CutFreeze – Chapter 1 and 2
Chloé slowed down the car when they reached Terraria. The gates that gave access to the lowest social class in Dacaria loomed before them in rusty decay. Behind those gates, a lone road led to a sad array of grey houses, built in no pattern at all, which had created a maze of roads and alleys zigzagging through town. Newcomers always got lost here, but this wasn’t Canea’s first visit. Chloé would have a fit when she realized how well her new partner knew her way around here.
“Now what?” Chloé asked impatiently.
“You’ve never been here before?”
“I would never voluntarily set foot in here.”
Canea was about to tell her that a reconnaissance trip to Terraria had been part of their training but she realized that Chloé had likely skipped that lesson since she was the general’s daughter. She began to wonder how much of her training the woman had accomplished and how useful she was as her partner. Perhaps she shouldn’t rely too much on her S-A Junior abilities.
Canea pressed a button on the dashboard and the gates slowly opened, creaking at the hinges.
“That button opens the gates?” Chloé asked.
As soon as the gates were wide open, Chloé pressed the accelerator gently and the car zoomed into the desolate area. No vehicles could enter any of the social class zones by flight since the air access was closed off by an invisible barrier. It had been set up to reduce crime in the neighborhoods.
As soon as they were in, Canea pressed the same button again to close the gates.
“What does Garin expect us to find here?” Chloé wondered out loud.
“Clues.” Canea turned to her partner and asked. “When you looked for Caleb, you never came to Terraria?”
“I sent some people here, but they found nothing.”
“Where did they go? Who did they talk to?”
“What?” Chloé mocked. “Do you need a full report?”
“It would help to know these things.”
How had Chloé even passed her exams? Canea began to have less and less confidence in her abilities. Why had the Director teamed her up with the woman and why did Sergeant Garin think that Chloé was up to the task? It was hard to believe that she even spoke the Terrarian language.
“Then, who did you send here?” Canea inquired further, planning to speak to the people if Chloé was forthcoming enough to give her their names.
“Carlian and Gonzalez.”
Klaus Carlian and Eddy Gonzalez, she knew them. She had shared a few lunches in the canteen with them. They were nice guys and had always treated her well. They had never appeared to believe the slander about her for which she was grateful.
“So, Canea, is it true what they say? Do you have mental issues? Do you not feed your rescued dogs enough food and let them starve?” Chloé asked as if she had read her mind.
“Why are you asking me?”
“I just want to know.”
“Do you really think that’s true?”
Chloé, still paying attention to the road and holding her hands casually on the steering wheel, replied, “In all honesty, no. I never believed it. It was a load of crap spread by some bitches who had nothing better to do than to destroy your reputation.”
Shocked, Canea stared at her partner’s calm profile. She had not expected that answer, certainly not from her.
“You don’t believe it?”
“Thank you.” It meant everything to her.
“That doesn’t make us allies. You’re still a Middle Dacarian, but I know lies when I see them. I also know that you lost your animal sanctuary because of the lies, you lost donations. I can’t forgive slander when they hurt innocent creatures like dogs and cats.”
Who would have thought to hear such compassion come from Chloé’s mouth? Canea was speechless, but she had found a new appreciation for her. The woman cared, after all.
“Which way?” Chloé asked, back to business, when they reached the beginnings of the dreary town.
They drove down the road which snaked its way around several houses. Chloé cursed under her breath, sure that she was going to get lost here. After what seemed like an endless ride in a labyrinth, Canea said, “Stop at that pub over there.”
“That ugly building is a pub?”
Shaking her head in incredulity, Chloé parked the Mondae at the curb. Both women got out and walked to the building. There was no need to lock the car, it locked by itself.
When they walked in, they were met by thick smoke and loud heavy metal. Canea closed the door behind them and took in her surroundings. She hadn’t been here in weeks, but she recognized the slim bartender with the greasy hair and the big nose. Although the place was packed with customers who all yelled their orders at him, he took his time, unimpressed by his clientele’s urgency to get their drinks.
Disgruntled looks went their way. No one liked to see uniformed Squadron members. In Terraria, that usually meant trouble. Canea headed straight to the bar, followed by Chloé who screwed up her face in disgust at the old and ripped clothes of some customers.
The bartender was busy mixing a cocktail but when he saw the uniforms, he looked up.
“Canea,” he said pleasantly, not once interrupting his work. “What can I do for ya?”
Chloé, surprised that the bartender knew her partner, gave her a look that she ignored.
“We’re investigating the disappearances.”
With a smirk, he said, “Ye mean that after five months of incidents, you’re finally sending us some help?”
“Five months?” As far as she was informed, the disappearances had started three months ago.
“Fifty-six Terrarians are gone, vanished into the air. We never heard of’em again.”
“Fifty-three are gone, as far as we know,” Chloé commented.
“How would ye know?”
“I should have that information, given my position. Don’t you think?” she snapped.
Canea laid her hand on her partner’s arm and shook her head imperceptibly. Now was not the time for this, and angering the one man who knew what was going on in Terraria was not going to help them. Strangely enough, Chloé heeded her silent advice and remained quiet.
“Do you mean that fifty-six people have vanished here?” Canea asked to be sure.
“That’s what I said.”
109 people in total. This was even worse than she had thought.
“And does the Squadron know this?”
The man grunted loudly, outdoing all of Chloé’s many snorts.
“Ahesso hachar etto?” he said in Terraria’s language.
“What?” Chloé asked, confused, but Canea understood. The bartender had uttered an uncomfortable truth that wasn’t for Chloé’s ears. Now what would that do were his exact words, illustrating the Squadron’s repeated failure or lack of zeal to help Terrarians.
“Muto mas qui avest,” Canea replied. Much more than before.
Chloé stared at her in disbelief, never having expected her to speak this difficult language.
“Tell us what you know,” Canea told him.
“I’m busy now. I can’t leave my bar unattended.”
“Et essencialt.” It’s important
“Nesso plator.” I need money. Abandoning his customers at the busiest time of the day would mean heavy losses. If he worked in Middle or High Dacaria it wouldn’t affect him so much but here in Terraria an income wasn’t always guaranteed. A quiet day at the bar meant no ´plator´ for the man. Up in the higher classes, workers had insurance that protected them from that. Not here, though.
“Then give us the names of the ones who have gone. I’ll write them down.”
He placed a crimson red cocktail streaked with bright blue and dark blue swirls on the bar and called, “Mona!”
A big woman with short red hair elbowed her way to the bar and picked up her drink, chatting to a small man by her side.
“Adalin Stornia,” he began.
Canea took out her audio notepad and held it up so that it could record every word it said. It had a special device to silence all surrounding noise.
“Evan Nilan, Klons Dransik, Mirna Stolz, Emilio Bracchian, Estin Powers, Chad Stephens, Markos Gabon.” He screwed up his face in deep thought, trying to remember the other names. “Evelyn Gould, and Ikko and Ollie Tello.”
“John Stolz,” a stocky man next to her added.
“Ah, sui,” the bartender said.
“Does sui mean yes?” Chloé asked, intrigued by the language.
“Platea Doresun,” the bartender continued. “Uwaldo Gallard.”
Names kept rolling off his lips and Canea’s recording device picked it all up. She didn’t know any of those people. The only ones she had had contact with here during her stint in Terraria with Maihem were the bartender, his cleaning lady, and Maihem himself.
Wasn’t there a stronger freezing-out procedure? She shouldn’t have to remember his name! Perhaps she should have used fire instead of the freezing pick.
While she listened to the list of names, her eyes scanned the room. Everyone looked happy, unconcerned about the disappearances. They had come to forget about their dreary existence and wash their sorrows away with alcohol, paying for the pleasure with the little money they had. Drinks were, of course, cheaper here than in the rest of Dacaria but salaries were also lower. It truly was a curse to be born in Terraria. The only way out was to sign up for the Squadron, provided that they made it past the rigorous qualification process which was designed especially for them; and only if they were willing to put up with abuse from the Middle and High Dacarian cadets.
There was also another escape from this, but it was a route that led to prison for most. Smuggling was a popular and lucrative activity, and theft came second. The Squadron had arrested many in this area and prisons were crowded with Terrarians, but they held few Middle Dacarians and no High Dacarians. It was no wonder that Terrarians didn’t trust the Squadron, and the only reason this bartender so willingly talked to her was because she had been with Maihem …
There you go, she thought, something good came of that disastrous liaison after all.
Her eyes fell on him at that exact moment, Maihem. There he was, sitting in a corner, all alone, contemplating the green and purple swirls in his Lager Mix. It was his favorite drink, beer mixed with swirls of green rum and purple brandy. She hated it, it always made her cough uncontrollably but he loved the stuff. The ceiling light shone on his bald head and one of his many tattoos crept up over the collar of his white T-shirt. Luckily, he hadn’t seen her. Her belly was in turmoil and she wanted to reach out to him, but her mind stopped her firmly.
No, not after the way he treated you.
Finally, she tore her gaze away and focused back on the bartender who was still listing names.
“Goran Bohels, Emma Crown.” It went on and on. His ability to remember every single name amazed her, and she felt that he was wasting his time here at this bar. He would do well at the Squadron, but at 35 he was too old now to be trained. Training always began at 15 and ended at the age of 21. Canea had ended her training five years ago.
When he finally gave her the name of the last victim, Chloé uttered what had been on Canea’s mind.
“Sui, how do you remember all these names?” Canea asked him.
“Esser mu circle.”
She turned to Chloé and translated, “They are his tribe.”
Chloé’s eyes seemed to lose their usual coldness. It looked as if she realized that insects had feelings. She stared at the bartender and then back at Canea, but she didn’t say a word.