Book 4 - 2: Due Diligence

Second Quadrant

Cairo-3998 aka Planet Challenger

Daring City — Guest Hub


Figaro was confident he could win the fight. The man had a height, weight and reach advantage, and he also had a formidable-looking weapon attached to his arm from the elbow.

The end of the cylindrical barrel was closed and three strips of metal protruded like a claw. Technically it wasn’t a weapon, it was a prosthetic hand.

The issue wasn’t this man, the issue was the person instigating the fight.

Any idea Ubik came up with was going to be a slippery affair. What Ubik said he wanted and what he was actually after were usually two separate things. You had to be careful not to fall into the trap set for the enemy, especially when the person who set the trap didn’t bother to tell you where he’d set it.

Fortunately, PT was also aware of Ubik’s propensity for causing collateral damage. He had brokered a much more direct exchange and made the terms clear and simple. The outcome would be the same but the chaos would be reduced.

This was how they had decided to curb Ubik’s indiscriminate approach to getting what he wanted. Give him the result he wanted, take away his control of the method employed.

When the other side lost, they would have no reason to hold a grudge, other than pettiness. And with this many of their fellow mercenaries watching, they would lose a lot of face if they tried to go back on the agreement.

Figaro stepped into the area the wait staff had cleared for them, making no objections and removing the furniture like this was a common occurrence.

Klennon, his opponent, tilted his head left and right the way you do when stretching your neck, but his neck was buried under so many layers of thick, sinewy muscle that there was hardly any movement.

“Hey, we agreed no weapons,” said PT.

“It’s not a weapon,” said Klennon in a guttural whisper. “It’s my arm.” He pumped his silver limb and it made a chunking sound like a pump-action reload mechanism. “Don’t worry, the safety’s on.”

Whether or not he used whatever ancillary functions the arm had, getting hit by something like that would do a lot of damage. The obvious solution was not to get hit.

“It’s fine,” said Figaro. “It’ll just slow him down.”

The giant scowled but forced it into a smile. “We’ll see about that, kiddo.”

They began circling each other as the crowd began to hoot and holler, offering bad advice to both combatants and making their own side-bets.

This was the culture here, the reason this place was so busy. Legalised gambling and strong enforcement of all the rules. You won a bet, you got paid. Fights were allowed, just not to the death. That outcome was only possible in the Dungeon, jealously guarded like an exclusive feature.

Figaro assessed his opponent’s movements and found them very ordinary. Still, he wasn’t displeased to be in this position.

Three months they’d been on the Antecessor ship and for most of that time he and PT had spent the time sparring. No weapons, no organics.

Once it had been decided they were going to retrieve the artefact without drawing attention, it became important that neither of them used their newly acquired abilities unless absolutely necessary. They both had very flashy organics that would be noticed and remarked on, and make them easily identifiable.

It wasn’t that they couldn’t deal with the parties who would come after them, it would just be a lot more inconvenient. Not only would those parties get in the way, they might be able to get hold of items they needed and keep them hostage. They had a lot more manpower and enough knowledge of Antecessor technology to be a nuisance.

So, any time they could deal with a problem without resorting to their organics, that would be the preferred route to take. And to further that goal, PT had helped Figaro perfect his balance and movement, while he had shown PT various martial skills and familiarised him with the techniques used by the people they would most likely end up having to face.

It was good. Figaro had enjoyed testing himself against someone at the same level as him but who had a completely different skillset. They had ended up about even, but both had improved greatly.

“Come on, let’s go, let’s go,” shouted Ubik, riling up the crowd. “We don’t want to miss our turn.”

Ubik had not spent the three months honing his fighting prowess. He had no reason to hide his power because he didn’t have any. Or so he claimed.

Instead, he had wandered the ship with an Antecessor as his (reluctant) guide. He hadn’t shared whatever he learned (despite sustained questioning by PT) but he had become much more enthusiastic about finding the Antecessor homeworld. He had pinpointed the location of the artefact they needed, he had studied the world and its culture, and he had investigated the city and chosen this bar as the perfect entry point.

The laser-focused Ubik was much more organised and prone to less joking around. It was unsettling.

Figaro would have actually liked to have gone a few rounds with Ubik, just to gauge his level. He had already discussed with PT what they’d do if they ever needed to seriously fight Ubik. Find the nearest exit was the only reasonable strategy they’d come up with so far.

At least he was getting the chance to try out a few moves on this hulking character.

Figaro stopped moving and straightened up. “You use one of the joint-locking fight systems.”

Klennon stopped moving also, looking a little perplexed. “What?”

“Fight, fight, fight.”

“Shut up, Ubik,” said PT.

“Probably one of the ground-pinning variations,” continued Figaro. “Araki? Enku? No, with your size, got to be Fusen, right?”

Klennon stood straighter as well, neither opponent in a fight stance. “Maybe. What’s that got to do with anything?”

Around them, the crowd was baying for them to get on with it, their abusive chanting led by Ubik.

“You look rusty. I don’t want to end up injuring you and you getting upset about it.”

“Injure? What? This guy… You won’t injure me, kiddo. You won’t even touch me.”

“No offence, but when was the last time you actually fought someone?”

Klennon rolled his shoulders and hunched down again. “Last week. Cage match on G-77. I won.”

“I mean a real fight.”

This isn’t a real fight,” said Klennon. “This is just gonna me whooping your ass.” He charged forward.

“Okay,” said Figaro, backing off, “but don’t blame me if you get hurt.” He stepped back once, then to the left, but quickly to the right before his weight had a chance to settle.

As a metal claw snapped closed, missing its target as it flew past Figaro’s shoulder, he dropped down, pushing himself so his fall was greater than just gravity, and stuck his head between the man’s open legs.

When he stood up, Klennon was sent tumbling. Not finished with the move, Figaro grabbed his foot as it went past him, and twisted.

Klennon screamed in pain as his knee was rotated out of its socket.

It wasn’t a very clever move, it was just very precise, with a very narrow margin of error. Leverage from a position of maximum stability for him and the opposite for his opponent. Easily avoided if you were expecting it, but who would?

Klennon lay on the floor wailing.

“We win!” said Ubik, punching the air. “Ticket please.”

“What the hell was that?” said Zola, the man who had instigated all of this, or thought he had.

“That was a total victory,” said PT. “Your man’s on the floor.”

“You broke his leg? This was supposed to be a friendly sparring match.”

“I did warn him,” said Figaro.

The man pointed at his colleague writhing around on the floor. “That’s assault. Someone call security.”

“What do you mean assault?” said PT. “It was a fight.”

“We’re not savages here,” said the man. “There are some lines you don’t cross. How are we supposed to compete in the Dungeon without him?”

“Arghhh,” roared Klennon, who had somehow got to his feet. He was pointing his prosthetic arm at Figaro, the muzzle of which was now exposed and glowing red.

“Looks like the safety’s off,” said Ubik, with an air of detachment.

PT was the first to react. He grabbed the metal arm at the ‘wrist’ and the ‘elbow’, and snapped it in two.

Sparks flew but it was a clean break and the tronics in the arm went dead instantly.

There was a momentary silence as everyone stared in disbelief, and then Klennon screamed, “What did you do? Have you any idea how much that cost?”

Everyone joined in as angry accusations being were thrown at PT, but no one moved to confront him physically. They had just seen him break something that even the strongest organic here could only have bent. But PT had snapped it like a twig.

Of course, he hadn’t really broken metal with his bare hands, he had changed a sliver of the gun-arm, a slice somewhere in the middle, into a different substance and broken that. It was one of the methods he had been practising — small, targeted transformations — in order to put less stress on his mind and body.

The result was it looked like he had broken an indestructible material when he had just separated it into two sections, both sides remaining intact.

It was non-lethal, it was reactive and it was defensive, all of which was going to limit their exposure to accusations of excessive use of force. Figaro saw it as putting them in an advantageous position. But Ubik was still looking very happy, so he prepared himself for the opposite to be the case.

Security arrived a few moments later, four of them dressed in battlesuits that showed plenty of wear and tear, and carrying large multi-barrelled rifles. Small drones hovered above them clicking and beeping as they scanned the room.

“What happened?” asked the lead guard, his grizzled jaw the only part of his face visible under a shiny black helmet.

“He broke my lead tanker’s arm!” said Zola, dramatically gesturing at Klennon, who was sitting on a chair, staring dejectedly at the broken limb. “We demand justice!”

“Okay, okay, calm down. You. You broke his arm?”

“Self-defence,” said PT. “He was about to fire on my friend, so I stopped him.”

“Did he actually fire or did you think he was going to fire?” asked the guard.

Figaro could tell where this was going. He looked over at Ubik, who was watching with a gleeful smile on his face. A smile that suggested this was all going to plan.

“The safety was on and then it was off,” said PT. “That’s more than me making an assumption. Or am I supposed to wait until he’s blown someone’s head off?”

The guard shook his head. “I don’t make the rules. I don’t know if he was going to fire or not, but you’ve admitted to property damage and you used an organic without authorisation. You want to bend the rules, you shouldn’t have come to a zero-tolerance bar like The Plu-Ton.”

“This is a zero-tolerance bar?” PT looked over at Ubik who shrugged his shoulders like this was news to him. “I didn’t know that.”

Judging from PT’s calm demeanour, he had also figured out that this was why Ubik had brought them to this bar and forced them into a rule-breaking situation.

“Ignorance is not a defence,” said the guard. “You’ll have to come with us. Don’t worry, you’ll get to state your case in front of a magistrate before you’re punished. Everyone gets a hearing.”

“We get to see a magistrate, do we?” said Ubik, suddenly taking an interest. “A human one, right? I heard you have automated ones that find everyone guilty. You wouldn’t put us in front of one of them, right?”

“Who are you?” growled the guard.

“Me? I’m his lawyer. I’m the one who gets him out of trouble.”

Figaro exchanged a look with PT. Neither of them said a word.

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