As far as Ubik was concerned, things were going well. Very well.
They had ended up in the middle of the action, which was the ideal place to be. And now things were starting to get exciting. And dangerous.
That’s how you knew you were in the right place. The more the people around you tried to kill each other, the closer you were to the prize.
Didn’t matter what the prize was, proximity and violence were always closely linked. The more aggressive people behaved, the closer you were to the thing they valued.
It might not belong to them, they might not even know it was there, but valuable items had a way of warping the people around them. And the people around here were definitely warped.
“I will gladly kill this woman who I have known for so many years, tolerated her impudence, suffered patiently under her withering glares, for just this moment. Her guilt is now clear for all to see, just like her father and her father’s father before him. This insurrection shall not stand!”
The hooded man who was holding onto the doctor seemed more interested in giving a speech than in dealing with the supposed insurrectionists.
The doctor didn’t struggle, she hung limp under the claw-like hand gripping her by the scalp. Her once-tidy hairdo had started falling apart, long strands covering her face while others floated about under the influence of the static generated by the hooded man’s sparking fingers.
This was a man who was supremely confident that he had the room under his control. Comfortable enough in that confidence to pontificate like a politician.
Ubik liked supremely confident people. It was so much more enjoyable taking the rug out from under them.
“She’s nothing to do with us,” said PT.
“I know you’re all working together,” said the hooded man, his voice both smug and menacing. He tightened his grip on the top of Dr Fairway’s head, making her groan.
It was lucky for him there were no members of the Seneca Corps here. This was exactly the sort of thing that had driven half the galaxy into a rage-fuelled spree of death and unreasonable behaviour that had yet to abate.
“You think we don’t know your plans? You think we don’t keep a close eye on those who have spent their lives attempting to undermine the appointed heads of state. We were aware of your arrival the moment you set foot on our world. Your attempt to sabotage our crops was vicious and brutal, and for that you will pay. All of you. Now yield.”
“I like this guy,” said Ubik. “He has the right look for this place. The robe, the fancy speeches, the…” —Ubik put out a hand and wiggled his fingers— “sorcery!” He turned to PT. “This is more like it, right? This is what you wanted.”
PT didn’t look as pleased as he should have. He had been the one complaining about the lack of the right sort of atmosphere, and here it was, delivered to order.
“I don’t know what you’re going on about,” said PT.
Ubik didn’t believe him one jot. “I bet you always saw yourself as a knight in shining armour, right? Saving people from dragons and so on. Big shiny helmet.”
“Shut up, Ubik,” said PT. “We’ve got a job to do, remember.”
“Sorry,” said Ubik. “Damsel in distress. Go ahead.”
PT turned back to the doctor and her captor. “If you’re going to kill her, get it over with. We need to know how to get to the planet’s core. Do any of you know how to get there?” He looked around the room expectantly, but there were no volunteers.
“I don’t think they’re going to tell us,” said Ubik. “Probably be quicker to grab a spade and start digging.”
“Bluffing indifference won’t work,” said the hooded man. “I will kill her.”
“We aren’t bluffing,” said PT. “You can kill her if you want. We need to get to the core and then we’ll be out of here and you can carry on being horrible to each other. The core?”
“Core, core, core,” said the hooded man. “What is this nonsense? Do not test my patience.”
The soldiers, who didn’t seem all that comfortable to be rescued by these people, hung back and watched things develop. They weren’t even pointing their weapons at anyone, probably afraid it might attract the wrong sort of attention.
The other hoods behind the one holding onto Dr Fairway also seemed to be waiting.
“Please don’t do this,” said Dr Fairway, her voice strained. “Violence is not the answer.”
“Actually,” said Ubik, “in this case, I think violence is the only answer.”
“I would have to agree,” said Fig,
“Yep,” said PT.
“So much for your pacifist ideals, Doctor. It seems these off-worlders you recruited for your feeble resistance efforts aren’t any better than the people you hope to overthrow. To think you would resort to hiring thugs. I hope you didn’t pay them in advance.”
“Sorry,” said Ubik. “Who are you?”
The man lifted his head so his hood slid back, revealing a head of long white hair, a high forehead and a long aquiline nose. “I am Grand Wizard Achmedis of the Inquisition, and you are my prisoners.” His eyes shone with blue light and crackled with electric power.
The soldiers backed away, huddling together. They looked like they were ready to wet themselves.
“Grand Wizard,” said Ubik. “I love it. This guy... he’s perfect. They should sell action figures of him in the castle gift shop.”
“Give yourselves up,” said the Grand Wizard, “or first I will pass judgement on the doctor, and then the rest of you.”
“I have a question,” said Fig. “What do you plan to do after you kill Dr Fairway?”
“Then I will kill you!”
Fig didn’t look very impressed with the answer. “If you wanted to kill us, why not just do it? Why bother with the doctor?”
The confident leer on the Grand Wizard’s face cracked a little, just at the edges. “Silence! I am merely giving you a chance to save yourselves. Tell us who else is part of this conspiracy and where they have hidden themselves and maybe, maybe we can show you some mercy. But do not mistake my benevolence for weakness.”
