Wormhole Island - Interior.
Chukka stopped talking. It wasn’t doing any good and the droids that had crawled through the sigil were ignoring her and Bashir as more of them entered the chamber.
They weren’t like the droids she had encountered before or seen in training simulations. They were more fluid. Able to change shape without unnecessary reconfiguration steps. They had round bodies that changed dimensions in an instant, and long strands that could act as limbs or weapons or whatever they wanted.
They floated gracefully, spreading out, their limbs elongating into tendrils which attached to the walls, lighting them up. White light snaked through the grooves as the room slowly filled up with light.
Bashir was beside her, his eyes trembling with fear and his body huddled up to make itself less of a target. He was pathetic.
There was no immediate danger. As long as they weren’t carrying weapons, they weren’t considered enough of a threat to bother with. It was the height of arrogance, but it wasn’t like they were wrong.
“What should we do?” whispered Bashir, his fingers grabbing at her arm.
“Shut up,” said Chukka, not in the mood to baby him. He had proved useful in the past but his ability to sense and locate enemy targets wasn’t of much relevance right now. The enemy was right in front of them.
She slowly looked around the room. The one exit was unobstructed. They could just walk out. But what would be the point of that? Survival? It wasn’t enough of a return on her investment.
Abandoning her coworkers wasn’t a problem, but when she betrayed her VendX masters, she had sealed her fate. Even if the Chairman and everyone else who died were forever silenced, if she walked out of this alive, questions would be asked. And they would be asked in a very direct fashion that would not require her consent or cooperation.
The fact she would end up being the only witness — considering Bashir’s current state of mind, she put the chances of him coming out of this alive at somewhere between zero and negligible — would be enough to make her debriefing extremely rigorous and thorough.
The PR Department would be especially keen to see what was in her memories. Her colleagues were never shy when it came to investigating one of their own. Chukka held no resentment, she was the same. A secret looted from someone else’s vault only improved your own standing.
Her only way out of this situation with something to show for it was to have something everyone wanted, and then play them against one another to keep her position secure. She needed leverage — the most valuable commodity in the galaxy.
The question was, how was she going to get her share of the spoils when she couldn’t even open a dialogue with these things. And they were just the advance party. Who knew what the Antecessors were like?
A chill ran down her back. Would she get to see them? Would she be the first person to ever encounter the real Antecessors? Her stock would rise immeasurably from that alone. She had no idea how she would convert that into personal gain, but she didn’t need to worry over minor details like that yet. First, you secured the asset. Selling it came later. She knew there would be buyers. Lots and lots of them, all fighting to make her rich. Her eyes shone at the idea of an auction among the supreme corporations of the inner quadrants.
But she was getting ahead of herself. So far she had managed to not die, that was all. It was a good first step — a vital one — but still only the first of many.
Bashir turned his head slightly. Chukka followed his gaze to one of the discarded guns on the floor. Her hand whipped out and smacked him on the side of his head, not too hard, just sharp enough to grab his attention. The act of violence brought a momentary glance from three of the six droids that had so far crossed over, but they soon returned to their assignments, unconcerned.
“Don’t start thinking for yourself,” Chukka warned him in a low voice. “Do as I say, or do nothing.” This was a sensitive moment and the last thing she needed was someone else limiting her choices.
Bashir rubbed the side of his head and nodded.
She returned her attention to the droids. They were powering up the ship. Why? Did they plan to move it? Or were they going to use its systems for some reason?
The only thing she knew for sure was that they were here for the Ollo boy. He was their primary target and they were willing to do whatever it took to get hold of him. There was definitely an opportunity to be a middleman but at the moment she had no way of inserting herself into that transaction.
She had tried to offer her help but either they didn’t understand or didn’t care.
As the grooves in the room’s six surfaces flowed with mercurial white fluid, some areas seemed to be struggling to fully integrate. The white lines stuttered and bounced back.
Droids moved to fix the problem but only managed to shunt it to other sections. Was this a chance for her to make herself useful? She looked around the rooms. How could it be? She had no idea how any of this worked or what it meant.
Whatever it was the droids were trying to do, it didn’t seem to be working. Thousands of years had passed since they’d been here last, plus the Fourth seemed to have the run of the place, so who knew what changes he had made. They were understandably frustrated.
Chukka was observing closely, gleaning what she could from their behaviour. They had definitely reached some kind of impasse.
One by one, the six droids stopped what they were doing. Patches of the walls were still blank. Then, one by one, the droids turned to look at Chukka and Bashir.
They didn’t have eyes, per se, but it was obvious their focus had shifted. Did they think the two humans could provide them with answers?
Two droids detached from the walls and floated over.
“Don’t resist,” Chukka said under her breath.
Bashir's eyes were big and round, and his complexion had grown very pale.
The droids reached out with their long tendrils and grabbed Chukka and Bashir by their heads, coiling thin limbs around their necks.
Bashir was starting to lose it, his whole body shaking. His droid took a firmer grip. Chukka felt the tendril around her throat tighten, holding her more tightly, cutting off her air.
These things had no idea how fragile the human body was. Her life could be as easily crushed as her bones.
Bashir was going to get them both killed. Chukka couldn’t allow that.
She hadn’t tried to use her organic to contact the Antecessors. Even with the additional power from this place, she didn’t dare. They were the ones who created organics, what would they think of her using one in front of them. An insult? A threat? What was the etiquette?
A faux pas could scupper a business deal before the first round of discussions.
She daren’t make a bad first impression, but Bashir was another matter.
She activated her organic and reached out to Bashir to calm him down. She had already invested time in breaching his pitiful mental defences, so it was an easy matter to reinforce her previous suggestions and take away his will to resist, only this time it wasn’t her he was going to surrender himself to.
Bashir stopped shaking. But the few seconds it took were enough to alert the droids to her actions and she was suddenly yanked into the air, the tendril around her neck nearly detaching her head from her spine.
More tendrils wrapped themselves around her and then she felt as though they had wormed their way into her body, spreading into her limbs and up into her mind.
She didn’t resist. Rather, she opened herself up and made herself a willing participant in her own violation. She wanted the connection with them just as much as they sought it with her.
Chukka’s eyes burned. They weren’t aiming for her mind, they were inside her organic. Lucky for her it was so weak, otherwise she really feared she might lose her sanity. It was like she was being split into two.
The room looked very different now. The droids were made of white lines, hollow like wire-frames. She turned her head and Bashir was an amorphous blob with a green outline.
Is this how they see us? Chukka thought to herself. Just a mass of jelly, no more evolved than an amoeba.
She wondered how she looked to them.
The tentacles wrapped around Bashir didn’t move but the white lines pierced through the green border and entered his body.
“No, stop, please,” Bashir begged.
He was being annoying. He had the more powerful organic so they would obviously choose him above her. He should have welcomed the intrusion and used it to make a connection. In the business world, connections were everything. If only there was a way for her to take his organic, maybe even add it to her own.
She froze mid-thought as she felt a presence push itself further into her. Perhaps they favoured them both equally.
Chukka did her best to open a channel of communication. She sent out thoughts of acceptance and willingness. She relaxed and did her best to sense what they were searching for. If it was information, surely it would be easier to simply ask.
Thoughts seemed to fill her mind. They were abstract and alien. Whatever was being said was just out of her grasp.
Where is it?
What is it?
She only had a vague impression of what was being asked of her and had to guess the rest. She pictured Figaro Ollo. She formed images of various parts of the ship. She pulled up an image of Ubik, and shuddered. She wanted to give them what they wanted, but they weren’t being specific enough. Absolutely the worst type of customer.
The walls flashed and dimmed. She felt the droids withdraw from her. Bashir slumped beside her.
The white lines on the walls were pushed back by a purple invasion. It worked its way to the middle of the floor and then climbed up the sigil, turning it from bright pink to a darker hue.
The white and purple moved around, prodding and poking at each other’s territory on wall, ceiling and floor. It was like a conversation that almost made sense. She was able to pick up meaning as though she was overhearing people talking in the next room.
Chukka decided to take a risk and reached out with her organic, lingering at the edges to try and pick up what was being said.
Give stay demand fulfil responsibility as agreed open and produce stop resisting hand over key request nothing surrender hope remain complete punishment agree reject reject reject give give give now now now.
It was like being a wave of insistence from one side and then a wall of resistance pushing back from the other.
No no no refuse deny claim ownership give way stand down part ways leave now enough time wait more release stretch explore fill vacuum provide support complete mission destroy sigil destroy key destroy mission no doubt no hesitation go back back back.
It was like they were arguing. No, like they were negotiating. Here was something she understood. This was her battlefield. This was where she could insert herself and make herself invaluable to both sides.
But before she could find a way to become the middleman, something changed.
Never refuse deny closed hidden lost destroy kill end.
The purple suddenly pulled back and retreated to the edges of the room. It formed a hard line from corner to corner.
A droid moved to grab Bashir and pulled him up. His eyes were glowing intensely as he let out a howl of pain and arched his back as though a thousand volts of electricity were passing through him.
She felt his organic sweep out, far more powerful than ever before. They were using him to search for something but they were going to burn him out before they found it. They didn’t seem to understand the limits of the human body (or didn’t care).
Chukka couldn’t bear to see Bashir used like this. Not when it served no benefit to her.
She reached out and forced her way into Bashir’s mind, slipping through the droid influence which she could now sense like the fuzzy presence of laser beams in space. She got hold of Bashir’s consciousness and forced it to calm down.
The strength of Bashir’s organic weakened but the reach increased as he stopped fighting, spreading out in all directions. Sometimes less was more.
Together with Bashir, she helped guide his power across the ship, sweeping through decks until they both sensed the presence of something immensely powerful.
The droids gathered around them but didn’t interfere. They were both lifted up and moved carefully through the opening, like a precious tool.
Chukka was fine with it. She helped keep Bashir calm, she moved as they moved. She showed them that they just needed better control of lesser equipment.
A customer who thought you were trying to sell them the cheaper model because it suited their needs more ended up falling into trust, never realising the hardware is never where the money gets made.