Ubik could sense PT panicking. It wasn’t because he was good at picking up how people were feeling — that was one of his least developed skills.
And it wasn’t because he had a special bond with PT — although he did like to think of them as good collaborators. And by collaborators, he meant the way he could get PT to collaborate with what he wanted him to do.
No, the real reason he sensed that PT was panicking inside the narrow space he had ‘collaborated’ PT into entering was the way his feet, which were slightly sticking out of the end, were violently shaking.
It was the shake of someone not very happy with their position in life. The involuntary shuddering of someone having a hysterical episode. There was also the screaming.
“Stay cool and don’t panic,” Ubik shouted into the crawlspace.
Then the feet stopped shaking. For a moment, Ubik thought he’d made a terrible mistake. He had assumed PT’s usually stoic and implacable demeanour would make him the ideal person to undergo what was undoubtedly going to be a horrific and painful experience.
Other people might have a breakdown or lose the will to live, but not PT. There was no doubt in Ubik’s mind that PT would grit his teeth and hold on despite the agony, just so he could have the chance of getting revenge on Ubik. His persistence was the key to his usefulness.
Ubik considered pulling PT out to see if he was alright, and then decided it would be better to push him further in, to see if that jump-started something.
The lights flickering and pulsing through the lattice of droid parts began to slow down and move in a more organised fashion.
Organised in the mundane sense. They had been organised before, they just looked chaotic. But now, they followed a much simpler pattern.
He heard Fig’s voice, sounding surprised and confused. Ubik pushed through the lattice, slipping through gaps, no longer concerned about making contact with the structure. There was no need to worry about attracting the Intercessors’ attention now.
“Hey!” he called out, waving to get their attention.
Ramon Ollo’s head slowly turned around. It moved a lot more stiffly than before. The lights around Ubiks shifted in sync with the head. There was no mistaking it. It was hard to interpret what the lights were saying — the data was moving too fast to be able to read it — but the matching patterns were very, very obvious. The head and the lattice were linked. And they were both moving too slowly to be under the control of the Intercessors or Ramon Ollo. Which left only one other person.
“What do you want?” said PT.
Ubik smiled. The face was still Ramon’s, but the snippy attitude was unmistakably PT’s.
“You’ve taken control,” said Ubik, grinning. “I knew you could do it.”
He had had complete confidence in PT, the ideal candidate. But to do so quickly, to push both the Intercessor intelligence and Ramon Ollo out of the way and assume control, that was even more than Ubik had hoped for. It wasn’t often Ubik’s projections were exceeded. His projections tended to be quite excessive to begin with.
“Taken control of what?” said PT. The face wasn’t quite mirroring PT’s tone, suggesting some latency issues. He should have shoved PT further into the crawlspace, just as he had thought.
“The asteroid,” said Ubik gleefully, looking around for any loose connections. “You are the asteroid.”
Point-Two looked confused. The mirroring was improving, the eyes were already becoming better coordinated. Perhaps there was a machine-learning component to this tech.
“Ubik, get me out of there.”
“Out of where?” Ubik turned around, ready to go back in and help PT assimilate even further into the mind of the asteroid. “You’re already out.”
There was something in the tone of PT’s voice that drew Ubik’s attention back to the irritated head. And then he was flying through the air, narrowly missing smashing into the structure around him, and heading for the irate face.
But rather than looking annoyed, the head looked astonished. The eyes were wide and the mouth formed an O shape.
Ubik felt much the same. PT had already learned how to control the gravity inside the chamber. Ubik had expected that to take a lot longer, requiring a lot of trial and error to get the fine control required to manage such powerful forces.
But PT’s familiarity with gravitational forces of varying intensities had solved the problem instinctively. He was a natural.
Ubik giggled with delight as he was hurled across the chamber. How good was he to set this up so perfectly?
He stopped suddenly, fixed in place in front of Ramon Ollo’s nose. Actually, now that he saw it from close up, didn’t it resemble PT’s nose? Some sort of mental transformation being manifested through the projection?
“What was the point of this, Ubik?”
“This is our chance,” said Ubik, “your big opportunity. You have control. You are the one who can choose what to do?”
“Like what?” PT’s face became twisted with concern.
“Whatever you want,” said Ubik. “Just do it quickly before you lose control and your brain cells get fried.”
PT’s face went from concerned to horrified. “What does that mean? How long have I got?”
“Hard to say. Maybe a long time. Maybe not. It’s a lot of information your brain’s processing right now. More than an average brain can handle. Don’t worry, I’d rate yours as slightly above average.”
“Then why didn’t you put yourself in there?” said PT. “You’re the one with all the free space in your head.”
“Then who would be out here to protect me? You? You don’t even know what threats you‘re facing right now.”
“What threats am I facing right now?”
“Oh, hard to say. A lot of them are hypothetical. I’m sure the Intercessors and Ramon Ollo will try to kill you long before any of the other variables have a chance to.”
PT cringed with what seemed to be pain. “It’s too much. I can see all of it at once. My brain feels like it’s going to burst.”
“You’ll be fine,” said Ubik. “Just focus on my voice. You’ll be too annoyed to worry about all the other stuff.”
“What the hell kind of plan is that? You want to deliberately piss me off so I focus all my anger on you and block out the infinite amount of data being squeezed into my head?”
“See? Working already, isn’t it?”
You couldn’t argue with results, that’s what Grandma always told him. She was right as usual.
“It had to be you, PT. This place is built on gravity. Everything here is powered by and controlled by gravity. It’s completely different from how we understand the science of gravitational fields, but you use gravity without needing to understand it. You go by instinct and feel. You’re the only one here who has a chance of maintaining control over the asteroid and stopping it from breaking apart. I mean, it’s only a small chance, but try your best.”
“You’re wrong,” said PT. “I’m not the only one. Gravity isn’t just powering this place, it’s keeping it in check. It’s being used to hold back those things I saw. It’s a force field used to create a prison, and I can’t keep the walls up. They’re coming, Ubik.”
There was that. Ubik had expected the asteroid to house some secrets, but he had only considered the Antecessors and the technology they had already shown. These creatures PT had mentioned didn’t make any sense. Since when did Antecessors employ organic beings?
Then again, organics, the augments found on most Ant sites, weren’t they organic in origin? Their purpose, which no one had ever been able to determine, had to involve these creatures in some way. They would be interesting to study.
“You should try to direct them over here,” said Ubik. “We can make friends with them. It’ll be fun.”
“What fun?” said PT. “They’re going to kill us.”
Ubik clicked his tongue and shook his head. “Don’t judge them just because they’re a bit worked up at the moment.”
“I’m not,” said PT. “I’m judging them on the single screaming thought in all of their heads to kill everything that’s in their path.”
“Oh,” said Ubik. “No chance you’re mistaking their intentions? Sometimes people are all mad but really they haven’t eaten in a while and they have low blood sugar. Maybe they’ll feel better after a snack?”
“They don’t have mouths,” said PT.
“So they can’t bite or eat me,” said Ubik, doing his best to put a positive spin on things.
“No,” said PT. “But they have claws that can dig through solid rock, so they can probably tear you into tiny pieces.”
“Okay, but you could probably stop them from doing that if you put your mind to it, couldn't you?”
PT didn’t say anything in response.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” said Ubik.
“They aren’t the only problem,” said PT. “We’ve got ships approaching. VendX, Seneca, Central Authority.”
“Finally,” said Guardian Tezla.
“Don’t be so pleased,” said PT. “They’re going to arrive at the same time. I doubt it will be in the spirit of mutual assistance. There’s also the Antecessors. They’re aware of us. They’re just waiting to see who—”
PT’s face distorted and flickered.
Ubik looked behind him. The pulsing lights had changed pattern again.
“Yes, I see now,” said the head. It no longer sounded like PT. It didn’t look like him, either.
“Father?” said Fig. “Did you defeat the Intercessor?”
“Very interesting.” Ramon Ollo’s head looked around. “So this is how they controlled the asteroid.” He returned his gaze to Ubik who was still hanging in front of him. “You arranged the pathways to isolate their routines. I must thank you for that. What was your name again?”
Ubik found himself being moved from side to side. “Wellden, sir. First name, Goodjob”
“Thank you very much,” said Ubik. “I’ve always dreamed of hearing you say those words to me.”
Ubik was turned over and over. “This level of control is astonishing. Even more than I expected.”
“Father, you have full control now?”
“Yes. I see everything.”
“Then you can see you have to give control back,” said Ubik. “If you can access the pathways I built, so can they.”
“It is no longer an issue,” said Ramon. “The network you built, it is the only route and I have already taken it. It is no longer needed.”
Suddenly, Ubik was flying across the chamber, back towards the lattice. But he didn’t slow down as he got closer. He smashed into it, sending pieces flying.
His suit protected him but it still hurt. He made himself smaller to try to pass through the gaps, but he was bounced around with precise guidance to hit the key structural parts. Droid parts floated free.
Ubik had hoped Ramon Ollo would be so impressed with his work, he would offer Ubik a position in his lab immediately. Things weren’t going as well as he’d hoped. He slammed into another bunch of droid parts. They broke into pieces.
And then they stopped, hanging motionless, before returning to their original position, snapping back together. They all did, reforming the lattice perfectly.
A second head appeared. This one was very clearly recognisable.
“You aren’t Ramon Ollo,” said PT.
He was a quick learner. He’d figured out how to reestablish pathways through the network quickly enough not to get disconnected. A quick learner who excelled under desperate conditions. Ubik was born to be his teacher.
“He isn’t my father?” said Fig, a pained look on his face.
“It’s a copy,” said PT. “They didn’t keep back part of your father’s mind, they copied the parts they could as best they could. But I can see their pathways. There’s only one entity.”
“A mimic?” said Ubik. “Makes sense. The real Ramon Ollo wouldn’t be this easy to beat.”
Ramon Ollo’s face changed. It became a blank slate. The lattice behind PT began breaking up and spreading out, leaving only the section that housed PT’s body.
“Wait,” said PT. “We can help you save them.”
The flying droid parts stopped.
“How?” said a cold, emotionless voice.
Ubik found himself flying across the room once more.
“Him. He can save them. I don’t know what they are, but you’re here to protect them, aren’t you? He’s the only one who can help you. Even if you kill us, they will be destroyed. He’s your only chance. ”
“He can not be controlled. He can not be trusted. He is unreliable.”
“How long is this list going to be?” asked Ubik.
“He doesn’t have to be controlled,” said PT. “You just need to give him a problem to solve.”
Ubik was raised up to face the blank face. His suit separated from his body and broke down into its component parts, and just hung there. One small black rectangle moved away from the rest, towards the Guardian.
She caught it, a look of surprise on her face. “Rex?” It jumped out of her hand and slotted into her waist. The suit lit up.
Ubik followed, flying into the Guardian’s arms.
“Take him,” said PT.
“Take him where?” asked the Guardian.
There was a grating sound. A hole spun open above them.
“Follow the lighted path,” said PT. “When you get to the room at the end, leave him there. This whole quadrant will be destroyed if you don’t.”
Tezla looked like she wanted to say something, but she grabbed Ubik instead. The suit fired thrusters in the arms and legs and she shot into the air, dragging a suitless Ubik with her.
“What am I supposed to do?” Ubik shouted.
“You’ll think of something,” said PT.
He was probably right. It was a bit chilly without his suit, but that was okay. PT had given Rex back to the Guardian, which made her one of the team. Although it wasn’t the old Rex. This Rex was more of an Ubik upgrade.
Patreon is two weeks ahead (usually 6 chapters currently 4)Afterword from Mooderino