Book 2 – 37: Drone vs Droid

Third Quadrant.

Asteroid Tethari.

Restricted Area 2B.


“He won’t listen,” said Point-Two. “He has to think of it himself. If he didn’t, he’ll try to think of something better, just to show you he can.”

“But what else can he do?” said Fig. “It’s going to kill him.”

Ubik was running from the droid in ultimate mode. The droid was twice as big as before, with four times as many limbs. It moved a little slower than it had down in the kill room, but it was able to reach in all directions at once. If it cornered Ubik, there would be no escape.

But Ubik wasn’t heading for the corners, he was leading it towards the Beast. If he could get them to engage each other, one was bound to destroy the other. Not that one unstoppable monster would be easy to deal with but it was still better than two.

However, the droid seemed aware of this plan and was doing its best to corral Ubik in the other direction.

“I think his strange movements help disguise his intentions,” said Fig.

“He runs like he’s having a seizure, you mean?”

“Yes,” said Fig. “I think it’s confusing the droid.”

The droid jerked from side to side, as though it was predicting where Ubik would go next and then having to course-correct when it was proved wrong.

“Good,” said Point-Two. “Look at the big one.”

The Beast, which had been stalking across the room towards them like a cat coming for a treat, or a mouse, had stopped. It seemed as bemused by the chase as them. It was no longer standing, it had sat down, its head tilted to one side. Even the lights around the room, which had been intensely crimson a moment ago, had dulled to a mere burgundy. 

“I bet your father never thought about offering the Beast some entertainment.”

“No,” said Fig. “I don’t think anyone would think this was a good idea.”

They watched from the side where the three other people in the room were left alone, practically ignored. Ubik bounced off the walls and leapt into the air for no particular reason, landing and tumbling, slapping the sides of his boots to activate something or other. It was quite a show.

The Beast watched also, its head following Ubik and his pursuer around, no indication it would join in or which side it was supporting.

“My boots aren’t working,” shouted Ubik as he sprinted past, elegantly hopping into the air and holding the pose like he wanted everyone to admire his form. “I can’t get the height in here.”

He was trying to use his boots’ magnetic ability to gain an advantage. In the kill room, their repulsive power had been greatly improved, but that was not true in this room for some reason.

“It won’t work the same in here,” Fig shouted back. “This room is inert. It isn’t the same material on the walls.”

Ubik turned in mid-air as the droid closed in on him and blasted it in the face with his feet. The magnets still worked on it. This made him ping away like a missile, and drove the droid into a frenzy, the white strips of light covering its combined bodies flaring to a sharp blue.

The Beast’s head came up and the spiral on its chest spun open. Something sloshed around inside. A piercing howl came out like a sonic beam, snapping off two of the droid’s limbs. The droids lights instantly faded. Its broken arms came hurtling back to rejoin the body.

The bright lights had apparently been not to the Beast’s liking. I do the fancy stuff in my house.

Ubik had one foot raised at the droid.

“I don’t think enraging is a good idea,” Fig added. “They don’t like magnets.”

“I know,” Ubik shouted back. “Let’s see if there’s a ceiling on how mad it can get. For science.”

Point-Two saw nothing scientific in what Ubik was trying to do. He had it in his head to get the two droids to fight each other, which was a perfectly reasonable idea if you could do it without having to personally perform the introductions.

The Beast, fortunately, appeared to be willing to wait to see who would come out on top and then eat the winner. If what Fig had said was accurate, the Beast had no loyalty to the Antecessors or their other droids. If Ubik lost and the droids engaged each other, it might provide an opportunity to escape. They just had to come up with an exit plan.

“Think of a way out,” shouted Ubik. “For when I win.”

If Ubik did somehow manage to defeat the droid, the options would be greatly reduced. The Beast would come for all of them, and Ubik would make sure he was the last to be targeted. In fact, he might even serve them up as an appetiser and hope the Beast was too full for dessert.

“The nanodrones…” said Fig, still trying to get Ubik to use the one weapon he had that had been shown to be effective against Antecessor tech.

“No, I’m saving them for an emergency.” Droid limbs lashed out, just barely missing him. The droid was all black now, not wanting to aggravate the other monster in the room.

“This looks like an emergency,” said Point-Two.

“This?” said Ubik. “No. This is nothing.”

It was better to let him take his time. It gave Point-Two a little longer to think. There was always a chance Ubik would solve the problem by himself, but it was just as likely he would solve it only for himself.

“I don’t understand something,” said Point-Two. “Why is there a trapdoor in here? Who’s it meant to trap?”

“There shouldn’t be,” said Fig. “It’s not in the simulation. And I don’t recall any mention of it in the report on the attack on this area by my father. It’s either been added or it was inactive until now.”

The shielding around the kill room had been lowered, obviously to let them in. The nanodrones had been able to eat through the walls and then stopped, which wasn’t something they would do without being told to. And then they had disappeared without being picked up. Point-Two had been watching Ubik — if you didn’t, you might not know when to run — and he never had time to grab them.

The Antecessor site had allowed them in — had allowed Fig in — but why welcome him in to only put him into a life-threatening situation? The only answer he could come up with was that Ubik was perverting the Antecessor’s version of hospitality to make it less hospitable. Instead of letting it be nice to Fig and deadly to everyone else, he was making sure Fig was as in danger as the rest of them.

Ubik knew only Fig would be treated as a guest and they were of no use. The kill room and the trap door were new, then. They had been added to a site thousands of years old just to separate Fig from his companions.

The nanodrones ate through the exterior wall but stopped because the other walls were active. They nanodrones couldn’t eat active walls, or droids. They could only eat inactive ones like the wall that had been turned off to let them in, and this one. This room that was turned off to keep the Beast captive.

But how did any of that help them find a way out when Ubik finally tired and got caught?

Ubik was still trying to steer the ultimated droid into the Beast. The Beast was sitting low to the ground with its head resting on its extended front legs, its mane shimmering with arcs of electricity.

“Why?” said Nifell, who was crouched and cowering between Fig and Point-Two. “Why is he risking his life to save us. He’s some kind of… heroic idiot.” His eyes followed Ubik around the room, like the others, mesmerised by the spectacle.

“You’re half right,” said Point-Two. “Ubik! Use the nanodrones to make them fight each other.”

Ubik wasn’t going to use someone else’s idea, not unless it was a way to instigate his own idea.

“Right, right,” said Ubik. He stopped running and turned to face the droid.

The droid came in fast, seeing its chance and taking it. Droids were better at setting traps than avoiding them.

The nanodrones came spewing out from Ubik’s collar. They had been inside the suit — how had they got in?

One thing was clear, for all Ubik’s talk about not using a leash, he had a very tight control on these drones. They were following orders, although how Ubik was doing it wasn’t clear. Without the console in the bunker, what was he using to communicate with them?

The nanodrones smacked into the droid, the sound of them hitting was like going through a comet’s tail as the dust and debris plinked off the ship’s outer shielding.

The droid stopped. At the other end of the room, the Beast sat up. The droid began floating backwards. Its limbs began to flail. Two of them disintegrated. Lights reappeared across its body.

The droid began to spin, faster and faster. At first it seemed it had lost control, but then tiny particles began to fly off in every direction. It was ridding itself of the infestation.

Point-Two’s helmet went up just in time to deflect the hail of nanodrones.

“Down,” said Fig, throwing himself flat.

Point-Two joined him. Nifell, who was already crouched, threw himself flat. Even with Ubik in control, the nanodrones posed a threat to them. Especially with Ubik in control.

There was a howling scream and the spinning droid was no longer spinning, it was flying off in all directions, shattered into pieces.

The Beast had had enough. Nanodrones had struck it, too. They were hardly a concern, small particles that did no damage on impact, but once they landed, they set to work. The Beast shook its head in irritation, sparks filling the room. It hit itself on the head with a paw, swiping at its mane. It rolled over and smashed into the wall.

The pieces of the exploded droid began to come back together again. As they reformed, the Beast staggered into the middle of the room. It was too enraged to target anyone in particular, but just the right amount of enraged to target everything at once.

The droid slotted back together to form four separate units. Ubik came flying in feet first and hit them with a blast of magnetic boot-fury. The droids slammed together to rebuild their ultimate form.

More nanodrones leapt from Ubik’s suit and landed on the droid like a shower. Then they lit up like fireflies. The nanodrones in the Beast’s mane matched the effect.

The Beast’s head snapped to look at the droid. It was now the source of the Beast’s irritation. The droid, which was ready to deal with Ubik, stopped and darted to the side.

It wasn’t fast enough. A foot came slamming down and flattened it. Some pieces were squeezed out of the sides but most of it was caught under the huge paw. The Beast leaned forwards and there was a crunch, The angular components of the leg seemed to ripple and a second, decisive crunch followed.

The Beast lifted its foot and looked down at the remains. The circle on its chest opened in a swirl and a rush of air pulled what was left of the crushed droid into the Beast’s body.

The reason for the droids reluctance to face the Beast was more than clear. Eating meat wasn’t its only abnormality.

“It worked,” said Ubik. “My plan worked.”

Ubik was looking over at them with a huge grin on his face. He was completely ignoring the enormous head lowering itself over him.

Point-Two, Fig and Nifell pointed as one.

The hole in the Beast’s chest opened again.

Ubik turned his head to look the Beast in the eye, then he changed the angle to look into the open aperture. He raised one hand in a fist, then he raised a finger, closed his fist again, three fingers, closed, thumb out to the side.

The beast convulsed and staggered sideways into the wall.

Hand signals? Ubik had taught the nanodrones hand signals?

“They shouldn’t be able to survive in its stomach,” said Fig. “The nanodrones are very susceptible to acids. It’s what’s used to neutralise them if they get out of hand.”

“I don’t think it matters,” said Point-Two. A hole had appeared in the Beast’s side. Liquid was pouring out.

Ubik was standing there, small and insignificant in comparison to the Beast lying on its side, trembling.

The liquid stopped. Ubik raised his hand again. He made a series of shapes and a wave of nanodrones came gushing out. They scuttled across the floor and gathered around Ubik’s feet.

The Beast stopped shaking. The hole in its side sealed up. It got back onto its feet and stood unsteadily. It didn’t seem to know what had just happened. It looked down, its neck bending almost in half. The ‘mouth’ in its chest opened and closed like it was testing it.

“Hey,” Ubik called out. “Hey, look at me.”

The Beast slowly lifted its head and aimed its eye at Ubik. It slowly blinked its one eye.

“No more eating. You hear me? You don’t have to feed. The hunger’s gone.”

The Beast blinked again.

Ubik frowned like he wasn’t happy with the response, then he pulled down the top of his suit. Fig looked down at the panel on his arm. Point-Two could tell what he was checking. Ubik had needed Fig to operate the suit; not anymore.

Ubik took out a sandwich. How many did he still have?

“Me eat.” Ubik took a bite. “You no eat.” He waved the sandwich around in front of the Beast.

A large head came forward, like it was sniffing. Ubik waited until it was close enough and then slapped it away.

“No. Food for me. Not for you.”

The Beast’s head jerked back. Point-Two winced, expecting an attack. But it just sat down on its haunches, the hole in its chest opening and closing.

“Has he…” said Fig.

“Yes,” said Point-Two. “He made it his pet.”

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Afterword from Mooderino
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