Chip witnessed the car, swinging like a hammer as the leveraging force of the still-active tractor beam caused Carmen and Zack to hurtle toward the outer wall of Helix. His finger zipped to the key for Function Four on his computer, the kill switch that could have cut the power to the beam, but he stopped himself. Physics wasn’t his area of expertise, but he knew that cutting the power at this point in the arc would propel the car like a slingshot into a lower portion of the wall or the ground.
He’d already wasted precious milliseconds on that train of thought, but he already had the Helix Defense System’s interface loaded thanks to the initial tractor beam. Instead of cutting power to the first tractor beam, he pulled up the interfaces for three other tractor beams and activated them simultaneously.
Forming a roughly triangular area around the region that would have been Carmen and Zack’s vertical graveyard, the beams activated and formed a pyramid with a point just ahead of the hurtling car. The car collided with the intersection of three other tractor beams, slowing instantly. Still moving at dangerous speeds, but hopefully nonlethal ones, Chip activated Function Four and saw the initial tractor beam power down. No longer connected to the car, the spire and chunk of wall that it was connected to finished tumbling off its perch, beginning its miles-long fall down to the base of Helix. Chip breathed a sigh of relief. He’d acted in less than three seconds, but knew that it had more to do with luck than actual skill. He typed a number of commands into his interface and saw the three tractor beams awkwardly work together to resume the car’s slow pull into one of Helix’s acquisition bays.
“My fault for improving the capacitors on those things,” said Chip, collapsing into his chair. “That’ll get me to think twice the next time I upgrade something.”
Carmen wrestled with the hover-car’s controls one last time before pushing them away angrily. She then shrieked as the spire that had generated the initial tractor beam fall in front of her car, narrowly missing it by less than a dozen feet. She took a moment to calm herself before turning to the other passenger.
“Zack, if you could wake up sometime soon it’d be great,” she said. The detective didn’t have the resistance to heightened G-Forces that she did, and had nodded off mid-arc. She’d considered shaking him, but wasn’t actually sure if he’d be any help right now. It might be better to let him sleep it off… though once they stopped being airborne and found themselves back in Helix his knowhow could come in handy.
They were entering a chamber in the wall of Helix, some sort of storage and acquisition hangar. another tractor beam within activated when her car was close enough to the gate, allowing it to be gently brought in while the other three tractor beams released them. The airlock doors shut behind the car, quickly cycling through a series of locks designed to withstand the harshest conditions of space, a leftover from the early design era of Helix when its ability to journey from planet to planet was still a priority. The beam set their vehicle on the center of the floor, but didn’t deactivate. Carmen groaned. She had briefly hoped that she might be able to activate the car within the hangar and cause some damage that way, but her vehicle was effectively in lockdown.
Facing her through the front window, the door leading out of the chamber appeared to be a standard blast door arrangement, but modified to act as an elevator door. If the entrance to the hangar hadn’t been so menacing, the rigid efficiency enhanced by the earlier age’s architectural stylings might have been an awe-inspiring first taste of Helix for any new arrivals. Carmen noticed the numbers on the elevator ticking down toward a highlighted number fifty-three in the center of the dial, accompanied by the cycling and spinning of the blast door’s locking mechanisms.
Carmen jumped out of her chair and opened the emergency panel in the floor of the small standing area behind the driver and passenger seats. She removed the spare machinery and instruction manuals designed to make the car easily repairable in the event of a minor malfunction, and took out the first aid kit, box of rations and winter blanket loaded beneath it all.
She looked out the main window. Her ship’s external microphone picked up the noise of a gentle chime as the elevator reached the hangar door. The blast doors hadn’t finished unlocking yet, but likely wouldn’t take much longer.
Moving fast, she removed Zack’s safety harness, pulled him out of the chair, and dragged him to the emergency panel. Right before she could begin hiding him, his eyes fluttered open and he shook his head.
“Good, you’re awake,” said Carmen. “G-Forces knoacked you out. Hide yourself in here, see if you can get the blanket over you and close the emergency panel from inside. Might not fool a DMA Agent, but it’s the best I can arrange right now.”
“What?” said Zack. “Wait, the tractor beams! Carmen, did…”
“No time!” she said. “We’re alive. Someone’s coming, I’m going to buy you some time. They’re not after me, after all.”
Without waiting for another word, Carmen opened the side door and let herself out of the car. Zack looked into the uncomfortable security panel and at all the gear that needed to be packed inside.
Carmen reached the blast doors as they opened, revealing three people. Two of them were humans, but the tall one in the center was a Pyrhian Rock Man, a bipedal creature made of a form of living stone. A small ring of thorn-like protrusions around its head almost made it look like it was wearing a crown, and the dull orange of its eyes indicated that it probably hadn’t been long since its last metamorphosis. Carmen angrily marched to the rock man, ignoring the two humans reaching for weaponry beneath their coats.
“I don’t know what you’re up to, but no one jacks my car, especially not when I’m driving it!”
“Sorry,” said the rock man in a rumbling, gravelly voice. “We don’t want your car. We want your passenger, Zack Gamma.”
“So you’re a DMA operative, then?” asked Carmen. “Look, I don’t know why you people want him so badly, but if you want the DMA bounty you’re going to have to go through me!”
“We aren’t in the-” started the rock man. He was interrupted when Carmen lifted a hand, causing him to shoot into the air, knocking him into the ceiling. With a flick of the wrist, he rocketed from the ceiling into one of the two humans, causing him to drop his weapon. The second human stared in surprise. He tossed his phase pistol onto the ground and held his hands up.
“Smart,” said Carmen. “You people really don’t know who you’re messing with, otherwise you might not’ve opened with a Pyrhian. Now, how do I get out of here?”
“You won’t,” said the man, taking a nervous step back.
“You’d better tell me something else, and fast,” said Carmen. “Unless you’re in a real hurry to see how long you can dodge the walking pavement over there.”
“No, please!” he said. “Look, we’re not with the DMA. My boss just wants to talk to Zack Gamma while he’s in town. I sure can’t open the airlock, and there’s no place you could take the elevator that won’t have more of us! I don’t know what the boss wants, but I’m pretty sure he’s not with the DMA!”
Carmen narrowed her eyes.
“All right, let me talk this over with Zack,” said Carmen. “I’ll keep my eye on you, though… if it looks like you’re getting on a comm-link or doing anything I don’t like, I’ll try my hand at some rock and roll again. You get me?”
The rock man convulsed suddenly, and it opened its eyes. Shaking its head, it slowly rose to its feet. The man watched the unsteady Pyrhian rising before turning back to nod at Carmen.
“Good,” she said. “Tell your friend about the deal, then, and I’ll be back.”