Elect City Battle Arenod™.
Ubik was seated in a large comfortable chair in a waiting area full of potted plants with shiny fronds. He had his legs crossed, one boot resting on a knee, and he was slowly sinking into the plush foam padding.
The walls were covered in hyper–definition screens that showed a forest setting with small animals jumping in and out of frame. The room had an aesthetic that gave you an idea of the kind of business you were getting involved with.
Ubik liked it. Survival of the fittest. Law of the jungle. Eat the competition.
The drone that had brought him here was hovering at his side, gently bobbing up and down. That was usually an indication that the drone was nearing the end of its serviceable life. Once the stabilisers went, it was generally considered too expensive to replace them — might as well get a new drone.
But this drone was already decades old, if not older. Someone had gone to great lengths to keep it running, and in excellent condition. No dents or scratches on the casing, no whiff of lubricant leaks or smell of burning servo oil like you would get with most older models. Ubik wasn’t even sure what make of drone it was, there was no obvious branding.
“Hey, how long have you been working here?”
Ubik waited for a reply but the drone ignored him. He could tell it had heard him from the way the lights around its middle had reacted to his voice.
He peered up and under the drone.
“Service model 390 dash 141 dash 812, operational history.”
“One hundred and twelve years, ten months, four days, eight hours, four minutes and thirty–six seconds, standard.”
It wasn’t ignoring him, it just pre–dated casual conversation simulation. Over a century old and still functioning. And still with its serial number as its primary access code. Someone liked to keep things nice and simple. Ubik very much approved.
“Service model 390 dash 141 dash 812, release docking cable.”
Older models usually had hardwired access ports, although his experience was with ‘older’ being around twenty years old. Something stretching back this far, who knew? A wire dropped out of the bottom of the drone and extended all the way to the ground.
Ubik looked to see if anyone was around. The drone had told him to wait here about ten minutes ago. He expected to be made to wait quite some time. This was a business establishment and in business, you put people in their place.
But this was quite an unusual place of business, so he made sure he wasn’t about to be interrupted.
Keeping an eye on the only other door apart from the one he’d entered, he grabbed the cable and stuck the end into the heel of his right boot balanced on his left knee.
Delgados had a very useful recharging function. They could connect to any known size and shape of connector pin, including proprietary ones, via a universal jack that numerous manufacturers had tried to get banned. Delgados had proven impossible to sue in court because no one knew where their head office was. Through a complex legal process, they were the only company in the galaxy that didn’t exist within any legal jurisdiction.
Of course, Ubik wasn’t trying to power up the drone next to him, he was uploading a few minor and harmless lines of code. He had made a few modifications to his Delgados over the years, something the company strongly discouraged, although it didn’t void the lifetime warranty for some reason.
Ubik put his foot down sharply and the cable went snapping back into the drone with a whipping sound. He stood up, careful to put himself between the drone and the man who had suddenly appeared from another door that hadn’t been there a second ago.
“Nice to meet you. Hari S Bantam. Nice to meet you. Oh, I think I said that already. I’m a bit nervous, sorry. Never been in a place this fancy, with all these modern technological marvels.” He was speaking very fast and very loudly to cover any sounds the drone behind him was making. “We don’t have anything like this stuff where I hail from. Nice to meet you.” He stuck out a hand.
The man, who was tall and broad and wearing a black suit with metal stripes running down it, smiled and shook Ubik’s hand. His right eye twinkled, literally. His ocular implant was scanning Ubik.
The trouble with a society that relied so heavily on implants was that people became used to relying on them. They developed a kind of blindness. They stopped doubting what they saw because the implants were never wrong. It came in very useful when it came to convincing them of things that weren’t true.
“Oh, no need to be nervous Mr Bantam.”
“Hari. We all have to start somewhere. I’m Ghee Parvel. If you’d come with me.”
Ghee looked confident and in control, and why not? He was dealing with a rustic off–worlder, the advantages were all his. Ubik glanced back at the drone. Its lights were flashing furiously as its operating systems were being rewritten.
“This way.” Ghee was holding the door open, which was very quaint. A door you had to hold open with your hand. The whole place was from a different era.
Through the door was an office. It was long and thin and there was a table with two chairs on opposite sides.
There was a screen on the far wall showing a large auditorium with a ring in the centre of a lot of seats. There were some women training or rehearsing, possibly dancing.
There were no computer consoles in the room or tronic devices that Ubik could see. Normally, that meant they were discreetly hidden and would slide out of the floor or the walls, like on the Nirvana, but in this case Ubik was fairly certain that wouldn’t be the case.
“If you’d like to take a seat,” said Ghee, indicating a chair with the slate he was holding. “Now, it says here you’ve been in the fight game for ten years. I have to say, you don’t look old enough.”
Ubik sat down and waved away the comment like he was embarrassed by the flattery. “It’s the long orbit and thick atmosphere on Phledo, we all look like kids. Skincare companies hate us.”
Ubik had put down one of the nearby moons as his and Point–Two’s home. He had gained a lot of local knowledge from the Central Authority ship and was something of an expert on the three moons that circled Enaya on giant orbits taking several years to complete a single rotation.
None of the moons were heavily populated and served as food suppliers for Enaya. Their people were considered country bumpkins and Ubik was happy to play up the role.
“I’m afraid I’m not too familiar with Phledo,” said Ghee. “And our files don’t seem to have been updated recently, either.”
Ubik knew that, too. The poor communication between the moons and Enaya had also been conveyed to him. The Nirvana had done a thorough analysis of all communication arrays in the region to determine the best route to send for assistance. Phledo had come bottom of the list.
“No worries,” said Ubik. “We don’t have a lot going on. Couple of small urban centres, one fighting arena. Not much to update you about.”
“I’m sure it’s very pleasant,” said Ghee. “And you arrived today? Must have been… difficult.”
“Yeah, and then some. So many vehicles everywhere, and so many people. Don’t know how you people manage to get anything done with so much stuff in the way.”
“No, I meant with the meteor storm.”
“Oh, that. That was nothing. We get them on Phledos all the time. You just got to dodge out of the way before one hits you.”
Ghee nodded, a look of mild amusement on his face. “Look, Hari, I have to tell you, normally we only audition new fighters during the off–season. We have a pretty full roster and it’s very competitive. But your application for this young lady…” He looked down at the slate. “Janeane Ingwe. I have to say it caught my eye.”
Ubik wasn’t surprised. He had loaded the application form with a bunch of optimised keywords to make sure their system would flag this particular out–of–season application as top tier.
But Janeane Ingwe wasn’t just a local prodigy of the fight game, she had a CQ of twenty–three percent, although you’d only know that if you ran a diagnostic on the DNA scan Ubik had supplied. It was the one he’d used to get himself into the Free Volunteers Guild, with a slight adjustment to boost the numbers.
Fight Legends Elect Management had just stumbled onto a gold mine. Their fighters might not be able to employ organics, but the company that ran the Battle Arenod also owned Total Elite Protec, which supplied bodyguards to the rich and powerful. The headache the Nirvana had given him had been worth it for all the little info–packets that now resided in Ubik’s head.
Women with high CQs were hardest to get hold of since the Seneca Corps tended to hoover them all up, so a discovery like Janeane Ingwe was a valuable find.
“She has some really impressive, ah, DNA markers. We use very sophisticated measurements to assess our fighter, and Ms Ingwe shows a lot of potential, with the right training.”
“That’s wonderful. Janeane will be so happy to hear that. She’s always so shy about her skills, you know, very humble, thinks her wins are all down to luck. This will really help boost her confidence.”
“But…” said Ghee, “I have to tell you we would want to buy out your contract. There are no shared deals here, we own all our fighters.”
He was lying, FLEM owned hardly any of the fighters who fought here. Consortiums and private gyms competed under licence and FLEM took a cut of every bout. But they would make an exception for Janeane Ingwe.
“Sure, of course,” said Ubik. “That’s why I’m here. I’ve taken Janeane as far as I can, she needs proper coaching now, top–level stuff. You make me a fair offer, and she’s all yours.”
There was a glimmer in Ghee’s eye. His ocular implant was going crazy, probably relaying information up the chain of command. The bumpkin was ready to deal and they hadn’t even had to twist his arm. Ghee was doing his best to suppress a smirk, but it wasn’t going well.
“That’s great. I’m sure we can come to an understanding. I think, if you let me, I can convince my people to go as high as… one hundred thousand. That’s in standard currency.”
“Nope,” said Ubik firmly, shaking his hands like they’d been scolded with hot water. “No can do. Sorry.”
“No? It’s too—”
“No standard currency. I’ll only take payment in Kachwa. Real money, that’s all I deal in. One hundred thousand Kachwa.”
Ghee’s face was stuck in an expression of shock. He couldn’t believe his luck. “You want local currency?”
“In cash,” said Ubik. “Non–negotiable.”
There was a pause as the realisation that this was going to be an even bigger payday than he’d realised slowly filtered into Ghee’s brain. Then he sprang to his feet. “One hundred thousand Kachwa, I don’t know, it’s a lot. I’ll need to speak to my boss.”
“Ninety thousand, that’s as low as I’ll go,” said Ubik.
Ghee was beaming. “I just, ah, I mean, I think...”
“In cash,” said Ubik. “Not signing anything until I see the cash.” He folded his arms across his chest.
“Of course,” said Ghee. “I can see you’re no stranger to making deals. You drive a hard bargain, Mr Bantam.”
“Hari. People who pay me in cash get to call me Hari.”
“You wait right here, Hari. I’ll get you your money, just leave it to me. Five minutes.”
“Sure, sure. Can you put it in a bag?”
“Absolutely. I’ll use one of the ones in our gift shop, free of charge.” He ran to the door, skipping a little with joy.
Ubik watched him prance out of the room. He would have liked to have negotiated the price even lower, that much money would be heavy. In any case, Janeane was about to become the cheapest high–level CQ signing of all time.
Ubik rose from the chair and went over to the screen. PT was now in the ring with a tall woman who looked very strong and quite angry. The acting was impressive. These people really knew how to put on a show. The two of them were flying around the ring, smashing into the sides. PT seemed to be doing most of the colliding. It looked very realistic..
PT wasn’t supposed to do any fighting but he seemed to be fitting in well. One of the girls. The tall woman had her thighs wrapped around PT’s neck, now, which looked uncomfortable, unless you were into that sort of thing.
Ubik pressed the bottom of the screen and pushed out the console. It was a standard monitor, not an antique, so Ubik was able to figure out the controls quite easily. He switched channels to an exterior shot of the building. As expected, a grey–market enterprise like this one had excellent lookout drones, nicely positioned, full coverage. There were spotters on the roofs across the street and security personnel lying in wait at all the exit points. That hadn’t taken long.
What Ubik needed was a private way out. Once he got the money from Ghee, it shouldn’t prove too difficult to get access to the tunnels under the arena.
“Here we are, Mr Ubik.”
Ubik turned around slowly. Ghee was standing with two very large, very muscled men. For such big men, they had come in very quietly.
“Sorry?” said Ubik.
“We know who you are,” said Ghee. “The city’s security forces are very keen to talk to you, it would seem. But the VendX bounty on your head is very tempting. Who do we give you to?”
Ubik smiled. The drone from outside rose from behind the men. Nice of them to bring it in with them.
“Can I have some time to think about it?” said Ubik.
“No,” said the drone, “I don’t think so.”