Dook Asteroid Field.
Quazi Base 9.
It took a moment for Point-Two to recover from the disorientation. It was like he had taken a single step forward, and then his brain had rushed to catch up, slamming into him from behind.
Sudden journeys from one end of the galaxy to the other were not something he was accustomed to, especially not those that only took a couple of seconds, so it wasn’t surprising there were some side-effects to deal with.
The man insisting in a trembling high-pitched voice that they show him their identification badges wasn’t helping.
Point-Two rubbed his head. He was sure they had travelled a vast distance, it was just something he instinctively felt, but he had no idea where they had ended up. Judging by the confused man in front of them, wherever they were, it was private property and they were trespassing.
Everyone else also looked a bit unsteady, apart from Chukka. For some reason, she was able to recover first and had immediately started looking for employment opportunities, and was badgering the poor man with demands of her own. Were Mason & Muss that wonderful to work for? He had definitely heard of the name, but he couldn’t remember much else. A luxury brand of some sort.
What he did know, though, was that the last person he wanted as the group spokesman was Major Chukka of VendX’s PR Department. As he made a move to pull her back before she said something problematic, Ubik stepped in and did it for her.
“Hey, no soliciting.” Ubik tugged on Chukka’s elbow in what seemed a casual manner, but which sent her spinning back towards the rest of them. “Ah, there you are, my good man. Glad you finally got here.”
For some reason, Ubik had decided to start talking in an oddly posh voice. This only served to fluster the man, who was wearing some kind of uniform, the letters ‘M&M’ monogrammed on the chest.
The man, who had come running in and was a little out of breath, took a moment to collect himself, and noticed something over Ubik’s shoulder. His mouth hung open in a gormless manner, no longer in befuddled security-guard-mode. Now just befuddled in general.
“What’s that?” he said. “That wasn’t there before.”
Point-Two glance over his shoulder at the sigil, which was floating just off the ground and glowing very dimly, like it was low on batteries. It didn’t look completely solid, as though you could wave your arm through it and clear it away.
“Yes, yes, I know,” said Ubik, with the air of someone who was dealing with people far beneath him. “Look, what’s your name?” Ubik peered at the man’s chest. “I don’t see a name badge.”
The man’s eyes widened as he looked down at his chest, his surprise and shock even greater than when seeing the sigil. He quickly patted his pockets, front and back, even the ones on his thighs and just above the knees. He found the missing card in the breast pocket, which had been the first one he had checked, and slammed it onto his chest where it stuck.
The name badge identified him as G. Taio and his department as security.
“I see,” said Ubik, nodding his approval. “Taio. Good. Well, Mr Taio, you’re probably wondering what we’re doing here.”
Point-Two recognised this as the point of no return. Either Ubik would flawlessly talk them out of here, or he would make things much, much worse for everyone else as he talked himself out of here.
“Yes,” said the guard, finding it hard to maintain his aggressive no-visitors-allowed stance in the face of Ubik’s complete disregard for such formalities. If he didn’t know better, Point-Two would have assumed Ubik owned the place and the guard was the trespasser.
“It’s very simple,” said Ubik. “We’re part of a very advanced research team working on some hush-hush matters and during the carrying out of our hush-hush research, we inadvertently triggered an ancient transportation array. You know how these things happen.”
The guard clearly did not know any such thing, but nodded anyway.
“Now, I can’t tell you all the details — privacy requirements for legal reasons, you understand?”
“But what I can say is that it isn’t a complete coincidence we ended up here.”
Ubik was giving the impression he knew where ‘here’ was. Point-Two was pretty sure he didn’t, but it probably didn’t matter. He was happy to run riot anywhere.
The guard was hanging on Ubik’s every word, but looked as confused as ever. “You’re saying you’re a scientist?” This was said in a slightly doubtful tone, which was understandable.
Ubik did not radiate the typical qualities of a top scientist working on important matters. Fierce intelligence, the pursuit of knowledge, a willingness to devote one’s life to excellence — no one would guess Ubik had all of these in abundance. He hid his lights under many bushels, and you definitely didn’t want to know what they were bushels of.
Of course, there were some eccentric types, the mad scientists of myth and legend, but to be honest, Ubik didn’t fit that mould either. If anything, he was more believable as the mad scientist’s little helper, who made sure the three-headed cats were fed and went around collecting body parts from morgues for future experiments.
“Me?” said Ubik. “No, no. Do I look like I know anything about technical things?” He chuckled dryly to himself. “No, I don’t even know which way to hold a screwdriver. I’m just the gopher and general dogsbody. Make sure things are running smoothly and get them to if they aren’t. You know what that’s like, right?”
The two of them shared a knowing smile.
“No, the person in charge here is…” Ubik turned and looked at the others, his gaze sweeping across them until it came to rest on Point-Two. “Him.”
Point-Two didn’t appreciate being dragged into this, whatever ‘this’ was, and scowled.
“You can see how it is,” Ubik said to the guard. “Doesn’t like to interact with the normal world.” Ubik put a finger to his temple and tapped. “Up here, he’s constantly making calculations, coming up with the next big thing.” He moved his finger down to his chest. “In here.” He shook his head slowly. “No time for chit-chat, that’s for sure. That’s where I come in.”
The guard was all ears now. Ubik was drip-feeding him this nonsense, but the guard was lapping it up.
“As for the others,” continued Ubik. “The two women at the back there, they’re his concubines.”
“Concubines?” said the guard, looking over at the two Seneca sisters in their veteran warrior gear, armed to the teeth.
Ubik leaned closer to the guard. “He likes it rough.”
The guard looked again. The two sisters didn’t look flattered, to say the least, but they kept their mouths shut, thankfully.
“As for the pretty boy.” Ubik looked over at Fig. Ubik leaned closer to the guard. “Also likes it smooth. Hairless body.”
“I don’t know who those two are,” said Ubik, referring to Chukka and Bashir. “They just tagged along. Not important. Let me cut to the chase. Mason & Muss. Robotics. Who doesn’t know the M&M logo when it comes to the best robots in the galaxy?”
The guard stood a little straighter. “Yes, that’s true.”
“We’ll need to speak to President Quazem.”
“But he’s dead,” said the guard.
“Sorry, if you’d just let me finish,” said Ubik. “President Quazem’s son. The youngest one. What was his name?” Ubik snapped his fingers twice.
“Quincy Quazem.” The voice was Grandma’s, but she didn’t sound as warm and cosy as she normally did.
A smirk almost made it to Ubik’s face but was immediately flattened before it could take up residence. “That’s right, that’s right.”
The guard was looking at Ubik strangely. “You know the young master?”
“Not personally,” said Ubik, “but he’s the person we need to speak to. Can you get in touch with him for us?”
The guard slowly nodded. “This base… belongs to Master Quazem.”
“Really?” said Ubik. “What a coincidence.” He said it in a manner that suggested it wasn’t a coincidence at all.
“You want me to contact Master Quazem?” The guard sounded very reluctant. He could probably get into a lot of trouble.
“That’s right, Taio,” said Ubik. “Tell him about the sigil here, that should do the trick. Not your supervisor, mind. We don’t want too many people knowing about this.” His eyebrows rose suggestively. “This could turn out to be very beneficial for everyone concerned.”
The guard was nodding again. “You stay here. I’ll be right back.” He began walking backwards until he reached the doorway, then he turned and ran off.
“Why do I get to be the boffin?” said Point-Two as soon as the guard’s hurried footsteps faded. “Wouldn’t Fig be a better choice? He looks the part more than I do.”
“We don’t want anyone recognising him,” said Ubik. “If anyone does an image search on him, they’ll find a big fat file on him. If they look you up…”
“I have been in a few top twenty eligible bachelor things,” said Fig. “But my hair was a lot longer, so I shouldn’t be easily recognised.” He rubbed the silvery stubble that had started to appear on his shaved scalp. His jaw, however, showed no stubble at all.
