Unknown Antecessor Location.
Point-Two looked at the space where Ubik had been a moment ago. The platform that had descended like a basic elevator ready to take them to whichever level they wished was still there. It looked solid. Metallic, silver, no gaps or holes. Ubik had slid right through it like it didn’t even exist.
He knelt down at the edge of the platform and reached out a hand. Gravity had stabilised at a little over standard. Ubik had saved them from being crushed to death, that much was certain.
The obvious thing to do was test it to see if it really was some sort of Holover. He pulled his hand back before he made contact with it. Ubik may not have fallen. He may have disintegrated from the feet up.
“Ubik?” shouted Point-Two. “Are you hanging under the platform?”
There was no reply.
“I’m pretty sure he fell,” said Fig, looking at the control panel on his arm. “I’m not getting anything now but the readings showed a downward trajectory for a few seconds before I lost the signal.”
“You’re not getting anything at all now?”
“Nothing. Either something’s blocking me or the suit was destroyed.” Fig looked up. “Do you think he’s dead?”
“I seriously doubt it,” said Point-Two. “Can you imagine Ubik letting a little fall be the end of him?”
“No,” said Fig. “I suppose not. Still, he hasn’t come all the way around, like your helmet.”
“Neither has my helmet.”
Point-Two’s helmet, which Ubik had volunteered into service, had taken only a couple of minutes to go down and come back around. It hadn’t done that since Ubik had summoned the platform.
“We could jump after him,” said Fig.
“What works for Ubik won’t necessarily work for us. Or anyone else. I’m not sure it even works for him, he just likes to act like it’s exactly what he intended.”
“It’s a good act,” said Fig.
Point-Two grunted in agreement and looked over at Nifell lying comatose inside his suit. The poor man had been through a lot and at least now he was resting peacefully. Which made Point-Two feel bad about what he was about to do.
He took hold of Nifell’s hand and pulled him closer. When the fingers of Nifell’s gloved hand were over the lip of the ledge they were on, he dipped them quickly into the elevator platform Ubik had fallen through.
The tips of his fingers disappeared and then reappeared when Point-Two pulled the hand back up. He tried again, this time lowering the whole of Nifell’s hand until only his wrist was visible, the rest sunken into the elevator floor as though he had dipped his hand into it when molten and allowed it to set.
The glove seemed undamaged when Point-Two retrieved it. He looked up at Fig.
“The suit’s fine,” said Fig, checking the control panel on his arm. “Nifell’s life signs are all stable. No effect. It appears to be some kind of projection but my sensors are seeing it as completely real. Possibly, the droid managed to distort whatever command Ubik gave it.”
“How did he get the droid to obey his commands in the first place?” asked Point-Two.
“I don’t know,” said Fig. “I guess… I think he was able to decipher the language it used. And then used it to speak back to it.” He didn’t sound like he thought what he was suggesting was very likely. But then, when had that ever been an obstacle for Ubik?
“What about you?” said Point-Two. “Can you learn their language?”
Fig shook his head. “I don’t think so. Not quickly, anyhow. It’s a very complex pictographic information delivery system. Incredibly dense. I can barely remember any of it. The alien nature of it makes retention extremely difficult. I think it would take a team of crypto-linguists decades to unpack the language fully.”
“It took Ubik about thirty seconds,” said Point-Two.
“Yes. But I don’t think he knew what he was doing.”
“You think he threw out random words and hoped for the best?”
“No,” said Fig. “I think he isolated a group of key icons he suspected of the same general function, and sent them in a concentrated burst in an attempt to trigger a desired outcome. Sort of like recognising a group of words in a foreign language refer to types of food, and saying all of them in the hope the foreigners realise you’re hungry and feed you. It’s a high-risk strategy which most people wouldn’t attempt, but…”
“But Ubik.” Point-Two looked at the platform. It looked entirely stable. But then any holographic image could be made to look that way. Most would have some telltale sign that they weren’t real, but the Antecessors possessed a lot of technology that was superior to their human counterpart.
There was a shimmer of light and the droid reappeared, but only for a second. As it flickered back out of existence, the elevator paled for a moment and became transparent. There was no evidence of Ubik underneath. Then the elevator became solid again.
“They’re trying to reestablish a connection,” said Fig. “I’m not sure what will happen when they do, but we should probably try to not be here when that happens.”
“Did you see what happened to the platform?” said Point-Two. “I think they’re connected. Them trying to break into this network affects the opacity of this thing. Which suggests it might be possible to make it solid enough to interact with, the way the droid was able to interact with the wall.”
Fig nodded. “Yes, solid light. It’s possible. But that still doesn’t give us a way to control it. I...” Fig turned his head slightly. “Can you hear that?”
Point-Two did hear something. He looked up the shaft as something came falling down, not very quickly. It landed with a thump on the elevator floor, bounced just a little, and then sat there. It was Point-Two’s helmet.
The two of them stared at it.
“Why isn’t it falling through?” asked Point-Two from the side of his mouth, not wanting to look away in case he missed something.
“Perhaps when the droid reappeared…” said Fig, suggesting the connection between Antecessor technology and whatever this was, was even now in operation.
Point-Two lightly kicked Nif’s hand over the edge. It fell through the elevator floor. The helmet was still sitting on solid ground. He nudged Nifell’s hand back. It was unharmed.
“Um,” said Figaro. “Try standing on it.”
Point-Two raised an eyebrow. Fig nodded at him encouragingly. Point-Two placed the tip of his boot on the elevator. It met resistance. He placed some more weight on it. It supported him completely.
The droid reappeared and Point-Two’s foot went through the floor, nearly taking the rest of him with it. The helmet slid through and disappeared below at the same time. Point-Two just about managed to jump back and stop himself from falling.
The droid came into sharper relief and took its full form, looking solid. Solid as the elevator. Then it disappeared again.
“I think I see now,” said Fig.
“This platform, it’s similar to the force field in the helmets on Ubik and Nifell’s slave suits. If it is the same concept, the material the suits are made of can pass through it.”
“Flaxen?” said Point-Two, recalling the name Fig had used. “The material designed by your father?”
“And the elevator, it’s made of the same stuff as the helmets?”
“It appears so. Similar.”
“That’s a bit of a coincidence, isn’t it?”
“Well, assuming both parties discovered the same underlying science, any practical applications would have a good chance of sharing certain attributes. People who discover they can turn sand into glass would probably use it for windows.”
“So you think it’s a coincidence?”
“No,” said Fig. “But we can ask my father, when we find him.”
“Your father’s never been down here, has he?”
“No one has, as far as I know.”
“Hmm,” said Point-Two. There was a thump as the helmet came back to land. “If the technology is the same, and you can control the helmet on their suits…”
Fig didn’t respond, just started tapping away on his control panel.
Point-Two tested the elevator with his toe. It felt solid. But it could turn intangible as soon as the Antecessors attempted to reconnect. If they were standing on it when the droid returned, it would be like the grim reaper appearing, sending them to their doom.
“I think I’ve got it,” said Fig after a few seconds.
“You can control the platform?”
“Not directly,” said Fig, “but I can control this.” He tapped on his control panel and the droid reappeared. The helmet fell through the floor. “Wait…”
Fig made some more taps and the droid became increasingly solid. It looked more solid than anything else in the room. Fig walked up to it and through it. He stood inside the droid, its body covering Fig’s head and most of his torso. The tentacle-like arms fell like a skirt around his waist.
“You were right,” said Fig, his voice coming out of the strange hybrid-creature he had become. “The technology they’re using is similar to my father’s, but like it’s a generation or two older. My operating system can access it through the visual interface, which gives me control of the internal matrix.”
Fig took a few steps forwards and backwards. The droid moved with him like it was a costume.
“The Antecessors aren’t going to like you commandeering their droid,” said Point-Two.
“No, but there’s not much they can do about it. The Antecessor systems are reliant on this place to manifest this droid as a Holover, albeit an advanced variant. My systems are able to interact with the tech down here much more efficiently than they can. I’ve switched this shell onto the suit’s matrix and taken it out of the public network. I am now able to use their insertion protocol as an adjunct of my suit’s slave override protocol.”
“What does all that mean?” said Point-Two.
The droids arm spread out and touched the wall nearest to Fig and also elongating to touch the wall on the opposite side. Both walls lit up with a silver glow. The elevator moved up a small amount and then down to be level with the ledge ringing the shaft. The helmet came falling down and landed with a thump once more.
Fig walked across and onto the elevator. The droid’s tentacles remained fastened to the walls. He didn’t fall through.
Point-Two stepped onto the platform. He walked into the middle, ducking under Fig’s extended limbs, and retrieved the helmet. He put it on before he lost it again.
“You can take it down?”
“Yes,” said Fig. “What about Nifell? Should we leave him here? I won’t be able to regulate his condition once we’re out of range.”
Nifell’s stiff body was lying in the same place. He already looked like a corpse. If they left him, most likely he would become one for real. Even if they took him, that would probably still be the outcome.
“No, we’ll take him,” said Point-Two. He stepped off and picked up Nifell by the armpits and dragged him onto the platform.
As soon as the lower half still on the floor touched the floor of the elevator, it slid through, jerking Point-Two forward. Nifell was now hanging down, his legs through the platform and his feet dangling beneath.
“Flaxen,” said Fig. “Its properties make it impossible to make contact with the floor no matter how much I reinforce its structural integrity. You’ll have to carry him.”
The material created by Figaro’s father was remarkably compatible with the technology down here. The technology that had been apparently undiscovered until now.
Point-Two heaved Nifell up and put him over his shoulder. The increased gravity, even though only slight, gave the body enough extra weight to be cumbersome. But Point-Two had given him his word — they would all get out of this alive or none of them would. He had a pretty good idea which of those two it would end up being.
“Okay, take us down,” said Point-Two. “Let’s see what Ubik’s been up to while he’s been left unsupervised.”
The droid’s hijacked arms slid along the walls as the elevator began its descent.