Book 4 - 6: Enter the Pit

Second Quadrant

Cairo-3998 aka Planet Challenger

The Dungeon — Fourth Level


There was a moment of silence as everyone assessed the situation. Which, Point-Two took to mean this group of four had decided to act without consulting the others, including the man they worked for.

Boss Glosso looked calm and in control on the surface, but Point-Two was good at reading people. The calmness was a decision, a deliberate clamping down of emotion. He was going to wait and see how Ubik reacted to this challenge, an excellent way to get more information on what he was dealing with here.

A shrewd and calculating choice. A reasonable move.

The four mercenaries, who stood there waiting for a response, had also made a choice — one that was about as dumb as it was possible to make.

The moment of hesitation as the four challengers stated their claim on whatever lay beyond the passageway Fig had opened up was enough time for Point-Two to make his own decision. And he had no intention of giving anyone the opportunity to debate it with him.

Everyone was waiting to see what Ubik would do. The four mercs looking for a confrontation, the other six who bristled as they looked for an opening of their own, Boss Glosso wanting to get an inkling of any hidden strength Ubik might be holding in reserve, and even the men up in the cabin of the drilling machine, hoping to see an entertaining dust-up.

Despite his natural gift for reading people, Point-Two had no idea what Ubik was going to do for the same reason it was hard to tell what a random amateur was going to do when confronted — they had no idea themselves.

Both he and Fig had come to understand they couldn’t predict Ubik’s moves the way they could with most people.

Ubik chose not to make any preparations because he liked to react to what others did. He was an improviser to a ridiculous degree. Point-Two suspected Ubik deliberately went out of his way to let people get an advantage over him, just so he would have less room to manoeuvre, forcing himself to come up with solutions on the fly.

There was no way to prove that was the case, and no experienced professional would believe someone would be so foolhardy, but Point-Two had witnessed the madness first-hand, and there was really no other explanation.

However, even if they couldn’t predict Ubik’s next move, they had spent enough time around him to be able to tell when he was about to make that move, whatever it might be.

Right now, for example.

The moment the tall man had stepped forward, Ubik had shifted position. Not from relaxed to tense or defensive to offensive. Nothing so obvious. Just a rise in his attention levels. He was unmoved but he was interested.

This was the best time to step in.

You couldn’t stop things from happening, Ubik wouldn’t allow that. But you could change the direction they were going in. Because Ubik liked to improvise. He had no ego when it came to how things went — it wasn’t about doing things his way. He was very willing to let things go way out of his control, just so he could then shape the chaos into something he found pleasing.

“I think you’re misunderstanding the situation,” said Point-Two, take up position in front of Ubik. “We’ve already agreed this with Boss Glosso.”

The tall man half-turned towards Boss Glosso. “They’ve opened the way. Why do we need them?”

“Yes, I can open the way,” said Figaro, drawing everyone’s attention back in his direction, “but can you keep it open?” He stepped away from the wall and the tunnel collapsed, leaving behind a smooth surface. “And do you really think this is the only elfidium we’ll encounter? I can open this and any other obstruction. You can’t.”

“Fair enough,” said the tall man, giving Fig a conciliatory nod. “What about the other two? What do we need them for?”

Just as it was harder to read an amateur, by the same logic, it was much easier to read a pro. Someone who had been well trained and drilled couldn’t help but give themselves away because it rarely mattered.

Those at the top of their game already knew the best attack and defence options, and moves were made with the expectation of the appropriate counter-move being made in response, or sudden and complete victory would ensue. The fight was just an exercise in waiting for an opening once fatigue set in.

Only if they were facing someone they feared, or at least respected, would they bother to disguise their tactics or attempt to surprise their opponent.

Obviously, Point-Two wasn’t someone they would consider worthy of anything other than contempt.

Point-Two stepped forward and threw a punch at the tall man.

A look of surprise in his eyes was quickly replaced by burning red and a hint of a smile appeared on his lips as he prepared to respond with overwhelming force, but what wasn’t within his expectation was for his organic to suddenly shut down.

He was taller than Point-Two, and probably stronger. He was also very experienced and an elite member of his company’s security forces, but the confusion at the loss of his power was enough time for Point-Two to land his punch, hitting the breastplate of the very well-constructed suit worn by his distracted opponent.

He did try to block, but Point-Two easily read the move and avoided it.

The tall man was smashed into the ground. Bones were heard to crack. The suit was ripped open, and then immediately went into lockdown as it preserved the life of its occupant, the helmet closing over his face and the torso going rigid to prevent any movement.

The flash of gold light in Point-Two’s eyes had been very quick and he had made sure to turn his head so it wasn’t obvious. He had used his organic for just a brief moment.

The change had been made to three segments on the front of his glove, transmuting them from the lightweight flexible material that gave his guild suit basic protection from radiation, cold and heat, to lederite-9, the heaviest metal known (mainly used as shielding in spaceship hulls).

It was timing more than anything. He had practised it a lot with Fig on board the Antecessor ship, the rapid change of a tiny area from one material to another and back again.

When the punch landed, the sudden increase in mass already riding his momentum, hit like an asteroid making landfall. He changed it back before his hand was crushed by the impact. It was a move he had perfected playing zero-G tag.

There was stunned silence. Point-Two didn’t let it go to waste.

“You’re right that there may be better people than us to escort him into the next level, but you aren’t one of them and you won’t be needed for this.”

He looked up at the others.

“The reason we know what to do here is because we found a similar site with a similar layout somewhere very far from here. Unfortunately, the key areas had been destroyed, so we weren’t able to collect the artefacts that were being stored there. We hope that isn’t the case here, but first we would like to confirm this is an identical structure. In order to do that, we need two of you who have speed and stealth capabilities, not people who think they can brute force their way through anything and claim whatever they find for themselves. As Boss Glosso said, this is a preliminary sortie to scout the level. Once we have an idea of what’s down there, we can better gear our efforts for a clean and efficient run.”

