Book 2 – 62: Promoted Content

Third Quadrant.

Asteroid Tethari.

Antecessor Facility - Level 4


Chukka raised a hand to stop the question on everyone’s lips. She took off her helmet and turned it upside down, showing the inside to Bashir.

“Kill the comms.”

Bashir hesitated, looking confused. “I’d have to—”

“I know,” said Chukka. “Do it. She’s still listening in, or her suit is. If we’re going to find a way out of here, we don’t want her keeping tabs on us.”

Bashir nodded, her order now making sense.

She shouldn’t have had to explain herself. The whole point of a strict hierarchy was to avoid wasting time justifying your orders, but these were unusual circumstances. The command structure had become confused.

The Guardian had assumed control and then left without naming a successor, and Chukka had only recently been put in charge — someone who did not have the traditional rank for leadership in an insertion unit like the one she’d been given. It was understandable why Bashir would hesitate to follow her orders without question, but still unacceptable. It was down to her to correct his behaviour.

“Disable the comms from my helmet and your own and his.” She looked at Flott who was listening carefully but didn’t have any objections. He was the ranking field agent with the authority to question tactical decisions. He seemed completely disinterested. Not the greatest state of mind for your tactical officer to be in but at least he wouldn’t cause any problems. “You two need to do the same,” she added to the Seneca women.

The two women nodded and took off their helmets, revealing close-cropped hair with patterns cut into the sides. They claimed to be ex-Seneca but they hadn’t yet let go of the trappings of their training.

They reached into their own helmets and yanked something out, and then put the helmets back on, visors up.

Bashir had three small buttons in the palm of his hand. “Done. I can reactivate them later.” He looked past her shoulder. “If there is a later.”

The droid sat on its haunches on the other side of the shield, watching them with a look of mild curiosity on its face; or so Chukka imagined. It was hard to identify expressions on an Antecessor — or Intercessor — droid, but this one had a way of putting its mood out there.

It didn’t seem upset about being denied access to the hole it had sliced into the wall. For some reason, it was patiently observing them. Which was a good thing for her plan, but still unnerved her. Droids were meant to be relentlessly single-minded in pursuit of an objective or target. They didn’t exhibit curiosity.

“Okay, now what?” said Leyla. “What’s your brilliant idea?” Her tone was abrupt but at least she was willing to listen. A sign the anchor was beginning to take hold?

“I can send the droid after Tezla,” said Chukka. “We just drop the shield and—”

“And die,” said Weyla. “We don’t need to listen to this. Your plan, whatever it is, is just a long-winded version of the only plan — we drop the shield and fight our way out of here. We’re still better off than we would have been. Fourth level, that’s already further than Ramon Ollo ever got. We can take it from here. Feel free to do what you want once the fighting starts.” Her steely-eyed gaze shifted to look at the droid which was now sniffing around at the edge of the force field. “We’ll take care of the kitty.”

Leyla made some adjustments to the huge gun in her hands and nodded. “We’ll hold off the droid long enough for you three get in the shaft.”

“You want us to jump into the high-gravity shaft to who knows where?” said Bashir, his voice going up in a very unprofessional manner. There were all sorts of improvements Chukka could see that were needed with his performance. “We don’t have super CA suits like the Guardian. We’ll die.” Now he was whining.

“Or you can die here,” Leyla snapped.

She took a tube from a pouch on her belt and put it to her mouth. She inhaled something and her face loosened a little. Probably a painkiller or a stimulant. Hopefully not something that would interfere with the embedding of the presuggestion Chukka had implanted.

Leyla put the tube back in the pouch and rolled her neck, producing a large crack. “The Guardian isn’t coming back to save you. You do understand that, don’t you?”

Leyla was in pain, under stress and emotionally at her lowest ebb. Seneca warriors were trained to handle themselves under these conditions — using narcotics when needed — but that kind of training required maintaining. Being out of the Corps had led to some deterioration. Which was perfect for Chukka’s needs, or as close to perfect as they were going to get. A little more time would have been nice, but this would have to do.

It was a complicated procedure even with a regular person. The anchor had to take, the attached presuggestion needed time to embed, and the rapport-trigger had to be precisely lodged connecting the two. And all without the target becoming aware of the harness being placed on them.

Leyla wasn’t going to be an easy subject but in her current condition there was a decent chance. Plus, she was kinaesthetic. She relied on her feelings rather than sight and sound. Tactile, instinctive, willing to go with a hunch. Once she was on board, her own instincts would convince her to follow through.

“Just wait, okay,” said Chukka. “See how you feel after I’ve explained. There’s a solution here, one that doesn’t require us to risk fighting that thing and lose our lives or several limbs. Once it’s gone, then you can decide what you want to do. It’s not like we have a clock on this.”

Leyla’s blink count was high. She was responding well. A strong will didn’t require excessive force; quite the opposite. Low-level probing was how you got past a solid mental defence. You just needed to find one gap...

Both Seneca women looked doubtful but they hadn’t interrupted, which was a good sign.

Chukka had once entertained thoughts of joining the Corps. Every little girl idolised the women who defended their sex with brutal, uncompromising determination. Every little girl longed to be feared by every little boy. But the Corps had requirements. A high CQ. A strong aptitude. An undeniable talent. It was the Corps dirty little secret. They weren’t here to protect every girl, just the special ones. And Chukka hadn’t been special enough. Her talent had been too well hidden.

It had worked to her advantage. A low CQ but high-level access to organics. If the company knew how she’d acquired hers, they would forcibly reclaim it and sue her for costs and damages, but her CQ was too low to be worth checking. The organic shouldn’t have worked at all. A diagnostic analysis would probably say it didn’t.

But it did. Just a little. Which would normally be of no use, but this was a modal organic. It affected mental states. The usual host for this kind of organic would be able to turn people into puppets, reducing their free will to zero. A terrifying ability but also a banned one.

There were people who still had them, who abused them, but the bigger problem was how obvious they were when used. A person suddenly turning into a drooling slave was not going to go unnoticed. Some of the higher-ups in the various PR departments of different companies were rumoured to be running modal, but when could they use them? Organics in general were not subtle, and modal ones were positively blatant.

Chukka’s weakened organic ability was the opposite. So subtle it didn’t even register unless the sensitivity on the assessment machine was set to maximum. And why do that when most organics would blow the sensor if you scanned for them with those settings?

Using it rarely and only to make small adjustments had served Chukka well. And now she had the chance to boost her whole career without anyone knowing.

“Like your sister said,” continued Chukka, eyes locked on Leyla, “we’re four levels in, that’s already further than anyone else. We can find the rest of the way down ourselves. We just need to work together. Come to an understanding. One we can both feel good about.”

She spoke directly to Leyla, no one else. If there was going to be a deal made here, it was through her.

“You want something,” said Leyla, eyes narrowing. She wasn’t going to be easy. “What is it?”

“Yes. I want to make a deal. We both came here for Ubik, right? There’s no point in denying it now.”

Leyla flicked a glance over at her sister. Neither said anything.

“Obviously, we can’t both have him. And frankly, now that I’m here, I’m not sure either of us will be able to grab him, not once he gets a hold of that arsenal the Guardian is so kindly going to deliver into his hands.”

This time the two women exchanged a longer look. Chukka felt confident this was going her way, she just needed to close the deal.

“What I’m proposing, assuming we manage to neutralise the Guardian and subdue Ubik — and my gut tells me we can do both — is a simple split. You take Ubik, I take the Guardian’s suit.”

Leyla’s reaction was nice and strong.

“You want to take a Central Authority suit?” said Weyla incredulously. “While it’s got a Guardian in it?”

There was a reaction from her men, too, but they kept their mouths shut. At least they hadn’t lost all sense of professionalism.

“It contains a lot of useful information and tech not seen outside of the CA… I think my superiors will consider it a fair trade for Ubik,” said Chukka. “And if not, there will be other buyers. I have contacts, I’m sure I can find someone interested.”

She resisted looking over at Bashir or Flott. They should have figured out by now that she was running a persuasion pattern. No one in VendX would be stupid enough to talk about selling out the company in front of witnesses. It would be professional suicide, as well as the regular kind of suicide.

“Any repercussions will be on me,” she continued, “although I expect you to keep the matter confidential. But then, you’re Seneca Corps. Not even torture would pry your lips open, isn’t that what it says on your emblem?”

She held on Leyla. This was where she would break one way or the other. The signs looked good. If she got a lock on her here, it would be much easier to push her the rest of the way.

“No,” said Leyla. “That’s not what it says. And I don’t trust you. We can do this ourselves.”

Chukka screamed inwardly but didn’t let it show. She had failed. The Seneca training was drilled in too deep. She had been rejected even on this small matter, giving her no point of entry. The anchor hadn’t lodged.

“I think we should take the deal,” said Weyla.

Chukka was as surprised as Leyla. The other sister had seemed the far harder target to sway. But she has come around without any effort at all.

“She saved your life,” continued Weyla, “and she’s got a plan to deal with the droid. I’d like to see how she does that. If she tries something, we can deal with her then. But if we can get rid of that monster without getting injured, I’m all for it.”

Leyla’s brow furrowed but her head was nodding slightly. Chukka had picked the wrong sister, her sensory acuity letting her down for once, but there was no point dwelling on it when there was a second chance at the prize.

“Okay, just give me a minute.” Chukka sat down next to the beam of light acting as a tentpole. She tapped on her EPK, crafting the perfect image for the droid. It had already shown it was visually receptive to an image of Ubik, now would be the test to see if droids could also be triggered.

Chukka stood up after about ten minutes. “Alright, I’m going to turn off the tent and show it a Holover that will send it after Tezla. I’ve done it once before, I think it should work.”

“And what if it doesn’t?” asked Bashir, eyes darting towards the droid. “What are we supposed to do?”

“Then we’re in the same spot we were in before,” said Flott, giving Bashir a look that immediately silenced him and his whimpering. “Just stick to the walls and stay out of the way.”

Flott was smart enough to hitch his fate to hers. She could see more questions on everyone’s faces, but she didn’t want to waste time. Better to just show them and hope it worked.

She tapped her EPK to activate the Holover and hit the resonator with her foot. The tent came down immediately.

The droid stood there, looking at the Holover of Ubik. It looked suspicious. It wouldn’t be fooled a second time but she wasn’t trying to convince it that Ubik was here. She wanted it to know what had happened to him.

Tezla appeared in her suit. It was a little crude, built from the images of her Chukka had taken since entering the site. The lighting down here wasn’t the best, but the suit was easily recognisable. Smooth polished surfaces were easiest to render.

Tezla’s suit grabbed Ubik by the throat and throttled him. Ubik’s eyes bulged. A nice touch, she thought.

The droid was up and leaning forward aggressively.

Tezla threw Ubik, sending him flying into the hole in the wall. The trajectory was a little off, part of his body clipping through the wall, but it got the message across. Tezla’s suit followed, jumping into the shaft. That part looked the best, taken from footage of Tezla’s real exit.

The droid leapt through the air, ignoring the rest of them, and dived through the hole. Tezla was about to have company.

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