Carmen opened her eyes, slowly working through a dull throbbing in her skull. It was unpleasant, but she’d had worse hangovers in recent memory and was able to slowly push her way through it. The light wasn’t causing her headache to get worse, fortunately.
She was sitting on an uncomfortable rolling chair in what looked like an empty hangar. She shakily got to her feet, causing the chair’s wheels to emit a loud squeak. She winced at the noise and decided that she should give herself a few minutes to let her mind get back on track.
The environment was eerie and still. The lack of a ship or car in the small hangar gave it the expectant emptiness of deprived purpose while the lack of dust or disrepair made her feel like someone might walk in at any moment and ask why she was there. She wasn’t exactly sure why.
She approached the exit, opened the door, and gave her eyes a few moments to adjust to the (fortunately not too painful) brighter light outside. She saw an upscale, though old fashioned, walkway along a street. Her side of the street had small hangar spaces, while the opposite side featured signs that advertised restaurants or small gift shops. A holographic sign floated nearby, saying that this was Alpha Street.
Carmen remembered Helix, Zack’s checkup gone wrong, the failed attempt to fly away, and the elevator. She ran back into the hangar to look for any sign of Zack, but the space was empty except for the unpleasant chair. She found the hangar’s control panel in the wall by the door, and opened the only other exit to the room, the massive gate that allowed cars or small ships in or out.
The gate opened onto a scenic view of the nearby Veskid City at dusk. Carmen had hoped that there would be a lengthy flight tunnel which might contain a maintenance door, or something that would indicate a direction that she could look for Zack, but the drop from the hangar gate was instantaneous, blocked only by the faint blue hint of the energy field that prevented strong winds from blowing in.
She ran back out and saw Alpha Street. Zack was missing. If they’d been lied to, if Gamma had just been abducted by the DMA then he was already dead. If they hadn’t been lied to, Zack might still be somewhere in Helix. Someone didn’t want her to know where Zack was, though. She needed to find out why, and to find out where Zack went.
More importantly, she needed to figure out where to even begin looking.
“Wake up, Mister Gamma.”
Zack’s head pounded. He wasn’t sure who was speaking to him, or why the speaker’s voice wavered and rippled so much, but the the soothing tone didn’t do anything to make his head hurt less. A few more minutes would be perfect.
“I know you can hear me, Gamma. The poison’s effect does not last this long. I can understand a desire to sleep longer with the days you’ve been having recently, but we don’t truly have time for you to recuperate. At least, you don’t.”
Zack managed to get an eye open. He automatically went through the motion of rolling out of a bed, but found himself restrained. He thought more about where he was, and realized he was in a chair. In a very dark room.
Everything rushed back to him. So he’d been caught by the DMA after all. The people in the elevator had lied to him. The single light in the center of the room cast shadows that obscured the room’s edges, including the desk in front of him. He focused his eyes and saw a silhouette behind the desk.
“Who are you? Where’s Carmen?”
“Don’t concern yourself with Miss Shift… she’s been released into Helix, as missing celebrities bring more unwanted attention than missing detectives, especially with her impending races and your socially accepted fate of dying alone in a back alley. But your ignorance wounds me, Zack. After all that time we spent together, I would think my voice alone would give me away.”
“Good point. You sound like someone fitted for a pair of cement shoes who got dropped off in a wishing well. Not exactly the sort of voice you forget.”
“I see. Your predictable view of the people around you continues to be as out of date as your hat.”
“My hat’s fantastic,” said Zack. “Just wait for forest green to come back in style again, and another five years or so’ll make this look a classic. Just you wait and see.”
“Aheh… yes, I will. A pity that you won’t be around to benefit from such a poor choice in fedora. You may not remember me, but I can assure you that this last meeting of ours will be the final thing you ever remember.”
Zack searched his mind for any memory of this person. Perhaps they worked in a different department? One he’d worked with when he first joined, but not since?
“Look, if you want the DMA bounty, just finish me off and claim it. Congrats. You beat Fletch, and that’s saying something. She practically had me earlier today.”
“Oh? I hadn’t heard that the greatest assassin of the Desperate Measures Agency was in Helix. That’s… distressing on some level. Regardless, I do take pleasure in being the one to see you breathe your last, but I’m not with your beloved agency of thieves and murderers. Your death will be personal.”
“Okay, I give up. Who are you? If you don’t want the bounty, and you’re not a member of the DMA, then why do you want me dead?”
“This borders on insulting,” said the shadow. It stepped forward, though “stepped” was hardly the correct word. Its form seemed to flow and surge, most of its mass gently rolling over the desk while the remainder slid beneath, both portions merging with each other as the entity drew nearer.
Zack convulsed at the sight, even though it told him that the creature was liquid or colloidal in some form. He guessed Pyrhian even before he could see the creature properly in the light. It was dark blue, darker than most Pyrhian water people. There seemed to be an inky quality deep within it. It chose a human-like face with two arms and three pillar-like legs, likely to give it extra stability if needed. Zack exhaled once the creature was fully visible.
“That’s surprising,” said Zack. “I wasn’t expecting… anything like that.”
“I’m sure you recognize me now?”
Zack looked over the creature, baffled.
“No,” he said. “No, I’m sorry. Look, you’re… obviously a very memorable person. At least, for a human you would be. Pyrhians aren’t exactly common. Did I know you before your condensation? If I saw you premetamorphosis then maybe that’s why I don’t recognize you.”
“No,” said the creature, stepping forward. It covered ground quickly, with its three, loping legs stretching to cross the small distance with alarming speed. “We met when I was like this. We met, and after what you did I made sure that you would remember to stay away from me. I warned you not to come to Helix ever again. And you didn’t listen.”
“Buddy, I think you’ve got the wrong guy,” said Zack. “I’ve never seen you before in my life. I’ve never heard your voice before. I don’t remember ever meeting anyone like you, and I’ve definitely never been told to stay away from Helix. Whoever you think I am and whatever you think I did, you’re lookin’ for someone else.”
A look of genuine confusion crossed the Pyrhians face.
“How can you forget this? I refuse to believe that my contribution to your personal history would be so mundane as to be forgettable. And it’s simply insulting to think that I, Murk, would make such a gross mistake in identifying you.”
“Murk… wait, I know that name. You’re the one who…”
Zack thought about what he was going to say, carefully putting it all into place.
“Oh?” said Murk. “Has your memory been jogged?”
“No,” said Zack. “I mean, maybe. You’re allegedly responsible for a number of smuggling operations in Veskid City. Some people thought you might be based in Helix. Are you that Murk? Whether or not the reports are true, mind you, I’m not interested in that…”
“Of course I’m that Murk. You know very well the kinds of businesses that I run.”
“No, I don’t,” said Zack. “I just work with people at the DMA. Your name comes up sometimes.”
“Playing dumb doesn’t suit you, Gamma. Instead, let’s see how you fare at playing dead.”