“I think he’s dead now, though,” said Point-Two.
“It was self-defence,” said Ubik, looking around with wonder. The giant bubble around his head slowly shrank back down to its regular size, which delighted him for some reason.
“Self-defence? Really?” said Point-Two. “I don’t think he was much of a threat unconscious.”
“You’re not looking at the big picture. They — whoever they are — set up a kill-zone for anyone who entered through here. That’s the initial act of aggression. I defended myself by chucking that bloke into his own trap. Actually, I take it back. It wasn’t self-defence, it was suicide. Poor bloke took his own life. Sad.”
“What have you done?” The other man, who had been running after Ubik, was out of breath and struggling to talk. “Why did you… They shouldn’t have fired… We have bio-sig immunity…”
“You mean this?” said Ubik, raising his hand. He was holding a small gold badge, similar to the one on this man’s chest. “I took it off him before I sent him under the door. Nice work, bit simple as bio-sigs go. What is it, sentry drones through there? Won’t fire on anyone with one of these?”
“You murderer.” The man stood up straighter and pointed the rifle at Ubik. Then he seemed to remember that wasn’t going to do anything and pointed it at Point-Two instead. It slowly dawned on him that Point-Two was wearing the same suit as Ubik but in a different colour, and re-aimed at Fig.
Point-Two took a step forward to block the shot. He didn’t know if Fig’s suit was invulnerable to laser fire, but it was probably best not to take the chance. If something happened to Fig, he’d be left alone with Ubik.
“Calm down,” said Point-Two. “We don’t want to hurt you, but you attacked us first. We were just defending ourselves.”
“Aha!” said Ubik.
“Shut up,” said Point-Two. “Look, just tell us who you work for. Why are you here?”
The man’s face was hidden behind a dark visor, but his posture indicated he was agitated and unsure of himself. There was some training there, a degree of fitness and battle experience, but it seemed buried and degraded. Whatever this man had been through, he had been left thoroughly demoralised.
“It’s okay,” said Point-Two. “You can go home soon. No one’s going to blame you for any of this. They left you here, didn’t they? Just two of you. Where did the others go? In there.” He pointed at the blast door.
There was a slight hesitation, followed by a slow head nod. The barrel of the rifle dipped.
“It’s been so long… so long.” He was shaking his head from side to side now. “We were meant to be relieved months ago. I don’t… I just don’t…”
He lifted up a hand and put it on the visor. Then he flipped it up, exposing a dirty face — at which point he realised there was no air to breathe and his eyes grew large with fear. He stumbled back arms waving as panic took over.
Point-Two jumped forward, keeping his movements concise to gain maximum acceleration in the shortest time, and slammed the man’s visor shut. He managed to get past the man as he fell backwards, the reduced gravity making it easy to catch him and pull him back to his feet.
The sounds of heavy breathing filtered over the comms and then stopped. The man was still breathing so it was just the comms that had been cut.
“He seems delirious,” said Fig.
“I think he’s got cabin fever, or shed fever, in his case,” said Point-Two. “You see it sometimes when people have been marooned on a damaged ship. They cling on and manage to perform simple tasks but as soon as they have to deal with a more complex issue, they fall apart. He’s been up here a while. Who are these people?”
“From the accent, I’d say he’s Enayan,” said Fig. “I don’t recognise the suit or the gun, but I suspect it’s one of the security forces, probably allied to a seditionist groups. There are a lot of factions working against the ruling government.”
“Yeah, we met one of them,” said Ubik. “No one seems to be a big fan of your dad or the Assembly or whatever it’s called.”
“I can’t say I blame them,” said Fig. “Most of the families who are in charge are corrupt and self-serving.”
“Including yours?” asked Point-Two.
“Yes,” said Fig. “If you’re talking about choosing to benefit yourself rather than the population as a whole, then I think it would be hard to argue otherwise. My family has always held the position that it’s impossible to provide equally for everyone because not everyone wants to be equal. If you handed out the same resources to every person, one half would rob the other half and you’d be back to haves and have-nots within a short time.”
“That’s a wonderful ideology expressed very compactly,” said Ubik. “You’ve clearly been brainwashed by the best. I applaud their work.”
“Ubik, I’m really not trying to make a judgment either way. That’s just how things are currently, for all sorts of reasons that happened long before I was born. In a system where everyone is serving their own interests, I’m just relieved to be in a position of privilege rather than one of deprivation. Other than that, I have too much going on to solve the geopolitical instability of my planet.”
“Can you two save this discussion for another time?” said Point-Two. “Preferably for when I’m no longer in the same quadrant. Where are the controls on this suit? I can’t find them. It’s not voice-activated and there are no visual cues. Is it telepathic?”
“No,” said Ubik, pulling a face like that was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard. “They don’t have telepathically controlled suits. Do you have any idea how expensive that would be?” He shook his head at the very idea. “Fig’s controlling our suits with that panel on his arm. We have no control. These are slave suits.”
“What?” said Point-Two, looking at his hands. “Are you sure? Aren’t they for…”
“Criminals?” said Ubik. “Yep.”
“Or children,” said Fig. “It’s a handy training tool and makes it easier to guarantee their safety.”
“But that’s…” Point-Two understood the concept, the ability to keep someone alive in space without giving them the ability to use any advanced features. It just seemed strange that Fig would put them in these. “That’s… brilliant.”
“Is it?” said Ubik.
“Of course,” said Point-Two. “This way, he can give you the freedom to do whatever you want, but if you go too far or insist on doing something really insane, he can cut off your air supply or render you immobile and who knows what else. It’s a simple but effective way to stop you killing us all. Well done, Fig. Good job.”
“Thank you,” said Fig.
“You’re welcome,” said Point-Two.
“Don’t you think you’re being a little over the top with the unjustified praise?” said Ubik. “You weren’t this complimentary when I triggered the trap that was waiting for us, thus saving ALL OF OUR LIVES. I don’t see what’s so great about giving us romper suits his dad made.”
“What’s great about it,” said Point-Two, “is that it’s like he’s put a collar around your neck, and then put a leash on the collar, and then tied the leash to a boulder. If you get out of control, he just has to push the boulder off the nearest cliff and whoosh, Ubik exit.”
“He also put a leash on you, you know?” said Ubik.
“That’s fine,” said Point-Two. “As long as it isn’t tied to the same boulder.”
Ubik rolled his eyes. “Alright. Good luck with your precautions. Perhaps you want to go get your friend back.” He pointed at the man who was running back to his shed.
“Why didn’t you stop him?” said Point-Two.
“Hey, I’m the brains of the outfit. You’re the space dolphin. Go on, do some sort of jumping-kicking thing and catch him before he sets off an alarm or calls in reinforcements.”
Point-Two regretted not keeping his mouth shut. He had been so happy that Fig had come up with a way to curtail Ubik’s excessive nature that he had let himself get carried away. Now Ubik would be extra-aggravating just to make a point. Still, Fig was using Ollo tech to keep Ubik somewhat restricted in what he could do. It might not prevent him from extinguishing all life in the quadrant, but it would at least slow him down.
It wasn’t too difficult catching up with their uncooperative captive. Point-Two reached the shed just as the door was sliding closed. He grabbed the edge of the door but it kept moving. There was no sensor to keep people from getting their fingers caught. Point-Two tried to push the door back but it was surprisingly heavy.
A sudden burst of strength went through the suit and he was able to slam the door back into its recess. The suit clearly had more features than had first appeared. Having someone controlling them for him was actually quite useful.
No one was inside the shed. There was just a hole going straight down. Point-Two peered over the edge and saw the top of a helmet receding into the darkness. He took a step and dropped into the hole.
“What’s down there?” said Ubik’s voice.
“I’ll tell you when I find out,” said Point-Two. He was at a bit of a disadvantage following someone into their lair, especially if the person was desperate and likely to resort to violence even if it ended up causing harm to themselves, but this particular person’s desperation appeared more melancholic and despairing.
Point-Two hit the ground with a soft landing. The trip had taken five seconds or so, making it around thirty or forty metres. He was in a tunnel with lighting embedded into the rock walls.
“I’m in a tunnel. This isn’t an Antecessor structure. It looks like it was dug fairly recently, rush job.” Point-Two began walking, bowing his head a little. He could no longer see his target. “I think they’ve been living down here and keeping an eye on things.”
“I don’t see how that’s possible,” said Fig. “How did they avoid detection?”
“They didn’t,” said Ubik. “Your father must have known they were here and let them. Easier to keep track of spies when you know exactly where they’re hiding. You know, let them think they’re free to do what they want, but keep them on a leash. One end on a collar, other end on a boulder. The Ollo school of thinking.”
“It does sound like something my father would do,” said Fig, calmly accepting the accusation.
“Makes sense,” said Point-Two, enjoying this approach to Ubik’s sarcasm. “I’ve come to a door. It’s closed.”
The door filled the tunnel and looked like the entrance to an airlock. He tried opening it but it didn’t budge.
“Are you any good at picking locks, Ubik?” Point-Two asked.
“Sure,” said Ubik. “Out of the way.”
There was a tap on Point-Two’s shoulder. When he turned, Ubik and Fig were behind him.
“Are you going to knock again?” said Point-Two.
“Watch and learn,” said Ubik. “Actually, in your case, just watch.” He slid past Point-Two, barely getting past without becoming intimate, and placed his palm on the door. It immediately unlocked.
Ubik showed his palm, revealing the gold badge. “Had to modify it a bit but I don’t have access to my tools. This suit doesn’t let me get to my pockets — major design flaw — so I had to use my teeth.” He grinned and bared his teeth. “Are they bleeding?” he said through his clenched jaw.
“He didn’t use his teeth,” said Fig. “He took something out of a compartment in his boot.”
“Do you mind? I’m trying to develop an air of mystique.”
Ubik pushed the door open. They passed into a small bare room with another door on the opposite wall. They closed the door and then Ubik unlocked the other one. The bubble around Point-Two’s head disappeared and he was able to breathe warm fetid air. It smelled horrible.
“Yeeuch,” said Ubik. “Can I have my synthesised oxygen back please, master?”
“It’d be better if we try to conserve the suit’s fuel cells,” said Fig, his own helmet now open at the front.
“Request denied,” said Ubik, shaking his head. “We have to stick together until we achieve our emancipation, PT.”
“No thanks,” said Point-Two. “I find it comforting. Where did he go?”
There was a room on the other side of the door. A console on one side with a series of screens and four beds stacked on the other.
“Four people down here,” said PT. “Cramped..”
“There were nine of us,” said the man, his head sticking out from the top bunk. “They said we’d be here for six months. That was a year-and-a-half ago. Our supplies are gone, the water tastes like piss, which it is, and the waste extractor… uhhhh, don’t even.”
His head disappeared back into the darkness.
“Just tell us what you were doing here,” said Point-Two. The man was harmless but he had information that might be useful. If they used force on him, he was liable to snap.
“Leave him alone,” said Ubik.
“He can tell us who else is in there,” said Point-Two.
“It doesn’t seem so bad down here,” said Ubik. “You probably get used to the smell after a bit. Makes me a little homesick.” He sat down on the stool in front of the console. It was a very basic setup with the circuits and wiring exposed. “He’s exaggerating.”
“Exaggerating?” The head reappeared, the eyes wild and defiant. For a moment. “This is hell. We all died months ago and I’m just a ghost. You can’t do anything to me. I don’t care. We thought we were being relieved when the other ship came, but they weren’t from the Judicature. I don’t know who they were, but they were seriously jacked, full battle gear. The others followed them in, thought it would be an easy win, wait for the fight and pick off survivors. We knew the Ollo personnel were dead but we didn’t want to face the Antecessor droids. Our orders were to observe and report, but we can only report one day a month, when the tower’s active. The sentry drones were in case of a rear attack. We knew other people would come eventually. I was just doing my duty. They abandon us and then make us risk our lives, for what? Alien bullshit.”
“Is that enough information for you?” said Ubik. He stood up and walked over to the bunks. The screens now showed the other side of the blast doors, a lone figure lying on the ground, smoke hanging around the body.
Ubik patted himself. “Can you open the side or something?”
Fig pressed a few buttons and Ubik’s suit went limp. He pulled down the top part, releasing his arms from the sleeves.
“Is this a good idea?” said Point-Two. Fig gave a non-committal shrug.
Ubik reached inside his jacket and brought his hand back out holding a slightly sorry-looking sandwich. He offered it to the top bunk. A hand shot out and grabbed it. The sound of furious munching followed.
“Right,” said Ubik, pulling the suit back up, “time to access the Ollo network.” He pointed at his head and Fig reinstated the helmet. The smell encouraged self-incarceration inside the slave suit.
“You’re going to access my father’s private network with that?” said Fig, looking over at the jerry-rigged surveillance suite.
“I’m pretty sure your dad had this place under observation. He must have hacked into this system and, as we all know, a road in is also a road out.” He leaned under the console and took something out of his boot.
It became clear to Point-Two that the suit would do nothing to slow down Ubik. In fact, he would probably use it to enslave them all. He looked down at the suit he was wearing. He’d probably be first, his suit was already set up to be controlled. He looked around the small room. Maybe they had a spare suit around here.