Book 2 – 8: Afloat

Fourth Quadrant.

VendX Depot 4.

Central Authority Vessel Nirvana.


Point–Two’s head felt like it had been turned inside out. His vision was blurred and his ears were ringing but he was coping with it. He had no idea what had happened but he knew he was still in one piece.

His ability to remain calm came from being born in space at zero–Gs. On the Liberator Garu, where gravity was tightly controlled, all children were born under weightless conditions. It had been discovered that emerging from the womb while free–floating had a startling effect on the newborn. It made them comfortable in all levels of gravity, and completely detached from their emotions when weightless.

Babies on the Garu didn’t cry or grouch or fuss. As long as they floated, they remained in a state of quiet contemplation.

There had been many reasons put forward for this, but none that had been proven. A similarity to the womb, a feeling of equilibrium, a sense of support from all directions, any and all of these sounded plausible. More scientific theories made a case for changes in hormone secretion and uniform neural patterns. Research had found indications but nothing definitive.

There were those, of course, who were adamant it was something more uncanny. A mystical power of the universe only available to the chosen few. There were always people like that, desperate to feel special. They clung to the idea that if no one could prove the truth, then their best guess was as likely to be true as anyone’s, no matter how baseless.

Point–Two didn’t particularly care about the source of the zenity, as it was known. He just knew that it was real, that it usually faded as you grew older (faster if you spent time in constant–grav), and that when you were in it, you could think much more clearly.

He was floating. He could sense his limbs, still intact. He could remember the blast.

It hadn’t hit him physically. It had been like a bullet between the eyes the way a horrible surprise could cut through the middle of your thoughts and hold you in helpless paralysis.

He had sensed it coming before it hit, was able to turn and push off the chair. It had been the change in gravity. It must have been microseconds between the gravity failing and the beam striking him. Long enough for him to fall into zenity and for time to slow to a crawl.

It was the first time he had experienced it in such an intense manner. Even though he couldn’t see it, he sensed the change in flow of… everything.

The very fabric of space had warped, passing through the ship like sunlight through a window.

It didn’t last very long. The clarity, the awareness, the control over his movements, allowed him to move out of the way just far enough to only feel the effects of the wake, and to see Guardian Tezla get hit.

The ship saved her. Its last act before every system went down was to shower the Guardian with a spray of particles that glittered as they blasted out of the walls. Tezla had time to let out the start of a scream, and then she was instantly encased in a block of some kind of crystal.

That was when the zenity ended and the aftershock enveloped him, like a hundred concussions at once.

Others had reported experiencing something similar, deep zenity in moments of crisis, always in weightless conditions. Maintenance workers who worked alongside drones on the exterior of the Garu as it hurtled through the infinite. But they were usually madcap hellions who told tall tales and revelled in taking unnecessary risks. Their lives were filled with drugs and sudden endings, so who knew what they really experienced in those moments in between?

Point–Two’s head cleared. He was floating up against the ceiling, at least from the perspective of the chair he had been seated in. He was glad to be close to a surface so he had something to use for orientation.

“Hello, ship?” There was no answer. He hadn’t expected one, but it was better to be sure you were alone and without help. It gave you focus.

He tucked and kicked, turning over and aiming himself towards Tezla, who was encased like a fly in amber. He reached her and slid his hands across the crystalline surface. It was smooth and he couldn’t hold onto it, so he let himself slide around. It gave him a chance to see it from all sides.

Through the white–grey walls, he could see her, frozen in place, her mouth and eyes open. She was alive but she wasn’t going to get out of there on her own.

This was probably a last resort, a way to prevent death. Most likely, even if the ship had been blown into atoms, this block would have survived and floated through space until found.

Did that mean Central Authority ships were on the way? Did the ship have time to fire off a distress beacon, or whatever advanced form of SOS it used?

It seemed likely that if the attack had come from VendX, then they would be prepared to jam any call for help. The fact they were able to penetrate CA defences was remarkable in itself. And even if the ship had managed to squeeze out a message, there was no way the cavalry would arrive before VendX sent over a boarding party.

Point–Two made it around for one full orbit of Planet Tezla and pushed himself towards the doorway. The doors were all open, stores would be, too. He would have access to emergency systems and escape pods. He just had to find them.

And then there was the other matter to consider — Ubik.

He might have died, he might be incapacitated. He might, quite possibly, be making himself a sandwich in the galley. If he was alive, though, Point–Two was keen to find him. In a situation like this, someone with Ubik’s gift for causing upset and annoyance was invaluable. Whatever it was VendX had in mind, they would not want any witnesses. They would want to get what they needed quickly and efficiently, and then dissolve the evidence in acid. At least, that would be their plan. Ubik had a way of ruining people’s plans, as Point–Two knew only too well.

If he tossed Ubik into their midst like a grenade, it might give him enough time to find a way off the ship and into the VendX depot.

There were hundreds of ships out there, off to every corner of the galaxy. He was confident of being able to sneak onto one of them and using his lifetime of ship–savvy to gain passage to somewhere very far from here. None of this — whatever this was — had anything to do with a nobody, low–class shipper like him. The great powers of the galaxy could fight it out without him.

The passage outside the cabin was long and straight. The ship was huge, he had seen it as the shuttle had brought him in, but he had no idea what the rest of it contained. It was far too big for one person, which was all that he’d seen, but it was fully automated to a level he had never encountered before.

He flew through the passage, the white walls identical on all sides. There were no lights but the walls glowed like they were frosted glass with a light source on the other side, which clearly wasn’t the case. A fluorescent material; probably more secret Antecessor tech.

He wasn’t sure where he was going, exploring the ship without any idea of where anything was would take forever, and he was sure he had a lot less time than that. Presumably, VendX would be trying to board. Hopefully, the CA ships had a few hidden tricks waiting for them.

He came to a four–way junction, each passage identical and unmarked. He was about to take a guess and hope for the best when he heard humming. It could only be one person. He reoriented himself and headed in the direction of Ubik.

He found him in a few seconds, apparently unharmed. Why am I not surprised? Point–Two thought to himself.

“Having a little trouble?” said Point–Two.

Ubik turned his head, then lost his grip on the open panel he’d been fiddling with, and then spun around, arms flailing.

“Hey,” said Ubik, hands lunging to grab Point–Two, who easily twisted out of reach. “You made it.” He made it sound like he’d been expecting Point–Two, and that he was late.

“What are you doing?” Point–Two looked at the open panel. He hadn’t seen any breaks in the smooth surfaces of the walls to suggest an opening, but Ubik could apparently see things on the molecular level. “Try not to turn off life support, it’s all we have.”

“Ha!” said Ubik, spinning away from him and talking over his shoulder. “I would never intentionally break life support. Unintentionally… well, I have no idea what any of this hybrid tech does, so who knows? Ah, wait, hold on, I’m just going to…” He tried to use the wall to stop turning. “I don’t know how you do all this floaty swimmy stuff. Turns out weight is seriously underrated.”

Point–Two put out a foot and turned Ubik around to face him. “You’re too reliant on your gadgets. Sometimes you have to rely on yourself.”

Ubik looked hurt, which Point–Two didn’t believe for a moment. “I rely on no one but myself... and those I build. Ever thought of thruster-implants in the soles of your feet? I’m thinking they could come in useful.”

“Isn’t that why you have your Delgados?” Point–Two looked at Ubik’s bare feet.

Now Ubik really did look hurt. He let out a sigh, which sent him backwards into the wall. “I don’t suppose you know where that drone hid them, do you?”

“No. Locked them up didn’t he?”

“Yeah, one of the cells. But the whole ship is made of cells. It’s modular — amazing, really. It can break up into small pieces, each cell independent, and it can come back together again.”

“Like an Antecessor droid?” said Point–Two.

“Exactly,” said Ubik, smiling. “And I bet when two or more ships come together, they can make a really big ship. Maybe with arms and legs.”

“Yes, I’m sure they turn into giant robots, Ubik.”

“I wish,” said Ubik wistfully. “The merchandising possibilities…”

“Ubik, VendX will be here any moment, and they aren’t going to offer us a ride home.”

“No, you’re right. If they attacked a CA ship, they must have a way to get rid of all of us. Oh, wait, I’m spinning again. I didn’t even move.” He began turning. “How do you stay so still? Do you not breathe?”

“I breathe balanced.”

“Now you’re just making shit up.”

“How are we going to get out of here, Ubik?”

“Why are you asking me? You’re the one who was born on a ship. Can’t you connect with the ship’s systems on an intimate level?”

“I don’t know what that means — no, don’t explain — but the systems are out of order and Tezla is wrapped up in some kind of impenetrable bubble wrap.”

“Oh, so she isn’t dead?”


“And how come you aren’t?”

“I ducked,” said Point–Two. “What about you? Is this the power of being Null Void? No one can get rid of you?”

“Hey, come on, even cockroaches have feelings.”

“I don’t know what that is,” said Point–Two.

“You’ve never seen a… Never mind. The sterile life, must be nice, polished and shiny. No muck and filth for Hollet 3.2.”

“Just Point–Two is fine.”

“It’s a bit clinical, but okay. A name doesn’t mean anything, does it? Just a label. It doesn’t make you who you are. I mean, yeah, I have a CQ of zero, which is rare, I’ll grant you, but it isn’t a good thing. It doesn’t come with added benefits, believe me.”

Point–Two was inclined to. Ubik didn’t need any help being Ubik.

“How are we supposed to get out of this when we don’t know what’s going on?”

“Oh, I know what’s going on,” said Ubik. “Ramon Ollo put out a distress signal warning everyone about the Antecessors coming back to life or something. Now everyone’s headed for Fig’s homeworld because they think prizes await them but in reality, they're going to open up a big box of end of the universe. I’m paraphrasing.”

“Paraphrasing what? Where did you hear all that?”

“It was in that message.”

“What message?”

“You know, the coloured lights and stuff. Didn’t you see it?”

“You understood that…” Point–Two pointed an accusatory finger. “Null Void.”

“No, it was just a code. Obvious, really. You couldn’t break it, huh?”

“It was not just a code,” said Point–Two. “You shouldn’t be able to—”

The ship shook.

“What was that?” said Ubik, spinning again. “Did something explode?”

“No,” said Point–Two. “That’s VendX knocking on the door. They’re boarding.”

The ship shook again. They were clearly trying to get in the hard way.

“We better get to the armoury,” said Ubik. “I bet there are some really cool weapons in there.”

“And how do we find it?”

“I don’t know but I opened it.” Ubik pointed at the panel.

“I thought you didn’t understand the hybrid tech.”

“I’m a good guesser,” said Ubik. “It’s on this grid so can’t be far. It was the only cell with triple protection. Got to be the guns, right?”

It was a reasonably logical guess.

“Okay,” said Point–Two.

“Can you point me in the right direction?”

“Sure.” Point–Two levered himself horizontal, braced his hands against the corner where two walls met, tucked his knees and then kicked Ubik as hard as he could with both feet.

Ubik went flying down the passage. “How… do… I… stop…”

“Breathe out,” shouted Point–Two.

“Got… it. So if I want to go faster…” There was a loud ripping sound and Ubik sped up.

“I have no one to blame but myself,” said Point–Two. He held his breath and pushed off the wall to follow.

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