Figaro picked up the bone Ubik had thrown across the room at the cube. It was lying on the floor, looking like a bone. The type you might see at a museum — old and lifeless.
It wasn’t very heavy and the surface was cool and smooth. Nothing about its appearance suggested it was a tool of immense power. Or how to operate it.
When he moved the bone closer to the cube, he felt a pull. The bone was attracted to the cube like a magnet. He moved his hand to let the bone touch the cube wall and now it pushed back, repelled like two magnets of the same polarity.
It would take years to figure out the underlying mechanism. Even longer to be able to learn how to effectively make use of it. Unless you were Ubik and understood you just needed to throw it at things.
He turned it over and examined it more closely. Somehow, it had reversed the effects of the large cube just by striking it.
It wasn’t an ordinary bone — it was black and sparkled like it was made of crystal, which was not the structure osteology taught a bone should have — but there was clearly more to it than being part of the skeleton of some long-dead creature.
Which made him wonder what kind of creature it had been. And what the rest of its bones could do.
“Good thinking,” called out Ubik. “Bring that with you. We don’t want to leave something that dangerous lying around. Might want to put some gloves on if you’re going to handle it, though.”
Figaro realised he had never seen Ubik holding the bone without gloves on, and suddenly the bone that had been an oddity turned into a dangerous artefact that could be leaching energy out of him the way it had sucked the light out of the room.
The bone suddenly felt warm and a sudden surge in energy made his palms tingle. It didn’t feel like a good thing.
It was only a mild wave of paranoia, but Figaro trusted his senses, especially when they told him to be paranoid. He threw the bone to Ubik.
Ubik, who had both hands on the sigil that represented the planet Jove — which was in front of him at hip height — had his eyes closed. He casually raised one hand to catch the bone without looking and put it away with a swift movement that was so quick it was hard to tell where.
Then he put his hand back on the sigil and breathed deeply, as though performing some kind of communion between man and shiny ball.
“What are you doing?” said PT, restraining himself but clearly running short on patience.
“I’m opening the sigil so we can leave,” said Ubik.
“And how do you know how to do that?” asked PT.
“This place is a lot like the planetarium we have at home. We used to nick the smaller planets and sell them for scrap. The gas giants were worth more but harder to sneak out under your coat.”
“And that’s how you knew how to manoeuvre these alien sigils to open a portal between worlds, is it?” said PT, nonplussed by Ubik’s obvious nonsense.
“Not yet. Give me a moment.” Ubik started humming while caressing the sigil with both hands. He wasn’t humming a tune, it was more like a droning sound you might hear from the engine of a small tronic device.
PT shook his head. “It’s all misdirection, isn’t it? The bone, the sigils, the humming — none of it is actually responsible for what he does. He just likes to make it hard for anyone to tell what he’s really doing.”
Figaro had thought the same. It was the most obvious explanation for how Ubik seemed to achieve the impossible. He didn’t. He just made it look like a bone could force an Antecessor into a box, while the real cause was some device in his pocket.
But there was definitely something more to it. All of the Antecessor constructs they had come across — the bone, the parasite, Junior — they had not reacted as they were supposed to. As they had been recorded to.
There was some innate power in them that hadn’t been seen before now. That hadn’t been released until now. Until they came into contact with Ubik.
It didn’t seem like that was just a coincidence.
PT had walked around Ubik to stand behind him. Figaro moved to the same place.
From here, they could see the sixty-fifth sigil Ubik had created. By changing where you looked from, it was possible to see the pattern created by the other sixty-three sigils as an outline of the sixty-fifth.
And where you looked from had to be the sixty-fourth — Jove.
“Why are we going to Jove?” said PT.
“It controls the other planets,” said Figaro. “Just as this sigil operates the others to open a portal we will be able to travel through, the real planet will be able to open a portal between the other sixty-three planets.”
“A portal to where?” said PT.
“I’m not sure,” said Figaro. “I don’t think we’re meant to go through it. I think something is supposed to come from the other side.”
“And that’s a good thing?” PT didn’t sound like he thought so.
“No,” said Figaro. “I don’t think it is.”
The outline of the sixty-fifth sigil solidified and began to glow, fading and intensifying as light moved around it. It also started to make a humming sound. The same sound Ubik was making.
Ubik stopped humming. “Right, that should be up and running in a few seconds. Everyone ready to go? No one needs to use the bathroom, right?”
“Ubik,” said PT, “isn’t Jove the planet the Antecessors want to take Fig so they can use him to open up the big brother of this sigil?”
“That’s right,” said Ubik, acting shocked. “I didn’t realise you had worked it all out. Well done! Did Figaro explain it to you?”
PT gulped down his irritation with Ubik’s condescending manner and remained calm. “What I don’t get is why you want to take Fig there. You’re just doing their job for them, aren’t you?”
“Not only am I doing their job, I’m doing it a lot better than them. Honestly, the whole Antecessor culture took a wrong turn somewhere and made unnecessary complexity its central main artform. Never do something in one step if you can take seven.”
“Why?” asked PT. “Why are you doing their job for them? We don’t want whatever’s over on the other side on this side, do we?”
It was a good question. It was an important question. They had followed Ubik’s lead all the way here, never questioning Ubik’s ultimate goal. Never having time to before the next disaster arrived. But there had to be a reason for Ubik’s determined push into the very area the Antecessors wanted to take them.
“No reason,” said Ubik. “I just think it would be fun to see what the Antecessors’s ultimate creation looks like. Probably has some cool tech we haven’t seen before.”
“Misdirection,” said Figaro. “Deflection. Evasion.”
“Yep,” said PT. “Most people only have one middle name.”
“We’re both very powerful now,” said Figaro.
“You mean we should use our new abilities to beat the truth out of him?”
“He probably wouldn’t crack…” said Figaro.
“But it would be a way to relieve the stress of being around him,” said PT.
“Exactly,” said Figaro.
“You know, I can hear you, right? And it’s not like I’m going to revive their dead god and let it run around causing death and mayhem.” He rolled his eyes as though he couldn’t believe they thought the thing he had just claimed they thought; which, admittedly, they did think. “But don’t you think it would be interesting to talk to him? Find out what kind of god it is?”
“You can do that?” asked Figaro. “Without letting it out?”
“Of course,” said Ubik. “That’s what this is all about.” He said it like it had been obvious from the start. An opportunity to converse with the creator of the universe. “And the chances of messing it up and releasing an ancient evil that will wipe out humanity with a single swipe is minimal. Fifty percent at most.”
“That’s great,” said PT, deadpan. “A coin toss for survival.”
“I don’t know,” said Figaro. “Best odds for survival he’s given us so far.”
“You two are such pessimists,” said Ubik. “It’s always glass half-empty and on fire with you, isn’t it? You’re both incredibly powerful now. Whatever happens, your survival is probably assured. Me, on the other hand, I have no powers of any kind. Just a boy with a dream is all I am. If anyone comes out of this a corpse, it’s going to be me.”
Ubik stood there, glowing sigil behind him, a small, insignificant being in a massive universe.
At least, that was the impression he seemed to be trying to create.
In reality, he was a maniac with the control of a doomsday device under his fingers. Several doomsday devices he kept in heavy rotation.
“Are you actually trying to elicit sympathy from us?” said PT. “From us?”
“Worth a shot,” said Ubik. He turned around and slapped the sigil representing Jove. A hard smack that made the other sigils all tremble in unison.
The interior of the sixty-fifth sigil changed as it formed triangles inside of triangles, forming a tunnel that stretched away into infinity.
The humming grew louder and there was a pull, drawing them towards the sigil. Figaro’s sense of danger was at an all-time high.
“We just have to wait for it to stabilise,” shouted Ubik.
“How will we be able to tell?” PT shouted back.
“The pressure from the energy field will make you feel like you want to vomit,” said Ubik.
“That’s the signal?” said PT.
“I know it’s risky,” said Ubik, “but what else are you going to do with your lives? Go sit on a beach?”
“You aren’t going anywhere,” said a voice from across the chamber.
It was dark and hard to see the figure approaching them. Figaro checked his control panel to see if he could get a lock on who it was. His control panel told him there was no one there.
He made some quick adjustments. There was a single figure. A robot.
“Where is Mother and Father?” said Synthia. “Why can I no longer sense them?”
“Where did you come from?” said Ubik. “Is there a backdoor to this place? You robots love your backdoors. Anyway, would love to stop and chat but on a bit of a clock. Got to go.”
“You are not going anywhere,” said Synthia. From behind her, six more figures fanned out, three on either side. Her six sisters.
Figaro checked his control panel. They didn’t show up. Not as robots and not as people.
