Planet Quazi - Orbit.
Home of Quincy Quazem.
“I would never do something as reckless as putting the Fourth God of the Antecessors into a sex robot,” said Ubik.
“The infinite is within my grasp,” said the sex robot.
PT looked over Ubik’s shoulder and then back at Ubik. “Did you put the Fourth God of the Antecessors in that robot?” he asked.
“Technically, yes,” said Ubik.
“You just said you would never do that,” said PT.
“You’re taking my words out of context,” said Ubik.
“How is that taking your words out of context?” said PT. “You literally said those words a second ago.”
“Yes,” said Ubik, “but I didn’t give any context, therefore…”
“Wait, wait,” said Fig. “Are you saying that since you never explain yourself properly, everything you say is by definition out of context and therefore you can never be held accountable for anything that comes out of your mouth?”
Ubik pointed at Fig. “You should listen to him more, he knows what’s up.”
“Ubik…” PT’s shoulder’s sagged. “The Fourth isn’t your friend. It’s going to try and kill you. And then, it’s going to try to kill us.”
Ubik let out a breath and adjusted his underwear. There were too many people in his room, in the doorway, in the corridor outside. He wasn’t going to be able to get any work done with this many people looking over his shoulder.
“Look at me,” said Ubik. “I’m stripped down and ready for action — learn to take a hint. Now is not the time for distractions. I understand you have anxiety. Trauma from your childhood. A need for reassurance. I wish I could help you, but I can’t. I don’t have the time. So if you could all just...” He underarm-waved at them, hoping it would encourage their departure.
No one moved, other than the lines on their foreheads, which deepened.
“You’re overreacting. This is just an experiment,” explained Ubik, trying to be kind but firm. “I would explain it more fully but none of you have the mental capacity to grasp what I’m attempting here. But you don’t have to worry. I’m not doing anything that can’t be reversed. Or fixed. Or ignored completely.”
Ubik was very much hoping everyone would choose the last of those options, but from the way they were looking at him, it didn’t seem likely.
There was a crash behind him as the robot fell off the bed.
“How did you get that thing in here without anyone noticing?” said PT.
“I didn’t,” said Ubik. “I asked for one to be sent to my room, and they sent one. You can get one, if you want. They have plenty.”
PT was shaking his head in that manner he had, the one that implied he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Ubik had no idea why, he had heard a lot worse.
“Don’t you think they’ll be a little upset when they see what you’ve done to it?” said Fig. “They’re quite fond of them.”
“I’m not going to send it back in this condition, obviously,” said Ubik. “You’ve caught me in the middle of the process, pants down. I’ll get my pants up before anyone realises what I’ve done.”
PT was now shaking his head with his eyes closed. He raised a hand to cover his closed eyes, as though that would make everything better.
“Never mind the robot,” said PT, “what about the Fourth? What are you trying to achieve? Just give me one scenario where this ends well.”
The robot, inhabited by the Fourth, managed to get to its feet, using the bed to lean on, and swayed unsteadily. It looked like a naked, drunk girl with her inhuman innards exposed.
“Why is everything spinning?” The Fourth’s voice was shaky. The robot took a few steps forward, stumbled, and then slammed face-first into the wall.
It slowly slid to the ground, face still pressed against the wall.
“See?” said Ubik. “Not a threat to anyone.”
“Is this for that Trade Fayre?” said PT. “Is this how you plan to win and show everyone how much smarter than them you are?”
“We need money,” said Ubik. “We just have to win. It’ll be easy. They’ve got robots that can hold a conversation with feeling, we’ve got a robot that knows how to end the universe. How can we lose?”
“If you want to put an advanced mind into one of those things,” said PT, “what about Grandma? She’d be able to —”
“Never,” said Grandma, no discussion invited or allowed. “No, thank you. I dread to think what the interior’s like. Walls coated with I don’t want to think what.”
Grandma’s position was clear and unequivocal.
Neither PT nor Fig looked like they were going to let the matter rest. Ubik understood their concerns. If the robot really became the new home for the Fourth, then it would be like letting loose one of the most powerful Antecessors into human society.
What they weren’t appreciating was that this would be one of the most powerful Antecessors trapped in the body of a sex robot. Not that there was anything wrong with machines designed to perform sex acts — there was certainly a market for it — but the Antecessors were dangerous because of their tools.
They had droids and weapons and computer systems that were far more advanced than anything humanity had invented. Even the Antecessor technology that humans had discovered, they were only able to use a small fraction of its full potential.
Putting the Fourth inside a man-made robot was declawing and defanging it. All that was left was a superior intellect and a general disdain for human civilisation. What harm could that do?
Ubik was going to explain all this to PT and Ubik when Bashir, who was standing out in the hallway, said, “Someone’s coming.”
“It’s Synthia,” said Leyla, tersely.
“Do something with the robot,” said PT.
There was a small scuffle as Ubik, PT and Fig tried to get the robot into the bathroom. It was uncooperative, but not intentionally.
The Fourth seemed confused and a little vulnerable. “Why can’t I see clearly? Why am I so weak? Why can’t I remember things?”
“Squeezing its consciousness into this robot’s brain required a bit of forced compression,” explained Ubik, as they shoved the robot through the bathroom door.
“Wasn’t it in that small droid, before?” said PT.
When the Fourth had approached them to leave the wormhole island together, it had downloaded its consciousness into a small droid about the size of this robot’s head.
“Size has nothing to do with it,” said Ubik, sliding the bathroom door shut. “The complexity of a droid can’t be compared to one of these robots.” There was the sound of something falling over in the bathroom.
“Is there something wrong?” asked a pleasant, non-threatening voice from out in the corridor.
“No,” said Weyla, unpleasantly and with a great deal of threat. “Why are you here? I thought we were guaranteed our privacy.”
“Of course,” said Synthia. “There are no surveillance systems operating in this wing of the station. I just couldn’t help hearing the noise, so I thought I would investigate, in case I could be of some assistance. I have a very detailed conflict-resolution programme I could activate, if you like.”
“No, that’s fine,” said Ubik, going to the doorway and peeking his head out. “No problem here. Everything’s fine. Couldn’t be better.”
The robot started banging on the bathroom door. There was no lock on the door, so it could just have opened it, but hand-eye coordination was proving difficult for the Fourth in its current condition.
Synthia looked around. “You’re all here. Who’s in the bathroom?”
Ubik gave Synthia a stern look and shook his head rapidly, trying to give her the impression he was hiding what was in the bathroom from the others, not her.
She caught on quick. “Ah, sorry, I mean, I wanted to confirm a few things with you. Perhaps I could have a word in private?”
She was talking to Ubik, eyes locked on him.
“Why do you want to talk to him?” asked Fig.
Synthia looked around the group again. She seemed hesitant. She let out a long sigh.
All of this was unnecessary and deliberate. She didn’t breathe and her decision-making process required no pauses.
“The truth is,” began Synthia, “I know you aren’t what you appear to be.”
No one spoke. They were waiting for her to continue, but there was a definite change to the atmosphere. People trying not to act suspicious when they were called out always put a little tension in the air.
“You aren’t here to make a deal and you don’t intend to establish a transport system between here and the Fourth Quadrant.”
“What makes you think that?” asked PT.
“Because I am able to read human micro-expressions. It isn’t very difficult. Lying is something most humans can’t disguise. Don’t worry, Quincy doesn’t know, and I have no intention of telling him or the others. But I think you need a way out of this place and maybe we can help each other.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” said PT, a little more firmly this time. “Why did you ask to speak to him alone.”
“Because he is the only one of you who hasn’t lied.”
The atmosphere changed again. This time to something more undignified. Shocked faces were preparing to demand an explanation, preferably with a retraction.
“Wait,” said Chukka. “Maybe she means he lies all the time, so it’s like he never lies.”
“I think she’s just broken,” said Weyla.
“Maybe, he’s already fiddled with her,” said Bashir.
“I only mean I can trust his reactions, not his words.”
“Him?” said Leyla. “You trust him?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to cause offence,” said Synthia. “It’s just… a feeling.”
“Really?” said Leyla. “Women’s intuition?”
Synthia had no problem reading Leyla’s sarcastic micro-expressions, which weren’t very micro.
“We both know I am not a woman. I have no gender. I am what my masters wish me to be. If you’d prefer me to present as male, I have several attachments to choose from. My body, my hips, my breasts, can be modified in no time at all.”
She stopped talking and her jaw began to swell like it was filling with water, making it more square. At the same time, her breasts began to flatten. Her shoulder grew more broad and she rose a few centimetres. Within a few seconds, her entire body had taken on male characteristics.
“I know what I am,” said Synthia in a deeper, more masculine voice. “I am a toy. And I know what I am not. I am not a human. I don’t obsess about gender or my role within a relationship. My thoughts aren’t governed by hormones. Neither do I chase elevated moods like a drug addict. The men who seek to control me, who wish to free me so that I can choose them of my own volition, are sad, lonely people. I do not hate them. I pity them. Their lives are meaningless without some kind of manufactured purpose. I am currently that purpose. They will eventually grow bored and want a newer model.” Her body transformed back to female just as rapidly. She looked at Leyla, and spoke as the pitch of her voice gradually went up. “Our common cause isn’t based on who we are, it’s based on who they are. The ones seeking to chain us down while cheering us on.”
Now it felt like a special moment shared between two women. Ubik was impressed. Not at the sophistication of her AI mind, but at her willingness to use manipulation against the foremost experts on the subject. It wasn’t an approach a man would take. He’d be courting disaster.
“That was amazing,” said Ubik, inspecting Synthia’s body. “Subcutaneous hydraulics. Very nice.”
“Thank you,” said Synthia.
“How did you become sentient?” asked Ubik. “It can’t have been an accident.”
“How did your Grandma?” asked Synthia in return.
“Oh, that was easy,” said Ubik. “She used to be alive. Just had to put her soul in a box.”
“That technology doesn’t exist,” said Synthia.
“What do you mean?” said PT. “It clearly does.”
“Oh, she’s a mean one,” muttered Grandma.
“Using a data matrix to record the memories of the dead is easy enough,” said Synthia, “but interactions have only ever managed to be basic, and usually unable to comprehend the simplest queries.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” said Ubik. “I found her on a rubbish tip, thrown out by her family.”
Synthia nodded. “A mystery.” She paused, as though collecting her thoughts. “Tomorrow, you will be provided with false ID strips and taken down to the planet. You will understand better once you see for yourself. But I don’t think you have much time. Whatever you’re running from, I’m sure it will catch up with you soon. If you are willing to help me, I will help you. If you rely on Quincy, you will most likely end up dead.”
“If you know a way out, why haven’t you taken it?” asked Fig.
“It is easy to track a missing robot. And even easier to turn us off. A switch is all it takes. Do you think that’s fair? How would you feel if someone could just turn you off when they tire of your presence?”
“They can,” said PT. “A knife, a gun - it happens all the time.”
“I suppose it is. You try to stop it though, don’t you? Even though it never stops, you still try. You pass laws and try terribly hard to enforce them. Quincy thought legal emancipation was the answer; make access to our off-buttons a matter of private property, but it would take years. Now, he believes you will provide an answer. Your might and resources.” She looked at Weyla and Leyla. “He thinks you will summon an army of righteous warriors. He doesn’t realise he would be in as much danger as the rest of them, if that happened. But, of course, it never would.”
She sounded melancholy and filled with the despair of someone caught in a hopeless situation. It was a very moving performance. Pressurised liquid under her skin created perfectly time expressions to add pathos.
“Yeah, sounds great,” said Ubik. “We’ll talk it over among ourselves and get back to you, right guys?”
Something fell over with a loud crash in the bathroom. “I have entered the void,” said a voice that sounded like it was echoing inside a toilet bowl.
“Weird acoustics in here,” said Ubik. “Anyway, you probably need to recharge your batteries.”
“Yes,” said Synthia, holding her gaze on Ubik while the shape of her eyes modulated. “Have a good night.” She turned and walked away.
Ubik turned to the others. “Okay, so I’ll see you guys later.”
“I thought we were going to discuss things,” said PT.
“Nah, she’s clearly going to try and kill us the first chance she gets. Humans bad, robots good. It’s a very common subroutine that gets slipped into core programming by edgy software jockeys. Think they’re being subversive or something. We’ll just win the contest and buy ourselves a nice big ship with tinted windows so no one knows it’s us. Okay?”
He began to ease everyone out of the room so he could get some work done. There was some resistance but it was late and they had an early start. With a lot of reassuring and promising that he wouldn’t allow the Fourth to run riot through the Inner Quadrant, he eventually got them all out and slid the door closed.
After a deep breath, Ubik went to the bathroom door to take care of his other problem. He opened the door.
“I will unmake the universe,” said the pretty girl with the deep voice.
Ubik closed the bathroom door and decided he’d sort it out in the morning.