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Preface from Mooderino

Book 2 – 77: Father of Invention

Third Quadrant.

Asteroid Tethari.

Asteroid Core.


“But what does it do, exactly?” asked Point-Two. The monstrous construction Ubik had assembled from the remains of hundreds of droids that had sacrificed themselves looked impressive enough. It was very shiny with the pulses of light rushing across the long interlocking threads, like neurons firing inside a brain. He just didn’t know what it was for.

“Exactly?” said Ubik as he floated back towards them, flapping his arms for no reason. “I have no idea.” He sounded proud of himself for not knowing.

Ubik passed through the giant head of Ramon Ollo, which had its eyes closed. In deep thought or no longer active, it was hard to say. Ubik looked like he was coming out of the huge nose.

“Something to do with the asteroid, I guess. Or the wormhole, maybe? I suppose we’ll find out once it finishes booting up. Taking forever, isn’t it? You’d think it’d be quicker since there’s only half as much.”

“You’re the one who built it,” said Point-Two. “What did you think it was going to do?”

“That’s not how you should look at it,” said Ubik.

“How should I look at it?” asked Point-Two, already knowing he would get some ridiculous answer.

“You know how they say necessity is the mother of invention?” said Ubik as he stopped by bumping into Point-Two and awkwardly turning around by grabbing onto Point-Two’s face. “What they don’t tell you is who the father is. Curiosity. Let’s have a go and see what happens.” He grinned as he took in the flashing lights.

Point-Two pushed Ubik off. He was doing his best to stay in place so he could better gauge the changes in gravity. There were ebbs and flows to it, but being in the centre made it hard to set off in any particular direction without something to use for leverage.

One half of the chamber was taken up with Ubik’s masterpiece, which was not a direction he wanted to go in. The other had floating detritus that offered no stable launch points. But if he could get a read on the way gravity behaved in this room, he might be able to use it to his advantage. A way out would be nice.

The Guardian was probably working on the same problem. She had been very accommodating to Ubik’s plans, letting him make a deal with the Intercessors, but it was clear to Point-Two that she had her own ideas about how to proceed.

There were a lot of variables, different parties to consider, and she was methodically assessing each and working out a strategy. He could tell that was what she was doing from her body language alone, even through the suit.

She was calculating. It was very distinct. She probably would have been able to do it a lot quicker with Rex, but Rex was one of the casualties of this endeavour. There would probably be more.

The half-brain stopped pulsing and maintained a steady glow in the front part.

“Is it done?”

“No,” said Ubik. “I could only hook it up so one section gets activated at a time. It needs to rotate through each section individually.”

“Sounds like you do know what it does,” said Point-Two.

“No,” Ubik stated firmly. “This is the only configuration it could form. So that’s what I made. It’s like a puzzle where you figure out which piece slots into which. If you had a jigsaw puzzle that was totally black, no picture, you could still complete it, right? Same thing here. Only, in this case, half the puzzle pieces are damaged or missing, so I did the best I could with what I had. The Intercessors will know what to do with it, that’s the important part. And they seem happy enough.”

Point-Two was fairly sure Ubik was basing his assessment on the fact the Intercessors hadn’t killed them yet.

Then again, there didn’t appear to be any Intercessors left, unless you counted Ramon Ollo’s head. Now would be the perfect time to sneak off while everyone was busy. He looked around. There had to be an exit. And he needed to find it before the Intercessors or Ubik decided to do something else that was going to be detrimental to his health.

He felt the gravity shift once more.

All the droid pieces Ubik had considered unsuitable began to move closer together, until they were an almost perfectly spherical ball. As wild and unpredictable the gravity was here, it was possible to control it, and to a very high level.

Point-Two wouldn’t have been surprised if the ball had sprouted legs and opened its eyes, but it remained a pile of individual pieces. There was no sense they were ‘alive’. They gave quite the opposite impression. Junk.

“Now comes the fun part,” said Ubik.

“Is it skippable?” asked Point-Two.

“You don’t even know what I’m talking about,” said Ubik.

“And I prefer it that way.”

“We’re going to use all these bits and bobs to raise an army. A true force to be reckoned with. The Ubik Elite.”

It was frighteningly easy to see Ubik at the head of an alien invasion. Somehow, it felt more appropriate having him lead the charge against humanity.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” said Fig, who had been as lost in thought as the Guardian, only his focus had been on his father.

“No,” said Ubik, “I’m not. That’s what makes it so exciting. You know what they say — audacity is the father of invention. You have to dare to try.”

“I thought it was curiosity,” said Point-Two.

“No,” said Ubik. “No, I don’t think so. Not sure where you got that idea.” Ubik looked around as though searching for something. “Anyone else hungry? I’d really like something to eat. And a real drink instead of the fluid replacement system in this suit. And somewhere to take a dump, preferably with a warm toilet seat.”

“I don’t think they have those kinds of facilities here,” said Fig.

“Especially not the last one,” said Point-Two.

“No, but she might.” Ubik was looking at the Guardian.

“You think she has a toilet seat with her?” said Fig.

“Padded, I bet,” said Ubik. “It’s a very advanced suit. Has lots of little extras. Guardian, a word.” Ubik kicked off of Point-Two’s knee and went flailing towards the Guardian.

Point-Two adjusted his body to absorb the force of Ubik’s kick-start so he wouldn’t be sent flying in the opposite direction. Fig put out a hand and steadied him.

“Thanks,” said Point-Two.

“Do you think it’s a good idea?” said Fig. “Defeating the Antecessors and putting the asteroid into Ubik’s hands.”

“I think at some point all these people — Ubik, your father, the Central Authority, the Intercessors — are going to come to the realisation only one of them can be in charge. And that’s if they manage to deal with the Antecessors. It’s going to get messy.”

“Hmm,” said Fig. “You’re saying we should avoid the victory after-party.”

“Yes,” said Point-Two.

In terms of realising the full potential of the asteroid — whatever that was — he could see the value of ending the paralysing struggle between the Antecessors and the Intercessors.

A single leader, one who was accepted as overall commander, was the only thing that made large, complicated groups work effectively; something Point-Two knew only too well. Just as he knew that a struggle for power between rivals only created problems for everyone else.

There were always those who fancied themselves as replacements for whoever was currently at the top, but that was fine as long as it wasn’t too overt. There needed to be a slow and steady turnover. But a singular voice to make decisions — not a committee, not a democratically elected body — was by far the best way to organise people.

It wasn’t guaranteed that a person with full authority would make the right call, but the chances were far better than allowing a group of people to sabotage each other so they could get things to go their own way.

Maybe it was also the best way to organise droids. But maybe droids had learnt to prefer a little chaos in return for their freedom.

“I think they’re already preparing for the fight after the fight,” said Fig.

Point-Two couldn’t help but nod. “Got a plan for when we have to run for our lives?”

“Not really,” said Fig. “I’m still trying to process my failure to recognise that projection as not being my father.” The closed-eyed image of his father seemed serene and at peace. “It seems so obvious now that Ubik’s pointed it out. The real Ramon Ollo — the complete one — would have been much more in control of the situation.”

“Emotions mask a lot of things,” said Point-Two.

“I’ve been trained to overcome those emotions,” said Fig.

“Your father didn’t notice he wasn’t himself, either.”

“He was missing part of his brain. I don’t have the same excuse,” said Fig. “And now that he knows, he’s doing his best to overcome the handicap.”

“Without access to his genius?”

“My father has created a number of devices to limit his own thought processes. Memory loss, language blocks, short-term dementia. I don’t know if he ever envisioned this exact situation, but he likes to consider the worst-case scenarios. He found ways around all of them. He’s working on this one now.”

“I think your father being at half-power might be the only chance we have,” said Point-Two. “If you can find a way to use it.”

“That might be possible,” said Fig. “The problem is that even with a hobbled intellect, he’s still Ramon Ollo. His genius isn’t his only strength.”

“It might be better to give Ubik the chance to take him on. Might keep him busy for a little while, at least.”

“I’d rather it be me,” said Fig. “If I can give you an opening, take it. I intend to see this through.” Fig turned his head to face Point-Two. “I suppose you think my relationship with my father is one of childish rebellion.”

“Childish rebellion is how you stop being a child,” said Point-Two. “We’re their replacements. It’s a difficult thing for any father to accept.”

Obedience and independence. One got the job done, and one pushed the boundaries of what could be done.

One leader to think freely, everyone else a subservient drone. Like machines.

Point-Two looked at the construct Ubik had made. The sum greater than the parts.

“This thing Ubik made,” said Fig. “I think it’s the mind of the asteroid. This whole rock is a giant droid.”

“And what would you do if you had a giant droid?” asked Point-Two.

Fig didn’t answer. Probably considering the options.

Ubik came floating back. “Here, the Guardian gave me these.” He opened his hand and a bunch of small pills of various colours floated out of his unclenched fist. “Special CA rations. Supposed to provide you with all the basic nutrients a growing boy needs, and also tricks your stomach into feeling like it’s full.” He peered at the pills with a dubious look in his eyes. Then he reached out and took a yellow one. He bit off a tiny part and immediately screwed up his face. “Disgusting. Think I’d rather starve.”

Point-Two plucked two pills — a red one and green one — out of the air and held them tightly in his closed fist. When he opened his hand, the pills had swapped some colouring between them.

“Try this one.” He flicked the mostly green one towards Ubik, who caught it between thumb and forefinger and stared at it for a moment. Then he nibbled the end. “Hey, not bad. Kind of tastes like curry. What else can you make? You shouldn’t keep these talents hidden, PT. Who knows where you might be if you were more open and sharing.”

“I’d be dead,” said Point-Two.

“Ha ha, yeah…” said Ubik, taking different pills and squashing them together. “So what were you two talking about? How dads are really mean and won’t let you do what you want?”

Point-Two exchanged a look with Fig.

“Something like that,” said Point-Two. “What are you going to do now? I assume your attack on the Antecessor levels will take some time to plan and get ready for.”

“No, no. No planning. That’s what they’ll be expecting. We’ll just have to see what we can throw together with this lot and then go in blind and crippled.” Ubik looked at the leftover droid parts bundled up and ready for his next project. “The secret to a good surprise attack is to make it really, really surprising.”

“They certainly won’t be expecting a bunch of busted droids to pose much of a threat,” said Point-Two.

“I know, right?” said Ubik gleefully. “It’s perfect. Plus, I have a little help from the Central Authority,” he added slyly. He opened his other hand to show a small black rectangle.

“Is that Rex?” said Fig.

“Shh. Don’t tell the Guardian.”

“Don’t the Intercessors need that to talk to us?” asked Point-Two.

“Less talking, more listening,” said Ubik. “We’ve got these guys right where we want them.” There was a wild glint in his eyes that made Point-Two feel uncomfortable.

“What do you think will happen once you give them back their asteroid?”

“I expect they’ll be very grateful for the assist,” said Ubik. “Probably kill us last to show their gratitude.” He ate another pill. “Nice. Spicy strawberry.”

The lights grew brighter and the gravity in the chamber shifted once more. Everything was drawn to the centre. Point-Two and the others were balled up with the droid parts.

Ramon Ollo’s eyes opened. They were filled with the same white light as the other half of the room. “We are whole,” he said in a voice that boomed.

“That… definitely is not my father speaking,” said Figaro.

“Looks like they found a way to communicate without Rex,” said Point-Two.

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