“I was mistaking it for stupidity,” said Ubik.
“I thought he was stalling for time,” said Fig.
“No,” said PT. “He’s a ham. He likes performing in front of his people, likes to put on a show.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” said Ubik.
“Very well,” said Grand Wizard Achmedis, visibly annoyed at not being taken seriously, “it seems you think I am the one who is bluffing. We will begin with Doct—” He looked surprised as the flickering light in his eyes went out.
The light in Fig’s eyes, on the other hand, had come on. It wasn’t very bright, nothing like the candescent glow from the organic powerhouses when they went into action. If Ubik hadn’t been aware of what Fig could do, he might not have even noticed.
“What is this?” said Achmedis, pushing away Dr Fairway like she no longer mattered. He was staring at his hands. “Why can’t I feel anything? Where is my power?”
“Master, we have lost our power, too,” said one of his hooded goons. They all began to check their organics and found none of them were working.
Ubik was surprised by how effective Fig’s suppression ability was. It seemed he had already mastered it.
“Worry not, Master, I will deal with them,” said one of the hoods, and then he came charging out of the crowd with what looked like a stick with a ball on either end raised above his head. Some kind of ceremonial rod. It looked a bit like a bone.
He came at PT, who dodged the blow quite easily, tripped the man up so he stumbled over his own robes, and disarmed him.
More hoods followed, some screaming for no apparent reason as they attacked.
PT sidestepped the ones coming at him, sending them towards Fig.
Fig was able to suppress their organics and kick their legs out from under them at the same time.
The soldiers cowered and refused to get involved, which was probably for the best.
“We don’t have time for this,” said PT, looking at the rod in his hand. Then he turned his attention to the Grand Wizard, who had sunk to his knees as he tried to comprehend his loss.
He really wasn’t taking it very well. The once proud and domineering Grand Wizard was now little more than a gibbering wreck. Even Ubik hadn’t expected him to crumble so quickly.
Some people just relied on their augments too much.
PT strode towards him in a purposeful manner, raising the rod in a sweeping arc.
The rod elongated and caught the light off the blade that had now emerged. No, it hadn’t emerged, it had transformed.
The Grand Wizard looked up but didn’t even raise his hands to try and stop the blade descending on him.
“Stop!” cried out Dr Fairway, throwing herself between PT and the Grand Wizard. “You can’t do this. Don’t do this. This won’t solve anything.”
PT did stop, but he didn’t look too happy about it. Ubik understood his displeasure. A nasty slice across their boss’s face and the others would have been bound to answer any and all questions.
But Dr Fairway couldn’t even bear to see her enemies hurt. Which wasn’t such a bad thing. It meant she was a good and caring person, and they were so easy to manipulate it wasn’t even fair.
“Okay, okay,” said Ubik. “Can everyone just calm down for a moment?”
“Are you trying to act like the voice of reason?” said PT, lowering his newly forged weapon.
“I just want to clarify something. Is that alright?”
PT stepped back and waved Ubik on.
“What is your aim here?” Ubik asked the Doctor, who had her arms spread wide to protect the bereft Grand Wizard.
“I’m a doctor. I’m trying to save lives.”
“Okay, good. Very commendable. And you think this will work?”
“What else can I do?” she yelled at him. “You’re all insane, like every man I’ve ever known. Every man in my family was just like you and you and you. And now they’re all dead, and you want to do the same to these people. Why?”
“So your objective is to make sure no one dies and you’re trying to achieve it by getting yourself killed. How does that make sense? You think we’ll feel so guilty about your sacrifice that we’ll put down our weapons and have a group hug?”
She looked at Ubik like she might make an exception to her no killing policy just for him.
“At least come up with a viable solution to your problem,” continued Ubik. “You don’t stop someone from killing themselves by threatening to shoot them, do you? And you can’t stop people dying by throwing yourself in harm’s way. We are the problem here. We arrived and began this circus of death, yes? So to stop this madness, you only have to get us to leave. And we’ve already told you how to do that. You just don’t want to do it. So the real question is, do you really want there to be no killing, or is it just a fancy martyrdom you’re looking for here?”
Dr Fairway slowly lowered her hands, brushing the hair away from her face. “Very well. But there will be no killing.”
“Sure,” said Ubik. “I’m a bit of a pacifist myself.”
Dr Fairway straightened herself and walked towards an empty glass cell. Everyone was watching her. The inmates, the soldiers, the hooded men. Even Achmedis watched in silence.
The door slid aside and she stepped inside the cell.
“You want to go to the core. This is the only way.”
“Finally,” said PT, as though he was the one who had made her see reason. He was still holding his new weapon.
“A sword?” said Ubik as he followed PT into the cell. “Really? Why not a lance with a flag on the end.”
“It’s not a sword,” said PT. He lowered the sword and looked at it. “It’s just a big knife.”
“That’s what a sword is,” said Fig joining them.
Once they were all inside, the glass walls darkened, and then the floor fell away under them.