The White Palace.
Figaro looked at Mackus’ corpse and tried to separate what he was feeling from what he needed to do.
The snapped neck put the head at an unsettling angle; the open mouth with hanging tongue created a foolish appearance; the glazed, unseeing eyes managed to accuse Figaro from beyond the veil. A poor ending for a proud man.
Figaro pushed the thought aside. Things were still far from resolved and a clear head was a necessity.
Standing over the body was a duplicate Mackus, feet straddling his own progenitor.
Figaro scanned the screen to the left of the Holover. There was a sonogram of a human heart beating. Blood vessels attached to it were filled with flowing blood. The nervous system, the lymphatic system, the organs and tissues were all held in the network, but the readings were operating independently, or so it appeared. Figaro had never seen a Holover this detailed. He wondered if his father had made one of these of him. Or of himself.
The copy was perfectly identical and showed all the obvious signs of life. Chest falling and rising, nostrils flaring slightly, eyes wet with moisture, pupils reacting to light. It could probably walk around if necessary.
According to the network’s parameters printed on the screen, the Holover would last indefinitely, responding to any and all attempts to verify Mackus’ status. A scan with a handheld medical device or a long-range probe from orbit, the result would be the same. Mackus was alive and in robust health, as far as the universe was concerned. Figaro looked down at the sorry-looking crumpled heap on the floor and frowned.
“He took the risk,” said Ganesh. “He would be the last one to complain about the result.”
“I know,” said Figaro. “He was family, though. I would like to give him a decent farewell, but I don’t have the time. It feels… disrespectful.”
Ganesh snorted air out of his nose in a dismissive manner. “Respect is earned, Figaro. And lost. He went too far.”
“Yes, but he was right,” said Figaro. “I don’t have the obligatory ruthlessness to do what’s necessary. To lead. There will be people far more vicious than him I will have to face. I can’t afford to hesitate, or to be merciful. Father would never have. Nor my mother.”
“Your parents aren’t the best people to use as examples.”
“And neither did you.”
“I am not the best example, either. We are the product of our experiences, not all of them laudable. You have yet to have yours. They will shape you in ways you can not yet imagine. Perhaps you will fall short of your potential, but now is not the time to consider such matters that you have no control over. You did well, Figaro. I can’t say for certain your father would be proud of you, and I have even less idea how the mind of your mother works, but I can tell you I am proud of you. And immensely grateful. To you and to your friends.”
They looked over at the other two. Ubik was stuffing sandwiches into his mouth from a tray carried by a drone Figaro had sent for. At the same time, he was taking apart the two drones Mackus had used, putting some pieces in his pockets and tossing others aside.
PT was eating at a slower rate but he was carefully moving some sandwiches to one side of the tray, and slapping Ubik’s grasping hand away if they came too close.
Figaro returned his attention to the board and switched the main screen to Dr Yune’s laboratory. The doctor was lying on the table as before.
“What will you do with him?” asked Ganesh. “Kill him? He wouldn’t be aware of it.”
“No, I need him to remove this.” Figaro held up his wrist. The bracelet was half-buried in his flesh, the skin around it inflamed. “But it will have to wait until I return with Father.” He turned some dials and changed the numbers on the screen around the doctor’s body. He couldn’t remove the drugs already in the doctor’s blood, but he could add to them. “Until then, the doctor’s trip will be extended by another seventy-two hours. That should be long enough.”
“Will he survive that long?”
“I’m not sure, but if anyone can, it would be him.” Figaro confirmed the settings and activated the network’s acquisition of the doctor’s medical systems. The doctor would be under for five days now. If they weren’t back by then, he would wake up, theoretically. He might not be quite the same man he once was, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“You will go up to the asteroid now?” said Ganesh.
“You gave him complete control of your father’s network. You trust him that much?” The curve of one eyebrow suggested Ganesh questioned the soundness of the idea.
“No,” said Figaro. “It isn’t about trust. It’s about… need. He is the best person to rely on for now. Later… we’ll see. There’s a balance between the three of us. I can’t really explain it.”
“I would come with you, but…”
Ganesh looked at the Holover simulacrum of Mackus. “Even if they aren’t in immediate danger, who knows for how long? I have to find them.”
“I know,” said Figaro. “Do you have any idea where Mackus would hide them?”
Ganesh shook his head. “He knows me too well, and his thinking was always too elaborate for me to follow. I’m sure your friend would find me painfully simple.”
Ubik was distracting PT with tronic parts while surreptitiously switching sandwiches whose fillings he had eaten with the ones PT had reserved for later.
“Probably,” said Figaro. “But he relies on people’s confusion to get things past them. You would be able to choke him out before he got the chance.”
The image brought a smile to Ganesh’s lips, as Figaro had known it would.
“Mackus, respond,” said a voice over the speaker. “Six-hour check-in. Respond, please.”
“I’ll get it,” said Ubik through a mouthful of food, running to the nearest console. “I linked up all of Mackus’s implants to the network. I’ll get them to reveal their location.”
Ubik pressed down on a round button and it popped out of its fitting. He pulled it up, extending a rod from underneath. He brought it up to mouth-height and spoke into it.
“Hello, there. Where you be?” The words came out of the Holover’s mouth, in Mackus’ voice, if he was in the middle of eating.
