Antecessor Ship: Origin (sim-U).
Figaro pushed Destri down the corridor. The Vendx employee had started off mumbling and complaining and making pained sounds but had become more cooperative once he realised his air was limited and death by suffocation, even if it was simulated, was not something he was keen to experience. Maybe he was even curious how Figaro intended to survive in a suit that was no longer producing air, in an alien environment that wouldn’t support human life.
He wasn’t the only one.
The short-term solution was to use the suits of the other Vendx employees — the dead ones — which had a small amount of air trapped inside them.
It wasn’t the most elegant of solutions, but as Figaro’s father always told him, survive any way you can, worry about how it looks later. His father was a pragmatist, while his mother was somewhat spoilt. Her organic ability made almost any situation survivable, usually in quite some style.
The suits had tubing that could attach to one another, making buddy-breathing fairly simple. Six of the suits had survived the encounter with the Antecessor droids intact. Six bags of rather foul-smelling air.
Figaro had used the tubing to attach the suits into a train of floating sarcophagi which were now trailing behind him. Weightlessness had its advantages.
Destri was on the verge of passing out, which also helped keep him docile. Figaro gave him a short blast of air every few minutes to stop him dying and was equally frugal when giving himself a burst. Strict rationing might be enough to see them to the bridge — that and some controlled breathing to keep his oxygen intake as low as possible. It helped that the rank tasting air from the suits was unpleasant to inhale; there was no temptation to gulp it down.
This time, the secret doorway hadn’t opened for him. He had managed to get out of the room through the regular portal which had activated with a push of the panel on the wall.
Figaro knew full well that the ship could have locked him in the room, making it difficult and time consuming to proceed, but it hadn’t. Even though he was confident of finding his way out, the increase in energy consumption would have used up his limited air supply.
But there had been no attempt to direct him towards his previous destination, and no attempt to block his path to the forward compartment of the ship.
He knew the ship was aware of everything he did. The white marks on the wall were keeping up with him as he moved further into the ship. They didn’t try to communicate with him this time. Perhaps that only occurred in the other place he had been taken to, or his mind had been taken to.
The Antecessor way of doing things was still a mystery, even to someone as immersed in it as his father. What was known was mostly guesswork, and often ended up being contradicted when a new site was discovered. It wasn’t even clear why the white lines that were usually the first to detect intruders didn’t immediately call in droids to remove them.
There was always (nearly always) a period of investigation and observation, which was what allowed the intruders to establish a base and start mapping the area. Little by little you could work your way in deeper and deeper. Until you reached a point much more heavily defended, and then it became much harder, sometimes impossible.
There were some who thought the white lines represented a separate entity, independent of the main controlling system. A symbiotic relationship but not one with a fixed purpose. A human defence system might have sensors to detect, reporting to a central processing unit that would send out interceptors capable of dealing deadly force. Antecessor technology didn’t seem to be so strictly regulated and could change their approach on a case by case basis.
Ramon Ollo was not one of those people, though. He believed everything you encountered in an Antecessor site was part of one creation. A hand, an eye, a mouth, but all part of the same body. If they acted in ways that made no obvious sense to the human body, then that was only because they weren’t human.
Figaro’s father was obsessed with the Antecessors, not just their technology but also their culture and language. He had spent the majority of his life trying to decipher their way of life and had made only very small inroads. Figaro’s discoveries inside this simulation were probably on par with what his father had taken a lifetime to discover. He was eager to see what his father would make of it all, assuming he could find a way out. A way out of the sim-U and a way out of the Vendx siege the guild was currently under.
Figaro gave himself a burst of stale air and took a slow sip until his lungs were moderately inflated. He held his breath.
He gave Destri a longer burst. The Vendx organic had stopped moving, on the edge of consciousness but still alive. His heartbeat was still reasonably strong — strong enough for Figaro to be able to feel it through the suit.
Bringing him along wasn’t so much a necessity as a hunch. An EMP ability was bound to come in useful, he had decided. It was something that had been tried before but it came with its own problems, not least of all the one Destri has so clearly demonstrated — it didn’t just shut down their tech, it shut down yours too.
Sending in an automated version attached to a drone didn’t work, either. The Antecessor sensors were able to identify what it was and take steps to counter it, and after that the whole facility would be on full alert. No one would be able to go in without facing a full assault.
Organics with the ability Destri had could get in undetected, but then what? If they took out their own team as well, that would be no use. And if they went in first and fried the system on their own so a second team could come in after them, they would need to make sure they got the whole site in one go, which was very unlikely. Sections were shielded and on separate circuits, just as the circuits in this corridor were.
And if you had access to the whole ship already, why would you need an EMP device?
What was strange was that the ship was not reacting to the EMP the way he had been told it would. Things were very calm and Figaro wasn’t facing every droid in the ship rushing to rip him to pieces.
He gave himself a little more air and checked the train behind him wasn’t caught on anything.
It was interesting to note that despite his suit now being dead, that didn’t make it inoperable. These basic suits had a lot of mechanical features — the valves and tubing he was using to connect the suits together, for example — that were unaffected by the EMP. If there had been no tronics at all, perhaps using tanks of oxygen to breathe, then it might be possible to only take out the Antecessor tech repeatedly, one chamber after another.
He would mention it to his father, who would no doubt have a dozen reasons why it wouldn’t work.
But Figaro felt he could make use of this idea through Destri’s ability. He just had to keep him alive and then convince him to use it at the right time.
He also had to keep himself alive. He was already feeling a little light-headed, even with his controlled breathing technique.
No more droids so far, for which he was both grateful and concerned. The ship had to consider him a threat. He knew it didn’t treat him like other people, but his elevated status might also make him worth capturing. He didn’t plan to lower his guard.
There were several portals on the way that probably contained interesting items. Figaro would have liked to have explored the ship properly, but now was not the time. He had to find the bridge and the white light accompanying him on the wall seemed to be showing him the way.
The bridge was where Ubik had wanted him to go but there was no way he could have predicted any of this. Could he? It was one of Ubik’s talents that he could make you believe almost anything about him. For all Figaro knew, Ubik was an Antecessor himself, hiding for the last ten thousand years among humans.
Figaro laughed to himself at the idea and then regretted it as the rush of dizziness made him feel slightly nauseous.
There was a large portal at the end of the corridor. He had got here without incident, no attempt to intercept him and his entourage at all. This was definitely not normal.
The door opened ahead of him without any influence from Figaro. Through it, he saw a large chamber bathed in red light. And six floating droids waiting for him.
They were bigger than the ones he’d encountered so far, bigger than any he had ever seen, more fluid with gently undulating tentacles. The red light came from the sigil behind them.
The droids were unlike any he had ever seen. Each was taller than him, black with white lines of light zipping across their surfaces, a conglomeration of who knew how many smaller droids. Either that or a new kind of droid altogether. It was fascinating. They began moving.
Were they a threat to him? Did they intend to take him away? He only knew that he was supposed to reach the bridge where he would receive further instructions. The Vendx people were trying to access the sim-U from their ship. They could theoretically open a line of communication but it wouldn’t be through the suit, not unless they had a way to rewrite the simulation code on the fly. Even his father wasn’t capable of that.
How would they do it? How would Ubik do it?
The droids had moved to the side. One came forward, but it wasn’t coming directly towards him, it was targeting Destri. They knew Destri’s ability now, were they removing him to prevent him using his power again?
Figaro held onto Destri, pulling him closer, somehow sure his loss would put him at a disadvantage.
The droid reached out two of its six limbs towards Destri.
“Stop!” said Figaro, the word coming out instinctively.
The droid stopped, its limbs still extended.
Figaro was dizzy again. He tried to pump in more air but there was a thin whistling sound as the valve tried to draw on nothing.
“Oxygen,” said Figaro. There was no reaction.
He pulled out the tubing and let the final dregs of air come fizzing out.
“Oxygen,” he repeated, feeling he was about to pass out.
The droid grabbed the tube in black pincers at the end of its tentacle-like arm, and inserted it into its body. The red light from the sigil changed to green and Figaro was pushed backwards. He was caught in an airstream.
Figaro opened the front of his helmet and took a deep breath.
Gideon Worm Hole
Central Authority Vessel Nirvana
“Priority communication, Guardian.”
“What now, Janx?” said Tezla. She had been in flight for several hours, reading reports and preparing her projections and recommendations for the Central Authority.
None of it made much sense and more than likely the whole thing was a hoax. Who would declare war in such a ridiculous fashion? Someone was wasting her time and the only reason she was willing to go through with this charade was to teach them a lesson.
The drone hovered next to her at eye-level, its lights flickering to indicate it was in the middle of downloading a message.
“Come on, out with it. Has someone else started fighting? Is it an epidemic?”
No planetary warfare in a hundred and fifty years and then two at the same time, that would be the way it would happen, just to annoy her more.
“Please wait, Guardian. Processing more incoming data.”
Now she was interested. Incoming data that could keep the drone this busy was no small amount. What was going on?
“Stand by. Still receiving…”
“Just stop and tell me what you’ve got so far,” she snapped. If the Central Authority had a fault, it was trying to gather as much information as possible before making any moves.
“Reports are coming in from Antecessor sites across the galaxy. There’s been an environmental change. They are producing oxygen. Breathable air.”
“What? Which ones?” Antecessor sites contained poisonous atmospheres. Every attempt to change that had failed.
“All of them,” said the drone.
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