Remnant of an Old World
by Roy Fortitude
As the afternoon slowly crept towards the evening, like the natural flow of water, hundreds of vehicles moved at a steady pace along the twelve lane freeways leading into and away from Ganesol. The megacity stood high above the natural landmarks around it; one of the first to be developed, and with the other early creations having been destroyed or replaced, it remained the oldest functioning megacity on the planet.
On the freeway, one beta-class speeder in particular weaved its way through the traffic, overtaking various casual drivers as it approached the millennia old capital. Just short of the entrance, however, the speeder pulled into an exit, following it's winding path down to a side road that would take one through the mountainous region surrounding the glass, metal and flesh conglomerate.
The vehicle pulled off of the road before it could get into the hills, though, quickly coming to a standstill. The driver side door pushed up, and a man of average height stepped out, squinting slightly at the light levels in comparison to inside the speeder. He straightened his jacket and pulled the backseat door open, drawing a groan from within the confines of the vehicle.
"Oh, stop complaining," the man said, "the sun's going down soon. Now let's go." With another groan, a shorter, trench coated man awkwardly climbed out, immediately turning away from the sun.
"I seriously hope we're getting paid well for this one," the shorter man practically hissed. His back still turned, the taller one smirked.
"And if I were to tell you that we aren't?" he asked, masking the glee in his voice. The glare he received achieved the opposite effect that the shorter male probably intended, making him silently chuckle to himself.
"Vic, I will kill you," rasped the smaller man. Vic let his laughs come out much louder now, nearly doubling over.
"Ah, lighten up, Dex," he said, laughing even harder as he set off towards the outskirts of Ganesol. Bitterness aside, Dex started after him.
"You are so hilarious," Dex deadpanned, maintaining a position where Vic stood in between himself and the sun. "Why did we have to come all the way from out here, anyway?"
"Apparently," Vic replied, turning his head slightly, "we need to leave the speeder this far away from the city for 'safety', whatever that means. Actually," he stuck his hands in his pockets, searching for something, "I've got it here somewhere… Here." Vic tossed a small disk behind him, which Dex caught. A few button presses later, a small holographic screen appeared before his face. The message displayed on it began playing in a female robotic voice.
"Your target will be isolated. Leave your vehicle outside Ganesol for safety. Once you collect the target, deliver it immediately." Dex pressed another button to close the hologram, and placed the disk back in the pocket from whence it came.
"Talkative bunch," he said, eyeing the civilisation that they steadily approached. "What do they mean 'isolate' it? Didn't they just tell us what we're lookin' for?"
"They only told me that we'll know it when we see it. They did say a lot more in face-to-face contact. Probably just don't want too much that an outside source can get ahold of."
"Hmph," came the reply. "And how the hell are they gonna isolate one thing in a megacity of billions, half of them moving about the place?" As Dex continued, Vic's pace slowed, his gaze turning skyward. Far above even the towers of Ganesol, he spied something cutting its way through the clouds. And it dropped something… Vic stood still.
"…and if they can isolate it, why do they need us to go get it?" Dex's vocal train of thought stopped when his face made contact with his partner's back. "What is it?" he asked, his voice taking on a more serious tone. Vic said nothing, but pointed at the rapidly descending object. "…Huh…"
"How big you think that is?" Vic asked off-handedly. The object fell below the tops of the tallest towers, still rocketing to a solid surface.
"Judging from the shadow on it, I'd say it's…big,' Dex replied, aware of how irritating his tautology was to the taller man.
"You are so helpful," Vic sighed, letting his hands bury themselves in his pockets. The object became obscured by the more common buildings, closing in on its target.
"What: you were planning on stopping it yourself? Besides," Dex paused as the explosion's thunder reached their ears, a storm of fire sure to reach them shortly after, "I guarantee that present's courtesy of our employer."
"Probably," Vic replied simply, steeling himself. "So, you gonna duck down or do I have to hug you?"
Dex snorted. "Please," he said, sinking into the ground beneath his feet, causing Vic's shadow to darken considerably, "don't strain yourself."
Vic raised his voice slightly as the flames sped towards the pair at a deadly-fast rate; dissipating, but still more than enough to roast him alive. "Wouldn't think of it," he said, his only concern at that point relating to the possibility that he didn't park the speeder far enough away.
The burning cloud reached the duo just as Dex finished slinking into Vic's shadow. Vic himself stayed perfectly still, as a blue light emanated from his body. The light pushed the flames away from Vic's body, preventing them from even touching the man, still standing calmly in place, as if Hell itself wasn't just flying around him. Then, quickly as the flames had come, they dispelled completely. Vic inwardly thanked the fact that they had been as far away from Ganesol as they were; the two might have had to wait through a lot worse if they had made it closer to the centre of the former megacity.
The relative chaos having now subsided, Vic continued into the burning ruins at a brisk pace.
"You plannin' on helping anytime soon?" Vic asked, casually strolling through the calamity-stricken streets, shifting his gaze in all directions in search of their unnamed target.
The reply floated up from his feet. "There is fire everywhere. No thank you."
"Really?" Vic kicked a piece of rubble out of his way, glancing inside a building for any signs of movement. "I mean, dancing shadows, right? I'd have thought this would be like a family reunion or something." He turned around to see the top half of a ticked off Dex staring him down.
"First, I hate my family and you know it. Second, the light's too inconsistent. Besides," he sunk back down into the shadow as its owner moved along, "what's one extra set of eyes in a place as big as this? At the very least, I'm waitin' for the sun to go down. Fires will be probably be less abundant by that point as well."
"Eh, whatever," Vic said, giving Dex less attention than even the task at hand; at this point, he considered it less of a job and more the galaxy's least interesting scavenger hunt. "At least keep your eyes peeled from down there; never know if it might be the size of your shoe." Of course, the question of why the entire megacity needed to be destroyed to "isolate" something that big, or how something that size could still be intact, went unsaid.
A few more minutes of relative silence passed, in which Vic finished checking an entire street. "One down, twelve thousand to go," he said, pausing on a bench that somehow managed to escape becoming a twisted lump of metal to shake the rocks from his shoes. Dex snaked his way up from the ground to sit next to him.
"You know," said Vic, inspecting the insides of his shoes to be certain, "I guess what you said earlier; this all kind of answers your questions, doesn't it?"
"What questions?" replied Dex, staring with morbid curiosity at the man next to him that so willingly stuck his face against the place his feet had been all day.
"Why we need to go get this thing. And as for them paying us, they told me to name my price; and considering they destroyed a megacity, I can see why." Having finished with his break, Vic put his shoes back on and stood up. Dex, however, stayed seated, eyeing the man. In particular, the blue light that still faintly pulsed from his body.
"You coming, or are you going to actually walk now?" Vic asked him. Dex returned to Vic's shadow, and the two set off down another street, continuing the search.
"Out of curiosity," Dex said, "why do you still have your PDA up? The explosion passed half an hour ago."
"Like you said," Vic replied, kicking his way through a pile of cement, "there's fire everywhere. However some of us are stuck as a solid forever, and I don't want my clothes getting burned to a crisp before we deliver this thing."
"And yet despite it protecting you from fire, you have to stop to get rocks out of your shoe," Dex replied in the most disbelieving tone he could muster.
"The amount of concentration to constantly keep the smallest specks of dirt and rock from getting anywhere near me isn't the same-look, it's like telling you to walk across a desert just because you might be able to stand in the sun for an hour. Or, really, anyone having to walk across a desert because they can stand in the sun for an hour." He paused, waiting for the snarky reply to drift up from the ground.
And when none came, he stopped walking. "Dex?" Vic spun on the spot, spying the man in question standing at the turnoff to another street, slightly hunched in the shadow of a stack of burnt speeders. Vic walked over to him, calling out, "Hey, what is it?" As the view of the side street came into his view, Vic saw exactly what caused Dex to emerge from his shadow.
Not even a hundred feet away from the duo, another man stood, from what they could see, perfectly unharmed. No noticeable burns, no missing limbs, not dead!
"I may be reaching," Dex said, "but I think I found our target."
"Ya think?" Vic took a step forward and waved at the man. "Hey there!"
Dex stepped forward himself and pulled Vic's arm down. "How stupid are you?" he asked.
"Please," Vic shot back, "it's not like he hasn't already seen us; I mean really, who wouldn't notice you in a place like this? Least we can do is be poli-oh." His features dropped a fraction as he looked away from Dex and saw that the man was now fleeing the bickering pair. Vic looked back at Dex. "Well?"
Dex gave him an unusual blank look. "Well what?"
"You go get him?" Vic gestured to the retreating survivor as if it were obvious.
A frown crossed Dex's face. "There's fire everywhere. I did mention this earlier, didn't I?"
Vic gave an exasperated sigh, taking a few steps forward. "You are so lazy," he muttered as loud as he could, pulling a knife from inside his jacket. The blue light surrounding him enveloped the knife as well, albeit with a much stronger glow. Vic planted his foot, drew back his arm and flung the knife as hard as he possibly could. As the knife pierced the air, the blue light shaped itself into that of an arrowhead. Speeding up well beyond its already-high velocity, the knife quickly found its mark, embedding itself in the man's back.
Seeing the man slump to the ground, Vic turned and began walking back past Dex. "Can you get him now? I'm going to get the speeder. If you really can't manage in that amount of time, I'm keeping all the money." And with that, he set off back to their vehicle.
"What?" Dex called out. "How is that fair?"
"I did all of the work," Vic yelled over his shoulder.
"Sure, except for the part where I actually found the guy!" Vic simply waved back to the man and continued on his way. Dex turned back and looked at where their target had been subdued; and more importantly, how far away he'd gotten before the knife caught up to him.
"Y'know," Dex said, lounging on the backseat of the speeder, "you should've asked for more money."
Vic glanced at his partner in the speeder's rearview mirror, before returning his focus to the highway. "I did say I got five million, right? Not five thousand, or five hundred?"
"Oh, I heard you correctly. I also saw a megacity with people who use a payday like that to line their casual wear get reduced to rubble by the people paying us. They clearly would've paid anything to get ahold of this guy."
"In my defence, I had to specify a price before I got to see how important he is to them. And again, it is still five million. If you don't want your half, I've got no problem keeping all of it. I have brought this up already, haven't I? I did do all the work."
"Touch my money and I'll strangle you. I'm just saying, they let you choose how much we got paid; why not start high and work your way down?" Dex paused, looking towards the back of the seat. "Also, I might be mistaken, and you shouldn't get too worked up about it, but I think I felt movement behind me."
Vic turned his head to look behind him, a slightly incredulous look on his face. "Seriously? How is he conscious whatsoever? He should've been out for the next twelve hours at the very least."
"He did survive a mini-apocalypse earlier; I'm not that surprised a little knife can't keep him down." Dex said, smirking at Vic's irritation.
"Jeez, what's it take to take this guy down?" Vic wondered aloud.
"Well," Dex said, shifting into a more comfortable position to catch a little shut-eye in, "why don't you ask him?"
"Ugh…" Vic pulled into a service lane and stopped the speeder. He acted more huffy about the whole situation than he really felt, more for Dex's amusement. He placed his ear near the compartment, not hearing any signs of movement.
"Okay, one…" Vic placed his hands on the top of the trunk, bracing himself for what would almost certainly be a struggle when he opened it up.
"…two…" He pressed his thumb over the button to release the latch, but held the lid closed.
"…three-hi there!" Opening the trunk, his hands instantly shot out to grab the wrists of the man, halfway through an attempt to punch his way to freedom. Despite Vic's quick thinking, the man continued to thrash about, desperate to get away.
Vic, meanwhile, kept a smile plastered on his face, chuckling at the poor guy's exercise in futility. "Okay, just settle down and we'll talk-hey, come on, just calm down for a second-" A grand total of zero things that Vic said did anything to lessen the man's attempts to get out of his predicament. Evidently realising this, Vic resorted to a much simpler and effective tactic: sock the guy right in the face.
Despite his wrists not being restrained anymore, the man made no move to leave his awkward confines; instead clutching at his nose.
"Now could you listen to me?" Vic asked, the barest trace of humour still hidden in his face.
"AH! What is wrong with you?" came the shouted reply. "Jeez, why should I listen to a word you say; why would you do that?"
"Are you mad 'cause I stuffed you in the trunk? You can sit up front if you want," Vic said, ignoring the questions put forth to him. "In fact, you should probably sit up anyway; I don't think lying down would help your nose any."
"Gah! Well, maybe you shouldn't have punched me there! Seriously, literally anywhere else would have been preferable!" The man reached out and, with Vic's help, pulled himself into a sitting position.
"You okay there? Need me to take a look at that, or anything?" Vic offered, hospitality taking priority now that all plans of escape had been abandoned.
"Nng, I'm fine, I'm fine." Vic raised an eyebrow when he saw a distinct lack of blood pouring out from the man's nose.
"So," he said, letting his curiosity go unsatisfied for the moment, "you want to sit up front or not?"
The man stared at him with the most disbelieving look he'd ever seen. "Wh-are you crazy? Of course I don't want to sit up front, I want to go!"
Vic shook his head. "Well, 'fraid that's not an option. Firstly, ours is the only ticket on this highway to any piece of civilisation for a long time. Second, I'm under contract, and from what I've seen, I'm a dead man if I don't bring you with me." He paused, letting the information sink in. The aggressive demeanour faded, logic prevailing.
"Come on," Vic said, pulling the now-calm man to his feet, "I promise I won't hurt ya."
A smirk flashed across the young man's somber expression. "Somehow I'm having a hard time believing that."
"Heheh; I mean it." Vic led him around to the passenger side door and opened it. "Honestly," he said, as the man got in, "I don't think I could hurt you if I tried." At that, he closed the door and walked around to his own, sliding in and quickly starting the speeder.
"So, introductions. Victor," he said, pointing his thumb to himself, "Call me Vic. And that's Dexter in the back there. He prefers Dex." Dex lazily raised a hand in greeting. "And you are?"
"Enthis," the man said, sinking into his seat a little, seemingly put off by Dex. "No abbreviation."
"Enthis," Vic repeated. "Interesting name. So where ya from?"
"Earth," came the quiet response. Both Vic and Dex stared at the guy, Vic momentarily forgetting his need to focus on where he was steering the speeder.
"…Well, sure, everyone human's ancestry traces back to Earth; I mean where are you from? Where were you born or grew up or whatever?"
Enthis' voice came through with more strength this time, dispelling any notions of him trying to pull a fast one on them. "Earth. I really was born on Earth. We had to leave when I was seven, but it's still my home."
Dex scoffed from the back. "That's not really something to be proud of these days." Enthis scowled at him for a few seconds, before Vic piped up again.
"Still, Earth, man. If you are from Earth, what are you doing all the way out in this galaxy?"
Enthis sighed. "Tell ya what: you start running in one direction for a few months and see how far you get away from your starting point. If it were up to me, I'd be back in my own sector, drinking with my friends and riding a gravity belt 'til we pass out. A universal sightseeing tour is the last thing I want to be doing."
Dex laughed loudly. "Seriously? That's your idea of a great night? And you'd want to do that instead of see the universe? Gee, you sure know how to have a fun time, don'tcha?" His persistent snickering prevented Enthis from fitting in any sort of rebuttal. Vic eyed the man sitting across from him, restraining laughs of his own to a wavering smile.
"Gravity belts?" he simply asked.
"Okay, I get it: that's not the best example, but I just mean I'd rather be back home, not halfway to Hell because somebody else hates me," Enthis said. "I don't normally do anything like that too much; and yes, I would like to explore the infinite vastness of space, but I'd also like to do it without being chased across the stars."
"Eh, it's not all that special," Vic replied coolly. "I mean, you see one supernova, you've seen 'em all. Half the time it's not about where you are, but who's there with ya; and humanity has an interesting way of making any planet we inhabit incredibly bland."
"Ignore him," Dex said, "he spent five microcycles with a family of Arglyphs when he was younger; warped his perception a little." Vic gave a breathy laugh, but didn't say argue back at all. Enthis turned his gaze to the window, looking at the scenery rushing past. Then his eyes looked down; and widened considerably.
"Hmm? What's wrong?" Vic asked, noticing Enthis pressing his back into the seat.
"Uh, nothing really, I just hadn't realised we were in a speeder. I don't really enjoy riding in them."
"Oh, don't tell me you're one of those guys," said Dex, earning another stare in the mirror from Vic. "Let me guess: you only like old fashioned cars, with wheels and engines that run on fossil fuels. You don't like vehicles that can hover because they're not relics that saw their origins on Earth."
"Come on, Dex," Vic said, a slight warning in his words. A warning that Dex ignored completely.
"Y'know, society came up with a name for the kind of guy like that-"
"And if you say it in my speeder, I'm kicking you out; not in the mood, Dex."
In the short silence that followed, the tension grew thick, only worsened by the small confines of the speeder. Enthis, brave in his lack of knowledge of the two, broke the silence.
"Uh, in any case, there's a little more to it than that. Suffice it to say I just don't like speeders."
"Well, don't let it get to you," Vic said, happy to help the mild hostility pass right along. "We've got about another hour before we get where we're going, but most of it's on a light bridge. It'll be just like if we were in a car."
Enthis didn't appear incredibly convinced. "Uh, sure…"
"Okay, how about this," Vic said. "All we gotta do is keep you occupied; take your mind off of it, right? Dex, get out some drinks, will ya?" Dexter groaned, but reached into a cooler beneath the backseat and retrieved several bottles anyway. Enthis took the three presented to him and Vic, passing one to Vic.
"Vic, you seriously need to get us a speeder with autopilot already. It's getting tiresome doing this for you," Dex said, finally sitting upright.
"I'll get a different speeder when this model stops being the most common one in use by the public," said Vic, taking a swig from his bottle. "Besides, you choose to sit in the back, this is what you get." Vic looked over to Enthis, yet to open a bottle of his own. "C'mon Ent, drink. It'll relax you. It ain't poisoned or anything."
Enthis looked like a deer in headlights when Vic gave him a nickname; and so casually, too, like he'd been calling him that for years. "I, uh…yeah." He quickly opened the beverage and affixed his mouth to the opening. Vic gave him a smile, finally getting him on the road to loosening up a little.
"There ya go. Now all we need is to find us a gravity belt and we're all set, right?" Both Vic and Dex cracked up at that one, while Enthis gave a small chuckle.
"Heh, yeah…" He looked at Vic and frowned. "Should you really be drinking if you have to drive this?" he asked.
Vic shook his head. "Alcohol doesn't affect me as bad as the next guy. And I'm only having one anyway. 'Sides, even if I did get drunk, it's like I said: light bridge. We'll be fine. Now stop worrying about things and start drinkin'. You gonna join us, Dex?"
The man in question returned to lying on his side across the entire seat. "Wake me when we get there."
"Will do, Cap'n."
15 minutes later…
"So tell me something," Vic said, shaking his empty bottle in an attempt to get a few more precious drops of liquor onto his tongue. "What's your deal? Since I first saw you, by my account you should be dead at least once; and currently unconscious. How do you do it?"
Enthis, also at the end of his first bottle, but considerably more buzzed than the vehicle's driver, gave a simple shrug. "You tell me. Whadda you think it is?"
Vic sighed, dropping the bottle behind him. "No idea," he said. "Never seen anything like it. Which is kind of why I asked you. All I think is that whatever you're capable of, it's to do with you being chased halfway across the universe. And that's so simple a child could figure it out, so I don't know where that leaves me."
"Well you're definitely smarter than a child. Nobody else has figured it out, so don't beat yourself up about it, man." Enthis looked down the neck of his bottle and, after making sure nothing remained, put it with Vic's empty bottle, opened his second and started drinking again, albeit at a more relaxed pace.
25 minutes later…
"…After that," said Vic, waving his second, nearly-empty bottle around in some attempt at descriptive gesture, "I figured there wasn't much to stick around for, besides horrific death, so I took the knife from her and broke out the window." He snickered. "Boy, that was a stupid idea at the time. By the time I was able to run away, the hitmen were at the window. Obviously they didn't do anything; I guess maybe they didn't care enough to climb through a broken window, or by some slim miracle they were just being nice; who knows?"
Enthis sat, entranced by the whole story. "That's insane, man!" he exclaimed. "W-wait, but how'd you end up living with Arglyphs, then?"
"Mmm," came Vic's reply through the bottle. He drained the last of its contents and placed it with the other three; Enthis' having been washed down shortly after Vic began regaling him with stories of the past. "That's less interesting. A few microcycles after all that happened, I tried to rob this guy. Unforutnately, he noticed me; and he didn't take too kindly to it. Except he didn't just leave it when I ran off. So he chases me down an alley and starts looking to beat some sense into me, I guess. Long story short, this guy was in an Arglyph's pocket for quite some time; and me killing the guy gave him access to all his assets. Turns out he'd been holding out on him…considerably." He paused to look at Dex, still lying silent on the backseat.
"Hmm. Anyway, when the Arglyph had found out, he thanked me and asked me what I wanted as payment. At the time, all I really wanted was somewhere to stay for the night and a decent meal, so that's what I said. Now I think back on it, I reckon even if I asked for as much as my last three jobs combined paid, he still wouldn't have been as surprised as he had by my answer. And after he took me back to his home and let me eat and rest, he explained to me the next day just how valuable that kill was to him. Basically, he said I was welcome to stay with him for as long as I wanted; apparently I was 'one of the good ones'."
While Enthis let the information sink through his alcohol-filled mind, Vic reached for the cooler, before deciding against it.
"I have to say, reliving old memories is proving incredibly fun. I gotta do this more often."
"Yeah," Enthis mumbled. "So…how'd you guys become partners?" he asked, pointing his thumb to Dex.
Vic shook his head. "That's really more his story to tell; and I've come to learn it's best to not wake him when he's not fully rested."
"Oh," Enthis sighed, eyeing the man curiously.
"How about you tell me a story or two, then?" Vic asked, leaning back in his seat and stretching his limbs.
Enthis smiled. "Sure," he said. "What galaxy you want to know about?"
40 minutes later…
"So it's basically this giant, frozen waterfall; Seelots all over it that were in the middle of a fight with a wild Rezzik. Looked amazing," Enthis said. He stopped trying to represent it with his hands to look over at Vic, staring into space with glazed over eyes and a stupid grin on his face.
"Sounds amazing," he breathed. Enthis hummed his agreement and leaned his head back, resting his eyes.
Vic sighed. "What 'bout Earth? he asked. "I've never been anywhere near that sector; what's it like?"
Enthis, in his drunken state, hummed again, rolling his head around the headrest. "Mmm, it's great. Wonders of nature all around. Largest single uncontrolled forest in the universe… Diamond glaciers… Beaches that go forever… The Bermuda Canyon… It's perfect, the Ancients kept it perfect…"
Enthis having trailed off, Vic spoke. "It sounds incredible, Ent. I'll have to see it one day." Enthis remained silent. Vic looked over to see the man passed out. Vic smiled to himself, turned to face the back of the speeder and reached for the cooler once more.
60 minutes later…
The speeder, finally off of the light bridge, stayed true to its name, speeding on a lonely stretch of road that marked the last leg of the journey. Silence continued to fill the speeder; Dex quietly sleeping of his own volition, Enthis passed out from alcohol. Even Vic started feeling the effects of his liquor consumption; the distraction-free silence only serving to amplify its power over his brain cells.
Suddenly, a red glow lit up the dark speeder interior. The dashboard's main display lit up, flashing "INCOMING TRANSMISSION" for Vic's drunken eyes to see.
"Perfect," he muttered to himself, before the screen replaced its notification with a display of a woman, her dress secretarial and her face so no-nonsense that it sucked all joy in the immediate vicinity into their black holes of seriousness.
"Sir," she began immediately, "I am contacting you to remind you that your contract states that upon entering the grounds of the facility you are approaching, you are confirming acquisition of your target. Should you breach the terms of your contract by entering without your target, your contract, payment and life will be terminated. Are you aware of the terms of your contract and punishment for breach of your contract?"
Vic smirked. "Have my money ready," he said, not even addressing the question. The woman pursed her lips at his response, but ended the transmission nonetheless. Vic inwardly thanked the soulless harpy for the distraction. Beside him, Enthis stirred once more. Groaning and reaching to rub his head, he looked around, regaining awareness of his surroundings.
"What was the noise?" he asked softly, still rubbing the sides of his head.
Vic glanced over. "Our current employer," he said, his tone a lot less conversational than even half an hour ago.
Enthis, still half-asleep and reeling from the effects of the alcohol, simply repeated, "Employer…?"
At that moment, the speeder at last reached its destination: a massive, yet featureless building, surrounded by a plasma nanomesh barricade. Said barricade deactivated momentarily to let the speeder through. At the sight of the building, Enthis' eyes widened, fear overpowering any tiredness or hungover feelings remaining.
"No, no, no, no, no, no!" Enthis screamed. His eyes snapped to Vic, still driving the speeder forward. "You can't take me in there, you can't! You've gotta let me go, Vic!"
Vic shook his head. "Ain't gonna happen, Ent. I have to prioritise; and I always come first."
"But you seriously don't understand, man," Enthis said. "If you go in there, they're gonna kill you guys. You have to let me go; just take me away from here!"
"Now why would they go and kill somebody with such great charisma like me?" Vic said, still injecting humour into the conversation. He slowed the speeder down, finally bringing it to a stop a short distance from the building itself. "Don't take this the wrong way, Ent. Really; you're a nice guy, and I seriously mean it. But I also seriously mean it when I say that this is business."
As the two stared into each others eyes for a single second, Vic knew Enthis wouldn't try to convince him again. Instead, the man turned to his door, attempting to get out. "Let me out of here," he said with a significant degree of urgency. Vic immediately moved to lock all of the doors from the inside before Enthis could even try and get out, but made no move to subdue the man at all. Realising this, Enthis started simply slamming his body against the door; more an act of desperation than any prevailing logic.
"Come on," he said, his voice getting louder. "Come on! Let me out! VIC LET ME GO RIGHT NOW! LET ME GO!" Enthis, so preoccupied with screaming at the top of his lungs in between slamming against the speeder's door, failed to notice a hand snake out from the shadows behind him. In a single swift movement, Dex pulled Enthis back against the seat, covering his mouth and holding him firmly in place, despite the large amount of wild thrashing and attempts to pull the hand from his mouth and nose.
"Go back to sleep, Enthis," Dex said. Enthis' muffled cries went unheeded by either of the other two. Shortly, his movements and voice ceased. Dex released the unconscious man, leaving him to slump against the seat.
"So," Vic said, after a moment, "you coming in this time?"
"Absolutely; in your shadow. I don't want them looking at me. Besides, you went in to accept the job alone."
"Your choice," Vic said, unlocking and opening his door. As Vic moved to get out, Dex slid forward, his body mixing into Vic's shadow once again. Standing up, Vic groaned. "Ugh, hang on. I gotta get this alcohol out of my system," he muttered. Taking a few steps away from the speeder, his body became surrounded by the same blue light as before. His body lurched, and Vic fell to his knees, violently puking out all of the liquids he'd had in the past hour, along with various other foods and drinks ingested at earlier points of the day.
Vic coughed, then stood up straight, his composure back in full force. "Much better," he declared.
"And yet," Dex's voice floated up from the ground, while Vic made his way around to the other side of the speeder, "you can't keep rocks out of your shoes."
"Friendly tip for when we get in there, Dex," said Vic, pulling Enthis' body out of the speeder, draping it over his shoulder and making his way towards the building. "Shadows don't talk."
As Vic approached the building, a small area of the wall in front of him seemed to dissolve, creating a doorway for him. He promptly walked through it, after which the wall returned to its featureless former state.
Several minutes of sterile, uninteresting hallways later, the duo entered a square, fairly large room, devoid of all objects and nearly as many people. Spaced out in a ring around the centre of the room, several men stood; clearly guards, judging from the identical suits, hairstyles and demeanours that suggested none of them had any physical or mental issue with breaking a neck or two. In the middle of that ring stood another two people: the secretarial woman who contacted Vic earlier, as well as a sharply-dressed, middle-aged man. Both exuded an air of expectancy.
Vic maintained his casual strolling pace, still carrying the unconscious Enthis over his shoulder without any physical acknowledgement. He made his way into the circle of guards, stopping a comfortable distance from the two clear authorities in the room. Vic let Enthis fall from his shoulder, catching the man by his collar roughly. Vic tossed Enthis across the gap between him and his employer, letting Enthis slide a short way.
The man whose feet Enthis came to rest at smirked. "Ah, perfect, you found it," he said. At a snap of his fingers, one of the guards moved to pick up Enthis, practically dragging the body across the floor and out of the room via another dissolving wall. Vic noticed the remaining guards subtly shifting their positions, attempting to maintain an even distance between each of them.
"Morbid curiosity," Vic said. "Was it really necessary to destroy Ganesol just to find him?"
The man's smirk grew wider. "It," he corrected. "And yes. Absolutely."
Vic left his face stony, not letting any emotion show through. "Whatever," he said. "I've completed my end of the deal; you complete yours."
The man smirk grew to freakish proportions, before he recomposed himself, settling on a small smile. He held out his hand to the woman, who placed a small card in his hand. The man then tossed it towards Vic, who caught it effortlessly. Vic reached into his jacket and pulled out a small device, only slightly larger than his hand. He inserted the card into the slot; and after confirming the number on the device's display to read "5,000,000" he removed the card, placing both objects inside his jacket.
"Now your contract," he said, pulling a rolled-up piece of paper out from a separate pocket of his jacket. Across from him, the woman passed the man a piece of rolled-up paper of his own. He held it up, tilting his head in something of a questioning manner. Vic nodded, again catching the object that was tossed to him with no trouble whatsoever.
Vic unfurled the two pieces of paper and held them both together in front of his chest, letting the text face his employer. "Both copies of the contract will now be destroyed," he said, used to the speech he gave at the end of every deal. "Should any other copy of this contract be found to exist, or should any amount of the payment received be unaccessible or missing at any time, everything I have performed under your employment will be reversed, using as much force as is necessary. Anything delivered to you will be reclaimed; any act performed for you will be undone, or, in the case of death or any irreversible act, repaid in full."
He paused, letting the information sink in, despite it already being stated in the contract. After his respited, Vic added, "Do you understand completely?"
The man's stupidly-wide smirk returned. "I certainly do," he said, barely containing a fit of laughter. Vic ignored him, instead bringing his hands together and crushing the two contracts together. Small flares of blue light emitted from the cracks in between his hands and fingers. After a few seconds, he opened his hands and let a pile of ashes fall to the ground.
Vic let his face lighten considerably. "Well then," he said, disposition much more friendly and conversational than even seconds ago, "it's been a pleasure. I assume I can retrace my footsteps and find my way out?" The man nodded, evidently too hysterical for words. "Wonderful," Vic said. "In that case, I think I'll be off. Gentlemen; lady," he said, nodding towards the man's secretary. At that, Vic turned on his heel and began walking towards the door he entered through, strolling as casually as when he came in.
"I am never letting you accept a deal on your own ever again," Dex said, as Vic entered the speeder and Dex exited Vic's shadow.
"Really? Why?" Vic said, starting the speeder and promptly leaving the building and the barrier that encased it.
"You willingly let them add in a clause that said we both get killed if we messed it up. I would prefer for that not to happen again. Ever."
"Well," said Vic, "I should point out that this was after they told me to name my price and said 'yes' to five million. And look: we're not dead. Nothin' to worry about."
"Maybe. Still an idiotic thing to do," retorted Dex. "Speaking of dead, didn't Enthis say they'd kill us if we went in there?"
"Yeah; so he lied," Vic said. "I'm pretty sure if either of us were in his position, we'd make something up to get out of it."
"I suppose," Dex sighed, stretching out on his makeshift bed. "That Enthis… He's certainly interesting."
"Sure is," Vic laughed. "Lightweight, but interesting. He'd be a good drinkin' buddy, I think."
Dex smirked. "Shame for you, then. Call it a hunch, but I get the feeling we're not going to be seeing him again.
"Yeah," Vic said, his laugh turning into a pitiful smile, "probably not. He's probably not getting away from them anytime soon."
As they approached a junction, Vic pulled the speeder over. Dex, noticing this, said, "What is it?"
"Ganesol got destroyed. By now the entire sector's gotta be on the highest alert. We should probably just take what we've got and get out now; I don't think anyone's gonna risk hiring us for at least three microcycles."
"Maybe," said Dex. "I think we should at least stick around for a microcycle. I want to see some of the aftermath of all this. You know how insane media networks get about the smallest of things. Their little bug brains must've disintegrated from overload by this point."
Vic sighed. "Okay, so one microcycle. We might even need that long to get everything ready for safe travel, anyway." He steered the speeder back on to the main road. "At least don't wait until the last day to pack again, though. Y'know how well that worked out last time."
Dex responded by holding his hand up in a vague representation of a mouth and flapping the two halves open and closed repeatedly. A comfortable silence settled between the two; Vic beginning to tire and Dex generally unwilling to say too much more than the bare minimum when someone addressed him. So it surprised them both, when after several minutes, Dex, not Vic, broke the silence.
"So what do you think the odds are that they kept a copy of the contract?"
"Very, very low," Vic replied, absently bringing his hand up to feel the inside pocket of his jacket. "They knew the rules. Considering the amount of destruction they had to cause to find just one guy, I don't think they'd want to take the risk of us taking Enthis out of their hands, much less doing megacity-sized damage to everything they own."
"Still," Dex argued, "it is highly likely that they didn't take you seriously. You are one guy, after all. And you're not very intimidating, especially not when claiming you'll bring fiery death on them if they break the rules."
"Well, first, I am very intimidating. Second, as far as they know, we are just one guy. And we're also the 'one guy' who they sought out to capture a guy who is literally priceless to them."
"You wear a fairly intimidating jacket, Vic. That is definitely not the same as being intimidating yourself," said Dex, smiling as Vic reacted exactly the way he expected.
"Well I'm more intimidating than you. At least I'm not going to cower down if someone holds a couple of candles in front of me."
Dex's smile quickly reversed itself; and the man himself sat up. "There was fire everywhere! At least I don't complain about some pebbles in my shoes!"
And so the argument continued between the two, both completely forgetting about their original subject of the recently-completed job, as the beta-class speeder stayed true to its name, speeding down along a nine-lane freeway, weaving its way through the traffic, overtaking various casual drivers and taking the two further and further away from the destroyed Ganesol and the indestructible Enthis.