79: Break Time

Fourth Quadrant.

Planet Fountain (orbit).

VGV Motherboard.


Point-Two had a number of concerns. Quite a few, to be exact.

Ubik had sent him on a mission to plant six small devices in the ship’s commissary. He hadn’t explained how to do it, what the devices were for, or what to do once he’d succeeded — assuming he would.

None of these ommissions were particularly surprising; Ubik was not big on sharing information. His was very much a ‘not even if you need to know’ approach to assigning tasks.

Point-Two examined the six small buttons, five in his clenched palm and one between finger and thumb. It was shiny and yellow. Brass? Point-Two knew of no real use for this material, other than as actual buttons.

It occurred to him that maybe Ubik just wanted to get rid of him. And the girl.

“I think this is a really bad idea,” said Chukka. She hadn’t said much since they left her cabin. The two of them were making their way down a long empty corridor, pushing themselves from grab bar to grab bar. Which was hard for her with one hand still trying to keep her name a secret, but no problem for him. She had a determined look on her face, practically glued down, and a desperate one in her eyes

“Yes,” said Point-Two. “Probably.”

“Then why don’t you give yourself up? I’ll put in a good word for you.” It was a last-ditch attempt to find a way out of this predicament, but not really one with much appeal.

“Have you forgotten what will happen to you if we get caught?” said Point-Two. “I don’t think a good word from you will be of much help.”

Chukka went quiet for a moment, contemplating how unlucky she was, Point-Two would guess.

“But he’s going to blow up the ship,” she said. “Being dead isn’t going to do either of us much good.”

Chukka seemed to have regained some of her spirit now that she was outside of Ubik’s influence. It was an interesting observation. Something about Ubik’s presence was enough to unsettle people.

“I told you,” said Point-Two, “he won’t damage the ship. He likes the ship. He likes ships more than he likes people.”

“Then what are those things he gave you?”

“I can’t tell you that.” Sadly, he was only being truthful “He’ll take the ship in one piece, though.”

“But if he’s really that good, they won’t kill him, they’ll offer him a job. They might even give me a finders fee for bringing him in.” Her voice rose with the beginning of hope, a possible happy ending.

“He isn’t the type who works well under others. Is it always this quiet down here?” It was a big ship, and the crew were busy, but that still didn’t explain why they hadn’t encountered a single person. Point-Two was familiar with how things were on a ship when it was all hands on deck. Everyone was busy, everyone had a job to do, but there should have been at least a little activity in the bowels. There was always someone rushing around, some item they needed at the last minute, just like Chukka had turned up out of the blue. She couldn’t be the only one. Where were the others?

“This is the engineering quarters,” said Chukka. “They work stupid shifts. Make the most money, though. I mean, apart from management.”

Something about the way she’d said it made Point-Two stop. She was nervous and anxious about her career, all the things you would expect, but there was also a subtle note of certainty in her manner. It wasn’t that it was out of place, it was more that it suddenly felt like the only thing that wasn’t.

“The commissary isn’t far now. You should really rethink this before you do something you regret. I’m sure they’d offer you a position in the company if you helped them. It isn’t too late.”

He could hear it in her voice now. A gentle push to go a particular way, of his own volition, for his own good. It felt like… sales talk. He was being sold an idea. You wouldn’t expect that of a low-level employee. Someone who worked in engineering wouldn’t know the first thing about salesmanship.

Ubik had called her PFC Chukka. Private first class. She’d admitted that was her rank, but why would she be bunked in with engineering?

Point-Two listened for some indication of life on board. He could hear the engines, the quiet thrum behind everything. He knew the sound well, it was the sound of his youth, of his whole life.

“What do you think?” said Chukka. “Want to call it off?”

“No,” said Point-Two. “Let’s keep going. He’ll get grouchy if I don’t come back with a sandwich.”

Point-Two pushed off the wall and shot forward. Chukka hurried to keep up. She hadn’t tried to get away or to raise the alarm. Her fear of reprisal might explain it. It might not.

Ubik had sent her with him. Why? He could have pulled up the plans on the console and given him directions. Probably could have called a drone to take him. But he’d insisted Point-Two take this woman.

If she wasn’t who she claimed to be, would Ubik know? The answer was most likely a yes. If so, sending her away would be risky, wouldn’t it? Was Point-Two expected to deal with her? Did Ubik think Point-Two would instinctively know what to do?

That seemed to be how he was dealing with Fig, so why not with him, too? He knew Point-Two had grown up on a ship. He would expect him to be able to get around this one at least as well as the crew. Most of them had several years of experience with life on board, Point-Two’s whole life was life on board.

So what? What would that allow him to do? What did Ubik intend to happen?

It was annoying, but also, the answer did feel like it was within his grasp. That was the galling part of it all. Ubik’s plans had a purpose behind them. He was almost certainly crazy but he wasn’t stupid.

“This way,” said Chukka, turning left into yet another inexplicably empty corridor.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Point-Two. “The cafeteria will be on the other side. You don’t shield the mess, so you don’t point it at danger.”

It was basic stuff. If the enemy were on the surface, you kept your armoured areas planetside. Of course, you shielded the whole ship equally well if you had the means and no interest in saving money. Point-Two knew exactly how expensive the best defensive armour was. A showboat like this one wouldn’t look very pretty if they decked it out in total protection.

“They know we’re here,” he said. “They sent you in to get a bead on who we are and what kind of threat we pose. What are you? Special forces?” Chukka had stopped floating forward and turned to face him, her face devoid of expression. “No, that would be too blunt. They think you can talk us down. Maybe turn us against each other… you’re in public relations?”

She smiled, grim and resigned. “Very good. Smart. I could use someone like you. It’s really hard to get good candidates these days — everyone wants to work for Rigogo. Starting salary would be very attractive, full benefits included.”

The dreaded PR department. Point-Two had only heard of them second and third hand, and always words couched with fear. They had a reputation for getting the job done, and then leaving no trace of how they did it.

“I don’t think so,” said Point-Two. “Thanks, but I think we have a bigger problem.”

“What do you mean?” Her whole body seemed to have changed shape. Maybe it had — there were augmentations that could do that — but it was more likely her letting her true self emerge. She was confident and composed, even the Seneca Corps weren’t this sure of themselves. And she was an organic. “I can take care of any problem.”

He believed her, or would have under different circumstances.

“You didn’t try to take us out immediately,” said Point-Two. “Why not?”

“I told you, I think you have potential.”

“No. You think we have something else. What? You think we might be organics? No, you would have sent more people. Something more technical? Has he taken over the ship completely and you don’t know how to get it back?” There was some movement in Chukka’s eyes. “Right. You need to be careful. If you lose the ship, head office will be pissed.”

“They won’t let you take the flagship. They’d blow it up first, with all of us on board.”

“Yes,” said Point-Two, “assuming they can give the order. I doubt Ubik would obey, though.”

“Listen to me, he’s going to get you killed.”

Point-Two smiled despite himself. “You get used to it after the first couple of times.”

He pushed off the floor, then the ceiling — although the two were interchangeable — and flew away from her.

It was nice to cut loose in zero-G. It had been a while.

There was a click from behind.

Ubik knew he could get away from her, even if she was an organic. At least, that was the bet he had made on Point-Two’s behalf. But why the commissary?

No armour plating? Did Ubik know these kinds of ships that well? Dumb question — of course he did.

The air behind him felt different, charged. She was coming, probably capable of extreme movement. Point-Two glided forward and hitched a right turn without slowing. Hard to do if you were accelerated by enhancements. He heard the thump as she slammed into the wall. He didn’t turn to look.

He was out of the residential area. The numbers painted on the walls were replaced by symbols. Knife and fork this way. 

He moved swiftly towards the noise. He could hear them now, many, many voices enclosed in limited space. If they decided to clear the residential quarters to keep the intruders isolated, they’d still have to find somewhere to stick everyone while they waited. The cafeteria would have food and bathrooms.

When did Ubik figure that out?

There were double doors ahead. Point-Two risked a glance behind. There was no sign of Chukka, which was a little concerning. She wouldn’t have given up. PR was all about setting the narrative. She was probably contacting her people to take care of Ubik. He was the big story.

There was nothing Point-Two could do about that. He had a job to do.

The double doors slid open. Inside, the commissary was packed with Vendx employees. They were sitting around on chairs attached to the floor, the walls, the ceiling, chatting. Point-Two flew over/under their heads.

One of the first things Point-Two had learned as an inhabitant of a colony ship was what to do in case of a breach. Space didn’t care about fancy equipment and cutting edge tech. You get a hole in your ship, space was coming to get you.

Point-Two threw the buttons across the room at the far wall, the only one without furniture bolted to it. The tiny discs spun and glittered and stuck to the wall like they’d found their home. Even though Point-Two had thrown them haphazardly without aiming, they landed evenly spaced apart, forming a circle.

The people in the room had stopped talking, looking at the strange new arrival.

“This is an urgent alert for all staff in commissary B,” said a hurried voice on the speakers. “Do not—”

The buttons popped, one after the other, and an entire section of the walls drifted away. A big round hole opened like a mouth, and swallowed everyone.

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