Book 4 - 4: Win Win

Second Quadrant

Cairo-3998 aka Planet Challenger

Daring City — Guest Hub


Point-Two rapidly backed up as one of the guards came charging towards him, the pink baton in his hand looking surprisingly menacing.

The man had a helmet covering most of his face and a short sleeve shirt that suggested he worked in a hot environment with few threats. Not someone who needed to fight a lot.

Point-Two managed to keep out of range of the elf stick. If it was a rod of hard light, like a laser that could be limited in length, it could probably cut through flesh far easier than a blade.

His hand instinctively went to his waist to take out a weapon of his own but he stopped himself and glanced over at Ubik as he did so.

Ubik had already stated that he didn’t want the man in charge of this place to know how they had broken the pink wall. This appeared to be a big deal. Possibly big enough of a deal to make the man willing to let them jump the queue and go straight to the fifth level.

Yes, he was going to test them first, maybe threaten them and so on, but if he really wanted them removed he would have taken a more effective approach. Two men with elf sticks wasn’t a serious attempt at kicking them out.

So, it would be best not to reveal too much.

But then how were they supposed to resolve this matter?

The guards weren’t using their guns but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t.

Ubik was watching like an attentive member of the audience. There was no indication from his face that he considered these events to be problematic. And if he didn’t suggest a particular course of action, that usually meant he was relying on the participants to make their own choices.

So be it. Point-Two decided to act in accordance with his instincts, which Ubik no doubt had already predicted. He looked over at Fig, who had his own opponent to deal with, and in the moment their eyes met, they came to a mutual understanding of what to do.

They both stepped back and to the side, leaving a clear path to Ubik.

The two guards hesitated for a moment, bewildered at the sudden appearance of an opening — as guards themselves, they probably expected their counterparts to protect their leader with their lives — but they quickly took the opportunity presented to them and rushed forward.

Ubik at this point decided to look horrified and threw somewhat accusatory looks at Point-Two and Fig, making Point-Two think that perhaps this wasn’t what Ubik had expected.

But then he decided Ubik was more than likely putting on a terrified act for some reason or another. Maybe to give the other side a sense of superiority which Ubik would then use against them. That seemed a very Ubik thing to do.

“What the hell?” shouted Ubik, running at the guards, both of whom were targeting him.

He ran between them, the room being too narrow to go anywhere else, ducking down to avoid the swinging pink batons coming at him from both sides, landing on his side and then jumping back up.

It wasn’t elegant, and you could be forgiven for thinking Ubik was relying on luck and manic bravado rather than any kind of skill, but he managed to slide past them.

The very short man in charge was in front of him, unprotected.

Take out the boss? Was this the plan?

The boss didn’t look very concerned. There was a high chance he had some kind of personal protection on him.

But Ubik didn’t go towards him. Instead, he threw himself at the plinth which housed the magistrate sphere. He put his arms around the square column like it was a close personal friend.

The guards had turned around and took a moment to gauge if the other two needed to be factored in.

Point-Two had his arms folded to give a very clear intention of long-term non-involvement. Fig was equally withdrawn from all matters combative.

The guards made a direct line for Ubik, batons raised.

As they brought them down on Ubik, who was making no effort to protect himself, the two pink sticks bounced off a force field that appeared to be protecting both Ubik and the plinth he was embracing.

The guards fell back, their arms shaking from the clash.

A sphere once more rose out of the top of the plinth. “Cease all attacks. This is an official Mason & Muss product. You are being recorded. All violent behaviour in this vicinity will be reported as a criminal act. Please enter your official registration code to activate full controls. Congratulations on your purchase.”

The two guards stopped, genuine concern on the visible part of their faces, and looked to their boss, who was staring at Ubik with his lips stretching and twisting.

“What did you do? How did you reset my magistrate?”

“Probably just a glitch,” said Ubik, now with his back to the plinth. “Just put the code in again. You have an official code from when you bought it, right?”

