Vox Cul-Dar parked his hover car at the public hangar on the side of the “street” that spiraled up and down the side of Helix. The planet of Veskid, and even more specifically the cities of Farport, Veskid City and Cortez, were founded near the end of the super city craze, and each of the three founding cities were developed with facilities meant to accommodate and create the massive, intelligent structures. Helix was nearing completion shortly after Veskid City had renamed itself (originally called Desperation by the settlers who crashed there on the way to the planned landing sight of Farport), but the market changed just before Helix would have become operational as a super city. Designed for short-range mobility, and even space flight in an emergency, Helix now towered over one of the far corners of Veskid City as a permanently grounded structure with its low-rent residential district running along the Alpha Street and the modestly successful business district running along the Beta Street.
Vox was only familiar with the more recent history of Veskid and only knew of Helix as an eyesore that was technically a separate city even though it was fully contained within Veskid City. It gleamed from a distance and had that particular style of curvature that humans had thought of as futuristic centuries ago, but now it looked old fashioned and outdated. Looking through the window of his transport he decided, not for the first time, that it could probably use a new paint job.
“I truly dislike coming to Helix,” he said.
“Mark my words and heed well my wisdom, Vox Cul-Dar” said Rendelac from the elongated hollow that he rested in just above the vehicle’s radio and communications terminal. “Carmen Shift and the one who is likely Zack Gamma took a hover cab here, based on what little public information I can glean from police reports and your quick… ‘interview’ with the witness who saw them leaving the hotel. If you wish to pursue Zack Gamma, then coming to Helix is a necessity.”
“I dislike coming to a place in such disrepair,” said Vox. Rendelac’s eye glowed and focused on Vox.
“It is in disrepair because of neglect,” Rendelac said. “It is unpleasant because those who neglected it disliked coming here. The former grandeur of Helix is lost to history not due to its age, but due to those who prefer not to walk within it.”
“Then I am as responsible for its current state as the humans who failed to maintain it?”
“Certainly not,” said Rendelac. “But you may share some of the responsibility for however people feel about it in the future. While you are here, you may breathe some vibrancy back into its still walkways. As the humans say, there is little sadder than an abandoned railway station.”
“Humans say a lot of things,” said Vox. “I shall return.”
Vox stepped out of the car and into the public hangar. He took a moment to feel the gentle breeze just outside the hangar’s launchway, enjoying the refreshing feel of it but knowing that it, like much in Helix, was minimized due to the unique architecture of the tower’s two roads and likely a force field; if he could actually feel the full force of the wind at this altitude, it might risk blowing him off the tower.
He stepped onto Beta Street, typed a security code into the hangar’s entryway, turned and immediately had to step around a small child that was running down the roadway. The child yelped and tripped, falling onto the ground. Vox gasped and leaned down to help him up, but the youth just looked up at him, smiled, and said “Are you all right, mister?”
“I’m fine,” said Vox. “Are you? You should watch where you walk.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” he said. “But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone park there before.”
Vox realized after a moment that the child wasn’t actually human, though he looked close enough to it that he could easily pass for one. The loose-fitting clothes likely served to hide any non-human elements, as did the grey, flat-topped hat that he wore. The eyes were the biggest giveaway, truly round instead of the almond-shape of human eyes. Now that Vox realized it wasn’t a human, other little things became much more noticeable: the extra joint on the long fingers, the angular nature of the ears, and the disturbingly sharp nature of the teeth chief among them.
“Be that as it may,” said Vox after mentally filing away the appearance of the child, “the roadways aren’t safe places for people to run so cavalierly.”
“They seem safe enough,” said the child. “Almost no one drives on the road, it’s cheaper to take the elevators or monorail. I mean, on the lower segments of the tower, sure, but up here there’s no real need to drive on the road.”
“I see,” said Vox. “Forgive me, then, I am unfamiliar with the customs of Helix.”
“Need a guide?” asked the child. “No one knows this part better than me. I can getcha where you’re going in a flash, and I’ll be cheaper than buying a map.”
“I don’t know if the services of a guide are called for necessarily,” said Vox. “However, I am looking for two people. Perhaps you’ve seen them.”
He reached for the palm-sized computer in his robes and activated its photographic display mode. As he held it up, two holograms appeared in the air between Vox and the child. The first showed Carmen Shift from a video of her races, while the second showed Zack Gamma as he appeared in the DMA’s employee database. The alien boy smiled a razor smile of delight, gasping at the sight of Carmen.
