Planet Quazi - Orbit.
Home of Quincy Quazem.
Point-Two was in no way surprised that things had taken an odd turn. Odd turns were the norm.
These people wanted something from them. That wasn’t surprising, either.
Some sort of struggle for freedom. Perhaps they were seeking justice or maybe they were looking to usurp power for their own gain.
Whatever their cause, it was irrelevant. Point-Two’s only goal was to find a way to leave this place without attracting any more attention.
Ubik didn’t seem fazed by the sudden declaration and marched towards the welcoming trio.
Point-Two fell in behind, trying to keep Ubik and Quincy between him and whatever weapons these three men had. Ubik was bound to leap out of the way at the last moment, but Quincy might not be as spry.
“Four ships,” Fig muttered under his breath.
That was right. Four ships docked behind them.
If they wanted to make a run for it, they had their choice. They could even split up and make it that much harder for them to be caught.
Ubik was undoubtedly the best at hotwiring a ‘borrowed’ vehicle, but Point-Two knew his way around a starter motor. Plus, he had his new ability.
Ubik warned against using it in public, but in a stolen ship with no one around, who would know?
Point-Two glanced back to see if everyone else was following. They were; Seneca duo and the VendX pair, flanked on either side by six beautiful robots dressed in matching spacesuits, marching in perfect lockstep.
“Hello,” said Ubik, still in polite-mode. “Do you represent some sort of political faction?”
It was a direct question, but presented as a mild inquiry.
The three men were middle-aged and looked remarkably similar to each other. Brothers, maybe even triplets.
“No, not exactly,” said the one Quincy had called Uncle Francis. “We are more like freedom fighters.”
“Oh, you’re terrorists,” said Ubik, as though he considered it a fascinating profession.
“No, no,” said Quincy, standing next to his uncle. “You’ve got it all wrong. “We aren’t interested in hurting or threatening anyone.”
“Not sure how you expect to get anything done, then,” said Ubik, his true-self slipping out.
“We’re liberators,” said Francis with gusto. “We mean to liberate the slaves of this world.”
Slavery, of course, had been long abolished. It was immoral, unacceptable and, to be quite frank, not worth the hassle.
“You have slaves on your world?” asked Weyla, her face expressing her revulsion.
“I know,” said Quincy. “It is abhorrent. Just because they happen to be constructed in a factory does not make them any less human.”
Point-Two realised, just as everyone else did, that they were referring to the robots, and also that these men were idiots.
He turned to look at the robots again. There was no reaction from them regarding their proposed liberation.
They had stopped in front of these four men and it felt like their entry into the space station was going to come down to whether or not they agreed to be part of the revolt against common sense.
Obviously, there was no way they could get involved in something this idiotic.
“Sounds very noble,” said Ubik. “But why ask us to join your fight?”
Point-Two breathed a sigh of relief. For a second, he had thought Ubik was going to agree to help them.
“Because you’re like us,” said Quincy. “You respect artificial intelligence. I saw it myself, with how you treat your grandmother.”
Quincy had a look of approval on his face. He had heard them talk to Grandma and he had come to the conclusion that they were people who didn’t look down on someone with circuits for brains.
“Grandma’s different,” said Fig. His head turned towards the exquisitely sculpted face next to him. “Your robots are just machines.”
No offence was taken. None of the robots moved; they’d gone into standby mode to save power.
“These ones, yes,” said Quincy. “But these aren’t the ones we’re talking about. You see, some very special robots gained sentience some years ago. Not all of them, but a few.”
“Really?” said Ubik, sounding very interested. “Can we meet one?”
“Of course,” said Francis, his eyes open wide and his eyebrows high on his large forehead. “We wouldn’t expect you to make a decision of this importance without seeing for yourself.”
“But first you should get settled in,” said Quincy. “We have room for all of you. Every need will be taken care of, I promise you.”
The robots came back online with a jolt, ready to serve.
“That’s right, that’s right,” said Francis. “Freshen yourselves up and then get ready for the best meal of your life.”
The four men exchanged looks that suggested they thought things were going well. Then they turned and led the way into the space station.
They were taken through a lounge area with screens showing the exterior, but without any of the other orbital platforms visible. It was most likely a recording of the stars to make it feel less crowded.
“You’ll find everything you need to get cleaned up and a set of clothes for relaxing in, if you so wish.” Quincy seemed to be enjoying playing the host. He clapped his hands and one of the female robots moved to stand next to a door that slid open.
Point-Two expected things to get awkward once they flatly refused to participate in whatever scheme the robot emancipators had come up with to free their automaton lovers, but so far it wasn’t so bad. A shower and a real toilet were well worth a little awkwardness.
The station’s layout was open plan with wide corridors and elegant furnishing, even if it was a little ragged in places and had seen better days.
“It’s all so white,” said Bashir. “It must be a nightmare to keep clean.”
“That’s what the robots are for,” said Chukka. Her eyes hadn’t stopped darting around since they’d arrived. For someone like her, this place was the gateway to the next level up in her career. The inner circle.
Of course, cleaning was not what the robots were for, but they had the time to do much more than their core programming, so keeping the station spotless was well within their ability. It wasn’t like robots needed to sleep.
Point-Two was genuinely impressed by how realistic the robots were. They were a little too flawless in their appearance, but many women took the time to make themselves similarly unblemished. He could see why many men would want one.
He assumed there were also male versions. He wondered what the best-selling models looked like.
The robot showing them the way stopped and indicated their accommodations with a flip of its feminine wrist. It smiled in a slightly unsettling fashion but said nothing. If this was a slave in desperate need of emancipation, there was no indication of it.
They each had their own room. Not too large, but with an en suite and a bed that could double as a settee. There was a screen masquerading as a window, showing a field of endless stars.
Despite everyone having plenty of questions, the lure of a little alone-time was too much to resist. They all dove into their own room and the doors slid shut.
Point-Two found the bathroom to be very well provisioned. Toothbrush, razor, hair clippers, a range of soaps and washing gels. He squeezed the plush towels and turned on the shower. Real water came whooshing out, filling the room with steam.
He had a long wash, shaved, trimmed his hair and took advantage of every amenity. He almost felt human again.
There was a set of clothes on the bed. Light casual wear that hung loose on him. A belt gave the outfit shape. And slip-on sandals that fit him perfectly.
It took him about an hour to sort himself out. An hour without the others and no immediate threats was a real luxury. But an hour of Ubik being left to his own devices was a little worrying.
Point-Two walked up to the door which automatically slid aside. He left the room and walked towards the room Ubik had entered. He met Fig coming from the other direction, wearing his spacesuit, but it looked a lot cleaner than before. There was no one else in the silent corridor.
“Checking up on him?” asked Point-Two.
Fig nodded. “Ready?”
Point-Two nodded back.
Fig stepped towards the door and it slid open. Ubik was sitting cross-legged on the bed in only his underpants, the black bone in his hands, its glossy, crystalline surface glimmering. He was crouched over it, whispering to it.
“What are you doing?” asked Point-Two.
Startled, Ubik and put the bone behind his back. “Oh, it’s you two. Checking up on me?”
“No, of course not,” said Point-Two. “What were you doing with the…” He stopped and looked around. “Do you think they can hear us?”
Ubik shook his head. “Nah. I checked everything. No bugs. Grandma? Did you find anything?”
“Oh, not much,” said Grandma from Fig’s arm. “It’s a little sad, really. Once this place used to be packed with people. Parties every night; dancing, drinking, laughing. But then the boy started spending more time with his slut-machines. He didn’t entertain as often after that. Dragged into a dark hole of depravity. Seduced by the evil lure of artificially moistened—”
“Ok, thanks,” said Point-Two, not liking the menacing turn Grandma’s observations had taken. “How do you know all that?”
“He keeps an online diary,” said Grandma, back to her cheery-self. “Quite racy in parts.”
“You read his diary?” said Fig, sounding a little disapproving.
“It’s a public blog,” said Grandma. “Anyone can read it, if they want.”
“What were you doing with the bone, Ubik?” said Point-Two. “Are you making plans with the 4th? Are you going to divvy up the galaxy between you?”
“What are you talking about?” said Ubik. “I was just making sure he’s nice and secure. He’s an extinction-level catastrophe. I have to keep an eye on him, don’t I?”
“Yes,” said Point-Two. “And if people find out about what you’ve got in that bone, they’ll kill us all to get it. Did you see those three men with Quincy? They’ve got organics. We have no idea how powerful they really are.”
“I don’t think we’ve got too much to worry about with them,” said Ubik. “They’re what they appear to be. Harmless.”
“Harmless?” said Fig. “They’re insurrectionists.”
“Amateur insurrectionists,” said Ubik. “They only dream about fighting the good fight. It’s just a boys’ fantasy. Nothing wrong with it. Not everyone is born with everything handed to them.” He got up and put on the clothes that had been left for him. And then his boots. He slipped the bone into a slot on the side of his Delgados.
“You mean like Quincy Quazem of the Quazem dynasty, owners of the whole planet?” said Point-Two, not buying the ‘stealing bread is not a crime if you’re starving’ argument. “And the dream they’re fighting for is equal rights for sex mannequins.”
“Hey, they’re fighting for what they believe in,” said Ubik. “Not their fault they’re delusional, is it?”
“Perhaps,” said Fig, “they really have created sentient robots.”
“Even if they have,” said Point-Two, “it’s got nothing to do with us, has it?”
“Dinner is ready,” said a voice from behind Point-Two.
“Yeaaahhh,” he yelled as he jumped away from the door. A robot stood there, a blonde with dazzling blue eyes, smiling innocently. “Don’t creep up on people like that.”
“Understood,” the robot said. “Please follow me.”
“You can talk,” said Fig. The robot looked at him.
“You have to pose it as a question,” said Ubik.
“So you can you talk then, can you?” asked Fig.
“I am conversant in all known languages. Which language would you prefer?” She smiled mechanically.
“Hey, I’m hungry,” said Weyla through the doorway. “I can smell the food from here.”
Ubik walked up to the robot and said, “Lead the way.”
She nodded, smiled, returned her face to a neutral position, and then turned and walked off.
Point-Two swept his gaze over the group. Only he and Ubik had decided to wear the clothing provided, which made him feel a little uncomfortable. Anything that connected him to Ubik made him feel uncomfortable.
Everyone had gathered in the corridor by now and followed after the robot, its hips swaying in a feminine manner, but with such metronome-like precision, it didn’t seem natural.
The Seneca sisters wore their usual gear, weapons and all. Chukka and Bashir were in their VendX uniforms. The four of them had a pensive air about them. Chukka seemed to be staring at Fig a lot, who was doing his best to ignore her.
“Have you noticed there are no women here?” said Leyla, her voice laced with suspicion.
“What are you talking about?” said Ubik. “I’m surrounded by women.”
“I mean Quincy and his friends,” said Leyla. “No women, just robots.”
“What are you trying to imply?” said Fig. “That these men wish to live in a world where robot women who do exactly as they’re told are considered equal to women in every way? You don’t need to point out the obvious.”
Leyla frowned. Had it been any other man talking to her like that, she would have a much more overt response.
“I’m surprised you’re not more supportive of them,” said Ubik. “If more men stuck with their robot lovers, women everywhere would be a lot happier, don’t you think?”
Leyla frowned even more.
Weyla put a firm hand on Ubik’s shoulder, making him wince. “There’s a maxim among the Corps. A man who says all the right things should never be trusted. That’s the only reason I haven’t killed you already. You never say the right thing.”
Ubik raised his hand and patted Weyla’s affectionately, making her instantly withdraw it. He looked over his shoulder and smiled. “And I never will.”
Chapters are two weeks (six chapters) ahead on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino