“We’re going down,” said Ubik.
“We know,” said PT.
“It’s the right direction to get to the core,” said Ubik. “She’s probably taking us there. Like she said.” He looked at the doctor and gave her an encouraging smile.
She maintained a grim expression. A hard nut to crack. She was doing what was required, but she wasn’t about to act pleased about it.
“Why are you telling us?” said Fig.
“Oh, you know. You two are all powerful and souped-up — flashy-flashy — I just want to feel like I’m helping. Making sure we don’t miss something important.” Ubik bounced up and down on his toes a couple of times. “I’d say it’s a solid piece of engineering. Not like the rest of the tronics we saw up top. Different level. Old, but built to last.”
PT shook his head with his mouth pushed to one side. “Do you think he’s going to try to hijack this elevator?”
“I don’t know,” said Fig. “Where would he take it?”
“I don’t really want to find out,” said PT. He looked around the small space. “Is the whole thing made of glass? Doctor?”
“Huh? Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t build it. It’s very old.”
“But built to last,” added Ubik with a smile. “By a master craftsman.”
“Yes,” said the doctor, warily, “I suppose so.”
“That was pretty flashy,” said Fig, “what you did up there.”
“What, you mean the sword?” said Ubik. “Very cool. Hero with a sword, don’t see that very often these days.”
“It’s not a sword,” said PT. The sword in his hand changed back into the rod it had been before. PT stared at it as though he didn’t like the look of it, and it changed into a sword hilt with just a stub of the blade. He stuck it in his belt.
“No, I wasn’t talking about the sword, although same thing,” said Fig. “I was referring to when you changed the glass wall into water. Didn’t look like you were going to blackout or anything.”
PT shrugged. “It’s easier when it’s mainly one substance changed into mainly another. Mixed materials are what give me a headache.”
“Interesting,” said Fig.
“What about you?” said PT. “How did you manage to suppress all of those guys at the same time?”
“Ah, well, after suppressing my own organic for so long, it almost feels like second nature to do the same to other people. Like I’ve been in training to use my father’s organic all this time.”
“Who are you people?” said Dr Fairway in a soft, confused voice. She was standing a little apart from the three of them, her eyes wide open, not really being able to take in everything she was hearing and seeing. Her hair was tidy once again but it only served to make her stunned expression more pronounced.
Ubik was pleased with how PT and Fig had casually impressed her with their gifts. She had probably already noticed their powers, but there were many artefacts and devices that could have been used without anyone noticing. To really understand the power level she was dealing with here, a little light bragging was necessary.
“See what I mean?” said Ubik. “It’s very hard to keep up when you’re just a regular boy in an irregular world. How am I supposed to compete with them?”
“You all have organics,” she said, the word slipping easily off her tongue even though she had previously acted as ignorant of their existence as everyone else. “Strong ones.”
“Not me,” said Ubik, a little sadly. “I’m all natural.”
“This world…” said Dr Fairway, “it isn’t anything special. We don’t have anything worth fighting over. Why are you here? Just to bully us for not being as strong as you? Really, why come to this place?”
“Oh, that,” said Ubik. “Quite simple, really. These Antecessors turned up — you’ve heard of them, right? — and anyway, they want to, you know, subjugate the galaxy etcetera, etcetera, and we’re trying to stop them, and it turns out your planet—”
The elevator stopped moving. It was quite a jarring stop. PT and Fig didn’t move, of course, but Ubik stumbled back a couple of steps. Because he had turned off the stabilisers in his boots.
“What did you say?” said the doctor.
“Which part?” said Ubik. “You want me to repeat the whole thing?”
“Antecessors? Here? Now?”
“Yes,” said Fig. “The Seneca Corps are holding them off.”
“Not doing a very good job of it,” said PT.
“And we’re trying to find a way to send them back where they came from,” said Ubik.
“Are we?” said PT. “I mean, good, but that’s the first time I’ve heard you identify a clear objective.”
“What else are we going to do with them?” said Ubik.
“I don’t know,” said PT. “You usually surprise us.”
“I don’t really like surprises,” said Fig.
“I used to,” said PT.
“Wait. Stop. You’re serious? The Antecessors have returned?”
“Yes,” said Ubik. “I mean, a few. A dozen or so ships. But big ships. Who knows what’s inside.”
“And this planet is important to their plans?”
“Crucial,” said Ubik.
“The core?” said Dr Fairway.
“Exactly,” said Ubik. “That’s where the control centre for this world is. And for the other worlds in the Inner Quadrant.”
“Because they’re all linked together in a network of planets,” said Dr Fairway.
“That’s right,” said Ubik. “You catch on quick. It’s almost like you knew all of this already.”
The elevator began moving again with a lurch, but they were no longer travelling downwards. They were moving sideways.
“We’re moving sideways,” said Ubik.
“I know,” said PT. “Why?”
“He moves it around,” said the doctor.
“He?” said PT.
“It?” said Fig.
“She’s talking about the core,” said Ubik. “It can move around inside the planet. If you know how. I don’t know who the ‘he’ is.”
“How is she controlling this elevator?” said Fig. “Implant?”
“She’s got a device in her pocket,” said Ubik. “Look, you can see her fingers moving.”
The other two looked at the pocket of Dr Fairway’s lab coat, where her hand was inserted.
“He is my grandfather,” said Dr Fairway. “He’s the one who built this.” She looked up and around to indicate the small moving room they were in. “And he’s insane. Or so I thought. He became obsessed with the Antecessors. Of them returning. And Romeo being the world that would end up stopping them.”
“Sounds like a pretty smart guy,” said Ubik.
“Doesn’t mean he isn’t insane,” said PT, staring a little too intently at Ubik as he said it.
“You can make up your own mind,” said Fairway. “We’re here.”
The elevator stopped moving.
“We’ve stopped moving,” announced Ubik.
“When will you stop talking, that’s what I’d like to know,” said PT.
“I haven’t said anything,” said Ubik.
The side of the elevator slid open, revealing a large room. It had a familiar feel to it: its spherical shape, the markings on the walls, the sigils hanging in the air.
The walls weren’t lit up with white streaks of lights, though, and the sigils were only dimly glowing, like they had their power turned all the way down.
And under the sigils, illuminated by a small lamp, was an old man. He had long white hair with a long white beard to match. He appeared to be in his underwear — white pants and a vest — and was mumbling to himself while going over sheets of paper that were strewn around him on the floor.
“Come on,” said Dr Fairway. “If we’re lucky, he might be in one of his lucid periods.”
As they headed across the room, there was a tray with food on it sitting on the ground. The food looked untouched. Ubik bent down and picked up a bowl and a spoon, and ate the stew as he walked.
“Not bad. Bit cold.”
“I left it here a few days ago,” said the doctor.
PT winced and Fig pulled a face. It was a wonder they had survived as long as they had with such prissy tastes. Ubik took another mouthful.
“It’s not supposed to be spicy,” said the doctor.
“Everything’s supposed to be spicy,” said Ubik, finishing the rest.
“Ah, there you are,” said the old man, springing up with bundles of paper in each hand. “Here, here, look at this. Do you see?”
He ran up to Dr Fairway on his pale spindly legs and thrust the papers at her face.
She slowly and gently pushed them down. “Yes, Grandfather, I see.”
“But look at these spikes. This means they are nearly here. We have to tell people. We have to prepare.”
“Yes, we will. How are you feeling, Grandfather?”
“Feeling?” The old man stopped, his shoulders sagging. He let out a forlorn sigh. “Feeling. Yes. Nails curling, hair falling, brain rotting, penis shrinking, sight fading, bones aching. Feeling.” He let out another long sigh.
“I know exactly how you feel,” said Ubik, taking a page out of the man’s hand. It was blank. “Ah, yes. You’re nearly there.”
Ubik handed the empty bowl to the doctor and kept walking, staring at the sigils floating in the air.
“I like what you’ve done here, but I think you’ll find you’ve got a couple of these mixed up.” He reached up towards the nearest sigil.
“No, no, no, no,” cried out the old man, rushing to stop Ubik, pulling on him to stop him getting to the sigils. “You mustn’t. You can’t. They’ll see you.”
Ubik lowered his hands. “That’s the idea, old timer. How will we catch them if they don’t know where we are?”
The old man stopped trying to grab Ubik. “We want them to see us?”
“Of course. That’s why we’re here. They think there’s nothing we can do to stop them, but that’s our secret weapon — overconfidence.”
“Theirs or yours?” asked PT.
“Bit of both,” said Ubik. “Look at this. He’s inverted the whole structure so it's a closed loop. Sucked the energy into the sigils and dropped the floor so it’s like a bottomless pit. Still works, but nothing gets out. Genius.”
“If you say so,” said PT.
“You understand?” said the old man. “You can see it?”
“Of course,” said Ubik.
“You don’t think I’m crazy?”
“No more than her, or me.”
“Let’s just say he’s no crazier than her, and leave it at that,” said PT.
“You did an amazing job. You can’t mess things up this bad without knowing exactly what you’re doing. It’s an elegant solution — no way to get past this.”
“This is why the network isn’t working?” said Fig.
“Yep,” said Ubik.
“Can you fix it?” said PT.
“Maybe,” said Ubik. He stepped back and inspected the big picture.
“It won’t be easy,” said the old man. “It’s a lot easier pulling it in than getting it back out.”
“I can see that,” said Ubik. “You must have had it pretty rough, old timer. All of this to maintain, and everyone thinking you’ve lost your mind at the same time. That’s the hardest part, isn’t it? Doing it with no support. You kept them all safe for so long, and they’ll never even know it.”
“That’s not important,” said the old man. “You’ll take over for me now, won’t you? So I can rest.”
“Sure,” said Ubik. “You can go rest now. I’ll take it from here.”
“Yes, yes. I could use a little rest.” The old man shuffled towards his granddaughter, seeming to age in the space of a few seconds. She welcomed him into her arms, tears streaming down her face.
Ubik took a breath, looked around the sigils, and then raised his hands holding a black bone in one like a conductor in front of an orchestra.
He swayed from side to side, then he jumped up and struck one of the sigils like he was trying to hammer a nail into a high shelf.
The struck sigil didn’t move, it just vibrated in place.
Ubik stepped back. The sigil was vibrating even faster now. Then it started to glow brighter, a white light that filled up the sigil and then burst out. It poured out like milk, a long waterfall of white light. It hit the floor and filled up grooves that hadn’t been visible a moment ago.
The entire floor was covered in white streaks within a few seconds. Then the walls.
The sigils moved and grew brighter. They spread out, filling the whole chamber, and then they linked up and formed a portal.
“It’s beautiful,” said the old man. “I knew it would be safe in your hands.” He turned to PT. “You can trust this one. He will lead you well.”
PT smiled like he was doing his best to keep his thoughts trapped behind his teeth and just nodded.
“The network should be ready to go now,” said Ubik.
“That’s it?” said PT. “The whole network’s back online? We don’t need to go to any other planets?”
“This was the block,” said Ubik. “We can go back to Quazi and the whole system will be ours to control. Actually, we should hurry. No telling what they’ll be getting up to while we’re not there.”
He headed into the portal.