Tag Archives: Officer Tacara

Episode 151: A Truth Recalled

Officer Tacara watched the light show in the night sky above Helix. She’d volunteered for extra shifts ever since the Dyson invasion forces began harassing Veskid’s military which had been completely taken by surprise but had mustered itself well. The explosions of ships in the sky were few enough and nearly all of the debris that might fall from the sky would burn up in either the atmosphere or the protective shield that Helix could generate, but the sight put the city on edge. Keeping her car hovering above the buildings near the highest portions of Beta Street, she was both ready for emergency calls and in a better position to see the battles in the sky when they came near enough, views more impressive than what the news would show if she stayed at home.

With a burst of white noise, her communications channel opened.

“Come in, Tacara.”

“Tacara here. View looking good on Alpha Street, Carlu?”

“It’s stellar. Hey, we just broke up a few people helping themselves to some discounts at some stores that closed early because of the light show. There were some people there outside of the usual suspects. You see anyone running around with special operations gear?”

“Can’t say that I have,” said Tacara. “You’re saying that the Veskid military’s getting in on the looting? In Helix?”

“No, the uniforms were different. They had that half-eye logo from the commercial.”

“You think you saw Dyson troops on the ground?”

“It looked like ‘em.”

“You probably just saw a different logo. Or maybe there are some people in Helix taking the Dyson emblem as a mark to rally behind, or to make them harder to identify later.”

“You think street gangs are getting their hands on military grade special operations gear?”

“No, but I think that between Helix and Veskid City we’ll have scores, literal scores, of lone wolves who’ve all individually acquired that sort of thing.”

“All righty. I’m just tryin’ to make sure justice is done, is all.”

“You’re one of the good ones, Carlu. Stay safe out there.”

Carlu’s end of the line went silent. Tacara looked into the sky and saw three pinprick explosions, like miniature firecrackers popping overhead. She reopened the channel.

“Carlu?”

“Yeah?”

“What was that about justice?”

“Makin’ sure it’s done?”

“Yeah, that.”

“Just seems like we should try to find the guilty parties here. And, hey, it’s probably not this Dyson guy, but if it is…”

“Right,” she said. “Seems unlikely because no ships have landed… be sure to call it in.”

“I did, with the main report.”

“Call it in as its own report. All the details.”

“Why?”

“Something a Pyrhian air man told me. Probably nothing. But… well, the Dyson Empire managed to get their ships into our system without passing through any surrounding territories. If they could move big ships… well…”

“You think they could move individual people down to a planet?”

“I don’t think so, but there’ve been reports of some civilizations cracking that problem. And some individuals like The Soul Survivor, on occasion. Then there’s things like the Void Pilgrim.”

“Heh. Tacara, you believe in the Void Pilgrim? ‘Void Pilgrim yet flies’ and all that?”

“I… no, but I won’t rule it out. Especially if you’re seeing Dyson troops on the ground.”

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Episode 47: The Helix Double-Cross

Zack stared into Vox Cul-Dar’s eyes and wondered if they’d always looked so alien or if something about this horrible moment made them seem worse.

“It’s been a sequence of close calls for me, Gamma,” said Vox. “I don’t like close calls. I’m sure it’ll look funny in retrospect, though… you leaving that diner when I’d asked for help tracking down the fugitive before I knew it was you, for instance.”

Zack pushed Chip off of him and got onto a knee, but Vox bared the razor sharp serrations on his arms.

“Don’t leave, Zack. You’re telling me you don’t find that funny?”

“It’s an absolute riot,” said Zack. “Look, you’ve got me… stop talkin’ me to death and just finish it now.”

Vox smirked.

“You must have a low opinion of me if you think it’s that easy,” he said. “We worked together at times, Zack. And you were a good coworker, even if you couldn’t be trusted with the more serious business at hand.”

“Then don’t do it,” said Zack. “Don’t kill me. It’s the worst system ever, and I’m convinced that me getting a death sentence like that was a mistake. I’ve never done anything that would hurt the DMA, and you know it. Imagine how much more you could make if you let me go, and then we both figured out who’s setting me up. Come on, Vox. For old times.”

“And now your opinion of me is too high, I think,” said Vox. “It’s just business, after all. You’d do the same.”

“You know that’s a lie,” said Zack.

