51: Enough Rope

Fourth Quadrant.

Planet Fountain.

Gorbol Training Academy.


Point-Two took a breath and let his irritation go, or as much of it that he could. He was mainly annoyed at himself. He had known the risk of seeking aid from Ubik, but it had seemed a very isolated, specific task that had no real benefit for Ubik. He should have known better — everything had a benefit for Ubik.

Now he was stuck having to deal with an additional problem that he could have easily bypassed. He was in a guarded room, a black mark against his name at the very least, and Ubik a few metres away plotting his next insane stunt. He should have requested a private cell in the guild dungeon, for his own safety.

At least he had managed to cut out the infection before it could spread.

“Honesty?” said Ubik, standing over by the window, running his hand through his unruly hair. “Really? You went with honesty.” His voice was filled with dismay at the sheer madness of Point-Two’s admission to the princep.

Point-Two looked at Ubik, the large drone hovering next to him like his own personal bodyguard. “Yes. It turns out that’s the only thing you’re vulnerable to.”

“Me? I’m not your enemy. You asked me for help, remember?”

Point-Two slowly nodded. “Yes. You got me good, Ubik. Well done.”

Ubik was scratching his head with both hands now. “I really need a haircut. The kid’s got the right idea — keep it short and manageable.” He looked over at Point-Two. “You got me all wrong. This was just stage one. You can’t just approach these things directly, it would be too obvious. This is what happens when your primary carer growing up is a machine.” Ubik looked up at the drone. “No offence.”

Lights flashed around the drone’s head in response.

“I was not raised by a computer,” said Point-Two.

“As good as. Your mother died when you were born, right? Father was distant and unavailable because of the weird breeding program your people run.” He pulled a face expressing distaste.

“What are you even talking about?” He had told Ubik a rough idea of his childhood so he had a better idea of the kind of people to expect in response to the signal he’d be sending out. That had also been a mistake.

“And the ship’s computer watched over you and told you what to do and not to do, right? Sounds like a parental relationship to me.”

“I don’t care what it sounds like,” said Point-Two, forcing his voice to remain even. “If anyone was raised by a machine, it was you.”

“Me? You mean Grandma? No, no, no. I found her when I was already grown. I was at least ten.”

“You think ten is fully grown?”

“Hey, don’t judge me by your hermetically sealed standards. Not everyone lives inside a floating metal science experiment. Puberty hits early on E4.”

“Your plans are too convoluted,” said Point-Two. “I had no choice but to cut myself free before you took me down with you. Or instead of you.”

“They only look convoluted,” said Ubik. “They make perfect sense to me.”

“Yes, and only to you. It’s a one-man operation. That’s what gives you away.”

“What makes you think that isn’t part of the plan?” said Ubik.

Point-Two could quite easily believe it was, but it no longer concerned him. He was no longer part of the plan, that was the important thing.

Still, Ubik was taking his failure very well. Almost like it wasn’t a failure at all.

Point-Two stood up and walked over to see what Ubik was staring at so intently. The city was mostly dark. They had been kept here for the whole day.

“This Terrific guy, you know him?”

“Never met him,” said Ubik, flattening his hair so it reached down past his shoulders. “I really need a shower.”

“But you know who he is.”

“Sure, he’s the local crime bigwig. Organic. Pretty ruthless, the way I hear it. Kill anyone who he thinks is in his way, like the Princep said. See those lights over there? See the dark patch in the middle? That’s his place. I did try to get a meeting with him, but they refused to let me in the door.” Ubik rolled his eyes. “Typical low-quality henchmen. It’s what stops most organisations from flourishing. That and honesty.”

The dark patch. Why would the gangster’s place be dark?

“Why did you want to meet with him?” asked Point-Two.

“Oh, you know, business stuff. We’re in the middle of conducting negotiations.”

Point-Two could sense Ubik’s mind at work, practically hear the gears turning. He was even more glad to have distanced himself from Ubik’s plan. Whatever punishment the guild handed down, it would be a definite improvement on what Ubik had in store for him.

“Well, the princep figured you out, I’m sure Mr Terrific is also onto you.”

“The princep didn’t figure it out,” said Ubik, looking out of the window with a faint smile on his lips. “It was his assistant with the cool metal hands. Took him long enough.”

“Are you saying being locked up in here is also part of your plan?”

“You think too binary,” said Ubik. “You have to be more fluid. There is no plan.”

“For someone who doesn’t approve of honesty,” said Point-Two, “that’s a very accurate statement.”

“No plan in the fixed and permanent sense. It’s constantly changing. You think the guild doesn’t appreciate that kind of thinking? Antecessor tech knows how to handle the obvious, straight down the line approach your type bring. I offer a more nuanced alternative.”

“You think the guild wants you to cause this much trouble? That’s why they locked us up in here?”

“The door isn’t locked and they left me with my very own battlebot to play with. They clearly don’t want to get rid of me.” He tapped the drone on the side in a friendly manner. A panel opened and Ubik looked inside like he was searching for something. He closed the panel again.

He had a point. They knew his facility with machines, and they’d left a giant one with deadly blades within his reach. Were they waiting to see what he’d do next? Point-Two was beginning to think even more distance between him and the nutjob was needed.

The door opened and the princep walked back in, his assistant behind him. Point-Two prepared himself to hear the judgement.

“We’ve made some inquiries,” said the princep, “checked some of the claims you made regarding attempts on your life. It seems you were right to be concerned for your safety, but before we deal with that, we have been contacted by Terrific JonJo’s people. They want us to hand you over to them, Trainee Ubik.”

Ubik nodded like he had been expecting this. “Obviously, the guild can’t do that. It would set a terrible precedent.”

“If you were a graduated member, yes,” said the princep. “As it is, we’ve agreed to the transfer in one standard hour.”

Ubik laughed. “That was quick.”

The princep didn’t look surprised by Ubik’s reaction. “You understand, whatever happens, the guild will not take part or accept responsibility?”

Ubik shrugged. “No problem. I wouldn’t want to bring dishonour to the guild.” The grin suggested he wasn’t being entirely sincere.

Point-Two found it hard to fathom how someone could operate with so many variables at once. Ubik had wanted a meeting with this crime lord and had been rebuffed. Now the crime lord was the one insisting on a meeting. Could Ubik really have engineered all this to get what he wanted?

“You will be escorted to the drop off point by two of our drones,” said the princep. “You can try to escape if you wish, they won’t pursue you.”

“That’s fine. I just need one moment.” Ubik turned to face the large drone beside him. “Execute order number three.”

The drone raised one of its six limbs, the blade on the end was longer than Point-Two’s arm. It swung towards Ubik’s head.

Ubik didn’t move as the blade flashed at incredible speed. A couple of seconds later, the drone was still again, the bladed arm back by its side.

Ubik patted the sides of his newly shaven head, and bounced his palm on the longer hair on top. “Nice. Now I feel ready for my meeting.”

He walked out of the room with the drone following him.

“Are you really going to let him go?” Point-Two asked. The whole exchange had been baffling.

“I know it may seem reckless,” said the princep, “but as I told you on the first day, we test you in unusual ways and not just in the training rooms or simulation machines. I can’t say I wasn’t surprised by Trainee Ubik’s chosen approach, but the guild likes to give candidates for organic augmentation as much space as they need to show what they’re capable of. The Antecessors can handle just about anything other than highly-refined human ingenuity. It is a rare thing and valuable thing.”

It was hard to disagree that Ubik had a special quality, but that didn’t mean he would use it for the guild’s or anyone else’s benefit. Ubik worked for Ubik.

“And after he deals with this crime boss, what makes you think he won’t turn on you?” asked Point-Two, fascinated by the risks the guild was willing to take.

“If we can’t protect ourselves from a singular individual, we don’t really deserve to be doing what we’re doing,” said the princep. “We have been monitoring him closely since before he even arrived here.”

“Not closely enough if he was able to come and go without you noticing,” said Point-Two.

“Only if that was the purpose of the monitoring, which it wasn’t. But let me also inform you of what we have learned of your situation.”

“Yes?” said Point-Two.

“Two individuals we think are here in response to the signal Trainee Ubik sent out have landed in the city and are on their way to Terrific JonJo’s establishment.”

“You didn’t tell Ubik?”

“I doubt he would be interested. You, however, have a choice to make.”

“What choice?”

“Whether you want to go with him.”

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Afterword from Mooderino
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