Figaro didn’t think it was a bet worth making. The death of millions to trick the Antecessors into destroying themselves.
Even if it was a bluff of some kind and the citizens of Enaya had a chance of surviving, there was still a possibility that they would die.
It was the kind of wager he knew his father would accept. He would do the calculations and work out the best possible chance to edge a win. Not just good odds but also variables reduced to make sure there were no unexpected outliers in play. In other words, he would cheat.
And likewise, Ubik would also take the bet. He would take any bet. He just liked betting. Usually on himself but any underdog would do. Ubik was a romantic. The absolute worst kind of person to be reliant on.
Both would be aware of the consequences failure would bring but neither would care. The lure of victory was just too great.
Figaro knew this was the correct way to think and act if you wanted to be the sort of person who changed the course of history. And he could make himself make the correct choice under pressure by simply working out what his father would do and doing that. He knew all the right answers.
But it wasn’t what he wanted to do.
“Why is that VendX ship firing on the planet?” demanded Ramon Ollo without asking anyone in particular. “Have they lost their minds?”
He looked around the room, pausing slightly when he got to the two Seneca mercenaries before moving on to the Guardians.
“Did you kill all these people? You understand their sacrifice would have saved us all? Did all your AIs malfunction at the same time and leave you to think for yourselves?”
Figaro stared intently at his father. It looked like his father, but then the other two versions he had encountered on the asteroid had also been very accurate replicas. This new arrival could easily be another one. A partial reconstruction of the Ramon Ollo psyche.
“Our operational command and analytical systems were destroyed by the Antecesor ships,” said Guardian Tezla, in a matter-of-fact tone. She was calm and sombre, treating Ramon Ollo as an equal. They all tried to at first. It never lasted very long.
“Father?” said Figaro. “Why did they release you?”
“What have you done?” snapped this father, locking onto Figaro, sounding as imperious and dismissive as the real Ramon Ollo would.
“I… I haven’t done anything.” Figaro was aware that his brain was reacting to this man as though he was the real thing. That didn’t necessarily mean he was the real thing, but it did mean Figaro still lacked the confidence to stand up to him.
Everyone else in the room was silent, taken aback by the man’s undeniable presence. Ramon Ollo had that effect on people. When he walked into a room, people stopped what they were doing. When he walked into a room and acted annoyed, they stopped and looked for the nearest exit. It took a strong person to walk towards that kind of face-melting pressure. Either that or a complete fool.
“Hello there,” said Ubik, bouncing across the room to intercept Ramon. “Which version of him are you? So far, we’ve had cold and heartless — he was a bit robotic for my tastes, to be honest with you — and we’ve had dim but enthusiastic. I liked him but I’m not sure he’d be easy to live with for any sort of extended time.” Ubik grinned and raised his eyebrows as though he was imparting some private joke. “You must be… gravely disappointed with everyone?” He turned to Figaro. “Is that one of his established roles?”
Figaro couldn’t stop himself from nodding.
Ramon’s own eyebrows creased and wrinkled. His nostrils flared for a moment as he exhaled air. Figaro recognised this as an indication that his father was taking a moment to think of a response. His father rarely paused to think. In fact, the only time he did so was when he was choosing the most appropriate form of punishment, one that would cause the recipient the most suitable discomfort down to the genetic level.
“I think he may be my actual father,” said Figaro.
The general sense of unease around the room increased.
“No, I don’t think that’s right,” said PT’s voice. “Didn’t Ubik say they wouldn’t allow Ramon Ollo to appear in his complete form? Too risky to let a genius walk around freely, right?”
“I know,” said Figaro. “But I just have this feeling…”
“You were wrong before,” said PT.
“Hmm,” said Figaro. He had been fooled previously, but there was something about this version…
“You,” said his father to Ubik. “This is your handiwork, isn’t it?”
“What is?” said Ubik, looking around the room as though he was being blamed for some kind of interior decorating faux pas. “It was like this when I got here.”
Ramon’s gaze fixed on one of the screens floating in the air. He moved past Ubik like he had forgotten he was there and quickly analysed the movements of the various constructs around the asteroid.
Ships and wreckage and the sigil. All of it was pointed at the planet.
“You should be on that sigil,” Ramon said to Figaro. “This would all be taken care of by now.” Then he suddenly turned to Chukka. “Why is your ship attacking my planet?
Chukka flinched before collecting herself. “It’s been hijacked. You should destroy it.”
“Not good,” Ramon muttered to himself.
“It’s part of Ubik’s plan,” said Figaro. There was a sharp intake of breath from PT that seemed to come from right next to Figaro’s ear, clearly not thinking it was a good idea to mention anything involving Ubik. Figaro understood the concern. Once people thought there was a plan afoot they would ask questions, and then they would go through the cycle of surprise, shock and depression as they realised what the plan was and the likely outcome.
But this was his father. He would already know what was happening and the likely outcome, and how to fix it. What he wouldn’t know was that the seemingly disastrous outcome was intentional.
Ramon Ollo frowned and looked from screen to screen. Figaro followed his gaze. Everything was shifting focus from the asteroid to the planet. The VendX flagship was firing on the defence grid and taking out satellites one after the other.
Figaro had no idea why or how Ubik had managed it. He hadn’t actually done anything as far as Figaro could tell — no communications sent, no orders given. But then that was one of Ubik’s favourite methods — get someone else to do your dirty work for you. Figaro just had to work out who it was that had assisted Ubik, which would be difficult since the accomplice probably had no idea they were a participant.
Guardian Tezla stepped forward, her head passing through one of the screens. “Are you really Ramon Ollo?” Her tone was sincere and respectful, as was to be expected.
Ramon gave her a glancing look. “Central Authority shouldn’t be in my space.”
There was a slight tensing of the area around her mouth but Tezla’s tone remained the same. “We wouldn’t be if you hadn’t been captured and an alien force hadn’t emerged from your wormhole.”
“Yes,” said Ramon. “I suppose the Null Void had nothing to do with it.”
The Guardian’s eyes flickered as she looked over at Ubik who was currently standing on tiptoe behind Ramon, peering over his shoulder at the screens.
“Give me an opening and I’ll take him and leave,” said Tezla.
“He’ll leave with us,” said one of the Seneca women.
“I’m not leaving,” said Ubik, smugly enjoying being fought over by women. “This is just starting to get good.”
Figaro wasn’t sure what he should do. His father’s appearance seemed unlikely to be a coincidence. Ubik had said the Intercessors were keeping him under confinement because they feared what he might do if released. Figaro believed this. But here he was.
Here he was after Ubik indicated that the planet was the perfect source of living beings needed to operate the sigil. A planet controlled by his father. If they wanted their plan to work, they needed to provide the sigil with a source of living beings.
As far as Figaro was able to surmise, this all led to one obvious conclusion — this was what Ubik had planned all along.
Force the Intercessors to release Ramon Ollo in a state that would be able to make Enaya a viable target for the Antecessors. Whatever the risk, this would enable them to continue with their plans. Which would allow the Intercessors to continue with theirs. Which, in turn, would allow his father to continue with his.
Of course, what they all failed to grasp was that this series of cascading calculations would allow Ubik to continue with his plan. And most likely that would be the most devastating plan of all.
“This is terrible,” said Ramon, ignoring everyone else. “If the Antecessors don’t react, millions will die.”
Figaro nodded to himself. Yes, his father was definitely on the same wavelength as Ubik. He didn’t know what that wavelength contained or exactly what it was meant to achieve, but he had no doubt the two of them had an understanding. An understanding he didn’t share, which was a little disheartening. He was the Ollo heir, after all. Not being able to see the future the way his father could had always made him feel like something of a disappointment, but if it took being an Ubik-level maniac to get there, perhaps it was alright to fall a little short.
“Can you do something about it?” asked Tezla. She obviously didn’t know what was going to happen either, but she could tell it would be bad if it failed (and probably not so great even if it didn’t). In many ways, having Ramon Ollo on deck to take control improved the chances of success but not necessarily the chances of survival.
That was another way his father and Ubik mirrored each other. The goal wasn’t always to achieve the best objective outcome. Anyone could make two and two equal four. Where was the challenge in that?
All eyes were still on Ramon, apart from two. The Chukka woman from VendX had her eyes glued to Ubik. She had decided, in Figaro’s eyes at least, that Ramon Ollo would not be of any use to her so she was concentrating on getting something out of Ubik.
As well as monitoring what his father was about to do and how Ubik was going to interact with him, it was worth keeping tabs on Chukka. She was going to make a move at some point before this was over. It was just a matter of when. She would probably bide her time and wait for an opportune moment.
“You’re all insane,” shouted Chukka, deciding the moment was now. “He’s not the real Ramon Ollo. Obviously they sent in another clone as a distraction while they launch a droid offensive. We need to get out of here right now!”
Her outburst drew a little attention but no response.
“How did he even get here?” she continued. “Where did he come from? Look at him. His clothes aren’t even dirty.” She pointed at him in a dramatic manner for emphasis.
“It’s a self-cleaning suit,” said Figaro.
“That’s not the point,” said Chukka. “He’s taking over so we don’t do what Ubik said. That must mean Ubik was right.”
It seemed her plan was to curry favour by supporting Ubik’s idea to sacrifice the Enayans. It wasn’t a bad idea. Ramon had taken control of the situation and Ubik had been demoted to onlooker. Where her sycophantic attempt to win him over failed was in not taking into account that the current situation was his plan.
“While you’re here,” said Ubik casually, “I was wondering if I could talk to you about these things.” He was holding up his fist, which he opened to reveal a handful of dead nanodrones.
Ramon looked to the side for a moment. “What about them?”
“Well,” said Ubik, “they’re very powerful, you know, at eating through stuff, but to be honest, and I mean no offence, they’re a bit shit. Not very easy to control and they have a slight tendency to murder everything in their path.”
“And why is that a problem?” said Ramon, this time not even turning his head.
“Yes, I understand, you don’t want them to be easy to control. If they’re too effective then everyone will start using them and then where will we be? There’s no money in everyone having a good time. But with a few adjustments we can make a more user-friendly version for the domestic market. I only need a small cut of the profits. Say… forty percent.”
Figaro winced. His father stopped what he was doing and slowly turned to face Ubik. It took a lot to shock his father.
“How is that a small cut?”
Ubik looked momentarily confused. “It’s less than half. How is that not a small cut?”
Ramon stopped and looked up. “That isn’t what we agreed,” he said to the ceiling,
There was a pause and then he seemed to be holding a conversation with someone the rest of the room couldn’t hear.
“That won’t work... Because it won’t... I can’t do that... I won’t do that.” There was a much longer pause. “Give me control of the asteroid… You’ll have to trust me… Our goals are the same… Because you want the best chance this time, do you not?”
“Any idea what’s going on?” Figaro asked PT quietly.
“Looks like he’s negotiating with the Intercessors,” said PT, his voice practically inside Figaro’s ear.
“You can hear them?”
“No,” said PT.
“Can you get back into your body?”
“I think you should try.”
“Just try,” said Figaro. “Now would be a good time.”
The room shook again, but this time it continued to shake and the asteroid itself began to shift position. Gravity was increasing. Everyone was thrown around while pinned in place. The sound of rock and metal shearing filled the room.
“Whether he’s your real father or not,” said PT, “I don’t think we can trust him.”
“It’s only me he intends to give them,” said Figaro.
“Yes, but he might have to kill the rest of us to do it,” pointed out PT.
“Hey, what are we whispering about?” said Ubik, leaning up against Figaro on the other side.
“Your terrible attempt at a plan,” said PT.
“What do you mean, terrible? It’s working exactly as expected. Exceeding expectations, actually. I got your dad in the game, didn’t I?”
“He’s not on our side,” said PT.
“The more pieces on the board, the easier it is to win,” said Ubik.
“In what game?” said PT. “Murder chess?”
The screens showed the asteroid was moving. Enaya started to get bigger but they weren’t on a collision course, they were veering to the left. They were on a collision course with the sigil.
“Okay, I’m going to act,” said Figaro.
“What are you going to do?” said PT, sounding far more concerned than when Ubik took action.
“I’m going to do what I think is best.”
“Oh, okay,” said Ubik. “New variable. I like it.”
Figaro looked around the room. His dad, the Guardians, the Seneca women and a lot of bodies. He needed to get past them. He couldn’t convince them with words. He would have to fight them.