94: Network Connected

Fourth Quadrant.

Planet Fountain.

Antecessor Ship: Origin (sim-U).


Ubik was surprised by Fig’s outburst. Normally, Fig was the epitome of cool, calm and collected. Even though he was young, he had always managed to come across as very focused and deliberate in how he conducted himself. It was impressive.

But there was also a degree of masking going on. The kind of cold calculating behind the eyes you only saw from people who had grown up knowing to show fear or weakness was going to lead to problems, so they suppressed it. That didn’t mean it wasn’t there.

Ubik’s own background was like that. Not just in how he had presented himself when he was younger, but how everyone around him had acted, too.

You couldn’t afford to let down your guard, or your mask, even once. No one would attack you if they suspected you might have a trump card up your sleeve, it wasn’t worth the risk. But as soon as they realised you didn’t, they’d see it as their best opportunity to take you out of the game. It was basic common sense when you grew up in a highly competitive arena. The slums, outer space, marketing — it was all do or die.

What kind of environment had Fig grown up in? Not a completely unforgiving one if he was willing to allow his true emotions to show. Maybe it wasn’t even a weakness where he came from.

“Where?” said Fig. “Where have you seen this sigil before?”

Ubik looked at the large green symbol hanging in the air. Then he looked around at the large droids standing guard — guarding what? The ship? The sigil? Fig?

And lastly, he turned his attention to the Vendx employee, his eyes wide with fear and confusion.

This wasn’t the scenario Ubik had envisioned when he sent Fig in here, but it was still a workable one. Probably.

“I’m not sure.” The three leaves in a circle did jog a memory in Ubik’s head but he couldn’t place it. “Maybe on the side of a ship… Doesn’t it look familiar to you?”

“Hey,” said PT’s voice from the screen. “Any ideas? Running out of time over here.”

PT, on the other hand, was more than happy to express himself. His approach was the opposite — he was always letting his displeasure be known, whether it be through sarcasm or irritation or telling you to your face. At least he was always that way with Ubik.

The advantage of PT’s approach was that you could never be sure when he was really upset. If you assumed he was out of sorts and off-balance when he wasn’t, he could lull you into a false sense of superiority.

“Can I talk to him?” said Ubik.

The screen was wrapped around a sphere floating above the console Fig was standing next to. The image was curved but somehow managed to look three dimensional. Fig grabbed the ball and turned it. PT’s face took up more of the screen and it was almost like his head was sticking out of the console.

“Hey, how’s it going?” said Ubik.

“Not very well,” said PT. Possibly, this was one of the times when he was genuinely upset. “The Central Authority ship asked us to stand down and you launched an attack on them. I don’t think anyone’s directly attacked a Central Authority ship in over a century. Should be interesting to see how they respond to this historic moment.”

“How did they contact you?” asked Ubik, ignoring the pointed barbs. “Over the comms?”

“No,” said PT. “Some sort of sonic device that puts words into your brain directly and painfully.”

“Ah,” said Ubik. “That’s interesting. Probably means they’re planning to board us.”

“Before or after they blow us into atoms?” said PT.

“They won’t attack the ship,” said Ubik.

“You’re sure about that are you?” said PT. “No, no, don’t answer that. I don’t even know why I asked. Of course you aren’t.”

“Sonic interactions,” said Ubik. “Can’t send that through a vacuum. Has to be a physical connection between their ship and this one. I doubt they’d dock with a ship they planned to blow up.”

There was a pause as this information was digested.

“We’re picking up a communication from the CA vessel,” said another voice.

“Turn it up,” said PT to someone off to the side.

“What do you know about the release of oxygen in Antecessor sites?” said a female voice.

“Nothing,” said Chief Supervisor Mayden’s voice. He sounded frustrated. “I told you, my ship has been hijacked. Aren’t you going to do something about it? Isn’t that why you’re here?”

“I’m here to investigate a report of open warfare. Why have you sent these interceptor drones to attack my ship?”

“Would you rather speak to someone from legal?”


“What about PR? They could explain—”

“Definitely not. Why have you sent—”

“I didn’t.” Mayden’s voice suddenly went high-pitched. “I’m not insane. I wouldn’t attack an Authority ship. You haven’t destroyed them all have you? They’re very expensive to replace.”

“They have been neutralised,” said the woman. “Why are you on the surface instead of on your ship? I should warn you, your answers are being recorded.”

“Shouldn’t you tell me that before we start talking? I really think I should have legal counsel sitting in on this.”

“So you have something to hide?”

“No.” Mayden voice went up another octave.

“I’ll need to see your logs.”

“Certainly. They’re on my ship. The hijacked one. As soon as you liberate her, you can read all the logs you like.”

“Stand by.”

