Wormhole Island - Interior.
Point-Two’s brain shuddered six times as the six points of light struck him. One after the other, they rushed towards him and then entered directly between his eyes.
He was aware that this was just his perception. What he was seeing wasn’t visual, it was mental. His eyes were closed and his conscious mind was attached to the bone. The bone he had approached without due care or caution, tempted by the idea of claiming a superior organic.
Who could he blame but himself? The answer was obviously Ubik.
This was the problem with hanging around Ubik too long. You started to think his ridiculous good fortune applied to others in his vicinity. The truth was that Ubik only had a rich abundance of luck because he stole everyone else’s share.
There was a slight pause before the pain hit. Six very painful blasts in the middle of his brain, like rapid fire from a hot-plasma rifle on full-auto. Not that he had ever been shot point-blank with hot-plasma, but it wasn’t hard to imagine it was similar.
The six lights hit him, his brain exploded six times in quick succession, and then he detached from himself.
That was what it felt like, a decoupling and then floating free. Perhaps this was what death felt like. It wasn’t too bad. The pain had stopped, at least.
He was alone with his thoughts. It wasn’t unbearable. He wondered how long it would last before the end came. He assumed the end would be nothingness. There could be something after death, but he had no particular hopes or aspirations about what it might be. Nothingness would be fine.
“Don’t move or try to move,” said a voice. It sounded vaguely familiar. “I’ve disassociated your mind from your body so the transformation won’t cause you as much discomfort.”
Point-Two condensed his free-floating thoughts into a point and looked around. He became aware of a figure. A person. A small, dishevelled person.
“No,” said the figure who looked very much like Ubik. “I decided to take this form to make you feel more comfortable.”
The parasite? That was the conclusion Point-Two came to. The alien parasite inside Ubik was talking to him in the guise of Ubik. To make him feel more comfortable.
“You think looking like that will give me peace of mind?” said Point-Two. “Isn’t there some tentacled demon monster from ancient times you could change into?”
Ubik II frowned like it didn’t understand what Point-Two was trying to say. “This is the recognisable and familiar appearance of your friend.”
“What are you doing here? Where is here?”
“This is your consciousness,” said Ubik II. “There is no need for alarm, you are perfectly safe and cannot be harmed or caused physical pain. You will stay here until the procedure is complete.”
“What procedure?” Point-Two had a rough idea what was going on but he wanted it explained to him, preferably in as much detail as possible.
“You agreed to have several organics placed inside your body.”
“I don’t think I agreed to several,” said Point-Two.
“I wouldn’t have agreed to even one if I had the kind of body you have, but your body, your choice.”
The parasite’s casual disapproval of the procedure it was performing didn’t fill Point-Two with confidence.
“What happened? In the bone room, what was that alarm?” The last thing he remembered before the lights hit him was the sound of an alarm, or something loud and reprimanding.
“The bone, as you call it, is a repository of great worth, so obviously it is carefully monitored and guarded. Your intrusive examination led to your presence being noticed. The Fourth God attempted to intervene. Luckily, Mr Ubik quickly swept your consciousness, along with the organics, into a safe place.”
The parasite was being very forthright and clear in its answers, which felt odd when it looked and sounded like Ubik.
“We triggered an alarm and it notified the Fourth? The prisoner being held here? Doesn’t that seem strange? Prisons don’t usually notify the prisoners if there’s a problem.”
“This is an unusual prison,” said Ubik II, in a very Ubik-like manner.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Point-Two. “I think you’re not telling me the whole truth.”
Ubik II tilted his head to one side. “Nothing I have said is untrue. It might not be accurate but the facts are the best I currently have access to.”
Point-Two would have frowned if he had a face. Ubik II looked very calm and sincere; another Ubik speciality. He wasn’t a figure standing in the dark. There was no dark. Ubik II was just there, like a thought or a memory.
“Those lights, they were organics?”
“Yes. Six organics.”
“You’re going to fuse six organics into my body?”
“I hadn’t planned to but now I am.”
“How many had you planned to do?”
“Two. Against my better judgment.”
“Is six possible?”
“I very much doubt it.” Ubik II didn’t seem concerned, smiling warmly. “But Mr Ubik had a fantastic idea that I, as an expert in the field, found to be quite plausible.”
“What fantastic idea?” Point-Two didn’t like the sound of Ubik coming up with something he considered fantastic. The fantastic nature of Ubik’s ideas was usually the main cause of any problems.
“By separating your consciousness from your body, the transformation can proceed without your presence, preventing the number one most likely outcome, insanity. Once the organics have fused, your mind can be returned to your body and you can begin the assimilation of your new abilities.”
It almost sounded reasonable.
“Can you give me a rough idea of how likely the fusion is to work? A percentage.”
“No,” said Ubik II. “I have never known the Antecessors to try something this foolish, so the data isn’t available for success rates.”
“But if you had to put a number to it…”
“Zero. But only if I had to. And because a negative percentage isn't a viable mathematical input.” Ubik II continued to sound enthusiastic.
“Then why did you put the damn things in me?” shouted Point-Two, although the volume of his words remained the same. Shouting without vocal cords didn’t appear to have much effect in here.
“I didn’t. Your good friend forced me to begin the process and didn’t seek my advice on the number of organics to use. I am not in a position to override his commands at the moment.”
Point-Two noted the use of ‘at the moment’ and assumed this meant there would be an attempted coup in the near future. At which point, he would have to decide whether to help or not, and which side.
Realistically, Point-Two knew he would die. That being said, there wasn’t any benefit in making plans for that eventuality, so it would only be worth considering the slim chance that the organics would successfully fuse with him and each other. And if that happened, it would help if he had a rough idea of what to expect or how best to handle the power he would be in possession of. He probably wouldn’t have much time to practise.
“When will you start the fusion process?” asked Point-Two. He had willingly submitted to this — well, not to this exactly, but he hadn’t run screaming in the opposite direction as he now wished he had — so there was no point dwelling on it.
“It has already begun.”
“Oh,” said Point-Two. “I won’t feel anything?”
“Not now that your consciousness has been separated,” said Ubik II. “I don’t know what primitive methods your people have used in the past, but I’m sure they are less than optimal. I am specialised in this procedure. You may die, but you won’t be in pain when you do.”
It was sort of reassuring to know he wouldn’t die screaming in agony. He was starting to feel quite hopeful.
“If the six organics don’t kill me,” said Point-Two, “what sort of abilities will I have?”
“I don’t know,” said Ubik II. “As I said, six organics have never been combined inside one subject.”
“What’s the most in one being?” asked Point-Two.
“And what organics were used in that case?”
“Two extreme speed types — one muscle accelerator and one interspace fluidity piercer — one environmental inhibitor and one structural augment.”
Point-Two roughly followed what Ubik II had said. Two types of speed-up, one that allowed you to stay alive in extreme conditions like space or underwater, and one that made it hard for your body to fall apart.
“And what was the result of combining those four?”
“Massive spacial rift movement,” said Ubik II.
“What does that mean?”
Ubik II paused, looking up for a second. “Teleportation.”
Point-Two was impressed. There were organic-users who could move very fast between two points, but he had never heard of true teleportation.
“What sort of distance?” he asked.
“Unlimited. Between planets, between stars.”
Point-Two was astonished. Nothing like that had ever been achieved. If that was what four could do, what about six?
“That’s very impressive.”
“Yes,” said Ubik II. “It was a great success. If the subject had lived longer, there could have been even greater advancements made.”
“How long did it live?” asked Point-Two.
Ubik II looked up again, probably converting the duration into human measurements. “Six hours.”
A knot-tightened in Point-Two’s phantom stomach. If four organics under ideal circumstances only lasted six hours, how long could he hope to last? He didn’t bother to ask for an estimate.
“How’s it going, by the way?” said Point-Two. “Are you keeping an eye on things?”
“Of course. The first organic is almost fully integrated.”
That seemed very fast. “Which type was it?” When Point-Two had examined the six organics, he had identified them very vaguely as being hard, hair, water, distance, jelly and heat. That was what he had guessed from the symbols representing them, so he could have been completely wrong.
“Structural integrity,” said Ubik II.
“Hmm.” That would probably be the one he’d seen as ‘hard’. “Couldn’t you just do that one and leave the others until, um, later?”
Being very tough didn’t sound like a bad ability to have. Why get greedy?
Ubik II looked confused. “Leave five organics floating around your body unattached?” His tone already suggested this wasn’t a good idea. “How would you survive?”
“I wouldn’t survive?”
Ubik II slowly shook his head.
Point-Two had no idea what havoc organics left to roam inside a human body would cause. He knew Fig had a dormant organic, and it gave him numerous problems, but he wasn’t sure of the specifics.
“Is there a chance I’ll survive but be in an injured state?” Point-Two didn’t really want to know but felt like he had to ask.
“Yes,” said Ubik II plainly. “The most likely result would be brain death of some kind. A permanent vegetative state. I’m not sure it would change much for your quality of life. From what I’ve seen, human life is not that much advanced than that of vegetation to begin with.”
“You are a parasitic organism, you know.” Point-Two couldn’t help but feel a little offended. “It hardly makes you a higher life form.
“I am not a parasite. And judging from the change in my base functions, I would say I am the one who has been infected.”
Point-Two gave it a moment’s thought. The parasite did seem to be getting more and more like Ubik in its general demeanour and lack of social etiquette. Was Ubik the parasite and the alien organism his unfortunate host? The parasite certainly seemed the less enthusiastic of the two about the team-up.
Point-Two felt something move inside himself. He knew it wasn’t a genuine reaction to a physical stimulus, but his connection to his actual body might not be completely severed.
“Did something just happen? I felt a twinge…”
“Oh shit,” said Ubik II. “What the hell’s that worm doing?”
“Ubik?” Suddenly, the parasite didn’t seem like quite so much a copy.
