Elect City Battle Arenod™.
Ubik stood in front of the screen which showed PT and a muscular woman taking a shower together. Both of them were naked and steaming. Only partly from the hot water, Ubik guessed.
“Very impressive,” said the voice coming from the drone.
“Well, he’s the strong silent type, which girls like,” said Ubik. “Plus he works out.”
“No,” said the drone. “I meant how quickly you managed to compromise our systems.” Lights flickered across the middle of the spherical drone and the screen went black. “I was aware of you hacking this drone, but not the others. You must have done it before you entered the building.”
“Oh, that.” Ubik stared at the screen, his reflection staring back at him. Having PT on site could have provided a distraction, but he was otherwise indisposed. Impressive, it certainly was.
He turned to face the group of men at the other end of the room, the drone hovering slightly above them. It was the same drone Ubik had meddled with earlier but he had nothing to do with its sudden chattiness.
“Yes, I had a chance to start the ball rolling on the way into the city. Nice little arena you’ve got here. Bit weak to cyber attack, but you’ve got the Ollo network to shield you. Only a problem if the Ollo network gets compromised first. That was the tricky part.”
“This guy’s too relaxed,” said Ghee. “He’s up to something. Shouldn’t we tie him up before he tries something else?”
“No,” said the drone. “He can’t do much from in here. I’m watching him. Bring in his friend so we can see what their relationship is. They can’t both be geniuses.”
Ghee’s right eye darted around, activating his ocular implant. “He’s on his way.”
“Good,” said the drone. “I think this could work to our mutual advantage, Ubik. Whatever you did to upset VendX, we can protect you from them. If you cooperate.”
“And who are you?” asked Ubik.
“Call me Vox,” said the drone. “I prefer to keep my identity private. It helps avoid issues like being killed by people who don’t like what I’m doing.”
“You have that problem too, huh?” Ubik nodded sympathetically. “I’m not sure if hiding behind a drone is the way to deal with it, though. People will think you’re scared.”
“But I am scared. I’m mightily afraid I won’t be able to accomplish my goals. The people of Enaya are far more important to me than my reputation. Don’t be fooled by the smiling, well-fed citizens you’ve seen so far. The situation here is quite dire.”
“I used to live in a junkyard and eat garbage,” said Ubik. “Happy and well-fed seems pretty okay.”
The door opened and PT came in. He was dressed in a green and yellow leotard with a red flash of lightning across the chest, which was a little baggy on him. The woman he’d been in the shower with followed him in. She was wearing an identical leotard but on her, it was stretched taut.
“This is Janeane,” said the woman, “or whatever his real name is. This is Vox. Your life is in his hands, so behave yourself.”
PT looked at the drone. “A drone? The leader of your revolution is a drone?”
“Welcome,” said the drone. “It’s been so very busy these last few hours, guests arriving one after the other. We have interested parties from all over the quadrant and further afield come to see who ends up with the lion’s share of whatever it is that asteroid is about to produce. All the major players, all hungry for a piece of the action. And now you two. The two who arrived on the Central Authority ship. The vessel that exploded but somehow left you both unharmed and standing on our doorstep. I can’t see that as being mere coincidence. At the very least, providence has sent you during our time of need. They are about to carve up this world and leave nothing but crumbs for its true owners, the people. Surely you won’t allow that to happen.”
“Hey,” said Ubik. “He’s not here to rescue you, he’s here to rescue me.”
“I’m not here to rescue anyone,” said PT. He sounded quite dour. Even more than usual. That might work on the girls, make him seem all moody and interesting, but Ubik’s head wasn’t so easily turned.
“But you’re in matching outfits,” said Ubik. “You’re a superhero team here to save me. Otherwise, it’s kind of a weird look.”
“I’m not here to save you, Ubik. And please don’t try to save me.”
Ghee, who had been watching the exchange with some consternation, decided to interrupt the bickering. “You two do realise you’re in a lot of trouble, don’t you?”
“I’ve rescued him from worse than this,” said Ubik. “You’d think he’d want to repay the debt.”
“You’ve only rescued me from danger you put me in,” said PT.
“This is interesting,” said the drone. “Which one of you is in charge? I can’t tell.”
“In charge,” said PT. “Ha! You know how they have terrorist cells where no one group knows what the other is doing? That’s how Ubik’s brain works. There is no one in charge, just a series of random disasters.”
“I’ve been insulted,” said Ubik, “with great precision. Not sure how to feel about it.”
“Look,” said PT, addressing the drone, “do you want to kill us or use us for some purpose you can’t manage by yourselves? Make up your mind quick, we have other business to take care of.”
There was a pause as the people who thought they were the ones in control attempted to come to grips with how they were the ones being handed the ultimatum. Ubik was pleased. PT was doing an excellent job of keeping everyone off-balance. He was genuinely annoyed, which made it even more convincing, but that was okay. He was still quite an effective counter-terrorist.
“We aren’t murderers,” said the woman. Ubik wasn’t sure the others were in total agreement with her.
“Okay, so you want us to do some task for you,” said PT. “Fine. But just so you know, there’s a good chance — and by good I mean near-certain — that it won’t turn out the way you anticipate, and you, Vox, will be the one having to explain to your unhappy bosses why you’ve turned your fancy arena into a pile of rubble. Just a heads up.”
“What are you talking about?” said Ghee. “He is the boss.”
“Please,” said PT. “Ubik, the guy behind the drone, who is he?”
“How would I know?” said Ubik.
“You’ve been with him for ten minutes, are you saying you have no idea?” There was an accusatory tone to PT’s voice.
“Well, I have some ideas… nothing definite.”
“Come on, Ubik, don’t start being all cautious now, you’ll ruin the image I have of you. What have you come up with? I’m sure these people would love to hear your theories on the guy they think is their boss. He isn’t is he?”
“Probably not,” said Ubik.
“Of course he isn’t. When did the guy keeping his identity secret ever turn out to be someone you could trust? So who is he?”
PT had very effectively channelled the room’s attention towards Ubik. Not only had PT managed to put everyone into a reactive posture, he had funnelled their focus away from himself. It was almost as though he was using Ubik as the distraction. Ubik was inclined to go along with it just to see where things would end up.
“Okay, well, with the disclaimer that I’m only going on the minimum amount of information on someone who clearly values their privacy, my guess would be he works for Node.”
“What?” said Ghee.
“Ridiculous,” said the woman.
The two large men who were also in attendance didn’t say anything but didn’t look overly impressed, either.
“Who or what is Node?” asked PT.
“Our parent company,” said Ghee. “Node PLC.”
“Node — Power Loves Corruption,” said Ubik.
“Don’t be offended, it’s just a nickname,” said Ubik. “They’re one of the minor supercorporations. They can destroy anyone in their way, unless the ones in their way are also a supercorporation. They’ve been trying to make inroads into the whole owning planets business, but the big boys keep shutting them out. They have a bit of a presence here, which none of the other supercorps have, but the problem is the reason no one has a foothold here isn’t blind luck, it’s because this is Ramon Ollo’s backyard. But with Ramon missing…”
“Do we have to listen to this nonsense?” said the woman. “You’re saying the man who has risked everything for this world is actually an employee of some grimy corporation that wants to take over before one of its rival grimy corporations can do it first? This is just business? People’s lives are hanging in the balance.”
“I don’t know,” said PT. “Why not ask him?”
PT now expertly diverted attention towards the drone. He really was getting good at this.
The drone was silent. It hovered in place, no lights flashing around its middle. It was a good thing drones couldn’t sweat, it might have short-circuited itself.
Finally, Vox spoke. “What do you want?”
“Are you saying he’s right?” said the woman, a look of horror on her face. “It isn’t true, is it? You can’t be…”
“Of course it isn’t true,” said Vox. “Please wait and don’t jump to conclusions, Bam.”
“Calm down,” said Ghee. “You know Vox never does the expected. Let’s see what his play is.”
They were both desperate for Ubik to be wrong. Ubik didn’t really care. His guess was enough to prevent him and PT getting stuffed into a bag in easy to handle pieces. If he wasn’t exactly right, he wasn’t far off.
“We’re in a very disadvantageous position here,” said Vox. “It was bad enough with only Ollo and his pet Assembly ready to wag its tail at his command. Now there are many more players wanting to take his place, including Mackus.”
“Who?” said PT.
“Ramon Ollo’s number two,” said Ubik.
“You really are an Ollo fanboy, aren’t you?” said PT. “Won’t he be the one to take over if he’s got access to Ollo’s set-up?”
“No,” said Vox. “If he could, he would have already. The Ollo network isn’t so easy to penetrate for anyone who isn’t an Ollo. Or so I thought.”
The walls flickered. They changed into screens, the whole room was covered with images of Enaya from orbit, with part of a large ship taking up one corner.
“This is the Seneca Corps,” said a voice that filled the room. “We are broadcasting on all channels. Forced reception is active, do not look away. We are assuming command of the planet. The General Assembly will convene in thirty minutes, standard. Attendance is compulsory. Do not be alarmed, we are here on a humanitarian mission. Any resistance to our presence will be met with lethal force.”
Targeting icons started appearing across the globe. The Corps’ version of being passive-aggressive was light on the passive.
“What’s going on?” said Ghee. “Why are they back?”
“Are they here to deal with Mackus?” said the woman.
“Boss,” said one of the large men, looking particularly nervous, “we’ve got to get to the bunker.”
The timing wasn’t great. They had just been about to secure a ride out to the Ollo residence, which was all Ubik had really wanted out of this. Now the Corps was here to ruin everything.
“Not them again,” said Ubik. “Everywhere we go.”
“You’ve had dealings with the Corps before,” said Vox. “And lived.”
“Sure,” said Ubik. “No big deal. They’re actually very useful as a distraction. No one pays any attention to you when the Corps arrives. It’s the fancy uniforms and underwire bras — very eye-catching. You were saying?”
Other than PT, the rest of the room were staring at Ubik.
“Get me into Ollo’s network,” said Vox, “his private network — then name your price. We can make you both very rich men and provide you with a ticket to anywhere in the galaxy. You know the other corporations won’t make you an offer you can trust.”
“Wait,” said the woman, “you really are—”
A series of hisses came from the drone and small jets of air caused a distortion in four different directions. Four people hit the ground with darts in their necks.
“And we can trust you?” said PT, ignoring the sudden reduction in personnel.
“We’d need a guarantee,” said Ubik. “And we need to get inside the Ollo main residence. I can only access the private network from onsite.”
“That won’t be a problem,” said Vox.
And that was how you got yourself a free ride when you didn’t have enough money for taxi fare.
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