Okay, sorry about the sudden break without warning. Thought it was only going to be one post I'd miss but sort of got away from me. Anyway, used the time to get my buffer back up to six. Nice.
Preface from Mooderino
Wormhole Island - Exterior.
The first thing Figaro did was lower his heart rate. He recognised this as a very delicate situation where mistakes would be very costly, and acting without thinking clearly and precisely would end up getting them killed.
Stay calm, stay focused, observe without prejudice. It was the only way to walk out of this alive.
“Wooh! Grandma!” yelled Ubik, arms raised aloft, jumping up and down.
Everyone turned to look in the direction Ubik was cheering. All Figaro could see were three giant robots, one of which had fallen over — there was no sign of any old ladies. But he knew Ubik’s Grandma wasn’t a person, she was an AI. If she was operating one of the robots, that was an astonishing achievement. If she had managed to keep it on its feet, that would have been even more impressive.
The second thing Figaro did was check his suit. Everything was back online and working as normal.
You had to make sure of the fundamentals. That was how he had been trained, and he had found it to be invaluable. The fancy stuff was all well and good, but the basics were what kept you alive. Hair could not grow without skin.
The suit’s power levels were at maximum. He would be able to survive for at least one hundred hours if he ended up back in open space, alone and with no hope of rescue. Which was looking like the best-case scenario.
According to Ubik, the bone had been the source of the suppression, and now they had removed the organics from it, the suppression had been deactivated. That alone raised a number of questions, none of which he had time to investigate at the moment.
“What do we do?” said PT, which was also an excellent question.
The droids surrounding them were now looking at the giant robots. It wasn’t easy to tell where faceless droids had their focus — usually, it was everywhere at once — but this time, it was pretty obvious. They had all shifted bodies in the exact same way when the robots had emerged, and they had all shared the same flinch of confusion when one of the robots had tripped over its own feet and come crashing down.
Which was understandable. It wasn’t often you saw a magnificent feat of militaristic technology fall flat on its face.
“I don’t know,” said Figaro. His own attention, despite there being so much to take in, kept coming back to Ubik, who was bouncing up and down, waving his arms while shouting at the top of his voice, “Over here! Over here!”
There was a definite tension in the air. There was no doubting that the droids and the Antecessor ship that hung in the space over the island, and the robots and the island itself, were in a confrontation with each other.
The ship’s dark surface was flashing with white streaks. Figaro didn’t know what it was saying, but he was fairly certain it was something in the furious range of the spectrum.
The fallen robot rose to its feet after a few unsuccessful attempts. One half its body seemed to be unwilling to cooperate with the other half.
Figaro knew that if he wanted to know what was going on, there was only one person he could ask. It was not something he wanted to do. With Ubik, it was better to come with your own idea fully-formed, and then use his reaction to gauge how close you were to the truth. If you just asked him flat out, you never got a straight answer.
“Ubik, who’s controlling that robot?”
“That’s my Grandma,” said Ubik.
Never a straight answer unless it was so ridiculous he enjoyed seeing people's reaction to it.
“Your grandmother is piloting that thing?” said Weyla. She was standing back to back with her sister, and somehow Chukka and Bashir had worked their way between them, forcing the two sisters to become their de facto bodyguards.
“Don’t,” said PT, shaking his head. “You don’t want to know.”
“Guys, it’s all good now,” said Ubik. “Grandma can control any tronic ever made. Even if it’s a million years old. She’s running the show now.” He was beaming with what appeared to be pride.
Grandma’s robot stood unsteadily between the other two, neither of which had moved since emerging. They were roughly humanoid but their heads had no features, not even eyes. They still somehow gave off an air of menace that was palpable.
Grandma’s robot raised its arm. There was a large gun in its hand — not so much a hand as numerous cables that could take any form — which it pointed at the ship.
The white streaks intensified at the front of the rectangular ship.
“Is she going to shoot it?” said Leyla.
“No,” said Ubik, “this is just the opening of negotiations.”
Figaro looked over at PT. Neither of them were convinced this was going to be solved through diplomatic means. If Ubik’s Grandma was anything like him, there were likely to be some very unpleasant words said and much offence taken. And that would just be the greeting.
What Figaro found odd was how the other two robots did nothing. They weren’t reacting at all.
He could believe Ubik’s Grandma had somehow managed to take control of one of the robots, but why was the Fourth not doing something to take control back?
If it was willing to let someone else take the lead in this situation, what did that say about what it was trying to do here?
There was a lot of information to evaluate, and probably not a lot of time. It did not look like there was going to be a peaceful resolution to this. The only reason hostilities hadn’t already broken out was because both sides wanted something, and were unwilling to risk losing it in open warfare.
After they got what they wanted, then of course there would be nothing to hold them back.
And he also understood that one of the assets to be procured was him. They wanted the organic inside him for whatever reason. Summoning their god or restarting the universe, it didn’t really matter what it was, he knew he was an object of high value in this conflict.
He took a moment to check the organics in his body. He had been doing this regularly since the Fourth had fused them together, even though he wasn’t able to sense very much. If things did go wrong inside him, there probably wasn’t anything he could do about it.
His father’s organic was the dominant one, and the only one he had used so far. The only one he had been willing to use.
It had been very easy to assume control of. It did exactly what he wanted. All those hundreds of hours in the sim-U had really paid off.
The other organic, though, sat inside him like a grenade waiting to go off. He knew he would have to pull the pin at some point, but it felt like the sort of thing to do when all other options had been exhausted. He didn’t know when that would be, but if he had to ascribe a unit of time to it, he would call it 1 Ubik.
Despite his father’s organic fully suppressing his organic for now, once it was allowed to activate, who knew what would happen.
“We need to be ready,” said PT, his voice lowered and aimed at Figaro.
Figaro nodded without thinking. It was obvious they were going to have to act if they wanted to have a voice in their own fates. “Do you have any ideas?”
“No,” said PT. “You?”
“Uh-ah.” Recognising the need for a plan and having a plan was not the same thing. Unless you were Ubik, of course.
“Don’t worry, guys. Grandma’s got this.” Ubik had a big grin on his face. It made him look even scarier.
The towering robot pointing a handgun at a spaceship took a step forward, as though being a little closer would make its aim better. As it did so, it seemed to buckle at what could ostensibly be referred to as its ankle.
It looked like it was going to fall again, caught itself, and fired the gun while it was pointed down and to the left.
The ground a few hundred metres away from where Figaro and the others were standing exploded, wiping out around a dozen droids that had been minding their own business.
The robot stood up straight and raised a hand, the multitude of tendrils forming an open palm. It seemed to be apologising.
“Woops,” said Ubik, his grin lengthening into a wide faux-embarrassed frown. He raised both his own hands and shouted to the droids circling them, “That was an accident. Sorry. Not intentional.” Then he looked over his shoulder at the others, and added in a much lower voice, “Lets them see she knows how to operate their tech. Sends a message.”
The message she seemed to be sending was one of imminent mutual destruction due to reasons beyond her control. Not exactly the strongest position to begin a mediation from.
“I think you may have to get us out of this,” Figaro said to PT.
PT nodded but didn’t look very confident. His six-fused ability had already proven itself to be astoundingly powerful, but there were a lot of droids here, all spread out. Plus, there was the ship and whatever else was on board. And that was just one side of the equation.
In the other, there was the Fourth and its giant robots.
“It would help,” said Figaro, muttering to himself, “if we knew what they were saying.”
The surface of the Antecessor ship hadn’t stopped flashing with white lines since the robots had stepped forward. It clearly had much to say.
“They’re demanding the Fourth surrenders,” said Ubik. “Want a complete withdrawal and they want to take you away with them. It can keep the rest of us. Kind of insulting, to be honest.”
Everyone turned to look at Ubik as he spoke. He was looking up at the ship with one hand shielding his eyes. He lowered his gaze to look back at them. “What? It’s written right in front of you. This lack of interest in other cultures… it’s just the inherent xenophobia of the primitive worlds you were raised on. Bunch of rednecks.” He shook his head.
“What is your Grandma trying to achieve?” asked PT. “This isn’t getting us anywhere.”
“She’s doing her best, okay? Here.” Ubik came over to Figaro and grabbed his arm. He started operating the panel on the suit. The sound of speaking suddenly cut in.
“Will you please stop that. This isn’t a toy,” said an elderly female voice.
“As a representative of the Central Authority—”
“Yes, yes. Central Authority, very impressive. Just let go of the central processor before…”
The robot’s arms suddenly went straight up in the air and the gun fired wildly several times for no apparent reason.
“Who was that?” said PT.
“That was my Grandma,” said Ubik.
“No, I mean the other voice.”
Ubik shrugged. “Sounds like some CA jobsworth. You know what they’re like, all full of themselves like they run the galaxy.”
Which is what they did, but Figaro didn’t say that.
“What is she doing with a Central Authority AI?” asked Figaro.
Ubik shrugged again. “She’s very chatty. Talk to anyone.”
That wasn’t what Figaro had meant, but Ubik knew that. Somehow, his Grandma AI and what sounded like a ship AI from the Central Authority had jointly taken command of one of the robots. Although, not in a cooperative manner it would seem. Did that mean the CA were here in force? If so, where were the Guardians?
“Wait, wait,” said Ubik, still working on Figaro’s control panel. “I think I’ve got a way out of here.”
Figaro had assumed he was trying to get the signal back so they could listen-in on more AI bickering, but Ubik was no longer playing around with the broadcast settings. It was hard to tell what he was doing, his fingers were moving so fast, but it seemed to be in the slave command module configurations.
“Out of here?” said PT. “You’ve noticed the army of droids surrounding us, right?”
“We’re not going out-out. We’re going down-out.”
The platform they were standing on, which had brought them up from the depths, began to shudder. Then it started to sink, just a tiny bit before stopping and shuddering some more.
“Why are we going back down?” said PT.
“I don’t really like crowds,” said Ubik.
The droids obviously noticed the sudden movement. They immediately rushed towards them from all sides, and also from above.
Weyla and Leyla opened fire, but there were too many of them, coming in from too many directions. And barely any of their shots found their target. And those that did, had little to no effect.
PT took a deep breath and stepped forward, both arms extended, hands pointed at the droids in front and to one side. There were more of them this time, so he had to put in extra effort. The air around him shimmered, and then both of his arms turned into long black tentacles.
PT let out a scream and waved his arms which looked exactly like the tendrils of the droids. Backlash.
“Change back,” shouted Fig. But PT either didn’t hear or was too much in shock to think clearly.
Fig’s eyes lit up as he grabbed PT and suppressed his organics as much as he was able.
“What do we do?” shouted Weyla, who continued to fire pointlessly.
“Grandma!!!” Ubik yelled as the platform started moving again.
A large foot swept over them, kicking most of the hovering droids away and sending the ones on the ground scattering.
They were about to lose sight of the surface as the platform continued to descend when the large foot swept past them again, kicking a large proportion of the remaining droids into the air. Gunfire followed as the droids were blasted into smaller and smaller pieces.
Some droids had made it onto the platform. The foot stamped down on them, crushing them like ants, and making the platform suddenly fall faster and almost flip over.
As Figaro looked up, all he could see was a foot and a long metallic leg stuck in the top of the shaft. Then there was an explosion, followed by several more.
“What was that?” said Chukka, crouching between the Seneca sisters.
“The end of the negotiation phase,” said Ubik.
PT had stopped screaming and started focusing on his arms. It took him a few attempts, but he managed to return his arms to their previous state, and then he passed out.
The team had just lost their most powerful member, but they were still alive, somehow.
The platform reached the bottom, back where they started from.
“Where to now?” said Figaro as he picked up PT.
Ubik stepped off the platform and looked around. “That way.”
He was pointing at a large black opening that had suddenly appeared in front of them.
“Isn’t that the Fourth?” said Figaro.
“You said it was a trap,” said Chukka.
“It’s only a trap if we fall for it,” said Ubik. “Keep your heads up.” He walked confidently into the trap.
Chapters are two weeks (six chapters) ahead on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino