Ubik ducked as a wild burst of laserfire produced sparks from the walls in every direction, gouging a line across half the room and leaving silver liquid oozing onto the floor.
The Guardian was screaming something unintelligible as the guns on her arms and shoulders spat out searing white light. She seemed a little upset.
In fact, blinded by fury would be a more apt description. Probably why she didn’t see Junior pounce on her from behind, his large cat-form augmented with new additions protruding all over his body, bumps and nodules with mangled sections that looked like open wounds.
He was starting to see how these droids worked, but their condition made it hard to see how the original design worked. Hopefully smoother than this.
The Guardian might not have been as alert to the possibility of attack from the rear as she should have been, but Rex was online and on the job. The gun turrets on the suit’s shoulders swivelled a hundred and eighty degrees and unloaded a solid bar of light that warped the air around it as it shot through the air.
The slug struck the leaping cat in its midsection, shattering it into pieces that went flying back in the direction they had come. As they flew through the air, they spread out and then drew back together, reforming as they crashed down to the ground, bits sticking out of places they shouldn’t have.
The Guardian turned around to see what she had just fired on and didn’t appear to mind Rex taking it on himself to choose new targets. She raised her arms to follow up with more destruction.
“Don’t let her finish off Junior,” Ubik shouted at PT.
“What do you want me to do about it?” said PT.
“The suit’s weak spot is the back of the knees,” said Ubik, giving PT a suggestive look, urging him to take it from there.
PT pulled a face that suggested he would rather not, but Fig was already moving towards the Guardian and he started after him like he’d missed the starting pistol for the race of his life.
Ubik felt confident they’d take care of it. And if not, they would at least delay things long enough for him to save the day. Or save himself, whichever came first.
He was still holding two small droids, each just about able to fit in the palm of his hands, both in terrible condition, now joined together by a small piece of the gravity spike that had snapped off. Typical poor workmanship — if your specially designed anti-droid stick can’t even withstand a little rough and tumble with an Insanium class droid, what even was the point of bothering? Might as well go back to designing fancy lampshades for cabin lights in those fancy Central Authority cruisers he had his eye on.
The two droids looked like sea creatures, little tentacles waving. The residual gravity leaking from the broken spike was enough to keep the droids stuck together at the torso and unable to draw themselves apart, which they were both trying their utmost to do. They seemed desperate to get away from one another.
They were too weak and broken to cause Ubik any danger, and also too weak to resist the gravitational glue binding them to each other. The effect of gravity on them was fascinating. It wasn’t simply forcing them into contact like opposites end of a magnet, they were merging into each other.
And then snapping apart as they tried to regain their individuality.
The way they struggled to stay separate seemed to suggest a deep desire not to form a single entity. It was impressive how they fought to be true to themselves and not become a mindless part of something bigger and more powerful. Admirable, even.
Ubik honoured their struggle by grabbing each at its furthest end and shoving them together with all his strength. They might not want to become whole again, but Ubik was in need of mindless and powerful right now, not free-thinking loners.
The droids resisted, but with gravity and Ubik working against their personal desires, they slid closer together along the section of gravity spike conjoining them.
“I know… you want to be you…” grunted Ubik as he strained to push them closer. “We all want to be ourselves… but there comes a time… when we have to come together for a common cause.” They were losing the fight. Their long black tendrils hanging limply over Ubik’s arms began twitching as they mingled and fused together.
More shots fired, beams of light ricocheting off the walls and ceiling of the chamber. Fig had grabbed one of the Guardian’s arms and pulled it away from targeting Junior, who was still reforming. PT was behind her, timing his blows to the back of her knee to send the other weapons firing into the air.
Tezla spun around, still screaming. She was saying something about sending all of them to the Central Authority prison planet in body bags, which sounded a little redundant. With a swipe of her arm, she sent Fig flying through the air. He twisted and landed on his feet. Then she turned and kicked PT, catching him in the stomach and sending him somewhat less elegantly through the air, landing on his face, then the back of his head, then his face again.
Both came running back in the Guardian’s direction without hesitation. They were noble and brave.
“Hurry up and do something, Ubik, you useless sack of shit.” It was an odd warcry to go into battle with, but if PT needed to get his blood pumping, Ubik was happy to lend his name to the effort.
“Working on it.”
