Collection Zone E4-J
There was a pool of something wet down below, but it wasn’t acid. Ubik knew all the different acrid smells that accompanied each of the caustic liquids that appeared in the junkyard, and this didn’t smell like any of them. It didn’t smell like anything, because it was water.
He landed in a loud splash that soaked him to his waist before he hit the ground. It helped slow him down and saved his ankles from a nasty shock. He looked up and caught the ball falling towards him. The timer flashed 00:00.
High above, the scav was perched on a beam. He was probably bracing for impact. Obviously not rocking an organic brain implant.
There was a shaft to Ubik’s left, just within reach. He scrambled up the wall and pulled himself through. It wasn’t tall enough to stand, but he could crouch and move at a reasonably fast pace. The light from his goggles showed a long, straight tunnel he didn’t recognise. It seemed to be part of another structure, perhaps the interior of a building that had lived beyond its usefulness, a chimney, a water pipe, a connecting tunnel for prefab biodomes, who could say?
He ran for twenty seconds and then the tunnel pinched in the middle where the walls on either side had been pushed together by whatever external forces had been shoved at them. Ubik couldn’t get through without losing a serious amount of weight but he had other ways to make himself fit into small gaps.
There was a splash behind him. His uninvited guest had decided to join the party. Ubik pulled out a hydraulic jack from his backpack. It was very light, about the size of his forearm, and looked like something you might find in a child’s toy toolbox. It was actually a heavy duty piece of emergency equipment for getting people out of crashed vehicles. He stuck it in the gap and hit the button.
It snapped open from a straight line into a diamond shape, widening the gap and making the tunnel shake. Bits fell off around Ubik. but there was no time to assess the stability of his escape route. There was only time to escape, if that.
He managed to squeeze through and reclaim his jack. There was no way to return the gaping hole to its original size, but the scav was a lot bigger than him and might not be able to get through. He probably had a way to make the hole even bigger, using his bare hands most likely, but there was always the chance that might bring the whole place down around his ears.
Ubik ran on into the darkness with only the light just ahead of him for guidance. He could quite easily end up trapped with nowhere to go but back. There were endless tunnels down here under the garbage, but they didn’t necessarily go anywhere. Ubik had carefully mapped out the useful routes that allowed him to get around the junkyard unseen, and had done his best to have an awareness of where there were other tunnels in case of emergencies (like this one) but there was no way to know them all. He was relying on a little luck this time, which was not a position he enjoyed being in.
The tunnel widened and then he was able to stand upright. Perfect timing as the way forward was blocked by a sheer wall of junk, but there was a crack of daylight above. How big of a crack, he couldn’t say.
There was no sign of his pursuer, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t still back there. It was highly unlikely the presence of a scav team had anything to do with him, but now that he had given them a bloody nose, they would most likely not give up until they had found him and beaten him to a pulp. He had acted foolishly and rashly and had no one to blame but himself, but that was fairly normal. It would have been okay to make them a little mad, but he had made them really mad. Really mad could get you killed.
Ubik began climbing, quickly scrambling up the many handholds. The one thing that was guaranteed when climbing junk was that there would be many handholds. You might not like what it was your hand was holding, but that was okay. You didn’t need to hold it for very long.
As he approached the top, the light grew brighter. The crack was big enough for him to climb through, he just hoped there was no one waiting to help him out. It would be very upsetting to have gone through all this effort only to be met by the people he was trying to get away from. That kind of smugness wasn’t fun to be around.
He popped his head out and was relieved to see no one, not even any drones. His fingers were hanging on the lip of the opening. He let go of one hand and stretched out his arm, looking for something to grab. Vertical surfaces always had handholds, horizontal ones tended to be beaten flat.
He hooked his fingertips onto something and pulled himself forward. He had a strong grip and powerful wrists — twisting rusted lugnuts off a particle accelerator was excellent strength training. He got his other hand up and swung up one foot.
With a mighty, “Hnnng!” he threw himself up and over, rolling onto his back. He lay there for a second, breathing hard. Then he opened his eyes as he felt the ground under him tremble. He scrambled to his feet and ran as the ground collapsed and dropped away.
Ubik threw himself forward and grabbed a swinging washing machine door hanging open. It was an industrial one, used to clean hundreds of clothes at a time, so it held his weight. Beneath his dangling feet was a hole falling away into darkness. If the scav was still alive down there, he’d be really, really mad.
Ubik made it back home through a hatch in the roof. He didn’t like to use that entrance because it was too noticeable, but speed was more important than discretion right now.
He fell into the room, his Delgados landing solidly on the top of his trusty bed-table.
The ten by ten by ten cube that had been his base of operations and his bedroom for the last ten years was just as he’d left it. He wondered what would happen to it once he was gone. Good thing he wasn’t the sentimental type or he might have shed a tear over it.
There were machines and electronic devices of all kinds here. None of it was new, and he’d often had problems powering it all, but he could still access the net, intercept broadcast signals, build his own circuit boards and punch rivets in sheet metal. And that was just in one corner.
Ubik had no interest in what was going on in the rest of the quadrant. War and politics and important treaties, none of it affected him. Whoever was in charge at the moment was doing a terrible job, no doubt, but no worse than whoever did the job before and whoever would do if after. Access to the wealth of information available on the net had allowed him to teach himself to be a damn good tronic tech. There were videos on every aspect of engineering, even those the large companies didn’t want you to know. Ubik had gleaned several lifetimes worth of knowledge from the net, now he had to put it to some use. But not here.
He emptied his bag on the table and sorted through the dozens of implants he had found that morning. He quickly separated the ones that looked like they were still intact and then tested them with a signal detector. Only one of them was still capable of holding a signal.
He stripped it down to its core components and removed the tiny circuit board which was barely visible. He took out a small box from his iron chest and opened it. Inside the box was a signal booster attached to a transponder he had built from scratch. The chip inside it was from a missile, used by mining companies to split open space rocks, or something.
The circuit board slotted into the transponder with no problem. New products changed on the outside — new screen, different shaped buttons, access ports on the left instead of the right — but inside, things were built the same, so as to make it as easy as possible for the manufacturer. If you’re still using the same processor as you were last year and the year before, might as well use the same connecting system. Not that they would admit it. Ubik was fine if they voided his warranty.
It would be best to test the device was working, but he didn’t know how much juice it had. He didn’t want it to cut out halfway through, and he trusted his skills.
He grabbed the stuff he knew he would always need. Basic tools, some useful devices that were illegal to own, and Grandma’s soul box. Everything else was either too heavy or he could build again from scratch.
Then he took one final look around, opened a hatch in the floor and jumped in.
Chapters one week ahead on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino