Planet Fountain (orbit).
Gipper ate the blancmange — it would be a waste to just leave it to rot — and considered the message.
Surf ‘n’ turf.
It had to be meant for him, unless the blancmange was a fusion of fish and meat hitherto unheard of. It tasted like sugar and almonds. Not bad at all.
And who could have sent him this message but Trainee Ubik? The question was, why? Why send him a cryptic message via enemy catering drone when he could have just told him what he needed to know when he was standing right next to him?
Of course, there had been a number of Vendx people standing there at the same time. It wasn’t beyond the realm of possibilities that Trainee Ubik didn’t want to reveal anything to them, but then, wouldn’t they be able to identify an unauthorised message going through the system?
Perhaps not. Without context, it would look like another order going to the kitchen. Could the kid be that aware of what he was doing? The impression he gave was the complete opposite — complete chaos and a phenomenal reliance on chance. But somehow these long shots kept paying off for the boy. It was starting to look suspiciously intentional.
Gipper licked the spoon. He would have to find the recipe and feed it into the ship’s galley. The Red Devil’s dessert menu was very lacklustre.
Surf ‘n’ turf.
If the message did refer to the establishment in Fraiche city, the one run by notorious criminal Terrific JonJo, what was Gipper meant to do about it? There were no follow up instructions. Not even a culinary clue. Gipper looked at the empty dish and hoped there hadn’t been an additional message inside the pudding. If there had been, it was now inside him and wouldn’t be available for several more hours.
No, the blancmange had been slippery smooth and he was sure he would have felt any foreign objects go down.
What could Terrific do for them? He was down on the planet’s surface and they were all the way up here with no way down.
Gipper had assumed the Vendx ship was the target. They would steal it and use it to keep the rest of the Vendx forces at bay. Once their presence became public knowledge, it would be much harder for them to clean up the mess they’d created without anyone finding out.
Now that he thought about it, that was a ridiculous idea. It had seemed ridiculous at the time but for some reason, when Ubik was leading the charge, there was no time to think rationally and even the most outrageous possibility seemed doable.
But Vendx were experts at covering up their messes and making it look like they had done nothing but maintenance on a problem not of their making. People were usually grateful for how little destruction had been caused, the potential for catastrophe made clear for all to see.
In many ways, they operated in a similar manner to Ubik. By comparison to what could go wrong, what did go wrong was a blessing. He would have to try that approach himself next time he got in trouble with the captain.
Contacting the Red Devil had also seemed a good idea. They couldn’t offer much assistance up here but perhaps they could help the people stuck in the Gorbol Academy. Why would Ubik want to help them, though? Now that he understood the way Ubik’s mind worked, he could see Ubik wouldn’t waste time on something so… unrelated to him.
One thing was for sure — whatever Ubik had intended for Gipper to do here, Gipper wasn’t going to do it. He’d had quite enough of being led around by the nose. If he was going to get out of this, it would be an escape of his own making. That much was obvious to him. This wasn’t the first time he’d been in a tough spot. He had the training, he had the experience, and he had survived far more perilous situations. Well, equally perilous.
Gipper put his mind to work. How could he make use of this kitchen? Food and drones. And a connection to the ship’s computer that must have been disconnected by Ubik. It wouldn’t stay that way for long.
Surf ‘n’ Turf.
The words kept flashing at him from the drone’s communication strip. It was beginning to irritate him.
Terrific JonJo wasn’t just a restaurant owner, he was also a notorious smuggler. With levies and taxes on everything that went in and out of planet Fountain, a lot of money could be saved by taking a less official route with supplies. There were always clients looking for a better deal.
Smuggling meant ships. Good ones. The kind that were hard to detect and, if they were detected, hard to catch. Very useful if Terrific was in the mood to help. Gipper doubted he was. And how would you even make contact with him from here?
There was some noise as the drones began undocking from the wall. There hadn’t been any loud bangs for a while, which may or may not have been a good thing.
The drones floating in front of him beeped twice and then a voice said, “Surf ‘n’ Turf. Password?”
Gipper froze. How was he talking to someone through a drone? How was he speaking to someone in Fraiche City when the place was locked down?”
“Password,” said the voice more insistently.
“I… I forgot what it was,” said Gipper.
“Who is this? How did you get on this channel?”
“I want to order some supplies,” blurted Gipper. “Meat. Do you have any for immediate delivery?”
There was a pause.
“Actually, yes.” The guy on the other end almost sounded relieved. “Today’s your lucky day, sir. We’re undergoing renovations and need to move our entire stock. I can do you a once in a lifetime deal. How much do you want?”
“I’ll take all of it,” said Gipper. He wasn’t paying, so why not. “These are the coordinates. And I have a message that needs to go on the receipt, so they know it’s from me.”
This at least wasn’t what Trainee Ubik had planned. How could he have known Terrific’s organisation would be undergoing renovations and be ready to cut a deal with a stranger? No, this was all Gipper. He was going to save the day, his way.
Planet Fountain (orbit).
Ubik shot through the corridors while standing perfectly still, his pursuers left behind. They had suits with automated venting run by efficient onboard computers, but Ubik had Grandma at the wheel. He could have closed his eyes and it would make no difference, other than the risk of smacking his head on some poor ship design. As he glided just above the roof, he couldn’t help but notice all the things he would have changed if he had built this ship.
Symmetrical corridors, for a start. It was a pain having to keep jumping every time there was a sealable doorway.
Doors that filled the whole corridor was another.
In space, especially when weightless, there was no up or down. You could walk on the floor, you could walk on the ceiling, same thing.
If you added gravity, you could choose to make any surface the one people gravitated to — what was difficult was changing that surface once it had been chosen. More than difficult, it was expensive, which was the greater issue. So most ships didn’t bother having more than one floor. They picked one surface and stuck to it, in both senses of the word.
A ship like the Motherboard, the flagship of the Vendx fleet could obviously create a gravitational field, but only when necessary. In other words, only when it was to impress potential customers. Otherwise, it was whatever floats your boat.
Which was why it was so dumb not to make it so you could designate any way as up. But no.
Ubik approached the chute to the upper decks and the magnetic force keeping the soles of his boots a fixed distance from the surface cut off. The drone in the ducts could take him no further. The air breathed in the upper decks was far too rarefied to share with common plebeians.
He would have to be a little more careful about security once he was up there.
It would have been a great deal easier if he could have taken control of the whole ship but even with all the cut corners, this was still a top-of-the-line vessel. It was constantly fighting him, rebooting systems he had taken.
Luckily for Ubik, it couldn’t do a full system-wide reboot, not while it was in service. There was a constant duel of snatch and give between the ship and Grandma.
Down here, where visiting customers would never come, it was all bare bones. The security was lax because the people were merely low-level staff. Most of the surveillance was done through the company implants which all employees had, and which Ubik did not.
Why would anyone not part of the staff come down here? Even if the ship was raided by pirates — an extremely unlikely event — they would hardly loot the have-nothings.
The VIPs who might be on board, however, were another matter. They had to be protected. Not just by the security agents, but by the cutting-edge technology Vendx were known for.
Not having to face that tech down here had been one of the reasons things had gone so well. So far. Now Ubik would have to switch things up.
In fact, overall, things had gone far better than he had expected. There were a lot of moving parts to this enterprise, and that meant a greater chance of at least one of those parts becoming unhinged.
If that had happened, well, Ubik would have adapted. You had to be prepared to change direction as soon as you saw the wall in your way.
But, surprisingly, that hadn’t happened. Everyone he had sent out on the slim chance they might produce the goods, had. More or less. At least, they hadn’t ended up dead.
Even if they had failed, they would have at the very least thinned the Vendx resources, giving Ubik a less cluttered field in which to make his next play. He had even spent some time thinking up alternatives so he would have something to try next — a couple of the last resorts would be quite spectacular — but now it seemed they would go to waste. It was a shame.
Everyone was in place, no one had messed up. Only he was left to come in at the end and save the day.
He would be the one who saved Fig. That was Ubik’s main goal. It hadn’t been originally, but that was one of the adaptions he’d made when he found out who Fig’s father was.
Ramon Ollo was a great man. An amazing inventor and engineer, mostly known for his work on organics. Ubik had little interest in that. He suspected Ramon Ollo didn’t really care that much about it, either. He had sold his discoveries to the highest bidders and made a fortune. Money which he had put into his true passion. He was building something, something even more spectacular than the sim-U.
Ubik had read all of Ollo senior’s papers, pored over every scrap of information available. There wasn’t that much, but what there was, was brilliant. And hiding something.
What it was, Ubik wasn’t sure, but he wanted in. He never thought he’d ever get the opportunity, but now he was close, and he didn’t intend to let the chance slip by.
Fig had offered him a chance to meet the great man. Ubik was going to do more than that. He was going to arrive as the guy who had saved his son.
It did require putting Fig in some danger, but that had been the easiest part of all. The boy had practically hurled himself into the heart of trouble the moment he arrived at the Academy.
There were some complications, but they would only serve to make the rescue all the more impressive. He just had to ensure Fig didn’t actually die. He would probably not get the full tour if he turned up with a coffin.
Ubik rose up the chute, all the way to the top. These systems were currently still under his control. If something happened between here and the top, well, he’d think of something.
The observation deck was for special guests and management only. Their simulation room wasn’t going to be big and cheap like the one down below. It was going to be pristine and have all the bells and whistles. Ubik had always wanted to try the Executive Sim-U. Supposedly, you could do things in there you couldn’t in an ordinary simulation machine. Which was handy, because what Ubik had in mind had never been tried in any simulation. Always a first time for everything.
Patreon is two weeks ahead, so an extra six chapters. Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino