Point-Two hadn’t resisted when he had been grabbed.
The ones who had taken him weren’t robots, he was fairly sure. That was also a possibility, to hold them hostage so they’d help with the revolution. But the hands holding onto him had the touch of a human. Which meant it was probably the workers Ubik had been eyeing.
Ubik’s public questioning of their presence — which he had somehow managed to raise using Point-Two as his proxy (had he been somehow manipulated into it?) — attracted their attention and their ire. Deliberately, of course.
They hadn’t been strong and they didn’t feel particularly big, but they had handled him very expertly like they were well-used to transporting goods.
His instinct was to fight them off, whoever they were, but he had seen what Ubik had said to Fig. Lip reading was taught as standard on colony ships. In space, there were often times where you were unable to hear other people, so sign language and lip reading were learned from a young age.
Ubik had told Fig not to do anything. He obviously expected the blackout. He may have even caused it.
He quietly allowed himself to be taken and waited for whatever was going to happen next.
It wasn’t that Point-Two trusted Ubik. Far from it.
There was no doubt Ubik knew his stuff. But that didn’t mean he was going to share that knowledge with anyone. When he led people down the wrong path, he knew it was the wrong path. He knew where the right path was. He just had things to do down the wrong one first.
Point-Two definitely did not trust him.
But there was no point trying to second guess him. Especially since Ubik expected people to try to out-think him. He relied on it.
It was better to go along with whatever insane plan he had until you were able to understand it for yourself, and hope you didn’t end up dead in the process.
It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, an ideal arrangement.
Something had been placed over Point-Two’s head, a cloth bag of some kind, so he had no idea if it was still dark in the dome, but they had travelled some distance, so he probably wasn’t in the dome anymore.
Ubik wanted them to make a move. This move.
Point-Two stopped moving and was placed on a chair, his hands tied behind his back. The chair was hard and simple. Not something made for torture, although a little improvisation and pretty much anything could be adapted to cause pain.
He didn’t feel like he was in imminent danger but then, his idea of what constituted imminent danger may have become warped due to recent events and recent acquaintances.
The hood was removed and a light shone directly in his face, making it impossible to see anything.
“Who are you?” said a gruff voice.
“You’re asking the wrong person,” said Point-Two, wincing from the sudden glare of intense white light.
“I’m supposed to ask someone else who you are?” The voice sounded confused and forgot to be as gruff. It sounded surprisingly high-pitched. A woman?
“No,” said Point-Two, “I mean, if you have questions, you should be asking the person in charge, not me.”
“We know you’re the leader,” the voice said, reasserting its gruffness. “Not from the Inner Quadrant. Looking to do a deal with the Quincy kid. Got those Seneca beauties to do your dirty work. Proper outfit. Here for a job, are you?”
He (or she) was trying to prove they’d done their homework. They knew all about him and his team. He sounded more like someone pretending to be tough.
“This is good,” said Ubik, his voice muffled. They still had the bag on his head. “Very efficient. Pulled us out of there with no fuss. Nicely handled. Top marks, so far.”
Point-Two couldn’t see exactly where Ubik was, but the sound of his voice put him quite close on his left.
“Him,” said Point-Two, trying to lean out of the spotlight. “You want to send any questions you have in his direction. I don’t know what torture techniques you guys normally employ, but you should probably skip straight to the hardcore stuff. No point wasting time.”
“I’m asking the questions, and I’m asking you. Name, who you work for, what you’re doing on Quazi.”
“I’m nobody,” said Point-Two. “I’m the guy who gets forced to act like the leader so the real brains of the operation can stay in the shadows. Look, I’ll start things off for you. Ubik, what the hell are we doing here?”
“Don’t ask me, boss,” said Ubik. “Are we still in the dome?”
“We’re under it,” said Point-Two.
“Wow, you can really tell where we are blindfolded. That’s why you’re the boss.”
“I am not the boss, you’re the boss. Tell them!”
“Hey, hey. Don’t interrogate our prisoner.”
“I’m trying to help,” said Point-Two. “I’m also quite interested in hearing the answers, so we should probably work on him together.”
