Igneous splashed her way out of the tub of now-warm water. Formerly a pile of ice cubes, the tub hadn’t lasted as long as she would have liked, but it did the job. She still felt hot, but it was bearable.
Zack sat on a back-facing seat of the van. His hat was on the seat next to him, and another human she didn’t recognize sat on the far seat. He was scrawnier that Zack, in a cheap, casual outfit with thin glasses. Hobbar sat in the front of the van, in the driver’s seat. He took his eyes off the road long enough to look in the rear-view mirror to see Igneous rise out of the tub, but quickly turned back to the road.
“Lookin’ good, Igneous,” said Zack. “No one’ll mistake you for a volcano now.”
“It won’t last long,” said Igneous. “We’ll need more ice. The tub’s freeze features aren’t keeping up.”
“Have you thought about something stronger?” asked Zack. “Liquid nitrogen, maybe?”
“Don’t be an idiot,” said the human in the glasses. “Liquid nitrogen’s almost definitely too cold. It might not freeze her solid, but it could make her brittle if it doesn’t kill her outright.”
“I’ve already got some,” said Igneous. “But your friend is right. It’s too early for that. Ice will have to do for now.”
“Igneous, meet Chip Creep. Haven’t figured out his real name yet. He runs the abandoned infrastructure of Helix, sells information to the highest bidder, is probably our best bet for finding Murk, and will probably stab us in the back as soon as we take our eyes off of him. Chip, meet Igneous. She can snap your spine like a twig.”
“Charmed,” said Chip.
“Why do you want to find Murk?” asked Igneous. “Shouldn’t you get out of Helix instead?”
“I don’t want Murk to decide that he needs to come after me even when I’m not in his territory. He’s also got my ID, cash, and striker pistols. Luxuries for someone in my position, but really handy luxuries.”
“Stupid human,” said Igneous. “You don’t need those things. And Murk’s likely to redouble his efforts to track you down instead of being cowed into patiently staying here. You remember what he was like on Ravelar.”
Chip looked pointedly at Zack and Hobbar glanced at the mirror again. Zack looked at the floor.
“Actually, I don’t,” said Zack. “I think that there’s something… off with my memory right now. I can’t… Igneous, I barely remembered that it was you who tipped me off about the price on my head. Murk was convinced that I would know him. I told him he had the wrong guy, but when he tossed me into that fake jungle, something about the smell jogged my memory. I’ve got no idea what’s wrong with my head at the moment.”
“There’s any number of poisons that could cause that effect,” said Igneous. “Is it possible that someone poisoned you?”
“No,” said Zack. “No one’s gotten close enough.”
“No one you saw, at least,” said Igneous.
“Or no one that you remember,” said Chip.
Zack glared at the hacker who raised his hands defensively.
“Hey, if your memory’s screwed up, you should look at all the options.”
Zack started to reply, but a chime came from Chip’s pocket.
“What was that?” asked Zack.
“Probably my phone,” said Chip.
“You brought your phone?” said Zack.
“You didn’t tell me to leave it behind,” said Chip.
“You didn’t search him for a phone?” asked Igneous.
“I was in a rush,” said Zack.
“You let me take my takeout, I didn’t think it was going to be a no-phones kind of trip,” said Chip.
“I was kidnapping you!” said Zack.
“Give me your phone,” said Igneous.
Chip looked at the rock woman, and at the fierce red glow from her eyes and the tips of the crown-like spikes at the top of her head. He sighed, reached into his pocket, and gave her the phone.
“No offense, but I hope I never have to deal with Pyrhians again,” said Chip.
“None taken,” said Igneous. “On average we can kill any human we meet. It’d be unsettling. You don’t have a security code on this?”
“I never expected to need it,” said Chip.
“It’s someone saying that they’ve secured Carmen Shift and taken her to headquarters,” said Igneous. “The racer? Isn’t that kind of kidnapping job a little high-profile for someone in your line of work?”
Vox Cul-Dar stepped into his car and indulged himself in slumping back into the seat. Years ago, when he’d still been on his homeworld of Skiwel, he wouldn’t have done anything that demonstrated such a lack of discipline, but the habits of humans could, as he had learned, be contagious.
“I see that you had no luck in tracking down Zack Gamma,” said Rendelac, his glowing eye shifting to look at Vox.
“No,” said Vox. “I’d have him here with me if I did.”
“The police reports indicate that there was quite a lot of violence when you went to check Carmen’s doctor. That was some time ago.”
“Fletch had beaten me there. Zack and Carmen managed to subdue her, if you can believe it. Zack slipped away, though. I’ve been trying to find him ever since. No luck, though. He knows how to stay unseen, I’ll give him that much.”
“Heed well my words, Vox Cul-Dar,” said Rendelac. “You may yet profit from this venture. The recognition software in Helix’s cameras is easy to view for me. I have searched it for people useful to you, and saw a clip of the Phantom Matador. It’s strange, though… the file came to me slower than expected. It’s as if all the security footage in this city is being filtered somewhere. Still, I have a last known location for the Matador if you wish to pursue him.”
“With how things went with Carmen earlier today, I doubt that I’ve still got that job,” said Vox.
“Carmen has not yet filed a request to remove you from her case,” said Rendelac. “She may not have had the time. Still, if you apprehend the Phantom Matador before she does, she would be oglibated to pay the Desperate Measures Agency.”
“And the DMA would be obligated to pay me,” said Vox. “Yes. You are correct. Tell me where this Matador was last seen, Rendelac. I may be able to eke a profit out of this city yet.”