Figaro Ollo Spaceport.
It took an hour of walking before they saw the spaceport and, in the distance, the outline of a city. Point–Two had used the time to get acclimatised to the new gravity. He figured it was a little over standard, maybe 1.1 Gs. If this was where Fig had been born and raised, it would make him a little tougher, a little more solid, than the regular person.
A little more than standard had its advantages; a lot over made it much more difficult to adapt to new environments. People from planets with a gravity of 1.5 Gs or more rarely travelled off-world, and their ships were configured to maintain a heavy grav count at all times, which was expensive. Most heavy–G worlds were rich with ores and minerals, so they could afford it, but heavy-landers didn’t like to leave their comfortable, clingy homes. He had seen a man from one of the Ingot Belt planets get caught in a G-out, suddenly floating inside a mining ship, in no danger whatsoever, completely lose control of his senses, screaming and soiling himself as though he’d fallen off the side of a mountain and was plummeting to his death. A person’s reaction depended on what they were used to.
Only after Point–Two had spent an hour or so jumping and skipping and going through his well-honed routines, did he begin to feel like he would be able to handle himself in this new environment if (more likely when) problems arose. He had ignored the looks Ubik had given him. He had also ignored the mocking imitation Ubik had performed next to him, the two of them skipping side by side through the open fields.
They spotted the spaceport as they reached the top of a gentle rise, the many ships lined up, the adjacent parking lot full of vehicles. Usually, a medium–sized port like this one, handling hundreds of flights a day, would be a finely–choreographed dance of ships taking-off and landing, but there were no departures or arrivals as the two of them watched from the hill. Parts of the Nirvana were still falling from above, although not so many as before, so the spaceport was probably closed until the all-clear.
“I can’t believe he has a spaceport named after him,” said Ubik. The large sign over the main building was brightly lit and constructed to be read from any angle. Figaro Ollo Spaceport. “He didn’t seem the type.”
“I expect he wasn’t consulted,” said Point–Two. Proud, rich parents enjoying their pride and their richness, nothing too unusual about that.
“Okay,” said Ubik, as he set off down the hill towards civilisation, “here’s the plan. We get inside the spaceport and walk out like tourists here for the wide, open vistas and sizzling hot chicks, or possibly, the wide, open chicks and the sizzling hot vistas. Couple of nobodies passing through, spaceport’s full of them, nobody will give us a second look. Then, the first thing we need to sort out is food and water. Then money. We may need money first, in order to obtain food and water. Play it by ear, yeah? Then we need to find out where the Ollo residence is. If they’ve named every building after themselves, it might be a bit tricky to work out which one Fig’s in. Luckily, we can track him down through Grandma, assuming she’s still close to him. Then—”
“How do we get past the fence?” asked Point–Two. It was all very well planning for the future, but they had the rather more immediate problem of the endless fence that stretched around the spaceport. It wasn’t particularly high, and most likely they could go all the way around to an entrance, but there would be security and questions and quite possibly a bulletin from VendX containing pictures with details of the sizeable reward.
“Climb over it,” said Ubik, like it wasn’t even worth worrying about.
“Won’t they have cameras and drones and sensor arrays?” asked Point–Two.
“Oh, sure,” said Ubik. “All of the above. But look at this place. I mean, it’s okay, Grade 2 security, I’d guess, maybe Grade 3, but it’s a basic civilian facility. They’re not expecting any trouble, nothing major. These fences are just here to let the groundskeeper know how far he needs to cut the grass.”
Point–Two wasn’t convinced. The fence looked clean and well–maintained. In his experience, spaceports had their own security teams who were bored enough to respond to even the smallest chance that something untoward was happening on their watch. If they triggered any kind of alarm, they could expect an investigatory drone or two at the very least.
“Don’t worry,” said Ubik, as they approached the fence, “I do this sort of thing all the time — restricted areas are my jam. The trick is to figure out the pattern they use, and then slip through the cracks.”
“And how long do you need to figure out the pattern?”
“Already have,” said Ubik. He started running. “Quick, we’ve only got a couple of seconds.” He scrambled up the wall.
Point–Two ran after him.
“Wait,” said Ubik, sitting on top of the wall, hand out. “Okay, now.” He dropped down on the other side.
Point–Two scrambled up. It was an easy enough climb, but he had no idea where the cameras were. When he reached the top, Ubik was crouched in the medium–length grass which looked like it needed cutting. “Okay, jump.”
Point–Two did as he was instructed and landed next to Ubik. He had no idea how Ubik knew when and where to go in order to avoid being spotted, or even if there was any security. It wouldn’t be beyond Ubik to pretend they were evading a non–existent alarm system just to amuse himself.
In any case, there was no one rushing to apprehend them, so whatever it was Ubik had done, it had worked.
“Okay, now the secret to not getting rumbled,” said Ubik, “is to act like you belong and you’re too busy to be interfered with.” He stood up and walked across the open area towards the main building like he was late for an important meeting.
Point–Two jumped up and fell in behind him, checking an imaginary watch on his wrist.
They made it to the main building without being stopped. A drone had hurried past them on some errand or other without sparing them a glance, and there were people working around the ships sitting on their pads, appearing just as busy as Ubik and him. Maybe they were pretending, too.
They walked through sliding doors that opened and welcomed them into the reception building. The climate–controlled interior at once reminded Point–Two of home, the clean, sterile air not full of scents and odours like the open world. He much preferred it when his senses weren’t being bombarded from all directions.
“Right,” said Ubik. “Where is it?”
There were a lot more people here, although none of them paid any attention to the newest arrivals. There was an air of general agitation and discontent. Point–Two could sense the frustration coming off these people in waves. They were stuck here, unable to head off to wherever it was they wished to go, or waiting interminably for late arrivals that still weren’t up on the board.
Signs and screens were everywhere, all offering apologies and vague promises of fixes coming soon. It was nothing new for a spaceport to have delays and logistical problems. There were always logistical problems, but usually there was some obvious reason for it. Random objects falling out of the sky wasn’t normal.
“There,” said Ubik, rushing off towards a kiosk with an information symbol hovering over it.
It was a spaceport, so information kiosks were to be expected. People rarely used them, though. Either people already knew what they needed to know, or they had employed better methods. Tourists arriving for their first visit would have downloaded everything they needed into their ocular implants.
But the kiosk had a terminal. What Ubik could extract from their database was bound to be more than the average traveller’s hotel inquiries.
Point–Two hurried to catch up, eager to see what method Ubik would use to bring the spaceport under his personal control.
Ubik was flashing through page after page of promotional material on the horizontal screen. Where to go, what to see, how much fun you could have renting a boat or a hot air balloon. He seemed to be looking for something specific.
After about ten minutes, Point–Two felt compelled to ask what.
“Not sure, not sure,” mumbled Ubik. “I’ll know it when I see it.”
Another couple of minutes elapsed.
“Can’t you use this terminal to access the spaceport’s mainframe?”
Ubik gave him a withering glance. “Not unless I build a network system connecting the two. This is just an information kiosk.” He pointed at the symbol hanging over them.
“Then what’s the point?” asked Point–Two, a little annoyed at being treated like he was the one wasting Ubik’s time.
“We need to find a way to make money, and quick.”
“Why?” said Point–Two. He understood the need for food and water, but it seemed like there was more to it than that.
“Because whatever Fig’s got himself mixed up in, we won’t be able to go to the people in authority and ask them for the details, obviously.”
“Obviously,” agreed Point–Two.
“But that’s fine. There are other ways, and I happen to know quite a lot about them. Any planet you go to, it’s the same, the people are the same. There’s the ones at the top, who have everything and do everything they can to keep it, and then there’s the ones at the bottom, who know the rules are bent out of shape and put there to keep them in their place. So they work out ways to bend them a bit more so they can get round them too, just like the people at the top.”
“What has that got to do with checking out the local tourist hot spots?”
“Nothing. But the people who are going to help us find out what we need to know aren’t going to help us for free. And they aren’t going to want to be paid in traceable standard currency, either. Which is lucky because we haven’t got any. But they will take local currency, which every planet has because every planet wants to be able to move money around without the people at the top skimming their cut off of it. Hard currency, coins. Can’t just yoink it out of a computer, you have to dig it out of their pockets while they punch you in the face. People like that, the ones I’m talking about. They like the idea they have a chance to hold onto what’s theirs as long as they can beat you to death first. They like the idea that rich guys who want to take it get nervous when they have to rob you face to face. Seems like a much better option than hiring a tax lawyer.”
Point–Two felt a bit lost. He understood that people wanted money, and they wanted to keep control of it after they got it, but what had that to do with anything? How was Ubik going to make money with an information kiosk?
“Here, here, this will do. Look.” Ubik turned the screen so it was angled towards Point–Two. There was an advertisement for some kind of show with muscled men wearing skimpy clothing.
Ubik slid his finger across the screen and the volume went up.
“...fighting for their lives in the arena,” said an over–excited voice. “The victor wins a million Kachwa and the world championship crown for—”
“This is some kind of wrestling contest,” said Point–Two. “What do you want to do? Bet on it? It’s probably all staged.”
“No, not bet on it. Participate. A million Kachwa!”
“You want to fight?”
“Not me,” said Ubik. “I’ve seen you fight. You’ve got moves.”
“We’ll cheat. You just have to do what I tell you.”
“But look…” Ubik angled the screen again.
“...augmented warriors without limits…” Now the screen showed men with robotic limbs punching through walls.
“I could make you a brilliant prosthetic. We don’t have any money but I’m sure I could slap something together out of a couple of drones.” He looked at cleaning drone that scurried past them, scooping up litter.
“I don’t want a robot arm, thanks. I like mine, both of them.”
“Not a replacement, an augmentation,” said Ubik. “Look, you don’t even have to win. The people running this thing, I bet they know all sorts of underworld figures. Exactly who we need to speak to. We enter you in a couple of minor bouts, get their attention, we’re in the door.”
“Do you not recall what happened last time you tried to outsmart a crime boss? Terrific JonJo, ring any bells. Guy who’s going to kill you on sight.”
“Not if he can’t find me,” said Ubik.
“No,” said Point–Two. “I can’t fight like this.” Two men were slicing at each other with electric saw attachments on their robot arms. “It’s not even real. They’re actors, it’s a show.”
“One million Kachwa!” boomed the announcer. “But the mayhem doesn’t end there. Introducing the anti–grav battledome.”
The picture switched to two women inside a glass cage, floating, acrobatically charging each other.
Point–Two stopped to stare. “On the other hand...”
Ubik snatched the screen back to face him. “Ah, no, that won’t work.”
“Why not? I think I could—”
“It’s a women–only contest.”
“What? How is that fair?”
“Although,” said Ubik, “cutting bits off is a lot cheaper than adding them on.”
“I’m not going to pretend to be a woman.”
“Pretend?” said Ubik.
“Look, we have to get money and a lot of it. How else are we going to find… oh.”
Ubik turned the screen back.
“The White Palace, home to the Ollo Dynasty. The Grand Exhibition Hall where you can see the greatest inventions of Ramon Ollo, with Ramon Ollo himself as your personal guide.”
A ghostly hologram of Ramon Ollo appeared, jumping out of the screen. “Welcome and please join me as we journey through the wonders of the modern age.”
“Open to the public every day. Entry fee, sixty Kachwa.”
“Sixty Kachwa,” said Ubik. “That should be doable. Follow me. Time to make a small withdrawal from my VendX account.”