Wormhole Island - Interior.
The moment Ubik entered Weyla’s simulation, he felt the pressure from the two trees disappear. Inside this artificial world, he was completely protected. It was a very interesting effect; one that a mere simulation shouldn’t have. But this simulation was far beyond the level of the sim-U machines he had been exposed to.
The palace he once again found himself in was glorious in its construction. A regular simulation replicated the world as accurately as it could, down to the molecular level, but this was something else. This was better than real.
Vivid. Intense. Brain-saturating. The colours, the light slanting in through the windows, the taste of the air, it was the difference between food that filled your belly and food made by a great chef. Both were ostensibly the same, but one made you feel a whole other level of sensation.
He spent a few moments appreciating the construct before he heard footsteps approaching and hid behind a pillar. He couldn’t help but marvel at the way the polished stone felt against his fingertips.
There were a dozen or so people approaching, led by Weyla. She was wearing an even more ostentatious gown than last time — far more colourful than the drab fatigues she usually wore — that looked very impractical for fighting. She also appeared to have a lot more hair than before. It was piled up on her head and held in place with bejewelled pins.
She presented a queenly figure with two columns of maids-in-waiting following behind, dressed in similar but less fancy dresses and their hair piled to a lesser height. And gracefully keeping to just about level with her, was another Ubik, dressed in smart black attire.
Ubik watched from behind the pillar as they paraded past. Where were they off to in such a hurry?
More to the point, what was the best way to use her strength to open the door?
He had told them that Weyla was the key to the giant double doors and that he could help her become capable of turning that key. He was sure she was the key — the symbols carved into the door said as much — and there was certainly a chance that he would be able to guide her into the keyhole, as it were, but exactly how to get her to unlock the huge doors while stuck in here was not immediately clear.
The footsteps stopped all at once. Ubik peered out from behind the white, silky-smooth column to find Weyla staring back at him.
“Come out. I can see you’re there.”
Ubik considered staying where he was and pretending he was a statue. There were bound to be loads of statues in a place like this. One more wouldn’t stand out.
“Here,” said Weyla, emphatically. She hardly said anything most of the time, but now that she was the queen of her own palace, suddenly she was assertive and brash, as though everyone also shared her delusions of grandeur. Power went straight to some people’s heads. “Now.”
Ubik felt himself move without actually moving. His feet were quite still and his joints and muscles weren’t in motion, but he moved nonetheless, stopping in front of Weyla and her retinue.
“I’ve been looking for you,” said Weyla.
“Me too,” said Ubik. “Finally, there you are! I love what you’ve done with the place. Your psyche has never looked better.”
“Cut the shit. Don’t think you can play any tricks in front of me, you and I know that you can’t escape from me in here. I am lord and master of this world.”
“Really? I’d heard all you Corps girls were mental, but this is quite nice. I like your hair, by the way. Very glamorous. And so tall.”
Weyla yanked off the wig to reveal her regular spiky haircut underneath. She reached out with her other hand and grimaced. Ubik rose into the air about a metre. There was pressure around his throat as though fingers were crushing his larynx. Or maybe a noose.
“Did you really think I would allow you back in without being ready? Do you know how many types of organics exert a psychic effect? The Corps trains us to have complete dominion over our minds — mental blocks, probe deflection, memory shields. You have no idea how many tedious courses I’ve had to take just so I was ready for pricks like you. You may have taken me by surprise last time, hiding in the shadows and spying on me like some kind of pervert, but now that I know you’re here, there’s nowhere for you to hide.”
“That’s great.” Ubik gently nodded so as not to strangle himself. “You’re already a long way to regaining control. Could you put me down?”
“A long way to regaining control? What do you mean a long way?” The pressure on his throat increased. “I am in total control. Now tell me how to increase my strength. I don’t feel any power-ups waiting to be picked up. How do I get boosted?”
“Well, yes, erm,” said Ubik, instilling no confidence in anyone, not even himself. “The exact method is something we need to work out together, as partners, so we get the right method for you. Right, partner?”
“I knew this would be a waste of time. You were making empty boasts as usual. We might as well go back. But not before I have a little fun with you first. What do you say?” She gave him a malicious smirk and turned him upside down with a flip of her hand.
Ubik didn’t mind. It was quite relaxing, actually. He felt very comfortable in her clutches. Some of the softest and most supportive clutches he’d been in.
“Can’t get out,” said Ubik. “If you release your senses outwards…”
Weyla closed her eyes and slowed her breathing as she reached out in all directions with her mind. This released Ubik, who clattered to the floor.
Concern spread across Weyla’s face. She opened her eyes. “There’s a barrier. We can’t pass through it?”
“Oh, I can,” said Ubik, getting to his feet. “But you can’t. Not without some help.”
“Then get out there and wake me up.”
