Wormhole Island - Interior.
“Can you understand the walls, now?” said Point-Two. “I mean, you’ve mastered how they work. You can control everything?”
“Pfft,” replied Ubik. “It’s not that I can understand everything. Nobody can understand everything. It’s more that I have a feeling for the right way to go. Intuition, that’s all it is. Just very ordinary, everyday God-like intuition.”
Ubik walked through the now empty room, past the large blocks the others had been trying to move. They had patterns engraved on them and from the gaps in some of the walls, they appeared to be part of a giant circuit board that had to be arranged in a certain pattern to open the archways.
Point-Two only glanced at them as he hurried after Ubik. Whatever the puzzle had been, it wasn’t necessary for him to concern himself with it now. Ubik could open and shut whatever barrier they found in their way.
It was practically cheating. And also very practical cheating. Things might actually go smoothly for once.
Point-Two bit his lip to snap himself out of his optimism. Nothing good ever came from assuming the best around Ubik.
“Now, stay on your toes,” said Ubik, heading for the open archway he had just created. “Remember, this is a dungeon of dangers and mysteries.”
“It doesn’t really look like a dungeon,” said Lelya, her tone flat and unimpressed. “It’s just a ship with most of the lights turned off.”
Ubik stopped at the entrance to the passage beyond the archway. It was dark and silent.
“Yes, yes, it’s a ship, but you don’t need an old castle and damp walls to create a dungeon. You make do with what you have. Think of it as a conversion. We’ve got a prisoner — trapped for thousands of years. We’ve got dark tunnels and passages. We’ve got strange smells and chill winds. And we have the ghosts of the crew, lingering in the shadows.”
“There aren’t any ghosts lingering anywhere,” said Weyla.
They were all at the entrance now. The passage ahead of them was straight and dark with no indication of what was ahead of them.
“Go on, then,” said Point-Two. “Lead the way.”
“Me?” said Ubik. “You’re the boss, shouldn’t you go first?”
“I’m the boss and I’m ordering you to go first,” said Point-Two.
“Oh, how quickly they get used to the drug of power,” said Ubik, shaking his head. He began walking.
Point-Two was relieved they were on their way. Whatever lay ahead, he’d much rather find it and deal with it, than wait for something to happen and then react to it while panicking. It was how Ubik preferred to do things.
As the four of them walked — Ubik and Point-Two side by side, the two Seneca mercenaries behind them — the women held up glow-sticks that gave off a weak green light.
The women were probably trained to work under very low levels of light, maybe even preferred it. The brighter the light, the easier for others to see you coming. He found it a bit of a strain and had to squint.
Meanwhile, Ubik was humming and acting like he knew exactly where he was going, the big faker.
“Why this way?” asked Leyla. “Something special down here?”
“No idea,” said Ubik. “I’m just guessing.”
“Could you stop lying for once and just tell us what it is we’re about to face?” said Weyla.
“I’m not lying,” said Ubik. “PT, tell ‘em. I don’t lie.”
“He doesn’t lie,” said Point-Two. “Technically, everything he says is the truth.”
“We can help you more effectively if we have some idea of what you’re doing,” said Weyla.
“No one asked for your help,” said Ubik. “Don’t want it, don’t need it. If anything, we’re helping you. You’re welcome.”
“We’re only trying to prepare ourselves for what we find,” said Leyla.
“You guys overvalue information,” said Ubik, tossing the observation out casually. “This is what happens when you live a comfortable life where everything is handed to you.”
“Compared with the kind of upbringing people like me face,” continued Ubik, “you gifted acolytes who were trained by the best, most loving instructors had too many unnecessary advantages. It’s very seldom you encountered real obstacles or went through genuine hardships, so you tend to have a poor temperament.”
Weyla and Leyla exchanged hand signals, holding some kind of private conversation. Probably something unflattering about Ubik. Maybe they also had something to say about him, thought Point-Two. He was probably lumped in with the little git.
“But the little guy who has nothing, has no one, we’re different,” waxed on Ubik. “The conditions are bad, the safety nets are non-existent and the people in charge are bastards. Anyone who makes it had to face endless setbacks. Their wisdom has already matured and it’s not an exaggeration to say they’re above-average clever.”
Weyla made some soft clicking sounds and Leyla responded, followed by both chuckling.
“No,” said Ubik, turning around to face Leyla, “I am not blowing smoke up my own ass. “ He turned to Weyla, “But yes, if I was that flexible, that’s exactly what I would do instead.”
“You understand Seneca signals,” said Leyla, surprised.
“Never heard of ‘em,” said Ubik. “First time just now. It’s a bit simple and easy to break.” He let out a series of clicking sounds from somewhere inside his throat.
Both women scowled, their expressions turning ugly, their postures suggesting imminent violence.
“That’s disgusting,” said Weyla. “How do you even come up with something that vile.”
Ubik grinned. Point-Two had no idea what he had just said to them, but it was probably very offensive.
“The gravity in this ship is very odd,” said Point-Two, hoping to redirect the conversation away from insults and kicks to the groin. “I can’t get a solid fix on it.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s all over the place,” Ubik agreed. “I think it has to do with the purple goo, the raw stuff in those pools. Acts like a reflector. Keeps in the gravity, multiplies it when the waves reflect back, builds to peaks and then cancels out.”
“No,” said Point-Two. “That’s not how gravity works.”
“Maybe not where you come from,” said Ubik, eminently confident in his wrongness, “but here on Treasure Island, things don’t operate the usual way.”
“I thought this was a prison,” said Weyla.
“Yep, a prison full of treasures.” Ubik stopped.
There was no reason to stop, as far as Point-Two could tell, but he stopped as well. All he saw was endless corridor.
“What are we looking at?” asked Point-Two.
“Looks like a trap,” said Weyla, staring into the dark.
“Hmm,” said Leyla.
“Are your organics both still supercharged?” Point-Two asked them.
“Mm-hm,” they both said without looking at him.
“Yah,” said Leyla.
“What can you see?”
“Some kind of panel,” said Weyla.
“Sensor array, it looks like,” said Leyla.
“No,” said Ubik. “Looks more like a workstation. Maintenance bay.”
Point-Two understood that the two mercenaries had organics that allowed them to see things he couldn’t, but how exactly was Ubik able to see the same as them?
Ubik began walking again.
“I don’t think—” said Leyla.
“Calculated risk,” said Ubik.
Point-Two hesitated, and then followed Ubik. In his experience, staying close to the maniac was marginally safer than being far enough to get caught in his backwash.
There was a click and a ‘vhoom!’ sound, and then Point-Two sensed a change in gravity. He was lifted into the air and held tight, just like he had been before. He couldn’t move his arms or legs, which were pinned to his sides.
“I told you it was a trap,” said Weyla.
“This?” said Ubik, floating upside down alongside Point-Two. “Nah. Automated lifting mechanism, so you can service the underside of, you know, things.”
“Bit high up, isn’t it?” said Leyla, craning her neck to look up at them.
“Depends,” said Ubik. “Antecessor maintenance droids might have been very tall. Any chance you could hit the switch to bring us down. I think it’s the shiny one.”
Point-Two couldn’t turn his head to see where Ubik was indicating, but the two women nodded.
“If we get closer,” said Weyla, “we’ll get trapped… I mean taken in for servicing, too.”
Leyla took out her holstered weapon and aimed down the sight. It seemed an odd thing to do since weapons didn’t work here.
She fired a shot. It made a ping sound and a projectile shot beneath where Point-Two and Ubik were suspended, and ricocheted off the wall.
Leyla sucked on her tongue and tried again. Weyla took out her own weapon and joined in. Both had modified their weapons to fire small projectiles, taking a note from the weapons VendX had brought with them.
It showed the versatility of the Corps. They had their way of doing things, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t adapt to new methods when required.
After a couple of minutes of shooting at the wall, there was soft ‘ahhh’ and Point-Two fell, gracefully landing on his feet, sinking to one knee to kill the momentum.
Ubik screamed and fell head-first. His scream was cut short when he was caught by Weyla, her strong arms cradling him.
Ubik had a grin on his face as he settled in. “I knew you liked me.”
Weyla immediately let go and he dropped to the floor in a heap. He jumped to his feet.
“I think you have a thing for guys who boss you about,” said Ubik. “I can fix that. Just give me ten minutes a day to dominate you, really crush your independent spirit, and we can get it all out of your system.”
Weyla rolled her eyes and walked past him.
“She’s considering it,” said Ubik.
The passage ended in a blank wall with no other exit. The panel on the wall they had all seen was not very different to the rest of the wall it was attached to. It had a light sheen to it, that was all that marked it out.
“Yep, this is it,” said Ubik. He leaned his head closer. “Little light, please.“
Weyla and Leyla lifted their glow-sticks and Ubik proceeded to wipe goo on the walls.
Point-Two didn’t feel totally confident with how little thought Ubik was putting into his actions. He was, by nature, not one too put too much thinking into anything, and it seemed to work out for him, but they had just been hanging upside down in the air a moment ago, so success was by no means guaranteed.
“Do you want to think it over first?” Point-Two asked.
“Hm? No, this is fine,” said Ubik, not even pausing to answer.