What he planned to do once the two droids became one, he wasn’t really sure. It was more of an exercise into the unknown. Gravity played a big role in the construction of these droids, that knowledge was bound to come in useful at some point. Maybe not today, but one day.
The two droids had given up fighting against their union and were now rapidly turning into a single unit. Perhaps they’d been inspired by PT and Fig’s display of determination in the face of adversity.
“That’s it, work together. You’re stronger when you… Hey, wait, what are you doing? No, no, don’t…”
The two droids had very much joined forces, giving in to the urge to become one, and now they were aiming their combined strength against Ubik. They had wrapped their weak tentacles — strengthened by their union — around Ubik’s wrists. The slick black surface spread up his arms, clamping onto his muscles, paralysing his arms from the elbows down.
“Hey, we’re a team. Don’t do—” Ubik shook his arms, trying to get his new gloves off. They now suddenly seemed more than eager to work together towards a common cause. Ubik considered this experiment a great success. He was already well on the way to understanding how this technology worked.
“Need a little help,” yelled Fig as he swung around, his hands clamped onto the gun barrel sticking out of the Guardian’s wrist mount, his feet just missing smacking Ubik on the nose.
“When you’re ready,” shouted PT from on top of the Guardian’s shoulders, his legs crossed around her neck, doing absolutely nothing.
Tezla threw her arms out and pumped them like she was loading a shotgun inside each.
“Rex, purge. Now.”
The suit’s armoured surface detached from the main body and then snapped back into place. PT and Fig were suddenly no longer in contact with the suit and hung in the air for a second. Then there was a sonic shrug, the air around the suit rippling as it compressed visibly, and PT and Fig were both launched towards opposite walls as though they’d been shot out of a cannon.
Tezla re-aimed her many, many weapons on Junior, who was rising to his feet.
“Help. Help me. They’ve taken over my suit.” Ubik went running towards the Guardian, arms out in front of him. They were coated in black droid material up to his armpits now, weak streaks of white light running up and down their length. “I’m being assimilated. Not responsible for my action.”
The Guardian swung her arms around towards him, most of the guns aimed at him.
“I think your targeting systems broken,” said Ubik. “You might want to point a little to the left.”
PT pulled a face from over on Ubik’s left.
“The targeting is fine,” said Tezla. “Stay out of my way. No closer or I’ll fire.”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” said Ubik, stumbling forward, dragged along by his arms. “I’m not in control. I can’t stand still, I’m all weak at the knees.” He glanced over at PT. “Totally weak at the knees.”
Ubik jumped, nudged an outstretched fist — the laser shot narrowly missing his head — and then ducked under and up between her two arms.
“This isn’t my fault,” he said as he jumped up, his droid-infested arms grabbing the Guardian’s neck. And then she was falling backwards.
Ubik could see PT behind her, blocking the stabilising jets that would normally keep her upright even under a massive load. A little Ubik hug without the stabilisers was enough to tip her over.
Ubik had his hands over Tezla’s visor. “Oh no, they’re trying to infiltrate your suit. Rex, begin security lockdown. If they take the suit over, we’re done for.” He slapped and rubbed her visor while sitting on her chest.
“Get off me. What are you doing?”
“This is the most advanced tech on our side. If they take control we’re done. Game over.” Ubik was issuing the warning very seriously, but also with his mouth very close to his hands, as though he didn’t want them to miss out on key information.
The droids eventually took the hint, or more likely made the decision for themselves, and released Ubik’s arms, instead grabbing onto the Guardian’s helmet and wrapping it in droid tendrils so there was no sight of Tezla no doubt enraged face. She thrashed around wildly.
“Oh no,” said Ubik, his hands held up, droid-free. “The worst-case scenario has come true. A catastrophe and then some.” Ubik jumped off her. “Don’t move, just make sure you maintain the integrity of all core systems. Very important. I’ll be right back. “
Ubik turned towards PT and ran across the room, jumping over crippled droids as he went. “Quick, where’s the densest gravity field in this place?”
PT pointed to the far side where Junior was shakily getting to his feet, cables undone and leaking sparks, parts on the verge of falling off.
“Okay, good. Let’s round these boys up.” Ubik scooped up a droid lying flat on the ground and tossed it at Junior. As it neared its target, it sped up and struck the droid with force, instantly absorbed into the body.
The three of them went around the room, grabbing the smaller, barely functioning droids, and throwing them at Junior. Some of the droids suddenly latched onto their rescuers and needed a little coaxing but as soon as they were airborne, they rocketed towards their new home. Junior got bigger.
Tezla managed to get to her feet and rip the droids off her face.
“You won’t believe what happened while you couldn’t see what was happening,” said Ubik. “It was like a mass-migration into that corner.”
Junior was standing now, huge and covered in extra limbs and parts.
“We tried to stop it,” said Ubik. “But without you… not being able to see and all.”
“I don’t need my eyes to see,” said Tezla. “I have sensors.” She threw the twin droids at Ubik. “What are you doing?”
Ubik caught the droids, made a squealing sound like he’d been handed a bunch of yucky animal innards, and threw the droids away. In the direction of Junior, coincidentally.
They looked like they were going to drop short, but then shot forward, plunging into Junior’s body
“Why are you helping them?” said Tezla. She wasn’t firing at him, which was good, but all her guns were pointed in his direction, which was tbd.
“Take it easy, Guardian,” said Ubik in a soft, placating tone. “Null Void, remember. Rex, tell her how important I am.”
“Capture of Null Void is mission objective, priority one,” said Rex.
“Visual cortex and brainstem acceptable if no other option.”
“Well, Rex clearly needs his boot drive defragging. Taken a little too much shaking in the old disc caddy. Okay, easy on that trigger. We have options. Lots of options.”
Junior came stomping across the room. He had taken the same shape as Tezla’s suit, only bigger and with more attachments.
“I’m just teaching them how to work together,” said Ubik. “They hate it, want to be their own boss, you know the feeling, right? But sometimes you have to work together to overcome a bigger problem. That’s all.”
Junior walked slowly and awkwardly until he was alongside Tezla. Weapons sprung out of his mimicked suit, only with more tendrils and stringy bits. He looked like Tezla if she’d just walked out of a swamp, bringing most of it with her.
Tezla stood her ground, weapons primed to fire. Junior did a quarter turn to face Ubik, guns locked on target.
“Oh, I see,” said PT. “You’ve given them a common enemy to bring them together. Killing you will be the thing that unites them. Brilliant.”
“Not common enemy,” said Ubik. “Common friend. Right? Facilitator of good things.”
The Guardian looked at the droid. The droid, a little stiffly, looked at the Guardian. They both produced more guns aimed at Ubik.
“Now you’re just being hurtful,” said Ubik. “But look, we need to find Fig’s dad. He’s probably gone a bit insane with all the intimate probing and stuff. And on the way, we’ll sort out your gravitational instability problem and the Central Authority will oversee a new era in Antecess—I mean, Intercessor-human relationships. And then once that’s taken care of, me and the boys will sail off in one of those CA yachts you only give to VIPs who’ve helped save the galaxy. Everyone wins, eh?”
“We don’t give away any yachts,” said Tezla. “And you haven’t saved anything.”
“Well, maybe if you put up a yacht as a reward…”
Junior moved forward. The Guardian braced herself.
“It’s fine,” said Ubik. “We’ve reached an understanding. We’re all on the same—”
Junior grabbed Ubik by the arm and swung him around, knocking over Fig and sending PT sprawling out of the way. Ubik found himself in Tezla’s arms for a second, and then both were hoisted into the air.
“Weapons systems are offline,” said Rex very calmly.
“Junior seems to know a lot about how your suit works,” said Ubik.
Then they were wrapped in long black limbs; more limbs snatched up PT and Fig. He began walking towards the far end of the room, dragging the four of them behind him.
“Probably taking us to meet the rest of the family,” said Ubik.
“You’re going to die, Ubik,” said Tezla.
“Oh, I don’t think Junior will—”
“Not him,” said Tezla.
They were dragged out of the room, which was fine. It didn’t mean something bad, necessarily. And it wasn’t like there weren’t other people who might rescue them. Overall, things were going well. Fair to middling.
The room was empty after Junior had left with his bounty. A single figure sat up, turned off his helmet and took a deep breath.
“Hello?” said Nifell. He didn’t recognise his surroundings at all. “Anyone here?” He was reluctant to shout in case someone — or something — heard him.
But he was a trained soldier, a specialist. He just had to get back to his base and call in an evac. He looked around the huge cavern that made him feel tiny and burst into tears.