No one had interrupted him, which was a good sign. He looked across the gathered mercenaries.

“I have stealth capabilities,” said a slender man as he stepped forward. He was wearing an unusual suit made of thin, glossy material. His eyes glowed blue. He flickered and disappeared. And then he reappeared.

“Ooh, you’ve adapted an environmental suit to work with your organic,” said Ubik, coming forward. “Your organic works with electricity at the sub-electron level? You can shift electromagnetic waves?”

The man looked surprised but nodded.

“Let me have a look at this,” said Ubik, pulling out the man’s arm and flipping open a panel. “Yeah, this is a bit busy for my liking.” He pulled out wires and threw them away, pressed down with his thumbs making the man wince, then snapped the panel shut. “Now try.”

The man was lost for words but his anger wasn’t hard to see as it rose to the surface.

“Just try,” said Ubik, impatiently.

The man stepped back and disappeared. There was no flicker this time. He reappeared.

“How… How did you do that?”

“He’s good,” said Ubik. “We’ll take him. What’s your name?”

“Wo Chufan. Roperu Clan.” His anger at being interfered with was completely gone.

Point-Two turned back to the crowd. “Who else?”

A couple of others stepped forward, but neither offered what they were looking for. They were quickly rejected. Then Boss Glosso finally interjected.

“Greer, you go.”

One of the guards came forward.

“Why him?” asked Point-Two.

“Tell him.”

“Surveillance,” said the guard. “I can map out an area about half a kilometre in every direction.”

“Perfect,” said Ubik. “But you won’t need this. Or this.” He began pulling bits off the guard’s suit. “You don’t want to be weighed down, we got to move fast. Won’t need these, either. Some kind of weapon is it? Grenade, no. Cameras? Really? Think you can send a signal out of there? Here, keep one, okay. Have a nice movie you can show your friends.”

By the time Ubik had finished turning the guard this way and that, he had been stripped down to a very basic outfit.

“Right. Ready.” Ubik headed for the solid wall.

Fig looked over at Point-Two and then quickly walked ahead of Ubik. The wall opened up once more.

The two additions followed with Point-Two bringing up the rear.

“We shouldn’t be long,” said Ubik.

Point-Two made sure to shepherd everyone into the tunnel before anyone could think of a new wrinkle. He caught sight of Boss Glosso, still calm, confident he had this under control.

The tunnel closed behind them as they went forward, the two new members of the team a little wary and hesitant, but forced to keep moving by Point-Two.

They came out in a small room and the tunnel sealed itself behind them. Black walls with a pinkish glow. No doors visible.

Point-Two and Fig immediately turned to take care of the two new guys.

The real reason he has asked for stealth and speed was because it would be easier to deal with than strength and defence organics.

They had no need for scouting out the area since they knew exactly where they needed to go and had Antecessor help to get there. The only reason to accept these two was to placate the others.

But before Point-Two and Fig could take action, both of the newcomers’ suits locked up and trapped them as though they were in need of serious medical attention. They barely had a chance to gasp before they were encased inside their own suits. They dropped to the floor, rigid and entombed.

Ubik had got to them first. In fact, he had got to them back when they first volunteered.

“Right, we should go this way,” said Ubik, pointing at a wall.

“Um, are we sure about this?” Fig was looking down at the two prostrate bodies sealed inside their suits.

“You worried about leaving them here?” said Point-Two.

“Not exactly. I mean, it’s fine, they won’t be a problem here, but afterwards…” Fig was clearly struggling with something. “I’m saying, shouldn’t we just kill them, to be safe?”

Point-Two hadn’t expected Fig to say something like that. “Why? Safe from what?”

“It’s just that, you know they won’t be grateful we didn’t kill them. Probably the opposite. They’re going to be mad and angry and want some kind of revenge. I’m not saying they’ll get it, but the best we can hope is that we never see them again. But the worst is that they find a way to get back at us. Maybe here, maybe in the future. Maybe even just giving someone information about us. There’s just no good that will come from leaving them alive, and quite a few advantages from killing them now.”

Point-Two had to take a moment to think about it. In purely pragmatic terms, Fig was right. They would be preventing quite a few possible issues by removing these two here and now. He was well aware of how an act of mercy could come back to bite you in the ass.

“He’s got a point,” said Ubik. “What do you think?”

Point-Two sighed. There was too much at stake to leave loose ends lying around. “You do that one. I’ll take care of this one.” If they were going to do it, he would take responsibility.

Fig moved to deal with the one nearest him.

Ubik laughed. “What are you two like? Stone-cold killers. Honestly, you both give me the chills. Of course we aren’t going to kill them.”

“Why not?” said Point-Two.

“Because he’s wrong. The only options aren’t we never see them again or they do something negative to us. There’s the possibility of a positive outcome.”

“Such as?” asked Fig.

“I have no idea,” said Ubik. “But are you really that arrogant to think that if you can’t think of one it can’t exist? We’re already up against most of the galaxy, a few wildcards are going to be necessary at some point. It might be them. And even if it isn’t, even if they spend the rest of their lives trying to hunt us down, so what? If we can lose to them, what chance do we have against the Antecessors and all the others who want us dead? Come on, let’s go.”

Ubik turned and walked at the wall.

Figaro got there ahead of him and an opening appeared.

Point-Two looked down at the two men lying there and couldn’t help but think they would meet them again and it wouldn’t be a positive experience. And he also had the sneaking feeling that that was exactly what Ubik wanted.

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