Vox knocked again. After a few moments, the door opened to reveal Carmen Shift, better known to the public as Crimson Cruiser. He bowed his head, smiling in the matter most comforting for humans.
“Rendelac’s Eye is upon our meeting. I am Vox Cul-Dar, agent of the DMA, here to assist you with your situation.”
“About time,” she said, quickly grabbing a coat from a hook by the door.
“Let’s talk about this at the lunch.”
“Not necessary,” he said, waving his arm dismissively. Carmen ducked away from the waving of his razor-lined forearm. “My apologies, I never quite get that gesture right.”
She stared at the serrated ridges on his hands for a moment, mentally working through exactly how dangerous they might be in a fight.
“Not a problem,” she eventually said. “Those must be handy.”
“They have their uses, especially in this line of work,” he said. “In any event, I recommend staying here just for the moment.”
“It’ll be more comfortable in the diner,” she said. “More tables, music, people in the background.”
“Under the circumstances, I would advise against doing so casually,” he said. “The DMA’s files based on your communication indicate a possibility, however small, that this Phantom Matador fellow may be targeting you personally as a competitor. As the easy favorite to win all three cups this year, it may well not just be about the race. It may also be about you. Public locations won’t help our security efforts.”
Carmen looked over her shoulder quickly, before looking back to him. Vox idly wondered why she might look at the closet.
“Thanks for the input, but I’m not gonna let some headcase with rock slingin’ on the brain keep me from enjoying the town just because I’m the best at what I do,” she said. “Do you know how often the racing circuit brings me back to a big city? Only twice a season. And I want a burger.”
Vox tilted his head, considering the racer for a moment.
“Very well. I can stomach a second diner today. I had a bad experience at one earlier, narrowly missing a chance at a sizable bounty.”
“Too bad,” she said, stepping past him. “Tell me about it when I eat. We’ll make sure you don’t make the same kind of mistake again here.”
“Oh, believe me, I won’t,” he said.
Zack waited until he heard the sound of the front door locking to open the closet and step out. He breathed a deep sigh of relief and turned his pistols’ safety switches back on.
In the matter of seconds that they had to quickly discuss options when they first heard the knock on the door, the best plan that they came up with was for Zack to hide out in her hotel room and wait for her to come back. He left the door’s view screen on so that he could tell if she was alone when she came back, and the door to the closet open in case he had to act quickly.
Any number of better uses for his time came to mind as he sat in one of the room’s padded chairs, keeping an eye on the news networks. They were all things that would have been wonderful ideas had he had them during the few seconds that they had to think and act, but as it was he was stuck in the room. The good news was that he had next to no chance of being discovered on the streets if he stayed inside.
“Looks like Vox couldn’t find a rookie to pass the job to,” he said to himself as he flipped from one channel to the next. “Why couldn’t he get someone who wouldn’t know to check for daily bounty updates, or who wouldn’t recognize my name and face so easily?”
Without easy access to a computer, or at least a computer that wouldn’t immediately be traced to him, only the programs in the media center could help him to pass the time. He made a mental note to have his hat’s identifying signature scrambled for the next time he might want to access a network. Between the melodramas, game shows and serial adventures that he found, the news programs gave him the best chance to keep up with his only active case now that he was no longer a DMA employee: the Phantom Matador.
He was able to find three news stations that were talking about the Phantom Matador, two planetary and one interplanetary. They each showed the same groups of clips, likely ones that had been determined the most news-worthy and sensational over the previous day. There were two primary shots of Carmen and the Matador zipping past each other on their asteroids, standing on them in bizarre, inertia-defying stances, and two or three shots of the Phantom Matador by himself caught during previous instances of his interference with the races.
He wore a wide, black hat, and a black cloth was draped around his face. It looked casual and dramatic, but Zack could tell that it was hiding just enough to make it a challenge for any facial recognition software to get more than “probably human” in this part of the galaxy without the image being taken closer. The Glorien systems were rumored to have much more advanced software, and cameras that were able to zoom in to ludicrous amounts without distorting the image, but they were a distant and secretive branch of humanity that didn’t care to share news with the outside.
While Zack continued to watch the news reports a noise drew his attention to the door’s active view screen. A man dressed in black was using adhesive to attach a flower and an envelope to the door’s exterior. A man dressed in black who was also wearing a very familiar looking hat, with black cloth draped over his face.
Zack lifted his pistols, quickly charging their capacitors. He glanced at the television and saw the same figure, standing dramatically on the asteroid, his black cape flowing in a breeze that, were it not for the atmosphere imposed by his telekinetic powers, should have been absent in the void of space. He quietly moved to the door. Just as the man in black finished affixing the foliage, Zack unlocked the door and pulled it open.
Zack pointed one of his pistols directly into the Phantom’s face, the other lowered but obviously ready for trouble. The Matador’s eyes were wide, his hands held up defensively and one foot already back, as if ready to retreat, but dangerously close to the railing behind him, protecting him from a two story drop.
“Looking for an empty room?” asked Zack. “No vacancies.”
The Matador’s eyes narrowed, his initial shock clearly replaced by anger. He took another step back and one of his hands reached down toward the phase sword hilt at his side.
“No swords here, this is a gun fight,” said Zack. “Don’t move. Now, if you don’t mind, we need to get you to another room, something with titanium bars and laser grids. I can either take you myself, or we can call ahead for reservations. Hands up, away from the weapon.”
The Matador’s hands clenched oddly before he raised them. Zack stared at his opponent for a few moments before realizing that he wasn’t sure what to do. He could take the Phantom Matador to local law enforcement agents, but that might hurt his cover. While the police likely wouldn’t have any reason to detain him, if any had been contacted by DMA members to keep an eye out for him it would make it that much harder to keep in hiding. Turning in the Phantom Matador might let the DMA know exactly where he was.
Movement behind the Matador caught Zack’s eye and his focus shifted. In the distance behind the Matador, on the ground in front of the hotel, a small collection of visually aesthetic boulders surrounded a scenic grouping of trees and a pool, something meant to give the hotel a relaxing look that might hide the fact that it was in the middle of a teeming metropolis. Two of those boulders were lifting, rising into the air until they were even with Zack’s eyes. Zack met the Matador’s gaze again and shook his head, bringing up his second pistol.
“Don’t you dare,” Zack said.
“You miscalculated, and led with the wrong foot,” came the Matador’s voice. The cloth didn’t muffle it as much as Zack thought that it might. It was sonorous, one trained for speaking dramatically.
“I led with a gun. If those boulders move any more, then you get blasted.”
“If I get blasted, then I don’t stop the rocks. Can you outpace two speeding boulders?”
Zack’s hands faltered. During the momentary hesitation, the Matador’s wrists flicked forward and the twin boulders hurtled through the air. Zack caught the movement of the rocks and saw the Matador quickly duck and roll to the side. With only two weapons for three targets and not enough time to roll to the side as well, Zack fired at the rocks.