Gorbol Training Academy.
Point-Two clung to the drone as his weight sent it plummeting towards the ground. Admittedly, it was a slower fall than if he’d been on his own, but it still felt somewhat lethal.
Above him, the Vendx ship was still airborne, smoke pouring out of its fuselage but the flames no longer covering the underside of the hull.
Beneath him, Ubik was holding onto his drone with one hand while his other was stuck inside the drone’s casing, making alterations on the fly, literally.
Both drones slowed their descent as they adjusted for the additional weight, but Ubik’s changed course and headed towards a corner of the courtyard while Point-Two’s began to go back up.
If he was returned to the roof, he most likely wouldn’t receive a warm reception.
Ubik was on the ground already and rushing off to who knew where, the drone following him like an eager pet. It seemed like Point-Two was on his own. He was near enough to the Academy’s walls to attempt climbing down. The building’s surface was covered in cracks and ledges. The problem was more of switching from the up escalator to the down.
He rated his chances of making a clean transfer in the eightieth percentile. High eighties.
Point-Two took a breath, focused on a crack just above him, just level, just below, and let go. He didn’t push off — he didn’t want to add any excess movement that might bounce him off the wall — he just let go and reached out.
Three fingers on his right hand wedged into the thin gap, the stone crumbled against his fingertips, and the wall’s rough surface scraped his palms as he fell.
Point-Two looked down and aimed his feet at the sliver of ledge he could see quickly rising towards him.
His toes hit, the angle of his ankles inverted to absorb the impact, and he stopped. Then he started to fall backwards. Point-Two’s hands flapped at the wall and frame around the window. He couldn’t find anything to grip, nothing to cling to, and then everything was out of his reach.
At least he was nearer the ground than he had been. He would probably be able to avoid any broken bones if he twisted at the right moment and rolled. How he missed zero Gs where falling didn’t even exist. He took another breath and prepared to twist.
He stopped falling and hung in the air. Not quite weightless, more like a coat on a hook. Looking down, the ground was only a couple of metres below him, along with Ubik.
The drone holding Point-Two by the back of his collar began to descend.
“I didn’t think you’d come back,” he said to Ubik as he gently touched down.
“What? And leave you behind, a smear on the floor? No, I wouldn’t do that. Not when I need an active target for my field test. You’re the one those Seneca assassins are after. If anything happened to you, they’d pack up and go home; probably take credit for your death anyway and make a bundle. I hear these Seneca are unscrupulous people.”
Ubik unhooked the drone from the back of Point-Two’s greys. The crooked spike probably hadn’t been designed to catch people falling through the air.
Point-Two looked up at the smoking ship. “Vendx are going to be pissed at you.”
“I doubt it. Small explosion like that, happens all the time. Probably think it was faulty wiring. It’s the dynamic obsolescence they use, gives them a very high failure rate. The old Harriers, the Sloane series, used to burst into flames all the time. Even with a failure rate of 0.1 percent, that’s a lot of screw-ups when you’re supplying the entire galaxy.”
“I don’t know,” said Point-Two. The ship looked like it was leaning to one side. A little nudge and it might come falling down. “They’re in a combat situation. They’re going to check.”
“Maybe you’re right,” said Ubik. “No way to prove it was us, though.”
“What do you mean us? I had nothing to do—”
“Let’s try this way,” said Ubik. “We don’t want to get in the way of the big battle.” He set off through the covered walkway that surrounded the courtyard, the drone hovering over his shoulder.
Point-Two followed. “You still think they’re coming?”
“Of course,” said Ubik. “You can’t let people think a lowly FVG trainee got away from you? An independent contractor relies on positive word of mouth. They need you dead and your head on a stick. They’ll follow you to the end of the universe now that you’ve shown them up.”
“Me? I didn’t do anything. It was you.”
“No one’s paying them to bother with me. Hunt you down and make an example of you, I expect. Do they sleep? I can see them never resting, never stopping until they’ve got your blood coating their hands and your testicles on a necklace. Must be nice to feel wanted after being an orphan for so long.”
The doors into the main building were open. The doors were actually no longer in the doorframe. Ubik leaned in and looked down the hallway.
“I’m not an orphan,” said Point-two, not really knowing why Ubik’s needling bothered him so much.
“Sure, sorry, I forgot about Mom 2.0. This way. Quietly.”
“I’m making less noise than you,” said Point-Two, which was true.
“You know, you’re very competitive. Try to relax, you’ll live longer.”
Somehow, Point-Two doubted it.
“Something’s happening,” said Princep Galeli. “An explosion.”
“In the Academy?” asked Captain Hickory.
“No. Above us. One of their ships.” Galeli fiddled with some buttons to get a better reading on the two ships stationed overhead. “Minor damage, but they’ve lost one of their stabilisers. Do you think your people are here?”
Hickory shrugged. “It’s possible they worked out we were in trouble. Although, I can only see them coming to our rescue if they thought it would get them a pay raise. Frankly, if any of them showed that kind of initiative, I’d be inclined to give it to them.”
