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Legendary comics writer Steve Englehart returns to the adventures of Max August in The Arena Man, the fourth novel in his fantasy thriller series.
Max August was once a regular guy, before he learned the ways of magick and immortality and became a staunch crusader against the supernatural forces of evil. Though immune to the effects of time, Max is not indestructible, and now he must face the vast, worldwide conspiracy known as the Necklace.
Max has only a few allies in this fight among them: Pam, an apprentice in the alchemical arts, and Vee, a chanteuse with an uncanny knack for all things magick. But the Necklace is plotting a massive catastrophe fueled by the magical power of a demonic entity; using Black Ops helicopters to massacre tens of thousands of spectators in a domed stadium, re-awakening terrorist fears and destabilizing the U.S. government. Max will need all his magick, and all the help he can get, for him to have any chance to thwart the attack and survive to fight another day.
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STEVE ENGLEHART is known to millions as the writer of over 800 comics for such series as Spider-Man, Captain America, Superman, The Fantastic Four, and Batman. The Arena Man is his fourth Max August novel. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
MONDAY, MARCH 21, 2011 · 9:15 A.M. GREENWICH MEAN TIME
13 Milky Way (Managing Alchemy)
Max and Pam lifted off from Heathrow into scattered clouds, then a brilliant sky. British Airways flight 1542 was the day’s first nonstop to Chicago, getting them in at 12:50 P.M. Central Time after a five-hour time change. As was their custom, they had the only two seats on the right in the last row of first class, they had new faces, and they had magickal shields around their conversation. Pam obviously wanted to talk, and as soon as they were airborne, she did.
“About last night...”
“I believe doctrine states that power’s just busting out all over at springtime.” Pam’s voice was carefully dispassionate. “And this year, the Sun’s conjunct Uranus, to make it even more spectacular. It doesn’t take an alchemist to see that power playing out last night.”
“No,” Max agreed, well aware that she was troubled by it. “But it takes at least an astrologer to know about it.”
“D’you think Ken and Barbie timed their attack to take advantage?”
“Probably. I would have.”
“Should we have been expecting them?”
“There was sexy stuff in the air last night, but that could have been us doing our ritual. An attack by incubus and succubus was certainly not probable.”
“The whole male-female thing...” Pam mused. Her jaw clenched. “I remember when the Necklace made all their agent teams one man and one woman, because it made the teams more powerful.”
“Yeah.” He smiled at her in his breezy deejay way, refusing to join her mood. “Agrippa used to tell me the god of Spring is Pan, and Pan means ‘All.’ We all feel his power. And then soon enough, we settle in as one half of All, either male or female, and we go looking for our other half. That’s nature, and that’s gravity—the eternal coming together. We’re all built for relationships. It’s the nature of a dual world, and it’s powerful.”
Pam nodded, her lips tight.
“Beyond that, though,” Max continued, “there are four seasons, and four days midway between the seasons, and out of that comes the eight sabbats of the world—Yule, Imbolc, Spring, Beltane, Midsummer, Lughnasadh, the Fall, and All Hallows’ Eve. The wise begin their counting with Zero, and in this case that’s Hallowe’en, the Dark Void. Then Yule is One, Imbolc Two, and Spring is Three, when the world, which has been kept under wraps all winter, becomes three-dimensional again. Then comes the hidden number pi, the number that never ends.
“Now, Archimedes worked out pi as approximately three and one-seventh, around 250 BC, but before him, people guesstimated at three and one-eighth, and they were the ones working out an understanding of the year. If Spring is Number Three, and there are forty days to the next sabbat on Beltane, one-eighth of forty is five. Five days from spring, March 25, is an ancient festival called Lady Day. It’s when ‘All’ celebrates ‘all the girls.’
“There are ninety-three days to the next season, at Midsummer. One-eighth of ninety-three is eleven and a chunk. Eleven and a chunk days from spring, April 1, is the equally ancient festival of April Fools’ Day, which is when ‘All’ celebrates ‘all the boys.’ Alchemists, though on one team or the other, celebrate both.”
“I know all this,” Pam said sourly. “You’re just trying to divert me with your dazzling repartée.”
“No, I’m saying an alchemist celebrates both, because that’s how our world is set up, because both count. Sex is a given, so don’t beat yourself up over a fundamental part of human nature.”
“It was so fundamental I couldn’t do anything to stop it, Max. Unlike you.”
“So you’re human, and not as far along as you thought you were. Welcome to the club. But alchemy’s a path, Pam, not a teleportation. You’re getting there.”
“‘Getting there.’ ‘Getting there.’ I want to be there already!”
“One step at a time, cowgirl.”
MONDAY, MARCH 21, 2011 · 6:00 A.M. EASTERN DAYLIGHT TIME
13 Milky Way (Managing Alchemy)
Breckenridge ran on his treadmill, gloriously alive from his night with his diabola. The monitor in his private gym was secure on Channel Nine, the Necklace’s intranet, so he conducted a lot of his consultations from there. Precisely at 6 A.M., as he did every day of the year, and had for nearly twenty years, he flipped a switch in a panel beside his hand and the image of Dick Hanrahan appeared before him.
“Good morning, Renzo,” the old man said in his briefing voice. “Today is March 21, 2011, a Monday.
“The Brits took a shot at Qaddafi overnight, putting a missile in his compound, but he got away. Obama says he’s not a target, and also says the U.S. expects to hand over military leadership to the allies within days.
“The Japanese say there’s radiation in the food supplies around their four crippled nuclear plants, but eating it won’t do anybody any harm.”
“Can you believe we were going to detonate Yucca Mountain?” Breckenridge broke in. “This is much better, and it didn’t cost a cent.” He waved a hand. “Continue.”
“AT&T plans to pay thirty-nine billion dollars for Deutsche Telekom’s T-Mobile USA to create a new U.S. mobile market leader, and raise their prices ten bucks a month, so Carole is dealing with the antitrust boys.”
“For a lot less than when antitrust had teeth, I’m sure,” nodded Breckenridge. “That’s just a business expense now. Tax deductible.”
“You want the numbers?”
“No. Tell me about August.”
“The succubus and incubus failed.”
“Jesus. When we actually do bring that guy down, it’ll be epic. What about the Black Helicopters?”
“Wiped out a family in Montana and were seen. I chose that guy who yelled at you in Kalispell, but it could have been anybody out there in the sticks.”
“Now that’s the way we like it,” Breckenridge said, beginning to breathe just a little harder. “Friday night, they’ll set off an uprising, and it doesn’t matter how large, because it will legitimize the act of rebellion, and the fear behind the act. One of those rebels will kill somebody, like that lunatic in Arizona. Maybe more than one. But it won’t have anything to do with us.”
Breckenridge’s shoulders were swinging back and forth. “One act of true violence and the pot begins to boil. The uprisers want it to boil, want it to boil over. Normal people want it to stop, and most don’t care how that gets done. We can handle that for them. We can hold the lid on the boiling pot, as hard as we have to. And then comes Twenty-Twelve. Jackson Tower, in his time as the wizard, was too old-school to learn Mayan magick, but the Mayan End Times fit my plan so perfectly it’s like it was preordained. December 21, 2012, will be the capstone of my twenty years as Gemstone.”
Hanrahan blinked, once. “Unless August and Blackwell keep interfering—especially this Friday.”
“You give these folks a lot of credit, Dick.”
“You don’t know magick any more than I do, Renzo. They’ve got real power.”
“True,” said Breckenridge, “I don’t know magick. But I know human beings, and that’s all Max and Pam are. No more, no less. They’re not gods.”
“Neither are we.”
“Exactly. We’re all humans here, and we have real power, too. The difference is, we’re worldwide, and they’re just the two of them.”
“They have some friends. Maybe as many as a dozen.”
“Let’s hope so.” Both men cracked a smile, but Hanrahan had another objection. “They’ve hit us three times so far.”
“And we’ve succeeded forty-five other times,” Breckenridge said.
“That’s three in less than three and a half years. And each of those three was big. That’s too much, Renzo.”
“All right, Max and Pam have to die. The plucky rebel sweethearts have to die, and sooner rather than later. But I can’t worry about, or bet all my chips, on any one operation, or any one source of opposition. I’ve got my eye on all of them. We may take some flak but we’re getting this ship to Twenty-Twelve.”
“Most of our other victories were in the back rooms of Washington, Renzo. Based on what he’s shown us, August could have disrupted a lot of those. I think he hasn’t because he hasn’t wanted to. He holds his fire so he can focus on what, frankly, we’re focused on. He wants to hit us where it hurts. And I believe that the threat assessment is very high on something this critical.”
“Which is what I have you for, and what I have Ruth and Franny for.”
“Thank you for including me with them,” snapped the old man.
“Jesus, Dick, lighten up. It is what I have you for. The Intelligence link in the Necklace gives me what I need to know, and the Ops and Ordnance links give me control on the ground. I trust all of you to do your jobs, so I can run the ship. Until we kill Max and Pam, we will suffer a higher than normal failure rate, but that rate is six percent and I can live with that. One of our failures was Yucca, but the Japs just handed us what we wanted, so let’s scratch that one off. Two failures. What&#...
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