Point-Two was running into a strong headwind that seemed determined to blow him off his feet.
Unlike fluctuations in gravity — which were passive and affected movement in every direction at the same time — atmospheric changes attacked from different angles and required a different set of skills to overcome.
Point-Two had those skills. He had grown up on a colony ship that had limited forms of entertainment. Anti-gravity tag was the preferred sport, but a few hundred years had seen variations arise, rules change, challenges added.
Wind, water, darkness — they had all been implemented in an effort to push competitors to new heights. Most people with an athletic gift specialised in one or two. Point-Two didn’t particularly care for any of them. He was someone who was easily bored by things he was good at.
He shaped his profile to reduce the drag pushing him back and moved between the gusts and currents. If it had been a solid stream of air, he wouldn’t have been able to continue forward so easily, but this was blustery and chaotic, which was manageable. At least for him. He quickly increased the distance between himself and the women chasing him up the slope.
Reading the wind was no easy matter. By the time you felt it, it was already on you, forcing you back and slapping you aside. You had to be able to feel it get thicker and thinner so you could slide off the heavier currents and slice through the lighter ones. Air rarely came pure and even. It had taste and scent that ebbed and flowed.
This air had a musty smell to it, heavy and overbearing, as though it had been trapped in an old chest at the bottom of a closet covered in cobwebs. The wind snatched away his breath and the odour made him not want to take another one.
Fortunately, he had been raised in an environment where not being able to breathe was considered a common problem. If the hull of a ship was breached and lost pressure, you were likely to lose air more or less immediately, so holding your breath was instinctive for him.
The Seneca soldiers chasing him couldn’t cope with the gust, which made them lose their footing, and they couldn’t breathe efficiently, stealing away their stamina.
Up ahead was the tower Point-Two had only recently broken out of. Now he was rushing back in the hope there’d be an alternative escape route. Ramon Ollo had found something. Hopefully, it wasn’t a wind machine.
As he reached the top of the rise, he was able to look inside the three-sided tower and saw a dark hole in the ground. He had no idea what was in the hole, but, since there was no sign of Ramon Ollo, he guessed there was a way into the interior of the island.
He dived to the side and rolled back to his feet. Not an easy thing to do uphill, but the odd gravity field on the surface — slightly less than 1G, but more ‘springy’ than it should be — helped him produce enough momentum to keep his lead.
He glanced over his shoulder and was relieved to see his pursuers struggling to keep up. The Seneca Corps were extremely fit and well-trained, but they weren’t prepared for something this unusual while not having their weapons available and also being deprived of their organics. He considered himself to be highly favoured in this race. It was about time fortune favoured him for once.
He ducked as a blast of air shot over him, his hands reaching to the ground, almost running like an animal but managing to regain his balance. When he looked up again, his path was no longer clear. The woman called Famke — the one who had held him in a chokehold, the one he had thrown aside — was standing ahead of him, her eyes glowing.
Of course, the only reason they had not used organics was because Ramon Ollo had instructed them not to. And he was no longer here.
The others hadn’t made the switch mentally and were still operating under the impression they could not use their full might. They were soldiers and a good soldier did as she was told, until she was told to do otherwise.
But there were good soldiers and there were outstanding ones. The ones who followed orders until they thought of something better. The ones who won medals, and not just the participatory ones.
Famke was taller than him and, judging by the size of her biceps, stronger than him. Point-Two wasn’t sure what her organic did, but it probably wasn’t one of those low-tier ones that let you predict the weather or warned you about poisonous mushrooms and berries.
Whatever it did, it had got her ahead of him. He frowned. Had his luck run out already? He could really use a gale-force wind to knock her out of the way.
The wind dropped to nothing and Point-Two was running straight into the powerful arms of a woman he didn’t really want to embrace.
Famke’s glowing red eyes seemed to be filled with murderous delight as she spread her arms, ready to gather him in.
And then her head snapped to one side and she was knocked off her feet.
Something had struck her above the ear, a small projectile. The crack of the weapon firing only reached him after she had already fallen. Point-Two leapt over her and kept going.
Behind him, the other Seneca soldiers had now engaged their organics and were quickly gaining on him, but several more shots whizzed past Point-Two and forced the women to scatter.
Someone was assisting his escape. It was probably one of two people, but he didn’t know where they were or how far away. Or how they had managed to obtain a weapon to snipe with. He was grateful, though, and hoped they would be able to get away. He certainly wasn't in a position to help them.
He reached the tower, saw the dark pit that revealed nothing of its interior, and threw himself into it without hesitation.
The moment he passed through the black square that looked like it had been painted on the ground, he dropped. There was nothing beneath him.
It didn’t feel like he was falling, not in the conventional sense. It felt like he was being pulled into the air on an elastic band.
He recognised the feeling. It was a gravitational effect caused by an artificial gravitational source that was trapped inside a second gravitational source. He was familiar with it because it was often used in the sports he played on the Liberator Garu as it was the easiest way to create a gravitational field you could manipulate.
It was reassuring, to a certain extent, as it meant he wouldn’t be dropped down a deep hole to end up splattered on some distant floor. He was being pulled to a specific zero point where the gravitational pulls would balance out and he would be brought to a stop. Unless the hole was infinite, in which case he would fall forever.
That was his hope, if the force he was experiencing was the same as the type he was familiar with. It could be something else entirely.
In any case, he was under the control of this gravitational force for the time being and he would have to wait and see where he’d end up.
If the force had been artificially created that meant it required a source of power. Since tronics didn’t seem to work here (at least not on the surface) that suggested it was either a different kind of mechanism, or it was shielded somehow. Either way, it definitely indicated that it was possible to operate technology here, just not theirs.
It was utterly dark around him, revealing nothing. He turned over and looked up at the pale square of light rapidly getting smaller. He may have reached the exit point but that didn’t mean his pursuers couldn’t follow him. And now that they had decided to ignore Ramon Ollo’s directive and use their organics, the next encounter with the women of the Seneca Corps would not go so well for him.
He probably wouldn’t even be able to hide in the dark as they were bound to have someone with enhanced vision among their number.
He couldn’t see any silhouettes diving towards him, but then they could also have someone with stealth abilities.
The only thing holding them back was his sniper ally. How long would that last?
He stopped falling. It was instantaneous and completely painless. One moment there was nothing beneath him, and then there was a solid surface behind him, from his head to his heels. He was lying on his back, but it was too dark to see anything other than the far off square of unilluminating light. He stood up and put his arms out. Nothing was within reach.
“Hello?” he said. “Anyone here? Mr Ollo?” There was no response. He couldn’t sense any other living creature here.
He took a step forward in the dark and felt the ground move under him gave way just a little with a faint click, as if the ground had cracked ever so slightly. The next moment, Point-Two felt the space around him change as an oppressive energy weighed down on him.
He had stepped on something and daren’t move in case it was a mine of some kind. His luck had not only abandoned him, it had switched sides.
This place didn’t feel like the sanctuary he had hoped it to be. If he could, he would soar back and leave this strange, lifeless hole and rely on his chances on the surface. There was a scraping sound from above and the pale square of light way above him disappeared. A door-shutting mechanism? At least that would buy him some time. Exactly what he’d do with it, he wasn’t sure.
It was still too dark to see — even darker now, if that was possible. Point-Two bent down and touched the ground. It was smooth and cold. There was no indication he was standing on any kind of touch-sensitive pad or device. He lifted his foot but nothing happened. He patted here and there, slid his palm around. There was nothing but smooth floor. If he could see, he might be able to detect something, but, as it was, he had no idea where he was or what kind of dangers he faced.
Point-Two sighed and started crawling on all-fours. He decided it would be safest to explore with all limbs in contact with the ground. Ramon Ollo seemed to have made it beyond this point — this was based on him not being here and the assumption he wasn’t dead or lying unconscious nearby — so Point-Two considered it a fair possibility that there was a way out.
He crawled forward until he came to a wall. It was as smooth and featureless as the floor. He went left.
It took him more than an hour to slowly make his way around what turned out to be a square room with no exit. Which made no sense. The wind he had been buffeted by earlier had to have come from somewhere. Although, there had been no sign of it since he’d entered this place, as though there had been a fixed amount stuck in here until Ramon Ollo unstoppered the bottle and let it all out.
It made no sense that Ramon Ollo wasn’t here, either. Point-Two had checked the walls and then the floor. The square room was about ten metres by ten and he had searched it all with his fingertips. There was no way he had missed a corpse.
Unless Ramon Ollo was alive and moving around silently, avoiding Point-Two out of sheer spite. No, he wouldn’t do that. Ubik would have, but surely not all geniuses were unfettered bastards.
He sat in the dark, cross-legged and exhausted. He didn’t have any food or water on him, and he hadn’t slept for what seemed like forever. His brain wasn’t at its best, that was for sure. He dozed for a bit, he had no idea how long, and then stood up. The answer to his problem only came to him when he had given up thinking about it.
There was a way out of here, it just wasn’t down on the ground. There had to be an opening further up. Not being able to see and also not being able to fly made it hard to know exactly where it was, but Ramon Ollo had faced the same handicaps and had managed to overcome them.
Point-Two now had a pretty good sense of the space he had to work with and ran around the room with his arm raised, kicking off the wall to launch himself higher. He found the ledge in a few seconds.
It wasn’t too high and he managed to grab it and pull himself up. There was a tunnel. Too dark to see where it led, but he could feel the airflow, not very strong now but there. It was coming towards him and then rising, missing out the area below where he had landed.
Point-Two felt around the walls and roof and then began to move forward.
Each step he took was placed softly, making sure there was something to step on before putting down any weight. His approach was justified when he felt empty space ahead of him.
There was nothing to the sides or above, either. The tunnel had ended and only emptiness lay ahead. Was there a new direction he had to take from here? Climb up? Climb down?
“You. Boy. Up here.”
A light appeared from above. Point-two was dazed for a moment. Then his eyes grew accustomed to the sudden brightness and he saw Ramon Ollo who seemed to be suspended in what looked like a glass box. It was transparent but very constrictive, only just fitting around his body, making him look like a figurine in its case.
The light surrounded him like an aura, emitted from his suit. The glow from it was enough to illuminate the area, an open space with what looked like a dark purple liquid covering the ground below, and another tunnel entrance way on the other side, easily more than fifty metres from where he was standing.
“Do tronics work here?” Point-Two asked hesitantly as he stared at the glittering man in a box.
“No,” said Ramon. “My suit has a biofluorescent coating. It provides light when necessary. Careful. That pool beneath us is extremely caustic and will dissolve you within seconds were you to fall in.”
Point-Two peered down. There was no movement below, but it made him uneasy to stare down at it. “What is it?”
“A type of fuel. Dormant at the moment. But if we could activate, we might be able to power this ship.”
Ship? This was a ship? It did make sense. How else would something so large end up inside the wormhole? Someone must have flown it in. Which meant it might be possible to fly it back out.
“How did you get up there?” asked Point-Two.
“A security measure I misjudged. Look to your right.”
Point-Two looked at the wall next to him. Now that there was light, he could see a grid of sixteen squares, all different colours — subtle shades of grey and black but distinct.
“It is an ancient Antecessor system that predates anything we’ve seen so far. It is quite remarkable. This whole ship is.” He didn’t seem too worried about being trapped. “I thought it was based on the tertiary system but it is even older than that, an unexpected quadruple base. Do you know anything about the three gods of the Antecessors?”
“No,” said Point-Two. “They believed in three gods?”
“Apparently not,” said Ramon. “If you press the four corner squares, that should release me.”
Point-Two looked at the grid.
Point-Two wrinkled his brow as he thoughtfully asked, “Won’t you fall?”
“I hope not.”
Point-Two was hardly going to argue with Ramon Ollo. If he wanted to risk falling to his death, that was up to him.
“Top left, then clockwise.”
Point-Two reached out and pressed the squares in that order. He felt them move under his fingers but they didn’t appear to move at all.
A feeling of nausea swept over him, his insides turned over, turbulent and chaotic, and his consciousness became blurry. It cleared very quickly. Only, now he was looking down at Ramon Ollo, not up.
It took a moment for Point-Two to realise what had happened. He was where Ramon Ollo had been, and Ramon was now on the other side of the room — free and able to move as he wished.
“Thank you,” said Ramon, stretching a little. “If I have the opportunity, I will come back and find a way to release you.” He turned and left, taking his light with him.
Point-Two couldn’t move in the dark. He could hardly breathe in the restricted space. He doubted very much he would see Ramon Ollo again. Apparently every genius was an unfettered bastard.