Figaro raised his eye above the scope he’d attached to Chukka’s gun and surveyed the area below his position.
Point-Two had made it to the tower — which had turned out to be a collection of long strips of metal haphazardly thrown together so they leaned against each other — and was inside. If the interior was anything like the exterior, there probably wasn’t much to do in there.
The Seneca troops had taken cover where they could, hiding themselves in an efficient and compact manner, as expected. They were trained to protect themselves just as vigorously as they were trained to rain down death and destruction. Each soldier of the Corps represented a valuable investment in time and money, and no one liked to waste either.
Figaro knew this well enough. Learning about the Corps, its way of doing things, its way of maximising its results, had always been of interest to him. Some might even call it an obsession.
People were usually captivated by the Corps’ history, how they came to be and all that led to the creation of such an unyielding and uncompromising entity, but Figaro considered that to be the least compelling part of the story. They were pushed into a corner, they came out fighting. Not very hard to understand.
For Figaro, the only thing that mattered was the modern embodiment of the Corps. The better he understood it, the easier it would be to defeat it. And he had no doubt he would one day be faced with that task.
“Why don’t they use their organics?” grumbled Chukka, crouched behind a rock that was actually a connecting bolt from some ancient ship that had long since been smashed to pieces and scattered across this wormhole island.
“I don’t know,” said Figaro, glancing over at her.
She nodded for him to look back. “They’re moving.”
Figaro lowered his head and looked through the scope again. It was a solid piece of equipment he had found lying on the surface. It looked to have once been part of a bomb-sighting apparatus, designed to mark targets from several thousand metres up, but it worked just as well from ten or twenty metres now that he had modified it.
There were a surprisingly large amount of useful items to be found just lying around. At first glance, the surface looked to be a combination of dull rocks and thick dust, but that was just the effect of time. In fact, the island was coated in the remains of the ships that had been caught in the wormhole over who knew how many millions of years. Broken and damaged, but preserved beyond the reach of rust or decay.
All it took was a keen eye and a little patience. Figaro had done a quick tour of the area around where he and Chukka had found themselves, sifting as he went, and found himself a number of useful items.
“Thirty to forty, two singles,” said Chukka, clearly identifying the Corps’ movement for him. She might have been an awkward captive to bring along, but as a spotter, she was more than competent.
Figaro fired off two shots, fizzing beads of metal, sending two Seneca soldiers scurrying back to their hiding place.
“Another one, forty-five, fifteen,” called out Chukka.
Figaro snapped the muzzle of the gun to his left and hit the boot of a Seneca soldier attempting to reposition herself. She lost her footing but turned her fall into a dive, making it to a new hiding spot, although not the one she had been aiming for.
He reached for the pellets he had lined up on the ground next to him and fed more into the gun.
It was an interesting weapon, able to fire more or less anything if it was the appropriate size. And as it happened, pellets of metal between one and two centimetres were one of the things easiest to find here. It wasn’t particularly lethal but he had enough ammo to keep up a sustained barrage of inconvenience.
“New people arriving, three-fourteen”
Figaro raised his head and swivelled towards the right to look where Chukka had indicated. There was a group, six or seven, moving quickly in the direction of the tower.
Figaro moved the gun around and looked through the scope.
“Let’s go,” he said, standing up and jumping over the ridge he’d been lying behind.
Chukka rose into a crouch but didn’t look very keen on leaving cover. “Wha—?”
“Quick, we have to go.” Figaro didn’t wait for her, he went sliding down the slope, moving towards the rear of the tower.
It would take a few seconds for the Seneca troops to realise there were no longer pinned down. He had that long to make it to where Point-Two was and find out what he was planning to do. Hopefully, he had some way out of this mess.
Chukka was behind him, scrabbling down the incline. He heard her breathing hard and then stumbling. He turned as she fell, sliding towards him but keeping her mouth tightly shut so as not to give away their position. He found himself smiling at her grim determination. If she’d had a higher CQ, the Corps definitely would have taken her.
He grabbed her as she was about to slide past him and yanked her to her feet. She grabbed onto him, arms around his shoulders, her chest heaving against his.
“Thanks,” she muttered, before pushing him back and looking him in the eyes. She had a million questions to ask him but just grimaced and nodded for him to keep going.
They made it to the base of the tower in another couple of minutes. They were behind it so there was no way to know what the Seneca troops had decided to do. Figaro guessed they would slowly work their way towards the tower while having sent a smaller group around the back of his recently abandoned position to flank him.
Once they figured out they were no longer being targeted, they would realise his goal and storm the mount. They had the numerical advantage and they had organics (which they were currently not using for some reason) but they weren’t trying to kill them, at least not currently, so Figaro felt confident he could get to Point-Two in one piece.
Figaro stopped when he got to the tower’s rear wall and leaned his back against it. The material was cool and felt like ceramic more than metal. Part of some ancient ship or maybe a space station. Chukka was soon next to him, waiting for him to call their next move.
The wall was solid and stable on this side, but the opposite wall was lying flat and looked to have recently fallen. You couldn’t count on anything to last forever.
Figaro listened for any sounds of movement, then he risked a peek around the corner. He didn’t see anyone. He stayed low and hurried around the tower to the opening. He was curious to see just what was inside this monumental bivouac.
He made it to the front easily enough, but was disappointed with what he found.
The three walls of the tower enclosed an empty space. There was a grey area on the ground that was very clearly defined and, unlike its surroundings, was smooth and uncluttered. No debris, no accumulation over the millennia. It was like a rug that had a piece of furniture removed to reveal its true colours.
The square of smooth metal starkly stood out against its surrounding, and very much gave off the feel of a covering to an entrance.
Figaro would have investigated further, but there was one other thing in the enclosed space. A tall, angry woman with a streak of blood dripping from her left temple. She was the soldier Figaro had shot earlier, allowing Point-Two to get past her. Point-Two, Figaro noted, was nowhere to be seen.
“Have you seen my friend?” asked Figaro.
She looked from Figaro’s face to the gun he was holding in his right hand. “It was you,” she said, not seeming to require an answer.
“Yes, but it wasn’t a kill shot so I don’t think there’s any need to be upset.”
“I’m not upset,” she said in the extremely slow and calm manner of someone who is so upset they no longer need to bother with emotions. “It was a good shot. Railgun?”
Figaro raised the gun and looked at it like he wasn’t sure. He turned to Chukka.
“Yes,” she said. “Magnetic.”
The three of them stood there, no one wanting to be the first to attack. There wasn’t anything to fight over. Whatever this place was used for, they were too late. The hatch was closed, the prey was gone.
Figaro walked over to the clear area on the ground and tapped on it with his foot. It was different from the walls of the tower. This was an alloy of some kind. Something very sophisticated and fused together for a specific purpose. The grain across its surface warped and twisted with every head movement. “Door?”
The woman didn’t respond. Chukka moved closer to Figaro.
The woman turned and walked away from them, out of the tower. She stood at the top of the rise and began making hand signals to those below, letting them know there was no longer a risk, giving them the all-clear and also letting them know how many people were with her and what threat they posed. The Seneca non-verbal communication system was dense but concise.
A few moments later, there were more than a dozen women standing in the entrance to the tower, blocking the way out. Despite their short hair and toned bodies, they all exuded a feminine grace and stern beauty.
Figaro had always admired the Corps’ refusal to bend to the received wisdom about the masculine nature of strength. Such things were still adhered to on some planets.
They didn’t use hormone-replacement or body-transformation techniques to give their soldiers greater muscle mass. They didn’t aspire to be male. They more than made up for it by being utterly ruthless and surgically accurate.
The women glared at Figaro with a mixture of anger and indignation. He had cost them their prey, which made him their target by proxy.
Figaro didn’t mind, he wasn’t planning on leaving.
The wall of women parted to allow a senior figure to enter.
“General Sway,” said Figaro. “You allowed your quarry to escape. Are you going to court-martial yourself?” His tone was glib but cold enough to avoid becoming mocking. He was the victor in their clash, she couldn’t change the facts.
“Circumstances were highly peculiar,” said Sway, taking his question seriously. “And your involvement was timely. You have an operational weapon. How?”
“Not mine,” said Figaro, looking over at Chukka. “VendX brought non-tronic armaments to counter Ubik. You should have done the same.”
“We don’t need to…” Sway started in with the usual bluster about being superior to everyone, but her words dried up when she remembered how easily her troops had lost control of the situation. “The weapon. Hand it over.”
“Why would you need my weapon when you’re the Seneca Corps?” said Figaro, taking a second to inspect the group of women as a whole. “Surely you aren’t admitting I have the upper hand? Are you nothing but thieves now?”
General Sway showed no emotion. “This turned out quite interesting. We will learn from our mistakes, as we always do, and next time, you won’t snatch my prize from me. But the fact you dare to say such things to me, it seems the little pup thinks he has teeth now. If you weren’t protected by your parentage, you would die a miserable death here.”
“A bold claim,” said Figaro, not caring at all about her threat.
At her commander’s directive, the tall woman pounced, her eyes glowing. She moved incredibly fast, no more than a blur in most people’s eyes.
Figaro side-stepped the incoming attack and hit Famke on the back of the head with the butt of the gun. It was a clean, simple move. He wasn’t faster than his opponent — that would be impossible — but he had a clear idea of where she was going, and made sure his movement intersected with hers. Her own speed gave the crack to her head added weight.
Famke hit the ground unconscious.
General Sway sighed and then her eyes lit up. Figaro felt an unbearable pressure push down on him. He resisted, but it was a truly massive amount of force.
He knew Sway’s ability well. She had once worked under his mother and had used her power to subdue whole cities. It felt like the sky was falling but it was actually a mental suppression, entirely in one’s mind. Figaro blocked it as best he could. He was a young prodigy but she was an old warhorse.
“Aren’t you embarrassed, General?” said Figaro, fighting off the weight trying to make him bow down. “One man without an organic managed to evade your whole squad.” He wheezed with the effort of staying on his feet. “Might need to rethink the whole Seneca training program. It could do with an overhaul, don’t you think?”
The Seneca troops closed in around them, forming a ring around the two of them.
With the two of them facing off, no one else would interfere. It was a matter of pride, as most things were to the Corps. He would lose, eventually, but he might as well buy Point-Two as much time as possible.
Figaro felt a second pressure attack him. He let out a scream and fell to his knees. Sway was taken by surprise and withdrew her power, her eyes returning to normal.
Chukka ran forward. Sway signalled to two of her women who intercepted Chukka and slammed her to the ground and held her there.
“What’s wrong with him?” she said to Chukka.
Chukka struggled vainly to get up. “He’s being attacked by something on the island. If you don’t let me help him, he’ll die.”
Figaro was on his knees, the pain in his head spreading into the rest of his body. With nothing to impede its progress, he quickly lost control of his limbs and fell forward. He felt his organic react and the limiter on his arm activated. Everything in his body seemed to be involved in a struggle and every struggle was accompanied by waves of pain.
He could see Sway standing over him, apparently waiting to see what would become of him.
“You shouldn’t just watch like that,” said a familiar voice.
Everyone turned to find Ubik standing in the entrance with a group of nervous-looking VendX employees standing behind him.
Figaro’s insides were a mess. He felt like every organ was swapping places. His arm hurt most of all as the bracelet Dr Yune had placed on his wrist tired to eat him.
Ubik casually walked towards them and General Sway couldn’t help frowning, secretly signalling to her troops to let him through but raising her vigilance. Even through the fog of pain, Figaro could tell she was wary of Ubik. Far more than she was of him.
Ubik ignored Sway and crouched down next to Figaro. He seemed more interested in Figaro’s arm than the rest of him. Then he picked up something. It took a moment for Figaro’s blurred vision to see the gun.
Ubik pointed it at Chukka and fired twice. The two women pinning her down dived out of the way. Ubik didn’t seem to mind missing and tossed the gun at Sway, like he had no more use for it. He turned Figaro over onto his back, mouth foaming, facing Chukka.
Chukka came scrabbling over and grabbed Figaro by the head, her fingers pressing through his short hair.
Figaro buckled. Chukka was bodily thrown into the air as the backlash tossed her across the enclosure, sending her over by the far wall, skidding to a stop on her back where she remained not moving.
“Are you in touch with the prisoner?” asked Ubik, eyes glittering with anticipation at his response.
Figaro had no idea what he was talking about. He shook his head and raised his wrist. “Blocked.”
“Interesting, isn’t it? Very interesting. So very interesting!” Ubik repeated over and over, his face filled with excitement he seemed unable to contain.
Figaro waited for his heart and his mind to finally settle down before asking, “What is?”
“Strange how tronics don’t work here but this does.” He tapped the bracelet on Figaro’s wrist. Then his expression changed to one of mild concern. “Are you alright? You’re looking a bit pale.”
“I’ll be fine,” gasped Figaro. “Door. Can you open it?”
“Hmm,” said Ubik. “I think so.”
“We can help,” said General Sway, suddenly a genial ally.
“No need,” Ubik shook his head decisively.
She frowned. She hadn’t expected her good intentions to be rejected by Ubik, her offering to help him should have been gratefully accepted; after all, in this strange, unknown place, no one was able to use their full strength.
This made her somewhat angry, feeling like the hand she had extended was slapped away. Figaro could see it all play out on her face.
Before now, considering her status, how could she be willing to talk directly to an insignificant person like Ubik? But after arriving in this place, she had no choice but to lower herself to his level.
“Don’t worry,” said Ubik, patting Figaro on the shoulder. “I’ve got this. Alright, alright, calm your tits everyone. Anyone got a sharp knife? I need to cut this guy’s arm off.”