When Figaro opened his eyes, he saw a strange multicoloured sky. It was a beautiful yet otherworldly sight. It took a moment for him to recognise it as wormhole space. He was inside the wormhole and, apparently, alive.
He didn’t have his helmet on or an oxygen supply, but he was breathing just fine, somehow.
He tried to look down at himself to confirm his condition, but he quickly discovered that even simple movements were beyond his current ability. His entire body was in a state of paralysis.
Slowly, he began to move his hands and feet, allowing his blood to flow. Gradually, he began to feel pain all over his body, causing him to grimace.
Suddenly remembering everything he had experienced just before passing out, Figaro let out a deep sigh, feeling extremely thankful to even be alive right now.
It was only then that he realised that he wasn’t being supported by anything and was falling at an extremely fast speed.
Shifting his aching body, he somehow managed to turn himself over and see what he was falling towards.
As he flipped over, Figaro saw pieces of starships and chunks of debris, including large rocks that had been part of the asteroid, falling along with him. The mass of objects that had been sucked into the wormhole’s whirlpool of destruction were all here, making it hard to see anything clearly. Then, for a second, there was a gap and below him, Figaro saw an island.
It was huge, an entire continent from a planet that had been flattened like on a paper map, but with black mountains, streams of lifeless grey liquid and even clouds. But this island was very different from any he had seen before, it was actually floating mid-air, without anything supporting or holding it in place.
Seeing it from so high up, Figaro estimated that it was at least several hundred kilometres across. And almost entirely covered in junk.
“What is this?” Figaro frowned.
What looked like mountains were huge piles of metal and rocks on top of each other. It looked like a graveyard for the flotsam and jetsam gathered inside the wormhole over time. Could it be random creation, the result of all the detritus and trash left behind by passing ships over the millennia?
No, it looked too deliberate in its construction. And why would he be drawn to it so directly? He could feel an invisible force guiding him towards it.
The last thing he remembered was the VendX starship, Summer Sail, activating the wormhole and then everything being sucked into it. Collisions and explosions blew everything apart, shattered into pieces before being swallowed by the giant darkness at the wormhole’s centre. So how did he suddenly arrive at this floating island? It couldn’t be a coincidence.
And why wasn’t he dead? It could only be because of the Antecessors.
However, there was no point trying to look for answers now. First, he had to make sure he wasn’t smashed to pieces when he arrived at his destination.
He looked around, trying to see if he could spot any other survivors. He knew the Antecessors were keen to get their hands on him, so his safety was probably somehow being maintained, but there had been a lot of other people in the area around the wormhole when it opened. Were they all dead?
He tried activating his suit, it had the ability to help him in this kind of situation, but there was no response. There was no sign of life in any of the systems, which was odd.
Figaro pondered these issues while simply letting himself freefall, doing his best to guide his trajectory towards the bodies of water. Assuming it was water and not some lethal liquid.
He aimed himself at a large pool and hoped it wasn’t acid. As he neared, he found himself slowing down so that rather than enter the liquid like a missile, he plopped down. It got in his mouth — water. Clean and refreshing. But not deep enough to have saved him if he hadn’t been decelerated. When he stood up, the waterline was below his waist.
The air tasted like it had the bare minimum amount of oxygen to support life, and an odd taste he couldn't place.
He waded to the shore and looked around. Bits of ships and rocks of various sizes; tons and tons of it. Water but no vegetation. No signs of life.
If he survived that disaster, some of the others must have as well. They were all resourceful people, many of them with organics. The Guardians, for sure. Seneca Corps were trained for this sort of thing. Even VendX provided their employees with some basic survival equipment.
He checked his suit again. Completely dead. He tried some of the objects in his pockets. The only thing that worked was a flame-stick; the only object that didn’t use tronics.
Figaro decided to head for high ground so he could see where he was and what problems he might encounter. He didn’t know what kind of dangers might be here but it would be best to avoid them.
Just as he set off, an angry and sullen shout reached him. “Hey! Wait!”
He turned to lock eyes with Major Chukka, looking a mess, her suit busted and ripped. His heart sank a little. While she posed no immediate threat, she was annoying and of no use either.
Because of what had happened on the asteroid, she probably harboured some grudge, but Figaro had no intention of wasting time on her. She was a big girl, she could look after herself. At least if she made it here alive, so might others.
As she shouted, she pulled out a pistol. Figaro frowned. He wasn’t impressed by her attempt to pin him down. She obviously knew his value in this situation. The Antecessors wanted him, so the person in control of him would have a useful bargaining chip.
But the gun wouldn’t work here and even if it did, she wouldn’t kill him. He considered dealing with her directly but what was the point? Might as well just leave her here, waving her gun about.
She fired. A projectile ricocheted off the metallic cliff wall behind him, making him duck even though the shot was off-target.
He was stunned. It wasn’t a tronic weapon, it was something antiquated and mechanical. It only took a moment for him to figure it out. Ubik. She had wanted to avoid him doing something to her weapon, so she had chosen to bring along a type that was Ubik-resistant.
Figaro was uninterested in dealing with her but he didn’t want to end up injured. At the very least, he would need to disarm her. He stared at Chukka indifferently, as if he was observing an irritating insect.
“Hmph!” He let out a snort and started running.
Chukka looked panic-stricken. She raised the gun again, her hand wavering. She fired twice.
Figaro’s movements weren’t fast by any means, he just made sure to swerve at the right moment to avoid getting hit. Her body gave away her intentions — when and where she was firing. He closed in on her.
He reached out, calmly and easily grasping towards her hand. The next moment, Figaro knocked the gun away and seized Chukka by the throat.
Chukka’s expression turned gloomy. She managed to squeeze out a weak, “Okay.”
Having made his demands clear, he instantly lost all interest in her and casually tossed her away.
She landed on her knees, rubbing her neck. “We could work together.” Her voice was hoarse and jittery.
“If you have any problems, deal with them yourself!” Figaro said coldly. “If I see you again, I’ll have to kill you.”
She got to her feet. “Fine. But I know what this place is. I could help you.” She looked him in the eye, a cold light glinting. “You want to know what’s going on here. I have all of VendX intel memorised. We could work together. I can provide you with whatever you need. Anything. You want to be with someone you can trust. Someone to rely on.”
Something tickled the back of his mind, like trying to remember a lost thought.
No, it wasn’t a glint in her eye, it was an actual light, a barely perceptible glow.
Figaro gnashed her teeth and shook the mist out of his mind before it coalesced into fog. He rushed her, taking her by the throat again but this time smashing her head to the ground. She grunted as the air rushed out of her body.
He straightened her arm, folded her palm back and locked the elbow so he could use it like a stiff pole to pin her in place. He placed one boot on the side of her head so she couldn’t turn to look at him.
“Organic. Subtle. Mind control?”
“It’s weak,” she hissed from between flattened cheeks. “Not… threat.”
“Doesn’t have to be strong. Better if it isn’t, harder to spot.” He had been trained to recognise and fight mind control organics, but this had been the most delicate insertion he’d ever experienced.
“Guess I’ll have to kill you.”
He held her there. He didn’t want to kill her. He didn’t want to kill anyone this weak. A long time ago there used to be an idea that men shouldn’t hit women. A dumb, dangerous idea. He had grown up around the Corps. Women weren’t the weaker sex. They weren’t the fairer sex, either. There was nothing fair about how they fought.
It wasn’t just organics that had made them equal to men in terms of murderous intent. A gun could do that, or a knife under a pillow. What it had taken was centuries of systematic sexual violence. It cured them of any of their reluctance to land the lethal blow.
They had always been oppressed, but the appearance of organics had amplified their mistreatment to horrific levels. Less than second class, they had been reduced to cattle. It was the push they had needed to finally take a stand. And then, like many victims who survived atrocities, they decided to turn the tables.
Figaro pressed down on Chukka’s head with his foot. He could snap her neck quite easily. Killing her was the easiest option. He shouldn’t even need to think about it. The other option was to break her. Brutalise her, make her wish for death, and then become her saviour. It was a proven method, with a high conversion rate, especially for someone of Chukka’s mentality. She would be his slave but she would be alive. Would that really be preferable to a quick and merciful execution?
He was just as reluctant to do either. This had always been his problem.
In a clinical setting, the choice was always simple and easy to execute. Passing tests had never been the issue. What he really wanted was for people like her to leave him alone. Opportunists who thought they needed to risk everything if they ever had the chance to elevate their status because it might be the only chance they ever get.
It made sense — their thinking was correct — but the odds of succeeding against someone who already had a high status and was well practised in keeping it was too low.
Killing her was clearly the only thing to do here. He pressed down.
A huge pressure clamped down on his mind, making him let go of Chukka and stumble backwards. It was similar to what Chukka had tried but a lot more powerful. He grabbed his head and fell to his knees.
Chukka was glaring at him with hostility but not moving, afraid this was some kind of trap.
Inside him, Figaro felt his organic flare up. Then the bracelet on his wrist clamped down and viciously bit into him. He screamed, falling to the ground
It slowly dawned on Chukka that something was wrong with her captor. Then it struck her that this was her chance.
She jumped to her feet and ran over to Figaro’s body. She grabbed his head and forced him to look at her. The look on her face suggested she couldn’t wait to start tormenting him.
Figaro’s face filled with bitterness but he didn’t say a word. He wasn’t able to. His mind was gradually being overwhelmed by some unidentifiable force. Whatever was causing it, the gap between their abilities was too huge for Figaro to resist. His body was easily suppressed and his mind would soon follow.
Chukka pushed his eyelids up with her thumbs and stared into his eyes. Her eyes began to glow, this time steadily. It was still weak but she was clearly putting all her energy into it, her body trembling with the effort.
The opportunist was taking her shot. Using this moment to take his mind for herself. It would never have worked if he had been fully conscious. Not on him or anybody. Too easy to spot what she was doing, too weak to deal with any counterattack. But he was wide open right now and she was going all in.
Taking a deep breath, she inhaled the strange air and her face erupted with relief and a joyous glee as she pushed harder. She had been on the verge of death and now she was about to claim a giant prize. It made Figaro want to smile, too. She thought she had him at her mercy, a stupid little rich kid who didn’t know the ways of the world. She thought it was just the two of them inside his head.
“You don’t want to do this,” whispered Figaro.
“Don’t waste your breath.” Chukka smiled coldly as she poured everything she had into her feeble little organic ability.
She got down deep into him, preparing to plant her control commands in his most vulnerable point. And found something waiting for her.
Chukka’s eyes suddenly flared to an intensity far greater than anything she could produce herself. She screamed and fell back.
Figaro felt his mind clear. He had regained control of himself. He sat up, breathing hard. His bracelet was still gripping his wrist with agonising pain but Figaro didn’t mind it. At least he could sense his body again.
Chukka was sitting a few metres away, smoke coming out of her eyes. She looked stunned but not seriously injured.
She had saved him, or her greed had. Her intrusion had been enough. Would it work again? The invading force no doubt would return. But she would never be willing to help him.
Watching her clenching her teeth, Figaro noted that Chukka seemed to be the extremely vengeful type. His options were limited and the decision did not require much deliberating.
Figaro shook his head and stood up. “Get up.”
She looked at him and then got to her feet. Figaro slapped her so hard she immediately fell back down.
“I said, get up.”
She glared at him, utterly shocked. Slowly she got to her feet again. He slapped her even harder this time. She landed on her back. Her face was starting to swell on one side.
She stayed on the ground this time. He kicked her, and kept kicking, careful not to do her any permanent damage. There was a skill to it. An art, if you knew how to do it right. When he finally stopped she lay there sobbing.
He crouched down next to her. “I don’t know if there’s anything worse than trying to violate someone’s mind. Taking away the thing that makes them them. Most people would choose death over becoming someone’s puppet. What about you?”
“I don’t know what kind of place this is, but I think we’re being watched. They might not approve of murder. So I’m just going to leave you here. If you stop struggling so hard, you’ll probably drift off after a while. Probably be for the best.”
As he went to stand up a hand shot out and grabbed onto his leg. No, Chukka wasn’t the type to stop struggling.
Figaro gently helped her to her feet. She flinched and tried to get away from him but it was her own clenched fists that were holding onto him.
His attacks had been ruthless, unforgiving, painful. But not life-threatening — it had just felt that way. She no longer saw him as the spoilt daddy’s boy. The privileged heir to a galactic power he hadn’t earned. Now he was just evil incarnate.
Some people were born evil, some became evil, but Figaro had the ability to produce it on command. Perhaps one day he would take it out and never be able to put it away again. His father would be pleased. Relieved, probably.
Chukka’s legs gave way and she almost fell. She clung to him and he helped her, offering gentle words of encouragement.
The truth was, he needed her much more than she needed him. There would be another attack and only she could defend him. And so she would.
Figaro picked up the weapon Chukka had dropped, careful not to let Chukka fall, and stood up again. There was a tower on top of one of the peaks. He guessed that was where the attack came from, the line of sight was about right. Even if there was nothing there, high ground would give him a better view of where to go next.
“Careful. That’s good, we have to find somewhere for you to heal up.” He supported her as they limped away together, her eyes filled with terror every time she glanced at him and her hands holding onto him tightly, refusing to let him go.