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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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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 …