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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 something terribly familiar about the low grass and shrub that blanketed the sides of the dirt road, almost as though they’d parachuted in from New England.

He didn’t have to walk far. Frankie was sitting on a shattered boulder nestled within the bend of the road.

“It’s time,” Shield said. “Are you ready?”

“Do the stars look right to you?” he asked.

Shield didn’t bother looking up. “We’re in the southern hemisphere. They’re different.”

Frankie looked at him until Marcus remembered he had been briefly stationed in Buenos Aires. Of course he knew all about the stars. Humoring him, he examined the constellations twinkling above the hills but couldn’t really enter whatever headspace Frankie currently occupied. To him, everything twinkling above was space and emptiness.

He regarded his comrade. “None of us like this, but I think we are operating on a different schedule right now. We tried playing this like a traditional mission and we wound up nearly frozen to death in Antarctica. For better or worse, I don’t think either of us are working for the US government here.”

“And you’re okay working for the new boss?”

He shrugged.

Frankie exhaled and stood up. “At least she seems to know what she’s doing.”

Marcus only nodded. Whether intentionally or not, Frankie had put his finger on what bothered him so much. This must be what a scalpel felt like when pressed against flesh, employed in the purpose for which it had been made.

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