5: Escape Routes


Collection Zone E4-J


Ubik didn’t expect to get away unnoticed. There was no way to avoid all the drones, and they weren’t dumb enough to all go investigate a loud noise. Things collapsed or exploded all the time. Acid ate its way through metal, fibreglass and polycarbon, creating collisions and igniting fires. The drones dealt with them without making a fuss.

Ubik preferred to deal with as few drones as possible and splitting them up was his strategy for making sure he wasn’t targeted from multiple directions.

He ran without looking back, knowing he was being followed. There was a buzzing sound up and to the left. Possibly two of them.

His home wasn’t just a mound of trash, it consisted of valleys and pits, also. Occasionally, a shift in weight would bring a large hole into existence where none had existed before. It wasn’t too hard to recognise where the weaknesses were — you could feel the ground give as you ran over it. Speed was Ubik’s friend, and often his saviour. Strength was a fine attribute to have in life, but speed kept you alive and in the race.

There was a whirring as the tasers prepared to discharge. He had nothing to protect himself from being hit. There were ways to counter the hi-focus beam aimed at his back, but they were generally too heavy to be practical. Perhaps if he was bigger and stronger, but then he wouldn’t be running, he would be standing and fighting, which would only lead to him attracting more drones. A poor strategy.

A crack in the ground was open in front of him. A crevasse formed between two heavily compressed areas of domestic appliances, split open like a knife had been slashed through a carcass.

Ubik leapt off one foot, soaring through the air and then he plummeted straight down.

A loud crack behind him indicated the electric discharge had hit the ground instead of him. The targeting system on these drones wasn’t exactly sophisticated. It would lock onto its target — in this case, him — and fire in a straight line. If an object came in between them, it would take the hit, assuming the timing was right.

Heat-seeking projectiles would be available in the next model, arriving next week. He had seen the manifest when he intercepted the weekly security update — the security of which needed updating most of all.

The new drones would fire darts that would follow you up and down and all around. The new model cost less than these ones, if you bought in bulk. Progress.

Ubik hit the ground at the bottom of the artificial chasm with a splash. Acid pools were the other problem he faced as batteries leaked and units broke apart. Highly corrosive liquids were a common component of many modern appliances. They weren’t the most efficient or safest methods of powering units, but they were cheap for equipment you didn’t expect to use long anyway.

Ubik’s shoes were the one item he spent money on. He needed good quality footwear that was both light and durable. He couldn’t afford not to buy the best. Delgado Footwear, a reliable name in an unreliable galactic market. Built to last, for collectors of vintage concepts and ideas.

Acid splashed up, stinging his cheeks. His hands were gloved and his eyes were protected by the goggles, but there were chinks in any armour. His clothes were covered in tiny holes where acid had burnt through, but the damage was minimal if you kept running.

He darted through the little canyon in the rubbish. The drones had spotted where he went but were flying over the surface, reluctant to get trapped inside a heavily metallic area and lose signal. Once they lost contact with their central processor, they would drop dead. Online or no-line was their credo.

The fissure he was running through was twice as tall as him. Climbing out was possible, but it would take time, leaving him an easy target. Fortunately, he was familiar with this particular opening. He made it his business to regularly explore E4-J when no drops were due and the drones were recharging. Know yourself, know your enemy, and definitely know your own backyard.

Ubik’s base of operation wasn’t known to the authorities — who would choose to live inside garbage? — and he managed to stay off their radar by not appearing too often. And also because he had a small jammer to prevent detection by the central processor’s long-distance surveillance system.

He was being a bit reckless today, but time was running out. He had to take a few chances if he wanted to catch his ride off this world.

At the end of this small canyon was a hole. It was barely big enough to allow passage if you got on your stomach and crawled. The acid on the ground made that inadvisable.

Ubik was prepared. He pulled out a cloth from his back pocket and threw it on the ground in front of him.

As soon as it unfolded to its full size — about as big as a small towel — it stiffened and became a tray.

Ubik threw himself on top of it, landing on his stomach. He shot through the hole, riding on the acid surf.

Momentum could only take him so far. The tunnel was just big enough for him to get his hands on the roof above and then bending at the elbows, allowing him to punt himself forward when he slowed, the light from his goggles illuminating just enough of what was ahead to keep him from smashing his face into jutting metal pipes.

The drones could have followed him if they wanted to, easily small enough to fit through the opening. They would have lost signal, though. They let him go.

Ubik had already tested this tunnel as a prospective escape route, so he knew where it exited. He shot out of the other end and sailed through the air. The ground was only a few metres below him, he just needed to make sure he didn’t drop into a pool of acid.

He landed on his knees, which were protected by knee pads, and snapped his sled back into a cloth. He put it in his pocket and checked for signs of drones. The sky was empty, for now.

A simple and uneventful expedition. Compared to most days, today had been a little more frantic, but well within his means to deal with. He had managed to lose his pursuers and was free to sneak back to his base. He might even have time to pick up a few more items.

This area was all hills and valleys. You had to watch out for the occasional garbage avalanche, but it was much easier to avoid detection here. Ubik quickly sought out cover and headed towards the nearest tunnel back to his bunker, perusing his surroundings with a practised eye. Ubik had a lot to do now that he had the components he needed, and not much time to do it in.

He stayed low and moved quietly. The entrance he was heading for was close by. Once he was in the tunnels, he would be safe.

Ubik moved a sheet of metal that had probably belonged to a land vehicle of some kind. It looked like a door with a window. Underneath was a hole leading straight down.

Normally, it would have looked dark and uninviting, but today it was even more so. As Ubik peered into the gloom, he could see jagged metal crisscrossing the shaft, preventing passage.

The occasional collapse was to be expected. Nothing stayed the same very long in E4-Jericho, or anywhere on Epsilon-416. Permanence was not a Silon virtue.

Inconvenient, but nothing to worry about — it just meant he would have to try the next tunnel. Or the one after that.

He turned around to get his bearings. A dark, foreboding figure stood on the hill opposite, flanked by shorter but no less threatening associates.

“I saw you picked up some nice trinkets back there,” said the tallest figure. He took out a metal pole and rested the end on his shoulder, letting it bounce up and down. “I hope you were planning to share.”

The others pulled out weapons of their own, batons and tasers, a few knives. They came running down the hill towards Ubik.


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Afterword from Mooderino
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