Point-Two was experiencing an incredible sense of freedom. He could go anywhere, move at any speed, pass through any obstacle. Which was an odd sensation considering his body was currently wrapped up tight in a cocoon of interlocking droid parts.
His physical body was confined and constrained but his mind was flying through the network of white lines that permeated the asteroid like circuit boards inside a giant computer.
Flesh and blood stored in a container he couldn’t get out of. Mental projection soaring through solid rock.
He was under no illusion about why he was able to do all this without interference from the Intercessors. They wanted him to do it. He didn’t know why or what they hoped to gain from it, but he had no doubt they planned to come out ahead in the deal.
Most of the asteroid was inactive. Quiet and dark and empty. Not even worth pausing to turn on the lights for a better look. It would be easy to see it as a dead place other than the control room on top controlling the wormhole. But that would be a mistake.
A ship, as Point-Two knew only too well, was more than just a bunch of rooms attached to an engine. And limitations meant everything needed to double-up. The asteroid was no different.
The control room couldn’t do anything without the black hole at the asteroid’s core, and everything in between was needed to maintain that link. Antecessor technology was very interdependent and multifunctional. Storage space, fortress, weapon, spaceship, but also a link, a modifier, a conduit, a recycler.
The tiny black hole was the source of the asteroid’s power. And the one place he couldn’t reach.
The VendX troopers and the two Guardians he had spoken to earlier were charging through the passages he had lit for them. He could control the lights, open the doors, deactivate the defences. Point-Two had cleared a path all the way to the entrance to the next level. The entrance was closed.
They reached it in a mad rush and came to a sudden stop, confused and panicky, more and more of them piling into the room. The walls still trembled from the aftershocks of explosions on the surface. They knew there was mayhem and destruction above them, but they weren’t too happy about what was below them, either.
“Wait here,” said Point-two, speaking through the walls in surround-sound. Heads turned frantically to find him.
“Who are you?” demanded the female Guardian. “Are you one of the Null Void’s companions? How are you doing this? Do you have control of the base?”
“You’ll be safe here, for now,” said Point-Two. “Just wait until Tezla gets there.”
“Tezla’s alive?” said the male Guardian.
“Where is she?”
“She’s with the Null Void.” Everyone was after Ubik so why not use him to buy time? They all thought of him as a prize worth waiting for; until they met him. “She’s bringing him up so just be patient. The Antecessors will be landing soon and you need to defend this position, got it?”
“What’s on those ships?” said the female Guardian. “Droids?”
“I don’t know,” said Point-Two, “but I don’t think they’ll be friendly. And there’s also, the Seneca Corps. They won’t be friendly either, but they’ll be behind them and you’ll be in front, so that should give you an advantage. Between you, I think you should be able to deal with the threat.”
Point-Two did his best to sound confident about their chances. He wasn’t. Whatever was about to arrive on those Antecessor ships, it would be very hard to deal with. The Intercessors considered them more powerful than the goblins and expected to lose. They were so sure of losing, they were willing to allow Ubik a freehand. Desperate times called for desperate measures, so that gave Point-Two a rough idea of how bad a situation the Intercessors considered this.
“What about the other Central Authority ships?” said the woman. “Have they all been destroyed?”
“I don’t know. They’re too far away to be of any help right now. Focus on this place.”
She scowled but had no one to aim her distorted face at. Being a disembodied voice had its advantages.
“Horne, set up a defensive line. We might as well get ready.”
The co-opted VendX troops didn’t look very happy to be ordered about, but then they wouldn’t have been happy no matter who gave them their order.
“Do we still get a hazard bonus?” asked one of the VendX men, as though he would only consider survival as an option if it was rewarding enough.
“No,” said the Guardian. “But I promise I won’t shoot you if you shut up and do what I tell you.”
No one was happy about their situation but they understood the size of the threat they faced. Complaining or demanding answers would make no difference. They readied themselves.
What Point-two really needed from them was time. If they could keep the attacking forces at bay for a little while, Ubik and Fig might have enough time to free Ramon Ollo. Then they might have a chance.
Point-Two moved again. He was able to see where the Antecessor-controlled parts of the facility were present and avoid them.
They didn’t try to intercept him or block him off. In fact, they seemed fine with him running around, helping whoever he pleased.
The Antecessors were happy to keep out of his way. The Intercessors were fine with letting him do as he pleased. They both seemed confident that he was doing exactly what they wanted. They both thought he was advancing their agenda, they couldn’t both be right. Maybe neither was.
He found Ubik and Fig and their faceless army. Ubik was humming, so that was cause for worry. The goblins were following him like he was leading them to the promised land. The Intercessors had allowed this also. They wanted Ubik at the head of this army
“PT?” said Ubik, stopping so a flock of goblins bumped into each other. “Is that you?”
“Yes,” said Point-Two. “How could you tell?”
“The walls get extra squiggly when you’re around,” said Ubik, pointing at the white lines streaking back and forth around him. “How’s your head? Getting any migraines yet? You should take regular breaks. You aren’t used to this kind of mental stress. Maybe get out and stretch for a bit.”
Point-Two couldn’t get out and stretch as Ubik well knew. He was the one who had forced him into this position and left him stuck.
“Thanks for the advice,” said Point-Two, resisting the urge to shout at him. Zenity never seemed to work with Ubik. He still had the alien organism attached to his arm. Point-Two mentally shivered at the sight of it.
The wall next to Ubik slid apart, revealing a shaft with a platform.
“You can take this to the seventh level,” said Point-Two.
“Oh, wow,” said Ubik. “I knew there was a reason to put you in charge of logistics.”
It came as no surprise that Ubik would throw Point-Two into a situation with no idea why. Ubik didn’t need a reason to play with people’s lives. A reason would come. Decoy, driver, sacrificial lamb — Ubik always found a good use for his victims.
“Okay, this way everyone,” said Ubik. “We’re going up.”
“Have you come across any more of my father’s doppelgangers?” asked Fig as goblins streamed past him. “I estimate there should be at least four or five if they mean to keep him from functioning at a troublesome level.”
“No, I’ll keep an eye out, though.”
“Thanks,” said Fig, following Ubik onto the platform. What kind of influence was Ubik having on the boy? Point-Two was glad he didn’t have time to consider the possible ramifications of Ubik having a sidekick.
The goblins clambered over each other and began climbing the walls before the platform started its ascent. The two VendX employees entered last, gingerly squeezing in, pressed up against a wall of pale, alien flesh.
Point-Two took a moment to make sure he wasn’t missing something. He wasn’t used to sitting back and watching things from a distance as others took action.
His whole life Point-Two had been the kind of person who worked alone, acted alone, even when he worked with others.
That wasn’t the case here. Not that he had much choice.
Ubik had pushed him into becoming part of the Intercessor network and now he was calling the shots, after a fashion. It wasn’t so bad.
Yes, he hadn’t been given a choice, and yes, there had been a very good chance joining minds with an alien artificial intelligence could have fried his brains, but it hadn’t. And now he had the best seat in the house. The seat furthest from the imminent clash between warring alien factions.
All in all, he had come out of things relatively unscathed. Which was a deal worth taking when you crossed paths with Ubik.
Ubik and Fig had both come up with ways to make Point-Two the victim of their brilliant plans, but he wasn’t too upset about that. They were working with very little room for manoeuvre and trying to extract every advantage they could. Using him to improve their chances was perfectly understandable. He would have done the same to them. He was doing the same to them.
As they rose through the shaft, Point-Two left them behind on the path he had set for them and shot upwards, through each level, up to the control room, still rising until he suddenly broke through the roof.
He was out in the open, outside the base, looking down at it. There was a white mist covering the ground, just enough to cover the wreckage of the destroyed spacecraft. That hadn’t been there before.
With a mental twist he was able to turn his view upwards. The planet of Enaya was a yellow and grey ball in the distance. The swirl of the wormhole took up a large section of the sky, and then there were stars, millions of them. Some of them were exploding.
They weren’t stars, they were ships off in the distance. The strange thing was that Point-Two’s vantage point didn’t exist. There was no drone, no satellite, no telescope on an orbiting platform he was viewing from. The Antecessor technology put his mind in the emptiness above the base as though he really was floating there.
Point-Two turned away to the other side and there were the Antecessor ships, big blocks that showed no regard for any kind of aerodynamics. Longs black rectangles covered in streaks of white light. White light that ran across the surface of the ships and then carried on, like a line being drawn off the page.
The glittering beams shot through space, moving in zig-zag patterns, changing direction, going back the way they had come, being controlled with no regard for physics.
Their targets were the sleek ships in pursuit. Seneca carriers boldly charging forward with no to dodge or defend. There would be no negotiations here. The Corp didn’t negotiate with terrorists, and everyone was a terrorist in their eyes, past, present or future.
It seemed a balanced fight on the surface, an equal number of ships on both sides, weapons that could destroy whole planets let alone a metal box. Except, the Seneca ships were taking damage and the Antecessor ones weren’t. It was easy to guess which side would come out on top, and the Corps had to know that. But they didn’t back down. They were doing their utmost to defend humanity from this threat, which wasn’t really in character for them.
Whatever their reasons, Point-Two was on their side. Once the Antecessors took over the base, things would not go well.
Point-Two decided to take action. The asteroid had defensive capabilities and he had access to them. He took control by reaching out hands he no longer had. He prepared to activate the asteroid, opening a direct channel to the black hole.
Everything went dark. He was being pulled back down, reeled in.
He was back in the chamber with the large faceless head. He had wondered what it would take for the Intercessors to intervene.
“Why did you stop me?” said Point-Two. There was no reply. “I could have reduced their numbers.” Nothing. “Now they’ll overrun the place. Is that what you want?”
The face, or the space where the face should have been, ignored him.
“You want them to land? You want them to face Ubik?”
There was a flicker of something, movement across the huge face.
Point-Two felt like he was missing something, some plan of attack he had failed to recognise. Why would the Intercessors not take out their enemy while they had the chance? This enemy had defeated them before, simply waiting for them to do it again didn’t seem like a very good idea.
But they weren’t quite the same as they were before. Not because they had Ubik — that was a wildcard you would only rely on as a last resort — something else had changed.
“They separated you into several pieces, didn’t they?” said Point-Two. “And they put the most clinical part, the part that figures out how to get the job done, here with me. I should be flattered, I guess, although I suppose you didn’t know I’d be the one left behind. All this access to your asteroid, and Ubik just handed it over like it meant nothing. Must be kind of insulting, how little he thinks of your technology. Of both your technologies.”
The whole time he was speaking, Point-Two kept watching for another flicker. This wasn’t an Intercessor. It had been Ramon Ollo at first but even after it reverted, it didn’t talk or act like an Intercessor. They communicated at a much higher level, exchanging information in volume, no nuance required when every conversation was full disclosure.
“I know you can hear me, Mr Ollo,” said Point-Two. “Even if the face is that of an inhuman monster, you’re the one behind the mask.”
There was no response. The head had worn the face of Ramon Ollo until Point-Two had accused him of being a copy but now he understood that their mimic ability was more sophisticated than simply copying something.
He had called it a mimic, so it had adopted that form. Whatever it took to get what it wanted.
If he was right, it also meant this Ramon Ollo was working closely with the Intercessors. Something Fig would say was entirely typical of his father. As was ignoring Point-Two’s demand for a confession.
Being distanced from the action did give him a new perspective, an overview that enabled him to see things more objectively, to recognise patterns and predict intentions.
The chamber turned, Point-Two felt the shift in gravity. The scaffolding holding his body twisted, the walls rotated.
Point-Two pushed through the pressure clamping him in place and looked beyond the asteroid. He wasn’t there but he could see the Seneca ships come in blasting, hitting the Antecessor ships multiple times.
A beam burst through a crater on the asteroid’s surface and surged past the Antecessor ships. A wave of white light struck the lead Seneca ship and vaporised it.
Wasn’t the enemy of your enemy supposed to be your best ally? The Intercessors had just annihilated the very people who would have gotten rid of their problem.
Unless, of course, they didn’t want the arriving ships to be destroyed. If they wanted these attackers to confront Ubik and company and what? Kill them?
No, that wouldn’t be of much use.
What did Ubik have with him? A bunch of goblins newly born and not particularly effective. Fig who held a great power that they daren’t activate. And the organic Ubik had intended planting inside Point-Two’s body.
Point-Two had the horrible feeling the thing Ubik had attached to his arm wasn’t what he thought it was.
Zenity kicked in. Whatever the Intercessors were looking for here, they weren’t going to find it, even with Ramon Ollo’s help. This was Ubik. Point-Two had confidence in his ability to subvert expectations. He would survive and then he would come back to free Point-Two. That was Ubik. Reliable in the most unreliable way possible.
And then he would insert that organism into Point-Two’s body.
Perhaps it would be better if the aliens won this one.