The force field around him reflected the light just enough to be visible like glass. Point-Two was familiar with this technology. An anti-theft shield. Once activated it couldn’t be deactivated until the correct code was entered. It could be destroyed with some effort, but that would destroy the product. Was the boss willing to lose one of his expensive magistrates?

“Of course I have the code,” snapped the boss. “But I don’t have it with me. You’ll have to stay in there until I remember where I put it.” His darkened features seemed to lighten. “Yes. Looks like you’re stuck there.” He even began to smile.

Point-Two didn’t see anything to smile about. Ubik had reset the magistrate with only a few words. Not even that, just some numbers. He wasn’t stuck in there, he was using the anti-theft shield as a negotiation tool.

“That’s alright,” said Ubik. “I’m fine in here. Are you willing to discuss terms now?”

“Terms? Why should I discuss anything with you? You can stay in there until you tell me what I want to know.” The boss looked from side to side. “Your two friends can also provide me with information.”

The guards took the cue from their boss’s tone of voice and repositioned themselves to deal with Point-Two and Fig.

“What do you expect us to do?” Point-Two asked, his eyes on the guards but the question aimed at Ubik.

“Don’t hurt them,” said Ubik. “Just disarm them.” There was a slight lilt to his voice that somehow conveyed very specific instructions. Don’t use your organics.

Point-Two decided to get this over with as quickly as possible. He approached his would-be opponent and slapped his wrist. The pink rod fell to the floor.

It was a simple move that only required the slightest of contacts but it was very effective at breaking a one-handed grip. Short-sleeves helped.

The guard looked shocked and stared down at the ground where his elf stick rolled around.

“Was that the nerve slap you showed me?” said Fig. “Like this?” He made the same move but the guard opposite him yanked his hand away.

Fig followed up with a kick that he seemed to have lined up in advance and kicked the guard in the head. The helmet protected him but he still fell to the floor.

Their boss didn’t look very impressed. He had his eyes closed and a disappointed frown on his lips.

“You know, we could both benefit from this,” said Ubik. “We just need to come to an agreement about how much you’re willing to part with.”

“You expect me to believe you came here for money?” The boss didn’t sound convinced.

Money was not the reason they were here, but Point-Two wouldn’t have been surprised if Ubik was planning on making a little profit on the side.

The boss opened his eyes. “Who sent you?”

“Can’t tell you that,” said Ubik. “But we know about the key, the same as you. We found the same records, only our site had been destroyed, so we couldn’t get hold of our copy.”

“There are more keys?” The boss looked shocked.

“They come in sets of three.” Ubik was, of course, talking complete rubbish. There was no other site and no other records.

“Three keys.” The boss was far more engaged in the conversation.

From what was being said — and this was all news to Point-Two — the site here on C-3998 had led to the discovery of records that revealed the existence of a key on the lower levels.

This was what they had been trying to get hold of on the fifth level.

Ubik was dangling the possibility of success in front of him as a way to give them access. What he was planning after that was anyone’s guess.

“Here’s what I propose,” said Ubik. “There should be three keys. We get one, you keep the other two.”

There was a glint in the boss’s eyes. Point-Two recognised the look — greed. The man was practically salivating.

“Why should I share anything with you? How do I know you don’t plan to take it all?”

“You don’t,” said Ubik. “And we don’t know if you’ll stick to the deal either. But we can’t get to the keys without you allowing it, and you can’t open the way without us. Why don’t we give it a try and see where we end up?”

Point-Two could see the boss weighing up the risks and options. A greedy man would land on the side with the greater chance of profits, a wise man would prefer to be patient.

“Very well. Let’s see where we end up.” Greedy men were far more common.

“Great,” said Ubik. The shield around him disappeared.

“Threat level diminished,” said the sphere as it sank back down into the plinth.

The boss glared at his two men and then turned as the door opened.

Point-Two was glad this had been resolved but he found himself staring at the plinth. Threat level diminished? That wasn’t how anti-theft shielding worked. What had Ubik just done?

Fig came over to Point-Two. “This is going to be tricky with each side suspecting the other.”

“That’s where the two of us have the advantage,” said Point-Two, as they followed the others through the door. “We don’t trust either of them.”

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