“What are you waiting for?” asked Point-Two. Neither Figaro nor Ubik looked like they were taking him seriously which only served to annoy him, and he was already very annoyed from being stuck in the stupid cradle Ubik had made.
“You don’t want to go back that way,” said Ubik, inhaling sharply through pursed lips. “Fig had a bit of a falling out with his old man. Awwwkward. Things were said.”
“We don’t have a choice,” said Point-Two. “We have to go back.”
“Look,” said Ubik, “I know you’re not all that familiar with the concept of family, being raised by computers and what have you, but when a boy and his father go at it...” Ubik made two fists and butted them against each other. “A little time apart to cool down is required.”
“I have a father,” said Point-Two. “Trust me, he’s as difficult to get along with as Ramon Ollo. That isn’t important right now. I’ve seen what’s happening out there, I had access to the sensors. That sigil thing is going to explode and we have to not be here when that happens. If we don’t get back to the control room and open the wormhole we’ll all end up dead.” Point-Two looked from Ubik to Fig, willing them to react in line with the seriousness of his words, preferably something involving running.
“You had access to the asteroid’s sensors?” asked Ubik.
“Yes. The energy fluctuations are insane! We don’t have much time.”
“The only way you had full access to the sensor array is if the Intercessors let you,” said Ubik. “Kind of suspicious, don’t you think?” He folded his arms and stared up at the roof of the passage, deep in thought. And still not moving. “Maybe you just saw what they wanted you to see. Kind of convenient you managed to escape from the cradle I made for you just in time to bump into us, don’t you think? I mean, I made that cradle, there was no way for you to get out on your own.”
“I escaped because of the sudden change in gravity tearing it apart,” said Point-Two. “I would have been stuck in there forever otherwise, would I?”
“No, no, no,” said Ubik. “We were on our way to get you out.”
“That was your idea, was it?” said Point-Two with a sneer he couldn’t keep out of his voice.
“It was a committee decision,” said Ubik.
“Are you sure we have to go back?” said Fig.
“Yes!” said Point-Two, sounding more sure than he was but overconfidence seemed to be the only way to make these two head back up. Fig, in particular, didn’t seem at all keen to see his father again. “Are you even sure it’s really the whole and complete Ramon Ollo?”
“It was him,” said Fig. “Ubik forced them to let him out.”
“Intentionally?” asked Point-Two.
“Of course,” said Ubik. “Everything I do is for a reason. I might not know what that reason is at the time, but that doesn't mean a reason doesn’t exist.”
“What do we do once we get up there?” asked Fig. “we may face obstacles.”
“Ubik will take care of it,” said Point-Two.
“You’ll think of something,” said Point-Two. “We just need enough space to get past whoever’s up there and make it to the control room. Once we’re there, Fig, you know how to operate the wormhole, right?”
“Yes, but what if my father tries to block me?”
“Then Ubik will unblock you.”
“You’re suddenly very good at giving orders,” said Ubik. “What are you going to be doing while me and him are doing all the hard stuff?”
“I’m going to be making sure you don’t screw it up.”
“You can try...” said Ubik with a light scoff.
“Just do what I tell you.”
“How do we know you’re the real PT?” said Ubik, peering at him through half-closed eyes. “They can duplicate people, you know. Maybe you’re a copy and the real PT is still stuck in the cradle, unable to figure out how to get out because he doesn’t have the complex thought processes necessary for him to overcome one of my constructs. That would be a much more realistic scenario.”
“I’m the real me.”
“They could have split your brain up like they did with Ramon. You might not even be aware that you’re operating on half a brain. Probably feels quite normal to you.”
“But every part of my brain thinks you’re an unreliable little shit so it doesn’t really make a difference, does it?”
Ubik ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth in contemplative fashion. “Fine, it’s you. I still don’t see what the big deal is with letting a few people die. It’s not like they aren’t going to die anyway at some point. If I hadn’t fired that beam of light someone else would have, probably.”
Point-Two stopped and slowly focused on Ubik. “Wait, you fired the giant laser beam of death?”
“Don’t exaggerate. It’s not like death’s guaranteed,” said Ubik. “All we have to do is leave the quadrant. Even if everything here dies, there’ll still be two quadrants left that are perfectly inhabitable.”
“He fired the laser beam?”
“Yes,” said Fig.
Ubik shrugged his shoulders indifferently, “That’s right, I shot that beam of light. What are you staring at me for?”
Fig looked somewhat embarrassed. “I would have stopped him if I’d known what he was doing. I would have tried at least.”
“I don’t think it would have made any difference,” said Point-Two. “At least everyone is going to be too focused on getting out alive to bother with us.”
“Don’t say this was what you planned,” said Point-Two, cutting off Ubik.
“Okay, Boss.” Ubik smiled slyly as though this too was all part of his master plan. It was incredibly infuriating.
“Let’s get going then,” said Point-Two.
“Isn’t there another route to the control room?” asked Fig. “I really don’t know if it’s a good idea to cross paths with my father right now.”
Ubik butted his fists together again. “If you had full access to the sensors, doesn’t that mean you saw all the internal blueprints? You must know if there’s another way off this rock. Maybe a back door? Secret exit? Some sort of transdimensional teleportation device, hmm? Seen anything like that?”
Point-Two frowned. “You understand what I’m telling you, right? Not only will this asteroid be destroyed but so will every other planet in the quadrant. You want to leave everyone here to die and run away?”
“Are you saying there is a back door?” said Ubik. “Because if there is, then my answer is very much yes.”
“We can’t leave everyone to die,” said Fig, chewing on his lower lip.
“We can and we must,” said Ubik. “It’s what they would want us to do.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s the opposite of what they would want us to do,” said Point-Two.
“That’s because you don’t know people like I know people,” said Ubik. “Deep down, everyone wants to make their own travel arrangements. Basic human nature. Plus, these aliens are crazy. Just look at the mess they’ve made so far! No respect for human life.”
Point-Two suspected that if it came down to respect for human life, the aliens and Ubik would be tied for last place.
“No, we won’t let them die,” said Fig, finally coming to his senses, slowly and reluctantly turning around. That was as far as he got before a figure rose in front of him, blocking the way.
“And why is he here?” asked Point-Two, pointing at the vacant-eyed, grim-faced Nifell who looked like his own skeleton wasn’t the right size for his body.
“Lucky mascot,” said Ubik.
“Lucky for who?” asked Point-Two.
“I know,” said Nifell, his voice croaky and miserable. “I know a way to get back to the surface.”
“You do?” said Fig.
“Of course he does,” said Ubik. “Good job, Nifell. You’re doing great.” He patted him on the back. Nifell flinched and scurried back a couple of steps, his face twisted into an expression of hate tempered only by exhaustion.
“You found a way out while you were wandering around?” asked Point-Two, keeping his voice light and amiable.
Nifell nodded, his body hunched but still, his eyes endlessly darting from side to side.
“Why didn’t you leave, then?” Point-Two did his best to keep his tone away from suspicion and accusation. Just a friendly inquiry.
“I came back to look for him.” Nifell pointed his head at Ubik. “So I could watch him die.”
There was a pause before Point-Two turned to the other two and said, “I think he’s telling the truth.”
“Me too,” said Fig.
Ubik slapped his hands together. “Surface it is then. Lead the way, Nif, lead the way.”
Nifell gave them each another dead-eyed stare and then turned and hurried down the corridor. When he got to the opening to the shaft, he kept going without any hesitation.
The other three followed, as did the streaks of lights running along the walls. The Intercessors were aware of their movements but apparently weren’t going to try to stop them.
A few moments later, Nifell stopped and faced the wall where a thin passage, no more than a gap between walls, led into a narrow dark space.
“Here,” said Nifell. It was barely big enough to slide into sideways.
“Are you sure?” asked Point-Two, and received a contemptuous look in return. Nifell turned, sucked in his breath, and shuffled into the gap.
Ubik gave the other two a thumbs up and followed.
It could well be a trap, a way for Nifell to get his revenge, but there weren’t any better options available. Fig went next and Point-Two slid in last.
The darkness was alleviated by flashes of white light flickering along the walls in front and behind them, before fizzling out like there wasn’t enough juice here to keep them powered. The intermittent glow they gave off was enough to reveal the gap they were in went a long way up.
