62: Conflict of Interests

Fourth Quadrant.

Planet Fountain.

Gorbol Training Academy.


The first thing Point-Two had done when he first climbed into the suit was to locate the eject button. A battlesuit like this one always had an emergency escape option. The manufacturers didn’t like them because it gave the impression things could go wrong. Things could go wrong, but making it official was bad advertising.

Even with the eject option available, most times you wouldn’t want to use it. A broken-down suit was still be a safer place to be than out in the open, exposed to enemy fire. And also exposed to friendly fire.

The ‘button’ was at the bottom of the visor, a protruding black wedge about level with his bottom lip. You were meant to bite it. It wasn’t electronic, it was mechanical so that it would work even in the case of power loss. You had to bite it hard. The neat, uniform indentations in the wedge’s surface suggested that someone had used it before, and also that Vendx had an excellent dental plan.

The suit was a solid piece of kit, though, there was no denying it. Point-Two had used plenty of similar suits on the Garu, and none had come close to the level of functionality of this one.

He had always found the amount of data available in a regular suit to be paltry and very uninspiring. In this suit, it felt like with every breath he took he inhaled data in vast volumes. He liked it. The data streams were fast and full, overloading him with information about his surroundings.

Point-Two just had to absorb it all and work out his best line of action with the greatest chance of success. It was exactly what he’d been trained to do, but he’d never had the chance to work with this much input.

Normally, he could take everything in peripherally and let himself act on instinct. In this case, however, there were too many variables. And each of those variables had their own agenda. He had to think fast and be wary of others thinking faster.

Case in point: he had a cable attached to his arm, on the other end of which was a human torpedo. Weyla, previously of the Seneca Corps, wasn’t just falling, she was diving. You might even say she was flying.

Her organic power seemed to be high-speed movement, which probably also gave her a forceful strike on impact. She was aiming for Fig — her arm extended, her fist clenched — who was standing over the body of Weyla’s fallen comrade.

But the strange thing was that Fig wasn’t moving, he was waiting. His posture, his positioning, even without the suit’s telemetry, Point-Two would have seem that he was deliberately making himself an easy target.

Weyla didn’t appear to be suspicious about the lack of concern her target was showing. She appeared to be too enraged to care. Too enraged to notice the cable attached to her foot.

What would happen once the cable went taut? The suit was sturdy and well-built, but momentum was momentum. If Ubik thought putting a leash on a Seneca organic would pull her up short, he wouldn’t have attached it to a mere man in a suit. Point-Two would just go flying after her.

Ubik had to expect the suit to somehow be heavy enough to counter the dive. When the suit was offline, it turned into a block of metal. He had seen how immobile it had been. That wasn’t just inertia, that was intentional anchoring. They wouldn’t want anyone walking off with an abandoned suit. An electromagnetic deep sink of some kind? The same reverse-power tech the Antecessor ships used to seal off airlocks in the event of a breach?

But did Ubik really think the suit would be able to hold back an organic in full flight? That was also Antecessor tech.

If it did work that way, it would require the suit to be powered down, which would mean he would be trapped inside.

He bit down on the eject wedge just as the HUD went dark. No power, but that shouldn’t have made a difference. He wasn’t ejected.

The teeth marks. Someone had used the eject button, but Vendx wouldn’t bother to fix and return the suit to its owner. The teeth marks were recent. The previous owner had also tried to eject, and failed. That’s why he’d been stuck in the hallway where they’d found him.

Point-Two was stuck in here.

Maybe Ubik’s plan would work. The idea of relying on Ubik made Point-Two’s stomach churn. Not because he didn’t have faith in Ubik’s ability, it was just that there was usually collateral damage where Ubik was involved. And he was in the collateral seat.

Weyla was nearly on top of Fig, who was shifting his weight onto his left foot. He was going to sidestep her lunge, waiting until the last possible moment so she had no time to readjust. But he was making it too obvious. So obvious, Point-Two could only imagine he was deliberately showing her where he was going. Would she spot the feint? Was he expecting her to spot the feint?

As someone who had watched countless duels between great athletes, Point-Two was mesmerised by the battle between the two before they’d even engaged. He was fascinated right up to the point when his arm was ripped off.

The suit’s arm. It came away at the shoulder leaving Point-Two’s arm out in the open.

The cable hadn’t been enough to stop Weyla, or even slow her, but it had thrown her off-course and out of control. She went spinning to one side, unable to prevent herself flying into a wall.

Unable to prevent herself, but not unable to be saved from a serious collision. Fig leapt into her path and spun her around, nullifying her momentum and bringing her down in a heap. He rolled out of their embrace and was back on his feet. Why save her?

“Wow, nice move,” said Ubik.

Point-Two grabbed Ubik by the throat with his free hand and brought him up to his helmet. “Get me out of here.”

“Can’t,” croaked Ubik. “Panel.. on... arm.”

The control panel for the suit was on the arm that had been ripped off. For all it’s fancy extras, Point-Two was beginning to miss his old suits with their simple functions. Sometimes, basic was better.

Ubik’s hand slapped against the helmet as Point-Two squeezed his throat. He let him go.

“It was a good idea,” said Ubik, hoarsely. “I’ve seen the specs. The suit shouldn’t have failed like that.”

“Get me out.”

“Okay, okay, give me a moment to think.” Ubik’s eyes moved up and down and side to side, like he was looking for something. “I suppose I could…”

The power came back on, all cells full, all data updating live. Point-Two immediately opened the suit before it went dead again. He fell out backwards and landed on the floor. “How did you do that?” He hadn’t even seen Ubik touch the suit.

“It wasn’t me.”

“But the suit jumped to full power,” said Point-Two.

The suit shorted out, sparks flying out of the shoulder, and it went dark again.

“Not possible,” said Ubik. “Not unless… oh, no. We have to leave.”


“The cavalry are here. Not ours.” Ubik jumped over the balcony.

Point-Two had no idea what had got Ubik so spooked, but he trusted Ubik’s innate sense of self-preservation. If he was running, everyone else should, too. Point-Two jumped down into the hall where Princep Galeli and a small team were approaching Fig. Ubik seemed more interested in the Vendx troops lying on the ground. He was crouched with his pet drone hovering by him, connected to a battlesuit.

Weyla was back on her feet. Unsteady but unharmed, looking at the cable attached to her foot. Then she looked over at her fallen comrade and rushed towards her.

“She’s not hurt,” said Fig. “It was only a sleeper hold.”

Weyla checked for signs of life and then turned to Fig. “How did you…?”

A trainee had taken out one of Seneca’s finest, or ex-finest. Point-Two was interested in how he’d done it, too.

“I sneaked up on her,” said Fig, like that was all there was to it. “Take her and go. I’ve already saved you once. I don’t plan on doing it again. They’re nearly here.”

“Who?” said Weyla. “Who are you?”

“Trainee Matton,” said Princep Galeli, running up with the others, all carrying heavy weapons that looked like exhibits from a museum, “are you alright?”

“Matton?” said Weyla, eyes widening. “No. It can’t be.”

“This is not your affair,” said Fig. “I don’t know why you’re here, but if you leave now, there won’t be a problem.”

“Alright,” said Weyla. The rest of the room couldn’t quite believe how cooperative she was being.

The other woman moaned and sat up, rubbing at her throat. “What…? What happened?” She looked dazed. “There he is.” She pointed at Point-Two.

Weyla turned to face him. “You. Don’t make this any harder. Come with us quietly.”

“No,” said Fig. “You’re not taking anyone. I don’t know who you’re working for, but they aren’t paying you enough for this. Leave him and go.” There was a steely edge to Fig’s words that didn’t come from tone or emotion. He was like the suit once it powered down — anchored and immovable.

“The people who sent you,” said Point-Two, “they told you to kill me?”

“No, to bring you in alive,” said Weyla. “That’s why they hired us and not some thugs. We could bring you in without hurting anyone.”

Point-Two looked around at all the bodies. “Anyone?”

“They started it,” said Weyla. The unofficial Seneca motto.

“Hey,” said Ubik. “Little help here?”

Weyla moved so fast Point-Two only saw a blur. She had Ubik hanging by his neck, his feet kicking air.

“Hello again,” said Ubik. “This is all very lovely, but you might want to help me deactivate these suits.”

There was a moment of confusion as everyone looked at Ubik and then at all the suits lying on the ground, not being very active.

“Aren’t they already inactive?” asked Gipper, carrying the biggest gun Point-Two had ever seen.

“Yes, for now,” said Ubik. “Can’t you hear them coming?” He pointed up.

Everyone stopped to listen. Point-Two couldn’t hear anything.

Then the hall began to shake and one by one the suits began to light up.

“So,” said Ubik, “who here is good with explosive devices?”

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Afterword from Mooderino
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