Book 3 – 38: Return to the Surface

Wormhole Island - Interior.

Bone Room.


Ubik held onto the shoulder straps as he push-pulled Chukka through the dark membrane of the passage entrance so that they were both halfway in when he stopped and turned to face her.

There was a tunnel leading to wherever the Fourth wanted them to go (probably a killing floor with easy-to-wipe-down surfaces) but nothing else. It was dark but the skein over the portal entrance flickered where they intersected with it, and released a small amount of intensely purple light.

Chukka looked confused and flustered, but Ubik knew it wasn’t because of him. It had started as soon as she saw Fig, who she seemed to have an odd relationship with. Which was no business of Ubik’s.

“Listen,” said Ubik, yanking her head closer so their noses were practically touching. Her eyes were angled back towards where Fig was standing on the other side of the impenetrable curtain. He shook her until her pupils slid back in his direction. “Somehow, you made a deal with the Antecessors, so there may be some use for you later, I don’t know, as a go-between, maybe a decoy, possibly a meat-shield.”

Chukka’s attention had settled on him now. He could tell he had her full attention. She nodded, her head only moving up and down about ten degrees in either direction.

“I understand. I—”

“Don’t.” He grabbed her nose between two knuckles and pinched hard. Her eyes widened and watered-up. The slight glimmer that had appeared a moment ago, died immediately.

Fig had his way of suppressing organics, and Ubik had his.

“I know your organic got boosted by this place, it still won’t be enough to work on me, especially if I poke both your eyes out.” He let go of her nose and began speaking very quickly in a more friendly manner. “What it boils down to is this: you want Fig. Don’t deny it. You want him and you don’t know why, but you can’t help yourself. It’s not that hard to figure. He’s got everything a girl dreams of: he’s tall, he’s rich, end of list. I get it. He makes me feel all funny in my tummy, too. But the only way you can make him want you back is to impress the hell out of him, and that’s where I come in. You see how impressed he is with me? I can do the same for you. And I will deliver him to you fully loved-up and ready to serve, because I believe in love and I believe in you two crazy kids, but from now on, you’re on my payroll. You’re the key to getting out of this place, you don’t need to know the details, just do what I tell you when the time comes. Understand?”

She sniffed, her nose twitching and her eyes still watering, and then nodded again, only plus/minus five degrees this time

“Okay.” Ubik stepped backwards and drag-shoved Chukka along with him.

The others were waiting to enter behind Ubik, not sure why he had stopped half-in and half-out.

“Just checking to see if it had the right ambience.” Ubik shook his head. “Not good. Smells like a trap and also like a damp cellar for some reason. Let’s go back the other way.”

He pushed Chukka away, sending her stumbling towards Fig. She fell against him, rather more heavily than she needed to, and stayed pressed against him. He winked at her.

“What was that?” said PT.

“What?” said Ubik, pushing past him and heading for the exit.

“That wink. What were you talking about in there?”

“Nothing,” said Ubik. “Just making sure she wasn’t working for the Antecessors.”

“Is she?” asked PT.

“She’s just a victim like the rest of us.” He winked at her again.

“Stop doing that,” said PT, glaring like he was thinking about trying his new powers on him.

“Ogden! There you are.” Ubik pushed past PT and put his arm around Bashir, who had been hanging at the back of the group, hoping not to be noticed.

Bashir’s eyes immediately filled with panic as he resisted being swept along by Ubik.

“You don’t look so good. VendX been making you work overtime? Don’t worry, it’ll be short hours and long holidays with me.”

“That’s alright,” said Bashir, leaning back so that his feet were about half a metre ahead of his head. “I’m fine at the back.”

“Nonsense,” said Ubik. “You’re a vital part of the team. That enhanced radar of yours is going to save lives. Maybe even your own.”

“Won’t we run into more droids this way?” said Weyla. She had her guns out and was staying close to Fig. As were Leyla and Chukka. He had his own little harem.

“Yes, but we’ve got PT here,” said Ubik with endless confidence. “He’ll just turn them into morning dew.”

PT frowned. “It can’t be that easy. Don’t I have to rest or something? There has to be a cost.”

“Nah,” said Ubik. “We set it up so one of your six organics is an energy converter. Provides the other five with all the power they need. Infinite energy for all your daily needs.”

“That isn’t possible,” said Fig. “It would break the universal laws of physics.”

“Maybe in your universe,” said Ubik. “I’m working from a higher dimension. Trust me, the only thing he has to worry about is the backlash.”

“Backlash?” said PT. “What backlash?”

“That’s true,” said Fig. “I’d forgotten about that.”

“Forgotten about what?” said PT.

“When you first get an organic,” said Leyla, “you have to use them sparingly so your body gets used to it. Otherwise, you can end up exposing your own body to the effects of the organic.”

“Six organics,” said Fig. “That could be quite nasty.”

“Guys, please,” said Ubik. “He doesn’t have the same low-grade, organic filth like you have. No offence. We’re talking primo, filtered of all impurities, bespoke organic for men of taste and culture. Any backlash will be very minor.”

“I wouldn’t overdo it for the first few weeks,” said Fig.

“But I’ve used it three times already,” said PT.

“And you’re perfectly fine, aren’t you?” said Ubik. “Anyway, it’s not like we’re going to fight if we run into more droids.”

“Then what are we going to do?” asked PT.

“Surrender,” said Ubik.

Ubik expected further questions, demands to know how surrendering was going to be of any help, but nobody said anything. Either they had started to trust him, or they were assuming he’d only lie so why bother asking. Both were fine by him, even though he had a sneaking suspicion which it was.

They had crossed the room and the doorway leading to the long hallway was before them. The lighting was bright and dynamic. White lines streaked across the walls. The Antecessors were observing them.

As they were about to pass through the open doorway, a black hole appeared on the wall to their left. It was similar to the opening they had avoided on the far side of the room.

“Ignore it,” said Ubik.

“The Fourth wants us to go that way?” said PT.

“Looks like it,” said Ubik.

“Why doesn’t it just make us?” asked Bashir.

Ubik gave him a nudge to bring his attention back to the front. “It wants to make a deal. But it knows the other Antecessors are watching, so it wants to talk in private.”

“And you don’t want to hear what it has to say?” asked Weyla.

“I know what it wants to say. I just want to hear what the Antecessors have to offer, first.”

Ubik stepped through the doorway and stopped. Up ahead, the passage was full of droids. Full to the brim, floor to ceiling, blocking their way forward. There had to be more than a dozen of them.

“I can sense something ahead of us,” said Bashir. “It’s moving.”

A wall of tentacles flailed and squirmed.

“Yeah,” said Ubik. “I can see that.” He turned his head as far as it would go. “Hey, Chukka, come here a minute.”

She looked reluctant but suddenly came bursting forth, not of her own volition. She stumbled to a stop next to Ubik, throwing a frustrated look at Fig.

“This is your big moment,” said Ubik. “They know you, they think they can control you. Tell them you rounded us up and want to bring us in. Take me to your leader and all that.” He nodded at her.

Chukka didn’t look enthusiastic, but she would know he was telling the truth. This really was a good opportunity for her. If she pulled this off, she would be the star player, the centre of attention.

“Go ahead, I believe in you.” Ubik turned his head again, this time looking at PT. “Get ready to blast them to bits when this doesn’t work.”

Chukka slowly stepped forward, her body trembling as she approached the mass of tentacles squeezed into the passage.

“Hello. Remember me?” She spoke quietly, as though not wanting to startle a slumbering beast.

There was no response. Chukka looked back at the doorway. Ubik gave her a thumbs up.

“I’ve brought them to you,” said Chukka. She dropped her voice to a whisper. “They’re willing to go with you. I made them.”

It was a nice idea, trying to convince the Antecessors that she had messed with their minds and that was why they were willing to surrender themselves. Kudos for her and less of a threat posed by the mesmerised humans.

A long tentacle reached out from the wall and wrapped itself around Chuka’s waist. It picked her up and brought her closer.

A few moments later, it put her back down. She turned around and beckoned them over.

“They want to take us to their ship.”

Ubik didn’t hear what had been said, but it seemed Chukka had convinced them to accept them all as prisoners. He had expected them to only want Fig, but Chukka was obviously a seasoned salesgirl.

The droids led the way, the wall sliding down the passage. They didn’t even bother taking away any of their weapons.

“This feels a bit off,” said PT.

“Yes,” agreed Fig.

“Give the word and we’ll blast our way out,” said Weyla.

“Ready when you are,” said her sister.

“Put your guns away,” said Fig, his tone brooking no dissent. He really was a different person when dealing with women.

The Seneca duo bridled but holstered their firearms.

“It’ll be fine,” said Ubik. “They know the Fourth is watching. They won’t take any risks if they don’t have to.”

“And what about the Fourth?” asked PT. “What’s it doing?”

Ubik looked from one side of the passage to the other via the ceiling. “Waiting.”

The droids led them through a series of passages, many of them hidden behind walls that slid open as they approached. They moved at a steady pace and weren’t intercepted. They eventually came to a large circular shaft with white streaks of light filling the walls. There was no sign of any purple glow.

The platform was large enough to accommodate them all with enough space for both sides to keep their distance. The droids split into individual units and formed a box formation: five across, five deep and three tall.

Ubik could feel the eyes of his companions on him as they rose up the shaft. They all expected him to make a move at some point. It wasn’t him they were going to have to rely on.

The roof above them split in half and opened to reveal the exterior of the island and the many-coloured sky of the wormhole. But this time the sky was not empty. A huge ship dominated it, even bigger than the island.

It was clearly an Antecessor spaceship, but full of light and life. It differed greatly from the kinds or derelicts they were used to seeing.

As they reached the surface and the platform stopped moving, they saw the hundreds of droids surrounding them. The droids on the platform joined them. There were more droids dotted in the air and spread out across the surface.

“Now what?” asked PT.

“We wait for reinforcements,” said Ubik.

“From whom?” asked Fig. “You think the Fourth is going to save us?”

“Hmm, no, not him.” Ubik scanned the scene, looking for a droid that wasn’t acting like the others.

There had been enough time since the suppression of tronics had ceased. He had every confidence she would have found a way to infiltrate one of these droids. Or had she aimed for the ship itself? He looked up at it. No, that would be too much, even for her.

“Do any of these droids look strange to you?” said Ubik, standing on his toes to get a better look. He hoped more eyes would help spot her.

“What do you mean, odd?” said Weyla.

“What are you looking for, Ubik?” said PT.

A platform began to descend from the ship. The welcoming committee?

At the same time, the ground shook and the mountainous piles of rubbish surrounding them began to shake. The vibrations knocked the rubble and debris clear, leaving behind silver cylinders a hundred metres high.

There were three of them, with sliding doors that rotated open and let out three immense robots. They were humanoid in shape — two arms and two legs — and each carried two guns.

They were the same as the weapons they had found in the armoury, only they seemed the appropriate size when held by these giants.

As they walked forward, one of the robots staggered, tripped over something, and fell face-first into the dirt. It continued moving its legs, trying to walk while lying down.

Ubik smiled. “There she is.” Grandma always knew how to make an entrance.

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