56: Criminal Damage

Fourth Quadrant.

Planet Fountain.

Fraiche City.

JonJo’s Surf ‘n’ Turf.


As a child, Ubik had been taught there were three groups of individuals that he was never to target. The police, because law enforcement held a grudge like no other. Members of other gangs, because if you made them look foolish, they would have no choice but to do something gratuitously violent to get their rep back. And the Seneca Corps.

There had never been a proper explanation, no background on the Corps. They were just well-trained and unwilling to compromise in any situation. If you engaged them, they would immediately react with lethal force, no matter what the level of threat might be. Not worth.

It was their predisposition for disproportionate retaliation that had earned them both their reputation and everyone else’s distance.

Ubik assumed attempts had been made in the past to curb the Seneca Corps’ outlandish behaviour, but for some reason they had failed. Something to do with them all being organics? He had never really cared. To him, they offered a poor return on investment, so he was happy to accept the idea that they would leave you alone if you left them alone.

This was his first time seeing them up close. They weren’t exactly what he had expected. A lot lighter and more delicate than he’d imagined. More guns. Less makeup.

Their clothes matched, vaguely paramilitary, functional more than comfortable. Lots of straps to tighten in case of injury. Probably had built-in splints, too. Both women wore Delgados. He was impressed.

They had a dancer’s posture, erect but agile. No big muscles or indicator of drug use. Their faces were thin with delicate features, none of the swollen cheeks and jaws associated with jacking up. But they stood in place like it would take a team of construction drones working together to make them move off a spot once they were in position. They projected an immense sense of stability, even more than PT, who had impressed Ubik with his ability to find the perfect balance in nearly any situation. Until now. He looked ready to fall over at the first nudge.

“Wow, are you really Seneca?” gushed Ubik. “I have so many questions. Do you have five minutes for a fan?”

The two women, both of whom had their eyes trained on PT, shifted their gaze the minimum amount required to look at Ubik.

“Ooh, chills,” said Ubik. He wasn’t lying, either. The way they’d synched up their disdain was very impressive. “Hey, PT, which one do you want?” He had to force himself not to laugh at PT’s horrified expression. The other men in attendance didn’t look too happy about his tone, either.

“What are you doing?” said PT, his voice trying to stay hidden in the back of his throat.  

“Calm down,” said Ubik. “I don’t mean which one do you want in a fight. Obviously, we don’t want to make this confrontational. I mean, which one do you want to ask out? I don’t mind, I think they’re both lovely. The taller one, right? Because she’s obviously the one in charge.” He turned back to the women, who were still looking at him, disdain morphing slowly into confusion. “He prefers domineering women because his mother was a ship-wide computer system. He has difficulty relating to women on an equal footing, you know how it is.”

“Please stop,” said PT.

“They’re just people,” said Ubik. “There’s no need to be scared of them.”

“I’m not,” said PT. “I’m scared of you. I’m not with him,” he said to the women. “No blood relation. I hardly know him, you can test my DNA if you want.”

It was funny how everyone was terrified, even Terrific, who was shaking his head at Ubik, like he was trying to offer advice.

It was strange. When you broke down the situation to its most basic elements, it was just two girls. They still hadn’t said anything.

“What all of you seem to have overlooked,” continued Ubik, since no one else seemed to want to speak, “is that it can’t be easy being a stormtrooper, a working professional and a woman. Where do you find time for love? How do you meet guys? Everyone’s so intimidated, no one ever asks, right? It’s always the most vicious female assassins who are also the loneliest.”

Ubik looked around the group, offering them a chance to have their say. Still no takers.

“How about it?” said Ubik. “We could go for a meal. The place over the road is quite good, although I haven’t been since the change of ownership. I would suggest this place but the lights are on the blink.”

The sign over the Surf ‘n’ Turf flashed on and off to help illustrate his point.

“See? I could fix that for you,” Ubik said to Terrific. “My rates are very reasonable.”

Finally, the tension became too much for Terrific. “You’re the one who did this!”

“How do you know?” asked Ubik.

There was a click and Terrific’s eyes lit up. His long dark hair rose up in waves behind him. “I know,” he said in a voice several octaves lower than it had been a moment ago.

Ubik wasn’t an expert on organics, but he had a rough idea of the different kinds. This appeared to be a surveillance type. Perception more than precognition, he would guess. You wouldn’t hang around a small place like this if you were a precog. Neither type was that impressive, as far as Ubik was concerned. Knowing wasn’t as good as doing. Sure, it helped, but you needed backup. And Terrific’s current backup were all busy crapping their pants.

“I don’t think you should present a threat like that with them two behind you.” Ubik pointed at the women. Their eyes were bright white, much brighter than Terrific’s. “They might take it the wrong way.”

Terrific’s rage subsided as quickly as it had appeared. His eyes returned to normal and his hair wafted back down to his shoulders.

“This has been fun,” said the taller woman. There was no trace of amusement in her voice. She pointed at PT. “You. Come with us.” There was no attempt to be threatening, their guns remained in their holsters.

“Why?” asked Ubik. “Seneca business? It’s not, is it? Because you aren’t Seneca.”

“What?” said Terrific. “Of course they are… aren’t they?” He was staring at the women differently now. Still wary, but now with added suspicion. No one in a gang liked to be made to look a fool in front of their fellow gang members, especially if they were the boss.

“They’re definitely Seneca,” said PT, also looking miffed. “You can tell.”

“Oh, Seneca trained,” said Ubik. “The side-arms, you’ve got a KF-32, yours is the KF-3M. Not standard issue for the Corps. Make their own, don’t they — SC series. That’s how I was taught to recognise you guys, not that I ever got the chance. Leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone — big fan of that, big, big fan. Make your own ammunition for all of it, too. Proprietary IP, smart. Death for being an evil prick, death for copyright infringement, seems about right to me — got to protect what’s yours. Can’t take them with you when you leave the corps, though. And this, working as mercs to pick up a contract in the arse-end of the sector, this isn’t Seneca sanctioned. Freelance, right? Can’t go on around relying on the uniform to carry you anymore.”

“Can I shoot him now?” said the shorter one.

“No. I like him,” said the taller one.

“Sorry,” Ubik said to PT. “Looks like you’ll have to take shorty.”

“I like cocky men,” said the taller one. “I like watching their heads go pop when I stick my gun up their butts.”

Ubik grinned. “Nice, that was good. Three of these guys just wet themselves. I won’t say which three, don’t want to embarrass anyone, you know who you are. But the way I see it, any organisation with a reputation for excellence bases its promotional material on the best they have working for them. The average standard is a lot lower than that, and half the people are below average. Are you good enough to take on all these seasoned pros without any backup of your own? Because the people who hired you spent a lot of money for such a small-time gig, don’t you think? And here you are with these guys sitting on a case full of Z-55s, M-1s, 120 mm taser pellets, fibre mines, sticky bombs and sniper bursts.” From the look on the doorman’s face, Ubik had guessed well. “And Terrific over here probably knew you were coming before you did. So what you want to ask yourselves is, did you charge your employers enough for the shit they dropped you into?”

“No one is in the shit here,” said Terrific, “apart from you.”

“You deal with him,” said the taller woman. “We’re taking our package and leaving.”

Everyone seemed unsettled and unsure of the situation. They were doing their best to act like they had it all under control, but no one here was fooled. No one moved.

“What about the guild?” said Terrific. “We had a deal.”

“And I think the crazy kid is right. They sent us here for a reason, something more than a simple delivery job, and I don’t like being manipulated out of a fee. Deal’s off.”

“You better go,” Ubik said to PT. “Don’t want to make Mommy mad.”

“Shut up,” said PT his eyes wild and crazy. “Shut your mouth, or so help me…” He looked around like he was searching for a heavy object to hit Ubik with. Of course, PT wouldn’t need a weapon, he just wanted to keep all eyes on him and not on Ubik. Good of him to join in.

“Grab him,” said the doorman as PT stumbled past them towards the gun case. “Sorry, buddy, got to hand you over.” He sounded genuinely apologetic.

Multiple men tried to get hold of PT, but he seemed to slip through their grasp. He wasn’t trying to run away, though.

“One of you lend me a weapon. I just want to smack the little twerp around before I go.”

His movements were very smooth, sliding away from the hands trying to reach him. It looked inadvertent, but Ubik could see it. And so could the well-trained Seneca women. Doubt was creeping into their faces as they looked at each other. They were still holding off taking action, but not for much longer.

Ubik put his hand in his pocket and grabbed the detonator. He had planted numerous interrupters into the Surf ‘n’ Turfs security grid. It played havoc with the electrics, but it provided an easy way to syphon off power and store it. If you released it all at once, the whole system could blow, along with the whatever the system was kept in.

But before he could do anything, there was an explosion far across the city. A ball of fire rose into the air. Everyone was startled into a kind of paralysis, staring up at the orange ball.

“Looks like it’s started,” Ubik said to the women. “Hope you’re ready.” It was fun acting like he was the harbinger of doom.  

“Time to put an end to this,” said the taller one, gritting her teeth and pulling out her KF-32.

“Incoming!” shouted Ubik.

He pressed the detonator and the sign above JonJo’s lit up twice as bright as it had before. Everyone turned except PT, Ubik noticed. Then the glass front exploded, sending out a shower of glass. Not quite as showy as the fireball, but good enough.

At the same time, one of the doormen flew through the air and slammed into Terrific. How had PT managed to throw someone twice his size? The guy was a marvel.

There was no time to waste admiring the chaos, Ubik was too busy running.

The next moment, PT was alongside him. “This is your plan? Make a run for it?”

“Part of every plan is the escape. Nice assist, by the way. You catch on quick.”

“Even you couldn’t be that insane.”

“No? You’d be surprised.” Ubik laughed as he ran, yelling, “Woo hoo.”

“Hey, keep it down. You want them to find us easier?”

“What do you think?”

PT looked confused for a moment. He looked over his shoulder and then in the direction they were running. “Are we heading towards the explosion?”

“Of course. They’re going to chase us, might as well show them a good time. Seneca versus Vendx, who’s your money on.”

“I was wrong, you are insane,” said PT. “This is the worst day of my life.”

“Don’t be so negative,” said Ubik. “Worst day of your life so far.”

“It won’t work.”

Ubik didn’t try to convince him otherwise. He was probably right. But, if he thought it was such a bad idea, why was he smiling?

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Afterword from Mooderino
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