Planet Fountain .
VGV Motherboard (orbit).
Point-Two had won over four converts out of a possible thirty-two. Not the greatest conversion rate but it wasn’t like he had any idea what he needed these people for. If he needed them at all.
He had decided, for reasons he would be hard-pressed to explain, that Ubik had a reason in sending him here. Something more pressing than picking up a sandwich. Part of Point-Two’s brain was also aware that there was no actual evidence backing up this assumption, but he was ignoring it.
If it were the case that a trip to the cafeteria was Ubik’s way of increasing the chaos on the ship to keep the crew busy, then there wasn’t much point in Point-Two doing anything other than to sit around and help himself to snacks. At least Ubik’s diversions came catered.
But Point-Two wasn’t going to sit around, whether it was the best course of action or not. He was going to go up to the simulation room and find out if there was something he could do in regard to helping Fig.
Fig, he assumed, was as much in the dark about Ubik’s strategy as he was, and if nothing else, the two of them could help each other survive whatever it was Ubik was intending to put them through. The Ubik Survivors’ Support Group — membership applications would be flooding in soon enough.
Point-Two had come to the conclusion that both Ubik and Fig had a better grasp on the situation than he did. They had skills and abilities that he didn’t, and frankly, it would probably be best if he just stayed out of the way.
He had his own problems to contend with, even if he did manage to get off this ship in one piece. He still had people who wanted him dead, and not for any grand reasons like a galaxy-changing discovery. They wanted him out of the way, too. It was becoming something of a theme.
“Listen,” said Point-Two, “I’m going to get the four of you out of there in a minute. The rest of you, if you try to get in the way, I will not only tell your supervisors you were my hostages, I will say you were my co-conspirators and helped get us on the ship.”
There were some shocked gasps from below.
“You lie,” yelled out one of them.
“Yes, but do you think Vendx will care if it means not having to pay you off?” He was resorting to harsh measures but it seemed the best way to keep these people in line. They were scared enough of their employers to risk doing something stupid just to climb out of the hole they’d found themselves in, metaphorically speaking, so he would use that same fear against them.
“If you just stay where you are,” said Point-Two, “you can tell them you put yourselves somewhere where I couldn’t get to you, so I wasn’t able to use you as hostages.”
The offer was to appease them. In truth, Point-Two had no idea what Vendx would do when they found their employees stuck in their own personal gravity well, and he didn’t really care. As long as they stayed out of his way, he was happy to leave them be.
There was another loud bang from somewhere above. What was Ubik trying to achieve? There was already a hole in the ship right here. Was going up to the next deck really a good idea?
“Okay,” said Point-Two, unwilling to step aside, “the four of you, try to move to the edge. Just push the furniture out of the way.”
There were tables and chairs in the dome along with the crew members. Point-Two had released them from their moorings on the walls to prevent any of the crew using them to stay out of the hole, and they’d ended in there together.
“This side, roll over anyone in your way,” instructed Point-Two. “You don’t have to help them,” he said to the crew who weren’t willing to take up his offer to aid and abet the enemy, “just don’t try to stop them. Be neutral and no one can blame you for anything.” Again, he was speaking with no idea if what he said was true, but the crew seemed to go along with his suggestions.
The four people who had accepted the deal squirmed and pushed and rolled over grumbling colleagues to get to the edge of the group. No one tried to stop them and only a few bothered to give them disapproving glares.
The general feeling, as far as Point-Two could tell, was a belief that they would be better off once Point-Two and the traitors were gone. They didn’t really believe the intruders had a chance against the ship’s security forces and defence protocols. Their logic was a little flawed since the same security should have never allowed Point-Two and his fellow pirates onto the ship in the first place, but if they were happy to offer no resistance, Point-Two was happy to leave them to Vendx’s mercy.
Once the four people were on the far right, lying on their backs Point-Two said, “Okay, line up head to toe and grab the ankles of the person above you.”
There was a little manoeuvring required but the four of them did as instructed, forming a human snake.
“You on the end… no, the other end. Yes. Raise your arm. Good. Now hold it like that. I’m going to come around and grab it. No one let go or you’ll be left behind.”
The move Point-Two was going to use was pretty simple although it did require good timing. The vacuum suction would help him build up speed and was gentle enough to not pull him back once his momentum was high enough. Or so he hoped.
With a push, Point-Two floated towards the vending machines. This time he did a tuck and roll, and then kicked off the machine to fire himself back towards the hole.
He picked up speed and entered the hole fast enough that if he didn’t do something about it, he would smash his face into a wall of drones.
