VendX Depot 4.
Central Authority Vessel Nirvana.
Ubik was sure it was a good plan. He hadn’t thought that when he came up with it — flying backwards through a wall of ships had a very low chance of success whichever way you looked at it — but now that they had overcome those unfavourable odds, the rest was bound to be plain sailing. You had to keep updating the model to get a proper, real-time idea of what was going on.
“How are we going to stop them chasing us down and killing us?” said PT. He was still stuck in the old model.
“Once we’re in the wormhole, they can’t gain on us,” said Ubik. “Terminal velocity.”
“That’s great. But we can’t get away from them, either,” said PT. “Terminal velocity.”
He had a point. No one could go any slower or faster than the wormhole allowed. Your speed inside a wormhole was always wormhole speed.
“But this is a Central Authority ship,” said Ubik, not sure what point he was about to make but liking the direction he was going in. “This thing is made of Antecessor technology, just like the wormholes. There are probably a bunch of secret gizmos specially built into the hull. Or something.” He hadn’t finished as strong as he’d started. He turned towards the screen. The wormhole was a spiral of multi–hued clouds in a giant swirl. “Do you think there’s any ice cream on board?”
“Janks,” said PT, “can we get Tezla out of stasis?”
“Guardian Tezla,” said Jank’s voice, making a point that did not need to be made, “is inside a Roschman cocoon. She can only be extracted once we reach a Grade 3 or higher Central Authority facility. Rest assured, she is completely safe while she is cocooned.”
“It’s not her I’m worried about,” said PT.
The walls lit up with coloured lights, streaming back and forth. The wormhole began to turn. It was like looking into a tornado from above.
“Look,” said Ubik, “the ship’s forcing the wormhole open.” Perhaps there really was a link between all Antecessor technology. The edges of the wormhole flashed like coloured lightning in storm clouds. “The ship’s talking to the wormhole. Wow.”
“What’s it saying?” said PT.
“I don’t know,” said Ubik. “It’s pretty, though.”
“Janks, what’s wrong with him?”
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” said Ubik. “Your problem is you don’t know how to appreciate art.”
“Is it brain damage?” said PT. “He’s been like this since he started reading your coloured lights.”
“It isn’t possible for the prismatic array to affect people outside of the Central Authority,” droned the drone, sounding very sure of itself. Ubik made a mental note to give Janks a tune up.
“He’s Null Void, though,” said PT. “Doesn’t that make a difference.”
“You may have a point,” said Janks. “I don’t have access to that information. Please brace yourselves for entry.”
The wormhole had grown larger on the screen. It was spinning incredibly fast, although that wasn’t the wormhole moving, it was the ship lining itself up with the wormhole core.
This was working out fine. The ship could force the wormhole open. Once they were inside, there was no way for the pursuing ships to catch them. And wherever they came out, VendX wouldn’t have the ability to jam their signal any longer so they’d be able to call for assistance. The whole Central Authority organisation would be there to lend a hand. Nice.
“Look at him,” said PT. “He’s smiling like an idiot at nothing. That isn’t normal.”
“Perhaps that is also connected to his being Null Void,” suggested Janks.
The lights in the room were flashing even faster now. They were washing over him, filling him with information. Ubik let it wash over him without paying much attention. It was much easier to watch it go past, like sitting on the bank of a river, than it was to get in and try to swim along with the flow. The current was too much, too fast for that. What you really needed was a boat.
“Are we going in cold?” said PT. He sounded concerned.
“There isn’t enough power to activate secure seating,” said Janks. “I managed to isolate and disinfect key systems only.”
“But if we enter the wormhole without a protective shield, we’ll be squashed flat.” PT was right, of course. Protective shields weren’t very complex, but they were necessary for entry into a wormhole. The jump between the two different planes was far too jarring for the human body to survive naked.
“This is a Central Authority ship,” said Janks. “The outer hull is designed to displace 16% planar shear.”
“So we’ll only be 84% dead?” said PT.
“We won’t die,” said Ubik. “We just need to find something solid to hide behind.”
“Like what?” said PT, spreading his arms and looking around. “The whole ship is designed to keep everything out of sight, and there’s no way to pull it out. Unless you know how.”
That did seem to be the case. The problem with a super–high–tech ship that operated with discrete solid–state tronics based on alien designs was that once something went wrong you were totally screwed. Ubik started giggling. The idea of the most advanced institution in the galaxy being blocked from doing what they wanted because the chairs wouldn’t come out of the floors properly amused him.
“Ubik, snap out of it. We’re going to die the moment we enter that wormhole.”
“No, we won’t,” said Ubik. “We can just use the Roschman cocoon.”
“You have one on you, do you?”
“No,” said Ubik. “We can just share Tezla’s. She won’t mind.”
“We can do that? Are you sure? We can get in with her?”
“No, of course not,” said Ubik, appalled. “Without consent? Are you some kind of monster?”
“What? I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Tell it to the Central Authority judiciary, mister.” Ubik couldn’t hold up the serious face and broke into a grin. “You really like her, don’t you?”
“We can use the cocoon as wave-break. If we position ourselves behind it. I assume it’s big enough. She’s quite a big girl. Is that what you like about her?”
“We will be entering the wormhole in Seventy-eight seconds, standard,” said Janks. “I can abort if you wish to put your lives ahead of the safety of the ship.”
“Of course I put my life ahead of the safety of this ship.” PT was getting quite upset. “But there’s no point stopping, VendX will just—”
“Sixty seconds to entry.”
“Go, go, go,” said Ubik. It was going to be close. “Which way is it again?”
“This way.” PT turned in mid–air and shot out of the room.
Ubik was glad he had his Delgados. He ran after him in leaps and bounds.
PT was already at the far end of the corridor. Ubik clicked his heels and lowered the grav–pull on his boots so each step was several metres long.
He heard PT scream. It sounded awful, a mixture of terror and dismay. He was in two minds — rush to help or stop and avoid the same fate — but his giant steps took him through the opening ahead of him and floating into a huge chamber.
“This is the wrong way,” said Ubik. He was hanging in the air above a forest. It had trees and rivers and a waterfall. The ship had its own green biome.
“I didn’t get lost,” said PT, grabbing onto Ubik as he floated by. “The ship swapped around after it separated.”
“Too late now,” said Ubik. “Only way out is down.” He clicked his heels and set the grav–pull to max. They plummeted towards the treetops.
“How will breaking our legs help?” said PT
“Nature abhors a vacuum,” said Ubik. “Wood counters wormhole. They used to deck out the interiors of old ships with the stuff.”
“That’s not true. My ship’s hundreds of years old and there isn’t anyaaaa—”
They fell through the branches as the ship jumped over the wormhole barrier. Ubik’s teeth hurt but that was about the worst of it. He cut the boots and they were floating in the middle of a leafy glade.
“And that’s why you always buy genuine Delgados,” said Ubik.
PT threw up. If there were any small critters living in these woods, they were about to experience a new kind of rain.
“How can you get space sick?” said Ubik. “You were born in space.”
“I’m not space sick,” said PT, wiping his mouth. “We don’t use wormholes, don’t need to, nowhere to go. I’m still getting used to it.”
“This is only my second time,” said Ubik. “I’m fine.”
“You’re Null Void.” He looked around. “I guess you were right.”
“I don’t think that’s the reason,” said Ubik. “I think I’m just cooler than you. Hey, my head feels a lot better. I was actually a bit out of it until now.”
“No kidding,” said PT.
“Shouldn’t we go see what Janks is up to?” Ubik looked up through the leaves. It was just like being in the woods, or how he imagined it would be. “Where are we even going?”
He rubbed his jaw. His teeth weren’t hurting anymore.
“Let’s go see,” said PT. He grabbed the nearest branch and springboarded himself straight up.
“Hey, wait,” said Ubik, but he was already gone. “Guess I’ll have to learn how to do this at some point.” He looked up at all the branches in the way. “Not today, though.”
It only took a couple of seconds to reach the forest floor. It had a strange musky smell to it. He couldn’t hear any creatures but that didn’t mean there weren’t any. The sound of running water could be masking their stealthy approach.
He set off running in the direction he sort of remembered they’d come from. It was quite relaxing with his Delgados on a brisk country stroll setting. He’d never used it before.
The ground was uneven, a bit grassy, a bit muddy. He jumped over puddles and pools. There were fish in them. One of them jumped out and tried to chase him. He couldn’t recall there being a type of fish that could run on land, but he wasn’t about to stop and check.
The trees stopped just before the wall. Ubik hoped it was the right one or he’d have to make a very long trip to the other side. He hopped up and triggered his boots. They pulled him onto the wall and he was running up it. Or along it. Once he was on the wall, it was his new floor. He could see the opening up ahead and PT hanging out of it, looking for him.
“Where did you go?” PT shouted.
“Scenic route,” said Ubik as he reached him. He stopped once he was back in the corridor, breathing heavily.
“Let’s go,” said PT impatiently.
“Are you sure you know the way?” said Ubik.
“Funny. How come Janks didn’t tell us to come here in the first place?”
“Maybe he didn’t know. Drones only know what they’re told.”
They hurried back to the room they’d only recently vacated. The screen was still up, showing the interior of the wormhole, which wasn’t very interesting, just streaks of coloured lights.
“Jank,” called out PT. “What’s our heading.”
“You are alive,” said Janks. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks,” said Ubik. “And VendX?”
The screen changed to show a convoy of ships behind them. The magnification was on one and the ships were uncomfortably close.
“We are on route to the Titan wormhole in the Third Quadrant. We will be able to contact a Central Authority base from there.”
“Not a good idea,” said Ubik. “They know that’s the exit for this tunnel. They’ll have a blockade set up waiting for us. Same problem.”
“Then what do we do?” said PT.
“This is a CA ship,” said Ubik. “Can’t we force our way into another tunnel?”
“Theoretically, yes,” said Janks. “It is not advisable to do so unless under emergency circumstances.”
“Look at the ships trying to hunt us down,” said PT.
“The pursuing ships are hailing us,” said Janks.
Janks played the incoming message, spoken in a soft, silky voice.
“...in the interest of safety please reduce speed and prepare to be boarded. Space maritime regulations prevent ship to ship transfer in a wormhole. You will be required to bring your ship to a full stop before we can offer assistance. All VendX ships have a public cafeteria offering reasonable prices on a wide range of—”
“That’s nice,” said Ubik. “Usually, they just play a recording with horrible music. They must really want our business. I bet the cafeteria’s really expensive, though. Anyone bring any money?”
“If we change direction, can they follow us?” said PT.
“No,” said Janks. “Unless they have recently developed the technology without making it public. In which case, yes.”
“Take us to the Tethari wormhole,” said Ubik.
“Isn’t it closed?” said PT.
“Not to us,” said Ubik.
“Change of course is not—”
“It’s where Tezla would tell you to go,” said Ubik. “Run the numbers.”
There was a pause. “Likelihood of Guardian Tezla redirecting us to the Tehtari Wormhole… eighty–nine percent.”
PT pulled a face. “How did you—”
Ubik kicked him. Not too hard; Delgados could ruin someone’s whole day if you weren’t careful. “Let’s do it for Tezla. It's what she would have wanted, eighty–nine percent of the time.”
“Changing course,” said Janks. Coloured lights flooded the walls.
The only indication that they had changed direction was the sight of the ships following them suddenly vanishing, and PT throwing up again. Fortunately, he didn’t have much left in his stomach.
“See,” said Ubik, moving away from PT. “Now we don’t have to worry about fighting our way out of a blockade. How long till we get to Tethari?”
“Seven minutes,” said Janks.
“Wow,” said Ubik. “That’s a hell of a shortcut. This is really working out well.”
“Yeah, I’m shocked too,” said PT.
“You should have more faith. Tethari in seven, dinner at Fig’s place in twelve. Easy.”
Seven minutes later they punched through the Tethari wormhole.
“What are all those ships?” said PT.
A fleet of ships formed a barrier in front of them. Their logos represented some of the biggest corporations in the galaxy.
“They’re not VendX,” said Ubik. “It’s fine. We’re Central Authority, remember.”
“Central Authority Vessel Nirvana,” said a voice. “We are aware that you have been hijacked. Surrender or we will open fire.”