70: Restrictions May Apply

Fourth Quadrant.

Planet Fountain.

Gorbol Training Academy.

Simulation Room.


Point-Two closed his eyes and concentrated on the conversation between Ubik and the Vendx Chief Supervisor as they negotiated Ubik’s price for handing over Fig.

He listened intently, waiting for… something. He didn’t know what it was, but he was more than confident it would come. A message, a signal, a warning to assume the crash position… something.

Trying to figure out Ubik was similar to bouncing around a zero-G training room — it might look random and uncontrolled as you went spinning from one side to the other, but if you understood the angles, there was only one possible endpoint to any trajectory.

“He sold us out,” said Bev, her hands making a slapping sound as they landed on either side of her face. “The bastard sold us out.”

“I don’t think so,” said Fig. “Whatever he’s doing, he isn’t going to make a deal with a Vendx supervisor. He would only hand me over to someone in upper management, so he could be sure they had the authority to give him what he wanted.”

Point-Two agreed with Fig’s assessment. There was no doubting Ubik would switch allegiances if he thought he could make good use of his new partners, for however long that lasted — an Ubik alliance was always a temporary one — but he wouldn’t bother with a lowly chief supervisor. Anyone in middle management was just a toy to be played with, just like one of their drones. They’d have to wheel out their CEO if they wanted an actual deal in writing.

“And how is that better?” said Bev. “He’s going to work his way up from this guy to the next guy and then the next…” Her anger dissipated into confusion. “I suppose that means we have a little time. You think he’s doing this deliberately?”

She wanted to believe Ubik was some wild idiot who acted on impulse with no idea of where he was going or what the ramifications of his actions would be. She wasn’t far from the truth. That was what Ubik wanted everyone to believe it, but if one thing was clear by now, it was that everything Ubik did was deliberate. Insane, but deliberate.

Even now, Ubik was driving the Chief Supervisor to the edge of his patience with his bizarre demands in exchange for his traitorous services. He would have Fig delivered — he had yet to explain how — for the measly price of one starship. Not a shuttle or fast cruiser. No, Ubik wanted an actual full-size top-end starship that required at least thirty people to make up a skeleton crew, a hundred for a full complement. He didn’t want any people, though, which would make it impossible to fly the ship anywhere.

The cost of a luxury starship would probably not have been a major sticking point, but Ubik didn’t want any starship, he wanted the RG-7Z, made by Rigogo, Vendx’s chief competitor.

“The RG-7 has a mid-rear gravity engine with an R8-powered star well as standard. That makes it twice as fast as any other ship in its class, unless you opt for add-ons and modifications, which just ruins the look of any ship, in my opinion. It has the classic Artori Demense sleek lines. They used his soul box connected to a two double ten-twenty-four exenabyte mind-rendering AI to create a new design from an old master. The unitary displacement is breathtaking. And the distinctive exhaust note from the thrusters… music.”

Ubik’s smitten manner as he casually talked up the many top-of-the-line features of Rigogo’s premium starship was impressive. He had all the specs memorised, even down to how long the waiting list was. Only six standard months, as long as you had the connections.

Chief Supervisor Mayden tried to explain how Vendx weren’t in a position to jump the queue, and how, in any case, the VX-4i was a much better option for a single person, but Ubik was lost in a dream world where he piloted a massive ship alone through the stars, presumably with bits of string attached to all the controls on the bridge so he could tug on them like the performance of some interstellar puppet show.

The most impressive part was how Ubik had managed to skip the part of the negotiation where CS Mayden would outright refuse such a ludicrous request. Chief Engineer Ulanov was getting a ship, it was only a matter of make and model.

“Yes,” said Fig. “He’s doing it deliberately. He’s keeping them busy. And he knows that we’re listening, so he’s keeping them busy so we can take action at the appropriate time. I only wish I knew when that was and what action he wanted us to take.”

Point-Two felt the same. That’s why he was listening so hard. Ubik wanted them to hear this. He wanted them to figure out what he wanted from the rest of his guild — they might as well just make him honorary guild master at this point — but he had given no indication of what he needed.

It was a sign of the backwards nature of Ubik’s approach that he was putting everyone’s lives at risk, and it was Point-Two and the others who felt like they weren’t living up to Ubik’s expectations.

“I think you’re giving him way too much credit,” said Bev. “He’s not a genius, he’s nuts. You’re just hoping he’s on our side. We should be trying to get out of here, not waiting for him to give us the signal so we can get ourselves killed while he escapes in his brand new ship.”

“You could be right,” said Fig. “But I don’t think so. He wouldn’t have left that behind if he was going to run out on us.”

Point-Two couldn’t see where Fig was pointing, but even with his eyes closed he knew it would be at the small cube on top of the drone. Ubik had left behind his Grandma’s soul box for Jace to use. He wouldn’t have done that if he had no intention of coming back for it.

“I can assure you the VX-4 series is every bit as good as the Rigogo ship,” said CS Mayden, frustrated, impatient, desperate.

“But have you seen the RG-7Z Caliento limited edition?” said Ubik. “It has fins on the rear stabilisers.”

“Fins serve no purpose,” shouted Mayden. He quickly brought his voice back under control. “They’re entirely cosmetic.”

“No, no, you’re mistaken Chief Supervisor, they increase stabilisation in atmospheres of above 1 kPa by over 0.2%,” said Ubik, sounding suitably impressed.

“It’s a starship,” said Mayden. “Why would you take into an atmosphere?”

“Oh, you wouldn’t, that would be a terrible idea. But the specs are stunning, aren’t they?”

“How has he not realised he’s being stalled,” said Princep Galeli. “What kind of engineer would be obsessed over something like fins that give you a tiny increase in overall stability, in a situation you will never be in?”

“All of them,” said Captain Hickory and Gipper together.

“We can put fins on the VX-4i,” said Mayden. “Six of them. And paint them bright red.”

“Six seems a little excessive,” said Ubik. “I wouldn’t want people to think I was showing off.”

“Then five, or four — however many you want. Just tell me how you plan to get the Ollo boy to me in one piece? What weapons do you have? Do you have codes to the security system? How are they controlling points of entry? I need some indication of your ability to deliver in exchange for the premium model in our luxury class.”

“Yes, you’re right, I’m sorry for getting carried away.” Ubik was graciously going to reveal his plan now, Point-Two could feel it coming. “Listen, can you access the sim-U from your mobile command centre?”

“Of course. Why? What good would that do?”

“Have a look,” said Ubik.

There was a pause. “It’s operational.”

“Yes,” said Ubik. “Your assault team are currently trapped inside a simulation. All twelve of them.”

Point-Two opened his eyes and looked at the eleven men strapped into the simulation machine.

“Can you link up to the sim-U?” Ubik was saying. “Hard connection, so they can’t break it remotely?”

“Yes, but then what?”

“Your men are isolated and can’t get out on their own, but if you can give them an extraction point into your ship’s mainframe, they could give you control of the entire complex, all the security systems, all the files, all the recordings. There are security protocols in place to avoid backwash, but I can cut them from here.”

There was another pause.

“My people say they could…” Mayden sounded very hesitant. Nervous, almost. “It isn’t strictly allowed, we have agreements not to use those points of entry for our non-civilian customers.”

Ubik was getting him to open the backdoor into the sim-U. A backdoor they weren’t supposed to have, and only use when they could get away with it. If the rest of their customer base found out about the existence of such an abusable protocol in Vendx’s machines, there would be huge legal trouble for Vendx. A class-action suit brought by an entire galaxy’s worth of customers could ruin them.

“I know this isn’t what the entry point was for, originally… but isn’t this an emergency situation, Chief Supervisor? I figure it wouldn’t be wrong to break down a door in an emergency.”

Ubik’s suggestion sounded more than reasonable. But a door worked both ways.

Point-Two turned his head the other way and looked at Fig. “I think…”

“...he wants me to go in,” Fig finished for him.

There were twelve seats and one empty.

“There are eleven other people in there,” said Weyla. “All organics.”

Fig sat down in the spare chair. “That’s fine. They can’t kill me in there.”

“But what is it he wants you to do once you get inside?” said Bev.

“I have no idea,” said Fig. “Princep, could you?”

Princep Galeli brought the helmet down over Fig’s head and then went to the console. Point-Two went over and stood next to him.

“I think he wants you to run the Origin simulation.”

“The Origin?” said Princep Galeli. “He wants Trainee Matton in there with the Vendx assault team? Why?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” said Point-Two. “Do you have an alternative suggestion?”

Princep Galeli frowned and loaded in the simulation.

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