“These are the ones that gave you so much trouble,” said the one on the far right. “These three?”
“Not impressed,” said the one on the far left.
“Don’t be fooled by their soft and weak appearance,” said Synthia.
“Rude,” said Ubik.
“Especially that one,” said Synthia, pointing at Ubik.
Ubik moved so he had PT and Figaro between him and the robots.
“Before you resort to violence like some kind of robotic cliche,” said Ubik, “let’s just remember I’m just the minion. He’s the leader.” He pointed at PT.
“Really?” said PT, shaking his head.
“What?” said Ubik. “You’re the one who’s good at fighting.”
“No, I’m not,” said PT. “That’s him.” He pointed at Figaro.
“Really?” said Figaro, a little disappointed to be considered the team muscle.
“You should be careful,” said Ubik. “They aren’t like the other robots.”
The six sisters stepped past Synthia, their arms changing as they strode forward, transforming into tendrils that whipped around them. Just like Antecessor droids.
Figaro prepared to fight. They just needed to hold them off long enough for the sigil to stabilise. Which wouldn’t be easy, but as soon as he felt like throwing up he would throw himself into the portal. He just needed to make sure he didn’t confuse it with the nausea he was going to feel from the beating he was about to take.
The six robots closed in, their beautiful faces showing no emotion, looking quite bored.
PT remained by Figaro’s side, which at least would provide some distraction.
“Wait,” said Ubik. “Hold on. Look.”
He was pointing at the dim screen showing the planet from orbit which was still hanging in the air over by the cube.
The foreground was mostly covered in debris. There was no other movement until a large ship appeared from nowhere, coming to a stop in an instant. Then another. And another.
The Seneca battlefleet had arrived.
The six sisters turned to look at Synthia.
“This changes nothing,” said Synthia.
“They will take over your planet and that will change everything,” said Figaro. He looked at the ships. He recognised most of them. They were the Third Fleet, his mother’s old outfit. “After they destroy every building and structure.”
“I’ve got an idea,” said Ubik. “A brilliant one. Why don’t you come with us?”
“What?” said Synthia, PT and Figaro together.
“Staying here with the Seneca Corps hovering over us isn’t going to be good for anyone,” said Ubik. “They don’t even think of you as people.”
“And you do?” said Synthia.
“No, because you aren’t. But I’m willing to treat you the same as I treat everyone else.”
Figaro exchanged a look with PT.
“They’ll just deactivate all of you and use you for spare parts,” said Ubik. “ Let’s carry out this disagreement on the other side of this portal. You can still beat us to pulp over there, right?”
He was right, which made the offer even more questionable.
The cavern shook.
“They’ve started bombarding all landmasses,” said one of the sisters.
“We’re losing sensors,” said another.
“Human population is down to thirty percent. Robot population is… offline.”
Quazi didn’t have many landmasses but they were all heavily populated. Or had been.
“Fine,” said Syntia. “We can continue this on Jove.”
The portal had stopped forming endless triangles and was now one lone triangular tunnel. Figaro didn’t feel nauseous — another Ubik lie for no apparent reason other than to amuse himself.
“Follow me,” said Ubik. “And don’t touch the sides, it’ll make the portal collapse and we’ll be lost in the void for all eternity.” He grinned and walked into the portal.
Synthia followed him, keeping close to his heels, not knowing that was the worst position to be in. The others followed until Figaro was last to enter. He took a step and his stomach turned over. His self-preserving paranoia screamed at him to not take another step, but it was too late.
A few seconds later another figure appeared from the dark. He had a scowl on his face as he approached the portal.
He could sense this was something very dangerous, and very valuable. There were bound to be people willing to pay a lot to see this. Even more to own it.
“Okay boys, get down here and start stripping the place clean,” said Smyke into his communicator. There was no reason they couldn’t make a profit from this fiasco, and this place looked like it had a bunch of other precious alien artefacts hidden here.
He looked at the glowing sigil that he’d seen Ubik operate. He raised his boot and stamped on it as hard as he could, his Delgado-assisted kick pushing the sigil off its invisible plinth.
The sigil fell on the floor with a clang and flickered before going dark.
The portal collapsed and also faded to black. Wherever the portal had led to, it was now a dead end.
Smyke smiled. He didn’t know what would happen to Ubik and his friends, but he had no doubt it wouldn’t be much fun. He grinned and then he laughed.