Wormhole Island - Interior.
Point-Two had noticed a change in Ubik’s behaviour — and he didn’t like it.
His usual behaviour wasn’t exactly great. In fact, it was incredibly infuriating, not to mention unreasonable and also preposterous. Basically, any word that indicated a disregard for others — their thoughts, their feelings, their safety — would not be out of place when describing the actions of Ubik U Ubik.
But right now he was being polite, considerate, cooperative…
Not to Point-Two, with whom he had been through many life-threatening moments and calamities. No, he was playing the perfect gentleman towards Weyla.
The Seneca mercenary had suddenly become the centre of Ubik’s world, and Point-Two didn’t like it at all.
They were currently in the passageway Ubik had opened up so casually. It was huge. They could have easily flown through it in the spaceship they had been on before arriving on this ancient island lost inside the wormhole.
The size of the island was vast and it would have taken them a huge amount of time to get anywhere on foot, but both Weyla and Leyla were at the very maximum of their abilities.
Leyla’s organic allowed her to move swiftly, so now she was able to travel at supersonic speed; although she was restricting her movements to stay abreast with her sister.
Weyla’s organic was strength-based. Pushed to its maximum, she was able to leap a vast distance in an instant.
The two sisters were able to traverse the enormous passage at blistering speed — one in mighty bounds, the other cruising alongside.
Point-Two and Ubik had no such powers. They had to rely on their female companions. Point-Two was riding on Leyla’s back, his arms wrapped around her neck.
Ubik was in Weyla’s arms, carried in front because who would want Ubik directly behind them. Ubik didn’t seem to mind being transported in such a manner. In fact, he seemed to be enjoying it very much.
The three of them — Point-Two, Weyla, Leyla — could all sense something had changed with Ubik and were treading carefully. They weren’t in the trap quite yet, but there was a definite sense of being in the trap waiting room.
At the same time, no one seemed willing to bring it up. When you had Ubik leading the way, pointing out interesting features, answering questions — all in a polite, deferential manner — it was hard not to take it at face value and hope for the best.
Point-Two had been in too many tight situations with Ubik (usually tight situations caused by Ubik) to think this was a new leaf for the Master of Mayhem, but it was providing them with a lot of information from the normally unreliable narrator of their unwanted adventure.
Where they were headed, how they would get there, the reason they wouldn’t encounter any opposition. It was all revealed without any of the usual smoke and mirrors Ubik was so fond of. It was very disconcerting.
“How can you be sure the Corps won’t get there first?” asked Weyla. She obviously knew something was up, but she was playing along. Allowing Ubik to think he was winning her over while carefully extracting as much intel from him as she could. Amateur.
“They don’t have anyone to pull them out of their simulations,” answered Ubik, with no sense of sarcasm, no little coda at the end to point out how much smarter he was than everyone else. He just kept his arms around Weyla’s neck and kicked his boots up and down as he was borne aloft.
“But if they did,” said Weyla, pushing off the ground with enough force to cover over a kilometre with each stride, “they would be much more powerful than before. Their organics would be jacked, right?”
Ubik had already explained how the ‘trees’ worked, how they charged up the organics of anyone who came into range, but that humans were not the intended targets for this upgrade and instead would get stuck in a safety buffer for their own good.
This didn’t apply to those who didn’t have an organic. Which, in terms of human passengers on this giant ship, meant him and Ubik.
When the force pervading the ship attempted to plug into Point-Two’s organic, it found nothing to connect to, and he was able to slip out of the simulation he had been inserted into. He assumed something similar had happened to Ubik, although they hadn’t talked about it. Because Point-Two had assumed whatever Ubik might tell him would be a mixture of truth, lies and random fantasy. But perhaps now was the time to press him for details.
“All of you who have organics are going to find you have a lot more power than before,” explained Ubik, his manner that of a kindly teacher talking to a favourite student. “But the more power you have, the harder it will be to control it. What you’ve experienced so far has been little more than the pre-load. If I’m right, we, humans, have only managed to release a tiny fraction of the full potential of organics.”
Weyla nodded, doing her best to act like the attentive student. The only thing betraying her performance were the occasional looks towards her sister keeping pace with her, who was sending her questions to ask via blink-code.
“That makes sense,” said Weyla. “You really have an amazing insight into this stuff. Very impressive.” Did she really think ingratiating herself was going to work?
“Thank you, madam,” said Ubik with a smile, not even a trace of mockery.
Weyla tripped over her own feet and nearly brought them both to an abrupt and very messy stop. Leyla increased her speed and reached to steady Weyla, but Ubik had already jumped out of Weyla’s arms, bounced once on the ground to give Weyla the freedom to correct her posture, and then leapt back.
“Are you alright?” asked Ubik. Genuine concern. Point-Two had never seen him express even counterfeit concern before.
“I’m fine,” said Weyla, a blush of embarrassment on her cheeks. Because she nearly fell over? “Thank you.”
Leyla sent her sister a questioning look but Weyla dismissed it with a small shake of her head.
Leyla had a small frown on her lips, trying to make sense of the new improved Ubik and also a bemused pout that Point-Two assumed was a concern about her sister’s sudden loss of balance. A Seneca soldier didn’t just lose concentration in the middle of a mission.
Point-Two could see all this play out from over Leyla’s shoulder, his eyes watching each of them in turn, enough of an angle to catch all the sideways glances.
“What’s wrong with him?” Leyla said under her breath.
“Nothing,” said Point-Two. “This is the Ubik way. No one second-guesses the path of chaos.” He turned his head to look at Leyla’s profile. “The more you try to see the pattern, the more it’ll change.”
Leyla nodded, as though something had been made clear to her. It hadn’t. He was making up nonsense. He had no idea what Ubik was up to, but whatever it was, it was probably for a reason, and Point-Two’s only option was to blindly back him up.
He really hated providing backup without knowing what he was backing up, but he didn’t have the luxury of being insane like Ubik, so he had to play along with the doubts remaining in place, just like all the other inmates at the asylum.
Ubik’s arm lit up. An internal glow that momentarily turned his right arm translucent.
“This way, here,” said Ubik, suddenly jumping out of Weyla’s arms and skidding to a stop facing a wall. He put his hand against the wall at around shoulder height and pushed. The wall slid back all the way to the top and several metres wise to reveal another passage.
“You knew this was here,” said Weyla. She sounded impressed. Ubik had already told them he had seen the layout of the ship through the trees, but now he was proving it to be true.
The light on his arm flickered and then died out.
“Are you sure you can trust that thing?” asked Point-Two. It wasn’t a serious query, more of a reflex to the anxiety he felt every time he was reminded there was an alien parasite inside Ubikf.
“Yes, we’re perfectly safe. I wouldn’t put any of you in danger.” He looked at Weyla. “I’ll protect you.”
Weyla blanched a little, not knowing how to take the proclamation.
“What if it’s controlling you?” said Point-Two. “Without you knowing.”
“You’d still be able to tell,” said Ubik. “I’d be acting all weird and different.”
“You are acting all weird and different,” Point-Two pointed out.
“Me? No, this is just me being chill. I’ve got this whole place under my thumb. Nothing can stop us. Even if the Fourth tried to interfere, he couldn’t. He doesn’t have the strength or the access.”
“What if he uses the others to attack us?” said Point-Two.
“The Fourth and organics don’t mix,” said Ubik, supremely confident. He turned back to Weyla. “Do you think I’m acting weird?”
“No,” said Weyla, shaking her head a little too vigorously. “Not at all. Do you know where they keep their Antecessor weapons?”
“Yes, I do actually. It was clearly marked on the map I saw back at the tree. We should pass the armoury on the way.” He tapped the wall just inside the passage and a strip of light along the floor on either side of the doorway came on in sections, one after the other, showing the path ahead. “Shall we?”
“One minute,” said Leyla. “I just want to do a quick check.” She vanished in a blur. Weyla took a moment to check the lighting, trying to understand how it worked.
“What are you doing?” whispered Point-Two.
“What do you mean?” Ubik gave Point-Two a confused look.
“Why are you messing with her? She has a gun. And muscles.” He shifted his gaze towards Weyla.
Ubik shook his head. “You’ve got it all wrong. Think of it as therapy.”
“That’s great,” said Point-Two. “I’m glad you’ve finally accepted that you need help, but—”
“Not therapy for me.” He patted Point-Two on the shoulder. “I’ve never fixed anyone’s brain before. It’s exciting.” His eyes turned round for a moment before he stepped into the new passage as Leyla returned.
“Completely empty for the next few clicks,” said Leyla. “It’s like a ghost ship.”
“Ghosts,” said Ubik. “Yes, I suppose there must be.”
They continued as before, until several hours later when they came to a large set of double doors that loomed over them. They were ornate and imposing, and projected an air of grandeur which hadn’t been in the rest of the ship that they’d seen so far.
There was a white tree on either side, like guardians.
They stopped some distance from the doors, both to take in the sheer scale of it, and also so that the two women didn’t get caught by the trees again. Even from a distance, they could feel the power.
The two women already looked buzzed with the influx of power.
“Through there will be the start of the ship-proper,” said Ubik.
“What was all that we just walked through?” asked Point-Two.
“Storage,” said Ubik. “Some venting shafts, engine works.”
“We came in through the ventilation?” asked Leyla.
“Yes,” said Ubik, like it should have been obvious to everyone.
Point-Two didn’t doubt it, but there was something odd about all of this he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
“How do we open it?” asked Weyla.
“You,” said Ubik.
“Yes. If you don’t mind. It requires someone with strength augmentation to open it.”
“I just push it open with my bare hands?” said Weyla.
“No,” said Ubik. “You aren’t nearly strong enough, and anyway you don’t need to use physical strength. That’s what the trees are for.”
“The trees will boost her strength?” said Point-Two.
“Right,” said Ubik. “To make sure whoever wants to open it has their full power available. Top-up trees.”
“But how does that help us?” said Point-Two. “You said humans can only get a small boost, and that’s if they don’t get stuck in a simulation.”
The two women also waited to hear the explanation.
“Normally, yes,” said Ubik. “But this is the perfect opportunity for us to push the boundaries of the human experience.”
“When you say ‘us’,” said Leyla. “You mean Weyla?”
“That’s right. She has the most potential here — no offence — and I think she can make a breakthrough to a much higher level than anything that’s been seen before.”
“And if it goes wrong?” asked Leyla. “What will happen to her?”
“Death is certainly a possibility,” said Ubik. “I’m not going to lie, it’s a risk. But… with me here to guide her, I’m willing to bet she can do it.”
“What are you betting?” asked Leyla. “It’s her life on the line.”
“Naturally I also will bet my life,” said Ubik. “If I’m with her in there and she dies, then so do I.”
“In where?” asked Leyla.
“Ubik can access your simulation,” said Point-Two. “While you’re in there.”
For some reason, Ubik was violently shaking his head at Point-Two.
Weyla’s face changed. It went red, and then something darker. “You can see inside my simulation?”
“There’s nothing to worry about,” said Ubik, stepping back and holding his hands up defensively. “Nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Weyla didn’t look worried, or embarrassed. She looked furious.
“You saw. That’s why you’ve been like this.” She started to speak with her jaw clenched tightly and the words coming out like bullets. “What happens inside a simulated reality created by alien technology isn’t something I can control.” She was moving towards him. Slowly, with heavy footsteps.
“Of course,” said Ubik. “It isn’t important what the simulation is, only that it keeps you occupied while the trees do their work. You can’t fight it and you can’t give into it. You have to control it. Like a lucid dream.”
Weyla stopped bearing down on him. “What did you see? Did you see me fight or submit?”
“Fight, of course,” said Ubik. “But with me there, the real me, you can take control and make things the way you want them to be. That’s how you allow the power to infuse your organic.”
A thousand different thoughts seemed to pass through Weyla’s mind.
Weyla controlled her fury, as expected of a trained soldier (although Point-Two wasn’t sure she’d last long if Ubik mounted a full-out assault) and turned her attention to her sister.
“I don’t know,” said Leyla without a question having been asked.
“I want to try,” said Weyla.
It only took a split second for them to have what appeared to be a short discussion, but as someone who was close to his own sister, Point-Two could tell there was a lifetime of shared experience behind that simple exchange.
Weyla looked back at Ubik. “I will kill you if this is a trick.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you killed me even if it weren’t,” said Ubik, “madam.”
Weyla’s eyebrow twitched but her expression remained impassive. “What do I do?”
“Go sit in between the two trees,” said Ubik. “And don’t resist when I enter you.”
“When you do what?”
Ubik smiled. “Don’t worry, it won’t be physical. I’ll be entering your mind.”
It sounded like the better of the two options, but Point-Two wasn’t so sure.
Weyla gave her sister one final look and then started walking towards the door, equidistant from the two trees.
“That’s far enough,” called out Ubik. “Sit there.”
Weyla sat down in a lotus position with her back to them. Only her shoulders moved as she started to control her breathing.
“Okay, brace yourself,” said Ubik, and then he ran up behind Weyla at full speed, placed his hands on her back and slid the next few metres, driving her forward from behind.
As they got closer, both trees began to glow brightly.
Weyla stiffened, her head jerking back and then froze in place.
Ubik threw his arms around her from behind and sat down, embracing her.
Point-Two and Leyla watched, not daring to say anything, both wondering if this was just an Ubik ploy to wind them up. Point-Two didn’t think it was likely, but only in the way 49% wasn’t as likely as 51%.
Then the trees flashed an intense silver brilliance. That silver brilliance only lasted for an instant before suddenly exploding, leaves of light scattering into the air. The leaves floated down over the couple sitting on the floor.
Right above Weyla and Ubik, a luminous silver light expanded swiftly before slowing down, spreading and twisting. As it spread out, it took the form of hundreds of strange shapes which were different in form but similar in size.
They were rows of strangely shaped symbols and characters.
Point-two stared at those strange characters, unable to look away.
The characters moved towards the door and merged with it.
The doors swung open silently. A strange sensation swept over Point-Two. He lifted his head abruptly and his line of sight froze for a long time.
Through the door was what looked very much like a gigantic bone. Several metres long, pitch black in colour, and exuding a strange aura. He had never seen anything like it in his life, but somehow Point-Two knew he was looking at the bone of an Antecessor.