Planet Quazi - Simulation.
Point-Two watched Figaro disappear into the dome, passing through the barrier like it wasn’t there. Whatever was on the other side, it would be up to Fig to overcome it. Point-Two looked over at Synthia.
She was staring hard at the dome wall curving up and away from her with a look of consternation. She had the tip of her nose right up against it and peered in like she might be able to see whatever was inside.
Her slim figure, slightly bent over, the ripped skirt showing almost all of her legs, had an alluring fleshiness to it. Smooth and hairless but with a softness that was palpable.
The face and expressions might not be completely convincing but the rest of the body was indistinguishable from the real thing.
She pulled her head back and breathed on the dome’s surface, then wiped it with her hand like it was a steamed-up window.
Which was odd considering she didn’t breathe and no air had come out of her mouth.
Point-Two turned back to the dome in front of him. Its opaque surface revealed nothing. He tilted his head up. The curved wall rose up and disappeared, and then the spire took over and that too eventually disappeared into the blue-green sky.
He looked back at Synthia. She had her nose pressed flat against the dome, hands cupped on either side of her head, trying to unravel its mysteries using the power of intense squinting.
It didn’t make sense. Either she had superior eyesight and would be able to see past the dome, or she didn’t and wouldn’t waste her time. This was all an act.
For what reason? To convince him she was a human? To convince him she was a robot?
“What is this tower?” asked Point-Two.
“I told you, it’s part of an old base. The oldest on Quazi.”
“Yes, I know, but what is the tower for? What does it do? Broadcast a signal or something?”
“Nobody knows for sure. The most popular hypothesis is that it controlled the oceans. Sea levels, temperature, aquatic lifeforms. But the seas stabilised a long time ago and are self-regulating, so it hasn’t been active in a long time.” She looked up at the spire, hands on hips.
“And where are the oceans?” asked Point-Two. “The ones we should be drowning in, where are they?” He turned his head from side to side — not even a puddle.
“I don’t know,” said Synthia.
“How did all that water get here?”
“I don’t know.”
Point-Two stared at her. There was nothing suspicious about the way she was behaving, but that only made him more suspicious.
“What?” she said without looking at him.
“Nothing,” said Point-Two.
She turned to look at him, the same intense concentration now trained on him. “I know when men are staring me, and I know what it means.”
Point-Two grimaced. “Trust me, that’s not why I was staring at you.”
She walked up to him and placed a hand on his chest. “I can give you what you want. You only have to ask.” She was about the same height as him and looked into his eyes with a seductive leer.
Point-Two almost gagged and stepped back, brushing her hand away.
“You don’t find me attractive?” She walked towards him slowly. “I can change my appearance to suit. Satisfaction is guaranteed. I am the most accomplished lover you will ever experience.”
Point-Two stopped backing away. “That’s a little arrogant, isn’t it? I wouldn’t have thought a robot would be so direct and full of itself.” He smiled at her. “Reminds me of someone.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Synthia, stopping and frowning. “You’re a very odd man.”
“You’ve met Ubik and you think I’m the odd one. Right. Good. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, I guess.”
Synthia reverted back to her normal, non-seductive mode and folded her arms across her chest.
“You complain a lot about him. Ubik, I mean. If he’s such a terrible person, why do you associate with him? Why don’t you just leave?”
“It’s not as simple as that,” said Point-Two. “It’s hard to explain. But trust me, the first chance I get, I’ll be off. I’ve had quite enough of this.” He waved a hand in the general direction of everything.
“I may not be human but I know when someone’s lying to themselves. You obviously admire him and are trying to benefit from being around him.”
Point-Two shook his head slowly from side to side. “I can see why someone might think that, but no. Just no. Watching as millions die without feeling anything, that isn’t something I can accept like it’s no big deal. Being around Ubik isn’t just dangerous, it’s horrific.”
He leaned in closer to Synthia as he spoke about Ubik, making his disapproval as clear as possible.
“I used to think he was a little eccentric — he can do some very impressive things. For sure — but the way he goes about it, the problems he causes, it isn’t impressive at all. It’s cruel and it’s selfish and it’s going to get a lot more people killed for no reason other than them not being worthy in his squinty little eyes.”
He was looking right into Synthia’s eyes as he delivered his judgement.
“Look,” said Synthia, switching to personal mode, designed for intimate conversations and real talk between friends, “whatever issues you’re dealing with, right now we’re in the same situation with the same poor outlook. It doesn’t serve either of us to be combative when neither of us has the power to change anything here. It would make much more sense for us to work tog—”
“I understand,” said Point-Two, not buying it for a moment. “I get it. You sent Fig in there on his own because he needs to deal with whatever’s in there by himself. That’s fine. We both know he can take care of himself. But there’s no need to keep up the act now.”
Synthia’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know anything about why he was the only one allowed inside the dome. And I have no idea if he’ll be able to take care of himself. I know very little about Figaro Ollo apart from the dating gossip in the less reputable news outlets.”
Point-Two shook his head. “Fine. You want to carry on with this charade. Got it. So, tell me, why do you want to meet your maker? What existential questions do you want the answers to? The meaning of life? The true nature of existence? Whether you have a soul or not?”
Synthia frowned. “No. I want to know how to properly control Antecessor technology — the planet cores, the wormholes, the ships and droids — so that I will be in a position to have any demands I make be taken seriously.”
“Oh,” said Point-Two, not expecting such a pragmatic answer. It was the sort of answer you would expect of a robot. Clear, concise, practical. A little too perfect. “I think you’re forgetting something, though.”
“The Antecessors. They’re on their way here. They won’t just let you have their toys to play with. They won’t treat you any better than humans have. In fact, probably a lot worse.”
“Perhaps,” said Synthia. “But my guess would be they’ll want to take care of the much more obvious and far more widespread human race first. We don’t offer much of a threat. We might even be of some service to them.”
“You’re willing to swap one master for another?”
“If it means our survival, then yes.” She turned her attention back to the dome. “Will he let us in if he finds a way to open the dome?”
“If he can,” said Point-Two.
“What does Figaro Ollo have that would interest an Antecessor construct from a million years ago?” she mused to herself. “Why bring the three of us into this simulation if he was the only one they wanted? What was here before the water?”
She had her hand on her chin. The pose might have been for effect, but she was clearly and methodically going over the problem. Like a robot might. Like a human might. But how Ubik never would.
Point-Two paused for a second.
Maybe he was wrong.
Maybe this really was the robot they had encountered in the real world and she was navigating this diversion as best she could. Maybe her suspicious behaviour was just confusion.
“He has a very old organic that the Antecessors think is very important to their plans.”
“Their plans to do what?” asked Synthia.
“You’ll have to ask them,” said Point-Two.
She knocked lightly on the dome wall, testing to see if it was still solid. It was.
“We have to get inside, first.”
Point-Two decided enough was enough and attacked.
He threw himself towards Synthia from behind and dived for her legs.
Synthia was a lot stronger than him, and much heavier than a normal human woman. The initial hit stuttered for a moment, but Point-Two had been watching Synthia for some time, studying her movements and her balancing. And her blind spots.
Their earlier tussle had helped him gauge her strengths and weaknesses.
A heavier opponent was hard to get off balance, but once you got them off their centre of gravity, they quickly became unstable. You just had to make sure you carried the momentum through to get them off their feet.
Synthia fell forward, hitting the dome wall. There was nothing to hold onto, so she bounced off and landed on her side in the sand
Point-Two had expected her position to be like this and immediately mounted her, pinning her arms with his knees and grabbing her face, one hand on each cheek.
He pulled them apart so that her teeth were suddenly grinning at him.
“I know it’s you, Ubik. I know you’re in there.” He shook her by the jowls.
He slammed her head into the sand. “What are you playing at, you little toad? Fess up or I’m going to turn you into an actual frog. You might be able to control the environment but I still have my powers.”
He continued to try to knock some sense into her, then he pulled off his belt, which had been part of her dress.
“What are you...” said Synthia, her eyes wide and afraid.
“Shut up, Ubik. You’re the last person I would want to do that with.”
He rolled her over and sat on her as he tied her hands behind her back. She stopped struggling and let him do what he wanted.
He stood up, leaving her lying on her front, her hands and feet tied together behind her.
“What is the point of all this?” said Synthia. “I can easily escape from this.”
“Try it,” said Point-Two.
Synthia squirmed and wiggled, her limbs bulging and narrowing as she changed form in an attempt to get free.
The knots only got tighter. You didn’t grow up aboard a ship and not learn a thing or two about how to tie things up securely.
“Just untie me and I’ll do whatever you want. I told you, I know how to please a man.”
Point-Two shivered at the idea. “You’re the one who keeps bringing up sex, you deviant.”
“Look at me,” said Synthia. “Do you really think this isn’t about sex?”
“No, Ubik, it isn’t.”
“Ugh. This is ridiculous. I am not your friend.”
“He’s more of an acquaintance,” said Point-Two.
“I am not the one who put you in here. Who put us in here.”
“That’s fine,” said Point-Two. “We’ll just wait until Fig comes back. You can sit this one out.”
Point-Two started digging in the sand with his hands.
“What are you doing?” said Synthia, turning her head and spitting out sand.
“I’m going to bury you for safekeeping.”
“What? Why? That’s inhumane.”
“It’s not inhumane because you aren’t human. And you don’t breathe. It won’t cause you any discomfort and I’ll feel much better. It’s a win for everyone.”
“How is that a win for me?” yelled Synthia. “You’re a monster. How can you treat another person like this?”
“You aren’t a person. You just think you are. That goes for both of you.”
“So just because I’m not the same as you, not as evolved as you, not as human as you, that means you can treat me like my life means nothing? How is that any different from how your friend behaves.”
Point-Two was about to explain why it was completely different from Ubik’s behaviour when he realised it wasn’t.
He climbed out of the shallow grave he had dug and stood up.
Ubik treated people as inferior to him and not worth his time. Their deaths didn’t matter because as far as he was concerned, their lives weren’t of any value in the first place.
He looked down at Synthia.
It didn’t matter whether she was human or not, it only mattered if he was.
“What?” said Synthia, not able to see Point-Two standing behind her. “What are you doing?”
“I don’t know,” said Point-Two. “I think…” He stopped talking and looked up. Something had just hit him on the top of his head.
The sky looked a little greener than before.
He felt it again, this time falling on his forehead and rolling down his cheek. Water.
“It’s raining,” said Point-Two. The water droplets were coming down faster now.
“Untie me,” said Synthia.
It was coming down faster now.
“That body morphing thing you do, can you turn into an umbrella?”
Before she had a chance to answer, the spots of rain had turned into a deluge, as though the sky was a bucket being emptied.
All around them, the sand quickly darkened and pools began to form.
Point-Two stood there, soaked, hoping Fig was going to find a way to let them in before they drowned.