There was a stiff breeze of stale air tinged with something rancid. It rushed over them and up. The winds on the surface, created by the newly created atmosphere? It at least suggested there was a way to the surface here.
Point-Two had no idea if this was a good idea but it was quiet and nothing was trying to kill them, so he was okay with it for the time being. Being stuck in Ubik’s makeshift cradle had been a lot worse, the lack of control over his own movements especially. At least in this enclosed space he could run — or sidle — away if there was a problem up ahead.
The rancid smell began to get a lot stronger as did the suspicion that they were being led into a trap.
“Do you think this place has a trash compactor?” asked Fig, sniffing at the air.
“That’s not trash,” said Ubik. “I know trash, that’s something else.”
“This is it,” said Nifell from ahead of them, followed by retching and throwing up, which didn’t make the smell any better.
They came out of the gap into another shaft, circular and five or so metres across. They were at the bottom of it but the ground was covered in small pale bodies. They were goblins and there were a lot of them, all dead. It was clear they were the source of the smell.
“What happened to them?” said Point-Two.
Fig crouched down. “They look like they’ve been sucked dry.”
“Used as an energy source,” said Ubik, his nose covered by the top of his shirt.
“For what?” asked Point-Two.
“Probably the energy beam from before,” said Ubik. “It’s how they power things around here. Living creatures, giant machines of destruction. One leads to the other.”
“So this is because of you,” said Point-Two.
“No,” said Ubik. “I just pressed a button. This way, is it?” He looked up the shaft. There was a strong wind blasting down at them.
Nifell was already climbing up a series of grooves in the wall, thin ridges that provided just enough grip to be used as a ladder. They followed him, leaving behind the pile of bodies. As they climbed higher, there was a loud grinding sound and the floor they had just been standing on divided down the middle and fell away, the dark hole created swallowing the pale bodies before the two flaps came back up. Perhaps the Intercessors did have a trash compactor after all.
It took about an hour to get to the top of the shaft and climb out. They were in a tunnel with smooth walls.
“This was made quite recently,” said Ubik, stroking the wall. “Nanodrones.”
“This way,” said Nifell. “It’s not far now.” He stumbled on ahead.
Ubik watched him with a smile on his face. Point-Two looked at Fig and they frowned at each other.
The wind became stronger as they headed into the tunnel, the dim glow of the exterior world up ahead. They exited at the top of a ridge, the base below them. There were numerous ships around them, most of them destroyed. The ship they had arrived in was still intact and within sight, although it would be a steep climb to get to it.
But their eyes were fixed on the sight above them.
The sigil was leading the way, a giant spinning shape alight with purple flames, rushing towards Enaya.
The asteroid in hot pursuit like they were racing to get their first. The planet was noticeably increasing in size. A few more hours and they would be within touching distance.
Alongside the two massive objects, artefacts and fragments from the ships that had been destroyed flew at the sigil, clearly targeting it, taking turns to explode like luminous fireworks, filling the sky above the asteroid with a thrilling display of pyrotechnics, then fading to nothing in an instant. Some struck the sigil, dislodging sections, but it quickly repaired itself, ignoring the attackers like a large beast unaware of gnats buzzing around it.
Nifell’s face broke out into a huge smile. “Yes. Yes. This is your end.” He turned to leer at Ubik. “This is what you deserve.”
Ubik smiled back, just as gleeful. “Good job, Nif. I knew you could do it.”
Nifell’s smile faltered. “You will die here.”
“Doubt it,” said Ubik. He looked up at the chaos in the skies. “Not as bad as I thought it would be.”
“No, you will die here,” insisted Nifell. “We will all die here.”
“Alright, calm down,” said Ubik. “No need to get all glass-half-empty.”
Nifell just stood there, stunned by Ubik’s lack of panic in the face of inescapable death.
Point-Two kept going. “This way.”
“Where are you going?” shouted Ubik, the wild wind blowing his words around. “Our ships over there.”
“We’re going to the control room,” said Point-Two, already heading down the slope to the base. The control room was close to the base entrance and the way down didn’t look too perilous. Figaro fell in behind him and Ubik followed after taking a moment to look back at the ship waiting to fly them in the opposite direction. And Nifell came stumbling after, still hoping to witness their demise.