Episode 30: The Scenic Route

Carmen climbed into the taxi and nodded to the driver.

“I need to get to Veskid City.”

“Where in Veskid City?” asked the driver. She was a human, though possibly a modified one. Carmen couldn’t tell if the green hair was a minor genetic splice or a well applied dye job.

“Just let me off when I get there,” she said. “I can make it to the hotel once I finally get out of Helix.”

“Not a fan of our fair city?”

“Nah, it’s not that,” said Carmen, settling into the seat and closing her door. “It’s… been a hard day. I’ve just gotta get home and hope that I can get in touch with someone.”

“I get that,” said the driver. “Buckle up, I’ll get you home soon.”

Carmen ignored the driver’s advice as the taxi lifted off the ground and merged into the hover-road that followed the gently curving land-road meant for ground traffic. The knowledge that Fletch had no idea where Zack was didn’t calm her as much as she hoped it would. Any number of less efficient assassins might have found him without letting the DMA know.

“Hey, isn’t the best way out of the city through that turn?” asked Carmen.

“It seems like it if you’re not around here very often,” said the driver. “The way the city curves and spirals can mess with you. I thought I knew the city before I got this job, but then I figured out just how much I had to learn.”

“Are you sure?” said Carmen. “It looks like a pretty straight shot. I can see Veskid City.”

“That’s not approved airspace. I know it looks clear, and it’d probably be safe enough, but they’re strict about me sticking to the regulations. The good news is that this’ll at least be scenic.”

“You’re not trying to run the meter up on me, are you?”

“Nah. Though I’ve gotta say that it’s tempting. I don’t meet a celebrity very often.”

“I appreciate it,” said Carmen. It was usually awesome to be recognized, but given the day she’d had she was starting to think that Zack might be right about getting a wig, at least until she got him offworld. Assuming she could find him before the next race, at least.

The taxi lifted higher, rising between a series of archways that connected two buildings.

“Is this seriously still approved airspace? Getting this close to a building?”

“I couldn’t resist, sorry. We’re only out of bounds for a few moments this way, and views like this make the scenic route worth it. Say, do you think you could sign an autograph for me?”

“Uh, sure,” said Carmen. “I don’t have anything to write with, though. Or paper.”

The cab suddenly stopped under the archway of the bridge. Carmen felt the inertia jolt her forward, but she rolled with it easily, narrowly avoiding a disorienting crash with the seat in front of her.

“Hey!” she shouted.

Her door was ripped open. There was a tiny walkway under the bridge, and someone had stepped from the shadows to quickly wrench open the door. He was reaching for her as two other humans stepped out as well. Moving fast, she grabbed the man’s hand and yanked him into the car, tossing him into the other seat.

The other two thugs paused, surprised. Carmen pushed the advantage and jumped out of the car. The cab driver shouted something at her, but Carmen didn’t wait to hear it. She didn’t have time for people who set her up.

“The next one who tries something goes down to the street instead of into the cab,” said Carmen. “And they’ll take the fast route.”

One of the two remaining men unholstered a pistol and aimed it.

“We’re supposed to keep you in town,” he said. “One way or the other.”

“Yeah, that’s not happening,” said Carmen. “Look, I don’t know who’s paying you, but it can’t be worth what’s going to happen to you if you don’t let me walk outta here. If someone’s that eager to meet me, they can go through my agent like everyone else.”

As she finished speaking, she caught motion out of the corner of her eye. She risked a glance across the underside of the bridge where another figure waited. A black outfit comprised of a mask, cape, and wide brimmed hat, all complete with red trimming. The Phantom Matador.

“You,” she said. She turned to the man with the pistol. “You’re working for him? Seriously, him?”

A jolt of electricity came from behind as the thug in the car reached out and touched the base of her neck with a metal rod. Carmen spasmed and, after a moment, collapsed on the ground.

“Took you long enough, Rillem,” said the driver. “I was worried you three were going to let her get away.”

“She surprised me,” said Rillem as he and the two outside the car started getting Carmen back into the taxi. “Why’s Murk need her, Jen?”

“No clue,” said the driver. “Chip’s message wasn’t clear on that. Which one of you let slip that we were working for Murk? We shouldn’t exactly be advertising that.”

“None of us did,” said one of the thugs outside of the car. “She just looked across the bridge and… I don’t know.”

Jen looked across the expanse to the walkway on the other side of the bridge. There was nothing there.

“Nothing to worry about, I suppose,” she said. “Let’s just get her back to Murk. I’ve gotta get the cab back soon as it is.”

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