“Sure, in a minute. But we’re here to do a job, right? Together.” He was about to give her a friendly punch on the arm, but saw how she was looking at him and decided to punch the air near her arm instead. “Eh, buddy?”
She was right, she was in control of the reality here, at least for now. It wouldn’t do him any good to upset her. Pain was still pain, even if it was a simulation.
“Do you have a plan?” she asked reluctantly.
Ubik smiled. “Of course. I have loads. What kind would you like?”
She stared at him for a good long while. “The kind that will open the door and let us out of here.”
“No problem. Have you tried sending your consciousness inwards, towards your organic?” He kept his voice upbeat and positive. Dumb people always liked it when things sounded good. Much better than real.
Weyla frowned ever harder but closed her eyes. A few seconds later she opened them again. “I can’t. There’s another barrier on the inside.”
“Really?” said Ubik. “Blockade, huh?” He hadn’t expected that.
“You didn’t expect that?” said Weyla.
“No, I totally did. Exactly as expected. Just checking. Energy field, right? Like a glass wall. Okay, then. Time to come up with a plan. I mean, I already have a plan, so time to put it into action. First—” Ubik stopped and pointed past Weyla. “Oh look, it’s me.”
Ubik II, who had been waiting quietly behind Weyla, raised his head, ready to receive instructions. He was dressed like a butler again, hair oiled and slicked back. And a thin moustache, which was new. Didn’t look too bad.
“Looks just like me, only more handsome. Can’t get my hair to stay down like that, though.” Ubik brushed a hand through his own hair. It flattened under his sliding palm and immediately popped back up again. “I hope you don’t make him perform unsavoury acts. Despite appearances, I’m not all that bendy.”
A blush of redness rose from Weyla’s chest where it was exposed by the neckline of her gown, up her face. And then it sank back down as though it was being forced to retreat.
Weyla’s eyes sank into her face as her brow descended. “He’s only here because I need a punching bag. But since you’re here, I guess I can give him the night off.”
“Is that right?” Ubik asked his doppelganger. “Does she beat you up?”
“Madam treats me well. I am happy to serve her in whatever capacity she sees fit.” The voice wasn’t quite right. Much too servile. Probably what she was going for.
“Nice. How’s the pay?”
“More than adequate,” said Ubik II.
“You’ve got him well trained, I’ll give you that,” said Ubik.
“Stop talking to him and get us out of here,” said Weyla.
“I am. This place might be under your control but it was created by them. When you need a way out of the playpen, ask one of the toys.”
Weyla looked from Ubik to Ubik II. “Him? You think he knows how to get out? Ubik, my… Ubik, do you know how to exit this simulation.”
“No, madam,” said Ubik II.
Weyla turned back to Ubik.
“Obviously he isn’t aware that he’s in a simulation,” said Ubik. “This is all real to him. But we can use him as a conduit into the system.”
“How likely is whatever you’re going to do to get me killed?” asked Weyla. Had she been talking to PT? Sounded like it.
“You must be joking,” said Ubik. He tapped himself on the chest. “I don’t put my friends’ lives in danger. Any risks I take are to make their situation better, no matter the personal cost to me.”
“Friends?” Ubik II seemed to have been startled into making an exclamation. “Ridiculous. When do you not deceive others for your own personal gain? You may be able to deceive others, but you can’t lie to me. Huh. Friendship. If there’s some advantage to it, you’ll be good to them, but if you were to face a crisis, you wouldn’t hesitate to abandon them without hesitation.”
Ubik stared intently at Ubik II. Something about his sudden loss of deference felt familiar.
“Be careful of this imposter, madam. It would be better if you stayed here with me.”
Weyla was also taken aback by the way Ubik II was speaking without prompting. “Stay here with you? Hmm. Do you know how to use the energy field to improve my organic’s strength?”
“I think I might be able to help,” said Ubik II.
“Do you know how to open the door into the main hull of the ship?” she asked.
“Not at the moment, but it could be possible to find a way if we work together,” said Ubik II.
“I don’t think you should listen to him,” said Ubik.
“Why not?” said Weyla. “You said he’s part of the system. He’ll know how to operate it.”
“He isn’t part of the system,” said Ubik.
“He isn’t?” Weyla looked confused. “Then what is he?”
Ubik approached his mirror-image. “How did you get in there?”
Ubik II stared back impassively.
“I asked you a question. Or do you want another beating?”
“You can’t do anything to me here,” said Ubik II.
“What’s going on?” said Weyla. “Who is he?”
Ubik raised his bare arm and tapped his wrist.
“Your parasite?” said Weyla. “How did it…”
“This is Antecessor tech and so is it. Your organic was meant to interact with the energy field being produced here but the problem is the user interface. Human. Didn’t even exist when organics were made. The parasite doesn’t have that issue. It can plug in directly.”
“This is bad,” said Weyla.
“No, it’s good,” said Ubik. “If it can access the system, then we can access the system through it.”
The scenery changed from sunlit palace interior to exitless cavern steeped in shadows. All of Weyla’s maids disappeared and only Ubik II remained.
“You have gone far enough,” said Ubik II. “The Fourth God doesn’t know you like I do. It would be best if you remained here.”
Neither Ubik nor Weyla could move. Feet stuck, legs unresponsive. He could twist at the hip and neck. Arms were pinned to his sides but he could make fists with his hands.
“Nope, you were right,” said Ubik, “this is bad. Bad, bad, bad.”
“You just swing from one extreme to the other, don’t you?” said Weyla. She dropped the wig she’d been carrying and focused on Ubik II. “This is still my mind realm. I might not be able to get out, but I can still control what happens in here.”
Her jaw tightened as she concentrated. Years of Seneca Corps training. The Corps made sure every soldier could resist mind control and tell the difference between real and virtual. She grunted with the effort but nothing happened.
“Why isn’t this working? I’m using my full psychic reserves.”
“I don’t know what that is,” said Ubik, “but you won’t be able to control him inside an Antecessor sim-U.”
“This is your fault,” said Weyla. “You brought that thing in here with you. Now it’s got my Ubik.”
“Your Ubik?” said Ubik. “FYI, legally speaking, I own all likeness and personal image rights.”
“Shut up,” said Weyla, struggling vainly to get free but staying fixed to the spot. “It’s not for commercial use, so it falls under fair use as long as it’s inside my head. Nobody gets to police my dreams.”
“Oh, so I’m also in your dreams.”
Weyla growled but said nothing and continued to struggle.
Ubik II stood watching them. He didn’t move, didn’t blink.
“Hey,” said Ubik from the side of his mouth. “Hey, Weyla, this is it.”
“This is what?”
“Our chance. Look, he’s trying to integrate with the ship’s systems.”
“Hasn’t he already done that?”
“No, he just took over this simulation. He still needs to follow the signal upstream to access the server. It won’t be easy, this thing is built for output not input.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means it chooses stuff from your subconscious, it doesn't take requests. Now’s your chance to get your Ubik back.”
Weyla stopped her squirming. “How?”
“Talk to him.”
“What good will that do?”
“He’s your Ubik. He might be built using their hardware, but it’s your software. They pulled him out of your head. You know him better than anyone. Get his attention.”
“Hey,” Weyla whispered hoarsely. “Ubik. Over here. Ubik.” She stopped. “It’s not working.”
“ You can’t treat him like just any old Ubik. He’ll respond to you if you treat him like your Ubik.”
Weyla didn’t look very comfortable with what Ubik was proposing. “Turn around.”
“I can’t turn around,” said Ubik.
“Then close your eyes.”
“Okay.” Ubik closed his eyes.
“And don’t listen.”
“I’m filling my mind with white noise.”
There was a long pause before Weyla spoke again, her voice softer and gentler. “Ubik dear, come here will you.”
Ubik had the eye on the side nearest Weyla closed, but the other squinted just enough to see Ubik II look up and then walk over to where Weyla was suspended.
“That’s lovely,” said Weyla. “Thank you, well done. Good boy. Now release me, will you? And then mistress will give you a treat.”
“Do you take him for walks and play fetch?”
“Supposed to be not listening.”
“I’m not. Carry on.”
It was harder to see Ubik II now that he was closer to Weyla and on Ubik’s blind side. He peeked with the other eye.
Ubik II had his head turned to the side, gently resting on Weyla’s chest.
Weyla lifted her arm and patted him on the top of his oily head.
Ubik coughed politely. “Ahem?”
Weyla, now free to move, grabbed Ubik by the shoulder and shoved him hard, sending him stumbling for a good few metres before catching himself.
“He isn’t you,” said Weyla. “He just looks a bit like you.”
Ubik had plenty of thoughts on why she would choose to have a lookalike of him as her pet, but he chose not to express them.
Ubik II lunged at Ubik, fists first.
It was a little unexpected but Ubik managed to dodge easily and then tripped him up so he went sprawling. “Is this how you think I fight?”
“I didn’t expect him to fight anyone,” said Weyla. “Why did he attack you?”
Ubik had no time to discuss the matter. Ubik II was back on his feet, but this time his stance was a little different. He came again, but this time smoother, ducking Ubik’s grab easily and shoulder barging him.
“Oh, you’re back,” said Ubik.
“I know all your tricks,” said Ubik II, no longer the deferential manservant. The parasite had retaken control.
“Okay,” said Ubik, taking a proper fighting stance, “let’s see how well you know me, ‘cos I’m about to give me a damn good thrashing.”