Figaro had been trained in battlefield management by the best people available. Not only his father but also a wide range of experts from different fields. Every field apart from war itself.
Wars were a thing of the past. Large-scale conflict between people who meant to exterminate each other had been outlawed and was vigorously policed. Winning an argument by murdering your opponent was clearly a winning strategy, but the aftereffects on those who had nothing to do with the matter were considered unreasonable. Fallout, both literal and figurative, tended to be a burden on everyone.
But the methodology could still be applied to other areas. Business, politics, skirmishes with Antecessor droids; the same fundamentals still applied. The venue might change but the aim was the same — domination of the enemy.
Tactics, strategies, objectives, manoeuvres and observation. The last one was considered the most important. Information gathering could easily lose you a battle if it was inadequate.
You had to be able to see what was happening. You had to be able to see what was really happening. And you had to be able to interpret what you saw.
You also had to be aware of your opponent’s ability to disguise their intentions.
This war was being fought on numerous fronts and Figaro was doing his best to monitor all of them at the same time.
It was something he considered within his capabilities. Keeping track of several events at once, and formulating responses as opportunities presented themselves, were all part of his training. A solid plan was a useful tool but it also tended to be the first thing to be abandoned once events took their course.
Figaro floated in place in the middle of the spherical chamber keeping a close eye on the large projection of his father’s head.
There was a struggle going on. He watched it play out across Ramon Ollo’s gigantic face. A twinge, a flicker, a change of eye colour. The changes were subtle but the stage was large enough to enable Figaro to follow. Two beings were trying to occupy the same space, which wasn’t hard to achieve, but only one could then retain control of the combined result.
In Figaro’s estimation, it was highly likely that the dominant mind would be his father’s. That was his expectation based on what he knew about Ramon Ollo. He had seen him work through seemingly insurmountable mental conflicts enough times to know he was both resilient and persistent, willing to chip away slowly at a problem until what seemed like unavoidable defeat was upturned into an inevitable victory.
But the Intercessors were an unknown quantity. They didn’t follow the rules the Antecessors were known for. They operated on a completely different level. His father might succeed, but Figaro wasn’t going to assume it.
Figaro had decided he was going to wait. He sensed there would be a moment where he could affect some kind of change and that would be the moment to act.
The face in front of him switched from one owner to the other. It was fast and fluid. The only indication of who was in control at any given moment was a look in the eyes. The calm omniscience of his father, steady and penetrating. The intense omnipotence of the Intercessors, an ancient civilisation that knew no boundaries.
Things went back and forth, never quite reaching far enough to one side to resist being brought back to the other. A push at the right time might be enough to change the balance conclusively, but he would only get one chance, and his intervention would need to be the right one. It was complicated. There were a lot of variables, most of them unknown.
And this was just the first battlefront.
Figaro was also aware of Ubik and PT moving across the chamber to the far side. Flung across the chamber, rolling helplessly in the wake of the Floxyn, but also using their momentum to guide themselves away from the head.
What they were planning to do he did not know, but he was fairly certain it would be better if they weren’t spotted while doing it.
His father was providing plenty of diversion for now. How long would it last? And would it keep the Intercessors fully distracted? How much were they already aware of? There was a marked difference between knowing and not being able to act, and not knowing at all. Which was it?
But this was only the second front.
Guardian Tezla was floating next to him. She had been very helpful, picking up on Ubik’s hints and releasing the Floxyn to order. It was very unlikely she did this out of a newly found respect for Ubik’s way of doing things.
Floxyn was a substance he was aware of but not one he knew much about. It was so rare and dangerous that it had long been banned and was of little concern. Nobody used it, nobody wanted to use it. Its ability to destabilise gravity was comparable to splitting the atom. A nuclear explosion wouldn’t be the result but a temporary black hole was possible, under the right conditions.
He hadn’t been aware that the Central Authority had found an application for the lethal fluid, or that they used it so freely, but he assumed they had their reasons. He hoped they had also come up with a way to render it inert in case of accidents. Or deliberate misuse.
Releasing it the way Guardian Tezla had didn’t seem very circumspect, even in an emergency. It was most likely to be a delaying tactic. And from what he knew of the Central Authority, that meant she was expecting reinforcements.
His father would also know this. The Intercessors would not. There could be an advantage to be gained in that knowledge.
The Central Authority was an incredibly powerful organisation. Their strength was based on their high-level of equipment, much of which was denied to others. They could take out whole planets and with only a small task force. Where the Seneca Corps could decimate a world with a fleet of ships, the CA could do the same with one. What held them back was the bureaucracy, but many saw that as a welcome check on their ridiculous power.
Figaro knew there were more CA ships in the area and that they would be reluctant to enter Ollo-controlled space, but sending in more Guardians to investigate was standard procedure. From Tezla’s behaviour, he assumed they would be arriving very soon. And their standard procedure for dealing with any kind of high-level threat was to neutralise it as quickly as possible. Often at the cost of lives.
The greater good — the rest of the galaxy’s — came first. It was an equation the minds of the Central Authority found the most tolerable. Complaints were easiest dealt with by showing a simple balance sheet of lives lost versus lives that would have otherwise been lost. The CA liked definitive and conclusive arguments with numbers to back them up.
The flickering, shifting changes slowed and the head of Ramon Ollo spoke, but not with the voice of Ramon Ollo.
“You will submit… please.”
It was the same emotionless demand as before, but there had been some improvements in understanding, Figaro felt. A plea. Not a sincere one, but still an indication that his father was having some kind of effect.
“Why should I?” said Figaro. “It won’t benefit me.”
If his father had instigated a cause-effect cascade, a system of logical reasoning, then it was Figaro’s role to amplify it. By explaining the rules of the game, a higher intelligence assumed it could use them to its advantage. The mistake was to believe the rules applied to anyone other than the higher intelligence itself.
The Intercessor intelligence thought it could persuade Figaro to sacrifice himself, for the greater good. Figaro would give it the chance to plead its case. It would give his father time to do whatever it was he was attempting, and it would do the same for Ubik and PT.
Ubik, he could still see, inside the mesh of droid parts he had built for the Intercessors. PT, he could no longer see. Were the Intercessors aware of them? It would be prudent to assume so. But they were busy for the time being and Figaro would do his best to keep them that way.
“The consequences of resisting will be the end of everything you hold to be of value, including your own life.”
“So I should sacrifice myself to save everyone else?” said Figaro. “That isn’t the value I place on my life.”
“You will not be sacrificed. You will continue to be. You have value to us, take comfort in that.”
They had developed quickly, making baseless promises in only a short time. Figaro couldn’t tell what it was his father was hoping to achieve, but he had to believe there was a point to this manipulation. Although, it wasn’t necessarily a reason that would benefit Figaro. His father had already shown a willingness to give up his son for, if not the greater good, then the good of Ramon Ollo’s curiosity. There were few things greater than that.
But it wasn’t wise to try to presume to understand the thinking of a man like his father. His true purpose might be something even more terrifying.
“Value is a fluctuating commodity,” said Figaro. “I require more of a guarantee than your personal rating system.”
There was another flicker, a shift in the way the jaw sat, a different quality to the gaze.
“Good,” said Ramon Ollo. “You have convinced them to make a better offer. It is as I expected.”
His father no doubt held a hundred different projections and outcomes in his head, slowly refining them to achieve the ones he found most acceptable.
“You could stop them and then we could go home,” suggested Figaro.
“Now is not the time for jokes,” said Ramon. “Neither the Antecessors nor the Intercessors are the true threat. We must find a way to reach beyond them both.”
“What is the true threat?” asked Figaro.
“The organic lifeforms the Antecessors were to guard and nurture, a weapon similar but far more dangerous than the organic augments we utilise.”
“We’ve done it!” called out a voice from the other side of the chamber. It was Ubik, peeking out from between the glittering lattice and waving.
The head turned around to look at him. Figaro couldn’t see the expression on its face but he would assume it was one of consternation.
“Done what?” asked Figaro, his voice carrying across the chamber.
“We found the secret of the asteroid. It’s an organic lifeform of some kind. PT found them.” Muffled screaming interrupted him as the lattice shook. “Ignore the screaming, he’s just excited. They’re screams of joy.”
The head turned back to face Figaro. “You have released them.”
“I didn’t… It wasn’t me.” He wasn’t sure what had been released but he instinctively didn’t want the blame.
“The options have been reduced. Your existence must be terminated.”
The face flickered.
It flickered again. “There is no other way.”
His father appeared to be having an argument with himself.
“They were here, all this time? Let me deal with them.”
“It is not possible.”
Figaro felt something move inside of him. He was familiar with the feeling. It was his organic being activated. It was against his will and he couldn’t tell how it was being done, but there was no mistaking it. The Intercessors had decided it was better to lay waste to this entire quadrant than to let him fall into the wrong hands. They were going to destroy everything and then no one would get what they wanted.
The organic that would normally overwhelm him and consume his body stopped. His arm ached and burned like it was being sliced off with a spoon. The bracelet around his wrist cut into him and it was his turn to scream. It was not a joyous scream.
“What is this? Why are you able to resist?” His father was in complete control of the head, and looking disappointed. Had he wanted the Intercessors to set off his organic? That was his plan?
Figaro raised his hand. The glow of the bracelet could be seen through the sleeve of his suit. “Dr Yune placed a new bracelet on me. Under Mackus’ orders. I can’t be activated.”
It was always the information you didn’t know that ruined your plans. His father did not look pleased about his son’s escape from certain death. Figaro had to suppress a smile. Confounding his father was one of his greatest pleasures. He would have to thank the doctor next time he saw him.
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