Clocks went back here, might mean you see this an hour later until you sync with accurate time on the correct plane of existence.Preface from Mooderino
“We are now approaching Elect City Station with full access to all of Elect City’s amenities, accommodation and entertainment venues. Please make sure you take all belongings with you when you leave the shuttle. Thank you for choosing the Ollo Transit System. Life is a journey, please enjoy the rest of yours.”
Ubik listened to the soothing voice welcoming him to the city, which was being ignored by everyone else in the car. They were too busy being shocked and outraged by what he had just revealed to them about their city and the people running it. People they had installed through a democratic process and whom they believed to be acting in the best interest of the citizens. That was their first mistake.
The shuttle was fast approaching the city, its gleaming silver towers about to swallow them up. From the window, Ubik could see the way the buildings had been carefully designed to form a rising peak, tallest at the centre, making the city’s skyline look like a mountain, or maybe a magic castle. Very pretty.
It spoke of a deliberate, careful design. No waste, no excess.
Overhead, the sky was no longer streaked with falling debris. Now there were ships flying in, lots of them. There were probably even more over the spaceport, but these ones were headed directly for the city centre, where there would be landing pads for smaller, wealthier vessels.
Ubik was sure there were going to be a lot more arrivals over the next few hours. There were plenty of interested parties who would want to be stationed close by for when the Tethari asteroid revealed its secrets. Down here, they could prepare and gather information.
“What have you done?” whispered PT. “There’s going to be a riot in here in a minute.”
The other occupants of the car were talking loudly, asking each other questions, demanding answers and making complaints. It made Ubik miss home, the one he had before he’d hidden himself away in a junkyard. There was nothing quite like the crowded conditions of urban living to bring people out of their shells.
“It’s fine,” said Ubik. “They’re just venting.”
It was standing room only and people were jammed together close enough that it was impossible to start any real trouble. Most of them hadn’t been able to see Ubik when he showed them what their government was really up to, and even those who had, couldn’t work their way towards him. If there had been someone in charge, someone to speak for the group, then maybe they would have found a way to separate him from the herd and calmly determine what he knew, how he knew it and what they should do about it.
It was a good thing that wasn’t going to happen because he had mostly made it up on the spot. What they had seen was a very warped version of the truth.
“Hello? Who is this?”
“Marium, is that you? It’s Bari. Wait, you aren’t Marium.”
“It’s me. What do you mean, who? Me. Me.”
They had moved on from shock to wanting to share their outrage with friends and loved ones. But they were quickly discovering that their communication devices weren’t connecting them to the people they wanted to speak to. The devices were insisting the calls were being made to the right person, which technically they were, but everyone was being put through to someone they had never spoken to before.
“You did this, didn’t you?” said PT under his breath. “They’re going to figure out it was you. How does freaking out a moving vehicle full of people help?”
“It could be worse,” said Ubik. “At least we’re on the inside of the moving vehicle and not on the roof.”
PT gave him an odd look. “The more you mess with these people, the more attention you’re going to attract. Wasn’t the idea to keep a low profile and track down Grandma?”
“I don’t know whose idea that was,” said Ubik, “but it wasn’t mine. You’ve got to shake the tree if you want apples for lunch.”
PT was still giving him an odd look. If anything, even odder than before.
“Why can’t I get through?” someone shouted out. “Is anyone else having trouble connecting their calls.”
There were shouts back confirming that others were also experiencing technical difficulties.
“Is it the meteor shower? Has it caused some kind of interference.” Ubik had his hand cupped over his mouth as he offered this theory. “Maybe it’s the government. They’re blocking us from telling anyone else what we found out,” Ubik added in a slightly different voice.
Both his suggestions caused a debate to break out among the passengers. A loud, volatile debate in a confined space. Bodies shifted and bumped into one another as people became flustered and upset.
“I know you want to create confusion,” hissed PT. “I get it. Panic and pandemonium everywhere you go, and you can just slip through the gaps. But if this place was designed by your idol, he’s going to have systems in place to locate troublemakers like you. All these cameras and surveillance and stuff, they’re going to know it was you.”
The shuttle was slowing down as it entered the station, a gleaming white, spotless portal into the heart of the city.
“Please remember your baggages and valuables,” said the soothing voice over the speakers, drowned out by the mild hysteria spreading through the car.
The rest of the cars that made up the shuttle weren’t infected, which was a shame, but it should still be enough. Like PT had said, once there was pandemonium, there was a much better chance of passing by undetected.
“This is nothing,” said Ubik. “Low–level stuff not worth worrying about. They’ll see it as a glitch of some sort, minor bug affecting a tiny proportion of their network. Crossed wires somewhere, that’s all. Nothing’s actually broken, everything’s still up and running, just not quite the way it’s supposed to. They’ll send out a maintenance crew, assure the people they overreacted to nothing more than basic security footage used to provide security and better services. No one really wants to believe their own government is out to get them. That’s just crazy talk.”
“Yeah?” said PT. “They don’t look like maintenance drones to me.” He nodded through the window behind Ubik.
Ubik turned to see drone after drone lined up along the station platform. They indeed did not look like maintenance drones. The armour plating and mounted cannons weren’t going to come in very useful when it came to fixing broken circuits or replacing a power source.
Ubik grinned. A Ramon Ollo city wasn’t going to be a pushover. But then it was still a city and a city was the sum of its parts. Ramon Ollo could only provide the outer structure and the infrastructure, he couldn’t do much about the occupants.
“Okay, please remain calm everyone, we’re here now,” said Ubik, raising his voice. “Nothing to worry about. These government drones will take you away for questioning, nothing too invasive. I suggest you be as cooperative as possible, no matter what they threaten you with.”
The expected pandemonium arrived, at maximum volume. Some people had correctly identified Ubik as the source of their troubles, but there were too many people shouting and screaming to allow any sort of concerted attack towards him. The restricted space, the agitated commuters, the confusing situation no one had expected to be in, it was all too much.
These people weren’t capable of organising themselves like that. It was the way they had been trained, without being aware of it, by their rulers. There was no reason why they should be the only ones to benefit.
The shuttle stopped and the doors slid open. Everyone in the car burst out in an explosive rush, eager to not get caught up in whatever this was. They didn’t want to know, they didn’t care what was happening in shadowy government departments, they only longed for their ignorance to be restored and to be left alone.
The drones quickly moved in to contain them, ignoring their protests.
Ubik waited until everyone else had disembarked. The other cars were also emptying and many of the other passengers paused to watch was happening, and then hurried away to avoid getting involved.
“Now what?” said PT.
“If we had more time, I’d go have a look around this marvel of modern technology. They probably do tours.”
“No,” said PT, “I mean, how are we going to get past the riot drones?”
“Them? Oh, you know, walk.”
Ubik headed to the side of the cordon of large drones keeping the agitated crowd pinned in one area of the platform as they conducted checks. The drone hovering at this end rotated its head section to look at Ubik as he approached.
“Welcome, Colonel Toaku,” said the drone in a deferential manner. “Would you like me to send for your car?”
“No, it’s fine,” said Ubik. “I think I’ll walk. Such a nice day.”
“As you wish, sir.” The drone moved aside to let Ubik passed. As PT approached, it moved back in the way, cannon pointing at his head.
“She’s with me,” said Ubik.
“My apologies, miss.” The drone moves aside and PT hurried past.
“Who’s Colonel Toaku?”
“No idea,” said Ubik. “Must be a case of mistaken identity.”
“And who is Janeane Ingwe?”
Ubik gave PT a sideways glance. “Never heard of her. Your new love interest? What about the Seneca girls? You’re kind of a slut, PT.”
They were walking through the main concourse now, the crowds of people uninterested in two visitors. The floor lit up with useful information and adverts for local hotels and restaurants.
“How did you know that would happen?” said PT. “How did you know those people would react like that? They should have grabbed you and demanded answers but they just went nuts.”
“Look around,” said Ubik. “This whole place, the way it’s built, the cleanliness, the lines, the angles — I mean, the angles — this world is heavily suppressed and restricted so it can operate at optimal levels. That sort of efficiency comes at a price. Human nature can’t be squashed like that and not squeeze out at the edges, you know?”
“No, I don’t know,” said PT. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
They exited the building into bright sunshine. The towers had been specially constructed to reflect light in a way that illuminated the streets with hardly any shadows burying the streets in darkness as would be normal with such huge structures looming opposite each other.
People were walking, vehicles were hovering, drones were flying overhead. Ubik let out a long breath. This felt far better than floating around in a tiny spaceship. There was something about being on a planet, feet rooted to the ground without the need for any assistance, that was natural.
“This is so much better than floating through space,” he said.
“We’re still floating through space,” said PT.
“Okay, there’s no need to be pedantic,” said Ubik. “I can already tell you’re going to fit in here just great. Let’s get a ride out to the Ollo place.”
There were cabs lined up at a rank, waiting for people as they left the station. They approached one and a screen popped up next to the front window. There was no driver.
“Oh,” said Ubik, after he had input the details of where he wanted to go.
“What?” said PT.
“It’s a bit further than I thought. We can’t afford the fare to the Ollo place.”
“We have to walk?”
“We could,” said Ubik. “It would take us a few days. It’s on the other side of the planet.”
PT shook his head. “Not even the right hemisphere.”
“We were falling out of the sky,” said Ubik.
“Can’t you just…” PT wiggled his fingers in the direction of the cab.
“No,” said Ubik. “Someone would notice.”
“Oh, now you’re worried about getting noticed.”
“Haven’t you noticed the increased traffic up there?” Ubik looked up. “The locals I can handle, but the new arrivals aren’t going to be that easy to fool.”
PT was staring up at the sky. “Bounty hunters or corporate raiders?”
“Both. And others. We need to get some money, local currency, and we need to use legitimate forms of transport so we don’t stand out.”
“And how do we do that?” said PT.
Ubik looked around, and saw the answer staring back at him. “You know those squeezed out bits at the edges I was talking about?”
PT followed his gaze. At the other end of the street was a large building with a screen out front showing the same fighting videos as the ones back at the spaceport.
“I told you, I’m not fighting.”
“But you’re Janeane, now. You can enter the women’s category.”
“I think someone might notice.”
“Not the registration drones, they’ll see you for who you are.”
“I knew you made me female for a reason. I’m not going to beat up a bunch of women for you, Ubik.”
“I like your confidence. Apparently, gender equality has yet to make it out to the Second Quadrant.”
“I’m sure there are some very able fighters in the women’s division. I’ve seen the Seneca Corps at work, I have no illusions about how hard they could thrash me. But there’s no way we’d get away with it.”
“We don’t have to. We just need to get in the door. Don’t you think it’s strange there’s such a massive fighting arena in a city as advanced and civilised as this one? Come with me, Miss Ingwe. Let me show you how a city works from underneath.”
He set off towards the arena. He didn’t have to look back to know PT was a couple steps behind him.