Planet Fountain (orbit).
Point-Two watched the crew of the Motherboard being sucked out of the commissary. He was holding onto a chair bolted onto the wall, but he could feel the pull of the galaxy strongly suggesting he come out to play.
There were fifty or so people in the commissary. Some of them had grabbed onto something as soon as the breach occurred, others went spinning towards the gaping hole, their screams elongating as the sound was sucked out on the departing air.
Fifty deaths would be a cruel penalty to demand from these people merely for being Vendx employees. They weren’t responsible for the actions of their employers.
A case could be made otherwise, as it always was when people blindly followed orders, but Point-Two didn’t hold anything against these individuals who worked in engineering and maintenance and various other departments. It would be disingenuous to insist everyone should act at the highest level of moral standing when they were the lowest level of worker trying to get by.
Life on the Liberator Garu had exposed Point-Two to many different types of ‘getting by’. If you weren’t one of the people in charge, you really didn’t have an option in what your options were. You could be judged on your choices, but not on what choices you had to choose from.
Point-Two’s own life had been fairly privileged in that regard. His family connections meant he could avoid the greatest hardships and the poorest set of options. It was like getting to pick from different treasure chests, where the cheapest ones gave you trash to rummage through in the hope you might find something you could use to make your situation a little better.
Some people could do amazing things with trash, which was not only impressive, it was also infuriating to those who had managed to achieve less than them with greater resources and opportunities.
Meanwhile, the people who got access to the premium treasure chests, their options were all amazing and their fear was the opposite — how can I use this to make sure I don’t allow anyone to take what I have away from me?
Point-Two didn’t hold a grudge against either side. You had to play the hand you were dealt. If you decided not to bother, or to cheat, or to kill everyone else at the table, that was up to you. No one else to blame, no one else to apologise to.
Anyone who pointed a finger and called foul play was entitled to do so, but there was no doubt that if they were in the other person’s shoes, they would do the same. Or worse.
Judging people was of no value to Point-Two. You let them make the move they wanted to make; you made yours in response.
The Vendx crew members were confused and scared. They had obviously been trained to deal with this sort of situation, as Point-Two had. Any ship was vulnerable in space. It didn’t matter how heavily shielded it was, how impervious to damage, there was always the chance of something going wrong. Space was infinite and so were the number of methods it could employ to end things. If planets and stars could be destroyed, no man-made vessel was ever going to be completely safe.
But there were no alarms going off, no messages giving instructions.
The lights were still on. The emergency system hadn’t kicked in.
And the people who had been sucked out of the commissary were stuck in the hole in the side of the ship.
The initial evacuation of air from the commissary had stopped. Point-Two let go of the chair and pulled himself towards the wall. He quickly released the chair from its moorings and sent it spinning off. Then he moved onto the table.
He was familiar with the way furniture was attached to a ship with a zero-G environment. The way the quick-release worked, how to reattach objects, he had a full working understanding of it all and had been prepared to do it the moment he got here. The chances of a breach had been pretty high despite what he’d said to Chukka.
He’d said Ubik wouldn’t damage a ship he planned to steal, and he stood by that claim, but the idea Ubik would steal the Vendx flagship had never seemed like Ubik’s goal.
Not that he couldn’t take it if he wanted, but it was a big unwieldy leviathan, not really suited to getting away from pursuers in a high-speed chase. And there would definitely be more than a few pursuers.
But a ship this big would have plenty of smaller crafts — shuttles, cargo transports, scouts, interceptors — from which Ubik could take his pick. He’d probably make a few modifications and leave behind a bunch of stripped hulls of no use to anyone.
In Point-Two’s mind, you had to ignore everything Ubik said. If he declared he’d be taking command of Ship A, it was only so you wouldn’t bother locking the doors on Ship B in your haste to stop him.
That was why Ubik not explaining his reasons or giving full instructions was no real loss. He wouldn’t have told you the truth, anyway. It was sort of a sign of faith when he said nothing. It meant he didn’t feel the need to lie to you.
What he did give you was trust in your abilities. Somehow, he knew what you were capable of and was willing to let you figure out the rest. So sure was he, that he even put his own life on the line. If you failed him, he failed, too.
He’d done the same with Fig. Stuck him in a ridiculous situation and left him to it. Of course, there was a chance of failure, but there was no point dwelling on it. If you died in the attempt (yours or the people you were relying on), you wouldn’t know anything about it, so why worry?
How could he be so casual about such important matters, life and death and the fates of fifty people floating out to the cold emptiness of the void? Only by not considering them all that important. Or by knowing how to circumvent the assumptions of others.