“What about the boy?” said Gipper. “You seem to think he’s the hot sauce no one can handle. Could it be him?”
“It could. Trainee Matton is very capable, but I fail to see how he could target a ship. It’s not like he has any way to get up there. I’m not even sure why he would want to. The fight’s down here.”
“Shouldn’t we go out there and help him?” said Gipper, up on his feet and ready to go. “If I stay cooped up in here much longer I’m going to explode, too.”
“Have you any idea what they can do to us with the gear they have?” said Hickory.
“Have you any idea what we can do to them?” said Gipper, full of brio, mostly unjustified. “This is the armoury, isn’t it? Don’t we have any non-Vendx weapons in here.”
“This is the old armoury,” said Galeli. “It’s more a storeroom and emergency bunker, although this is the first time we’ve used it for that. Actually, if I remember correctly…”
Galeli left the console and went over to the table in the corner. “Help me with this.”
Gipper eagerly approached and grabbed the top of the table which came off with a little effort. Inside was a lot of dust and a bunch of equipment.
“What’s this?” said Gipper, pulling out a long tube. “Plumbing?”
“Careful with that,” said Galeli. “It fires rockets. You put it on your shoulder and the rocket goes in that end.”
“What else have you got in here?” said Gipper. “Spears and swords?”
“How many rockets are in there?” said Hickory. “They might not be prepared for this kind of tech. Good thing the guild never throws anything away — the galaxy’s greatest hoarders.”
“I think I’ve got something,” said Jace.
“You’ve contacted the ship?” said Galeli. Finally, reinforcements.
“No, not that,” said Jace. “I patched into the Vendx comms.” He took out his headphones and the case erupted into shouting.
“There’s two of them. Get everyone down here now. Send every drone you’ve got.” The person speaking sounded intensely panicked.
“They’re moving,” said Bev, her ear on the doors. “They’re… leaving. Where are they going.”
“I don’t know,” said Hickory. “But if we’re going to make a move, now’s the time. Everyone grab something and make sure you know which way to point it before you pull the trigger.”
“What’s he doing?” asked Point-Two.
Down the other end of the passage was a Vendx soldier, standing there with one arm waving and one foot stamping.
“Suit’s locked him out,” said Ubik. “Half of it. Happens when the servos get out of sync. Not a big problem, just takes a little adjustment.”
“I’m trying!” shouted the Vendx soldier to no one. “It won’t work... Yes, I’ve tried rebooting it... Yes, I powered it down completely, it made no difference.” He sounded very frustrated.
“We should help him,” said Ubik.
“Really? He’s got a very big gun.”
“Yes, but it’s stuck in the hand that’s frozen.”
The long-barrelled laser rifle was in the hand that wasn’t moving, pointing straight up. “Can you send a glitch team? ...I know they’re busy, we’re all busy, but if I don’t get any help I can’t pick up my participation bonus. I’ve already blown my deductible, have a heart, will you? Hello? Are you still there? Damn it!”
“They make them pay for everything,” said Ubik. “Terrible way to do business.”
Ubik began moving towards the man who continued to rage silently. You could tell by the way half his body stamped and punched the air.
“What’s the plan?” whispered Point-Two as he followed Ubik and the drone.
“Don’t worry, I’ll think of something,” said Ubik. “Hello? Excuse me?”
The soldier tried to turn around but his body remained rooted to the spot. “Who are you?” he said through the helmet that covered his entire head.
“We’re trainees at the Academy. Nothing to do with whatever, you know.” Ubik waved a hand in the general direction of the ships above them. “Is your suit malfunctioning? I think I can help. I have some tech training. Used to work on a glitch team before they let me go for exceeding my overdraft limit. It’s the microtransactions that get you, right?”
“Yeah, yeah.” The man’s suspicious tone was gone just like that. “You’re ex-company?”
“Yep, two years.” He opened a panel on the arm of the frozen side of the suit and pressed something.
The hand holding the rifle spread out its fingers and the rifle fell. Ubik caught it. “Here, let me take that. It’s alright, not like we can use it.” He gave it to Point-Two with a grin and raised eyebrows. “Biometrics, no way to get round that. Now, I’m just going to realign the servos. Might feel some static.”
Ubik grabbed the stiff arm and twisted it so the panel was easier to access. Then he grabbed something on either end and brought them together.
The man screamed, shook for about three seconds, and then went limp on one side. Smoke drifted out from the suit.
“Right, let’s get him out and you in.” Ubik opened the back of the suit and a thin man slumped out backwards onto the floor. He was still breathing and also slightly smoking.
“You want me to put on his suit?” said Point-Two.
“Yep. You wanted a plan. I’m your prisoner, we’re going to see the supervisor. You can ad lib the rest, right?”
The sounds of shouting and gunfire reverberated down the passage.
“Hurry up, I think they’re here,” said Ubik. “I don’t want to miss seeing them in action.”
Point-Two climbed into the suit. It probably wasn’t the best plan he’d ever heard, but the suit would provide him with some protection. He had a feeling he was going to need it.
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