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Preface from Mooderino

89: Surf's Up

Fourth Quadrant.

Planet Fountain (orbit).

VGV Motherboard.


Ubik had a contingency plan. To be more exact, he had several contingency plans, but he had the ideal one for this situation. The only problem was waiting for Grandma to get here.

Chukka had been quicker in finding him than he’d expected. If he’d managed to get out of the door, he would have been able to lose them, he was pretty sure. No matter how unlikely it might seem when faced with people holding guns pointed at your face, once the chase began, the odds quickly changed.

But the only doorway in or out of the small cabin was filled with Vendx security, and Chukka was right behind them, making sure there were no cracks for Ubik to slip through.

You had to be patient in these situations. Invariably, there would an opening — his job was to be ready to jump through it.

“What was that?” Chukka was shouting into her comms. “Bridge, update. Yes, I know what you said, now give me something that makes sense.”

Ubik couldn’t hear the other half of the conversation, but judging from Chukka’s face, she wasn’t pleased by whatever she was being told. Good to know. Ubik stamped his foot on the floor and patted it around, looking for a better magnetic connection.

“You,” said Chukka. “What was that noise?”

Ubik shrugged. “I didn’t hear anything.” There was a loud bang and the walls shook. “Oh, did you mean that noise?”

Chukka didn’t seem amused. The two guards, shoulder-to-shoulder in the doorway, raised their rifles to indicate they were ready to fire, which hardly made a difference since they had been ready to fire before.

Vendx security clearly didn’t have much practice with this sort of thing. Most of their duties probably revolved around looking impressive in their shiny battlesuits for visiting dignitaries considering buying an obscene amount of heavily overpriced equipment.

“If anything happens to this ship,” said Chukka, “you will be just as dead as the rest of us.”

It was a threat that managed to freak out the two guards, who apparently weren’t aware this was a suicide mission. Ubik tried not to smile.

“Shouldn’t you take me to the brig or the detention centre or whatever term the PR use. Complimentary guest room? You provide three meals a day, right? I did send out for food, but it’s a bit late. No tip for the delivery boys.”

“Oh, I’ve got a place saved for you in the Public Relations Hospitality Suite,” said Chukka.

Both guards sucked in air like they’d just seen someone get kicked in the groin.

“Sounds like fun,” said Ubik. He tapped the toe of his right boot in a semicircle. Where was it?

“It won’t be,” said Chukka.

There was another bang, another wall-shaking tremor.

Being weightless lessened the impact for them, but Ubik being attached to the floor made him vibrate along with the rest of the ship, giving his captors a nice visual cue to heighten their anxiety. That was definitely something Ubik felt he could work with while he waited for his ride to arrive. Grandma was apparently having some navigational issues.

“What do you mean you don’t know where it’s coming from?” said Chukka. “Look outside, there must be a ship or something. Say again? How can it be coming from the interior? We’d all be dead if there was an explosion that big inside the ship.”

There were some nervous glances over their shoulders from the guards. Hearing your superiors express their lack of understanding of a life-threatening situation did not inspire confidence in the leadership of your company, especially when it was your life that was under threat.

“Use the internal sensors,” said Chukka. The response produced a scowl. “They’re the most advanced sensors on the market.”

“Actually, they’re not,” said Ubik. “I saw the specs. They’re the basic series. External sensors are top-notch, but the internal…” He shook his head. “They probably didn’t expect to have to defend facing this way when they were installed.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Chukka, her voice strained. The pressure was getting to her, but she was PR Department, she would find a way to spin it into something positive. “I know what you did. I get it. You made the interceptor drones think the ship’s been hijacked and you made the ship think the drones are under external control. Well done, very clever, but we don’t fire on our own, it’s part of the core programming. Didn’t know about that, did you?”

“Everyone knows about that,” said Ubik. “It’s on the first page of the company prospectus, the Fool-Proof Safety Protocol. I mean, no one apart from me has probably read it, but it’s definitely in the public domain.” He looked at the guards. “I was going to invest in Vendx, so I was doing my due diligence. Decided to go in a different direction.”

“I’m going to enjoy wiping that smile off your face when I get you back to my office,” said Chukka.

There was another wince from the boys in the doorway.

“I’m not smiling,” said Ubik. “This is just my resting face. My lips go up at the corners without meaning to. Always gets me into trouble. People think I’m making fun of them and I’m like, no, that’s just how I look, but they never believe me. This is what my smile looks like.” He grinned at them like a mildly insane person.

“You two,” said Chukka to people outside of Ubik’s view. “Drag him out of there. And be careful, he’s a slippery one. You lose concentration for a second and he’ll rip you to pieces. Which won’t be as bad as what I’ll do to you.”

Ubik raised his hands to show he had no ill intent as the guards moved up and to the sides, and two more wearing much heavier armour came floating in, one behind the other — she’d called in a tank unit, which was flattering, or paranoid. They were trained for bomb disposal. Ubik lowered his hands, his arms sticking straight out in front.

Rifles were still aimed at him from the top of the doorway. An unnecessary precaution. Ubik had no desire to hurt anyone.

The two tanks grabbed an arm each, their mechanised gloves clamping down firmly. The one holding his right arm moved off first — they would have to exit in single file — and got only halfway to the door before he stopped. Ubik’s top half was pulled forward but his feet remained stuck to the floor.

The right-side tank vented a stronger stream of gas, but Ubik remained where he was.

The left-side tank let go and rotated so his large helmet was closer to Ubik’s feet.

“Delgados,” he said with a hint of admiration. “Locked down. Won’t be able to shift them.”

“Deactivate them,” ordered Chukka, “or I’ll tell them to cut your legs off.”

“Hold on,” said Ubik. “There’s a special sequence.”

“Now!” said Chukka.

“He’s telling the truth,” said the tank still checking out the boots. “You have to run a sequence of moves to unlock the magnets. I read about it in a periodical. I was thinking of investing in a pair myself.”

“I recommend them,” said Ubik.

Shut up,” said Chukka. “Five seconds, and then I want you to cut him off at the knees.”

There was a click and Ubik rose about six centimetres off the ground.

“That’s better,” said Chukka, looking pleased to be obeyed.

“Yes,” said Ubik. “I thought it would never get here. Grandma, let’s go!”

Ubik went zooming backwards. He wasn’t in a suit so he shouldn’t have been able to move so quickly. The left tank wasn’t holding on to him but the right one still had his arm, and came flying along.

Ubik was standing perfectly still, his feet more or less together, his arms rigid. He went backwards up the wall behind him, along the ceiling upside down and facing away from the door. He trusted Grandma to guide him the right way.

“How is he moving like that?” said someone.

“Just shoot him,” said Chukka.

“But Ferguson…”

“Shoot him! Shoot them both!”

So much for not firing on your own.

Ferguson had a look of panic inside his helmet. Ubik gave him a reassuring nod and leaned back, swinging the tank down and through the doorway. He smashed into the guards with their guns firing, hitting the incoming wrecking ball multiple times. The suit saved him but short-circuited.

Ubik had already opened the panel on the heavily armoured arm-section. Anti-bomb units had emergency ejects installed as standard. Ubik hit the button and was left with a glove stuck on his arm as the Vendx man went flying into his colleagues in the corridor.

Ubik snapped his heels and felt himself detach from the drone that was on the other side of the wall. The vents were too small for a person, but they could accommodate a service drone quite nicely. By modulating the magnetic frequency in his boots, he could stick to the drone instead of the floor.

He didn’t have to do anything but stay connected as the drone flew through the vents inside the walls of the ship, but he did have to jump the occasional obstacle, like the wall above the door. Or the wall beneath the door, as it looked from his perspective.

Ubik entered the corridor with momentum carrying him. He lowered his tucked feet and turned the magnets back on. The drone seized him and kept going.

There were more guards outside, but they were confused by seeing one of their own come crashing into the forward team, and weren’t expecting someone gliding across the ceiling.

“After him,” screamed Chukka from under her men.

The sounds of suits venting gas behind him were followed by shouts of confusion as they banged into one another. They would sort themselves out in a moment, but Ubik had a head start. Now he just had to get to the simulation room.


Fourth Quadrant.

Planet Fountain (orbit).

VGV Motherboard.

Kitchen 2F.


Gipper liked the soup. He had tried the lobster bisque and hadn’t enjoyed it at all. Very tart. He wasn’t sure what was in the soup, but it had just the right amount of sweetness for his tastes.

The food on the Red Devil was mediocre at best. They used to have a chef back when Gipper first joined the crew, but he died on an Antecessor city ship. That man had known how to grow a steak, the ship’s garden had been full of them, ripe and juicy.

There was a loud bang and the galley shook. This had been going on for some time and Gipper was used to it. The kitchen drones were still remaining docked on the wall. There were numerous orders up on the screens, waiting to be delivered, but the drones were refusing to come out.

Someone would probably come to check on them when the alarms were no longer wailing and whatever was hitting the ship stopped striking every few minutes. In the meantime, Gipper would fill up on the daily menu. He hadn’t even started on dessert yet.

Another bang — they were more frequent now. Everything shook for a second and then quiet again. New orders appeared on the screen. Even when death was imminent, people still had an appetite. The ovens responded accordingly. The food would come out in a few seconds, but without the drones to take them away, it was left to Gipper to prevent any wastage. No one would be able to say he hadn’t done his part.

This time, one of the drones detached from the wall. It came floating across and took the dish as it was ejected from the oven. It came towards Gipper, the thin strip around its middle declaring the meal was: Surf ‘n’ Turf.

Only, it looked more like a blancmange.

The dish sounded familiar. No, not a dish, a restaurant in Fraiche City. What was he supposed to do? Order out?


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Afterword from Mooderino
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