“Mackus? Is that you?”
Figaro pushed Ubik aside and spoke into the microphone. “Here. Verify. Password sequence, begin.”
This time, the Holover spoke crisply, with the same unequivocal tone as the original.
A stream of numbers and symbols appeared across the screen above the console, some changing colours, others rotating. Figaro’s hands moved quickly, instructing the network to analyse the sequence, cross-reference it with all of Mackus’ previous codes, factoring in any messages within his private database, which was now accessible, thanks to Ubik.
The network sent back a response code. Probability of success was 97.3%, which was decent.
“Confirmed,” said the voice. “Moving targets to secondary location.”
“Wait,” said Figaro. “There’s been a change from the cardinal configuration. The boy has brought in a hacker. He’s an idiot but he’s lucky.” Ubik looked like he was about to protest, but then reconsidered as though accepting the description as fair. “If you see any unusual activity on the board, assume it’s him. Do not engage. I repeat — do not engage.”
“Confirmed. We’ll switch to Contingency A.”
“No,” said Figaro. “They have the network running analysis. Consider all safe locations compromised. Take them to an off-site.”
“Yes, sir. We’ll take them to—”
“No. Don’t confirm.” Figaro had interrupted angrily. “Move. Active-silence.”
The signal broke off.
“You stopped him before he told us where he was going,” said PT.
“I know where they’re going,” said Figaro. “I know how Mackus trained them to think. He trained me the same way. Behind enemy lines to an area already cleared. They’ll return to Ganesh’s home and replace the security detail already there. They’ll become their own hunters. Makes it a lot easier to evade capture. Of course, there won’t be a detail there.” He turned to Ganesh. “Just you.”
“Thank you,” said Ganesh. “All of you. I will see you when you return.” He didn’t wait for a response and hurried towards the doors. They didn’t open.
“Let him out,” shouted Ubik. The doors slid aside and Ganesh left with a small wave.
“How many of them will he be up against?” asked PT.
“Six. Ganesh won’t have any trouble. Not even if there were sixty.”
“I don’t see why you had to take over,” said Ubik. “My impersonation of Mackus was flawless.”
“You sounded nothing like him,” said PT.
“Were you not paying attention? That was exactly how he spoke.” He leaned over the microphone. “‘I’m in charge, I am. Everyone do as I say.’”
The Holover put one hand on its hip and pointed at PT.
“See?” said Ubik. He took a sandwich off the tray the drone had brought over and bit into it. Then he frowned and opened the sandwich to find it had no filling. He looked over at PT, who now had his personal supply of sandwiches sitting on the console next to him.
“I wonder if Ramon Ollo protected the network from crumbs,” mused Ubik.
“I doubt it,” said Figaro. “He never allowed anyone to eat in here. I’ll probably be grounded once he finds out. If you’ve both finished, perhaps we can go find him.”
The screen flickered, showing a stream of data, but this time it was all words and identification protocols.
“This is the Central Authority. Security certification is available for review. Ollo compound, respond.
“This is Mackus D’Livia,” said Figaro, brusque and off-hand. “What do you want?”
“Request access to—”
“Denied. Where were you when the Seneca Corps were threatening to extinguish our world?”
“The Central Authority followed Treaty 7 guidelines, as required by—”
“Are you fully automated? Is there a Guardian on-site?”
“There is currently no—”
“Then I don’t want to hear from you again until there is, as agreed in Treaty 19.”
“Treaty 19 also states that in the event of no Guardian being available within a range of—”
“What about the Guardian on the Nirvana? Are they dead?”
“Guardian Tezla has been recovered. She is in stasis.”
“Then thaw her out, and then you can request access.” Figaro cut off the communication.
“Nice,” said Ubik. “Kid’s got a way with drones. Could probably teach me a thing or two.”
PT rolled his eyes.
Figaro looked at the Holover of Mackus, which was staring resolutely forward. “Thanks. It’s only slightly worrying that I can get more done when I’m pretending to be him than when I’m myself.”
“Don’t let it bother you,” said PT. “We’re all going to wind up dead long before we can develop our own methods for dealing with these kinds of situations. Borrowing his methods is perfectly acceptable.”
“Feel free to borrow mine,” said Ubik.
“That will only see us dead a lot sooner,” said PT.
“The evidence suggests otherwise,” said Ubik. “Having said that, this prototype ship of your dad’s hasn’t been tested yet, and has never been in space. But don’t worry, I’ve read a lot of books on flying. Shouldn’t be too hard to pick up.”
“Wait,” said PT, gathering up his sandwiches and keeping them out of Ubik’s reach. “You don’t know how to fly this thing?”
“Strictly speaking, I’ve never flown a ship of this type. Or any ship. But how hard can it be?”
“I’ll fly it,” said Figaro.
“But—” said Ubik.
“Shut up and do what you’re told,” snapped Mackus’ Holover.
“Alright, alright,” said Ubik. As they left the control room, Ubik leaned closer to PT. “Those two are more alike than he thinks.”
“We’ll see,” said PT. “Now give me back the sandwich you just lifted.” He held out his hand.
Ubik looked hurt by the accusation. Then he gave back the sandwich.
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