Zack watched the door to the cell open and eagerly jumped inside. The room appeared to be empty, save for a chair and a device hanging from the ceiling. The device was shaped like a helmet or a light fixture, and featured a number of gently glowing lights fixed into its chrome exterior. The dome-shaped contraption glowed from beneath, and was suspended by a reinforced cable. Zack studied the room for a moment before wilting.
“She’s not here,” he said. “It’s empty.”
“No it’s not,” muttered Chip from the hallway. He typed another command into the cell’s control panel. Igneous caught the phrase and stopped peering into the room, noticing Chip’s continued work.
“Stop!” she shouted, but not before Chip finalized the command. The glow of the device in the cell faded as Zack looked over his shoulder, back to the hallway. Igneous grabbed Chip and pushed him against the wall while Hobbar watched nervously.
“What’s the problem?” asked Zack.
“He just did something to the control panel,” said Igneous.
“What’re you trying to pull?” asked Zack.
“Nothing,” said Chip. “You wanted the cell opened and accessible, and I’ve done everything I can to introduce you to the prisoner.”
“What prisoner?” asked Zack.
“That prisoner,” said Hobbar, looking into the cell beyond Zack. Zack turned around, looked back at the chair, and jumped back in surprise.
The faint outline of a figure was forming beneath the deactivated dome, a human-like shape that was gradually gaining solidity and form. The form it gained was white, like a gentle mist or cloud or steam that was gradually thickening before their eyes. In a definite moment of clarity, the mist shaped like a man became a person, transparent but definitive, garbed in a white robe that seemed to flow as a cloud. He stared at Zack in horror, his eyes growing wider with every moment. A tense second passed while the two looked at each other.
“Who…?” was all Zack could manage before the room errupted with a violent maelstrom of wind as air began circling and spinning in the chamber. The figure pointed at Zack and began to lift out of its seat as Zack felt the ground drop away from him as air pressure provided lift while making it hard to catch his breath.
The entity neared Zack, pointing, a mad look in its eyes, like a hawk staring at and through everything in its territory.
“How does your friend breathe?! Astride the rocks she moves, but how does she breathe?! Why is she not crushed on her path?!”
“It’s talking now!” shouted the chef, trying desperately to hold down the food. Already customers were rising from their tables outside the door, trying to look in through the circular windows, their attention drawn by the clatter of pots and pans being whipped about the kitchen by the maelstrom of rushing wind.
“It’s talking!” shouted the restaurant manager, holding the phone to his ear.
“Your secret will be discovered!” shouted the figure. “Prepare it before the ingredients are found, or they will know before the appointed time!”
“What secret?!” shouted one of the officers in the lobby of the police station. Officer Tacara activated the radio in her gauntlet as the others tried to keep all the papers in the room from scattering.
“Looks like a Pyrhian, an air person!” she shouted into her wrist. “It just appeared, no flow-through!”
“You will perform your duty, but you will not apprehend the one you seek! Justice will be done despite this mistake, but the justice will not end the chase!”
“Keep talking,” said Murk, holding the electronic seashell aloft. He ignored the flying papers in his sleeping chambers, knowing that recording the words would be the important thing. Something had happened in the holding cells, and someone would come along to wake him soon. Making sure it didn’t escape was the priority, but any word might be important.
“Your prey was released to be hunted, but another hunter found him before the vines could feast! Who is the hunter’s helper? What does she want? It is too late for those answers to aid you!”
Vox Cul-Dar had seen Pyrhian Air People before, but never one like this. He’d managed to reach the rear entrance of Murk’s facility, and had the one competant guard in the building in a headlock. As what seemed to be a living tornado popped into existence before them, Vox (and the guard, really) forgot their struggle as the ghostly image began shouting more and more words that meant nothing. Vox remembered his place and continued putting the pressure on the guard, releasing just as the guard lost consciousness but before it became fatal.
“Stop shouting, or you’ll blow my cover!” shouted Vox, letting the guard drop to the floor. The Pyrhian’s gaze seemed to focus more clearly on Vox.
“The one you seek is even now close at hand! Only great cunning and great skill will let you find your way!”
Fletch nodded, trusting that the message was a good omen. Whatever this Pyrhian… if it was a Pyrhian… was doing, it didn’t appear to be a threat. She lowered Chernoblast, and contented herself to keep listening.
“Carry your home with you no longer! You will be reunited with glory soon enough! Your prey wears many masks, but a mask does not need to be worn, nor a costume need to be donned, nor a breeze need a rock to sweep!”
Chip watched in smug satisfaction, seeing Zack, Igneous and Hobbar staring at the being in the cell. He looked down the hallway and saw another looking at him, adding its own rush of wind to what the others were experiencing. They didn’t even notice. Chip wondered how many others were conjuring themselves across Helix, and who each message was for.
“You shackle yourself, but your intuition and hope are correct. Void Pilgrim yet flies!”
“That’s what I told ’em!” shouted the ragged fellow in the street. “Void Pilgrim flies, and we’ve got tubes snakin’ their way through town! There’s a shadow-ruler who pulls the strings of Helix with the tools of the ancients!”
“Your path is obscured, but assistance may yet be found for you! Help is available if you seek it! And you…”
Carmen watched the terrifying creature seem to reach forward and grab… something. The image of a face formed in the hands of the specter. Even before the face fully formed, Carmen recognized the out-of-style hat on its head.
“What do you want?!” it shouted at Zack.
“To… to get out of here alive! To find Carmen, and to get out! To not be on the run! Put me down!”
The image stared at Zack, who stared back up at it, still finding it hard to breathe.
“You’ve been told when you’ll die, but not how long. Or how long you have to live, but not when you die. You’ll need to make hard choices to survive, but will you have the time for it all?”
The image of Zack dropped to the ground as many watched, and the picture began to spread, briefly filling in a floor and wall made of air and mist before the image suddenly collapsed.
Murk rose out of his tank at the sight of Zack Gamma in his cells.
Vox paused, rethinking what the grisly image meant.
Carmen looked from where the figure had been, to the open window that would let her escape if she wished.
Officer Tacara shut off her radio. The image, naturally, disappeared just after the psi-crimes unit had said they were on their way.
Fletch frowned. She had her reticle compare what was shown of the architecture of the room to known building structures in Helix. The odds of a complete match with such a tiny amount of information (from an interior shot, no less) would ordinarily not be worth considering at all, but the ever-curving nature of helix’s infrastructure might give her just the information she needed.
Zack stood, and backed away from the air-figure, who appeared to be weeping on the floor.
“I’ve never seen a Pyrhian do that before,” he said.
“It’s not common,” said Igneous.
“We should go, Carmen’s not here.” said Zack. “I hope nobody heard that.”