Chip Creep walked out of the shadows of the train tunnel. The guard on duty continued playing some sort of game on his handheld computer, not noticing the hacker’s approach at first. When Chip began an awkward attempt to rise out of the tunnel and onto the platform proper, he almost dropped the phone in surprise but held onto it long enough to put it away and help Chip up.
“Chip? What are you doing?”
“Walking. Thanks. I need to see Murk.”
“Where’s the train? Don’t you usually use a little train? The ‘Creeper Car’ or something?”
“Creep Car. I’m having some train trouble. Listen, I’ve got to talk to Murk, Zack Gamma’s escaped.”
“Help from the outside. We don’t have long, I really need to speak to Murk about this.”
“Right,” said the guard. He returned to the door and entered a short code on the door’s keypad. The door clicked, and he opened it. He had to quickly sidestep Chip as the hacker tried to move into the door.
“Hey!” said the guard. “You know I’ve gotta clear you first.”
“We don’t have time to wait for that,” said Chip.
A raucous thundering of footsteps came from the other tunnel. The guard stopped and turned to the train tracks, just in time to see a giant Pyrhian rock woman leaping at him, with eyes like brilliant embers. Chip and the guard both screamed as Igneous grabbed the guard and slammed him to the ground. Chip looked away, expecting a sickening sight, but moments later her gravelly voice rumbled to life without the unpleasant noises that he’d anticipated.
“All clear,” she said. Zack entered from Chip’s side of the tunnel, lowering the pistol he’d had trained on Chip during the execution of the plan, the very pistol that he’d stolen from Chip’s apartment. Hobbar entered from Igneous’ side of the tunnel, keeping his sharp eyes on everything surrounding them. Hobbar looked at the guard and breathed a sigh of relief that the guard was breathing, though he doubted the scorch marks on the suit would come out any time soon now that Igneous’ scalding hands had left their mark.
“Nice work, Chip,” said Zack. “He totally bought it and gave Igneous the opening she needed.”
“It wasn’t hard to mess up,” said Chip. “If the plan went wrong, he would’ve let me in and I would’ve been safe from you and I could’ve just told Murk what I know. No matter how this plays out, I’ll help somebody.”
“Right,” said Zack.
“Too bad it’s looking like it’ll be you,” said Chip.
“Thanks,” said Zack.
“Why only one guard?” asked Hobbar. “This is an obvious security problem.”
“I’m the only one in Helix with access to these tunnels,” said Chip. “If an assassin gets in this way, it’s because I helped. And, hey, look how it’s playing out.”
“Your honesty’s refreshing,” said Igneous. “What’ll we be dealing with once we get inside?”
“Murk’s office is near this door. I’ve got no idea what kind of schedule he keeps, but if he’s around there should be guards nearby. I’ve heard he’s no pushover in a fight by himself, though.”
“I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” said Igneous.
“You said that the holding cells are deeper down,” said Zack. “You sure that they’ll only have light security?”
“No,” said Chip. “I’ve seen them once, and didn’t really want to be there. I felt closed in. Seemed light at the time, only one guard. I’ve got no idea how it’ll look now, though, it’s been a couple years.”
“We’ll have to play that part by ear, then,” said Zack. “Getting Carmen out’s the priority, but it sounds like I’ll have a chance to grab my gear before then, assuming Murk’s still got it in his office. The office is also where we’ll have the best shot at finding the kind of evidence that Murk doesn’t want to be publicized, and that might give us some breathing room if we can get out alive with it. Let’s be quick and quiet about this. No surprises, got it everyone?”
He looked pointedly at Chip.
“Got it,” said Chip.
“Right,” said Hobbar.
“Good,” said Igneous. “The longer we can go without them suspecting anything, the easier this’ll be. Which means there’s probably a dozen or so people just beyond the door. Let’s see how our luck holds out.”
Zack pushed the door open, finishing the job that the guard stopped when Chip tried to slip in. The wood paneling and comfortable lighting beyond revealed a hallway bereft of armed guards.
“So far so good, Igneous,” he said. “Let’s go.”
“You’re sure this is where he was last sighted?” asked Vox Cul-Dar.
“The cameras tagged him as an Unknown Figure when he was standing upon the opposite building, looking in the direction of this one,” said Rendelac. “The Phantom Matador was in this location, and observing this building carefully. Barring some editing of the footage.”
Vox nodded. He’d parked his car a short distance from the somber building on Alpha Street, hopefully far enough that he wouldn’t attract attention from either of the large humans who stood on either side of the door. They were trying to look like they were casually loitering, but Vox could tell a guard at a post when he saw one.
“And you did suggest that there was some delay in the file, as if it was being sent elsewhere,” said Vox. “Barring the possibility of code designed to randomly place images of the Phantom Matador in footage, would you say that the time of the delay was more in keeping of observation than editing?”
“Affirmative,” said Rendelac.
“A building with two burly gentlemen who’ve donned clothing on the cheap side of expensive. A building that, if memory serves, is one of the most likely strongholds of Murk.”
“Heed well my words, Vox-Cul Dar,” said Rendelac. “I’ve finished a facial recognition algorithm on those two. They both have criminal records, and one of them does in fact have a known history of dealings with the criminal known as Murk. This building may be more dangerous than we expected when we first decided that it would be worth our time to track the Phantom Matador.”
“You are correct,” said Vox. “Caution is advised. Still, my profession requires bold steps. I do believe that Murk has a few prices on his head, and I’m sure that those in his organization are wanted as well. Just imagine if I could capture the Phantom Matador, while establishing a link between him and Murk’s organization.”
“Heed well my words,” said Rendelac. “Assuming a link there would be speculation. Especially when the Phantom Matador was observing the building rather than entering it.”
“You’re correct, of course,” said Vox. “Regardless, this building is my next stop. Wish me luck, Rendelac. It’s time to find my way inside.”