Get close or back away, that was Point-Two’s quandary. The two mercs seemed happy to stand on either side of Ubik, escorts of doom.
There was another click. No sound of suction this time. A light fell on Point-Two, as it did on the others. There was no pain, so that was good, and no movement, up or otherwise, so he was happy about that.
Then, everything went dark for just a moment, a sudden fade out and a quick fade in. Point-Two looked around. He recognised his surroundings, which were very different to a moment ago. It was the third level canteen on the Liberator Garu. He was home.
The lighting was a lot brighter here, but his eyes didn’t need any time to adjust. He checked over either shoulder. People were milling about. Eating, talking, going about their business. He looked down at the meal before him. Pretty much what he would eat. When he looked back up, he saw his sister walking towards him.
“He wants to see you,” she said, not sitting down.
“Who?” asked Point-Two.
“Father. He thinks you’re ready.”
Point-Two felt ready. He felt strong and powerful. Superior to everyone one else in the mess hall. To everyone in the ship. His eyes were glowing, he could feel them heating up.
“This isn’t real.”
“It is,” said his sister. “He wants you to be Number One.”
“No,” said Point-Two. “It’s a sim-U.” He looked around again. It was incredibly realistic, a level above anything he’d experienced before. “I don’t have an organic. Plus, Father would never send you to summon me. He doesn’t think you’re worthy. Only I think that. So this must be my fantasy.”
He put his hand up in front of his eyes and he could see the faint reflection of red from his eyes on his palm.
A cold snort escaped through his nose. “Schoolboy error.”
The light quickly dipped to blackout and then he was back in the corridor. Ubik was rubbing his chin and staring at the panel.
“You snapped out of it, did you?” Ubik asked, distracted by other thoughts.
“Mm-hm. Wasn’t designed for non-organics like us. Them two are loving it, though.”
Weyla and Leyla were standing either side of Ubik, each in their own spotlight, their eyes glowing brightly and a rictus grin fixed to their faces.
“Can we wake them up?”
“Got to be careful,” said Ubik. “This is very advanced, far more than the sim-U rigs we use. Doesn’t even need a rig, just a beam of light. Must be really sensitive.”
“So, what do we do?”
Ubik stopped his contemplation and looked Weyla up and down. “Anything you want. She can’t do anything to stop you.”
“I mean, how do we bring them out safely.”
“Slap,” said Ubik.
“Slap in the face, the shock will bring them out.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“No, but calculated risk and all that. Not too soft, not too hard. Not like it’ll kill them.”
Point-Two wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but he stepped forward and struck Leyla on the cheek.
She immediately stepped out of the light, which turned itself off as soon as she moved.
She looked confused for a moment, looking around to see where she was. Then she put her hand to her cheek.
“Did you… did you hit me?”
“Erm, sort of,” said Point-Two.
“You hit me?” Now she was mad. Really mad. It was quite impressive how quickly she made the leap from disoriented to livid. She was drawing her weapon.
“No, no, it wasn’t… I mean, I did it to wake you. It was the only—” He was backing away with hands raised.
Ubik took a step towards Weyla and shook her gently by the shoulder. She stumbled and woke, eyes blinking.
“Slapping a defenceless woman,” said Ubik with a disappointed shake of his head. “Men.”
“Wait. No. He said it was the best way to revive you. It was him. I’m not lying.”
Leyla slowly returned the gun to its holster, but her face was still aiming down the barrel at him.
“What did you see?” Ubik asked Weyla. She turned red. “I thought so. Was I naked?”
“You weren’t there,” barked Weyla, slightly more insistently than she probably intended.
“What was that for?” asked Leyla. “Why would they need to probe our minds like that?”
“Something to do with organics,” said Ubik. “Do you feel stronger than before or weaker?”
“Stronger,” they both said together.
“There you go then. Some kind of optimisation, calibration, fine-tuning. Or whatever. Place seems to be very organic-centric. Much more than any other Antecessor ship or site. Now then, let’s try this again.”
Ubik smeared more goo on the wall with his finger.
“Wait…” said Point-Two, attempting to at least slow him down so he could catch his breath between disasters.
It was too late. Ubik activated the control panel and the wall split apart, revealing another room, one full of white light coming from a tree.
It was very clearly a tree, although made of white crystal or maybe polished stone. No leaves, but plenty of branches. And hanging from one was a white, round fruit. It looked sort of like an apple.
Both women snapped back their heads and their eyes turned incandescent. Their bodies trembled and shook.
“Interesting,” said Ubik. “Wonder if it’s edible.”
“I think we should stop and think about this,” said Point-Two.
“You worry too much. When did picking an apple off a tree do any harm?”
And then the serpent on Ubik’s arm went crazy.