“It’s fine,” said Ubik. “These guys won’t hurt us. They’ll pretend they’re going to, but they won’t.”
“We’ll see about that,” said the voice. There was a resounding crack as Point-Two was slapped across the face with a leather glove. A rough workman’s glove frayed from long use, so it stung quite a bit.
“Hey, what was that for?” said Point-Two, more upset than hurt. “He’s the one who called you soft. Why did you hit me?”
“We know what we’re doing,” said the voice. “He won’t be able to stand seeing you get beaten to a pulpy bloody squishy mess.”
“I think you’d be surprised,” said Point-Two. He could see Ubik standing it for a very long time. “Ubik, just do what you came here to do.”
“I can’t,” said Ubik through his hood. “We have to find out what they’re here to steal, first.”
“They weren’t scoping out the dome for the fun of it,” said Ubik.
“Do they want to steal the robots?” It seemed the obvious choice.
“I doubt it. I know everyone raves about them, but they aren’t really that special, if you ask me.”
They were being allowed to talk — perhaps thinking they might give away some useful information. But that was because they’d never had a conversation with Ubik before.
“Are you here to steal the robots?” Point-Two felt it wouldn’t hurt to ask.
He received another slap, proving him wrong.
“How did you know what we were doing?” the voice asked.
“Do I sound like I know what’s going on?” said Point-Two. “He’s the robot expert. Did you see how he dealt with that leggy robot? Knocked her down with a prod. There has to be room for a guy like that in your organisation. Perhaps working down a mine. He doesn’t eat much and he has excellent stamina.”
“How did you do that to the robot?” the voice asked, finally addressing Ubik directly, but still keeping the light on Point-Two. “You got an organic that lets you do that sort of thing?”
“I don’t have an organic,” said Ubik. “Very low CQ.”
“He’s telling the truth,” said the voice at the back. A lie-detecting organic or just a good guesser?
“Then how did you do it?”
“Easy really,” said Ubik. “You know what the most sensitive part of a human is?”
“No,” said the voice. “What?”
“The inside of the ear. Super-sensitive. Can cause unbearable pain, but also incredible pleasure, if you know where to poke your finger.”
“What’s that got to do with the robot?” asked Point-Two.
“Back off,” said the light-holder. “I’m handling the interrogation.”
“You can’t let him ramble on like this,” said Point-Two. “You’ll never get any answers at this rate.”
“I said I’m handling it! You. What’s that got to do with the robot?”
“Machines are the same. They all have a sweet spot where electrical fields intersect. It’s not intentional — in fact, you couldn’t force a sweet spot into existence if you tried — but it’s always there. You just have to know how to find it.”
“Is that true?” said a voice from the back.
“Of course it isn’t,” said another voice.
Point-Two sensed there were at least half-a-dozen people present. And their voices were all in the upper range, except when they remembered to put on their manly voices. None of them sounded like a leader to him, though.
They thought they’d brought Ubik here to find out what he was up to, not realising they were really here so Ubik could find out what they were up to.
“If he really knows tronics that well, maybe he could be useful.”
“Yeah. Maybe be knows how to dismantle the cor—”
“Shut up!” rang out a chorus of voices.”
“You’re here for the core,” said Ubik, sounding like he now understood everything. “Core to what?”
“Talk about giving the game away!”
“Do you ever think before opening your yap, Handsful?”
“What? I didn’t say anything. If he can help us with… the thing, then that would be good, right?”
“Be quiet. We can’t be letting outsiders in. You want to give him your cut?”
“You’re forgetting, he’s got some plan of his own. Probably trying to use us as a decoy.”
“Yeah, yeah. Classic play. Two Gentlemen of Verona. I remember learning that one when I was a kid. Never thought I’d see someone try to pull it off.”
“Right, right. I think you’re onto something. He’s going to steal the robots — that’s why he asked if that’s the merchandise we’re looking at — and if he can get us to make enough of a distraction, he’ll be able to slip away and expose us on his way out so all eyes are pointed at us. That’s how I’d do it.”
