Infinispace Glossary: Fixer

Images & Words: Void the Light – Part 11


Image
Dossier: Fixer

Words
Neal Ulen

When : Where
259 DE (2569 CE) : Terra / Techspire / The Tangle/ Arithon Square


Preceded by Void the Light – Part 10.

This is approximately 1/3rd preivew of a first draft novella entitled Void the Light (tentative title) which takes place in the Infinispace Universe.

The novella is set about 30 years before the events of Infinispace: Deception and is ~50,000 words in length. It will be posted in serialized format.

Parts:
0 - Prologue
1 - Martos
2 - Integrators
3 - The Rat...
4 - ...In The Cage
5 - Benize
6 - Taria
7 - Meetings
8 - Direction
9 - Lost
10 - Challe
11 - Fixer
End of Preview
The open space of Arithon Square was dark, wet, and cold. A persistent fine drizzle of rain oozed from the underside of the dark grey clouds that hung low over the open square, obscuring the upper reaches of the surrounding Tangle. Water trickled down the metal, stone, and composite sides of the buildings, running onto the pavement in rivulets, gathering in gurgling culverts that lead to spillways hidden far beneath the streets, temporarily washing away the dirt and filth that would return in mere days. Signs and lights attached to the sides of buildings or entryways refracted through the volume of mist, lending it an ethereal glow that spread through the entire square. Martos and Taria had moved quite some distance from the frenetic chaos of the bazaar after their brief rendezvous with Challe. The crowd here had dwindled to a comparative trickle, and they were thankful for the respite.

“Well, we’re here. What now?” Taria asked.

They were standing in the shadow of a small canopy, on the fringe of the square, protected from the rain. Water spilled over the edge of the canopy, spattering to the ground at their soaked feet as they watched the sparse foot traffic weave through the square, avoiding the deepest puddles and taking the shortest possible paths to their destinations. Martos wore a rain cover he’d pulled from his bag, and Taria looked miserable with her long black hair matted to her head. She’d tried to tie it into a bun to prevent it from sticking to her face, but her hair would have none of it.

“We wait, just as Challe instructed,” Martos replied. “I’m getting rather tired of this runaround. We’ve put our trust in the hands of people we don’t know … and would probably never trust outside of where we find ourselves now. Who’s to say any of this will even help us in the end? I don’t trust any of them.”

“I suspect distrust is the new norm, though not that different from the previous norm. I’m hungry,” Taria said, trying to force Martos’ attention back to things they could directly control. “We haven’t eaten since yesterday.”

“I know. After this … whatever this turns out to be … we’ll go back to the bazaar and get something,” Martos shrugged.

Taria wiped dripping rainwater from her eyes and pulled strands of hair sticking to her cheeks. “And pay for it with what? Do you think our shards still work?”

“I don’t know Taria, we’ll figure it out when the time comes!” he snapped.

She sighed and they stood in silence listening to water continue to slosh down drain pipes, gutters, and grates. Furtive glances were thrown their way by whispering citizens tip-toeing through standing water, with collars turned up or holding makeshift umbrellas low over their heads. After a few moments, she slid down the wall she was leaning against and began rummaging through her bag looking for something to stave off the pangs of hunger rumbling in her belly. Finding nothing, she closed the bag violently and settled for wrapping her arms around her knees and leaning her head against the stone wall, letting the occasional raindrop fall into her open mouth.

Martos stared at her huddled form. He felt beyond helpless but remained guarded; against what he didn’t yet know. His thoughts returned to their plight. What was the point of all this effort? They could stumble around the Tangle for days or even weeks looking for a solution that didn’t exist. This leg of their journey had started with Benize’s door sliding closed on them, but he couldn’t see a single path that diverged significantly enough to result in an outcome that might see them free, happy, or even alive. Unless there existed some reality that vastly contradicted what he knew of the Spire, which was very little, or the Tangle. In his mind every path converged to the same singularity … them living in the gutters of the Tangle begging or stealing, and always looking over their shoulders. An existence no better than that of ghols. All he could see spread before his mind’s eye were variations of a slow, miserable descent into eventual non-existence, one that they were dragging an unborn child into. He had no doubt Taria had reached the same conclusion in her mind, so there was no meaningful reason to share his assessment. She’d always been more clever and insightful than himself. If he could see it, she surely could too. Her visible frustration and anger were clear markers of realization.

Still, talking about it might open unseen paths … and create some variance away from their impending singularity. But that discussion would have to wait until they were warm and dry if that opportunity should ever present itself again. Martos had his doubts.

Just then he noticed the figure slowly glide out of the glow of the mist rising from the stones of Arithon Square as if coalescing into solid form from the very rain itself. Martos instinctively knew this was the person they were waiting for. Despite being cloaked head to toe in a bulky, full-length envirocoat and hood, it was clearly a large man, one who carried himself in such a way that it singled him out from every remaining citizen. His long stride and fluid motion gave the illusion that every other citizen in the square was moving in slow motion, their obviously normal movements rendered inefficient and clumsy in his presence. Despite walking through their midst at full gait, not once did he have to change speed or course to avoid a collision, missing many, often brought to alarm, by mere inches. It was as if the man was in a world unto his own, and all obstacles in his way either didn’t exist, would get out of his way, or were inconsequential. Martos suspected that extended beyond just foot traffic.

Thankfully, his path wasn’t in their direction. Instead, the destination pointed to Amaranth Bazaar or some other distant part of the Tangle. But Martos couldn’t shake the feeling that this unusual person was part of their equally unusual and cryptic instructions. He backed further under the gloom of the protective canopy and waited, hoping the interloper would pass without noticing them.

“Taria,” Martos whispered, turning his head slightly in her direction without taking his eyes off the striding figure deliberately making his way across the square.

She placed a hand against the wall and pushed herself up, shouldering the bag that rested in her lap.

“What?” she said tiredly.

“I think they’re here,” Martos said.

“They?” Taria looked away from him and squinted into the mist.

“Whoever we were supposed to wait for. There. Him.” Martos pointed at the center of the square. “Just passing that column.”

Taria saw the figure and knew Martos was right. The man was tall, his form completely obscured. His head swiveled left and right, scanning every face and looking into every shadow, and his stride was long and easy,  his feet clad in thick black boots that created forceful splashes with every heavy step. His movements reminded Taria of a predator hunting for its prey. Perhaps not too far from the truth. Citizens refused to look at him as he stalked through the square, knowing this was something unnatural to the Tangle. Some had seen his kind before, and ingrained conditioning told the rational side of their minds to simply ignore the monsters that sometimes trod on their soil. As long as they were not the target, they were safe. Security through obscurity was the best practice of any Citizen. Fight instincts had long been culled from the herd.

“Let’s leave Martos,” she grabbed his sleeve in a moment of apprehension.

“No, even though I don’t trust Benize he could have easily betrayed us without going to these lengths. That’s too much work, even for him. I don’t know what this is about, but we must see this part of the path through.”

Taria continued to pull at his arm with added desperation. “This isn’t right Martos. I have a bad feeling, nothing about this is natural. I’m afraid …”

“You’re right. Everything about this is unnatural and unwholesome. What were you expecting?” he growled, yanking his arm out of her frantic clutch. Martos saw the hurt look on her face. “I’m sorry. Just stay behind me, we have to do this. We can talk about what to do next if this doesn’t go as we expect.”

“I’m expecting the worst,” Taria muttered, her voice devoid of her normal optimism.

She instinctively tried to meld into the shadows of their waiting place, but no matter how badly she wished it she knew the dark man would see them, find them … and hurt them. Holding his arm again, she lingered behind Martos. With her eyes closed, she rested her head against his back between his wet shoulders, playing the game that every child had played since the dawn of time; out of sight, out of mind. She longed to be somewhere warm and secure, but she knew that was not in their immediate future so she waited for the inevitable encounter with a stranger she irrationally wished never existed.

The man was tall, his form completely obscured. His stride was long and fluid, and his feet, clad in thick black boots, created forceful splashes with every heavy step. Citizens gave him a wide berth as he stalked through the square, his head swiveling left and right, scanning every face and looking into every shadow. His movements reminded Taria of a predator hunting for its prey. Perhaps not too far from the truth.

Martos watched the veiled man continue to stalk through the mist, gliding through those citizens who foolishly refused to remove themselves from his path. Gloom shrouded the area under his deep hood, and Martos couldn’t make out any features. He didn’t attempt to get the man’s attention, but he knew they had been noticed the instant the long strides of the man paused for an imperceptible moment, altering his direction directly toward their gloomy alcove.

His steps became slower and more cautious as he approached Martos, stopping within a few feet. Martos instinctively shuffled backward pinning Taria against the wall. She let out a small gasp but didn’t dare show herself. Martos wasn’t a short man by any means, but the dark figure standing silently before him towered at least a foot taller. Every single square inch of his skin was protected from the elements, and his hands, which ended in what appeared to be sharp metallic tips, were covered in exotic fabrics embedded with protective scales, imperceptibly pulsing optics, and garment implants. Where his face should be under the black hood of his coat only shadows stared back. Not a single ray of dim light plumbed the inky depths of the hood; it was as if all light died within its interior.

The imposing figure glanced back to the center of Arithon Square ensuring everything appeared to be in its normal place. No one seemed to be paying them any level of attention to himself, or anything else out of the ordinary. Just three cold citizens taking shelter from the rain. He turned his hood back to Martos.

“Well? I’m here. What’s the play?” the dark man uttered in a deep voice that sounded like rocks sliding down a metal grate.

At the sound of the deep rumble, Martos flinched slightly. The words were Primary, and he fully understood them, but the sounds were alien … a voice that was mechanically or electronically enhanced, and disguised without doubt.

“The play?” he asked, not knowing how the pieces were moved on the new game board he found themselves. They had not requested this meeting, Martos had no idea why it was happening or what it would accomplish. What was he assumed to say or do? Should they placate themselves and appeal to this stranger for mercy? Or be contrary and demand answers? Martos didn’t know, but he judged that this man wasn’t of the Spire, but was an entirely new hazard they hadn’t accounted for. An unquantifiable variant in the system that had surrounded them their entire lives.

A huge, gloved hand shot out and clutched Martos’ garments into a ball just below his neck. He could feel the man’s hard metal fingertips digging into his chest. The abrupt move propelled him back, pressing Taria firmly against the wall. She let out another gasp.

“Stop fucking around. You’re wasting my time, and likely your own if I were to make a guess. Get into the alley!”

When Martos didn’t immediately move, he balled his fist even tighter and threw him in the desired direction. Martos was sent sprawling to all fours onto the slippery bricks and into dirty runoff water. He clumsily rose to his feet and backed slowly into the nearby alley. Taria stood where she was, head hanging low, refusing to look directly at their antagonist. Instead, she fixed her eyes on his sturdy military-looking boots.

“Well, what have we here?” the man asked in a mocking and cheery tone. He suddenly paid her attention now that Martos’ protective wall had been peeled away. The sound of his words addressed directly at her made Taria’s skin crawl. “I didn’t know your friend was hiding treasure from me behind his back!”

“Don’t touch her!” Martos begged, pulling himself off the wet pavement.

The towering figure only stood silently, the enigmatic darkness of his hood staring into Taria’s soul. After a few breaths, he only laughed, bowed slightly, and casually held out his gauntleted hand in the direction of the alley where Martos waited. Without a word, Taria picked up the bags and complied with his direction.

“Let it never be said Fixer isn’t a gentleman!” he exclaimed robotically.

He fell into step behind Taria who was making her way in the direction of Martos who stood nervously watching the two approach. She glimpsed over her should a couple of times sensing the oppressive presence of the Fixer, fearing he was drawing too close to her. Once they were all secreted in the oppressive gloom of the alley the man again pushed Martos up against the wall aggressively.

“Who are you and what do you want?” Martos implored.

“Fixer, as you may have just overheard.”

“Never heard of you,” sneered Martos.

“I don’t suspect you would have, not unless you have an unhealthy history of dealing with the Spire,” Fixer replied. “Listen, you called me, I didn’t call you.”

“Why are you called Fixer,” Taria asked, “and who do you represent.”

“Seems like the answer should be obvious, even to the likes of you. I’m a problem solver … some might call me a giver. I always have, and always will represent only myself. I can assure you.”

“I very much doubt any assurances you give,” Taria said, suddenly feeling emboldened now that she had a name. “I suspect you ever give anything of yourself without something in return. You prey on the weak and enrich the powerful. I understand your type … you’re filth. You permeate the Tangle like a disease.”

The Fixer made a sound like laughter. He relaxed the pressure holding Martos pinned to the cold wall.

“You present an interesting perspective, given your circumstance, but it’s presumptuous for you to call me filth. Self-preservation has been an instinctive response in the system of the world for millions of years. We’re not so different, you two and I. Our methods and resources are what separate us. Trust me, the Spire is just as much the focus of my ire as it is yours. The only difference is my grudges are more personal and specific, and my methods are more direct. I have no love for the powers that watch us from above, but I don’t share your plight, whatever it might be, nor do I care about it.”

“There are powers in the Tangle as well,” Martos interjected.

Fixer made a sound like a scoff. “Nothing more than an illusion … a fiction. If there are any powers in the Tangle you can bet that the hand of the Spire makes it dance. Those powers won’t even hear the music or see the strings.”

Taria laughed. “Looking at you I’d guess you possess some level of power here. So you’re just a puppet then?” she asked.

“Okay, enough with the fucking chit-chat! Names!” He pointed at her.

“Taria. Struck a nerve, have I?” she asked.

“Shutup! And you,” Fixer thumped Martos’ chest painfully.

“Martos,” he replied.

“Both of you hold out your hands,” Fixer commanded.

They relented and complied. Fixer first grabbed Martos’ hands, tearing off the cloth wrapped around one, then inspecting his palms and wrists. A glow began to emanate from his black gloves, bathing his inspection process in soft red light. To Martos and Taria there was no discernible source of the light, it enigmatically surrounded his moving hands and cast no shadows. Taria watched intently, realization beginning to sink in that Fixer might actually not be of the Tangle, or even of Terra. Fixer was using tech that transcended most she’d seen and it was conceivable he had more at his disposal. If he was a Spireling he certainly did act the part.

Fixer turned over Martos’ hands roughly, then froze in place at what the glow of his hands revealed. He rubbed a finger vigorously against the tattooed skin, then tapped it knowingly.

“Ah, what’s this then? The Mark of the Triocracy. I see now, you’ve been a naughty boy. Well done young Martos!”

“Well done? You think being uncitizened is worthy of praise?” Martos asked.

“Yes,” Fixer rumbled bluntly. “Do you believe the Spire considers me a Citizen?”

“Yes, because you’re a Spireling,” Martos grumbled.

“Oh really? Why? Because you think I fit your tidy pigeonhole idea of what a Spireling is, or because I’m not of the Tangle? Have you ever even met a Spireling face-to-face? You’ve never even left your little corner of the Tangle. Don’t assume you understand how the Triocracy works when you’ll always be stuck standing on its doorstep. Martos, you disappoint me … you need to work on your listening skills,” Fixer mocked. “Now, Taria … your turn.”

She offered her wet hands, for what reason she didn’t know. Fixer inspected them closely. Unsatisfied he pushed up the sleeves of her coat to uncover the fresh chain tattoo encircling one of her wrists. He rubbed the sharp metal point of his gloved index finger painfully around the skin of her wrist, following the path of the chain. The tattoo dissolved into a black vapor as he did so and the particles flowed up his finger to be absorbed into the scaly glove. He let go of her hand gently and his hood nodded in understanding.

“It’ll be a boy,” he said.

“Excuse me?” Taria asked incredulously. Fixer ignored her question.

“You two are full of surprises. It’s rare for ordinary people such as yourselves to be connected with such influential entities. That was Challe’s tracking call … how I found you. This leads back to Varga, her handler, or someone who knows Varga. Very dodgy that one, like a spider waiting in its web. How do you know Varga?” he asked.

“We don’t. It’s just a name given to us,” Martos answered.

“Varga isn’t a name that’s casually given, it’s one that’s shared only by Varga himself. You’ve had dealings with him.”

“You just casually gave us his name,” Taria shot back.

“Neither of you listens well, do you? And you’re really beginning to annoy me Taria,” Fixer said, pointing a finger at her face. “Let’s logic this one out, eh? The only reason I’m here is because Challe called. The only reason Challe called is because Varga sent you to her. Therefore, you already fucking know who Varga is!”

Martos look at Taria and asked, “Benize?”

She stared back into his eyes and nodded slowly.

“You can help us then?” Martos asked Fixer.

“Are you ‘waring?”

“Wearing what?” Martos looked confused.

“No, are you ‘waring?” Fixere jabbed Martos’ head several times with a forefinger that felt like a dull dagger. “’waring … fucking hardware.”

Martos reached up and brushed the massive arm aside. “No. Do we look like the type of people who can afford bio.nodes?”

Fixer shrugged. “You look like every other Tangle trash I’ve had the unpleasant opportunity to interact with. It doesn’t matter anyway, it just makes things simpler. It’s not like you have much of a choice.”

“What choices are those?” Taria asked sarcastically, taking a step closer to the two of them.

A deep, raspy laugh emanated from the dark recess of the Fixer’s hood. “Taria, remember what I said a minute ago?”

Martos made a slow, deliberate move to place his body between Taria and Fixer. “Leave her out of it. This doesn’t concern her, I’m the one who screwed up.”

No sooner had the words left his mouth than he regretted them. Martos simply lowered his head, waiting for the inevitable, and watched the water drip from his nose to the stones at his feet.

A hand grabbed the side of his arm and gently pulled him aside.

“Excuse me? Leave her out of it? I’m in this as deep as you are Martos! Who the hell do you think you are?! Do you honestly think we’re going to get through this together by having you coddle and protect me?! We either get through this together or not at all.” She paused and pointed a finger at the Fixer. “You! Get to the point. Give us these choices and get on with it, because you’re beginning to annoy me now!”

The sound of the rain echoing through the alley was suddenly deafening. Fixer stood motionless and stared at Martos. “Lucky man.”

There was no response from Martos or Taria. Fixer gave a mighty shake of his arms and shoulders, sending water dancing off the long coat sheltering his frame. “Okay, fuck it. She’s right.”

Martos finally raised his head, expectantly.

Fixer stood up straighter, seeming to gain another foot above his already towering height. “Here are your choices. I turn around and leave you two to rot to death in the Tangle, hunted by Integrators and Collectors until you are murdered, die of starvation, or are eventually caught and euthanized. No charge on my part. Want to hear the other choice?”

Martos and Taria stood in the rain in mutual silence.

“I rid the little man here of the several million trackers crawling around in his brain and send you two along on the next leg of your once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Chance of success? Slightly north of zero and slightly south of winning the Offworld Lottery. But a chance is a chance, right?”

“Our fate seems to have become a series of multiple-choice decisions,” Martos growled.

“That’s always been the nature of life. They just usually aren’t life or death decisions,” Taria sighed.

“And what’s in it for you?” Martos asked. “You don’t seem to be the giving type.”

“I’m providing a service. How is that not giving?” Fixer laughed coldly. “Pretty much anything and everything I want, which from the looks of you isn’t much. What I do isn’t without risk, and I have my own adventures and agendas to pursue. Bet let’s be clear about one thing … I couldn’t give two fucks about you two. You’ve got ten seconds to make up your minds or I make it up for you by walking away from two more dead Tangle trash.”

Taria and Martos only had to look each other in the eyes to know the inevitable answer. Cold rain streamed down their faces masking any emotion they may have outwardly displayed. Taria gave a small nod.

“Okay, let’s …”

Before Martos could get out another word he found his head in the vice-like grip of Fixer, his black gloves suddenly missing from his massive hands which now cradled Martos’ head on either side, and the recesses of his black hood only inches away from his face.


This is the end of the preview of “Void the Light” (tentative title), approximately 1/3rd of the first draft Horatio origin novella. Please bookmark this website to check back for updates on the availability of the final version.


Images & Words © 2023-2024, Neal Ulen.
Other images/videos cited © to their respective owner(s).


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