Back after my short break to help keep my mind fresh and healthy.Preface from Mooderino
Muss Dome - Main Stage.
Figaro was the last to enter the cube. He took a last look up before entering. The dome was still transparent and the sky was blue and cloudless, with only a sliver of the belt of space stations in orbit showing as a curving line. There was no sign of falling bombs or the glint of intensified laser blasts from space.
The Seneca Corps had any number of options available to them when it came to mass destruction on a global scale. None of them were easy to survive. All of them were uncompromising when it came to taking lives.
Inside the cube was a large empty space. There was nothing apart from the black walls.
Ubik raised a finger. “Reboot should be kicking in about… now.” He dropped his finger and the walls lit up.
The one section that had opened to let the six sisters out slammed shut.
White lights flashed across the interior walls in a manner very reminiscent of Antecessor tech. The air around them grew thick and became hard to breathe. Static lifted up the hairs on their bodies.
They began to move. The motion suggested they were on their way down.
“What happened to M1F?” asked PT, gulping down air.
“They ran off once they saw the reboot coming,” said Ubik.
“Ran where?” said PT.
Ubik shrugged. “Probably deeper into the system. There’s a whole network underground, spread around the entire planet.”
“And you want to commandeer it?” said Figaro. He was starting to see what Ubik was after. He was also fairly sure the current controller would do everything in their power to stop him.
“It’s wasting away just sitting here,” said Ubik. “They didn’t build it as an amusement attraction.”
“What did they build it for?” asked Figaro. He assumed ‘they’ referred to the Antecessors, and what they had built was this planet.
“You’d have to ask them,” said Ubik. “I’m sure they had a master plan, some huge universe-shaping goal that required planet-sized fortresses with their own set of global defences.”
“Global defences?” said PT. “Are you saying they’ll be able to survive the Seneca attack?”
“Probably,” said Ubik.
PT looked at Figaro. “Has the Corps ever attacked a planet in the Inner Quadrant before?”
Figaro pursed his lips as he thought about it. “No, I don’t think so.”
It seemed the Seneca cruiser was in for a surprise.
Quazi was almost entirely covered in water, so there would be no need for the Corps to use their more wide-reaching weapons. Spreading disease or rapid-infection viruses would be pointless since the population was mainly in the orbital belt around the planet.
And it would serve little purpose to carpet bomb the oceans.
They would specifically target Mason City, conveniently raised above the water.
Figaro hadn’t seen any obvious defence systems when they had flown down to the city. But if what Ubik had said was true, it wasn’t the city that would react to being attacked. The whole planet would assume responsibility for responding to the threat.
“They won’t be expecting a counter-attack,” said Figaro. “If they’re destroyed, it will trigger an automatic rally signal which will be sent to the Corps main fleet. They should be here within a day.”
“Great,” said PT. “War with the Inner Quadrant.”
“Looks like we’re going to miss all the fun,” said Ubik. “But don’t worry, it won’t be boring where we’re going.”
Before either Figaro or PT could ask him where that was (and let him know that boring was fine), the walls of the cube turned transparent, with only the streaks of light zig-zagging across their glassy surfaces.
At the same time, the exterior changed from darkness to bright blue and translucent. With fish.
They were surrounded on all sides by water, light streaming down from the surface, fish and other aquatic creatures swimming around them. They were all different shapes and sizes, but the one thing they all had in common was that they were massive.
Looking up, Figaro could see the underside of the dome, which was also a dome, but upside down. Which meant the dome was really a sphere enclosed in a ring of rock. It wasn’t clear how they had passed through it, but they had and they were continuing to go deeper.
Figaro felt very small and insignificant. The whole ocean was pressing in on their little glass cube. It had felt huge when sitting on the dome stage, but now it was no bigger than fish bait.
A giant leviathan with tentacles spilling out of its mouth floated past them.
The cube continued to travel down. The surroundings became darker and more indistinct.
“We’re going to either be crushed to death by the pressure,” said PT, his face grim and his voice emotionless, “or one of those things is going to eat us.”
“How often do you think the cube has made this journey?” said Ubik. “It was made to withstand the pressure down here, and those fish aren’t interested in eating—”
A huge open mouth came straight at them from out of the murky distance, clearly intent on swallowing them whole.
The cube lit up, sending a white flash into the waters.
The gaping maw thrashed to the left and right, and then veered away.
“See?” said Ubik.
“You don’t have any idea where we’re going or what’s down there, do you?” said PT.
“I don’t need to,” said Ubik. “It’s not like I’m going to drop in unprepared. That isn’t my style, is it?”
Figaro and PT shared a look.
“I saw that,” said Ubik. “And you only think that way because you never see the whole picture. Me, I’ve got excellent peripheral vision. Take this venture, for example. Antecessor origins, massive infrastructure that’s been mostly dormant for aeons, a civilisation now dependent on robots. Doesn’t that sound like the ideal situation for someone like me and my god in a box?”
Ubik held up his little cube.
“You’re saying the Fourth knows how to take control of the planet?” said Figaro. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“I agree,” said PT. “Even if it has lost its memories, it could—”
“I will kill you all,” said a deep, disgruntled voice emanating from the little cube.
“He doesn’t mean that,” said Ubik.
“I remember it all. The indignities, the humiliation, the broken promises. Your deaths will be excruciating.”
“He sounds like he means it,” said PT.
“You definitely shouldn’t put the Fourth in charge of planet operations,” said Figaro.
“This is exactly what I’m talking about,” said Ubik. “You’re not seeing the full picture. Grumpy guts here is just venting a little. You know how when someone wakes up after an operation all groggy, and they have no idea what they’re saying? That’s what he’s doing right now. You can’t take anything he says seriously. He’s totally on board with our plan.”
“We’re not totally on board with our plan,” said PT, “so I don’t see how he can be. It would help if we knew what our plan was.”
“It’s very simple,” said Ubik. “M1F is down there, hiding in their hole, hoping we go away. We are going to find where the planet core is and then we will take over and do whatever we want.”
Put like that, it did indeed sound very simple.
“You don’t think M1F isn’t going to have a slight advantage, what with having total control of the defensive systems we’re about to walk into?” asked PT.
“They would,” said Ubik, “if they were the original AI left behind by the Antecessors.”
“They aren’t?” asked Figaro.
“Nope. The founders of this planet tried to get the system up and running but everything had died long ago. Even the Antecessors can’t make things that last forever. So they did a patch with whatever tech they had at the time, and activated the system as best they could. Which meant they got to take control of what they could get working. But it also meant a lot of the systems couldn’t be brought online. Not until now.”
“I will bring the system fully online,” said the Fourth. “And then I will use it to destroy you all.”
“Anaesthetic still needs to wear off,” said Ubik.
“How do you know all this?” said PT. “I didn’t read any of this in those books you made us read.”
Ubik shook his head sadly. “If only you two took an interest in history, perhaps you wouldn’t have such a narrow view of things.”
“Grandma must have found out and told him,” said Figaro.
“I do enjoy reading about the past,” said Grandma. “Things were so much more straightforward back then. And the outfits were much nicer. I remember I used to have a very lovely polka dot spacesuit that everyone would say nice things about. Sent it away for cleaning and it came back all white! That was when things began to change....”
“None of that explains how you’re going to get M1F out of there or how you intend to make sure the Fourth doesn’t go off the rails once he’s been implanted into a giant planet fortress of death.”
“We’re all on the same team here, PT,” said Ubik.
“The quadrant shall be mine and I will cleanse it of all life,” said the Fourth.
“Once the Fourth’s head clears up,” said Ubik, “he’ll remember there’s a bunch of Antecessor ships headed this way, and they plan to take him prisoner, which they will be able to do quite easily, just like last time. He’ll also remember our previous agreement that the best possible solution is to take this planet and use it to take control of the Antecessor ships, and then head off into the universe in search of points of interest and cosmic wonders — all the things he was forbidden to do in his old life.”
The Fourth didn’t say anything this time.
“Wait,” said PT. “All of that sounds great, and I wish you luck, but how exactly are you going to take over the Antecessor armada using this planet, which, if I recall correctly, was built by the Antecessors, meaning they probably have all sorts of ways of assuming command, probably remotely, but if not, with a great big army of droids?”
“Sorry,” said Ubik. “Could you repeat the question?”
“This planet is an Antecessor creation,” said Figaro. “The Antecessors will be able to turn it off.”
“Oh,” said Ubik. “I see what you’re saying. Shouldn’t be a problem. Once we get down to what is probably the control room, I’ll just change a few things, put in some upgrades, you know, improve the design. We should have full control within a few minutes.”
Ubik, as usual, sounded supremely confident.
PT gave Figaro a resigned look. It wouldn’t go as smoothly as Ubik was intimating, but as long as it sort of went in the approximate direction he was suggesting, it had the potential to stop them from all dying horribly. Which was about as much as you could ask for from an Ubik plan.
Their surroundings had turned to pitch black. It was hard to tell if they were still in the water or inside the bedrock at the bottom of the sea.
They stopped moving.
The side of the cube opened by itself. No water gushed in, so they had apparently reached the planet under the sea.
They walked out into an enormous crater hewn out of the rock, the only lighting coming from the cube. It did not feel like a typical Antecessor facility. It smelled of damp.
“Where’s the control room, then?” asked PT.
Figaro couldn’t see any form of machinery or any electronic devices, just some boulders and a few pools of water.
He checked the control panel on his arm. The sensors showed him the cavern was about the same size as the dome — or sphere — that was above them in Mason City. Actually, it was the exact same size.
There appeared to be no exits or tunnels leading anywhere.
“This is fine,” said Ubik. “We’re in the right place. We just need to find the.. ah…” He looked around, peering into the darkness with one hand shielding his eyes.
“There’s nothing here,” said Figaro, scanning on different frequencies.
“That is correct,” said a voice, utterly calm. “And you will stay here until the command ship arrives.”
The voice wasn’t familiar, but Figaro guessed it was M1F.
“And what do you think they will do to you once they get here?” said Ubik.
“I will provide them with the traitor, that will be enough to earn a reprieve.”
Ubik sighed. “There’s no helping some people. You understand now, right?” He was holding up his Ubik’s cube.
“Yes,” said the Fourth.
“Then, shall we begin?” said Ubik.
The little cube lit up, shining brightly as streaks of light began to run around its surfaces.
The ground shook.
“What are you doing?” asked PT.
“Calling the control room,” said Ubik.
Figaro checked his control panel, and then looked up. “He’s bringing the dome down.”
“But wouldn’t that place us under it?” asked PT.
“Yes,” said Figaro. He began checking for exits again.
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Afterword from Mooderino