Point-Two wasn’t sure if sending Ubik away was a good idea or not. Being in this situation, his mind part of an alien network he neither understood or felt comfortable in, made it very hard to be sure of anything.
He had expected the sudden introduction of a several millennia’s worth of alien culture into his head all at once to have completely broken him, and it did feel like that at first, but at the point where he felt like his mind would collapse in on itself, zenity kicked in.
The calmness he had inherited from his birth on a ship without gravity had enveloped him, and for just a brief moment, he was insulated from the overwhelming deluge of information flowing through him.
He was able to recognise small bits of data that were relevant to his current predicament. The Antecessor method of disseminating information was non-linear and very densely packed, so everything you wanted to know came with everything you didn’t, but he pulled himself clear and now he was able to keep his head above water and only dip in and out when he wanted to.
There was now a picture of the entire asteroid, inside and out, held in his mind. But it was off to the side. A glance every now and again was about all he could withstand.
The frightening pale humanoids were the most noticeable element, because they were so numerous and so fast. And so angry. Ubik seemed the perfect answer.
Ubik was capable of saving them all, but he was also capable of dooming everyone. At least if he was here, it would be possible to keep an eye on him and be warned early of any disaster he might create. Good in theory, but there was no guarantee that being forewarned would be of any benefit.
But Point-Two had decided it would be better to put Ubik’s skills to work against the creatures emerging from the centre of the asteroid. The centre that was the only place hidden from his sight.
Information on the creatures, like everything else, was heavily diluted by so much more. But he had divined that they were a defence mechanism, built into the asteroid, released when the asteroid’s precious cargo became endangered.
It wasn’t clear what they released from. There was something at the centre of the asteroid, carefully and thoroughly shielded. Information about it was passed to him in an alien form, ideas and images that made his head feel bloated. Whatever was at the asteroid’s core, it produced a massive amount of energy, it was incredibly dense, it contained organic life, and it could act independently of both the Antecessors and the Intercessors.
Point-Two had tried to probe what was down there but it had caused him intense pain. He didn’t want to break something in his brain out of curiosity.
What he did know was that the creatures were considered lethal to other droids. They wouldn’t be confronted under any circumstances, and only disaster would follow if they were. How could that not remind him of a certain someone?
“You will fail,” said the head facing Point-Two. Its features were similar to the creatures, blank and featureless, but now that he had the ability to see things through the Intercessors’ own apparatus, he could tell that what he was seeing was a screen, something to hide behind.
“You don’t know that,” said Point-Two.
“There is too much data for you to process. What you have seen is a minuscule amount. Your mind will soon be overwhelmed and the goblins will erase your kind from this asteroid.”
“Sorry, the goblins?”
“It is the closest approximation in your visual lexicon,” said the Intercessor.
“Okay. You could be right, but I’m willing to bet our goblin will beat yours.”
The Intercessor’s blank face seemed to twitch. “The one you call Ubik is not enough. You need more than one.”
“No one needs more than one Ubik,” said Point-Two. “You might fear these goblins but there is always a chance they can be beaten.”
It was strange to be speaking to this projection face to face when they could just as easily be speaking within the asteroid’s huge internal network. It had taken him a little time to understand what he had been given access to, but now that he was fully integrated into it, he could reach out to any part of it with his thoughts (almost any part), including the Antecessors (which he had no intention of doing) and to the Intercessor in front of him.
But speaking face to face had the advantage of keeping their conversation private. They weren’t the only ones with access to the network.
“There is a small possibility of success,” said the Intercessor begrudgingly. Point-two was able to see past the reluctant admission. The Intercessors were the ones who had failed. They had had a mission, to protect and nurture. They had been forced into a position where they now relied on Ubik. He fully understood the reason they felt uncomfortable about it.
“Any possibility of success is worth pursuing,” said Point-Two. “You can improve his chances by aiding us.”
The Intercessor did not reply. The blank face remained blank.
“What’s happening?” asked Fig. He had been the most patient out of all of them. His only wish was to save his father, and that had been taken away from him, but he remained calm, waiting for his opportunity.
Where Ubik was happy to act without thought, relying on his ability to improvise his way out of any disaster (that he had caused), Fig was the opposite. He waited and observed, learning as much as possible before taking action.
Now that his father’s presence was revealed as fake, he was slowly pressing the Intercessor for the truth.
Point-Two reached out and grabbed Fig, pulling him up and closer. It was almost second-nature now. He wasn’t sure how he was doing it, but the gravitational field around him was easily manipulated in this form.
“The asteroid is a nest,” said Point-Two, using words which weren’t particularly accurate but they were the closest he could find. “It was designed to gestate some kind of advanced organic lifeform, but not everyone was happy about the idea.”
“They are necessary for our protection,” said the Intercessor.
“Protection from what?” asked Fig.
“From you,” said the Intercessor.
“A lot of your information is wrong,” said Point-Two.
“Data cannot be wrong if it is accurate.”
“Long-term projections can be,” said Fig, “if you can’t correctly predict future variations in the environment, your accurate data will do you no good. Nothing lives in a vacuum, not even in space. You are using the same methods you used in your previous life in the hope the universe has changed to accommodate them.”
Fig’s words were concise and precise.
“Projections are in line with sensor readings,” said the Intercessor, unmoved by Fig’s analysis. “This has all been foreseen. You are within anticipated parameters. We were expecting you, it was only a matter of time. Once Ubik has been removed, you will no longer have a statistical advantage. Projections will return to within more favourable limits and then the threat you pose will be neutralised.”
They expected Ubik to fail. They were counting on it. He was being allowed control, or at least wasn’t being fought for it, because so far he was doing exactly what they wanted him to. Sending Ubik to face the goblins was what they wanted and Point-Two had made it easy for them.
Point-Two had known that and done it anyway, just as he knew the Guardian was going to attempt to escape the rock with her prize. She wanted Ubik, and she was expecting a rescue party to come get her. She probably thought she could find her way out and then they’d nuke the asteroid from orbit, or whatever it was the Central Authority used to destroy planetoids these days.
Of course, Ubik wouldn’t allow that. He wouldn’t miss the chance to meet new lifeforms and make them his pets. And having Rex to help him would give him the edge. Point-Two didn’t know what changes Ubik had made to the Rex module, but he was sure they wouldn’t please the Guardian once she found out.
The Intercessors and the Guardian both suffered from the same problem — overconfidence in their own abilities. They thought they had a firm grasp on the situation. Point-Two did not have those illusions. He had spent too much time around Ubik to think he had a grasp on anything. He just waited for things to fall apart and then did his best not to get hit by the debris.
“What about my father?” asked Fig. Point-Two could tell he had been waiting to ask, being very careful to underplay his concerns. “Where is he?”
The Intercessor head didn’t reply. Fig turned to face Point-Two.
“I haven’t found him,” said Point-Two. “I’ve searched the whole asteroid. He isn’t in any of the places I have access to. The signal we got from the seventh level isn't there anymore. I think it never was.”
“What about the places you don’t have access to? Could he be there?”
“There’s only one place. The centre of the asteroid. It’s totally dark to me and I don’t know how to access it.”
Fig nodded. “He’s probably there.”
The Intercessor still didn’t speak.
“Can you send me there?” said Fig.
Point-Two took a moment to search for a way down to the darkness. He couldn’t see into it but he could see the area around it.
The asteroid became denser and more compact the closer to its centre he looked, but the goblins had dug tunnels through the rock to get out. They were gone now, the last of them already emerged and inside the chambers containing the large organics. They were fighting a small group of people who had found their way into the lower levels of the facility. More would be coming and things would only get messier.
“I think so,” said Point-Two. “It’ll be a little cramped, and there’s no guarantee your father’s down there.”
“That’s okay. From what I’ve been able to deduce, it would be too much of a risk to kill me deliberately, and I can avoid most natural disasters.” He looked at the Intercessor head, almost daring it to contradict him. There was no response.
“Alright,” said Point-Two. “I expect Ubik will get us all killed soon anyhow. You might as well go say goodbye to your dad.”
Fig smiled ruefully. “I think Ubik will deal with the goblins.”
“Yes. I think they’ll make him their leader and start a galactic empire,” said Point-Two.
“Emperor Ubik,” said Fig with a shudder.
The Intercessor head still wasn’t saying anything. That probably meant it wanted Fig to go look into the darkness. Usually, you wouldn’t want to do what your opponent wanted you to do. Even if you were able to rise to the challenge, your moves became predictable.
Unless, that was, you didn’t resist when they thought you would and followed their desire with unexpected enthusiasm.
Point-Two reached out with his mind and opened another portal, this one on the opposite side of the chamber to the one he’d made for Ubik and the Guardian. Here, in this chamber, his control was strongest.
A section below them spiralled open. He moved Fig towards it. Ubik one way and Fig the other, while he stayed in the middle. It would be interesting to see which of them was going to be the busiest. Not him, he hoped.
Fig dropped down. Once the gravity flow caught him, Point-Two let him go.
Now it was just him and the Intercessor. The blank head gave the impression it was happy with the way things were going. Point-Two found it unbearably smug.
“Your siblings are coming,” said Point-Two. He could feel the Antecessors gathering for a big push. They were above the goblins, clamouring to come down and take the lower levels. Their eagerness spread through the network like humming wires.
“They will not come here,” said the Intercessor. “They will go to the surface and wait.”
“Wait for what?” asked Point-Two.
Point-Two looked through the data streams flowing through him for any information on hunters. He found it mixed in with the limited information on the goblins.
Goblins were grown in the dark. They were released to fight off invaders. That was about all there was, apart from a small addendum. They started off small and pale, but perversely strong. But they kept growing and becoming more and more violent. Then they needed to put to sleep, literally or figuratively. They couldn’t be put back where they came from, so they were stored in the reflection of their birthplace. The image became clear and distinct as Point-Two focused on it. Inside a wormhole.
Point-Two realised what was at the centre of the asteroid and what was producing the gravitational shifts. An infinitely-small wormhole, no bigger than an atom. Anything bigger would be too powerful to control, but even at a microscopic level, it would be able to manipulate large dense masses, vibrating them to produce polarised gravity waves.
It wasn’t the asteroid that could be moved with an alien engine, it was the portable black hole at its centre that the asteroid was designed to keep in place, like an anchor.
“How long before they arrive?” asked Point-Two.
“Soon,” said the Intercessor.
They would find several ships in their way. That would take care of one problem. Ubik would deal with the goblins and the group they were fighting with. Fig was handling the black hole heart of the asteroid. Which left Point-Two with the smug Intercessor. How would Ubik handle this kind of situation?
“Nothing for us to do but wait, then,” said Point-Two. “I don’t suppose you have any sandwiches lying around?”