Wormhole Island - Interior.
Ubik waited for PT to say something. He knew the transformation as six organics were fused together inside his body would be drastic, and the best way to gauge the change would be to observe the change in PT’s behaviour.
Even if the body transformation was successful, it would be of no use if the process drove PT insane. But that wasn’t a likely outcome. Ubik was almost fifty percent certain PT would retain at least part of his mind.
He was a very consistent person, in Ubik’s eyes. Very true to his principles, which made him an excellent barometer. Ubik considered him a good friend and an even better test subject.
“Ubik, what did you do?” PT demanded to know. He was especially cute when he demanded answers without even knowing the correct questions to ask.
“Nothing,” said Ubik. “Everything’s being handled by the parasite. It knows what it’s doing. It’s done this sort of thing a million times.”
“Not in humans it hasn’t,” said PT.
“You feel fine, don’t you?” There was no immediate response, so Ubik took that as a yes. In fact, he took it as a ‘Yes, Ubik, you’re right again and I have no reason not to trust you.’
“Hey, I asked you a question.”
“Huh?” said Ubik. “What?”
“The device you got off Fig, where did you put it?”
“That’s not important,” said Ubik. “Actually, it’s better if you don’t know. It helps in the infarction process.”
“You just made that up,” said PT in an unwarranted accusing tone.
“It’s not my fault you aren’t familiar with the technical terms. I don’t have time to break it down for you.”
“You always try to deflect by talking jargon and using long words,” said PT. He was obviously fishing.
“That is a completely unsubstantiated insinuation. The recombinant phase of the fusion junction is a little complex, that’s all.” He smiled into the nothingness of PT’s brain space. “I wouldn’t hide anything from you if it wasn’t integral to the folditure mechanism.”
“You have no idea what you just said, do you?”
“I have every idea,” said Ubik.
“The six organics, what are they?”
“It’s not as simple as that,” said Ubik. “It depends on the translation. Linguistics is a beautiful but complex discipline, don’t you think?”
“Why not ask the parasite?”
“It’s busy. Busy making you into a new and improved Hollet 3.2. I think you’re going to really like what we’re putting together for you. The full package, all the extras.”
“You’re going to wait until everything falls apart, and then you’re going to leg it, aren’t you?”
“What?” said Ubik. “How can you say that? I’m going to be right here until the very end. You can count on me being by your side no matter what.”
“Really?” said PT, sounding unconvinced.
“Of course. What do you think…” Ubik stopped and cocked his head. There it was again. “Be right back, just got to check on something.” He left before PT could start pointing out inconsistencies, which seemed to be his favourite pastime.
Ubik left the part of the bone that housed PT’s consciousness and entered the area the parasite was using as a staging area.
“What happened?” said Ubik. He had felt an odd vibration.
“It’s not working,” said the parasite. Currently, it looked exactly like him. “Can I stop using your likeness now? It makes me uncomfortable.”
“No, it’s a good look for you. And what do you mean, it’s not working? He’s still alive, so it can’t be a total failure.”
“See for yourself.” The parasite put an image in Ubik’s head.
“Yeeeuch! What am I looking at?”
“That is your friend in his current condition.”
“Hey, let’s keep this professional. For the purposes of this conversation, it’s the test subject. Why is the test subject like that?”
“Complete loss of integrity,” said the parasite, looking right at Ubik. “He… the test subject is still alive and as long as we keep mind and body separate there should be no pain — perhaps a little sympathetic feedback — but if we continue there is no doubt the only outcome will be death.”
The parasite sounded very confident in its prognosis. Clearly lying.
“He’s got an extremely high CQ, we’ve got these top-quality organics, what’s the problem?”
“The problem,” said the parasite, “is that your kind doesn’t have the internal structural stability to withstand a second organic fusion. Your DNA is weak. I don’t know what you’ve been doing for the last several million years, but it obviously involved a lot of inbreeding. There isn’t enough variation in the code. Four bases? How do you even manage to remain upright? Not enough stability in the foundation means the taller the tower, the quicker it will topple.”
“Firstly,” said Ubik, “I don’t appreciate how you’ve appropriated my use of gibberish to cover for your own deficiencies. A lot of people might fall for that sort of obfuscation, but not I. Secondly, wasn’t the whole point of fusing the structural organic first to give the base the stability it lacked?”
“Yes,” said the parasite. “It didn’t work. The first organic embedded fine. No problem with the first embeddment.”
“Stop it,” warned Ubik.
“But when I added the second, it refused to attach, and led to the dissolution of form and content, as you saw.”
“What about Dr Yune’s device?”
“What?” Ubik exclaimed.
“It overloaded. Fortunately, the power of the explosion ejected it out of the orifice you placed it in.”
“Which was obviously why I placed it there,” said Ubik. No one ever wanted to give him credit for his foresight. “But that device was made to suppress the most powerful organic ever discovered.”
“The power of two organics can’t be compared to one, no matter how powerful. It’s on a different order of magnitude. At this point, it would be safest to keep the first organic and discharge the other five.”
“But I distinctly recall you saying removing them would kill the subject.”
“Yes,” said the parasite, “but the first organic took so well I think the subject will be able to maintain structural integrity.”
“No, no, no,” said Ubik. “There’s no way we’re coming this far just to abandon the whole project because of one small setback. Let me think. What was the second organic you used?”
“The coagulate,” said the parasite.
“The one that looks like jelly?”
The parasite sighed, which it had no physiological reason to do. “Yes, I suppose. It would have provided a binding agent for the other four organics.”
“Hmm,” said Ubik. “What effect would the jelly have if it was the only organic?”
“It’s hard to say with your bizarre physiology. The ability to adhere to any surface?” The parasite shrugged.
“What do you mean? Like an insect? What kind of useless ability is that?” Ubik shook his head. These were meant to be premium organics? “And what were you planning to use next?”
“Filament. It would allow the manipulation of objects outside of the subject’s immediate sphere of influence.”
“Move things without touching them?” said Ubik. “Telekinetically?”
“Not exactly. It would physically attach to them but at the subatomic level.”
“Like an invisible thread?” said Ubik. “Or a strand of spider silk… what exactly are you trying to turn the subject into?”
“I’m not trying to turn it into anything. I’m attempting to build the strongest possible base so the organics don’t fall apart and kill the subject.”
“Hmm,” said Ubik. “What are the others? There’s the liquid one…”
“Adoption of environment,” said the parasite.
“And the heat one.”
“That could make him fire laser beams out of his eyes, right?”
The parasite didn’t seem very excited by the idea. “It is possible. It would be better to use it to provide an energy converter. The energy consumption of six organics will naturally be immense.
“And there’s one more, isn’t there?”
“What? Which one is that?”
“The distance one,” said the parasite with maximum disdain.
“And what does it do?”
“It shortens the length of atomic bonds.”
“Shrinks things? You’re really obsessed with turning him into a spider, aren’t you?”
“No. That wouldn’t be the result of combining—”
“Wait, wait. It’s obvious. Make the second one nukeage. Condense it all into a small space, less likely to break.”
“Then you put in the filament, tie it up nice and tight. Then add the jelly, nice and sticky. What we got left? Liquid then heat… why not? Maybe he’ll still be able to shoot them eye lasers. Try that.”
“I don’t think—”
“I know, that’s why I’m here. Come on, let’s get to it. Can’t leave him as a puddle, can we?”
“You won’t reconsider stopping here? I can reconstitute him with one very powerful organic. He will be very solid.”
“A basic strength organic?” Ubik rolled his eyes. “PT wouldn’t agree to that, even if I asked him. We’re going big. All six, no flinching when things get yucky.”
“Very well,” said the parasite with no enthusiasm. “And after the test subject has been finalised, I would like to request a separation of our union.”
“You’re dumping me?” said Ubik, shocked.
“I think it would be best.”
“When have you ever heard of the parasite abandoning the host?” said Ubik.
“All things are possible in the pursuit of survival,” said the parasite.
“Okay, fine. Do this and I’ll flush you down the next waste removal device we come across. All the freedom you can swim through. Now, let’s go, go, go.”
The parasite turned and vanished. A little insubordinate, but that was the price of allowing your workers to use their initiative. Ubik was confident his suggestion of organic reordering would yield results. It was impossible to say what PT would become at the end of the process, but no doubt it would be something worth keeping around. Possibly in a bucket.
Ubik took a moment and then as he was about to return to PT’s brain space, he felt a shudder. Something outside of the bone trying to get in. Had the Fourth decided to pay a visit? It was too early.
He felt the pressure but the bone held and then the presence retreated. Perhaps Weyla and Leyla were keeping it busy. Ubik rushed back to PT.
“Where have you been?” asked PT in a sour tone.
“Had to check on the embeddment,” said Ubik.
There was a long pause. “I think we should stop while we’re ahead,” said PT. “I can feel something’s off. It’s like I’ve got nothing holding me up, no support.”
“Of course you have support. You’ve got me. I’m here to back you all the way.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“And we can’t stop. That would only kill you dead on the spot.”
“But can’t you—”
“Nope. I asked the same question. Definitive no, not possible, can’t be done.”
“Hmmph,” said PT. “I guess I have to see this through then.”
“We,” said Ubik. “We have to see this through.”
The walls started shaking.
There weren’t any actual walls, but the effect was similar. Something was trying to tear down the barrier between this space and the outside.
“What’s that?” said PT.
“I don’t know, but we’re in this together. Wait here, be right back.”
Ubik tried to get back to the parasite — he had to defend it until it got the job done — but he was immediately knocked back as though he’d hit an invisible wall.
A powerful presence had entered the bone, but not the Fourth.
“Ubik.” Figaro appeared in front of him. “You should install a doorbell, it was really hard to get in here.”
Fig looked the same as ever, even though this was a mental projection. What state was the real Fig in? Whose side was he on?
“How did you get in?” said Ubik. Maybe he wasn’t alone.
“The parasite let me in. Is PT here?”
Ubik felt a surge of rage rise up. The parasite really didn’t have any sense. He would definitely withdraw its right to use his likeness.
“Yeah, I’m here,” said PT’s disembodied voice. “Did you see my body outside? How did I look?”
“We have to hurry,” said Ubik, interrupting just in the nick of time. “I think the parasite’s in trouble. When he let Fig in, someone else could have got through.”
“No, he’s fine,” said Figaro. “I helped it suppress the six organics so they’re not as volatile. Should make them a lot easier to fuse.”
“You mean it’s going to work now?” said Ubik.
“What do you mean ‘now’?” said PT.
“I mean, it’s going to work even better now. Great.” Ubik smiled. Looked like PT really was going to make it. He’d foreseen a lot of different outcomes but this one, he hadn’t even considered. What a nice surprise.