Book 3 – 37: The Way is Open

Wormhole Island - Interior.

Bone Room.


Ubik had not expected the Antecessors to get here so quickly. He knew they’d want to pinpoint their location and apprehend Fig as soon as possible, but he had expected the Fourth to get in their way. At least for a bit.

What he definitely hadn’t expected was for the Antecessors to form an alliance with VendX. Not only VendX, but Chukka! What were they thinking?

Even if VendX were the only ones available for a team-up, what kind of sales pitch would convince them to enter into a partnership with her? Perhaps he had underestimated the woman. Ubik shook his head. No, that couldn’t be it.

The Fourth had been waiting for an opportunity like this for thousands of years. Arrangements had been painstakingly made. It wouldn’t allow its one chance to slip away without putting up a hell of a struggle. What Ubik needed to do was stall long enough for the Fourth to make its move. And then Ubik would use that moment to get out of here.

Stall, stall, stall. That was the plan for now.

Ubik looked over his shoulder at the small group of confused and uncertain people who were following him like he knew where he was going. He had no idea why they thought that. The room only had the one exit, and he was running in the opposite direction.

As long as he kept them between him and the Antecessor droids, everything would be fine. He knew what they wanted, what they were here for. They wanted the bone.

The bone was the real treasure here. It was a bottomless treasure chest full of wonders and he had no intention of handing it over.

“Ubik…” called out PT. “Do you know where you’re going?” Most people wouldn’t have asked such a direct question because they wouldn’t want to risk hearing the wrong answer. They’d rather just assume there was a chance for success if they blindly ran on. Not PT, though. He always wanted the actual truth.

“Of course I know,” Ubik shouted over his shoulder. “This way.”

Fortunately, the bright white lines streaking up and down the walls made it hard to tell if there were any secret openings or exits. It was quite possible there were. And that Ubik knew where. He didn’t, but it was hypothetically a possibility.

“Okay,” said PT. “We’ll hold them off and you open up the way.”

Ubik was a little taken by surprise at PT’s assumption that he had a way to open, but he wasn’t going to disillusion the poor guy. PT found it hard enough to be optimistic at the best of times, no need to put him on a downer now.

“Fair enough,” said Ubik, and then he took a look at the walls for any indications that there was another way out. Who knew, maybe PT was onto something. Sometimes, it took complete cluelessness to see the obvious.

“Fig!” shouted PT. “Coordinate with me.” Ubik heard the footsteps behind him slow down. “I want to try something out, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep control of it.”

“I understand,” said Fig.

Ubik was tempted to stop and turn around so he could see what the two of them had in mind, but he really needed to come up with an alternative plan just in case the Fourth didn’t come through.

The white lines were filling up the walls but they weren’t saying much. Ubik had picked up a bit of the language of the Antecessors, but right now all the walls were doing was fighting over territory. The Fourth’s purple goo was in retreat; no more needed to be said.

He was approaching the far wall now. He slowed as he tried to come up with a way to keep everyone too busy to realise he had no idea how to get out of here. Maybe he could circle around and get back to the exit while they scuffled in the middle?

Behind him, PT and Fig had stopped and were facing the group of droids approaching them. The two Seneca mercs had also stopped, in a rare show of cross-gender solidarity. Good thing there was no one to see them or they’d have their Hardass Bitches membership cards taken away.

“Keep them busy,” said Ubik, “I just need to press some things in a very complicated pattern.” The great thing about being the resident genius was that you never had to explain what you were doing in any detail. “Try to release any energy blasts away from me. I don’t want the turbulence causing a void eruption that disrupts the position matrix.” Or you could just make things up. How would they tell? They weren’t geniuses.

“Stop making shit up and get on with it,” shouted PT.

Ubik looked past PT at the droids. Chukka was there, but not out in front. Was she their hostage? There was someone else leading the droids… Ogden? The navigator. They were carrying him like a figurehead on a ship’s bow. Did they use him to find Fig without access to tronics?

These droids seemed different. Their limbs were more manoeuvrable and they seemed to be able to change shape a lot quicker and smoother, easily dodging the projectiles Weyla and Leyla were peppering them with.

Had the Antecessors been spending the last few millennia carrying out upgrades? If so, that was probably a good thing. Upgrades invariably meant one thing — bugs.

“Okay, here we go.” PT sounded like he was grinning. Death was staring him in the face — they wanted Fig, they didn’t need anyone else — but he was excited like a kid with new toys. Ubik was quite invested in what was new in the toy chest, too, it had to be said.

PT had his feet planted firmly, one slightly ahead of the other to brace himself, and his hands pointing at the droids. Nothing seemed to be happening.

Fig was behind PT, waiting to apply a suppressing force if things went awry. And the two women stood on either side of PT, looking a bit puzzled, not entirely sure what their roles were. The Seneca way of doing things was all-out offence, not standing by while the men did the fighting.

Bashir was dropped rather unceremoniously by the droids as they charged forward. Chukka remained behind with Bashir, but didn’t seem to be helping him.

PT was ready to make his move. Ubik could tell from his body language, the boy was about to let loose. He had an inkling of how to use his power, without actually knowing what his power was, so now it was time to test the limits.

Ubik pretended to be examining the wall, prodding it randomly with a finger, as he watched PT emerge from his chrysalis. The most powerful combination of organics to ever exist inside one human being. Ubik couldn’t help but feel proud. Of himself, for having made this moment possible.

“Arghhhhh,” PT screamed, and then the air in front of him distorted and a violent pulse of energy leapt forward. An instant later, the six droids rushing towards him disappeared.

Ubik leaned forward a bit and squinted. No, not disappeared. They’d been shrunk.

They were still there, just a lot smaller. Almost cute.

It was, to be honest, a little disappointing. The same schtick twice now. There had to be more he could do with the most powerful organic combination ever. Not even the Antecessors had got six to work together.

The Seneca sisters kept firing, shooting at the tiny targets with their projectile-launching guns.

“The suppression on tronics should be off now,” Ubik reminded them.

The women switched their weapons to a different mode and energy bolts spat out of the muzzles.

But smaller targets didn’t necessarily mean weaker ones. In fact, if they retained their mass, they would be a lot denser and tougher.

There were loud cracks as the women hit their targets. But the droids weren’t destroyed. And they didn’t stay miniaturised. They began to grow, their tentacle-like limbs first, and then the rest of their bodies. Within a few seconds, they were back to their previous size.

“Did you do that?” asked Weyla.

PT shook his head.

“Is it a temporary effect?” asked Leyla.

It wasn’t a temporary effect. If it were, then the bone would have reverted to its normal size by now.

The droids were able to change shape. With denser material to work with, they could simply redistribute and grow back.

PT tried again, bracing himself and grunting loudly. He really needed to work out how to use his power without making so much noise. Or at least, less disgusting ones.

Another wave of distorted air rolled away from him. The droids shimmered and then grew to double their size. Then, three times.

It showed another side of his ability, but not necessarily a useful one in this particular situation. Long tendrils shot out to swipe at the four of them, sending them scattering.

“Try something else,” shouted Fig, diving across the floor.

PT managed to deftly duck under the limbs flicked towards him and had another go.

The droids turned into mist.

It was like a fog had suddenly appeared in the middle of the room.

Weyla fired at the mist from where she lay on the ground. The laser shots went straight through it.

“What did you do?” said Weyla, getting to her feet.

“I think I turned them into water vapour,” said PT, not sounding very confident.

The four of them stood there, just staring at the cloud in front of them.

Ubik eyes had lit up. His heart was racing. This was better. This was the ability to change one thing into another. This was alchemy.

If PT could control it, really control it, he would have mastery over matter. The possibilities were fantastical. On the other hand, if he couldn’t control it, everything he touched would turn into a pile of atoms, including himself.

“Turn it into something flammable,” shouted Ubik.

PT looked at Ubik for a moment, and then focused on the cloud of ex-droids. There was a glimmer as the mist went from white to yellow.

Weyla fired again. Her sister joined in. The cloud flashed into a fireball and then vanished. All that was left was an acrid smell.

Everything was quiet for a moment.

“That was great,” said Fig. “You didn’t need me to regulate things at all.”

He was right, it was great. PT had kept his ability under control the whole time. He hadn’t pushed it as hard as he maybe could have — and that was definitely something Ubik would like to see him try — but he already had a good grasp of what was possible. To be able to change the basic nature of an object was simply astounding.

“Your eyes,” said Leyla, “they didn’t change colour or grow brighter.”

“Didn’t they?” said PT. “They felt hot.”

“Alright, we can’t stand around here chatting,” said Ubik. He was as keen as everyone else to dig a bit deeper into PT’s new set of skills, but time was pressing. The Fourth wouldn’t leave them alone for much longer.

“I thought you were finding us a way out,” said PT, looking at the wall behind Ubik, which hadn’t changed.

“I was,” said Ubik, “but we don’t need to go that way now. We can…” He was pointing towards the exit when he heard a scraping noise behind him. His eyes slid to the side and then his head slowly followed.

The wall, which had looked very solid until now, began to slide apart, a purple glow around the outline of an expanding archway, fending off probes from streaks of white along its edges. The opening grew bigger until it was several times as tall as Ubik.

Ubik’s expression became serious as he peered deep into the impenetrable void. This was not a regular hole in the wall.

“You did it!” said Weyla. Her sister gave her an odd look and Weyla wiped the delighted look from her face.

“Um, yes,” said Ubik, stepping away from the opening. “But I still think we should try the other way first.”

He had nothing to do with the appearance of this convenient exit point. The droids get destroyed and suddenly a door opens. It had to be the Fourth’s doing. Clearly, it had been waiting for them to deal with the droids before intervening. And now it wanted them to go this way. It had to be a trap.

Ubik kept walking away backwards.

“You didn’t do this, did you?” said PT, not really asking a question.

“Technically, no,” said Ubik.

“Hold on,” said Fig. He walked over to where Chukka was standing. She didn’t move, although she had a strange look on her face as Fig got nearer.

“I… I came to help you,” she stammered. Her eyes seemed to have an inner glow, but it wasn’t from an organic, it was something else.

Fig looked down at Bashir, who was curled up in a foetal position. He frowned. Then he took Chukka by the elbow, making her wince, and started walking her towards the opening. She had her eyes fixed on him at first. When she saw where they were headed, there was a flash of panic. Fig increased the pace, firmly keeping her next to him so that she was skipping twice for every one of his steps.

As they approached the opening, he shoved her forward. She let out a yell of pure reluctance and then disappeared into the dark.

He stood there, waiting.

A hand reached out from the dark hole in the wall, followed by a pale, trembling face. “There’s a passage,” said Chukka.

“That was cold,” said Ubik, walking back to the opening. “Nice. Your dad would be proud. Your mother, also.” He patted Fig on the shoulder as he walked into the opening, grabbing Chukka and pushing her ahead of him. “Glad to have you back on the team, Major. Don’t cause any trouble and everything’ll be fine.” Ubik turned just before he passed through the archway. “Hurry up, let’s get this show underway.”

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