Book 2 – 99: The Thought that Counts

Third Quadrant.

Asteroid Tethari.

Intercessor Chamber.


Point-Two saw no stars in the sky, just darkness. Why were there no stars? He instinctively knew he was looking out at the cosmos, he had spent his whole life staring out at it so there was no mistaking the substance he had grown up surrounded by, but there wasn’t a single pinprick of light to be seen.

Some sort of filter to keep him disoriented? Why not just turn his vision off completely? Why not just kill him and be done with it. Point-Two’s mind floated in disconnected silence without the reassuring jacket of a body. It felt like he had to keep his thoughts close or they might drift off in several directions, ripping him into pieces.

He was unable to change his view. He was looking out into the depths of space, away from where the action was. An endless black vista of nothingness.

Whatever their purpose had been in allowing him to move freely around the asteroid, the Intercessors no longer required his services. Ramon Ollo — part of him at least — and the Intercessors had decided to use him and his companions to achieve some goal they hadn’t felt the need to reveal. And it would seem that goal had been achieved.

Antecessor ships had arrived, that was all he knew for sure, and were on their way to their facility on the asteroid. He had thought the Antecessors and Intercessors were deadly rivals in some ancient galactic war. That was what they had been led to believe. The Intercessors were outcasts or rebels or traitors. They were in hiding or in seclusion. Or biding their time.

That much had made sense. The two factions were definitely not working towards the same goal. They weren’t on the same team.

Fig had been some kind of catalyst that woke the sleeping dragon. First in the sim-U, he made his existence known to the Antecessors. Then, on the asteroid, he came to the attention of the Intercessors.

One group wished to use him to resurrect their lost god. The other group wished to destroy him and the inactive organic he carried to prevent the same, but they had not been able to do that.

Was that part a bluff? No, Point-Two didn’t think so. If they could have destroyed Fig they would have. They had Ramon Ollo to help them, so if there had been a way he would have found it.

Ramon Ollo who could not be defeated easily when he was whole, was separated into constituent parts and stripped of his human components: his feelings for his son, his sense of self-preservation, his desire to live with free-will.

If you were intent on co-opting the greatest mind in existence, then that would be the way to do it. Killing him would have gained them nothing. Imprisoning him, likewise a wasted resource. Digging out his intellect like prospectors panning for gold, keeping what was of value and tossing the rest, that was how they viewed people.

Which suggested somewhere there was a Ramon Ollo with all those worthless elements intact. A Ramon Ollo who cared what happened to his son, who cared about his ability to chart his own course. A Ramon Ollo without the startling brilliance and intellectual superiority that made him a genius. Would it be worth trying to find that Ramon Ollo?

Point-Two felt like he was getting an idea of how the Intercessors worked, how they processed information. He had already experienced what they could accomplish while he had been allowed to roam around the asteroid, but that was through the limited lens of his own perception. The Intercessors, and probably the Antecessors too, worked on a totally different plane of existence.

The droids they’d encountered, even Junior, weren’t the ones in charge down here. Whoever the aliens really were, they preferred to stay in the background and let their creations do all their grunt work. In that sense, they weren’t too far removed from humans. The ones with real power rarely lowered themselves to getting their own hands dirty.

There wasn’t much Point-Two could do with his musings. He was stuck in limbo while his body was a few metres away encased in droid parts. Everything was only a few metres away in this state, if you had command of your senses.

It was a shame Ubik hadn’t had the foresight to leave him an escape hatch. At least if he was back in his body he might be able to make a run for it. The Intercessors were much better at controlling minds than bodies.

No, that was too simplistic a way of looking at it. They preferred controlling minds.

But Ubik wasn’t one to install failsafes. If he had left a way out, Point-Two might have taken it before Ubik deemed it convenient.

That didn’t mean Ubik hadn’t left him without options. Ubik thrived on confounding expectations, revelled in being underestimated. They might think they had him right where they wanted, but that was usually where Ubik had planned to be all along. In fact, it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibilities for Ubik to have predicted this would happen.

The thought struck Point-Two as more than a mere possibility. Wasn’t he the one underestimating Ubik by not expecting Ubik to have foreseen something like this?

“Ubik? Hello? Anyone there?” He spoke into the void without much confidence but why not try anyway? His voice made no real noise, it was just a vibration in his mind. No, actually, it was more in his throat. He felt it. For the first time since leaving his body, he experienced a physical sensation, if a weak one.

He concentrated on finding it again, repeating Ubik’s name over and over in an attempt to locate the feeling of connection he had felt. A way back to his body, perhaps? He must have said Ubik’s name a dozen times when he felt a change in the non-existent atmosphere.

“Ah, you have summoned me,” said Ubik.

“Ubik?” How had he worked a conjuring spell into the system?

“No need to speak, this is just a recording I made on the off-chance you got yourself stuck in the back of beyond.”

A recording. It was the sort of thing Ubik would do, any excuse to hear the sound of his own voice.

“There’s a good chance they’re going to get bored of you and shunt you off to a dark corner. I didn’t mention it because I know how you hate to worry. Ha, if I told you half the things I know they’ve got in store for you, you wouldn’t be able to think straight and would good would you be to anyone then? I did you a favour, to be honest — you’re welcome. However, they can’t just chuck you out of the system, as much as they might want to. Well, they could, but then they’d chuck themselves out and then the whole thing would collapse. That’s the way their network is, all interconnected. You can add to it, but you can’t take away.”

This was all very interesting but Point-Two would have appreciated a skip button.

“Now, I know what you’re thinking, you’re wishing there was a way to ask questions and get my thoughts on a few problems you’ve encountered. Sorry, no can do. This is just a quick guide on how to get yourself out from the hole they dropped you in.”

That was a relief. Ubik had thought of everything, as usual. It would probably be a ridiculous solution but at least it would be an option. Better than staring into the dark for the rest of his life.

“What you have to remember is that these people, the Ants and the Ints and whoever else they’ve been hiding from us, they’re whole society is built on gravity. They’re obsessed with it. The way our whole technology was based around the discovery of the wheel for a bazillion years, this lot fell for gravity the same way. Ahaha, fell for gravity — I crack myself up. Anyway, everything they make has that in common. And you, well, you’re our gravity expert, so that should make it easy, right? Just got to apply your talent to the problem.”

Point-Two was lost. How was he supposed to make use of his talent when he didn’t have access to his body?

“And as we all know,” continued Ubik, blithely unaware of how nonsensical he was being, “gravity is the one force in the universe that isn’t locked to the physical world. It affects the mind just as much as the body.”

This was news to Point-Two. In fact, he had no idea what Ubik was talking about.

“Well, it affects their minds, and you’re in one of their minds, so it should affect you. Stand to reason, right? All you’ve got to do is find a mental hook and use it to launch yourself in whatever direction you want. Just choose any visual cue, and treat it the same way you would a physical one. Okay, good luck and try not to break the cradle I built for you. If you fall out of it, we’re all dead.”

What the hell did that mean?

There was no more from Ubik, which was both a relief and a cause for unease. What visual cue was he supposed to use when all he could see was wall to wall nothing, not even any walls? He suspected the Intercessors were one step ahead and had deliberately cocooned him in blindness to make sure he couldn’t do what Ubik suggested.

Come to think of it, that had to be the exact reason they did it, which added credence to Ubik’s ridiculous supposition. Of course it did.

Point-Two let go of the frustration Ubik always managed to arouse in him and settled back into a more comfortable dejection. Gravity was a figment of the imagination, apparently. And he was stuck in a zero-G state of mind.

If it was just like the gravity he was familiar with, then there were ways of moving when you had no physical objects to work with. If you were in a heavy battlesuit and lost all power, you could end up in a situation where the suit’s locked-up pneumatic motors didn’t allow for any movement, stuck in place or floating off for eternity, unable to change course.

But you could create movement by focusing on the smallest possible impact — tapping, scratching, whistling was particularly good — building up momentum until kinetic force reached a tipping point. It was slow and tedious but it was possible.

What was the mental equivalent of that?

Point-Two tired to move his thoughts from side to side and up and down, feeling stupid, but there was no one around to laugh at his vain attempts so what did it matter? He tried every sort of mental gymnastics he could come up with but nothing changed.

It was only when he stopped trying so hard and let his mind sink down to a place of rest that he saw the thin crack of light, barely visible, at the very bottom of his perception, like dawn appearing at the bottom of closed curtains.

He could see it but that was all. He couldn’t touch it. He couldn’t move it. But, with a little focus, he could move himself. He zoomed in on the sliver of light, pulled out, pushed in. Slowly he rocked his perception back and forth until he slid forward in tiny incremental steps. He drew closer and closer and then, with a sudden rush, he was through.

The tiny dots of light that would have hardly registered at any other time nearly blinded him. Stars stretched out into infinity before him, and then an explosion of colour burst over him.

He turned around, not even having to think about it to change position, and saw the burning wreckage of ships framed by the Tethari wormhole. Below him was the asteroid. And approaching at speed were a dozen Antecessor ships, huge leviathans many times the size of the Liberator Garu.

“You found your way out.” Point-Two turned to find Ramon Ollo’s head next to him. “An unexpected event.”

“Perhaps the first of many,” said Point-Two.

“Unexpected but not a surprise. I knew it was possible, I just didn’t think you were capable of it. Makes no difference, they will be here soon enough.” His manner was calm and dispassionate.

“Who? The Antecessors?” The big rectangular ships were about halfway between the wormhole and the asteroid. The Seneca ships had all been destroyed. “Aren’t they supposed to be your enemy?”

“That doesn’t mean they can’t be of use.” The head spoke matter of factly, showed no emotion.”

“They’re here for your son,” said Point-Two, trying to ignite some fatherly concern.

“Yes. They will take him.”

“You want them to take him? They plan to sacrifice him, don’t they.”

“You think too narrow,” said Ramon Ollo.

“I think you’re a terrible father,” said Point-Two. There was no sign this Ramon Ollo cared for his son. He treated him as a tool to be used in whatever experiment he found interesting. If there were other versions of him inside the asteroid, perhaps Ubik would be able to corral them into a force capable of challenging this one. “Ubik will stop you.”

“Ubik will deliver my son to them. He is on his way to do that right now. You perhaps assume his chaotic nature makes him impossible to predict. You would be wrong. It only requires the appropriate amount of data to create an accurate algorithm. Observing his behaviour in the asteroid has more than accomplished that. He may seem erratic and unstable on the surface, but I can assure you all of his choices are predictable from this point on.”

He sounded very confident. He was Ramon Ollo, he had every right to be. But pinning Ubik down with an equation?

“I don’t think so,” said Point-Two. “He’s much more than a series of unlikely actions. He wouldn’t be half as annoying if that was all he was.”

“We shall see.”

“You want the Antecessors here,” said Point-two. “They’re bringing something with them? Or maybe you’re going to use them to do something you can’t do yourself. Something they will automatically do once they have your son…”

Ramon didn’t respond but it felt like he was on the right path. Not that he would be able to do much with the correct knowledge.

“He’s your son.”

“Yes, he is.”

“The Seneca Corps will send more ships.”

“They will, yes. They won’t be in time.”

“His mother won’t forgive you.”

The head turned to look at him. “She is busy with our new child.”

“You think that will stop her from saving her firstborn?”

Something changed in the face’s expression, too quick and subtle to read. “You are correct, but the only route here is under my control. She will be too late.”

The Antecessor ships were no longer moving. Point-Two’s well-trained eyes could tell they had come to a complete stop. As he watched, they burst into tiny pieces, like they had quietly exploded from within, drifting away from the centre.

But the movements were controlled and strangely symmetrical. The pieces weren’t breaking apart, they were being reconstructed anew, forming a large shape. He recognised it, a circular, angular symbol. The sigil.

It was big. Huge. Bigger than the asteroid.

“You see,” said Ramon Ollo. “I would not abandon my son. I will be with him. We will all go together. This rock was built to take this journey.”

He saw it then, in Ramon Ollo’s eyes. A father’s love. He recognised it from his own father, when he looked at his brother. Hollet-1 had always been the apple of his father’s eye, not that he treated him any gentler for it. Quite the opposite, in fact. This father also held his son in great esteem, saw him as the pilot of his legacy. Point-Two realised this was the Ramon Ollo that cared for his son above all other things. That was why he was able to do such a terrible thing, even though the pain of losing his child would be unbearable. He wasn’t doing it for himself, he was doing what he perceived was best for Fig, and he would share that fate, perish alongside him. They all would.

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