Carmen opened the door to the doctor’s office, quickly looked around and nodded behind her. Zack stepped in, mechanically removing his hat as he stepped under the archway.
“I’ve already told you that it’s paranoid to have someone else open your doors for you, right?”
“At least twice,” said Zack. He walked to the window on the opposite side of the room, just behind the doctor’s desk. The glass was obviously Intelligent Glass, only allowing a very small amount of daylight to pass through. He instinctively touched the panel beneath the window and turned the opacity up a bit.
“It also slows us down like you wouldn’t believe,” she said, closing the door and hitting the light switch. “Plus it shoots a big signal flare into the sky for anyone who might be looking our way. Granted, unless they’re in the DMA then they’re not likely to be anyone who’ll actually do anything about us glowing like a neon sign, which means they won’t start anything that we need to worry about, which fails to give us incentive to move quickly, so we slow down even MORE, and this problem just gets worse and worse.”
“You might’ve said that once or twice, too,” said Zack. “Sorry for taking things slow, I’m just trying to do this by the book.”
“People write books on disappearing and going on the lam?”
“Absolutely,” said Zack. “Unfortunately, most of it’s theoretical since people in my situation don’t usually last long enough to win any Pulitzers. You said that this Zeta guy knows to expect us?”
“Yeah, he’ll be right over,” said Carmen, leaning against a wall. “We won’t freak him out waiting here. Most of the racers who see him wait here in his ship’s office. Moving around a lot means that he doesn’t have any luxurious waiting rooms.”
“It’s better that way,” said Zack, tossing his hat onto the seat of one of the comfortable chairs and sitting on its arm. “We won’t have to sit in a room with a guy whose lung is trying to escape through his larynx.”
“Escape through his larynx?”
“Right,” said Zack. “Because of his cough. A really bad cough. I don’t like waiting rooms.”
“Yeah, I think the last time we talked about hospitals you referenced a gunshot wound. A bad cough’s a step up the cheer-meter.”
“It’s been a good couple of years,” said Zack, legitimately seeming to perk up. He looked over the walls and saw official looking certifications with a name longer than Zeta, confirming his suspicions that it was a nickname. The door opened before he went to read one more carefully and a slender man with black hair and a clipboard entered, looking surprised to see people already in the office.
“Carmen!” he said with an almost musical voice. “I thought I’d gotten here before you did, the front door was still locked. Did the racing commission give you a key?”
“I handled the door, doc,” said Gamma. “Relocked it, just to be safe. Seemed sensible to make ourselves at home.”
“Zeta, this is my friend, Zack Gamma,” said Carmen. “He had a run in with some trouble at my hotel room; he needs to be looked over to make sure that he’s alright. We’d also like to keep this on the down-low if it’s all the same to you.”
Doctor Zeta looked at Zack and then looked at the hat sitting where Zack should be with a frown. He took a deep breath, turned to Carmen, and smiled.
“Absolutely,” he said. “No trouble at all. Besides, I owe you one if memory serves.”
“Appreciate it,” said Zack. “I’m probably fine, but I need to play it safe. The guy who did this used his mind to lift some rocks and throw them at me.”
“I see,” said Zeta, retrieving a plastic gun-shaped device from his desk. Obviously a piece of medical equipment, especially with what resembled a Radar dish at the end of what Zack couldn’t help but think of as a barrel. Zeta wielded it a bit too comfortably for Zack’s taste as he approached.
“If you don’t mind me asking, doc, what’s that for?”
“It’s an advanced neuro-scanner,” he said. “It’s nothing to be worried about.”
“I’ve seen neuro-scanners before,” said Zack. “What’s so advanced about that one?”
“Most hospitals wouldn’t use something like this,” said Zeta. “The basic model is fine for most people. In the races, though, the mind is a significant piece of equipment with its own unique problems, some of which need to be diagnosed in a matter of moments if they’re to be fixed. The unique brain patterns of those with psychic capabilities… and the more specifically unique brain patterns of those with petrakinetic powers… require an advanced neuro-scanner. So it’s the only one I have.”
“And those of us with regular brains?”
“Still get scanned,” said Carmen, impatiently. “Do you put up this much fuss if someone uses a high-definition camera to take your picture?”
“It pays to keep your face out of the spotlight, so I might start,” said Zack. “But I see your point.”
Zeta approached and held the neuro-scanner up to Zack’s head. Zack stared at Zeta’s eyes, biting down his concerns about hospitals and guns and waited for the telltale-
“…peration Eclipse depended on your help.”
Zamona crossed his arms, the lights on his two strength sapping gauntlets indicating that they were at full power. Zack could tell that even with the gauntlets at full capacity, Zamona was still holding himself back, touching the table gingerly. Was it force of habit that made him handle things with care, or did his surreal strength surpass even what the gauntlets could drain away? Most people wouldn’t be able to move while wearing those things at full power.
“Don’t think that I’ll help you any more just because I helped you before,” said Zack. “Those were different times. You were still in the ring. I’m sorry you had to leave that, by the way.”
“Nothing you could have done to stop that,” said Zamona. “Besides, I ended on top. The Iceberg left as a legend, not by being taken down by some hotshot punk who was fresh to the game.”
-click of the device.
Zack realized that someone was shouting at him. Carmen, she was shouting his name. Something was different. He was still looking at Zeta’s eyes… the wall hadn’t been right behind Zeta before. And Doctor Zeta certainly hadn’t looked terrified.
Zack shook his head. He was holding Zeta up against the far wall, away from where he’d been sitting. The neuro-scanner was in Zack’s hand, held up like a gun against Zeta’s chin. Zeta was holding his hands up, partially in defense but mostly as a show of surrender. Zack realized he was feeling waves of déjà vu strong enough to bring on a sense of nausea and dizziness. He let go of the doctor’s shirt and leaned back from the wall, dropping the neuro-scanner onto the ground. Carmen quickly picked up the scanner and pushed Zack back until he was sitting in a chair.
“What was that all about?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I was… in trouble or something. I remembered something, but I don’t know what it was or why.”
“I expect the results of the brain scan to be quite interesting, then,” said Zeta. “There are isolated… very isolated, I should stress… cases of people reliving old memories with astonishing clarity or subconsciously solving equations when a neuro-scanner is used upon them. Generally they don’t cause a physical reaction… it must have been a very tense memory.”
“It was,” said Zack. “A client, a guy I helped who used to be a professional wrestler. But we weren’t talking about his case, it was after we’d finished. But I haven’t spoken to him in years.”
“Very puzzling,” said Zeta. “Have you ever had head injuries like this before?”
“Not quite like this,” said Zack. “I’ve had my head banged more than a die-hard rock fan at a reunion tour, but nothing that I’d say was serious.”
“We’ll let Zeta figure out what’s serious,” said Carmen, handing the neuro-scanner back to the doctor. “You’ve got to take it slow until he figures out what’s going on. Leave the speed to the professionals.”
“It’s possible that you’re remembering a dream,” said Zeta, examining the neuro-scanner’s readout screen. “It wouldn’t be a memory you could access just as easily as others, might incorporate memories and people seen from unrelated events, and could involve heightened emotions that aren’t immediately understandable. I’ll know more after I examine the results more carefully… until then, though, I already have enough to prescribe some current treatments. You were very lucky; no serious injuries were scanned.”
“So I’ve got a clean bill of health?” asked Zack.
“Absolutely not,” said Zeta. “But the treatment should be simple.”
Much earlier, on another world…
The elevator chimed to herald the departure of a client as the doors slid apart, revealing a gruff, dirt-covered man. And yet, despite wearing the same clothes, having the same unkempt hair and the same grizzled beard… he looked different. He was still unremarkable… even more now that he had left the portion of the building devoted to the opulent bank… but people asked to describe the person who just passed would have used different words.
“Three Virellium Coins,” he said to himself, walking through the building’s lobby, weaving through the bustling people on their way to and from the shopping center at the ground floor. “Three coins made of Virellium Force Energy. Three little coins…”
It was too much. He’d never be worried again. He’d calculated how much money he was owed before, of course. He knew in his head that he had earned the money, and knew exactly what it would be worth when he went to the bank. But he’d never really believed it. People like him didn’t get money. They kept their nose to the grindstone, worked their whole life, and hopefully managed to reduce their debt instead of increasing it. People like him didn’t increase how much money they had, a thought that cycled through his head as he left the shopping center and reached the city street.
And yet… here it was. It still felt like it wasn’t real. It was a dream that he’d wake up from in a moment. Or, worse, he’d done something wrong or misunderstood something… he’d asked the teller multiple times to repeat everything and to get it in writing, but he still couldn’t believe it. He walked down the sidewalk, mentally taking note as the crowds thinned out and the buildings became worse. Should he buy a car? He’d always wanted a car… public transportation and walking had always worked for him, but maybe he could afford a car?
Of course he could afford a car. He could afford all the cars. Should he get a new house? He needed to be smart with this money, not waste it all in one place. It wouldn’t be possible to waste it all in one place, though, no single place had enough to buy. He liked his neighborhood… there were a lot of fun memories in that house… he’d think about buying a new house. Maybe he could keep this one if he bought another one.
He stepped down the alley that cut four blocks off of the walk home, an old trail of gravel that likely hadn’t seen a regular car drive down it since they began flying. It cut in front of an abandoned business and between two tall buildings before opening up into the residential neighborhood that he called home.
“Been a good day?”
He stopped and looked over his shoulder. Two large men, one carrying a long piece of metal, had stepped into the alley behind him.
“Good enough. You?”
“Good so far. About to get a whole lot better, though.”
He took a steady breath and watched the two men begin walking closer to him. He turned back and saw a third man… no, some sort of alien that looked human apart from the red eyes and wild mane of hair that merged well with his worn coat. The alien was larger than the first two, and was quite effectively blocking his path.
Here’s where he got what was coming to him. No one gets a break this lucky for free.
He put a hand on his multiform tool for comfort, though he doubted that it would be useful as a weapon. The three men approached and he stepped back to the wall.
“Listen, I don’t want any trouble…”
“We’re not here to cause trouble,” said the man who’d spoken to him before. “We were just wondering if you might be able to make a donation. You’re Azar, right?”
“Yes,” he said. “That’s my name.”
“Azar, good,” said the thug carrying the metal… it looked more like a pipe now that Azar could see it. “We’ve been waiting for you. Word is that you just made a lot of money. A lot of money.”
“Now listen, boys,” said Azar. “I put in decades of work for that, and I saved well. I earned that money.”
“No one’s saying you didn’t,” said the alien, revealing teeth far sharper than should have been legal. “We figured that we should put in some work today, too. I think a coin for each of us should work. That’s all.”
Azar wilted. He didn’t know how people had heard about it so quickly, but they clearly had. This was where money became a problem.
Except… it wasn’t. He reminded himself that money wasn’t a problem anymore. It was a solution. The wealthy didn’t deal with money, they dealt with opportunity. And people like these… dealt with debt. Azar stood taller and smiled.
“I’m sorry to tell you this, boys, but after I got my three Virellium coins, I opened two accounts at the bank. Savings and Checking. One coin went to savings… always good to prepare for a rainy day, after all… and two to checking. I’ve got nothing on me. Not a cent.”
The three thugs looked at each other, angrily.
“I came out here today to get some money,” said the alien. “And if I don’t get money, I’m going to have some fun.”
“I hate to disappoint you,” said Azar. “With the economy the way it is, it’s no surprise that you… enterprising young men have turned to getting your money like this. What say I give you boys jobs?”
“Jobs doing what?” asked the one with the pipe.
“I haven’t worked that out yet,” said Azar. “But I think that you’ll find the payment to be… satisfactory. Certainly better than whatever you do for a living now. So what’ll it be, boys? Will you pummel me to death for nothing, or will you see me tomorrow at, say, two in the afternoon?”
Azar waved farewell to his new bodyguards and closed the door behind him, locking each of the three locks and flipping the switch to activate the security grid. He deflated and walked to his living room, flopping into the chair like it was the end of any other day. That had been the most terrifying experience of his life, and he’d almost died more times than he could count on the job.
But it had worked. He sold opportunity for safe passage. Money hadn’t even traded hands. Largely because he kept the money unreachable, safe in the bank. Or so he’d told them. He’d meant it about opening up two accounts.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the one Virellium coin that he’d kept for himself, feeling the heat that it generated.
“What should I do with you now, little coin?” he asked it. “What shall I do with you now?”