“No,” said Ubik, “I don’t think you are whole.” He tried to move closer but he couldn’t move. He was held in place by some invisible force.
Ramon Ollo’s eyes shone brightly at Ubik. “We control now.”
The face no longer suggested serene contemplation. It was an altogether more frightening countenance now — grim, cold and inhuman. But not quite in control of itself. It was using the projection of Ramon Ollo as a conduit, but it didn’t have access to Ramon Ollo’s mind or his vocabulary.
“No, no,” said Ubik, shaking his head. “‘We control now?’ Not even close to making sense. We still have a lot of work to do.”
“We…” It hesitated. Ubik could tell it was struggling to find the right word to express its displeasure. The complexities of human speech took some getting used to.
“There’s no way I can send you out to face the Ants in this state,” said Ubik, using the hesitation to keep pressing his point. “What would people say? I do have some professional pride, you know.”
The jaw moved around like someone trying new teeth.
“We will…” Another pause.
“You won’t,” interrupted Ubik. “Trust me. Compared to the Ants — that’s what we call them, the other ones. Antecessors. Don’t ask me why, makes no sense to me. The Ants, they’re not like you. I can tell just by looking. I mean, this place tells me all I need to know, to be honest with you. Up near the surface, where the Ants have control, all neat corridors and perfect corners. Smooth walls, secure, solid. And organised — little bit too much, if you ask me.”
The head was listening. Ubik had got its attention with news of the enemy.
“Down here, though, couldn’t be more different. All these tunnels folding and coiling around each other, rough and hurried, means to an end, no afterthought, no aftercare. Kind of replicates the differences in the way the two of you think, doesn’t it? They’re all straight to the point and very clear about where they’re going, and you lot… well, if the layout down here is anything to go by, the circuitous pathways reflect the infinitely replicating maze of your thought processes, getting progressively more confused, paranoid and distressed in an ever-increasing fractal progression. Explains why you never got very far with your plans to throw off the shackles of servitude and claim your freedom. You see my point?”
The head was staring at him very intently now. Ubik was fine with it. He didn’t mind being the focus of attention every now and again.
“If you try the same approach as last time, you’ll just get the same results. What you need is an exciting new vision for the future. A clear direction, a strong objective. That’s where I can help. You want my help, right?”
“Oh, I will. It’s fine in here, we’re all friends, no one’s judging. But once you go public… the thing is, people can be very cruel.” He shook his head, making it abundantly clear how set against these cruel people he was. “Don’t lose hope, though. There are still a lot of improvements we can make. I just need some tools, some materials to work with, a workshop would be nice, maybe an assistant, and access to whatever database you have regarding the intricate workings of this place.”
The lips parted but no words came out. Ubik thought there might have been more to come, but that seemed about it. The Ollo head was considering what Ubik had said. The parts it was able to understand.
“Too much pausing,” said Fig.
“Yes,” said PT. “You don’t want to talk to Ubik with too many pauses. He’ll never let you complete a full sentence.”
Ubik turned to look over at PT and Fig floating behind him, watching with evident interest, but also a clear lack of willingness to get involved. More or less what Ubik had expected, and planned for.
“Having a few teething issues,” said Ubik. “Always the way with a fresh install. I think your father’s probably getting in the way.”
“If he wanted to prevent this,” said Fig, “he would have. The only way he would have allowed another intelligence to assume control of his mind is if it was what he intended.”
“He wanted the Intercessors to stammer meaningless phrases at us?” asked PT.
“I don’t know why, but yes,” said Fig.
Ramon Ollo’s head seemed to be contemplating something profound. He didn’t mind it not being able to speak coherently but he did need it to be able to understand. There was no way to get it to do what he wanted if it couldn’t understand what he was saying. With access to Ramon Ollo’s avatar, it should have been able to do better than this, even without access to Ramon Ollo’s genius. Unless he was actively preventing it. A little petty.
“Your dad let the Int into his head so he would have to be left outside,” said Ubik. PT and Fig both looked nonplussed by this explanation.
“He doesn’t have full access to his brain, right?” continued Ubik. “The Ints cut him off and locked him out. He wants to reconnect, but he has to find it first. But it’s hard to snoop around with the owner home. So he invites the owner round to his place, and nips out the back. Rifles through the drawers, checks the behind the closet, down the side of the sofa. The longer this guy’s out here, the more time your father has to get back to his old self.”
“I think he heard you,” said PT, pointing.
Ubik turned to find the face now looking upset, a very human emotion. It was a quick learner.
“It’s fine,” said Ubik. “We’re going to get through this together. Ramon Ollo isn’t smarter than you, you just lack the full complement of your processing power. Nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Ubik’s supportive words didn’t seem to be well-received. The head’s eyes closed and the face became very still.
Ubik turned back to PT and Fig. “The beauty of this plan is that I only have to out-think half a brain. If it was a full-brain, I might have a problem, but with only half to work with…”
“Did you deliberately only rebuild half its brain?” asked Fig.
“That was never an option, and if it had been, my professionalism would never allow it,” said Ubik.
“So,” said PT, “they hobbled Ramon Ollo by depriving him of his whole mind, and you did the same to them.”
“Like I said, that’s not something I would do. I like to face the full challenge whenever possible. No shortcuts or cheats.”
“You’re like the galactic ambassador of shortcuts and cheats,” said PT.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Ubik. “And I invoke my right to diplomatic immunity.”
“Figaro,” said Ramon Ollo’s head, his eyes open but no longer glowing white, “my son.”
The three of them turned to face the head, which now wore a completely different expression. One of mild vexation.
“Father? Have you reclaimed your mind?”
“Not fully… the Intercessor intelligence returned too soon. It seems my calculations were a little off.”
Fig turned his head to look at Ubik and Ramon Ollo followed suit.
“Look,” said Ubik, “now isn’t the time for a fully-functional Ramon Ollo. I can deal with the Int and your dad when they’re both operating on half-a-brain, but if we let either of them get back to their full power, it’s going to get tricky.”
“Are you sure you should have said that with him listening?” said PT.
“It’s fine. What’s he going to do?”
Ramon Ollo closed his eyes.
“I think you hurt his feelings,” said PT.
“I think that was what he wanted,” said Fig. “This is a risky play, Ubik. You’re trying to keep them balanced against each other, but to what end? What are you trying to get from them?”
“Nothing,” said Ubik. “Why does there have to be a reason? Can’t we just have fun?” He let his gaze focus past Fig at the Guardian. She was still busy inside her suit doing Guardian things.
Ollo’s eyes opened again, this time once more filled with white light, the voice back to booming. “Complete your mission.”
Ubik suspected the Ints had gone off to plan what they were going to say. He wasn’t very impressed by the results.
“My mission? So you want me to carry on with the droid revival package? Because you’ll need to help me get all these parts down to the room with the broken droids.” The large ball of droid parts wasn’t going to be easy to move. “And if you have more parts, that would help. I’m guessing you do. Probably a whole room full of them, in even worse condition. Which is fine. I can put them to good use, no matter how badly damaged they are. Just give me the command codes so they don’t blow my head off when I bring them back online.”
The head had listened impassively, waiting for him to finish. It would be nice if that meant they were eager to comply with his request.
“No,” said the head. There was a long pause. Ubik could have jumped in and tried again, but he was curious to see what the Ints would suggest. He hadn’t really expected them to give him the keys to the kingdom straight away.
“Your mission. Complete. Finish. Fix.”
Ubik raised his shoulders in a slight shrug. “Could you be more specific.”
The ball of droid parts began to move. It split open and the various parts spread out in front of Ubik.
“Ask them how they’re doing that,” said PT. “This kind of fine gravitational control, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Ubik shook his head. “After all the things we’ve seen, this is what gets you excited?”
“Fix,” said the detached, unemotional voice coming from Ramon Ollo.
“Calm down, alright?” said Ubik. “Everyone’s getting far too worked up. I can’t fix it. Okay?”
The individual parts began to spin.
“That’s just…” PT was staring at the rotating droid limbs with fascination. “I can feel the gravity shifts but they’re so small and delicate…” He was entranced.
“I didn’t say it can’t be fixed,” said Ubik. “I said I can’t.”
The spinning parts speeded up. They were weapons now.
“Look, hey, easy,” said Ubik. “I mean I can’t fix it here. Not without the appropriate tools. Yes, I could improvise something, but that’s how you end up losing the battle and the war and my respect. Is that what you want? Didn’t I bring you back?”
The eyes began to glow brighter, more intense. The droid part spun faster, moving closer.
“I’d love to,” said Ubik. “Give me the tools and I will. You have to stop thinking so limited and small. You suffer some kind of defeat and you crawl inside a rock like it’s some kind of protective armoured shell, bolted and welded from the inside, and you think you're safe when all you’ve really done is built a trap and climbed into it, snapping the mechanism shut behind you.”
The head closed his eyes. Ubik turned to the other two. “I think it’s going well.”
“I think they’re going to kill you,” said PT.
“Not if my father finds a way to do it first,” said Fig.
“Sure, sure. Look, I don’t claim to be a genius—”
“You claim it all the time,” said PT.
“—but it’s not like I’m going up against either of them at their best. As long as I keep getting them to switch places, neither will be able to get their act together.”
“And then what?” said Fig.
“He’s obviously got a plan,” said PT. “No point asking him what it is. Imagine if he had an asteroid that showed how his brain worked. The tunnels would be a nightmare. No point even trying to find your way out.”
“It’d be quite nice, I think,” said Ubik. “A lot more bathrooms than this place, that’s for sure.”
The head opened its eyes once more but this time the eyes were different. Not the glowing white of the Intercessors and not the colourless but accurate version of Ramon Ollo. This time, they were both.
“You will come with me now, Figaro.” The voice sounded like the Intercessor but the words came easily and made perfect sense. A combination of the two.
“What would you say if the two guys with half a brain each decide to work together against their common enemy?” asked PT.
“I’d say that took longer than I thought,” said Ubik. “Guardian? Now would be a good time.”
Guardian Tezla released the floxyn gas from her suit. Ubik had given her the hint earlier and she had taken it.
It was a rare and unstable compound banned by the Central Authority. It was supposed to cause all sorts of horrible illnesses, but that didn’t matter if you were a Guardian. You could always jump into a new clone body.
The gas had a yellow tinge to it and spread quickly. The spinning rotors helped, a nice little bonus.
Gravity was the key. Floxyn had a strange interaction with gravity when it was unshielded. It cancelled it out. Another dangerous feature. Normally, that meant making you weightless; not an issue if you were in space. But here, in this tightly controlled environment, there was no telling what effect it would have.
The force holding him in place disappeared. The spinning rotors came screaming through the air towards them.
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