Tag Archives: aliens

Episode 46: Service Entrance

Zack rounded the corner with Hobbar close behind. Chip trailed sluggishly, not used to keeping up with as much activity as the other two.

“We’ve not seen anyone in minutes,” Chip panted. “There’s no one after us! Let’s… let’s take a break here.”

“Not a chance,” said Zack, nearing the next door in the hallway. “Based on the kinds of rooms we’re seeing, this is a standard service floor. Now, the architecture here’s the sort that might send a city planner to the funny farm, but layouts like this tend to have extra exits for service staff, even if we’ll have to climb stairs to find them. Chefs, janitors, maintenance crew, and all the people who’ve got the jobs that keep things running smoothly. And while Murk’s definitely repurposed this building, the whole place is too clean. There’s another way in down here, and we’re getting close to it.”

Zack reached for the door, but it opened before he touched it, pulled inward by someone on the other side. Vox Cul-Dar, looking as if he’d strangled so many guards that his heart simply wasn’t in it anymore, appeared behind the door and froze at the sight of Zack Gamma.

“You?” said Vox.

“Vox!” said Zack.

“Vox?” said Hobbar.

“You!” shouted Vox, seeing Hobbar. The Crinlian took a step back, as Vox’s normally highly ordered mind spun into overdrive. When he’d first come to Murk’s headquarters, his priority had been tracking down a lead on the Phantom Matador. But after a slow and, frankly, aggravating trek through the service entrance’s security team, seeing the bounty he wanted to catch the most and the child he wanted vengeance on the most at the same time caused his mind to experience something not unlike whiplash.

He jumped at Zack, but had wasted just enough time in the shock to see the investigator draw and aim one of his Purcellian striker pistols. Vox slowed and entered a defensive stance, but Chip ran, shoulder first, into Zack, sending them both onto the ground. The gun that Zack had been carrying launched itself from his hands and slid across the floor, coming to a rest at Vox’s feet. Vox looked at the weapon, then at the man who was struggling to keep Zack pinned to the floor.

“Thank you for the assistance,” said Vox. “I don’t plan on sharing the bounty, though.”

“Don’t turn him in to the DMA,” said Chip. “Turn him in to Murk.”

“Now why would I do that?” asked Vox. Hobbar managed to inch away for a moment before Vox spotted him, glared, and willed the Crinlian to halt.

“Murk’s favors are valuable,” said Chip. “Think of what having him as an ally might bring. He’s eager to see Zack dead at his hands rather than someone else’s.”

“I doubt that Murk’s favor would be as valuable as what I’ll collect with my original plan,” said Vox. “I also don’t know why Zack is wanted by the DMA. If a higher-up has wrath equal to Murk’s but the resources of the entire agency, then I think I know who I’m working for. Now… get off my quarry.”

Zack looked up into the eyes of Vox Cul-Dar. He wasn’t in a position to run, fight, or bargain. It was the end of the line.

***

Much earlier, on another world…

Sister Barris waved Azar into the small room, and motioned for him to sit at the table. Azar sat, feeling wary and trapped. The Order of Fierce Mercy had safehouses, an assumption built from the knowledge that their clients might not be able to find legal counsel because their position was too dangerous for their location to be known to the public. Azar had grudgingly agreed to the process but had resented it.

“It’s not right,” he said. “I’m supposed to be getting a new home and retiring comfortably, not on the run in back alleys and secret buildings.”

“I know,” said Sister Barris. “It’s just until the trial, though. Once you’re passed the trial, and once the verdict comes down in your favor, this will all be over.”

“They’re looking for me,” said Azar. “I can feel it.”

“We all can,” said Barris. “They’re afraid that they’ll be losing it all. And while they don’t know where you are yet, they’re looking. That’s why we’re here.”

“Do you think we can trust anyone else in this situation?”

“Yes,” said Barris. “It may be true that everyone in this line of work has a history… just as it’s true that everyone has a history… but I think he’s the best bet you’ve got. Bristlecorp may find our safehouses, but they’ll never find the ones he’s set up.”

The door on the opposite side of the room swung open, and the agency representative entered, tossing a clipboard onto the table before sitting across from Azar. The man looked haggard, spindly, and confident, even if overworked. It was the look of a man who did exhausting work, but made sure it was done right. Azar recognized the look from his own mirror. The man doffed his hat and tossed it into the chair next to the one he’d selected for himself.

“Azar?” said the man. “Good to meet you. I’m Gamma, Zachary Gamma. Sister Barris tells me that you’ve hit some desperate times, and that’s exactly when our company can step in to help people like you.”

“Thank you,” said Azar. “I’m still not sure what you can do that isn’t already being done, though.”

“Let me worry about that,” said Zack. “I’ll be honest, I’ve never had a client in quite your position… I don’t think anyone in history’s been in exactly what you’re experiencing… but my job’s going to be all about finding exactly what it’ll take to see you get to your trial date in one piece. Nothing’s gonna take you out of the picture while I’m around, and I expect to be around for a long, long time.”

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Episode 44: Rock In A Hard Place

“Good to see you, Murk,” said Igneous, maintaining her pin on the terrified Jen. “How’ve you been since Ravelar?”

“Marvelous,” said Murk. “Today’s quite the reunion. I take it you’re here to help Gamma as you did back then?”

“He’s not with the Agency anymore,” said Igneous. “There’s a nice bounty on his head. And he’s here in your facility. If I suspected it before, I’d say the wind prophet confirmed it.”

Igneous carefully shifted her weight and Jen gasped. It was a technique that came from a lot of practice, and too much time associating with humans. The right amount of weight on the right part of the abdomen, and a human couldn’t breathe enough to talk most of the time. The woman with the cabbie hat was an unfortunate witness. Even if Jen managed to catch her breath enough to speak, the threat would be clear; much more pressure would cause permanent damage, if not a painful death.

“That mad child is always informative when he can be coaxed to talking.”

“Child?” asked igneous. “He looked old for one of his sort. Aren’t most of the prophets older than you?”

“I grew up,” said Murk. “The prophets are useful, but some people cling to their current stage of life so much longer than they should… ignoring the bright future they have ahead of themselves.”

Igneous kept a blank expression at that comment, but the glow from within the cracks in her hide brightened. Murk’s face twisted into a grin, though his two rock soldiers looked uncofortable.

“What’s Gamma worth to you?” asked Igneous. “The bounty I’m after is a large one. Very large.”

“I’m not planning on paying the DMA’s prices to you for the fun of killing off Zack, if that’s what you’re asking,” said Murk. “Even for only a quarter of those prices, imagine if any other DMA agents were nearby. It’d set a horrible precedent if they got here after you.”

Igneous’ mind raced. She knew this conversation wouldn’t last much longer before either Zack did something stupid like running around the corner, or before Murk’s patience wore out. The witness she was pinning would complicate issues as well.

“Consider this, then,” said Igneous. “I was with Gamma already, trying to coax him out of Helix and back to Veskid City, humoring his plans without revealing mine. If other bounty hunters are on their way, you may have a lot of trouble in the near future if Zack is still here. Let me take him off your hands, and you’ll avoid that trouble.”

“How generous of you, offering to receive a giant bounty payment like that,” said Murk. “It would leave me without my chance for vengeance, though. If I smother him myself, the problem of bounty hunters still goes away.”

“Why does vengeance matter that much to you?” asked Igneous. “Gamma says he doesn’t remember you at all. And I can attest to the fact that his memory seems… faulty.”

“Even if that’s the case, I’m excited to see him dead,” said Murk. “I don’t care if he can’t remember how everything unfolded on Ravelar. Besides, I’m not convinced that he’s not lying. He’d say or do anything to survive, one of the more pitiable traits in humans.”

Igneous slowly picked herself up from the ground, letting Jen breathe. She hoped that everything she’d said matched closely enough to what Jen had seen.

“So, you won’t match the DMA’s bounty for Zack, and you won’t let me take him to help you avoid a future problem. We’re at an impasse.”

“Not for long,” said Murk. He gestured to the two rock men. “You two, don’t let her interfere. The rest of you, to the cells.”