The ship had fail-safes. Every ship of this size had ways to seal off damaged areas. You didn’t risk losing an entire vessel just because one section became a problem, that would be a very ineffective way to save money. Even a company as obsessed with cutting corners as Vendx Galactic would want to protect their investment from avoidable losses.
This part of the ship would be sealed off by now. No way in or out. You cut out the infection before it spread.
Point-Two moved around to the next table and released it. The people clinging to it screamed and shouted, tried to strike and kick him. Point-Two dodged easily, using his well-honed skills to avoid getting hit. They were panicked and infuriated, which made it easier, but they wouldn’t have been able to touch him whatever their state of mind. Vendx had no use for people trained to move without spacesuits. Putting people in the best tech available was their business, so why waste time and money teaching people how to operate without them? Made no sense.
The people clogging the hole had calmed down and were shouting at each other. It was hard to make out what they were saying, but it was probably something to do with all the drones outside the ship. Ubik had planned for this, so Point-Two wasn’t particularly surprised.
Chukka had seemed worried about Ubik taking over the ship, but what good would that do? A ship in orbit was just a big lump of metal. The drones, however, were very versatile and manoeuvrable.
One of the crew had spotted Point-Two, realised he was making things worse, and tried to intercept, pushing off the furniture that was left. He moved quite well, struggling gamely to work against the force pulling him back. Point-Two turned, aimed his feet at the man, and fired himself backwards, using the same force the man was fighting.
His feet hit the man in the chest. Point-Two pushed off him, sending him plunging into the human wall, grabbing at floating furniture to no avail.
When had Ubik realised the woman suddenly appearing in the cabin they’d broken into wasn’t who she claimed to be? Almost immediately, would be Point-Two’s guess, but what had given her away so quickly? The fact she just happened to be the owner of the cabin they’d picked at random? Now that he thought about it — another set of chairs went floating off, their desperate occupants with them — the chances of the one cabin out of dozens being the exact one a single crew member needed to access were quite small, but was that enough?
Ubik had to have needed more information than that, surely. It was a shame he wasn’t more boastful of his achievements — he only seemed to boast about things that had no relevance to anything. If he actually explained his thinking, it would be easier to learn from him. But then everyone would be doing things the Ubik way, which wasn’t a reassuring thought.
Maybe it was down to his Grandma. The soul box might contain the greatest supercomputer in existence, disguised as a little old lady. Maybe it was feeding Ubik all these ideas, with calculations from highly complex probability equations that found a way to make the impossible a precariously balanced reality. It would make the whole thing much easier to believe, for sure. Perhaps Point-Two needed to sit down and have a chat with her.
The hole was now almost covered in people. The drones had formed a tightly-knit net outside, allowing just enough air to escape so that the suction kept everyone pressed against the opening, holding tightly onto each other. A few lost their grip and fell out of the ship, but the drones caught them and pushed them back the correct amount of force so they could reclaim their place in the human wall.
Point-Two was used to moving around under these conditions. He’d been regularly trained since young in how to fight the lure of space. If it was insistent enough, then there was no choice but to be sent flying into the void, but this sort of regulated pressure loss was well within manageable levels for him. In fact, it was the perfect environment for keeping untrained personnel helpless and him in complete control. Another lucky guess by Ubik?
The whole cafeteria was empty now, a big open area for… what? Why had Ubik wanted this area cleared? Had he wanted this area cleared?
The section was sealed off. Air was still being pumped in, for now, but that could stop at any moment. At what point was the rate of air loss considered great enough to cut off the supply and let these people die? There was bound to be an exact number, and Ubik was also bound to know what it was.
Alarms were sounding, Point-Two could hear them. Just not in this section. Something was going on, probably Chukka’s work. What now? Ubik had entrusted him to know what to do, and he had, much to his own surprise, but now he was at a loss.
He moved over to the serving area and held onto the rail by the vending machines. Ubik had wanted a sandwich. Was he meant to guess his taste in snacks the way Ubik could guess the range of someone’s ability?
The whole ship would be under general orders by now. They knew where Ubik was and what he was capable of; or thought they did. They wouldn’t let him off lightly. What was the point of sticking Point-Two all the way over here with a gaping hole to the outside of the ship, a bunch of drones, and a group of terrified Vendx personnel?
The answer came to him as he looked at all the options on the vending machine — chocolate and peanut butter. The perfect filling for a nutjob.
Patreon is two weeks ahead, so an extra six chapters. Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino