling your head out of your ass? ‘Cause I would wait 133 years to see that.”

Spaceman smiled. “It’s time for you to go, Shield. If I see you again, I will not be able to protect you.”

“Your protection means little to me,” Marcus said, already on his way out of the chapel.


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Chapter LXII

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