“That’s got to be it. He even acted like the robots were no big deal. Classic deflection.”
It was almost like they’d forgotten they had two prisoners to question.
“Well done,” said Ubik.
“Thanks,” said the last voice to speak, and then suddenly realised who he was thanking. “Wait, I’m right?”
“Don’t listen to him, he’s trying to trick you.”
“Watch him. It’s a play, he’s making a play.”
“No one get too close, he might be a biter.”
At least they were focused on the right person now.
Pain cut into Point-Two’s wrists. His hands were tied behind his back and every movement dug the wire deeper. With all the bickering going on, he hadn’t noticed until now.
With barely a thought, he turned the material around his wrists into water and his shoulders relaxed as his hands were freed.
He immediately realised he’d made a mistake. It felt a lot better, but questions would be asked. He closed his eyes and did his best to imagine the puddle on the floor, and forced it back into twine. It had been a lot easier than the other way.
“What’s wrong with his face?”
“Do you need the bathroom? You can’t go here. It’s not sanitary, you beast.”
Point-Two opened his eyes. “No, I’m fine. Thanks.” It wasn’t often kidnappers offered bathroom breaks. Just who were these people?
“He used an organic,” said a voice from the back. “I felt it.”
“I didn’t feel anything.”
“That’s because you’re not sensitive like me.”
“Shut up. I am sensitive.”
“What did he use it for? He’s just sitting there.”
“Look,” said a voice from behind Point-Two. “He got out of his bindings.”
“No way!” said someone in front. “No one can undo my knots. It’s not possible.”
“Look for yourself. The ropes on the floor. And it’s all wet.”
“Maybe that’s his ability.”
“His organic lets him undo knots? What kind of organic is that?”
“Wait, doesn’t that mean he’s free?”
“You. Don’t move,” said the voice behind the light. “I’ve got a gun pointed at your face.”
“How old are you?” said Point-Two, bringing his hands to the front and rubbing the wrists. “Twelve?” He wasn’t trying to be insulting. He had realised these weren’t women. They were kids. It wasn’t just their voices, it was how they treated each other. “Get that light out of my face before I beat the crap out of you.”
“Ooh, look at him being all threatening, with his big muscles and veins throbbing on his neck.”
“You like him, don’t you?”
“So? Crushes are normal for someone my age.”
“You aren’t supposed to fall for the kidnap victim! You’re so unprofessional. Everyone knows the kidnap victim’s supposed to fall for us and our revolutionary political ideals. It’s that syndrome, whatchamacallit.”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
They didn’t seem concerned that Point-Two had slipped out of his restraints. They were more interested in their bickering.
“Did you see, they had two Seneca bodyguards? I bet they’re a handful in the sack.”
“The sack? How would you know what it’s like in the sack?”
“I know. I read.”
“Shut up, Smut.”
“Don’t say my name!”
“What? It’s your code name.”
“Only name that suits him.” There was some sniggering.
“Here, take this,” said Ubik.
The light moved across to Ubik, who was sitting on a chair, holding out the hood that was supposed to be on his head.
“How did he get that off?”
“Bloody hell, Tidy. Your knots are rubbish.”
“He must have the same organic as the chunky fella.”
“He’s not chunky, he’s stocky.”
“Get a room.”
“Wait, that one doesn’t have an organic, does he?”
Point-Two looked at Ubik, who was sitting there, untroubled. In fact, he looked quite at home.
“Are you going to stay back there or what?” said Ubik, aiming his words towards the back of the room.
The room went quiet. There was the shuffling of feet getting out of the way and then a figure emerged from the darkness.
He was a medium-sized man, not terribly intimidating to look at. He had a white beard and short white hair that looked like he had cut it himself. He wore typical workman clothes, just like the ones worn by the workers in the dome.
“The truth is,” said the old man, “I don’t mind telling you what we’re doing here. Something tells me I can trust you.” The man looked down at Ubik’s feet. “Nice boots.”
Point-Two looked from Ubik’s feet to the man’s. They were both wearing Delgados.
A chill ran down Point-Two’s spine. Now there were two of them, spanning the generations.