Ubik leaned over the dark hole and cupped a hand around his mouth. “Did you live, Ogden?”
There was a short pause before a weak and plaintive voice called back, “Yes.” Bashir sounded pitiful and reluctant to participate in any kind of dialogue that might involve further surprise volunteering. Quick learner. Not quick enough, but not bad.
Judging by how long it was taking to get an answer, Ubik judged the depth of this hole to be around fifty metres or so. Not an insubstantial drop.
“Anything broken?” called down Ubik.
Another pause. “No… but it’s very dark.” Bashir sounded like he wanted to make sure the people above him understood that his situation wasn’t completely without difficulty. When people thought you’d got away without suffering, they usually decided it didn’t count and volunteered you again.
Ubik was familiar with this kind of thinking, especially in the corporate world. No matter how bad things looked, they could get worse.
Bashir was already thinking about how to prevent the next disaster. It showed the man was a seasoned professional. Ubik was glad to have him on the team. Good people were so hard to find, and they deserved to be rewarded for their efforts.
“Okay, Ogden, stay there,” he shouted. “We’ll be down in a sec.” Ubik turned to the women gathered around the newly opened entrance into the underworld. “See? The man’s a fearless trailblazer.”
“Can you hurry up? I’m a bit scared,” Bashir’s voice warbled up from below.
“Don’t worry, there’s nothing down there,” said Ubik. “Thanks to him, we can proceed in the secure knowledge that nothing vile and horrible is waiting for us in the dark with its many tentacles and pointy teeth dripping with acid.”
“What?” said Bahir. “Did you say tentacles?”
“No, I said we’ll be there in ten ticks. Just relax.”
“You want us to all go down together?” said General Sway.
“No,” said Fig. “We’ll go first. You can follow at your own pace.”
Sway cocked an eyebrow. “You may go ahead.”
Ubik was surprised by the ease with which she stepped aside. “Not worried we’ll end up tussling over the treasures waiting to be found?”
General Sway didn’t seem very concerned about losing out.
Fig shook his head. “My father has already gone ahead, so if there is anything worth claiming, he will have claimed it already.”
“True,” said Ubik. “And we also have to deal with the prisoner held captive here.”
“How do you know there’s anyone held here?” asked Sway.
“Can’t you feel its presence?” said Ubik. “Something dark and evil, held down but just waiting to get free so it can devour all of us.”
“Er, are you talking about something down here?” said Bashir’s anxious voice.
“No, no,” called down Ubik. “We were just discussing, erm, wormhole radiation and it’s long-term effects. Safest place is where you are right now.” He pulled a face at the General. “No such thing, I made it up.”
“I can hear you,” said Bashir.
“Damn, these acoustics are amazing,” said Ubik. “Bet it’d be great for music.”
“We’ll go in first then,” said Fig.
General Sway nodded and then began organising her troops into squads.
“She’s going to let us go in first and so we can run into any traps or defence systems,” said Ubik. “But your dad should have taken care of most of them, and PT will have stumbled into any he missed.”
“PT’s pretty good at avoiding traps,” said Fig.
“Not mine, he isn’t.” Ubik beamed proudly.
“We don’t have much time,” said Chukka, a concerned look on her face as she stared at Fig. “The next attack will be soon.”
“What did you do to her?” said Ubik.
“Nothing,” said Chukka, glaring at him. “I’m fine.”
“I don’t think your girlfriend likes me,” Ubik whispered loudly.
While the Seneca women got organised, the small group of VendX employees Ubik had brought with him stood a little further back, looking nervously towards the exit of the tower, as though they were waiting for the right time to run away. The Corps didn’t seem to care about them, not seeing them as worthy of concern.
A few seconds later, it became apparent they weren’t looking to get away, they were waiting for reinforcements.
The Chairman and his lackey had sent a second team of six as backup, following Ubik’s group at a distance to keep an eye on their rear (and to make sure Ubik didn’t run off, no doubt).
Now those six suddenly appeared, carrying weapons — blades and improvised spears — so that the Seneca women had opponents in front and behind.
“Stop,” said one of the newly arrived men. “All of you, back away from the hole. We have more people coming. Don’t do anything foolish. This site is under new management.”
He didn’t sound very sure of himself and was probably trying to stall for time. If the rest of VendX could get here, they probably would be able to take control of the site, but even outnumbered, the Seneca women would put up a good fight.
Eyes lit up all around as organics were activated. VendX and Seneca were both going to rely on their augmented abilities. Ubik couldn’t tell what kind of offensive capabilities each side had, but the Seneca Corps was known for the very high quality of its organics. No one matched them in that department, not even a top tier corporation, and VendX was a couple of levels below that.
Whatever the outcome of this skirmish, Ubik wasn’t really interested. Neither side presented him with anything he needed.
Ubik looked at Fig and they both jumped into the hole as the clash of weapons and the crunch of body blows resounded.
The two of them dropped into the darkness and adjusted to the strange gravitational pull. They were moving quickly, but there was a profound feeling of restraint, like they were in some kind of controlled descent.
“I bet PT loved this,” said Ubik. He turned his body and tumbled the way PT was able to. Of course, PT was able to do it under the most intense and life-threatening situations, but Ubik felt he could probably pull off a few acrobatic moves with a little practice. It was just sticking the landing that was a little tricky, which Ubik demonstrated when he rolled, inverted and then hit the ground with his face.
A light appeared around Fig, his suit glowed with a pale yellow-green aura.
“Why are you lying like that?” Fig asked him.
Ubik rolled over and carefully untangled his legs before standing up. He used his tongue to check his teeth were still all there. “I’m testing a new landing configuration. It’s in the prototype phase.”
A doubtful look passed across Fig’s eyes but he didn’t pursue the matter.
The two of them looked around. The light from Fig’s suit wasn’t enough to illuminate the whole area but there were walls and there was Bashir, crouched down and huddled in a corner.
“What are you doing?” asked Ubik.
“I didn’t want to get hit by someone falling on top of me,” said Bashir. He didn’t get up.
“And now?” said Ubik.
“I still don’t.”
Ubik looked up towards the sounds of struggle. There was no sign of anyone following them, but they were bound to come once the fighting was over. He looked from side to side for a way out. Fig moved to do the same, and another figure was revealed behind him. Chukka.
“Do we need her?” said Ubik.
Her mouth was small and pinched, her eyes were big and wary. Fear of what she didn’t know was down here and contempt for what she did. She moved towards Fig while keeping her eyes on Ubik.
Fig was already circling the room, testing the floor and walls for any pressure pads or panels he might be able to open. “Yes. I need her for the psychic attacks.” He waved his arm and the panel on the bracelet flapped back and forth. “I don’t know if this will be any use now.”
“It’ll still work. A bit. Anyway, I don’t think they’re attacks,” said Ubik. “You should try to communicate with whatever it is next time. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.”
“There’s nothing pleasant about it,” said Fig.
“Okay,” said Ubik, smiling at Chukka. “Welcome aboard. From now on, you do what the boss tells you and we’ll get along fine.”
Chukka’s eyes narrowed to slits. “You want me to follow your orders?”
“Me? No, I’m not the boss.”
She looked at Fig.
“No,” said Ubik. “Not him, either.”
Chukka looked back at him, confused. “The other one’s the boss?”
“Of course,” said Ubik. “He’s the one pulling the strings from the shadows, the mastermind.” He pointed to a ledge barely visible. “Up there.”
Fig moved towards where Ubik was pointing and raised his hand. A stronger beam of light shone out of his palm.
“What is that light?” asked Ubik.
“Bioluminescence,” said Fig. “It’s kind of a back-up back-up. It doesn’t last that long, though, so I can only use it sparingly.”
Fig’s suit was obviously of high quality, as all Ollo products were, but there was no indication of how this light was produced or controlled. Not with tronics, certainly, but what did that leave?
Between them, they managed to get up onto the ledge. Fig pulled up Chukka. Bashir rushed forward, one eye pointed above to avoid any falling bodies, and scrambled up to join them.
There was a long tunnel ahead of them. Fig took the lead, lighting the way. Chukka kept close to him with Bashir next to her.
“I can’t sense any movement,” said Bashir. “But there’s something odd up ahead.”
“Odd?” said Chukka. “What do you mean?”
Bashir frowned, his eyes darting from side to side. “Odd… Like there’s something moving but not moving.”
“Be more clear,” insisted Chukka. “What do y—”
She was shoved out of the way by Ubik. “Hey, chain of command. You’re last.” He patted Bashir on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, Ogden, we’ll find out what it is later. Think of it like a game — guess what monster lurks in the dark.” Bashir blanched but Ubik gave him a supportive punch in the shoulder and turned to Chukka. “You’re terrible for group morale. What do they teach you in the PR Department? How to upset everyone and make them hate you?”
Chukka nodded. “Yes.”
“Oh,” said Ubik. “Good work, then.”
They kept moving through the passage, which was straight and featureless.
“This looks like a service tunnel,” said Ubik. “Pretty standard stuff for a prison ship. Bring in all cargo and personnel through here. Probably connected this end to supply ships, easier to control everything.”
“You really think this is a prison?” said Fig.
“No doubt about it,” said Ubik. “When have I ever been wrong? Rhetorical question.”
The tunnel ended with an opening into a larger area, covered in darkness. There was no obvious way forward. Fig leaned through the opening and looked down, sending a beam of light out from his suit.
“Look,” Fig whispered. “Down there.” There was a purple tinge to the darkness below, the same as the substance inside Fig’s bracelet.
Ubik looked down and immersed his consciousness into the patterns formed by the shifting lights. He felt as though if he spent enough time, he would progressively uncover their mysteries.
“I’m not jumping,” said Ubik, but he felt himself falling forward.
Fig grabbed him. “Ubik, snap out of it!”
“Wha…?” Ubik jumped back.
“Hey, Fig, is that you?”
Fig tilted the light up and found a solitary figure suspended above them.
“Why did you tell me to jump?” said Ubik.
“I didn’t,” said PT.
“He’s not talking to you,” said Fig.
Ubik started smashing his arm against the wall. “Stupid, stupid, stupid. You like that, huh? That’s what you get for your bad suggestions.”
“Has he lost it?” said PT.
“No,” said Fig. “No more than usual.”
Ubik stopped and peered up at PT. “What are you doing up there, Boss?”
“Waiting for you,” said PT.
“Well, here we are.” Ubik spread out his arms while casually smashing one into the wall. “What can we do for you?”
“Get me down.” PT sounded like he was running short on patience.
“Sure,” said Ubik. “How?”
“There’s a panel on the wall next to you.”
“Ah,” said Ubik, seeing the grid marked in the wall. “Yep, here it is.” His head moved from side to side. “How the hell does this work?”
“I don’t know,” said PT. “Ramon tricked me into pressing the four corner squares and I ended up here.” He gave a short account of what had happened.
“My father left you like that?” said Fig.
“Yes. He was where I am, and I was where you are. Then I pressed the buttons he told me to, and I ended up here, and he ended up over there.” PT indicated the other side of the room with a nod of his head.
“Interesting,” said Ubik. “So he told you to press this…” Ubik pressed the squares in the order PT had mentioned.
“No, don’t!” shouted PT. There was a flash of white light and Ubik found himself high above the others. He could just about make out PT on the other side.
“There you go,” said Ubik. “There should be another panel on your side, PT.”
PT looked at the walls. “It’s too dark… Wait, yes, I can sort of feel it.”
There was a flash and Ubik appeared next to him.
“We can get across like this?” said PT. “What kind of a trap is that?”
“It’s not a trap,” said Ubik. “It’s like an airlock. Designed to keep horrible things out, alien bugs or whatever it was the Antecessors didn’t want on their ship. Can’t let the infected person decide to let themselves onboard, so someone else has to do it.”
“So, Ramon could have let me out?”
“Yes,” said Ubik. “Probably didn’t want you cramping his style. Some people don’t like a lot of negativity around them, you know?”
The others came across one at a time until they were all across. This passage was short, leading to a small room with three passages leading away from it.
“Now what?” said PT.
“You’re the boss, Boss,” said Ubik.
There was a scream, long and high-pitched. It didn’t sound human.
“That way?” said Ubik. They headed towards it.