There was a pause.

“I think she’s going to open fire,” said PT.

“They won’t blame the ship for the drones attacking,” said Ubik. “Vendx has already declared the ship is no longer under their direct control. They may see hostages as expendable assets but the CA won’t. Not until they find out who the hostage-takers are. They’re good at that sort of thing, I’m sure they’ll get to the bottom of this.”

“That’s us,” said PT in a low hiss. “We’re the hostage-takers. You want them to come after us?”

“At least they’ll want to talk first,” said Ubik. “I’ll tell them we’re sorry.”

“You think an apology will work?” PT’s tone was not confident.

“You don’t think so?” said Ubik. “What if I say we’re very sorry.”

“All the drones have been neutralised, whatever that means,” said PT. “We’re next.”

There were whimpering sounds coming from behind PT.

“Not all the drones,” said Ubik. “There’s still the drone net over the city.”

“You control them, too?” said PT, his usual suspicious tone giving way to a hopeful one.

“Me? No. But I have people working on it.”

“Do they know they’re working on it?” PT’s suspicious tone came rushing back in.

“Let’s hope they figured it out the way you did,” said Ubik.

“Figured what out?” said PT. “I still don’t know why you sent me here.”

“Nice, nice,” said Ubik. “You’re right, now that the CA ship is hooked up to the Motherboard they’re probably listening in. Best to make it look like we don’t know what we’re doing.”

PT just stared at him.

“Okay,” said PT after a long pause. “So what do we do now?”

“You’ve got enough people with you, should be fine,” said Ubik.

“Enough people for what?” said PT.

“Who knows?” said Ubik. “We’ll have to wait and see. Hold on, I’ve got to sort out a few things here.” He pushed the screen and PT’s head went spinning away.

Ubik turned back to Fig, who had been listening without interrupting. He was good at that, able to restrain himself from jumping in with questions and suggestions. It was always the chatty ones you had to be wary of. They were the ones closest to breaking point.

“You’re quite friendly with the aliens, aren’t you?” said Ubik, looking the droids over. They had the appearance of an honour guard for Fig at this point. “I thought you’d be more in need of saving.”

“You were hoping my situation was worse?” said Fig, his composure back.

“No, not at all,” said Ubik, careful to keep his voice level. The kid was sharp. “Why would I want that? It’s good, that’s what I meant. You can handle yourself in unexpected situations. We should take care of this and get out of here, what do you think? Go see your old man.”

Fig nodded. “How?”

“Hmm, well,” said Ubik, getting the order right in his head before speaking. “Now that everyone’s linked up, we should speak to the people in charge. Explain this is a giant misunderstanding.”

“We’re linked up?” said Fig. “To whom?”

“To everyone,” said Ubik. “The CA, the Motherboard, Vendx mobile command, the guild down on the surface, we’re on the same network now, through the sim-U, like one of those chat rooms where people from across the quadrant can talk about their hobbies. It’s what people have in common that brings them together.”

“I see,” said Fig. “And what do we all have in common?”

“Lots of things,” said Ubik. “We share an interest in the Antecessors, for a start. That’s always a good ice-breaker. People’s ears perk up whenever you mention anything to do with that. A bit too much, if you ask me, but you can’t really blame them. Instant power at your fingertips with no effort, very tempting.”

Ubik looked around again. There had to be a way to make these droids a bit more interactive.

“Do we just wait now?” said Fig.

“We could, we could,” said Ubik. “Or you could ask the ship what it wants.”

“What do you mean?” said Fig. “Ask this ship?”

“It must have picked you for a reason,” said Ubik. “Maybe it’s something really simple.”

“I never thought to just… ask,” said Fig. “It’s not very easy communicating with a civilisation that’s millennia old. No one’s managed it so far.”

“You seem to have a unique bond with it now, though,” said Ubik. “It should be fine. I think everything’s ready, just in case it goes horribly, horribly wrong.” Ubik couldn’t help but grin at Fig’s concerned face. “We even have the Central Authority here to call in the cavalry. What’s the worst that could happen?”

Fig slowly turned around to face the sigil. It hung in ominous silence.

“Um… is there anything you want?” said Fig. Nothing happened. “What do you want?” He spoke more slowly this time, but still nothing. “I don’t think we speak the same—”

The sigil flickered. Then parts of it turned white, making the partial outline look like the petals were pointing at each other, indicating a circular motion.

“Hey, I remember now,” said Ubik. “I’ve seen this back in the junkyard. It’s from before we had the whole ‘use it then lose it’ mode of manufacture, when they would reuse stuff to make it new again. It means—”

“Resurrection,” said Fig.

“I was gonna say recycle, but sure, resurrection,” said Ubik. “I wonder what they want to resurrect.”

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