Episode 14: Damage Reimbursement

Zack had jumped from higher than this third story window before, but usually only with a better understanding of the kind of environment in which he would land. He knew that one of the biggest secrets to jumping out of a window and living was in not hitting the ground. Catching a tree limb on the way down, leaping across the alley to another building, and using a parachute were all good ideas in the right situation. Zack had even once been fortunate enough to leap from a window in a world where the gravity was light enough to be very friendly to humans at certain distances. Unfortunately, Helix’s gravity was no different than Veskid’s and what few trees the city had were kept away from buildings. Tree roots couldn’t easily grow deep enough on the spiraling, screw-like streets.

Zack spun in midair and reached for a window ledge, missing it by inches but positioning his hands well for the window of the floor below it. His hands scraped the faux concrete above, but his fingers held firm. The sudden impact made him worried that his arms would become dislocated from his shoulders, but the pain only caused him to shout involuntarily.

A woman at a desk in the office inside spun in her chair and looked out the window to see Zack. Zack risked letting go of the ledge above the window to knock on the window, looking up quickly to make sure that Vox wasn’t about to leap down on him. He honestly wasn’t sure if trying to get in through this window would be a better idea than dropping to the ground to run. Vox’s people could jump and run faster than humans on average, and Vox was definitely better than average.

***

“Let me go!” shouted Vox, his arms straining toward the window.

Carmen growled and held the wiry alien as long as she could, but with a twist of his limbs he finally broke free. Stumbling initially but quickly righting himself, Vox made it to the window and looked down, scanning the street. There were any number of buildings that Zack could run into, and an alleyway that he might have been able to reach at an incredible sprint. There was no sign of which direction he went, however, and no good way of determining which it was. As he performed his visual search, Carmen grabbed him from behind, spun him around and pushed him up against the wall.

“What’s wrong with you?” she asked. “You’re supposed to be protecting me, not chasing after my friends!”

“Your ‘friend’ is a wanted man,” said Vox. “His case is unrelated to yours. Believe me, the world will be safer if I bring Zack Gamma to justice one way or another.”

“Why?” asked Carmen. “What did he do?”

“I don’t know,” said Vox. “No infraction was cited, and no one I’ve spoken to at the DMA knows. This suggests a heinous crime, or knowledge of a secret that no one is meant to know. Zack’s crime is one of treason to the Desperate Measures Agency, meaning the betrayal of an employee or someone even more significant. He likely stole a state secret from one of our other agents working a high profile case, or organized an event that would prove catastrophic somewhere.”

“Zack hasn’t done anything,” said Carmen. “I asked him about it on our way to Helix after you and I met. Nothing he’s done would warrant this kind of action.”

“Nothing he’s told you about, perhaps,” said Vox. “No one joins the Desperate Measures Agency with a completely clean conscience. Zack is no exception. Now, unhand me. You may be a client, but nothing says that I can’t take measures to protect or free myself from you.”

He moved his hands ever so slightly to bring the serrated ridges that ran along his arms into focus as well as he could with Carmen holding him against the wall. Carmen considered them for a moment before grudgingly releasing him.

“I take it the DMA will be able to cover the damages to this office?” asked Zeta.

“Yes, yes, the standard damages reimbursement should suffice,” said Vox. “I’d suggest taking it. I’ll… make sure that Fletch’s damage is accounted for. I’d recognize the blast marks of her weapon anywhere. She has a habit of conveniently forgetting such things. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have a runaway investigator to apprehend.”

“I’m not going to just let you leave to hunt down Zack,” said Carmen. “And besides, you’ve got my case to work on.”

“You can’t stop me from leaving,” said Vox. “I’ve done nothing wrong. If you disagree, call whatever Helix has that passes for law enforcement. At best they can hold Fletch for destruction of property, something I had nothing to do with. Though I doubt she’d be held long. As for your case… I have my ear to the ground, so to speak. I’ll be waiting for The Phantom Matador to make his next move.”

“I should go,” said Zeta. “Carmen, I don’t know what this is but… I need to contact my next appointment. Vince Flashman needs his physical before the next circuit begins, and this is hardly the place to conduct it anymore.”

“You’re right, Zeta,” said Carmen, turning from Vox to look back at the doctor. “I’m sorry it came to this. I really had no idea that this would all happen.”

“It’s no trouble,” said Zeta. “Well… you know what I mean.”

“Wonderful,” said Vox. “We can all take our leave and go about our business. A pleasure meeting you, doctor.”

Carmen scowled, spun around and punched Vox, her fist impacting against his not-quite chitinous skin, knocking his head against the wall. Vox’s eyes glazed and he slumped to the floor. Carmen shook her fist, wincing at the pain.

“Let’s get out of here, Zeta,” she said. “I’ve got a feeling it’s not going to be pleasant around here when these two wake up. Hopefully this’ll buy Zack some time.”

Zeta nodded and quickly grabbed some things before he and Carmen left, closing the door behind them. Moments later, Vox opened his eyes. Humans often made the mistake of assuming that his anatomy was like theirs outside of the superficial similarities. His skull could withstand a stronger impact than theirs. Humans also had a tendency to believe that they could knock out an opponent with a single blow, something that almost none actually knew how to do properly, a belief spread through centuries of misrepresentation in their culture’s media.

With Carmen and the doctor gone, he calmly stepped to the window and jumped to the ground below. He wasn’t sure where Zack had gone, but his lead had just been cut down significantly.

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