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Hades By Deborah McNemar

The second book in the Pantheon series


“Hey! Olaf!”

Hercules continued stacking the crates in the back of his small transport. When he got back to Titan, he was going to have a long talk with Atlas about sending him shadow as Olaf Jorgensen.

“Olaf! Get a move on.” Ricky Fuentes slapped him on the shoulder as he headed for the open bay doors. “Carmon wants you back downunder by o-dark-thirty. Got it?”

Herc nodded but didn’t slow his stacking. He’d be back in the mines before Carmon Gulden could sneeze. This was one night he wasn’t about to miss. Tonight was his three-month anniversary with Lupine Mining Inc. and he wasn’t about to pass on a minute of it.

When Pantheon’s new boss, Walter Bellinger, had sent them that information three months ago, Herc had expected things to blow wide open. There was a leak, one that was responsible for the deaths of at least five spec-ops that he knew of and possibly more. They all wanted to nail the S.O.B’s hide to the wall. With all specs on ‘temporary personal leave’, it had seemed simple enough to follow the leads on their own and kill the asshole on the other end.

Things hadn’t worked out that way. Instead, he was running transport for a possible lead on Hades while the others worked various leads on Earth and Titan. They were sunning themselves on beaches in Mazatlán and Primus while he worked as transport pilot underground on Hades.

But tonight… He took a deep breath and tried to put a lid on the anticipation that slid through his veins like warm bourbon. The men were housed separately from the women and, until their employee status was complete, they weren’t allowed to even talk to a woman at the mine. Tonight, he’d be allowed to fraternize with the women in the compound as part of his ‘employee benefits’. With fifty men to every woman, it was definitely a benefit.

It wasn’t that she was beautiful, he reflected as he finished stacking the crates and netted them in. Covered in the gray, sooty dirt like the rest of them, he wasn’t sure what she looked like precisely. Not her hair color or the color of her eyes. He didn’t even know her name. He’d seen her a few times, walking from the women’s housing to the central offices. But the way she walked, like a queen surveying her kingdom. The men might eye her behind her back, but they kept a civil tongue in their heads to her face. There were no lines at her door after hours.

He took a deep breath and closed the cargo doors to the transport. Tonight, he’d get a few answers about her. If she’d even look at him, that is. She wasn’t confident, exactly, but aloof. Untouchable.

“Toto!” he bellowed.

“Coming, signore.” The boy scrambled into the transport’s pit. Scraggily to the point of skin and bones, the boy had appointed himself Herc’s ‘guide’ the first day he’d been on Hades. Since it had led to the connection he needed with Lupine Mining and kept the boy out of trouble, Herc hadn’t argued. The boy relied on his protection as much as he relied on the boy’s knowledge of Hades even if it was offered in a pidgin mishmash of Italian and gutter English.

“You get what I sent you after?” he asked as the boy strapped himself in.

“Gots it, sporgenza.” Two-thumbs-up accompanied the wide, toothy grin. “Lucky woman won’t know what to do with such good stuff.”

Herc guided the transport out of the bay and took to the air, handling the controls with absent ease.

On the surface, Hades was beautiful. Massive trees rose taller than metroplex skyscrapers, shading the world under a canopy that brushed the clouds. Thick, ferny growth covered the forest floor, offering protection to the insects and the few small rodent type creatures indigenous to the planet. Further north were the tree cities, entire colonies built on intertwining branches as wide as thruways. Yes, on the surface, Hades was a paradise.

But the true Hades existed under the soil, in the dark recesses of the mines.

The trees had shed their branches for eons, building up layers of detritus that time and circumstances had made into coal that could be processed into clean, renewable fuel cells. Nearer the more volcanic fault lines, diamonds the size of a man’s head had been wrested from the dirt. While Pantheon Consulting owned most of the mineral rights, some smaller companies had scuttled in under the wire to claim their share of the bounty. In an attempt to preserve the natural resources of the planet, Pantheon strip-mined the coal, replanting what they removed. Others weren’t so eco-minded.

Lupine Mining had staked their claim in the southern hemisphere on a more stable mountain range bordering a fire plain. Layered in ash and the occasional hot spot, none of the three volcanoes in the basin had erupted in the last fifty years. If they ever did, the existing mine shafts would turn into lava vents and the workers would be toast before they knew what hit them. Until then, Lupine mined coal and the occasional vein of diamond, getting richer by the day.

Herc was here because someone at Lupine Mining had taken possession of a crate of medical supplies shipped from Earth, from Gaea Corp’s base just south of Catalina Island. Since they knew that particular facility to be deeply involved in illegal gen testing, Herc had followed the trail this far, hoping to discover just what those genetic materials were for.

Toto crowed with delight as Herc wove between the trees. He grinned at the boy’s excitement and put a few extra moves in just for the hell of it. It was pleasant to be around someone who was so easy to please and wasn’t intimidated by his size.

Daniel Reilly Andersen had been dubbed Hercules when he signed on with Pantheon Consulting as a spec-op four years ago and the furor had been wild. He was too big, the top slot at the time had protested. He would be useless at covert ops. It was hard to miss a target the size of a house. But Pan and Apollo had stuck up for him and he’d stayed on the team. He ran ops, yes, but he still got relegated to pilot and backup more often than he cared for.

This was his chance, his shot to prove that he could go shadow effectively, and he intended to make the most of it.

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