Planet Fountain (orbit)
Central Authority Vessel Nirvana
“You are Hollet 3.2, of the colony world ship the Liberator Garu,” said Guardian Tezla. She wanted to make it clear to him that he couldn’t hide anything from her.
“I know,” said Hollet 3.2, playing it cool. That wouldn’t last long.
“Tell me the plan,” said Tezla.
She had taken him on board her ship as an asylum seeker. Whether he was actually in need of asylum from the Vendx corporation she didn’t know, but she had granted it anyway. It made it easier to question him if he was here where her equipment could observe him closely.
“Plan?” he said. “What plan?”
“You tell me,” said Tezla. “You illegally boarded a Vendx vessel and caused an untold amount of damage. Why?”
“I have no idea,” he said. “If you find out, please let me know.”
He was very calm and composed, which was impressive considering his age and the situation he was now in. He looked tough, athletic, but he was still just an FVG trainee, a mere novice according to the records she had acquired from the guild’s database. The Central Authority engendered fear and respect like no other organisation in the galaxy, yet this young man didn’t appear fazed at all. If anything, he appeared to be slightly irritated.
“Janx, what is he hiding?”
Lights flashed across the drone’s surface. “Readings suggest he is telling the truth.”
“What’s the margin of error?” she asked.
Tezla took a breath. Now was not the time to start shouting at her drone. It wouldn’t look good. “How can it be zero, Janx? It’s never zero.”
“The subject’s readings are entirely unobstructed,” said Janx. “He isn’t attempting to hide anything.”
She looked at Hollet 3.2. He did appear to be wide open, no signs of deception or obfuscation. “Good. Thank you for cooperating.”
“Don’t mention it,” said Hollet 3.2. “It’s my greatest weakness.”
“You went up there to save your guildmates,” said Tezla amiably. If he was going to be open and honest with her, she was going to use the opportunity to find the issues he wasn’t willing to share, and then rip them out of him. “That’s a sign of courage and honour. Your family on the Garu would be proud.”
“No,” said Hollet 3.2, “they wouldn’t.”
“Colony ships like the Liberator Garu are very strictly organised societies,” said Janx. “Acting without reason is considered a waste of—”
“I don’t need a lesson in social norms on generational ship culture,” said Tezla. “You went up to fix a problem, didn’t you?”
“I didn’t know what we were going to do once we got up here. I still don’t know what I did, other than put a bunch of people’s jobs at risk for no apparent reason.”
He looked across at his guildmate in the next chair. There seemed to be some unresolved tension between them.
“Hey, look at me when I’m talking to you,” said Tezla. “You understand who I am?”
He turned back to face her. “Yes.”
“You understand the severity of the position you are now in.”
“You don’t seem very concerned.”
“I’ve been in worse spots,” said Hollet 3.2. He looked to his side again. “Quite recently.”
“So you travelled from the surface of the planet to the Vendx flagship without a plan?” Tezla could also play it cool. “I find that hard to believe.”
“So do I,” said the other guild trainee she had apprehended, sitting with his back straight and his fingers tapping on the chair arm. His feet were also bouncing off the floor. She didn’t like his attitude at all.
“It was his plan,” said Hollet 3.2. “Ask him.” The look he gave his guildmate wasn’t a friendly one.
“You,” said Tezla. “Ubik U Ubik. What kind of name is that?”
“I don’t know,” said Ubik U Ubik. “I’m an orphan. I was named by the trafficker that sold me into child slavery.”
“Janx, can we get a measurement on him?”
“He is telling the truth.”
“He was raised by slavers? They haven’t existed for centuries.”
“He is telling the truth,” repeated Janx. “Margin of error… 96%.”
“Ninety-s…” She dragged her volume back down. “How can that allow for a valid reading?” She stood up and glared at the drone. “Are you suffering from some kind of glitch?”
“I can have a look at him, if you like,” said Ubik. “He looks like a really interesting piece.” He leaned forward in his chair, the restraints on his arms preventing him from getting up. “I’ve never seen one put together like that. Is that an argonium casing?”
“Argonium-lexim alloy,” said Janx. “Good guess, young man.”
“Shut up, Janx,” Tezla snapped. “The prisoner isn’t here to swap fashion tips with you.”
“It’s not really a fashion statement,” said Ubik. “You can tell by his construction the builder was a functionalist. It’s a very efficient design.”
“Thank you,” said Janx.
“Venting looks a bit off, though,” added Ubik. “Are those flutes damaged?”
“Why, yes,” said Janx. “I’ve been meaning to—”
“I will deactivate you,” growled Tezla. “I swear it.”
“Apologies, Guardian,” said Janx. “I overstepped my bounds.”
“Speak to me later,” said Ubik. “I think I can tweak your flutes if you—”
“Mr Ubik, you will answer my questions and only my questions. The consequences if you disregard these instructions won’t please you.”
“Yes, Guardian,” said Ubik. “Ask away.”
Hollet 3.2 sighed and shook his head. “This is how it begins.” He looked intently up at Tezla. “I want you to know if this turns into a life or death situation, I’m on your side.”
“Are you threatening my ship?” said Tezla.
“No,” said Hollet 3.2. “I’m asking for your protection. When I asked for asylum, it wasn’t Vendx I was most worried about.” He looked to his side again.
“What are you looking at me for?” said Ubik. “I didn’t do anything.”
“You should do a full check of your systems,” said Hollet 3.2. “Starting with that drone.”
“I don’t know what kind of security you’re used to,” said Tezla, “but I can assure you—”
“Has your drone ever been this friendly with a prisoner before?”
The list of claims for the ships invulnerability to cyber-attack dissipated in Tezla’s mind. She looked at the drone. “Janx, full self-diagnostic.”
“Guardian, I have been—”
“Now!” said Tezla.
“Very well. Please standby.” Lights began circling the argonium-lexim body.
Only the sound of Ubik’s fingers drumming broke the silence as they waited.
“Diagnostic complete,” said Janx. “System 32% compromised.”
“What? How is that possible?”
“Only 32%?” said Ubik. “Damn. So what, you have some kind of Antecessor hybrid-tech?”
“This, this…” Tezla was stunned. “Our firewalls are impregnable.”
“You did a physical uplink to the Vendx ship,” said Ubik. “My Grandma has this saying. When you download from the abyss, the abyss also downloads from you.”
“What does that even mean?” said Hollet 3.2.
“I don’t know,” said Ubik. “I should probably ask her.”
“Janx, do a full sweep of the ship. Restore everything that’s been compromised.”
“Yes, Guardian. Beginning.” Lights ran around the inside of the cabin they were in. “Complete. Infection located in three systems: life support, navigation, kitchen.”
“Kitchen?” said Hollet 3.2. Ubik shrugged.
“System cleaning complete,” said Janx.
“Are you sure?”
“Verifying… yes, all systems are clean.”
Tezla let out a long breath. “It was you. You redirected my jamming signal. I don’t like being made a fool of, Mr Ubik. Do you know the punishment for tampering with a Central Authority vessel?”
“Is it worse than slavery?” asked Ubik.
“You were never a slave,” said Hollet 3.2. “And if you were, it’s the slavers who would need emancipating from you.”
“That’s very harsh,” said Ubik. “I know I play things a bit fast and loose—”
“—but it worked out okay, didn’t it? Everyone made it off the ship. We’re all safe now, aren’t we?”
“Are we?” said Hollet 3.2. “Are we?”
“What was your plan, Ubik?” demanded Tezla.
“I didn’t have one,” said Ubik.
“I knew it,” said Hollet 3.2.
“Janx?” said Tezla. The drone hovered quietly.
“You’re so binary,” said Ubik. “Not everything has to be one or zero. Sometimes you have to try things.”
“Yes, you’re definitely trying,” said Hollet 3.2.
“Janx…” repeated Tezla, “is he telling the truth?”
“Yes… but I am having difficulty identifying the margin of error.”
“Give me the range.”
“Range is… between one and one hundred.”
“Are you still compromised?”
“No, Guardian. All systems are clear.”
“Then how can the margin of error be anywhere between 1% and 100%? Isn’t the point of the Antecessor quantifier its accuracy?”
“Yes, Guardian. There is only one known source of discombobulation. The subject is Null Void.”
Tezla stumbled backwards, drawing her firearm at the same time and pointing it at Ubik. “You… you’re Null Void.”
“Is that bad?” said Ubik.
Tezla grimaced and held the gun with both hands. “The last person to be identified as Null Void caused the Incean War. He was also the last person to be publicly executed by the Central Authority.”
“Yikes,” said Ubik. “That does sound bad. PT, tell her I’m not going to start any wars.”
“You already sent out the invite,” said Hollet 3.2.
“That wasn’t serious,” said Ubik. “PT, come on, back me up.”
Hollet 3.2 looked at Tezla, trigger finger primed. “Prevention is better than cure, Guardian. Your call...”
“This can’t be a coincidence,” said Tezla. “Tell me what you know about the atmospheric changes happening in the Antecessor sites around the galaxy.”
“What kind of changes?” said Ubik innocently. “Breathable air?”
“So you do know.” Tezla pointed the gun at him more firmly, the muzzle aimed between his eyes.
“No, you’ve got the wrong guy,” said Ubik. “You want to speak to the third member of our team.”
“We’re not a team,” said Hollet 3.2.
“You don’t think we work well together?”
“Together? I don’t think you know the meaning of the word.”
“Of course I do,” said Ubik. “I’m a team player.”
“Janx,” said Hollet 3.2, “can I get a measurement on that?”
“Both of you be quiet,” said Tezla. She had hoped letting them squabble might allow for a slip-up, give her a clue about what was happening, but they were just annoying her. “The third member, you’re talking about the Matton-Ollo boy.”
“Fig?” said Ubik. “Yes, him. He’s the key. If you hurry, you might be able to catch up with him. He’ll have the answers you want.”
“I’ll do that. As soon as I drop you two off at the nearest Authority holding facility.”
“Can I be in solitary confinement?” asked Hollet 3.2.
“I don’t think you want to waste time with detours,” said Ubik. “Better to get straight—”
“We have a priority message coming in,” said Janx. “Tagged as imperative.”
“Put it up,” said Tezla. Imperative was the highest rating possible. It was usually reserved for disasters and mass evacuations.
The drone shone a light forming a distorted image of a face. It flickered and faded.
“...Ollo ...Antecessor ...compromised.” The sound kept going in and out. There were screams and explosions in the background. “They’re coming back. Stop them… we have to stop them. Figaro, if you hear this, you know what you have to do. I’m sorry, son. I couldn’t—”
The message stopped and then repeated.
“Where is this coming from?” said Tezla.
“It was relayed through Central Authority High Command,” said Janx. “The person in the message has been identified as Ramon Ollo.”
“But what was he saying?” said Tezla. “Can’t you get a clearer—”
“Gideon wormhole has reported an unauthorised breach,” said Janx. “A missile of unknown design has forced entry into this quadrant. Target has been calculated to be this planet. Size of warhead is consistent with extinction-level event.”
“It’s going to kill this planet? Why?”
“Eighty-two minutes standard before impact.”
“The simulation,” said Ubik. “They think it’s on the planet and they want to destroy it.”
“Isn’t it?” said Hollet 3.2.
“Maybe,” said Ubik. “How would I know?”
“What’s the protocol?” said Tezla. “How do we stop the missile.”
“Current readings suggest firepower is insufficient. Shielding will deflect too much to change the course.”
“Detonate it,” said Ubik.
“That’s what we’re trying to avoid,” said Tezla.
“Detonate it before it gets here.”
“How? You heard Janx. Our firep—”
“Ram it with the Vendx ship,” said Ubik. “Evacuate the crew and send it to meet the missile head-on. You’ve already assumed control. They’ll complain, but…”
“Do it,” said Tezla. She was expecting Janx to reel off all the directives prohibiting such a course of action, but the drone bleeped once and began sending out instructions. “This had better work.” She had no intention of losing an entire planet on her watch.
Within a few minutes, escape pods were being jettisoned from the Motherboard. They watched on the screen as the ship powered up and began to leave Fountain orbit.
“Vendx are going to be very, very upset,” said Ubik, smiling.
“What about Gipper?” said Hollet 3.2.
“Who?” said Ubik. “Oh, right.” He looked at the departing ship. “I’m sure he’s fine.”
The VGV Motherboard, under the directive of the Central Authority, blasted towards the missile.
They watched in silence as it grew smaller and smaller until it looked like one of the stars filling the screen. Janx called out the time to impact. And then there was a flash of light, sharp and brilliant.
“Okay,” said Ubik. “Maybe we should get going before the shockwave arrives.”
“Shockwave will be minimal at this distance,” said Janx.
“Yes,” said Ubik, “but I was referring to the shockwave from Vendx Headquarters when they send every ship they have to take you into custody, Guardian Tezla.”
Tezla shook her head. “Prepare to leave, Janx.”
“Yes, Guardian. Destination?”
“The source of the Ollo transmission.” She looked at Ubik. “I have a horrible feeling I’m going to regret this.”
“Don’t worry,” said Hollet 3.2. “You never get used to it, but you build up a tolerance.”
Gipper opened his eyes slowly. The last thing he remembered was being in the Motherboard galley, feeling rather full. Then the alarms went crazy and people were running around in a panic.
They were abandoning ship, which was never a good sign.
He had tried to join them, hoping not to be noticed in the pandemonium, but none of the escape pods would allow him entry. He didn’t have the correct ID implant and no funds to buy temporary passage.
Then the ship left orbit very fast and he was thrown against the wall and pinned there. His natural prescience, underdeveloped as it was, told him the ship wasn’t headed anywhere he wanted to go. Once the acceleration levelled off, he managed to get to an airlock and threw himself out of it, only his spacesuit and the oxygen inhaler Ubik had given him…
Ubik, he was responsible for this. He didn’t need his prescience augmented to know it.
And now where was he? Dead?
No. He was inside a sphere. A sphere made of interlocking drones. Vendx drones. Why would Vendx…
No. Ubik again. Send him to his death and save him, all in one smooth motion.
Gipper twisted his body. Every part of him hurt. How long had he been in space before the drones caught him? How much air had he left?
Saved only to die from suffocation. Classic Ubik assistance.
And then the shockwave hit and he was sent spinning and tumbling and just before he passed out he made a promise to himself. If he survived, if he somehow managed to survive, he would make sure to find that little shit and kill him.
End of DEEPER DARKER Book 1: Origin
End of Book 1 and a two week break before Book 2 starts (24th September).
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