“That’s the Crimson Cruiser, isn’t it?”
“I love the asteroid races. And you think she’s here? In Helix?”
“I believe so,” he said. “She’s an associate of mine. If you’ve not seen her, though, it’s more important to know if you’ve seen the other one. He should be with her, but may be alone.”
The child scratched the back of his head while looking at the image of Zack. He closed his eyes for a second as if lost in thought before they snapped open again.
“I think I saw someone with a hat like that a while ago,” he said. “The guy wearing it was with a woman with red hair but I didn’t see her face… maybe Carmen Shift? They stepped off a cab. You don’t see many hats like that these days. I don’t know where they went, but I can tell you where I saw them and which way they were going. What’s it worth to you?”
“Five Veskidollars,” Vox said, putting away his computer and reaching for his wallet. “Non-digital. Paper money.”
“Wow!” said the child. “Thanks mister! I was two twists up from here, I saw the cab drop them off at the grocery store where Beta connects with Elba. They made their way down Elba, walking deeper into Helix, heading for the park district.”
“Thank you,” said Vox, removing the paper currency from his wallet and handing it to the child, who gratefully took it and ran down the roadway, turning around a corner. Vox walked inward, following the signs until he could reach an elevator. The child hadn’t given him much to go on except that they would likely be two levels up, but he had a direction to begin walking while he started to search for Zack and Carmen’s known associates who might be in Helix.
It was saying “mister” that did it, Hobbar decided. Everyone familiar with humans in Helix… which was everybody… mistook him for a human kid at a distance, and while he certainly wasn’t an adult yet he was much more mature than most expected him to be. Resembling a human child of about eight years, he was chronologically not quite twice that old and knew how to make the disparity work in his favor. When people found out how old he actually was, people began to distrust him even if he wasn’t up to anything. Looking like a pale goblin didn’t help people to trust him very much either. Better to let people think he wasn’t even a decade old and call them “mister” or “miss” a lot.
He waited for the gangly, bug-like alien to follow his directions and walked back to the guy’s hangar. The alien had never suspected that a young ragamuffin might have watched the security code being typed in while running, or had likely not even thought about keeping the security measure a secret… it was such an automatic thing for most people. In the alien’s defense, he’d used seven digits instead of the four or five that most people used, but it was still a simple pattern.
Hobbar reached up and tapped the proper numbers. He stepped through the hangar’s arch and took a second to admire the skyline before turning to the car. Many forms of hover carriage existed, but Hobbar’s toolkit hadn’t met its match yet.
Within thirty seconds, he’d popped open the front door and an alarm sounded. He winced, trying to figure out what he’d done wrong, but quickly noticed the eye of a small computer set into the dashboard just above the radio.
“Mark my words and heed well my wisdom,” said Rendelac. “I have already contacted law enforcement. They will be here shortly to investigate your act of breaking and entering. All of the most valuable objects within the vehicle have tracing mechanisms of one sort or another within them. On a personal note, it is an act of wisdom to repay kindness for kindness, and after I overheard this car’s owner give you a fair price for your information I find it most distasteful indeed for you to turn on him like this.”
Hobbar wanted to smash the computer, but knew that if it had any black-box mechanisms it might just come back to haunt him later. Instead he reached under the control panel and removed the maintenance lid.
“The joke’s on your boss,” said Hobbar. “He didn’t pay me for information. I’d never seen that guy in my life. What, he thinks the first person he passes in a city the size of Helix is gonna know someone from a picture? I could’ve passed Carmen Shift in a crowd at lunchtime and not known it if she’d been wearing a hat, as busy as this place gets sometimes.”
“Close the maintenance panel and leave,” said Rendelac. “I have your voice and facial features on file, and will be turning them over to the police.”
“They already have my voice and facial features,” said Hobbar, grabbing the identification node. He didn’t have time for much, but a legal identification node could fetch a good price at the right market. “They’ve not been able to catch me yet. You seem like a nice computer with some snazzy software though, so I’ll do you a favor and not take you and the radio to sell for parts… the radio looks busted, anyway. But your boss has really gotta do better than this if he wants his stuff to stay safe.”
He closed the door of the car before he could hear the computer’s response and ran. He still had another minute before the police could easily respond if they weren’t already in the area… but he hadn’t stayed away from them this long by giving them the chance to catch up.