Planet Quazi - Orbit.
Home of Quincy Quazem.
“Stop arguing,” said Point-Two. “We won’t be staying so whatever’s going on is none of our business.”
A delicious scent floated through the air, catching everyone’s attention. It would have led them to the dining area even without the robot.
The robot moved aside as they approached a doorway.
There was a long table with the four men already seated. They stood up as the others entered.
“Please sit down,” said Quincy.
“I’m sure you’ll enjoy what I’ve cooked up for you,” said Francis.
Everyone sat down. Chukka elbowed her way to sit next to Fig.
“You made it yourself?” asked Ubik.
“That’s right. Little hobby of mine I picked up after…” His voice faded but his smile remained fixed on his lips. A little more firmly than seemed natural. “Anyway, lots to talk about, but we can talk as we sup.”
Quincy clapped his hands.
Robots started coming in with plates of food which they placed in front of the diners. It wasn’t clear if these were the same robots as before as they’d changed into maid’s uniforms and had their hair up.
The starter was soup. Large bowls, each holding a different colour of steaming liquid. After a couple of exploratory sips, Point-Two threw caution to the wind and got stuck in, as did the others.
“Let me start off with some introductions,” said Quincy. “I know your identities are sensitive, and there is no need for you to reveal any of your names. But I am willing to be completely open with you all. As you know, I’m Quincy Quasem. I’m the youngest son of the late Quintard Quazem. My father was a great man. A pioneer and an innovator. Under his stewardship, Mason & Muss went from a super mega-corporation to a super-elite mega-corporation.” He seemed very proud of his father’s legacy, but there was a hint of bitterness underlying his words. “Sadly, since my father’s death, there has been constant infighting within the family. The battle for control has left the company stagnating.”
The three men around Quincy all shook their heads.
“You aren’t involved with the infighting?” said Ubik in between slurps.
“That’s right. As the youngest, there was no point. My siblings were locked in conflict and no one was able to get full control. I really had no interest in adding to the chaos, which is why I spent more time with my uncles.” He nodded towards the three men. “Francis, Ferman and Farrow Quazem.”
The men nodded as their names were mentioned.
“They were, for many years, in charge of our research division. And it was there that they undertook their greatest project, the creation of the perfect woman.”
There was a groan from beside Point-Two, followed by a growl from further down. The two Seneca sisters were not happy.
Quincy didn’t seem to notice. “As you can imagine, it was not an easy task. A woman who was strong yet gentle. Willing but resolute. Kind, caring, nurturing and, above all, faithful. My friends, believe me when I tell you they succeeded. An independent-minded thinking being in the most beautiful form imaginable.”
“Where is she?” asked Point-Two. His character was meant to be taciturn and aloof, but all this build-up was a bit much.
“Why, she’s standing right next to you,” said Quincy, a beaming smile on his face.
Point-Two turned to look up at the robot topping up his water glass.
“Nice to meet you, I’m Synthia.” She smiled, but her smile was not like that of the other robots. It was natural and warm.
Everyone stared at her for a moment. She was as beautiful as the other robots, but unlike them, she had something behind her eyes. More than intelligence, Point-Two could almost swear she regarded him with genuine emotion. It sent a chill through him. It was a steely determination, the kind Point-Two often saw in a competitor or opponent. But why would she see him as an opponent?
“You’re sentient?” asked Fig.
“I try to be,” said Synthia. “Some days are harder than others.”
Point-Two read was that she was faking it. She was being civil and amiable, but only because it served her needs. It was a little concerning, but it did support Quincy’s contention that she was a real person.
He turned to Ubik. “What do you think?”
Ubik was busy eating his soup. He had been mildly interested in Synthia at first but now all his attention was on getting hold of the fat juicy bits floating around in his bowl.
“I think it’s really good soup. My compliments to the chef.”
“I meant, what do you think about Synthia?”
Ubik shrugged. “I’d have to take her apart and see what makes her different.”
“I’d rather you didn’t,” said Synthia. “I’m not a prude, but there are some things a girl likes to keep private.”
“Do you sleep with all of them?” asked Leyla pointedly, her gaze moving towards the four men.
“Only if I feel like it,” said Synthia, locking eyes with Leyla. “Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?”
“I don’t know,” said Leyla. “Mind-controlling someone into giving consent isn’t consent.”
“I’m not being mind-controlled,” insisted Synthia, a little tremor creeping into her voice.
“You were programmed by them,” said Leyla. “How would you know if you were being controlled if they didn’t want you to know?”
“Whatever your personal feelings,” said Quincy, “don’t you think women like her have the right to be free? To not be owned by others.”
“Are there more?” asked Ubik.
“We made seven in total,” said Francis. “The other six are in a vault at the research facility. The company refuses to consider them as living beings.”
“That’s because they aren’t,” said Weyla through gritted teeth.
“I would have thought you of all people would stand up for women’s rights,” said Quincy, his words imploring her to reconsider. “Doesn’t the Corps fight for women everywhere to be able to live unoppressed lives.”
“Yes,” said Weyla. “But this isn’t a woman. It’s a machine.”
Synthia smiled a sad smile. Her eyes grew watery and a single tear slid down her perfectly smooth face.
“I think it’s leaking,” said Weyla, unimpressed. “You should probably get your toolbox out and see to it.”
There was an air of hostility around one end of the dining table. The two Seneca sisters were not at all happy.
“I think it’s a marvellous piece of engineering,” said Chukka. “I can understand why your company would want to retain ownership.”
Quincy gave her a dark look. “Thank you, but this is not a matter of business. It is far more important than that. What about your Grandma? What does she think?”
There was a slight pause, and then Grandma let her views be known. “I think this sly fox has you all wrapped around her little finger. Ooh, butter wouldn’t melt. Just what is it she’s after, I wonder?”
“But you agree, she does think for herself,” said Quincy.
“Hmm,” said Grandma. “Yes, I suppose she does. If only her thoughts weren’t so filthy.”
“There you are,” said Quincy.
Quincy continued, pretending he hadn’t heard Grandma “Whether you personally like her not, Synthia is a real person. One capable of thinking and feeling. She is all woman.”
Weyla and Leyla looked ready to explode as the next course was brought in.
“Let me ask you something,” said Ubik, greedily eyeing the plate set down before him. “The Trade Fayre, what sort of things will they be exhibiting?”
The sudden change of direction took everyone by surprise.
“Ah,” said Quincy. “I mean, yes, the Fayre. It will be mostly robots from our side. Other exhibitors will bring their latest creations, mostly Antecessor tech that’s been modified for domestic use. A lot of it will be conceptual, but it’s the idea behind the device that usually captures the judges’ eyes.”
“Judges?” said Chukka. “What are they judging?”
“The Fayre is a contest for the most innovative use of technology,” said Fig. “The prize brings people from all over the Inner Quadrant. It’s a chance to see the work of the greatest minds in the Inner Quadrant.”
Point-Two was curious to know if Ramon Ollo ever entered the contest, but now was not the time to ask.
“We have work to do,” said Point-Two, putting on the gruff voice of his assigned role. “We don’t have time for any Fayres. Nor do we have time to rescue a group of forlorn robots, no matter how worthy they might be of human rights. We came here with an offer for you to accept or reject. We are not in the market for contract work.”
He felt he had summed things up as neatly as he could. This was just a distraction and they had far too many people looking for them to get involved in something this irrelevant.
“That’s the thing,” said Quincy. “We’re willing to give you full ownership of the asteroid and Quazi Base 9 if you help us.”
Point-Two closed his mouth. It fitted his character, but he had no idea what to say in any case.
In truth, they had no real interest in setting up a trans-galactic bridge in the first place. Ubik had decided that it was the best way to use these people, but they had needs of their own.
“First,” said Ubik, taking it all in his stride, “we’ll need to check if the surroundings are suitable for what we have planned. The planet…”
“You want to inspect the planet?” said Quazi, getting excited as he saw things going his way. “Of course. Not a problem. I can take you down there, show you the Fayre, give you the full tour. I think it will really open your eyes to the plight of our friends.”
He looked across the table at Synthia and nodded at her. She nodded back.
An agreement was reached. Ubik was stalling, or at least Point-Two hoped that was what he was doing.
Perhaps they could disappear into the crowds down on the planet. Or find some way to use the planet’s infrastructure to hide their tracks.
The dinner continued for another hour, several courses, each with plenty of colour and heavenly smells. The talk was mostly about the Fayre and the planet. How to fake their identities. What kind of weather to expect.
They returned to their rooms after. The plan was to get some rest and then travel down to the surface in the morning.
Quazi was mainly water, but the Fayre was taking place on one of the few public islands where people met for commerce and socialising. It was going to be crowded, which was a blessing.
Point-Two went to his room and lay down. He wanted to get some rest and then he would think about a way out of this. He lay there a long time in the darkened room before getting up.
When he entered the corridor, he saw Fig emerge from his own room at the same time.
Fig nodded. They went to Ubik’s door, but it didn’t open this time.
“You don’t think he’s asleep, do you?” said Fig.
“Of course not,” said Point-Two. “Evil never sleeps”
Fig knocked. No response. Point-Two knocked harder and longer.
After a few seconds, the door slid open a tiny bit. Ubik, back in his underpants, peered between the gap. “What?”
“We want to come in,” said Point-Two.
“Now isn’t a good time,” said Ubik, looking shifty. More shifty.
“Do you have someone in there with you?” asked Fig.
“Huh? No. What gave you that idea?”
There was a soft groan from behind Ubik.
“What was that?” said Grandma.
“Oh, Grandma,” said Ubik. “You still awake? You really shouldn’t be up at this time.”
“Ubik…” The normally jovial Grandma sounded not so jovial.
“Are you in there with Synthia?” said Point-Two.
“Look,” said Ubik, lowering his voice, “if you must know, it’s Weyla. She’s a bit embarrassed about our relationship, so if you could all go away and not mention this, that would be great all around.”
“What are all of you doing out here?” asked Weyla, from behind them.
Point-Two turned to look at her and then back at Ubik.
“I meant Leyla. It’s complicated.”
“What’s he done now?” said Leyla, from next to Weyla.
Ubik slowly closed his eyes. “Does nobody sleep around here?”
“Open the door, Ubik,” said Point-Two, “before I turn it into ash.” He had a power he was reluctant to use, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t threaten to use it.
Ubik stepped back and the door slid open.
On his bed, there was a naked robot. It wasn’t Synthia, but it was naked and wide open. Everywhere.
Its outer casing had been removed and parts of its internal tronics were hanging out.
“What are you doing to her?” said Leyla.
“Oh, now she’s a her?” said Ubik. “I thought she was an it.”
“Ubik,” said Fig. “Are you planning to enter the Trade Fayre?”
As soon as Fig said it, Point-Two saw it, too.
Ubik would only take a sex robot back to his room for one reason. To perform truly unmentionable acts of depravity involving software upgrades.
“Guys, you’ve got it all wrong. This is all part of the plan,” said Ubik. “We win the prize, use it to make our escape. Perfect. You can trust me, guys. I’m on your side.”
“We’re supposed to be keeping a low profile,” said Point-Two.
“We’ll be using false names and IDs. I’ve got it all under control. Come on, guys. Let’s all go back to our rooms and get a good night’s sleep. Big day tomorrow.”
“Ubik,” said Fig, ignoring the conversation and showing more interest in the gutted robot on Ubik’s bed. “Are you going to make a genuinely sentient robot?”
“That’s right!” said Ubik. “How could you tell?”..
Fig was shaking his head. He leaned over and picked the bone off the side of the bed. “How are you going to do it, Ubik.” He shook the bone next to his ear, as though he expected it to rattle. “With this? Are you planning on putting the 4th god of the Antecessors into a sex robot?”
Everyone turned to stare at Ubik.
“I don’t know what you people have against sex workers. It’s just a profession like any other.”
“Ubik,” said Point-Two. “You can’t let him out of there.”
Whatever his reasons, good, bad or mad, there was definitely no way they could allow Ubik to release the 4th into the galaxy. Not with the ability to move around freely, and definitely not with sexy legs and the perfect breasts.
“Ahh,” said the robot in a deeper voice than you would expect. “I feel... strange.”
Point-Two slowly closed his eyes. “You’ve already done it, haven’t you?”
Chapters are two weeks (six chapters) ahead on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino