Collection Zone E4-J
Professional scavs. Why today of all days? Ubik had no desire to fight them and no chance of winning if he did. Their equipment looked top notch. Goggles with full spectrum vision. Adjustable face masks with built-in oxygen packs. Augmented braces on their arms and legs to allow them to move quicker and stronger. They were decked out more like a military unit.
All brand new, the latest design. Ubik could tell from a glance that nothing was very likely to break from age or overuse. His only hope was that the software was so new it might crash. New gear always suffered from unoptimised software until the second or third update patch.
Ubik ran. He had the home ground advantage, but they had every other advantage. All of them.
What did they want? There was plenty to share. It wasn’t like Ubik was the type to keep everything for himself. They were welcome to help themselves. But their focus was decidedly on him.
He had the communicators, and he hadn’t even taken all of them. He’d picked up a couple of fuel cells, but they were common as muck. No way that was what they were after.
Did they just plan to teach him a lesson? Release a little tension by beating the snot out of a competitor? His childhood on the streets of Epsilon City had taught him that big men liked to prove their power by stamping on the faces of anyone who was smaller than them. They usually received applause for the display of prowess, and if they were on the police force, a regular wage.
Ubik could have gone that way, used his skills to power his revenge. Big men looked a lot smaller when faced with the true power of technology. Organics could turn anyone into a beast. Electronics could too, if they were used right.
These yahoos were kitted out in the finest electronics currently available (obsolete in three to six months). It would be their undoing.
He could hear them whoop and holler as they gave chase. This was fun to them, their morning’s entertainment. No sign of any drones, which meant this was a sanctioned group, here on official business. To pick up something that shouldn’t have been thrown out, perhaps, or something that was smuggled out via a junk ship, to be collected when no one was looking. Could the devices in his bag be what they were looking for? He could dump them and hope it gave him the chance to escape, but he didn’t have time to mess around.
They might be pros, but he was a goddam genius.
Ubik made it to the top of a small mountain of crumpled robot legs. He had no idea what they had come from, robots that now had brand new legs, presumably. The gradient slowed his escape so his hunters were able to catch up. They would have caught him anyway, he was merely making it quicker for them. They wouldn’t stop to think why he would do that, they would assume he was an idiot and that they were the geniuses. Wrong.
Ubik turned and threw a handful of shiny discs down at his pursuers. They were busy fighting with each other in an attempt to get to him first. They probably had a bet going to see who could make the kill, just to make things interesting for themselves. When the discs struck them, they paused, mildly alarmed.
“Identify,” shouted one.
“Nothing,” said another. “Shows as brass. He’s throwing buttons at us.”
The kind of gear they were employing was very accurate and able to identify the composition of an object in less than a standard second. What it was less good at was being able to understand how a seemingly inert substance might react when combined with another seemingly inert object.
Mixing two properties to find a third was a lost art these days.
Sodium was explosive when exposed to water. Chlorine was highly toxic. Put them together and you got table salt. It worked the other way around, too.
Ubik stuck the red rod in the top of the mound and flipped the lid. The buttons he’d thrown all popped. The electronics around them went dead.
Brass had an unusual property that not many people knew about. It was an old metal amalgam that no one used these days, except maybe for buttons on fancy military outfits. When vibrated at the correct frequency, it powered down fuel cells. Not all types, just the modern ones that were currently the most popular. The brass absorbed the energy, and then it exploded.
The explosion wasn’t dangerous, just a toy pop gun loud. The loss of power could be fatal.
“No power,” shouted one of the scavs.
“Dead tronics,” called out another.
Two were on the ground, unable to move. Their implants had been fitted directly into their muscles, leaving them crippled, at least until they found a way to recharge.
But one scav remained standing. He didn’t look affected at all. In fact, he looked stronger now than he had a second ago. His body looked bigger and his hair was standing on end from some kind of static discharge.
An organic. Why would anyone send an organic to a junkyard? Didn’t they have something better to do with their time?
Ubik decided it would be impolite to ask and ran down the other side of Mount Rubbish.
He heard the footsteps crunching metal into scrap behind him. It was obviously a strength-type organic, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have additional augmentations. Flying, telepathy, firing eye-lasers… if you’re going to send an organic to pick up junk, why not send a military grade assassin?
It made no sense, but that was because Ubik wasn’t familiar with the ways of modern society. He was more of a stay at home type.
Downhill was quicker if you allowed gravity to do the work for you. Ubik had the cloth out and dived onto it. He skidded towards the rusted remains of a boat, half-sticking out like it was in the middle of capsizing.
Ubik jumped, leaving his cloth to carry on without him. It was a useful tool that he’d had for a while, but needless emotional attachments would only get you killed. Repair and recycle, yes. Cling beyond reason, no.
He landed in the middle of the boat’s rotting skeleton and ran, barely keeping his balance. There was a deep shaft here, one he hadn’t explored completely yet. Now seemed as good a time as any. He jumped into the hole without checking for obstructions.
The shaft was a vertical drop but wide enough for Ubik to touch the sides with hands and feet. It enabled him to slow his fall. He looked down to see if he was about to impale himself. Then he looked up and saw red goggle-lenses bearing down on him. The goggles weren’t working anymore, so the red glow had to be coming from his eyes.
The scav had jumped in head-first and was dropping free-fall. Gravity had taken sides, and it wasn’t on Ubik’s.
Ubik pulled in his arms and legs and plummeted.
“I don’t know what you want,” Ubik shouted up. “I don’t have anything. Here, have this explosive device.” He threw a ball towards the red-eyed pursuer.
Ubik didn’t have any explosive devices, but the scav didn’t know that. He twisted and slammed against the shaft walls in panic.
The ball didn’t shoot past him, of course, it fell at the same rate he did. It had green numbers counting down on it. Ubik had found people considered numbers counting down to be very upsetting, especially if you shouted, “Bomb!” first.
While the scav slammed and smashed to a stop, clinging to the walls, letting the ball fall away, Ubik looked down and waited to see where he was going to end up.
Chapters one week ahead on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino