88: Two Out of Three

Fourth Quadrant.

Planet Fountain .

VGV Motherboard (orbit).

Commissary 6C.


Point-Two was quickly coming to the realisation that he didn’t like people. Not any one person in particular, just people in general.

“The hell I will. You can stick your request in your suggestion hole.”

It wasn’t just the people who told him what to do — everyone had an issue with their boss or supervisor, that was normal — it was also people who were placed under his direction. Especially when they didn’t like taking orders.

“I’m no traitor. I won’t tell you anything. You hear me? Nothing.”

It had always been a struggle for him to organise a group of individuals into a cohesive team. Even when they cooperated, they were usually too incompetent to work together effectively. It took skill and effort to work as a single unit. There were people who were good at that sort of thing. Point-Two had never been one of them.

“Just leave me alone. Haven’t you done enough already? You broke my nose!”

The tall man, who was incessantly screaming his refusal to help, had blood still leaking from his face. It came out in small globules that jumped out with each snorted breath, and then raced backwards past his face to disappear into the cracks between drones.

Point-Two was tempted to threaten further breakages, but he decided that would only push the man further into a corner, and people backed into corners tended to behave irrationally.

“Tell me how to open the hatch and I won’t bother you again.” Simple, calm, clear. He was giving the twerp every chance to be reasonable.

“What are you going to do next? Kill me? Ha! Go ahead. You’ve already taken away my career. Do what you want, you crazy pirate bastard.”

No, reasonable wasn’t going to do the business here.

“Then I’ll just have to make sure I tell them your name when they get here,” said Point-Two. “You can be hostage number one.”

“How can you tell them my name when you don’t know what it is?” said the man. He wasn’t wearing his Vendx uniform, so his name wasn’t on his chest.

“That’s right,” said someone next to him. “Don’t tell him your name, Pike.”

“Ah, Pike,” said Point-Two, grateful for the assist.

“What did you tell him my name for?” screamed Pike.

“Sorry,” whined the accidental snitch. “It just popped out.”

There was a loud bang from above. It was getting easier to hear the multiple hits — were they getting further apart?

“You hear that?” said Point-Two. “It’s getting worse. I have to get to the simulation room or we all die. All of us.”

He had tried threats, he had tried cajoling. Bribes and promises hadn’t worked, either. Now he was attempting to appeal to their sense of self-preservation.

“It doesn’t matter, anyway,” said Pike, still wiping his nose and smearing the blood across his face. “It’s voice-activated, and the system turns off voice activation during a breach. They don’t want you opening doors when they’ve just sealed you off to die, do they?”

He had gone from enraged to indignant with a heavy layer of sarcasm. If there had been a lever to eject them all into space, Point-Two was about ready to pull it.

“What’s the voice activation?” said Point-Two, forcing his tone into the vicinity of civil. The outskirts.

“I won’t tell you, even if it makes no difference. I’m not your hostage. I’m stuck in here with a mad man, and I didn’t break even when you attacked me.”

Point-Two resisted the urge to point out he had been attacked first and only acted in self-defence. He doubted it would help. “You may be down there, but that doesn’t mean I can’t use you as leverage. I can say I’ll kill you if Vendx don’t do as I say, then you’re de facto my hostages.”

There was a gasp from one of the women. “You lied. You said you’d let us go.”

“I said I’d let you off if you didn’t get in my way. You are now getting in my way.”

“It won’t work, I tell you,” shouted Pike. “There’s no point, you bastard. Look.” He bellowed out: “Sigma, jay, nine, hatch 6C.” His face was even redder now, spittle flying out with the drops of blood. “See? Noth—”

There was a click and the hatch slid open.

“What the hell?” screamed Pike. “Why’s it working?”

“Thanks,” said Point-Two. “Don’t worry, I won’t mention your name.”

“Mention my name? They have my voice on record. I’m a bloody collaborator now.” His yelling had become pained and hopeless. The people nearest him tried to move away, not wanting to be associated with him.

“Hey, I can feel fresh air,” said Benkson, still clinging to the table by the vending machine.

Point-Two pushed away from the hole towards the open panel. He could feel it, too. The open shaft was pouring more air into the room, making the flow stronger and harder to resist. He only just made it to the hatch and grabbed the edge of the opening with one hand.

“What’s going on?” said someone in the hole, sounding panicked. “Something’s hap-p-p-p-ening.”

There was a mechanical series of clicks coming from inside the hole. Point-Two could enter the shaft and go up to the next deck. He could leave these people here — whatever use Ubik had envisioned for them, he was sure he could make do without them.

“Help! They’re opening, the drones are splitting up.” The rest was drowned out in screaming.

The suction towards the hole had increased markedly. Which meant the drones forming a barrier between the interior of the ship and the exterior of outer space were disassembling.

Why, Point-Two had no idea. Had Ubik programmed them to cease providing a barrier once another exit was discovered? Was this what he had wanted Point-Two to do?

Point-Two did not enter the hatch. Once inside, he could use the confined space to wedge himself against the pull of space. He wanted to. He wanted to leave all these annoying people behind but he just couldn’t.

in a shipwreck situation, there were always those who tried to save themselves. Usually, it was just panic, sometimes it was pure selfishness, but it was never okay. That was something ingrained into him since childhood. On the Garu, you squabbled, you fought, but when the ship was in danger, you worked together or you died together.

Without the ship, all you would be was debris floating in the void. Without the ship, you were lost. Always stay and fight to save everyone — there was always a way.

Point-Two let go of the side of the open hatch and went flying back towards the hole. It was easy and fast. He grabbed the lip of the hole and nearly wrenched his shoulder out of its socket.

The drones had detached from each other and the layers were separating into a lattice of diamond shapes, through which the stars were visible. The pull of the deep was strong and familiar.

“Drones,” shouted Point-Two. “Close formation.” He said it out of desperation, the first attempt in what he foresaw as a series of increasingly desperate ones.

To his surprise, the drones stopped drifting apart and began to move back. Voice activation — Ubik had given them his voice signature. It would have been nice if he’d mentioned it.

The people below, whimpering, holding onto one another, quieted as the suction ceased altogether. The drones had completely blocked off the hole. The crew members began to float freely, no longer stuck to the inside surface of the drone dome.

Some people started crying. They had been about to die and had accepted it — there had been no chance of avoiding their fate — and then a reprieve. It was overwhelming. They were still here, numb with shock.

“Okay,” said Point-Two, for some reason relieved this bunch of idiots hadn’t died. “Stay here and wait to be rescued. You aren’t hostages. Oh, you better come with me,” he said to Pike, who was floating towards him, his face streaked with tears. “You’re already compromised, nothing we can do about that now.”

Perhaps there was a way to make use of the gangly man in the shaft. Open the hatch on the other end or something.

Pike came out of the hole, nodding, no longer confrontational. A brush with death tended to have that effect.

He was followed by the others, all twenty-seven of them.

“Hey, wait, stay here,” said Point-Two. There were enough of them to rush him and pin him down if he let them get too close.

“We’ll come with you,” said the redhead.

“Tell us what you want, we’ll help,” said a dark-haired man.

They all came floating out of the hole, shaky and unsteady, all ready to do whatever Point-Two asked of them.

Point-Two didn’t want their help. There were too many of them, they would just get in his way. And their obliging attitudes would be replaced by the usual bickering once their gratitude wore off.

“What’s your name?” asked Pike, his tone almost reverential. Others voiced their support for the question.

“Yes, what is it?”

“Tell us.”

“Ubik,” said Point-Two. “Feel free to tell anyone who asks.”

“You want to go up to the simulation room, right?” said Pike. “Follow me. We used to do this as a prank all the time, scare the crap out of the techs. You can float straight up.” He pushed himself off the wall and headed for the opening into the shaft.

Point-Two did want to go to the simulation room, might as well ride this wave while it lasted. He followed Pike into the shaft.

It was easy enough to move. The shaft walls provided an easy way to propel upwards. Pike’s feet were above him. From below, he could hear the others following.

This was a bad idea. If they got trapped in here, there would be no way out. A bad, bad idea.

“Wait,” said Pike. “I just need to open the hatch.” He grunted, putting some effort into whatever he was doing. “You can open them without voice activation, I was lying about that. But it really should haven’t worked when I shouted. Must be a bug.”

He sounded quite relaxed now. At ease with his decision to betray his masters since being saved from certain death.

There was a click and the scraping sound of metal sliding, with some resistance, against metal.

“Who’s that?” cried out a voice.

“Stop, or I’ll shoot,” said another.

“It’s me. Put that down.” Pike’s voice got quieter as he left the shaft.

It could be a trap, it might not even be the simulation room. Whatever it was, it was almost certainly a bad idea, but there wasn’t really an alternative.

Point-Two pushed himself up and out through a similar-sized opening to the one below.

It was definitely a simulation room. The machines were much larger than the ones in the Academy, and there were three of them, along with a host of techs, and a man in a fancy battlesuit denoting a higher rank. He was holding a weapon in each hand, and several more strapped to his back.

The technicians all looked very pale, and the armed officer looked very alarmed.

“You,” said the armed man. “You’re one of them. You helped him.” The last part was directed at Pike, who was looking a little alarmed himself.

“Sir, I can explain,” Pike blurted. “We were going to die. It was our only way out.”

There was a large bang and the room shook and all the techs vented their pristine white spacesuits, scurrying away into the corners of the room. The noise hadn’t come from outside of the ship, though. It came from inside the simulation machine.

The officer was also backing away, but with his guns aimed at Point-Two, and then at the hole behind him as more people emerged.

Another bang, followed by two more in quick succession. It sounded very much like knocking.

“I think somebody wants to get out,” said Point-Two.

“I read the report,” said the officer. “You fools created some kind of feedback loop. If we open it, we’ll all go mad.”

Point-Two didn’t know what the report said, but he doubted it had said that.

“Open the link,” Point-Two said. “Those are your orders aren’t they?”

“Shut up,” said the officer. “How do we stop it. Make it stop.”

Another series of bangs shook the room. The additional people made it all the more perilous as people bumped into one another. Their faces suggested they were already rethinking their allegiances. That hadn’t taken long.

“We have to open it,” said one of the sim-U techs. “The stack’s going to overflow.”

“It’s just a simulation,” shouted the officer. “It can’t hurt us from in there.”

Point-Two realised the guns weren’t trained on him. They were keeping the technicians from doing their job. The officer was hysterical with fear.

There was no time to talk him down. Point-Two put a foot in the stomach of the person behind him and pushed himself forward.

He hit the officer in the stomach with one fist and took the gun in his right hand away from him. He used it to club the second gun out of his left hand and then spun into an inverted cross and kicked the bottom of the officer’s helmet.

There was a sharp crack as his head snapped back. Probably not dead, but he would feel it in the morning.

“Open it,” said Point-Two.

The technicians all rushed to their stations as another series of bangs started. Whatever was making the noise, the techs understood it couldn’t be worse than the machines in the room all exploding.

A screen on the wall flickered into life and a bald head appeared.

“Oh, it’s you,” said Fig. “I’m here.”

“Me too,” said Point-Two. “Now what?”

“I was hoping you could tell me,” said Fig. Black tentacles appeared on either side of him.

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