Book 2 – 105: Here and No Farther

Third Quadrant.

Asteroid Tethari.

 

Figaro made some adjustments to his suit to counter the increased gravity and shot past his father who had his back to him but didn’t react even when Figaro was within reach, there was just the slightest glance in his direction to let him know he was being observed along with everything going on outside the asteroid.

Everyone else was caught on the back foot, as Figaro had expected. He could tell from their body language that none of them were planning to attack and nor were they expecting to be attacked. Which made now the perfect time to attack.

Figaro’s goal was simple — to prevent the population of Enaya from being exterminated. Extermination probably wasn’t the specific goal of any of the parties in the room but, thanks to Ubik, it was now the goal of the Antecessors who had recently arrived via the wormhole. And no one seemed all that concerned about it, not even his father.

He understood why, he understood that there was more at stake here than the lives of a few million people stuck on the outer edges of the third quadrant, but his gut instinct — which he did his best to ignore most of the time — wouldn’t let him stand aside while his father, the Central Authority, VendX and all the other interested parties did as they pleased. He knew taking unilateral action was very likely to hit him with some kind of backlash, but that was something he would deal with when the time came.

His father tended to approach these things with a complete plan in mind which would only require a few adjustments as attempts were made to oppose him. Ubik, on the other hand, had no plan beyond the present moment and made things up on the fly, which had the advantage of not giving anyone the chance to oppose him since they had no idea what he was doing.

Figaro wasn’t comfortable with either approach even though he was confident he could do a fairly decent job of emulating both. He preferred to take one step at a time choosing the best option at each juncture. Admittedly, it was slow, methodical and a little bit boring. But at least it caused him no shame or guilt.

He shouldn’t have felt either and had always done his best to hide his secret but now it seemed inevitable that his true nature would be revealed.

He passed his father, who was still staring at the screens, and aimed for the Seneca duo. They wore suits he was familiar with and had sparred against often. It would take them a couple of seconds to make the necessary adjustments for the change in gravity, and that was if they were as battle-ready as they had been when they were in the Corps. Judging by the shocked look on their faces as he flew at them with his feet raised, they had been slacking off in their training since washing out.

Figaro struck Weyla head-on without fear of retaliation or counter-attack. He attacked low, aiming below the waist, because her feet would be held down by the increased G, preventing her from kicking or blocking with her usual reaction time. She had the option to draw her weapons and fire but that would take far too long. Her only real option was to use her forearms to deflect, hoping to change his trajectory and buy time.

With a flick of a switch on his own forearm, he adjusted his suit settings again and sank beneath a vicious elbow strike. Attack instead of defence was a standard Seneca approach to pretty much everything, so he hadn’t been caught by surprise by her aggression. He struck her locked knee — bad form, she would have gotten demerits for that if she was still serving — and forced her to fall forward, allowing him to punch her in the gut.

The punch glanced off Weyla’s side with a loud crack and followed through to her weapon which he pulled out and threw at her sister in one continuous fluid motion. He was already changing his suit’s setting to lift him over Leyla. He was well-versed in both low and high-g manoeuvres but that was mainly drills and exercises. Watching PT in action had been what really showed him how to effectively use changes in gravity to his tactical advantage. A lot of his training had been seriously lacking, he now realised.

It also helped that no one here wanted to kill him, at least not personally. They wanted to deliver him alive.

Weyla was dealing with a broken rib, something she would have ignored completely back when she was Corps-fit, and Leyla instinctively caught the gun thrown at her face, which meant she had no way to defend against the kick to her chest.

It was a surprisingly soft strike, Figaro’s foot sinking in before meeting any resistance, but it was enough to knock her back with a soft gasp, and gave him enough purchase to be able to twist in mid-air and land a firm punch on Chukka’s unsuspecting chin.

He landed on his feet as Chukka slammed into the floor, her feet still planted firmly in the same place, knees bent. He gave the cowering Bashir a cursory glance but deemed him not a threat.

Taking out the two Seneca women was his priority. They would have given chase immediately, being good at following simple, single-minded directives — hunt, capture, deliver. They seemed more concerned about Ubik for some reason, which split their attention and made his job embarrassingly easy.

In truth, ex-Seneca personnel made lousy mercenaries and were weaker than their colleagues in the Corps by a wide margin. Being treated like mindless machines of death had its upside.

The sisters recovered quickly and attempted to control the situation by taking up position on opposite sides of Figaro but were at a disadvantage from not having momentum on their side. In the tangled melee that then took place, Figaro was able to shift his weight efficiently and effectively while his two opponents were still deciding on how best to deal with him.

He was able to predict their moves and make clean strikes, using his momentum and the increase in gravity to augment his blows, shattering vital connection points in the women’s suits so that they would be unable to move freely until they made repairs.

He also removed their weapons and blocked the armed ports of their suits.

It was an easy enough thing to do when he had the upper hand and they were having to defend exactly what he wanted them to defend. From the outside it looked quite chaotic, one boy throwing punches and kicks while spinning and jumping between the two women, but every hit was calculated to produce the response he needed to move to his next strike. Neither of these women were fit to be his opponent.

As well as not having the skills to fight back, the psychological effect of being suppressed so completely had a telling effect. Neither woman was able to utilise her full abilities or activate her organic while suffering from the shock of being so thoroughly overwhelmed by one slightly-built young man.

Figaro did not give off a powerful aura. His moves weren’t augmented by an organic. He didn’t seem like someone who could display earth-shattering abilities able to defeat several combatants at once.

Within a few seconds, the two Seneca women were incapacitated. They would recover quickly but they couldn’t stop anyone from leaving.

The other main source of opposition would come from the three Central Authority Guardians but Figaro had chosen to ignore them completely. The reason for this was Ubik.

There was no guarantee that Ubik would enter the fray and choose to help Figaro, but Figaro was betting he would. It was near impossible to read Ubik, and trying to figure out what he was up to was likely to be little more than headache-inducing, but that didn’t mean Ubik’s actions were completely impenetrable. For example, in a fight between uneven sides, Ubik was a lot more likely to join forces with the underdog.

He was, Figaro had realised, something of a romantic at heart. He wanted the little guy to win. Probably because he saw himself as that, even though he was one of the most powerful individuals Figaro had ever met.

“Rex, let’s take it down a notch,” was all Ubik had said when Figaro leapt into action. What happened next Figaro was only partially able to see as he dove around his chaotic battlefield, but the end result was that all three Guardians were trapped inside their suits which had closed all openings and deployed full defensive measures, shields up, armour secured. Basically, they were as safe from attack as they could be, while being unable to move or access any of their offensive equipment. Turtle mode.

With the two major obstacles to Figaro’s plan taken care of, that left only his father. Not that you could really refer to Ramon Ollo and comfortably use ‘only’ as a prefix.

Ramon Ollo, who was monitoring the various energy fluctuations flashing across various screens, heard the cries of pain and anger and his expression turned cold. He didn’t tolerate poor performance from anyone, even those who opposed him.

Shooting a sharp glance over towards Figaro and Ubik letting out a slightly surprised grunt, “You two haven’t died yet?”

“No, Father, not yet.”

Little needed to be said between them. Later, he might have other intentions, but for now his father had chosen to align himself with the Intercessors. Figaro had just made it clear he wished to challenge this decision.

“What is it you think you’re going to achieve?”

“I don’t know,” said Figaro, “but I don’t think I will be satisfied with whatever either the Antecessors or Intercessors have in mind. I think I can do better than them.”

Ramon Ollo’s eyes lit up for a moment. The implication had not passed him by. Better than them also meant better than him.

“Based on what?” asked Ramon.

“Based on nothing,” said Figaro. “But I’m still willing to follow my instincts.”

Ramon Ollo nodded. “You understand I’ve already decided to follow my own instincts?”

“Yes, Father.”

“And the next time we meet, it will be as opponents?”

“I understand.”

“You aren’t ready for what is coming.”

“I know,” said Figaro. “But ours is not the sort of family where torches get passed down. This will serve as my graduation.”

“Very well. Let’s part here and begin our struggle for domination from the moment of our next encounter.”

He was letting him go rather easily. Not something he would do for anyone else. Somewhere in his heart he wanted Figaro to beat him, but he would do everything in his power to prevent that from happening. The next time they faced each other, it would not be as parent and child.

Figaro turned and fled towards the shaft. There was a click and a hum Figaro had grown accustomed to — Ubik’s boots. Before he had reached the opening to the shaft, Ubik was next to him, with a passenger dragged along.

“Why are you bringing him?” asked Figaro, looking down at Nifell, limp and glassy-eyed.

“I’ve put a lot of time and effort into cultivating my protege. You wait and see. He’s my secret weapon.”

As soon as they stepped onto the platform it began to descend. The walls were glowing with streaks of white light. There was a lot of activity suggesting the Intercessors were keeping busy. Figaro was their ace in the hole and he had no doubt they were keeping an eye on him.

“Do you have a destination in mind or are we running free?” asked Ubik. He was following Figaro in any case, he seemed to be inquiring purely out of curiosity.

“We’re going to find PT and release him,” said Figaro.

“Oh,” said Ubik, as though he found the idea interesting. Then he suddenly grinned menacingly. “No need to rush, let’s spice things up first.”

Figaro was about to exit the shaft through the doorway when he felt the absence of Ubik’s presence behind him. He turned and saw a small figure running up the shaft, his feet sticking to the walls without problem.

When he reached an alcove he stopped and began manipulating the lights flowing through the walls.

Figaro stared at him curiously but didn’t pursue him, simply waiting and watching.

After spending a little time in the asteroid, Figaro had a rough idea of how this place worked. He had always known how the part controlled by his father functioned, but the true power of the asteroid was from the microscopic singularity at its centre, which was connected to this circular shaft. Perhaps there were other shafts like this one or maybe it was the only one, but it was certainly a conduit for the power created by the black hole. Power that could be used to move the asteroid, and which could also be used to create havoc. Figaro had a pretty good idea which of those Ubik found most attractive.

In the next instant, the asteroid trembled.

A massive beam of light, dripping with destructive energy, shot through the shaft, seemingly eager to get somewhere.

At the same time, Figaro felt a chill as the temperature around him dipped and he felt a sudden weightlessness that lasted only as long as it took the beam of light to surge past him. The walls grew brighter for a moment before the radiant glow faded rapidly and once more became dim.

The air felt cleaner and crisper, devoid of even dust.

Ubik came falling back down, laughing wild, extremely satisfied with himself.

Figaro frowned slightly, thinking that wherever the beam of light ended up, it was bound to cause problems indiscriminately, harming the innocent as well as the guilty. He chose not to ask for any details.

“That should keep everyone busy,” said Ubik. Figaro suspected the effect of the beam was secondary to the thrill of firing such an awesome weapon.

“Your stunt will probably lead everyone straight to us,” said Figaro.

“Means your planet will be safe a little longer then,” answered Ubik with a grin, like he’d done Figaro a great favour.

They rushed through the doorway together and ran through a series of corridors. Figaro had the map out that he’d copied earlier and plotted a path back to the room they’d left PT in. The route wasn’t exactly straightforward but at least there was no one blocking their way.

After about a minute, Figaro realised they were lost. The corridors didn’t match up with the blueprint at all.

“Do you know where he is?” Figaro reluctantly asked Ubik.

Ubik looked one way then another. “I have a general idea.” Streaks of light ran up and down the walls beside them.

Figaro didn’t say anything more and simply followed behind Ubik as he approached the wall ahead of them. He reached out a hand and the wall parted and a familiar figure came running towards them.

“You got out,” said Figaro, surprised.

“No thanks to him,” said PT, scowling at Ubik.

“I knew you’d escape on your own once the gravity began shifting,” said Ubik.

“Then why didn’t you say so?” said Figaro.

“Nice to have a change of scenery, isn't it?” said Ubik. “To tell you the truth, I was a bit fed up with our companions. Atmosphere was getting a bit oppressive, all the oestrus in the air, if you know what I mean. Some women just can’t take no for an answer. Thought it best we leave before things got dicey.”

“Never mind,” said Figaro, deciding not to dig any deeper into the mind of Ubik. “I think it’s time we got off this rock, don’t you?”

“As it happens, I have this idea for a way out of here,” said Ubik. “Might get a bit messy but I’m almost fifty percent sure it will work.”

“We have to go back,” said PT.

“Back where?” asked Figaro.

“To wherever the controls for the wormhole are,” said PT. “You haven’t seen what’s happening outside, I take it. Some idiot fired a bolt of light energy at the sigil and it's going to explode, taking most of the quadrant with it. We have to get it into the wormhole, or get ourselves through it and away from here. Otherwise, we’re all dead.”

Figaro, looking down the corridor with apprehension. They’d have to go back the way they’d come to get to the control room to activate the wormhole. Past the people he’d just fought with. He hadn’t expected his next meeting with his father to be this soon.

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