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Fourth Quadrant.

Planet Fountain.

Gorbol Training Academy.

Point-Two was far from ecstatic about appropriating another man’s battlesuit without it being cleaned first. Once you spent a few hours inside one of these things, it absorbed all sorts of body fluids and odours.

“Hurry up,” said Ubik. “We don’t want to miss anything.”

“You mean the dying and killing?”

“Don’t be so judgemental,” said Ubik, tucking Point-Two in at the edges to help get him in quicker. “Death is nothing new, population numbers are going to remain stable whatever happens. I just want to see what cool moves these chicks have.”

“Keep calling them chicks and you’ll see their moves close up.” Point-Two stepped into the suit from the rear and slid his hands through the arms.

He felt a cool, wet slickness, hopefully from perspiration. The suit had a complex wicking system to remove moisture, but it probably cut out when Ubik electrocuted the previous occupant. The man was now lying on the floor, out cold but still shaking from the aftershock.

“You in all the way?” said Ubik. “Zip it up and let’s go.”

“Alright, alright. It’s a lot more complicated than a regular suit.” The suit’s UI lit up the inside of the helmet. There was an array of buttons that appeared to be outside of the suit, none of which he was able to reach. “I can’t move.”

“Hold on.” Ubik came around to Point-Two’s front and poked about in the open panel on the suit’s right arm.

Point-Two looked down at the last guy to let Ubik do that and braced himself.

There was some movement on his arm, a tug, some prodding. “Try now.”

The world collapsed under him and Point-Two nearly fell over, then regained his balance. He had full range of motion in his arms and legs. “Okay. I think it’s working now. Lighter than I thought it would be.”

“Assisted mobility,” said Ubik, his head appearing in front of Point-Two’s, peering into the helmet. “If you lose power, the whole thing turns into a ball and chain. Here.”

Ubik was holding out the gun he’d taken from the Vendx soldier.

“But it isn’t assigned to my biometrics,” said Point-Two. “Can you override it?”

Point-Two had never heard of anyone being able to reprogram a bonded weapon, not without the correct equipment. But Ubik was full of surprises.

“Sure, no problem,” said Ubik. He dropped the rifle on the floor, put his foot on the muzzle, and then bent down to grab the back end. He pulled up and the front end snapped under his boot with a loud crack that reverberated down the hall.

Ubik picked up the broken gun and handed it to Point-Two.

“How does that help?” said Point-Two.

“Biogenic regulator’s in the barrel. Without it, can’t tell who’s who.”

Point-Two took the rifle. Sparks jumped from the busted tip. “It still works?”

“Sure. I mean, it might get stuck in a feedback loop without the regulator and self-destruct, but I doubt it. Just don’t let it overheat.”

Point-Two was inclined to not use it at all, except maybe as a grenade. “It can’t be this easy to get around their safety protocols.”

“Not for their high-end stuff. The disposable stock, though, even if someone manages to nick it off you, probably fall apart in a couple of months. Not really worth spending money to make them super-secure.” There was a bang in the distance, like a tree falling over. And then silence.

“Is it over?” asked Point-Two.

Ubik shook his head. “They’re all camping, hoping someone else draws fire so they can get a clean shot. Extra pay for whoever bags the target, loss of no claims bonus for anyone who damages their gear or gets killed. We need to flush them out.”

Ubik grabbed the drone, which was hovering at the same height as Ubik’s head, and opened up the top. The ease with which he managed to assume control of any machine was astonishing.

“I take it their drones aren’t high-end, either,” said Point-Two.

“Hey, he can hear you, you know. They have feelings.”

The drone’s light flashed around its circumference faster than normal, but whether that was a sign of emerging nascent emotion, or just Ubik fiddling with the drone’s innards, it was hard to say.

“Oh, this is handy. Someone’s already made a pathway for me through the communications array. Pretty good job, too. Not how I would have done it, but not bad, not bad. Okay, here we go. Let’s introduce some added spice to the situation.”

Ubik closed the drone and pulled it closer to his face like he was about to kiss it.

“This is the Fraiche City fire marshall. Would the owner of the space vehicle, registration—” Ubik leaned and peered out of the window “—VX-3643-10049 please make yourself known to one of the on-site emergency service personnel. Your vehicle is on fire and has been flagged as a potential health and safety hazard. Failure to contact our officials will result in the ship being impounded and then require a substantial fee before being released. Further information can be acquired by contacting City Hall. Calls may be recorded for training purposes.”

The sounds of laser fire and shouting could be heard up ahead.

Ubik gave Point-Two a thumbs up. “Emergency services aren’t bound by any prior agreements. You know, in case of emergencies.”

“Who were you talking to?”

“Everyone. That should put them on a clock. Come on, let’s go.”

It didn’t seem very smart to be heading towards the fighting, but Point-Two was already a target. This way he’d at least know where his pursuers were.

“Remember,” said Ubik. “I’m your prisoner. If we get stopped, try to sound like a low-level grunt who doesn’t know anything and is just following orders.”

“I have no idea how to do that,” said Point-Two.

“Perfect,” said Ubik. “Exactly like that.”

They reached the main hall where they’d been addressed by the Princep on their first day. The doors were open but there was no sign of any Vendx personnel. The sounds of fighting had also stopped.

“Now what?” asked Point-Two.

Ubik looked inside the drone. Point-Two had no idea what he was checking in there.

“This way,” said Ubik. He darted to the right and through a narrow side-passage with stairs leading up. At the top was a gallery overlooking the hall.

Ubik was crouched and keeping his head below the guard rail so Point-Two did the same, the suit making it a little awkward to move like that. There was no sound coming from below.

Ubik peeked over and ducked back down, pulling a face.

“What?” whispered Point-Two

“They’re here,” mouthed Ubik.

“Seneca?”

Ubik nodded.

“And?”

“Two Seneca,” whispered Ubik, “middle of the room. One floating, one with hair flying about. Around twenty-thirty Vendx guys, on the floor having a nap.”

“They beat all of them?”

Ubik nodded. “Check the perimeter for reinforcements.”

Point-Two looked at the tall window which only showed the sky and the smoking ship from his position. He began to get up but Ubik pulled him back down. “Not like that. Use the suit.”

Point-Two looked at the semi-transparent buttons around him and pressed the ones for scanning the immediate area. An aerial map of the Academy appeared in his visor. Two bright green lights represented the Seneca women. An additional fifteen red lights, three groups of five, were closing in on their position. Ubik, he noticed, was flashing yellow.

“Hmm,” said Ubik, looking into the drone’s open case. “Three teams are about to perform a coordinated attack, each has a grenadier, observing radio-silence.”

“Are you hacked into my suit?”

“Little bit,” said Ubik. “Almost, almost… Here they are.” There was a crash. Ubik popped his head up and then straight back down. “Damn, missed it.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s over. The new arrivals are all napping.”

“They just got here,” said Point-Two.

“Those girls are fast movers. Eyes glowing and stuff. Good thing they don’t know we’re up here. Don’t make any noise.”

“You’re the one who keeps peeking,” said Point-Two.

“They won’t see me. They may be fast, but I’m faster, trust me.”

“You. Come with us.”

Both Point-Two and Ubik looked up. One of the Seneca women was standing in front of them. Floating, to be more accurate. Her eyes were burning with a fierce white light.

“Oh, hello again,” said Ubik. “I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced. I’m Ubik. And you are?”

“My friends call me Weyla,” she said in a flat voice. “You can call me Death.” Her eyes glowed brighter.

“Kind of prefer Weyla,” said Ubik.

“This is my prisoner,” said Point-Two, dropping his voice into a lower, gruffer register. “I don’t get my bonus if I don’t bring him in.”

“I don’t want him,” said Weyla. “I want you. Now get up.”

Point-Two raised the gun, the broken tip looking a sorry sight. Ubik put his hand on the barrel and pushed it down.

“How could you tell it was him?” said Ubik. “I thought that was really good acting. Flawless impression of a Vendx weasel.”

“Thanks,” said Point-Two.

“Welcome. Anyway, I tried. You better go with her. See you when I see you.”

“You,” she said to Ubik with a sneer. “I think you need to be taught a lesson. I’m going to do to you what men have done to women for thousands of years.”

“Buy me a box of chocolates?” said Ubik.

“I’m going to break your heart.” Her hand began to shake so fast it was just a blur.

“Don’t you think you should help your friend deal with them first?” said Ubik, pointing behind him.

Point-Two checked his map. Five new signals had appeared. Two green, three red.

“She can handle them herself,” said the woman.

“You’re very hard to distract,” said Ubik. “Very intense focus.”

“Yes,” said the woman.

There was a scream from below.

“Was that you?” Ubik asked Point-Two.

“No,” said Point-Two.

All three of them went to the guard rail and looked down. The Princep and four others were at one end of the hall. Fig was in the middle of the room, and the other Seneca woman was lying at his feet.

Five lights, Fig’s presence hadn’t shown on the map. Point-Two checked the map again with a glance. Now Fig was there, the same yellow colour as Ubik.

“No,” cried out Weyla. She jumped off the rail, diving towards Fig.

“You know when I said she was hard to distract,” said Ubik. “I only said that to distract her.” He held up a thin cable.

Point-Two followed one end of the cable to Weyla’s feet. And the other end to… his right arm.

“Brace yourself,” said Ubik.

“Shit,” said Point-Two.

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mooderino

Bio: Moody writes: 'How to Avoid Death on a Daily Basis', 'The Good Student' and 'Deeper Darker.' How does he do it? Where does he find the time? Is he just a better person than me? All good questions.

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