There was panic in Ubik’s eyes. “I have to go check on… something. Wait here.” He disappeared.
“Is it the second organic?” Point-Two shouted (without volume) into the nothingness. “I think it’s fine to stop at one. I don’t mind.” There was no response. “Ubik!”
Point-Two waited, hoping there wouldn’t be bad news.
He felt a tug. And then he was inside another place.
Here it was dark but very, very painful.
With teeth clenched, Point-Two did his best to not lose his mind. It was the most intense pain he’d ever experienced. It was like his bones were liquefying. And he wasn’t being metaphorical. He was back in his body.
Then everything turned icy cold. It was still painful, but the lack of movement helped, like his bones were held in a full-body cast to stop them leaking out of his body.
But as the cold filled his body, it turned into a blazing fire.
It quickly permeated through his pores and deep into where his bones had been. He was a skeleton made of flames.
He could feel every cell in his body, each one screaming. Terror flowed manically into him.
There was an increase in pressure on his body and he began to be crushed. It provided some relief as it distracted him from the freezing cold and demonic heat. The pressure increased until he felt like every cell in his body was about to burst.
Point-two coughed up a mouthful of blood. He couldn’t open his eyes but he felt it pour down his chin.
If this was the effect of two organics in his body, he wasn’t looking forward to six.
Agonising heat surged once again. It was like magma coursing through his body, devouring his organs. He was sure he could smell flesh burning.
Something shoved him and he was ejected from his body.
The pain was gone but its after-impression remained, like closing your eyes after staring at a light.
Point-Two refocused his shattered consciousness and looked into Ubik’s face.
“If I could have killed myself, I would have.” He meant it.
“Yeah, but it should be fine now.”
“What do you mean, fine? I’m burning to death and freezing to death simultaneously.”
“No,” said Ubik. “Your body is like a furnace right now. It is the perfect environment for a fusion to take place.”
“I want you to stop. Right now.”
“I can’t do that. It would kill you. And anyway, if you’re going to take a massive gamble with your life on the line, you’ve gotta go all in, right?”
Point-Two knew he was right. It was too late to do anything other than follow through.
“Ubik, why did you pretend to be the parasite?”
Ubik shrugged. “Thought you’d be more comfortable talking to someone with prior experience.”
“And all the stuff you told me about fusing organics?”
“Oh, that’s all true. I got all that from the parasite. He’s actually quite happy to discuss his work. Point of pride for him.”
Point-Two finally felt himself calm down. Even though he was no longer suffering in his body, the shock had lingered for a while. Now there was no choice but to wait and see if Ubik really could make this work.
“What happened just now? Was it the Fourth?”
“Nothing happened,” said Ubik, a bit too casually.
“But the alarm…”
“That was nothing. The Fourth won’t try to stop us. This is what it wants us to do. That’s why it led us here.”
The Fourth wanted Point-Two to become the strongest organic-user. That didn’t make any sense. “Why?”
“Dunno,” said Ubik. “Gotta be something good, though. Maybe you’ll save the galaxy.”
“Wait,” said Point-Two. “If the Fourth wasn’t going to stop us, there was no reason to shove all six organics in me.”
“No reason?” said Ubik. “Where’s your sense of adventure?”
Six organics and near-certain death, all for a lark. Point-Two felt like he was ready to crumple into a heap on the floor. But he didn’t have access to a body (that wasn’t on fire) and there was no floor.
“How many organics so far?” he asked in a resigned voice.
“Two. But it’s looking good. Once your body reforms into a solid. Number threes the bottleneck, apparently. And then it should be plain-sailing.” Ubik smiled. “Then we just have to find a way out of here.”
“Out of here? What do you mean? Where are we?”
“We’re trapped in the bone,” said Ubik. “I mean, the Fourth doesn’t want to stop us, but it won’t want us running around with the most powerful organic ever created, will it?”
“Ubik, I’m not going to survive six organics.”
“Course you are.”
“But even the Antecessors never got six to work. They barely managed four, you said so yourself”
“That’s because they didn’t have our secret weapon,” said Ubik.
“What secret?” said Point-Two.
“Master Figaro,” said Ubik.
“Fig’s going to save us?” asked Point-Two.
“No, no, no. He’ll be too busy trying to save himself,” said Ubik dismissively. “No. But you remember the bracelet he wore, right?”
“The one you broke?” said Point-Two.
“Do you really think I would ‘break’ something like that?”
“Yes,” said Point-Two.
“Whatever. Anyway, that Dr Yune of his was quite a creative guy. But with a tendency to be a bit too flashy. The important part of his organic suppressor was quite tiny and barely noticeable.”
“What did you do with it?” said Point-Two, not liking where this was going.
“If it can suppress Fig’s organic, then it can suppress yours. Not all six, but it can bring them down to a more manageable level. You see?”
Point-Two did see, and he still didn’t like where this was going. “Where did you put it?” He had no recollection of Ubik attaching any device to him.
“Don’t worry, I inserted it somewhere discreet.” Ubik winked at him.
Chapters one week ahead on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino