Wormhole Island - Interior.
Point-Two turned his head just enough so that he could see Ubik while still keeping one eye on the Seneca troops bearing down on the two of them.
The women had cold, expressionless faces, which was nothing unusual for the Corps, but there was a lack of focus in their eyes that indicated they weren’t in control of themselves. Not that they would be behaving any differently if they were.
“What now?” he called out, expecting Ubik to have some ridiculous way to get them out of this mess.
“You hold them off while I think of something,” said Ubik, which was certainly ridiculous, but not very useful.
“No,” said Point-Two. He turned and ran.
The thing with Ubik’s plans — and Point-Two had experienced enough of them to consider himself something of an expert — was that it didn’t matter what action you took as long as you acted decisively. The person who goes first has the advantage.
There was never time to sit around and have a good long think about it, weighing up the pros and cons. You either got on board before you were left behind, or you got out of the way before you were run over.
In particular, you needed to remove yourself from the vicinity if you couldn’t figure out who Ubik was going to use as the fall guy for his scheme. Because, if it wasn’t obvious who it was, that invariably meant it was you.
Point-Two was confident his idea to leave Ubik behind to deal with things was the correct choice, since Ubik had chosen to do the exact same thing to him.
“You’re going the wrong way,” shouted Ubik over his shoulder, one step ahead as usual.
“I’m just following your lead,” said Point-Two.
There was clearly no way they were going to be able to deal with the Seneca Corps. Even under normal conditions, fifteen of them were more than enough to subdue two nobodies like the two of them.
“It’s not looking good,” said Ubik, sprinting at full speed towards the gap Fig had been pulled through. “Their organics are all fired up and overclocked, and their wills are being controlled by the Chairman of VendX, so they’re not going to listen to reason.”
“Oh, you mean like they usually do?” said Point-Two. He considered himself a good runner but somehow he was unable to make up any ground on Ubik and his stumpy legs. It defied the laws of nature.
From what Point-Two had gathered, the Chairman and Ubik had some history. The man was not going to let Ubik get away no matter what the cost or consequence. The whole of humanity might be in immense danger and on the verge of total destruction, but his only focus was doing everything in his power to make sure he inflicted as much pain on the little shit who had left him blind before the Antecessors ended all life in the quadrant.
Ubik had that effect on people.
Which was why it was clear to Point-Two that the best way out of this situation was to give the Chairman the one thing he craved most — Ubik.
Point-Two put more effort into running faster. He wasn’t so much trying to get away from his murderous pursuers as he was trying to get hold of Ubik so he could feed him to the wild pack. It was the sort of plan Ubik himself would have thought of, so it was bound to work.
“Hey, what are you… Let go…” Ubik reached back and slapped away Point-Two extended arm as his stretched fingertips tried to grab Ubik by the shoulder.
“Just come… here…” Point-Two could feel the fastest Corps women breathing down his neck. They had organics to boost their speed and push them to the limits of their strength. It would take them only a few seconds to rip the two of them to shreds.
The only thing that had kept Point-Two out of their grasps so far was his many years spent playing G-tag. He could dodge and duck with his eyes closed, sensing the approach of opponents instinctively. It had never been a talent he had expected to use in the real world. Life outside of the Garu was constantly defeating his expectations. At this rate, he would actually end up using algebra for something practical.
Somehow Ubik, who was just as powerless and organic-free as Point-Two, was managing to stay ahead of them all.
If Point-Two didn’t know better, he would have assumed Ubik had somehow managed to power up his Delgados and had them on some sort of speed setting. The boy could really move when he put his mind to it.
They were nearly at the gap between the doors now. Fig had disappeared through it a moment ago, and the unspoken plan was to follow him. There was no reason to believe there was anything more welcoming on the other side, but it wasn’t like things were so great on this side.
It seemed unlikely they were going to make it, though. They were just too slow.
Point-Two felt a sudden shift behind him. He glanced back to see the first row of chasing women intercepted and scattered by a lone figure who had flown into them. It was Leyla, the Seneca mercenary.
The mesmerised women didn’t react angrily or even give Leyla a second look as they got back in formation to continue the pursuit, but Weyla barrelled into them from behind, knocking them down again.
Point-Two had no idea how the two of them had resisted the Chairman’s control, but he was grateful. Now at least they had a chance.
There was a light shining through the gap, making it impossible to see what they were running towards. At least Ubik was going first.
A strong blast of air struck them and threw them backwards, over the heads of the women who had been pursuing them. They were also caught in the powerful gust. Everyone was sent flying in haphazard fashion, tumbling and spinning out of control. Apparently, visitors were not welcome.
Point-Two rolled as he hit the ground and came up on his feet. He was taking quite a battering today, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to take much more. He didn’t have a fancy suit to protect him and no organic to help heal him. His only useful attribute was the low regard everyone had for him. All he had to worry about was avoiding the collateral damage. The problem was, there was a lot of collateral damage to avoid.
He looked around for Ubik. As long as the mighty Null Void was in plain view, everyone would be focused on him. If he wasn’t on view, then they might start looking at Point-Two. The solution was very clear — make sure everyone knew where Ubik was.
“Arghh, not now, not now.” Ubik was screaming loudly and slamming his arm against the wall about ten metres away from where Point-Two was standing. Evidently, he was having a problem with the alien thing on his arm.
“Bring him to me!” bellowed the Chairman of VendX.
The Seneca women didn’t immediately respond. They looked dazed and confused, their minds no longer possessed, or not at firmly. But then they snapped back into action, forming a circle around Ubik, even their General joining in to capture Ubik.
From what Point-Two had seen, the Chairman’s power gave him dominion over the minds of anyone with an organic. But there was more to it than that. If he could simply turn anyone into a puppet, he wouldn’t be the head of VendX, he would be able to control the whole galaxy, Seneca included.
Even if his ability had been boosted, so had everyone else’s. His ability had to have some sort of weakness, and it shouldn’t be too hard to work out what it was
But Point-Two didn’t need to work it out. Ubik had encountered him before, and beaten him — or got away in one piece, at least. He had to know how to deal with him.
“Ubik!” Point-Two shouted. “How do we stop the Chairman?”
Ubik looked over at Point-Two, and then at the women closing in around him. “Bit busy right now.” Then he looked from the women to Point-Two, and started running in Point-Two’s direction, slipping through the cordon before it became too tight.
The women converged on him. Not wanting to be caught by the stampede, Point-Two turned and ran.
What he needed to do was go off in a different direction so that the posse could hunt down its man, Point-Two could watch from the sidelines.
If Ubik had been a real friend, he would have understood this and helped to make it happen. But Ubik had a very different idea of friendship.
As Point-Two tried to change direction, Ubik followed him. They were snaking left and right as they made a circuit of the large chamber. Point-Two was trying to make it back to the passage leading away from this room, but he didn’t want to bring everyone with him. Ubik very much did.
But the Chairman and his people had moved back to block the exit.
Point-Two looked around. Ramon Ollo was bent over on the floor looking like he was about to vomit.
What he wasn’t doing, though, was obeying the Chairman.
Ramon Ollo had an organic. Shouldn’t he have been under the Chairman’s command, too?
Point-Two felt like there was something useful to be learned there, but he didn’t have the time to figure it out.
“Stop!” shouted Ramon. He had no power and no means to back up his demand, but there was something arresting in the way he spoke, a commanding tone that was hard to ignore.
Everyone momentarily paused, just a hesitation before they took their next step, their attention diverted for that millisecond.
“You can’t do this. Not now. Crafbeg, this isn’t the time. The rest of them will be here soon.”
He didn’t speak fast or slow, there was no emotion in his voice, but he had taken the momentum out of everyone’s attack. They were drawn to his words.
“I will decide what is important here,” said the Chairman. Point-Two assumed his name must be Crafbeg — and it was only his attention Ramon needed to get hold of to disrupt everyone else.
“Listen to me, I can provide you with what you need,” said Ramon. “I know VendX has a supply problem in the inner ring. I am willing to provide you with the routes.”
“How can I—”
“You can trust me. I’ve based my whole reputation on doing as I say. But you need to stop with this idiocy. They sent us here as a temporary stopgap. They will come again. And this time, they won’t be so cautious.”
He was talking about the Antecessors. They had failed to grab Fig and sent everyone here instead. They would follow to pick up what they considered to be theirs, and destroy what they considered unnecessary.
Chairman Crafbeg’s swollen rage subsided a little as he considered what Ramon had said. He looked like he was going to come to his senses, make a reasoned choice, take the deal offered. Ramon Ollo had experience handling his kind, knew how much carrot to use and how much stick.
He was about to join hands with Ramon Ollo, which might have still been a bad move in the long run — who knew where Ramon wanted to take things? — but a streak of green broke through the ranks of the VendX guards around the Chairman as General Sway, finally released from the Chairman’s mental grip, struck with all her might.
“Stop her!” shouted Ramon, his moderate tone gone in an instant and the command delivered without any equivocation.
Sway had transformed into something barely human, her entire body seemingly made of polished stone. PT was only able to tell it was her from the shape of her head and the scar cut into her crystalline face.
She smashed through the guards feet-first, her target the unmissable torso of the Chairman.
Another figure leapt in between the two. The Chairman’s second in command, the thin man who was guiding him, acted as a shield and took the full brunt of Sway’s attack.
The two collided and seemed to bounce off one another. The Chairman caught his guide before he was thrown too far, and brought him back as a weapon, throwing him at Sway, so that as she landed on the ground, he landed on top of her.
The Chairman’s eyes lit up and his jowls trembled. His hand that had just thrown his man remained extended, the palm displayed. The air around it distorted.
Sway buckled on the ground but resisted control. She smashed her fists into the man on top of her, but they bounced off some kind of invisible field surrounding him.
There was a huge flash of light. It came from Ramon Ollo but filled the entire chamber, blinding everyone.
“Stop, stop,” insisted Ramon. “Can’t you see how vital it is we do something now before they arrive? Don’t you see you who it is they trapped here?”
His words caught everyone’s attention. They all knew of Ramon Ollo, how knowledgeable, how secretive he was. If he was willing to reveal something about this place, it would be worth hearing.
“What is it?” said the Chairman. All eyes were on Ramon.
“The fourth. We thought they only had three. They had four. Their Fourth God.”
Point-Two had no idea what he was talking about. What god? Whose god?
“What are you talking about?” said the Chairman. “They only had three gods. Three pillars — everyone knows that.”
“Yes, so I thought too,” said Ramon. “Until I arrived in this place. This place predates everything we know. They had four and then they had three. And if we can find a way to cooperate with it, join forces with it, we can learn everything they tried to keep hidden. They must have feared it greatly to confine it to this place.”
With another blast of air, the doors opened fully and Fig appeared, floating into the room, his body erect but somehow limp, like he was hanging by invisible strings, his eyes glowing red then green then white then blue.
“You wish to cooperate?” Fig spoke but his voice was not his own. “Good. I have a task for you.”