Point-Two rubbed his own scratchy-haired chin. How long since his last proper wash? How long since he’d used a real toilet, come to think of it? He moved uncomfortably around in the suit that was his own personal waste processing system.
“How do we get out of here?” said Point-Two. Sending the guard off was nicely done, but now what? They had no idea where they were or how to find the way out.
“I know exactly where we are and how to get us out,” said Ubik. “Just leave it to me.”
“Mason & Muss,” said Chukka. “That must mean we’re in the Inner Quadrant.” There was an excited trill to her voice.
All four quadrants had an inner region which they shared. It was where the truly rich and powerful existences lived. An existence that was so far removed from 99.9% of the galaxy, that it wasn’t even an aspiration for most people.
Unless they allowed it, no one else was permitted to enter.
Companies such as VendX Galactic were big players in the outer regions, but they were nothing in the eyes of those who controlled the markets from their ivory towers. Anyone could make money, but only a few were in a position to create the money for others to make.
“Shouldn’t we make a move before Taio comes back?” said Point-Two. He had no interest in pining for a better life. A life of any kind was what he was after right now.
“Where to?” said Ubik. “We don’t have a ship, we don’t have any money, and we’ve got all sorts of unpleasantness hunting for us. What we need right now is somewhere to lie low and wait for things to blow over. Maybe do a bit of shopping. I hear the Inner Quad’s shops are on another level.”
“Oh yes!” said Chukka, drawing a few looks. She seemed to have completely forgotten her situation and was enthralled by the prospect of what she could do now that she had finally made it to the promised land.
“We’ll just wait for Master Quincy to turn up. It’ll be fine. I’ll handle it.”
“How is that lying low?” said Point-Two.
“Politics,” said Ubik.
“What do you mean?” said Point-Two.
“M&M, big company,” said Ubik, like he was explaining to a child. “President died so all his many, many kids split up the assets between them. Lots of assets, plenty for everyone. But not all assets are the same. Like this place. It’s a dump. Small Antecessor site that got cleared out aeons ago.”
“How do you know that?” said Point-Two.
“One guard?” said Ubik. “Clearly not a very good one.”
“He’s right,” said Bashir. “I’ve been scanning for any other signs of life. He’s the only one here.”
“Hmm,” agreed Fig. “Me and Grandma are finding the same.”
“So who would get this as their birthright?” asked Ubik. “The youngest son who no one gives a shit about.”
Point-Two looked around at the bare walls. “You got all that from a five-second conversation?”
“It’s pretty obvious when you know what to look for,” said Ubik, still speaking to a child. “Youngest son of a big, rich family is going to have a stick up his backside. Never got the breaks the others did. When he hears something’s happening in his dead-end inheritance, he’s going to want to check it out. Personally, so news doesn’t get out. He won’t be telling anyone, just in case it gets taken away from him like with all his other toys.”
“Have you met this guy?” asked Point-Two.
“Never even knew he existed. Now, the important thing is everyone plays along. No matter how insulting or embarrassing, go with the flow.” Ubik smiled and the room felt a bit darker. “It’s especially important we don’t reveal either of your gifts.”
Ubik looked from Point-Two to Fig and back again.
“Yes, your organics will make it easier to get out of any sticky situations, but once people know what you two can do, they’re going to hunt you both down and cut you open to find out what makes you so special so they can use you to benefit themselves. And obviously I don’t want anyone else doing that.”
“Anyone else?” said Point-Two.
“What?” said Ubik.
“You said, anyone else,” Point-Two repeated.
“You’re hearing things,” said Ubik. “This is about all of us. You, me, them. All lives matter to me.” Ubik smiled again. Point-Two started thinking maybe he would do better going it alone.
Chapters are two weeks (six chapters) ahead on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino