Wormhole Island - Interior.
Point-Two was familiar with Ubik’s brilliant ideas. They were brilliant, yes, very often. Startlingly so, sometimes. But, they also came with a pretty high chance of getting everyone killed. Everyone except Ubik.
So far he had been lucky. He hadn’t died. To be more accurate, he had survived being around Ubik. And surviving was good, but it wasn’t really living.
“No,” said Point-Two. “I’m not interested in being your lab subject.”
“You don’t even know what I’m going to say,” said Ubik.
“That’s right,” said Point-Two. “I don’t know a lot of things. Because you refuse to tell me. What I do know is that you have an alien parasite inside you that may be influencing you. There’s also that bone over there, which seems to be emitting a weird energy and is probably a bomb.”
Ubik shook his head. “No. It’s not a bomb.”
“Could it explode under the right circumstances?” asked Point-Two.
“Well…” Ubik waggled his head. “Technically, I suppose it is an intensely packed power source that could — I emphasise could — be engineered to become unstable and cause some sort of high-yield, high-impact energy release. But be serious, alien artefact detonation is an extremely esoteric field. The number of people capable of doing something like that is extremely small.”
“Could you do it?” asked Point-Two.
“If I had to, yeah. I could probably whip something up.” Ubik looked at the bone with narrowed eyes. “Take me a couple of hours. But I wouldn’t. Not unless it was by accident.”
“Great,” said Point-Two. “Much more reassuring.”
“I think you’re being a bit paranoid, PT.”
Point-Two had no intention of denying it. “I find, if I treat explosive materials like they’re likely to explode at any moment, it gives me the kind of head-start I need to stay survive, at least in the short term.”
“More than a bit paranoid,” said Ubik. “Mind you, you are still alive, so I guess it’s working for you. Let me tell you what I want you to do.”
“I said no,” Point-Two restated, this time with extra emphasis.
“I’ll answer any questions, full disclosure. Go on.” He turned the top half of his body to look at the two Seneca mercenaries to let them know they would also have the opportunity to question him. “Anything you like — I’m wide open.”
“Okay,” said Leyla. “What—”
“Don’t,” said Point-Two. “It’s a trap. If he wants you to ask, it’s already too late.”
Point-Two knew he was being excessively paranoid. But, as Ubik had said, he was still alive so it must be working. Excessively paranoid was his baseline.
“You want to get out of this place, don’t you?” asked Ubik.
Point-Two took a step back. The new and improved, wide-open Ubik was not someone to take lightly.
“I’ve already been a volunteer for one of your brilliant ideas,” said Point-Two. “I think I should let someone else have a go.”
“But only you can save us,” said Ubik. “You’re the only one who’s primed and ready to go. The ladies already have organics fitted and I, sadly, cannot partake in the wonders of augmented bio-engineering.”
“Did he just call us ladies,” said Weyla.
“What’s he talking about?” said Leyla. “He wants to put an organic in you?”
“Yes!” said Ubik. “Let’s get rid of the middleman. Direct organic implantation.”
“You want to put an organic in me?” Point-Two hadn’t liked the plan before he knew what it was. Now he liked it even less.
“Not me. How would I do that? But I have an acquaintance who—”
“The parasite?” said Point-Two. “You want to use your alien parasite to put a random organic inside me?”
“I wouldn’t say ‘random’. A more accurate word would be ‘several’.”
Point-Two had to stop and stare at the floor to work out what Ubik had just said. Not looking at the little shit’s face helped calm him down. Several?
“You want to put more than one organic in me? Is that possible?”
“Of course it is. Theoretically.”
“Why?” asked Point-Two.
“What do you mean,” said Ubik.
“Why do you want to put several organics in me? How will it help us get off this ship?”
Ubik looked like he was about to say something but then stopped. His mouth tightened into a puckered pout.
“Well… it wouldn’t necessarily get us off the ship, but it’s never been tried before.”
Point-Two nodded. “So you’re just taking a punt for the sake of it.” He continued nodding. “That’s what I thought.”
“So you’ll do it?”
Ubik turned the top half of his body towards the two ladies.
“No,” they both stated categorically.
“I feel like none of you are really appreciating the possibilities here,” said Ubik. “This could make you the most powerful person in the galaxy. Like, a whole order of magnitude more powerful.”
“Or it could make me dead,” said Point-Two.
Ubik let out an extended breath and looked around the darkened chamber, possibly for any potential volunteers he might have missed. “So paranoid…” he muttered to himself.
The atmosphere was a little tense. Even though not assisting Ubik in his mad scientist experimentation was clearly the right thing to do, they still had to do something.
If the VendX and Seneca people were free of their simulations, then they would be following the Fourth’s instructions and heading towards the sigil. Whatever the Fourth’s reasons for wanting them to do that, Point-Two was sure it wasn’t what they’d been told. Something else was going on here.
“Let me talk to it,” said Point-Two.
“Talk to what?” said Ubik.
Ubik looked momentarily confused. “What do you mean?”
“She said it took over your body in there. It could talk. I want to talk to it.”
Ubik smiled and turned his head slightly to look at Point-Two with just one eye. “You want me to let it take over my mind and body so you can have a chat? Do you really think that’s a good idea?”
Point-Two smiled back. “Well, it’s never been tried before.”
“Okay,” said Ubik. “You want to hear it direct from the source. I can respect that. Just hold on a minute.”
Ubik closed his eyes, straightened his arms by his side and shook his hands. He rolled his shoulders and clicked his neck with a sharp tilt of his head.
“What is he doing?” asked Weyla.
“I’m not sure,” said Point-Two. “Standing backflip?”
“Can he do one of th—” Weyla stopped mid-sentence as Ubik’s eyes snapped open.
“Hello, it’s me, alien worm.”
“No, it isn’t,” said Weyla.
“Mistress, so lovely to see you again. Perhaps later we can spend some time alone for a massage.”
Weyla crossed her arms. “I know it’s you, Ubik.”
“I am one with the mighty Ubik. We are joined in mind and body. This is how you like us to talk, isn’t it?”
“You won’t be doing any talking once I crush your jaw.” Weyla uncrossed her arms.
“What the hell is that supposed to be, Ubik?” said Point-Two, gently pushing Weyla back towards her sister.
“I am the last survivor of a mighty alien race.”
“No, you aren’t,” said Point-Two.
“I am one of the last survivors—”
“Wait, wait. That was just a test run. This time I’ll bring him out for real. Hold on.” Ubik went into his preparations again. He raised his head. “Greetings, humans!”
“Ubik, stop messing around,” said Point-Two. “I can tell it’s still you.”
“Can you? How?”
“Because it sounds like you.”
“So does the parasite,” insisted Ubik.
“Not really,” said Weyla “I mean, it does a bit, but he’s not as…” She seemed to be reaching for the right word.
“Let me stop you right there,” said Ubik, apparently not keen on hearing Weyla’s assessment of how the parasite was a better version of the original. “I can’t just bring it out like a puppet show. It doesn’t work like that.”
“It worked in the simulation,” said Point-Two.
“Yes, but that’s a mental projection. You can talk to it once we get the procedure started.”
“No,” said Point-Two.
“Come on,” said Ubik. “This is it, your big chance. Wasn’t the whole point of you leaving home and joining the guild so you could get an organic? Do you know how unlikely it is you’ll ever be given a really good one? I’m offering you the chance to choose your own organic from a range of amazing options, not the basic rubbish they give out to people like them.” He pointed at the two sisters.
“Are you calling us basic?” said Leyla, clearly taking offence.
“Oh, you’re a bit strong and she’s a bit fast,” said Ubik. “My mistake, you’re both clearly on the cutting edge.” He turned back to Point-Two. “If this works and you get fitted up with a couple of real beauties — you’ll be god tier. This is what the parasite was made to do. It’ll be a lot safer than any medical procedure performed by amateurs. And then you can saunter off back to the Lifeboat Gumball and make yourself the next rear admiral, or whatever it is you sailor boys get up to. Isn’t that your goal?”
It might have been an act, an elaborate sales pitch, but Point-Two had to admit Ubik wasn’t far off the truth. The only reason he had left was to find a way to obtain a powerful organic. He’d known it was a longshot from the start. The guild might find him a low to medium-grade organic if he performed well, but even then it would take several years. But here he was with the ideal chance to get his prize, and the only thing he had to risk was his life.
“I’m not taking more than one,” said Point-Two.
“Fine, take the safe option. Just hurry up. The other Antecessors are on the way and the Fourth isn’t going to let us do as we please. It’s just keeping us trapped here until the Ants arrive. Then it’ll hand us over for its freedom or whatever.”
“Then why did it want us to turn off the sigil?” asked Leyla.
Ubik shrugged. “Keep us busy. Needs us alive for some reason.”
“Then why didn’t it lock us up?” asked Weyla.
“Probably didn’t want us killing each other.”
“But letting us run around like this,” said Point-Two. “There must have been a better way to keep… Oh, the simulations.”
“Exactly,” said Ubik. “Keep us quiet and out of the way until the rest of them show up. Luckily, the whole place is falling apart. Memory leaks make it hard to sustain the system for any length of time, so it’s been improvising. Not something we have to worry about, though. We’ve found the treasure chest, we’ve got the key, and the perfect receptacle to carry it off in.” He grinned at Point-Two.
Point-Two knew on some level that he was making a mistake. There was an excellent chance this would go sideways and he’d wind up dead or braindead or, even worse, some kind of mutated monster. But the chance to get a top-grade organic, installed by an actual Antecessor (or at least the tool used by the Antecessors) was too tempting to pass up.
“We have to go in there?” Point-Two pointed at the bone in the other room.
“Yep,” said Ubik. “Don’t worry, this won’t hurt a bit.”
“How do you know?”
“It’s just a phrase, you’re not supposed to take it literally.”
The trees either side of the entrance flashed on and off, catching them all by surprise. It was only a flicker but everyone turned to look.
“Did anyone else see that?” Ubik pointed at the two trees.
“What does it mean?” asked Leyla.
“The Fourth is on the move,” said Ubik, his voice low and ominous. “If we’re doing this, we’ve got to do it now.” He looked at Point-Two.
Point-Two gritted his teeth, buried his misgivings, and nodded.
“Are you sure?” said Weyla. “It could end very badly. I don’t think he knows what he’s doing. I don’t think either of them do.”
“The Seneca Corps showing concern for a man,” said Ubik. “Speaking of things that have never been tried before.”
“No, it’s fine,” said Point-Two. “Let’s do it.”
He headed for the bone, marching through the doorway. It was horrible and uncomfortable, but once he was through the entrance, the pressure eased a little.
The others followed. When he reached the bone, he didn’t know what to do. There was a buzzing sound in his ear and his face felt hot. The bone was so large he could have crawled into it if there had been a door. He definitely didn’t want to be trapped inside a giant bone.
Ubik stepped up to stand next to him. He put out his hands and pressed the palms against the bone. His hands sank into it.
“Oh,” said Ubik, sounding surprised. “Just as I expected. You do the same.”
It was too late to back out now. It wasn’t really, but Point-Two told himself it was. He copied Ubik. His own hands disappeared through the bone’s surface. Everything went black in his mind, even though his eyes were still open.
“Right, that’s it,” said Ubik. Only, the voice was inside Point-Two’s head.
“Can you hear me?” he thought back.
“Yes. We have a mental connection,” said Ubik. “In some ways we always have.”
“No, we haven’t,” said Point-Two.
“This is a bad idea,” said a third voice.
“Is that the parasite?”
“I am not a parasite.”
“Yes,” said Ubik. “Show us what organics are in here.”
“You didn’t mention that you hadn’t got the parasite to agree to this,” said Point-Two.
“Do as I tell you or I’ll put you back in the girl’s head and you can be her plaything for eternity,” said Ubik.
There was a long pause and then a multitude of small lights appeared in front of Point-Two, far too many to count.
“What are these supposed to be?” he said.
“These are the three thousand organics stored in this bone,” said the parasite.
It was shocking to think how much money he was looking at right now.
“How am I supposed to tell them apart?” said Point-Two.
“Show them as images that represent what effect they have,” said Ubik.
The dots of light changed into symbols. Point-Two was able to recognise them as indicators for speed and strength, elemental powers like lightning, mental abilities, powers that affected space and time. But their exact function wasn’t clear. And there were just so many of them.
“Which of these are most compatible with him?” said Ubik.
“None of them,” said the parasite.
“Okay, which are least incompatible with him?” said Ubik.
The lights rapidly disappeared until only six were left.
“Well, that narrows it down,” said Ubik.
Point-Two looked them over. Hard, hair, water, distance, jelly, heat. He could only guess what they actually did. Which one to pick? He reached out with his mind to try and understand better with a very gentle inspection.
Everything shook and there was a blaring sound all around that made Point-Two jump.
“What’s that?” said Point-Two.
“Sounds like an alarm,” said Ubik. “Who puts an alarm in a bone?”
“The trees are lighting up,” called out Leyla. “Really bright.”
“What does that mean?” said Point-Two, still in the dark with the six points of light. “Is the Fourth going to come here?”
“Yep,” said Ubik. “Gotta move, let’s go. Put the organic in him.”
“Which one?” said the parasite.
“All of them.”
“Wait,” said Point-Two.
The six points of light entered him.
Chapters one week ahead on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino