Asteroid Inner Core.
Figaro fully understood the ramifications of what he planned to do. Sacrificing PT’s freedom in order to release his father was hardly a moral choice. Not even if PT agreed to it. And from what Figaro had learned about PT, he would not agree to it, meaning he would have to be tricked or forced. Also not a very moral choice.
Morals weren’t really high on the Ollo family priorities, and Figaro was very much an Ollo. You chose a goal and then executed the correct actions in the most efficient manner.
It wasn’t like he planned to leave PT as a cog in an alien machine forever.
It was just a temporary convenience that his father would probably be able to correct once he got his head back together. Ramon Ollo wasn’t one to decline a challenge. Or shirk a debt.
Figaro twisted his head but he couldn’t see anything, not even the ends of his limbs. The lights from his suit bent and curled around him, giving hardly any illumination. The light clung to him and showed little more than the outer lining of his suit, which needed some attention.
There was something solid under his feet, gravity was keeping him in place but he was able to move his limbs, and his father’s voice was with him, although it was impossible to tell where it was coming from exactly.
Figaro tried to lift his foot and stamp it down. He had already broken through one layer of shielding, presumably there to provide protection. This felt tougher.
He took a breath and closed his eyes. Even in the dark with limited movement, he should have been able to detect any irregularities. A door, vent, a tunnel. There had to be a way in and out. There was the way he had come in, an opening far above his head, but that wasn’t much use when he was being kept pinned in place.
Breaking those bonds would help, but if his father was correct about the microscopic black hole in the middle of the asteroid, breaking free would be a little tricky. Not unless he had a little help.
“Can you return me to the chamber I came from?”
“No,” said Ramon Ollo, simply, directly, concisely. This version of his father was very straightforward and clear. That was an aspect of his father he was very familiar with, his main mode of conversing. Usually, though, he was like that because he was carrying out a host of other tasks at the same time. This version was performing no other tasks, as far as Figaro could tell.
“You have no control over this place?”
“None,” said Ramon. “I was placed here to keep you company. They wish to keep you calm while they decide how best to proceed.”
Was that really the only reason to put his father down here with him? They had already tried to activate his organic. Keeping him calm seemed the least of their concerns.
“Why did they try to activate my organic?” asked Figaro. Might as well try to get as much information out of his father’s slightly less smarter avatar.
“They didn’t, not in the way you think. They were trying to bring it to the surface so they could remove it all at once.”
“And this place is the ideal location? Because of the black hole?”
“It isn’t something we have the technology to do, so I can’t be sure of the exact methodology,” said Ramon.
Speaking to his father like this was refreshing. Usually, there would be a lot more questions than answers in an attempt to get Figaro to work out the problem for himself. His father was always the teacher. The teacher who could do everything he taught you better than anyone in the galaxy. An excellent source of knowledge, a terrible point of reference.
“And the black hole? It is below us?”
“And you can’t exert any influence over it.”
“But they can?”
“Yes. If they wish to, they have that power, just as they have the power to control the wormhole above us.”
“The two are connected?” It seemed likely. “But we were able to take over control over the wormhole. Doesn’t that mean we could find a way to take control of the black hole?”
“Yes,” said Ramon.
Getting clear answers was one thing, but the lack of any additional information was a little frustrating.
“I need to find your body, Father, your physical body, so I can return your mind to it,” said Figaro. “Is that possible?”
“There is a machine they used to separate my mind from my body.”
“It is a very sophisticated machine. I would like to learn how to operate it.”
“You don’t know how?”
“I do not.”
It was slow progress. His father’s body was in a machine, perhaps similar to the one Ubik fabricated for PT. He had to just find it, remove his father and replace it with PT. Perhaps it would not be quite so simple — PT would be… reluctant — but this was the plan now.
“Father, I will find the machine and learn how to use it.”
“You will not be able to do that,” Ramon said with complete confidence. “I was not able to understand how it functions, I recall that quite clearly. If I was unable, how will you?”
A little blunt but no less accurate for it. Figaro had no illusions about his inferiority to his father in such matters, but he wasn’t going to tackle the problem himself.
“Yes, Father, but I have a friend who is very good with machines.”
“You should be careful not to rely on others too much,” said his father, exactly in the way his real and complete father would. It was hard to believe it wasn’t him. Of course, it was him, just not all of him. That was also true of his time spent with his real father growing up.
It was clear this Ramon Ollo would not be able to figure out a way to commandeer the Intercessor operating system and send Figaro back up, and he couldn’t do it by himself. That left him with finding a way to get the Intercessors to do it, or to wait for PT to get in touch. Or work out a way himself.
The first two seemed much more likely to succeed, but far less likely to be offered. He tapped the ground beneath his feet. It was smooth like glass but not slippery. Slightly curved.
A sphere around the black hole?
Could he walk all the way around like living on his own personal tiny planetoid?
“PT, can you hear me?” There was no response. PT had said he couldn’t see down this far, so it was understandable that simply calling out wouldn’t get through to him. Could the Intercessors not see either? They could affect change, as they’d demonstrated by putting his father here and also activating his organic. Limited access.
“Father, can you contact the Intercessors directly?”
It had been easy to get here but leaving was proving to be rather difficult. There had to be a way to exit this place. The problem was that his father’s presence wasn’t a physical one. They could just feed him through a tube.
“You can’t speak to them, even if you have something important to tell them? Vital information you received from me?”
“They don’t think of us as having anything of interest to say,” said his father. “What they want from us doesn’t require conversation.”
It seemed Figaro would have to find his own way back. The Intercessors knew he was down here and they were happy to keep him here. His father wasn’t going to be much help.
Figaro dug the tip of his boot into it, trying to flick out a divot. His foot pushed through something and he heard a crack. He dropped a few centimetres and stopped. He crouched down although it felt like he was still standing and had pulled his knees up to his waist. A neat magic trick except he could still feel the solid ground under his feet. He placed his hand down and put his fingers in the cracks he’d created. A little force was all it took to pull the material apart.
Something flew past his field of vision. It was small, a streak of whiteness, a little like liquid in a zero-G environment. Except he could have sworn it had taken a form with arms and legs. It swam out of his lit area and was gone.
Figaro tried to detect it with the other sensors on his suit but there was static blocking him. He kept trying. What had caught his attention wasn’t that it looked like a small figure, but that it had flown away from him, upwards.
If it had a way of reversing the gravitational pull here, perhaps it could give him a ride back up.
Figaro tried to repeat his act of vandalism, stamping and picking at the cracks he formed. It was hard to get any real power into the restricted movements he was able to make. Dust was what he mostly produced, white and flaky. It went floating away from him.
If he grabbed it, it just sat in his fist, trembling. It contained some kind of antithetical power to the pull of the black hole. A bigger piece was required.
Something changed. Gravity became much more intense, forcing Figaro into a low crouch. The white bits of flotsam and jetsam came floating back, resisting like fish caught on a line. They seemed to have coalesced into a bigger piece. Figaro would have reached out to grab it but he couldn’t move his arms.
“What is it?”
“The wormhole,” said his Father. “It’s been activated.”
The stifling gravity stopped and the floating pieces shot off again. Figaro’s grasping hand was too late.
“Can you disrupt the field on me a little?” he asked. “It shouldn’t be too hard if you modulate your voice correctly.”
His father only had his voice, but sonic waves would be enough.
“I don’t think I want to do that.” This Ramon was not one to rush into action. Slow and reticent. Mostly disinterested.
“Father, did you not resist when they captured you?”
“I did. Very much.”
“But you failed.”
“I was overpowered by a superior force.”
“A superior intellect.”
There was a slight pause. “It would be wrong to call it superior.”
“I managed to avoid being overpowered. I came here willingly.”
“You had assistance.”
“So did you,” said Figaro. “They’re all dead now. And those on Enaya immediately betrayed your trust once they thought you gone. Intellect is judged by its choices, including the choice of who it surrounds itself with.”
“You believe your choices were better?” asked Ramon, not confrontationally, but then he never did. He preferred to attack without warning.
“My friends are still alive. Objectively, that is superior to being dead.”
It was a somewhat insolent argument, the type his father disliked. His father would normally be able to turn such an argument against the person suggesting them with ease. His real father.
“The end result is the objective end result, not the current score.”
Figaro sensed the weakness of the argument. This Ramon Ollo, quiet and reserved, was not amused. The stoic side of his father was the one he used most often when dealing with people he found annoyingly beneath him. World leaders, executives of megacorporations, generals of armies. People who demanded respect because of their position and status rather than their reason and logic. It was a side of him he used to suppress his anger.
“I need to go back up but this black hole is keeping me here. You have been down here a while, I believe. More than enough time to work out how to counter its effects.”
“It is a black hole,” his father said with a little edge to his voice.
“It is a microscopic black hole,” said Figaro. “I will find a way to neutralise its effect without you.”
Figaro felt a change in the air. Pressure. Not the kind you could measure with a barometer, this was the kind of pressure people gave off when their psychic energy began to overflow. Disappointment, anger, killing intent — they all had very specific effects on the environment.
They had taken away much of what made Ramon Ollo who he was, but they had also left a lot of the things he kept buried. Buried for good reason.
Some people were naturally sensitive, others had organics that could manipulate and redirect the effect. The kind of pressure Figaro felt now he rarely experienced around his father.
They had split up his persona to prevent him using it against them, but in doing so they had separated his emotions from the intellect that kept everything in check. As impressive as his genius was, it wasn’t the only part of Ramon Ollo’s mind that was overdeveloped, Some were less elegant.
Ramon Ollo didn’t need to rely on primitive solutions when he could think his way out of just about any problem. The real Ramon Ollo. This Ramon Ollo was left with all the questions but only the answers the Intercessors had allowed him. It had to be very frustrating.
“Father, I will reintegrate your mind and body and return you to Enaya where you will be safe. Then I will take control of the asteroid and use it to uncover the true meaning of this place. The Antecessors and the Intercessors are clearly hiding something. You will not need to worry about your safety.”
This was not Figaro’s original plan. Once Ramon Ollo was whole, he would be far too valuable a resource to send away to safety. Nor would he stay there. But his current incarnation wasn’t able to see through Figaro’s ploy. He just reacted to the idea of being put out to pasture like a tiresome burden.
“My place is here.” The voice was still calm but Figaro could sense the change. “There is nothing to be gained by returning me to Enaya.”
Figaro was busy pulling bits out of the ground with his fingernails.
“You will have your equipment and resources available to you,” said Figaro. “And you will be protected from having your mind overwhelmed again. If they took control of you once, we should assume it will be even easier for them to do it a second time.”
“You do not have a choice, Father. As the Intercessors placed you here against your will, so will I send you back. Remaining here to simply satisfy your curiosity does nothing but obstruct me. My goal is the only important thing here.”
His father had always been goal-oriented and would understand better than anyone what Figaro was saying. And would find it impossible to accept.
“I will stay here,” said his Father. Any aspect of Ramon Ollo would react the same. “You will remain with me.”
“We can discuss it further once I return.”
Figaro pushed off the surface and rose into the air. He wasn’t going anywhere, the gravitational pull would allow no more than a few centimetres of movement before returning him to the same spot. The trick was to sell it.
“NO!” screamed his father, impotent to stop him.
There was only a tiny amount of interference, not enough to fly away, but Figaro had his hands and pockets full of the material he’d gouged out of the ground. It was like dry cement.
It was working, he was drifting upwards, relatively speaking.
There was another change. The wormhole twice in succession? What was going on out there?
Figaro began floating backwards, reeled in. It might not last long. He held on.
It stopped but he continued to fall backwards. He’d lost his momentum,
The pale white chunks and strips emerged from his suit. They joined together, a snake. He grabbed it, making it squirm and wriggle. It was soft like clay.
He held on, and it pulled him along, up. Not the way he’d come from, though. To the side. There was a wall here, black and rough. Large cracks on its surface.
The white worm slithered into a gap, pulling Figaro’s arm in with it. The space was far too small for Figaro, but he could feet the object in his hand grow bigger, pushing the sides of the rock apart.
Figaro let go of the thing, the creature, and crawled into the wall after, turning sideways and edging his way forward. It was tight and claustrophobic but there was enough room.
He followed the pale creature clambering ahead of him, arms and hands and feet now discernible. He must have climbed for thirty minutes before the creature disappeared and then Figaro’s head broke the surface.
Figaro looked around. He was in a cavernous room with lights coming from globes in the walls. There were stairs ahead of him, leading up to a tunnel entrance.
The creature was trudging across the room, aiming for the stairs. It looked like a pale, naked child, faceless and senseless. But it seemed to know where it was going. Figaro began to follow.
Figaro stopped and looked around. The voice seemed to come from everywhere. “PT?”
“I thought that was you. How did you get here? Did you find your dad?” PT sounded pleased.
Figaro bit his lower lip. “Yes, I found him. Part of him. I think they’ve split him up into separate parts to prevent him posing a threat. The version I found down there was… quite limited. He couldn’t help much.”
“That’s a shame. The sum is greater than the parts, I guess.”
“Exactly. What happened up here? The wormhole opened. Twice.”
“Yes,” PT sounded surprised. “Antecessor ships. Not friendly, I don’t think. And a bunch of Seneca ships after them. Definitely not friendly.”
“And you? You’re alright?”
“Yes,” said PT.
“Healthy? Able to withstand the stress of assimilation?”
“Relatively. I am stuck in this harness. Not an uninteresting experience, in short amounts.”
“I’ll get you out,” said Figaro.
“Thanks, I’d appreciate it.”
“When I can.”
“Your father first, eh?”
“Yes. Sorry. If I can find the other parts of and bring them together, I believe I can put them back in his body. I think that’s what’s on the seventh level.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” said PT. “Maybe Ubik can help.“
“I’m hoping. Where is he?”
“He was just where you are. With those goblins.”
“The creatures? They didn’t kill him — of course they didn't. What am I saying? Did he kill them?”
“No,” said PT. “He tried to talk them to death but they don’t have ears, so… I’m leaving him to it for now. Listen, I don’t know if we can really trust Ubik completely. I think he might be planning to use us in some kind of experiment.”
“Oh? Why do you think that?”
“Just a feeling I have. I know, not very rational. But since I started living as a huge ball of rock floating in space, I’ve begun to see things a little differently. The change in perspective had given me a better grasp of the big picture, you know? I’m in a very vulnerable position and someone could easily take advantage of me. And who do we know who would do something like that?”
“I’d say you’re being a bit paranoid,” said Figaro, “but he did put you where you are now.”
“Which isn’t too bad, but this is about as far into body-swapping as I’d like to go. I’d appreciate it if you watched my back.”
“Sure,” said Figaro. “I can do that. Can you tell me where Ubik is now?”
PT gave him instructions and Figaro headed up the stairs and into the tunnel. He soon saw the mass of figures up ahead. He was going to need Ubik’s help to betray PT. He was confident Ubik would be only too happy to lend a hand. The problem would be getting him to not make any adjustments — making PT an honorary Antecesor or something. Ubik with a portable black hole did not sound like the last page of any book.
He would have to carefully guide Ubik into retrieving his father, installing PT as a replacement, and then get him to stop.
Getting Ubik going was the easy part. Getting him to stop before he went too far was another matter entirely.
“Ubik! Ubik!” he called out as goblins crowded around him. He was pretty sure Ubik heard him but he kept going.
Patreon is two weeks ahead (usually 6 chapters currently 4)Afterword from Mooderino