Episode 27: Cooling Off

Zack pushed open the door and saw a room filled with computer screens. It was a comfortable office, if a bit stale. A single terminal built into the desk was the only visible interface between the monitors, most of which appeared to be playing camera feeds rather than displaying different programs. Scraps of paper covered every flat surface, but no other sign of recent occupation could be seen.

“We’re clear,” he said. He felt the heat of Igneous approach from the stairs behind him. The glow that grew brighter the closer she came to metamorphosis added some life to the depressing room, though Zack got the sense that Igneous saw it as a bad sign. He didn’t know any good ways to ask about the situation, and he knew for a fact that Igneous wouldn’t want to talk about it if anything more urgent was happening. Still, if Igneous was helping him now he wanted to know her limits.

“It could be some residual psychic pollen talking,” said Zack, “but I think you’re a bit cooler up here.”

“No exertion,” said Igneous, pushing her way past Zack and toward the door on the other side of the room. “I can… take my time… conserve.”

“Let’s stay here for a minute, then,” said Zack. “I want to poke around a bit, and the air’s cool.”

“No,” said Igneous.

“It’s the bad end of a bad summer out there,” said Zack. “The kind of heat that could make someone pick up frostbite as a hobby.”

“Not that… bad,” said Igneous, reaching the door. “Stay here. I’m… going out.”

“Don’t you think we should stick together for just a bit?” said Zack. “I may still be on the run, and… I think you said you didn’t want to be around me while I’m wanted, I get that. But I think we’ve got a few minutes here, we could coordinate.”

“Meet me… out there,” said Igneous. She put her hand on the door, and took a deep breath. “Big van. Check the… check the back.”

“What?” Gamma asked. Igneous ignored him and pushed the door open, stepping down the staircase.

Zack wanted to follow to make sure she was fine, but knew that he was behind enemy lines in this room. Murk had kept his pistols, his camera, and most of the tools that would make examining this room simple enough, and without them he had to rely on technique alone. A quick look at the monitors showed that most of them were presenting camera feeds of Murk’s recreation of the Underjungles of Ravelar, though a few of them showed other rooms like this one, or living quarters. Zack looked at the monitor, and saw a media program running, capturing the video feeds. The regular feeds were organized by names that began with “SecurityCreep”, and even included one that showed Zack in the office as he searched it, while all the jungle feeds seemed to be organized under the name GammaZ followed by a number that refered to a location within the underbrush, a system that Zack was able to follow when he determined which camera feeds went with the flytrap, the lusca vine, and the door that he and Igneous used to escape.

“That slimy mud puddle wanted to watch me die from the comfort of his own fish tank. I’d hate to be the editor who has to give him the bad news…”

Zack used the terminal to access the program to the best of his ability. The program wouldn’t edit his departure through this security room without first shutting down the recording process. so he ended the SecurityCreep feeds. He examined them, removed himself from the departing feed, and tracked the video back far enough to discover the occupant of the rooms. He looked over the feeds to get a good look at the person who occupied this and other offices across Helix, and even saw a few that contained Murk.

After finding everything that seemed helpful from the videos, Zack left the office. The short winding stair led down to a door that had been ripped from its hinges. Zack panicked at first, but then saw that the door’s old security measures had been easily disabled. That part of the entrance hadn’t seemed like Igneous’ style, but with a little luck it meant that the broken door wouldn’t have alerted anyone to their presence (or more importantly, their absence) just yet.

Looking down the street he saw a large van parked a short distance away, just far enough that it probably wouldn’t be noticed on an individual building’s security feeds. He approached and saw that its back doors were hanging open, with a dim light pouring out from them. Zack approached and opened the back of the door, revealing a large steel tub between two seats that ran along the sides of the back third of the van. He climbed inside and looked into the tub to see it filled with ice. A rocky shape was just barely visible beneath the ice, and it shifted as Zack entered its line of sight.

“I’m sorry, Igneous,” said Zack. “Makes sense that you’d wanna leave. In the future, though, lemme know that you’ve got an ice tub to run off to. I was getting worried.”

“She’s been like that all day,” said a voice behind him. Zack turned and recognized the Crinlian that he and Carmen had met before their attempt to leave Helix.

“She showed up at my place. I don’t know where she got the van or the giant tub. It’s like a reverse hot tub, she leaves it and the ice starts to refreeze.”

“Sounds like someone went to a lot of trouble to reinvent the freezer,” said Zack. “I’m guessing you took care of the security on the door before Igneous smashed her way in. I wasn’t expecting to see you again.”

“Believe me, I didn’t want you to,” he said. “Call me Hobbar. I give Igneous tips on what’s happening in town sometimes, and when I mentioned you she roped me into helping to find you again.”

“Any other agent and that might’ve killed me,” said Zack. “I should thank you, though. Igneous saved me in there, so in a way you did too.”

“Any time. What’s next for you and Igneous, since I’m apparently wrapped up in this now?”

“I can’t speak for Igneous, but I need to find a friend. I also need to get out of Helix before it causes me any more problems with Murk.”

Hobbar shook his head. He glanced at Igneous’ tub and lowered his voice.

“I’ll be honest, when Murk gets his claws into something he generally doesn’t let go. And he has ways of finding things. Unless you’ve got a ticket to get offworld before dawn, I don’t think getting from Helix to Veskid City’s going to be enough.”

“Then maybe it’s time to hurt Murk’s operation,” said Zack. “We surprise him, take the fight to his door, and get out of town while he’s still trying to figure out what’s happening. Make sure he’s too busy to track me until I can get off the planet. He’ll never see it coming.”

“Right,” said Hobbar. He watched Igneous’ ice tub carefully. “Never.”


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