Hobbar gasped and jumped to the side, staring down the hallway beyond the door that Vox had entered through. Vox blinked at Hobbar in surprise and quickly looked down the hallway, following Hobbar’s eyes. A large, Pyrhian rock man was hurtling through the air, rocketing straight for him, with a confident Carmen Shift guiding it from the hallway’s end. faster than any human could possibly avoid.

Vox inhaled as time, from his perspective, slowed down. He took a calm step back, entering a practiced motion that came from the years of physical and mental training that practitioners of his art learned from a young age, a living poetry that granted speed and balance in the most urgent and panicked of scenarios.

The rock man zipped through the space where he’d been standing and slammed into the wall, right next to a terrified Hobbar, and Vox’s head tracked the motion. He started turning his head back toward Carmen to say something snide about her aim, but paused when he saw Zack, on his feet and holding his second Purcelian striker pistol, aiming it straight at Vox’s head.

“Now, Zack…” Vox started.

Zack fired the pistol. The arc of magnetically charged energy hit Vox, and the alien twitched, spasmed, and fell to the ground. He began slowly moving almost immediately, but Zack retrieved his second pistol before anything else could happen. Carmen ran through the door and looked at the smoking alien on the floor.

“Is he dead?”

“Stunned,” said Zack. “Didn’t have time to change the settings if I’d wanted to.”

“Did you want to?” asked Hobbar.

“No time to get into that now,” he said. “Carmen… thanks for the save there. Do you know the best way out?”

“There’s a service entrance that goes through a kitchen by a security check point back this way,” she said. “I didn’t find it my first time out, but… someone left a lot of obvious security doors open on his way in that made it easier to find. I’m guessing it was your bug-eyed friend there.”

“Great,” said Zack. “Lead the way.”

“You can’t just leave,” said Chip. “What am I supposed to tell Murk? He’ll kill me.”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” said Zack. “Go and hide. He’s easy to avoid when there’s not a city-controlling hacker helping him.”

Zack and Carmen ran down the hallway. Vox twitched on the floor and, after a beat, Hobbar followed them.

“Where are you going?” asked Chip.

“Hey, I don’t have to explain anything to Murk, mister,” said Hobbar. “And I don’t wanna be here when the bug guy wakes up. Besta luck, though.”

Hobbar ran. And, moments later, so did Chip, though in a different direction, down another hallway.

Less than a minute later, Vox gave himself a final shake and sat up. His temples and legs ached, but he stared down the hallway, the way he’d entered. And, he reasoned, the way that Zack had left.

“Not this time,” he said, rising to his feet and sprinting toward the service entrance.

***

Carmen and Zack ran through the kitchen that was mercifully empty thanks to the hour, though they periodically passed a lot of unconscious, or in some cases possibly dead, members of Murk’s security staff. Zack shuddered as they opened a door at the far end of the kitchen and saw a small security checkpoint that was noticeably vacant.

“Vox was sloppy getting in here,” said Zack. “Effective, but… sloppy.”

“No complaints here,” said Carmen. “Made my job easier. As soon as I saw that ghost thing talking to you in a cell, I knew I had to come back in here.”

“Well, that makes me feel like an idiot,” said Zack. “My rescue attempt didn’t exactly speed things up. Plus now Murk’s up and after me.”

“Actually, I heard a communicator activate on a guard just before I got to you,” she said. “Murk told everyone to stand down for now, and that they’d resume normal duties tomorrow. He sounded worried.”

“Good ol’ Igneous,” Zack said, running between the desks and opening the door that led outside. A narrow flight of stairs later, and Zack was in an alley, with the street visible a short distance away.

Hobbar speedily caught up with them at the top of the staircase, panting.

“You again,” said Carmen, clenching her fists.

“Look, lady, I’m just tryin’ to get outta there, same as you,” he said. “Think I’ll move to Veskid.  Helix probably won’t be healthy for me for right now.”

“Want a lift?” asked Zack, briskly moving toward the street as the other two kept pace.

“Just to my place,” said Hobbar, pulling the van’s keys out of his vest pocket. “I’ve got a few things to pick up.”

Reaching the street, Zack pointed out the van, but Hobbar looked in another direction, spotting something else.

“Where are you going?” asked Zack. “I’m in a hurry! Vox will be after us any minute now.”

“I know!” he shouted. “Just get to the van! I’ll be there quickly.”

Zack winced at the delay, but Carmen pulled him in the direction of Igneous’ vehicle. Zack opened the back doors and stepped in, but Carmen paused.

“Why is there a hot tub in the van?”

“It’s more like a cold tub, actually,” he said. He looked in the tub and saw the faint outline of Igneous beneath the piles and piles of ice.

“And it’s got Igneous in it.”

“Igneous?” asked Carmen.

“Friend from work,” said Zack. “Trustable, though.”

Carmen nodded. Hobbar returned, grinning.

“What were you doing?” asked Zack, shutting the van’s back door after Hobbar stepped in.

“Returning something,” he said. “I’ll tell you soon.”

Hobbar hopped into the driver’s seat of the van, activated it, and sped away just as Vox emerged from the alley. He saw the van leave, noted the driver, and scowled.

He sprinted down the street, entering his flying car quickly. He activated it as Rendelac took notice of him, and was in the air before the computer could speak.

“Heed well my words, Vox Cul-Dar,” it said.

“Not now, Rendelac!” Vox shouted. “Zack Gamma is getting away in that van. We can catch him, though… he has a head start, but this car can fly! There’s no evading us now.”

“Greater wisdom may be yours if-”

“Quiet!” said Vox.

“Your car has been-”

Vox muted Rendelac’s speaker systems and continued driving through the air, pushing away the guilt he felt at silencing his digital guide. He could just see the taillights of the van ahead of him, and the spirals of the roads would give him the edge.

A red warning light flashed on his status panel as his car began slowing, seemingly of its own volition.

“What?” asked Vox. “What’s happening…”

Rendelac’s eye shifted in color, indicating that the computer had something to say if Vox cared to hear it. Vox reactivated the speaker system.

“Heed well my words, Vox Cul-Dar,” said Rendelac. “The boy who tampered with your vehicle after misleading you earlier returned to the car.”

“Did he steal something else?”

“No,” said Rendelac. “In fact, he returned the identification node that he stole.”

“That shouldn’t alter anything about how the car drives,” said Vox.

Red flashing lights appeared in the sky behind Vox. A message on the vehicle’s status screen appeared, indicating that his vehicle had been remotely apprehended by Helix law enforcement on suspicion of using a stolen identification node by order of an Officer Tacara.

“We registered it as stolen,” said Rendelac. “We have committed no crime, but the child may have caused us a significant delay in our pursuit as flagged identification nodes are of great interest to the law enforcement agencies across Veskid.”

Vox’s eye twitched as he watched the lights of the van disappear in the darkness ahead. With a gentle bump, his car landed on a remotely selected section of pavement while the vehicle behind him landed as well. As Vox saw the officer stepping out of the car in his rear view mirror, he gripped the controls of his own vehicle.

Zack might, in fact, prove difficult to apprehend after all.

To Be Continued…

Episode 25: A Voice in the Dark

Carmen paced in the police station’s waiting room, too exhausted to sit still. She’d searched the hangar where she’d woken up, but didn’t have any clue where to begin looking for Zack. She decided that checking with the professional law enforcement for Helix would be more effective than her own efforts, even though Zack had told her that he was worried that any contact with law enforcement would lead to his swift capture. If she’d known how long she’d have to wait in such an unpleasantly lit, stale room she might have reconsidered.

She knew she only had three days before her next race, and she’d been planning on spending at least some of the time before then practicing. She wondered, not for the first time, how horrible it would make her if, after two days, she gave up looking and focused on the race. Looking for someone who might be dead felt like a waste, and putting a race on hold for someone who might just be missing felt like even more of a waste. In the less-than-legal races she experienced back in the Penumbra League, there would’ve been no question; the team or family or gang would come first, the race would come later. Still, races in the Penumbra League could be formed, cancelled or rescheduled at the drop of a hat since there weren’t corporate sponsor deals on the line and media coverage.

She wondered, not for the first time, just how much of a sell out she was after three years, and how much selling out a person could do while still being cool. Not peer pressure cool, but internal, self-analyzed cool.

“Ms. Shift?”

Carmen paused mid-pace. A human woman wearing the green uniform of Helix’s police had stepped behind the force-shield protected service desk. Her helmet obscured most of her head, but left her face visible. It was emblazoned with a shield that contained the image of a star, which in turn contained the image of a double helix. The helix was set over the drawing of a thin scroll or banner that said Officer Tacara, followed by a long number that Carmen didn’t have the patience to read. She decided that the badge’s logo looked more impressive as the three-foot tall brass carving on the wall behind the desk. Carmen changed directions and approached the officer expectantly.

“Yes?”

“We were able to find some traces of your car on the ground outside Helix, but nothing that suggests where it might be now,” said Officer Tacara. “The hangar ports on that side have all either been searched remotely or aren’t in active use. More to the point, we looked into the hangars on landing fifty-three, but found nothing.”

“Are you sure?” asked Carmen. “The elevator definitely said fifty-three.”

“We personally sent officers to check landing fifty-three on the west side of Helix,” said Tacara. “Only seven of the original twelve hangars on that side are accessible anymore, the others were all decommissioned and sealed off.”

“Could someone be using one of the hangars that you think might be sealed?”

“Maybe,” said Tacara. “In fact, we’ve found some smugglers using sealed hangars before. We’re looking into the possibility, but opening sealed parts of Helix takes time; most of them were closed off due to safety concerns that need to be addressed.”

“Well, keep looking,” said Carmen. “Someone in Helix stole my car.”

“Ma’am, we’re doing everything we can,” said Tacara. “On another note… we found the remains of the tractor beam that you say acquired your car, and the fragments of Helix’s wall that held it in place.”

“So, you can confirm my story?”

“Mostly. Analysis of the rubble, and the portion of the wall it fell from, are consistent with the sort of molecular debonding that occurs with petrakinetic energy.”

Carmen drummed her fingers on the portion of the desk that was on her side of the force shield.

“I might’ve forgotten to mention a few things… but we were under attack. What was I supposed to do?”

“I’m sure you did what you thought was necessary,” said Tacara, making a note on the desk’s terminal. “The investigation will likely find that you’re in the clear, but it’s possible that the city of Helix will need to fine you for damages if it’s determined that you went over and above the necessary actions .”

“Right, sure, if that happens I can be reached through the racing federation.”

“We’ll be in touch, then,” said Tacara. “Do you have transportation back to Veskid City from here?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” said Carmen, turning for the exit. She hadn’t come in with high hopes of success given the state of Helix, but ultimately her car was replaceable. As she left the station and stepped onto the street, she wondered how long she’d have to wait, but as she passed one of Alpha Street’s alleys, the answer came almost immediately.

“I’m surprised that you risked blowing Zack’s cover over a car,” came a voice from the darkness between buildings. “Why would you do that?”

Carmen looked into the darkness.

“Who’s there?” she asked.

“Me,” said a voice behind her. Carmen spun and looked into the eyes of Fletch. Her blue suit crackled with energy as the stealth functionality powered down and the dangerous blaster in her hands began to power up.

“How…?”

“Ventrilospeak bounces my voice, and sneaking up on people is simple. Where’s Zack?”

“So the bounty’s still on his head?”

“Of course,” said Fletch. “It won’t leave. It’ll hound him until his dying day.”

“Awesome,” said Carmen. “Sorry, this was the fastest way I could think of checking to see if you people had found him or not.”

“What?”

“I figured Zack knows how you people work, so if he was worried about the DMA listening in on the police then it was probably right. So I figured talking to the police without mentioning him would bring some of you out of the woodwork to find him if he was safe.”

“So… he’s not with you?”

“No,” said Carmen. “And not with any of you people either. I’ll tell you what, though, if you want to assume I’m lying, go for it. Keep that reticle on me. It should help Zack to make his headstart that much bigger. And thanks again for the info.”

Fletch grimaced and powered down her blaster. She walked past Carmen, into the alley.

“You’ll definitely be watched, Shift,” said Fletch as she passed into the shadows. “But next time, stay out of our way.”

Carmen grinned as Fletch walked away. She turned back to the sidewalk and picked up the pace, secure in the knowledge that wherever Zack was, he was probably safe.
***
Zack pushed aside another handful of the rope-like vines, wishing that they wouldn’t grow so close together. In the dark, he could visualize them as coarse ropes, but he knew that if he turned the light on they would look disturbingly like green muscle and sinew. The evolutionary convergence of that particular kind of biological structure was well documented, even in plants (or the plant-like life forms that filled similar niches on other worlds), but merely documenting it didn’t keep the recreation from seeming unnatural.

He carefully activated the lumisphere after emerging from that particular vegetative clump and examined his surroundings. He only had Murk’s word for it that he’d ever been in the Underjungles of Ravelar, but he had a feeling that this recreation of them likely paled in comparison to the real thing, no matter what his own feelings of deja vu were telling him. The natural ecosystem of a true cave system would almost certainly develop differently than the constraints of the (admittedly massive) subhull structures within Helix would allow, and Zack felt that he was probably fighting through less foliage than he would be encountering in the real thing. The lumisphere’s dim light seemed bright to Zack’s eyes, and provided a glimpse of a number of narrow “trails” betwen some of the larger trees, stalactites and pipes.

He shut off the lumisphere and continued his walk. He was following a wall, to the best of his abilities, hoping to find a maintenance hatch or forgotten doorway that Murk’s attention to detail had overlooked. The growths of vegetation didn’t always make it possible, but he was able to follow what he hoped was part of the peculiar curve of what might have been an undersection of Helix’s strange roadways.

The situation was made worse by Zack’s exhaustion. He hadn’t had a full evening’s sleep since Igneous warned him about the Desperate Measures Agency’s bounty on his head, and he hadn’t had time to look into the mystery of why they wanted him in the first place. His best window for escape from Veskid would be with Carmen’s upcoming race, but Helix alone was proving harder to leave than he ever expected the planet to be.

The underjungle was making everything even worse. He wasn’t sure how a place could be both humid and clammy, but the plant-filled chamber was pulling it off. The oppressive scent of vegetation in all the states between initial growth and final decay would have taken a toll at the best of times, but under the circumstances it was truly exhausting.

He found a strange, oddly straight depression in the wall. It confused him at first until he recognized it as the shape of a door. He quickly located a handle and began turning, but his heart sank. It was locked. He backed up, took a deep breath, and ran at the door, striking it with his shoulder, but only succeeded in rattling it. He clutched his shoulder, mentally adding it to the ever increasing list of aches and bruises he’d been accumulating over the past few hours.

“Gamma? Is that you?”

Zack’s head snapped in the direction of the voice. It sounded familiar, but out of place in the darkness of the jungle.

“Hello?”

“This way, human,” said the voice. “Hurry, there’s no time!”

“Igneous?” said Gamma. “Is that you, Igneous? How’d you find me?”

“Half of Helix knows you’re here,” she said. “It’s not safe. Quiet, there’s a hidden way out.”

Zack took a step into the dark, moving away from the door.

“I think I found another way out over here,” said Zack. “There’s a door, but it’s patched up tighter’n a rag doll with a starch problem. Strong as you are, though, you might be able to break it.”

“Too risky,” said Igneous. “I’m closer to this way out. You probably just found a maintenance closet.”

“Right,” said Zack, stepping through the underbrush, moving away from the wall.

“Closer,” said Igneous. “Almost here.”

“It’s hard to tell where you are,” said Zack. “How far until I get to you?”

“Any step now.”

“Your voice sounds the same,” said Zack, stepping closer. “No louder.”

“The acoustics are strange here.”

“They are,” said Zack, clutching the lumisphere. “I’m going to risk some light.”

“No need,” said Igneous.

Zack activated the lumisphere anyway and recoiled at the sight of a plant with a vice-like maw. The trunk of the plant lunged forward, but slower than Zack could recoil.

“This way,” came Igneous’ voice. Zack looked at the plant creature. The voice he was hearing seemed to be coming from somewhere beyond the plant.

“How do you do that?” asked Zack. “Some sort of psychotropic pollen?”

“There’s no time,” said Igneous’ voice. “Just a little closer.”

“I didn’t think Lusca would be so easy to avoid,” said Zack. “Plus you seem pretty immobile. I’m guessing you’re not the vine Murk warned me about.”

Zack clutched the lumisphere until the light deactivated. He turned to walk away.

“This way, human. The way out is this way. That way’s dangerous.”

“Sure it is,” said Zack.

His foot connected with a vine that hadn’t been there before. He gasped as the vine wrapped itself around his ankle and pulled. Zack tripped and hit the ground, suddenly being pulled through the underbrush, dragged toward the deadly Lusca Vine.