Now that he was inside the dome, he noticed how the drones were all interlocked. They were the basic cleaning and maintenance drones that were attached to the exterior of any large ship. Clamped in place until needed, they kept the hull clean, checked on any small marks or dents that invariably came with space travel, and they also painted the ship when required. A fresh coat of paint could improve the efficiency of interstellar travel manyfold, depending on what the paint was mixed with.
There wasn’t just one layer of drones forming a bubble around the hole in the side of the vessel, there were several — at least three that Point-Two could glimpse between the cracks — three layers of drones sitting on top of one another.
The structure allowed for a very regulated flow of air out of the commissary. It could be a completely solid wall preventing any air loss, or it could be an open hole if the drones detached themselves. And anything in between.
The Liberator Garu had similar maintenance drones dotted all over its outer hull, used in a similar fashion. Like these ones, they weren’t used for major repairs, that was left to larger, specialised drones which would be kept inside the ship. They were expensive and you wouldn’t want to leave them where they might get damaged. Unlike these smaller drones which got knocked off the hull all the time.
No one had ever thought to use them like this as far as Point-Two was aware. If a breach occurred, the larger drones would be sent to seal it and recover the bodies, even though these smaller ones would already be on site.
Point-Two tumbled, his feet landing on the drones. The sliver of gap between them was enough to provide his feet with some purchase, the suction applied directly to the soles of his feet, and he was running across then. The suction pulled him down into the dome so it felt like he was sprinting downhill.
Faster and faster. Once he reached the lowest point and had to run out, the suction would work against him, but with enough momentum, he would be able to slingshot out the other side, theoretically. If he built up enough speed. If he didn’t lose momentum running across drones. If, if, if…
As he reached the bottom of the dome, one of the Vendx crew — the tall man who had been so vocal earlier — stuck out an arm and tried to trip him.
He probably thought if he could trap Point-Two in here with the rest of them that it would put him in credit with his bosses. It might even be true, if Point-Two was unable to get out. Or if he allowed himself to get caught in the first place.
Point-Two stepped to the side and back, dodging the arm and landing his heel in the man’s face. There was a satisfying crunch as the man’s nose broke. He screamed as Point-Two used the extra friction of his face to push himself forward. The diversion had actually helped.
Point-Two was running back up to the dome wall now. He passed the four volunteers, three, two, one… and grabbed the raised hand.
There was a momentary jerk, which Point-Two had been expecting, and then it was a matter of momentum versus inertia. Only one could win.
Point-Two put in the effort he’d been holding back until now and surged forward. The suction through the drones under his feet kept him grounded, while the suction from everywhere else clawed at him to fall back.
With an almighty lunge, he managed to get his foot onto the lip of the hole, and then he flexed every muscle in his leg, using the training and technique he had been immersed in for most of his life aboard a ship endlessly gliding through the emptiness of space.
As he emerged from the hole, the train of four people clinging to one another head-to-toe, came flying out with him. Their stunned faces suggested they had no idea what was happening.
Point-Two sent them hurtling towards the vending machines, and then turned over as he was sent flying backwards, placing his feet on the wall next to the hole, and pushed off as hard as his exhausted muscles would allow.
The four volunteers had let go of one another by this point, and were doing their best to grab something before they were drawn back into the hole.
Point-Two came up behind them and gave the ones at the rear a shove.
“Grab the table over there,” he called out, guiding them to the right-hand side.
They flailed and grasped wildly in a way that would make it harder rather than easier, but they managed to cling onto the table Point-Two had indicated.
“Where’s the service hatch?” asked Point-Two. If they were going up, they might as well do it in the quickest way possible.
“There,” said Benkson, letting go of a table leg with one hand to point, and then quickly grabbing it again. He was elongated like a flag on a mast on a windy day.
He had pointed at a panel on the wall, only slightly different in colour to its surroundings. It was easily big enough to squeeze through.
“How do I open it?” asked Point-Two.
Benkson shrugged. “No idea, I don’t work in catering.”
Point-Two looked at the other three — a dark-haired, athletic woman, a squat man with thick arms, and a thin woman with big, fearful eyes. They all shook their heads.
“So who is in catering?” said Point-Two, regretting not having asked this earlier.
“Of the people here?” said Benkson? “Only one. The guy whose nose you broke.”
Point-Two took a breath. Why did everything seem to fall into place for Ubik, and nothing ever went right for him. He had travelled across the galaxy for an education and all he’d learned was how to rely on others.
“Fine. Wait here. I’ll go get him.”
As he let go of the vending machine, there was another bang from above. He could tell it was multiple hits very close together. It sounded like someone knocking insistently to come in, tired of being ignored. He knew the feeling.