Point-Two could taste the salt breeze on his tongue.
The sea rushed up to his feet and soaked them in foam, cooling them through the cloth moccasins he wore. It was quite pleasant but he wasn’t really in the mood to go paddling.
Ubik was standing in front of him with the beginnings of a suntan.
He had a drink in his hand with an umbrella in it, and a female robot with a body sculpted from marble next to him holding a tray of more drinks and what appeared to be nibbles.
At no point had Point-Two had even the slightest doubt that wherever Ubik had ended up, and whatever problems he had faced, that he would come out of it not only without injury or loss, but that he would somehow manage to benefit in some way that defied belief or logic.
He knew that and had come to expect it. But still, this was needlessly rubbing his face in it.
While he and Fig had been in danger of drowning on a desert planet, Ubik had probably faced his own lethal adventures. But that didn’t make it any better. Ubik enjoyed lethal adventures. He actively sought them out.
He enjoyed them so much, he wanted everyone to share them with him.
Even when doom descended on him, he faced it with such carefree disregard that the source of the doom began to doubt itself and turned around and went home, vowing to train harder and come back when it had learned how to properly strike existential fear into its victims.
So when Point-Two saw a relaxed and tanned Ubik on a beach with six beautiful robots exposing the majority of their artificial skin like models from a Mason & Muss catalogue, there was no sense of shock of amazement.
How did he end up like this?
What did he do to get six killer robots to become his attendants?
Why did it always turn out alright for him when he was so undeserving?
None of these questions mattered because none of them had an answer that would do anything other than make Point-Two more infuriated. So he didn’t bother giving them more than a passing thought. Perhaps a short primal yell at the lack of justice in the universe, cut short before it escaped from his lips.
“How do you know my mother’s here?” said Fig, even less concerned about Ubik’s ability to land on his Delgado-shod feet. “Are you sure? Have you spoken to her?”
Ubik had both of his hands raised over his head, pointing straight to the sky with his ridiculous drink. “It’s okay, she’s not here. She’s up there.”
Fig looked up, wary of what might be looking back at him. The sky was blue and empty apart from the warm yellow sun on the far right.
The sea was calm and lapped gently at the edges of the sand. Behind them, there was lush greenery. The sigil that had brought them here was already fading away and was gone altogether a few seconds later.
There were no people, no birds or animals, no buildings. Jove seemed to be a natural paradise and not the land of luxury and excess Point-Two had been led to believe.
Synthia stood there looking like she had accidentally set her face to three different expressions at once.
While he and Fig were all too familiar with Ubik’s ability to defy common sense, she was encountering the Ubik effect for the first time. It was always hard for first-timers to accept the evidence of their own eyes.
“What did you do to them?” she snarled, her eyes darting from one vacant smile to another.
“Them?” said Ubik, pointing over his shoulder to where the six robots waited to be of service to their master, their clothes the same as before but cut down to become impromptu beachwear. “Nothing. They just chilled out and got with the sea and sand vibe. You should try it.”
Synthia stomped past Ubik and took the tray away from her robot sibling, throwing it onto the sand.
The robot smiled at her, perfect eyebrows slightly raised. “Is there something else I could get you?”
Synthia gritted her teeth and placed a hand on her sister’s cheek. “You had no right. You took away her soul. You made her your slave.”
“Yes,” said Ubik. “But happy slaves. Everyone wants to be happy.”
The six girls smiled inanely in synchronised happiness. The sea, the sun, the sand. Ubik.
Point-Two took it all in and came to the conclusion that something was wrong with this picture. He turned all the way around and stopped where the sigil had been. No sign of it remained.
A sigil appearing on a beach, right next to the person they were looking for. Very convenient.
He turned to Fig. “Your father invented the sim-U, right?”
Fig was confused for a moment. “Yes, pretty much. Based on Antecessor designs.”
“So, the Antecessor version would still follow the same basic principles.”
Fig nodded. “I suppose. But what—”
“And what are those principles? It can only replicate the world as it was at the time the simulation was created, right?”
“Yes,” said Fig, still confused. “It makes an identical copy. Same laws, same rules.”
“A simulation made millions of years ago couldn’t be changed to depict a modern setting.”
“No, it can’t change,” said Fig. He looked around. “Are you suggesting we’re still in a simulation?”
“It can’t change, but can it have things added to it?” asked Point-Two.
Fig thought about it, still examining his surroundings with a more critical eye. “You mean create new objects within the environment that weren’t in the original recording? I don’t know. Our sim-U machines can’t but…”
“Hey, guys,” said Ubik. “It’s really me.”
“I know,” said Point-Two. “They couldn’t replicate you unless you existed back then, which would make you immortal.” He shuddered at the thought of an eternal Ubik.
“But what makes you think this isn’t real?” said Fig.
The truth was Point-Two wasn’t sure, he was going on feeling. A very bad feeling.
“Do you believe that if Ubik was left alone with the six most advanced and deadly robots in the Inner Quadrant, he would be able to turn them into his willing slaves?”
Fig looked at Point-Two with a curious smile. “Yes.”
Point-Two nodded, as though he agreed. “And do you think once he had enslaved the six of them, he would lounge around while they treated him like an emperor in his harem?”
Fig’s face went blank. He looked at Ubik. He looked at the six servile young women. “No,” he said slowly. “He would use them to start work on some insane project.”
“Right,” said Point-Two. He looked up and down the beach where there wasn’t even a sandcastle. “Ubik’s idea of a good time doesn’t include sitting on a beach doing nothing.”
“You’re saying our host didn’t send us back to carry on as this iteration of the universe had planned?” asked Fig.
“There was something about the way they were so happy to let us carry on dismantling the plans of the entire Antecessor race that didn’t sit right with me,” said Point-Two. “I don’t think they were being entirely honest with us.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” said Ubik. His eyes were narrowed and his lips were pinched together as the first signs of doubt appeared on his usually supremely self-confident face. “You’re saying I’ve been fooled into thinking this is the real Jove? This is all a simulation — the sea and the hot tropical sun — and I didn’t really win over these six beauties with my charm and wit, I was tricked while you guys somehow managed to penetrate the illusion with what? Your superior intellect.”
Ubik tilted his head and blinked like he was failing to make a sum add up in his head.
“No,” said Point-Two. “Obviously not. What do we have that he doesn’t?”
Fig shook his head from side to side. “Nothing except… our organics?”
“Yes,” said Point-Two. “If our host didn’t force us to do what they wanted it had to be because they couldn’t. We had something blocking them. Our organics.”
“But the Antecessors created organics,” said Fig. “They should know more about them than anyone, including how to stop them from working.”
“Not these ones,” said Point-Two. “These are all fused together into a mess. They didn’t have anything like them back then. These are all-modern, all-new organics. I think they had an issue with us two that wasn’t an issue with him.”
They both looked at Ubik.
Ubik raised a finger like he was about to make a point, then lowered it. “You… you could be right.” He looked over at his six assistants who hadn’t changed their facial arrangements at all, still as vacuous as they were genial. “Shameful, really. What a waste.” He turned back to Point-Two, a strange look on his face. It vaguely resembled the pride of a parent towards their child. “Good. Well done. This… this is because you were raised by a computer. Gave you special insights into the workings of a more primitive brain.”
“I wasn’t raised by a computer,” said Point-Two. “I was raised by my sister.”
Point-Two was doing his best to stay focused on his suspicions about where they were and not be distracted by Ubik, but it wasn’t easy.
“It wasn’t meant as an insult,” said Ubik.
“It’s always an insult when you accuse someone of being something they’re not,” answered Point-Two.
“Yes,” said Synthia, looking coldly at Point-Two. “It is. And why was I not affected? If they were able to take control of him and them, why not me?”
“I don’t know,” said Point-Two. “Maybe you are being controlled, you just don’t know it.”
“You’re wrong,” said Synthia. “They wouldn’t do this. They love us. They made us. We are their children.”
“No,” said Point-Two. “You’re just spare parts.”
“So, let me get this straight,” said Fig, stepping in before the two of them started wrestling again. “This is still a simulation, we haven’t arrived on Jove, and my mother isn’t actually here?” He seemed most concerned about the last point. In fact, he only seemed concerned about the last point.
“I think she must be here,” said Point-Two. “How would the simulation be able to invent her presence?” He looked at Ubik. “You’re the one who brought her up. How do you know she’s here?”
“She arrived just as we entered the portal,” said Ubik. “Took care of the Antecessor armada.”
“What do you mean she ‘took care of it’?” said Point-Two.
“I’m not sure, exactly,” said Ubik. “One moment it was there, then it was gone. The chatter on the Seneca frequencies blew up at that point and it was hard to tell what had happened.”
“How did you get access to the Seneca broadcast frequency?” said Fig. “It’s heavily encrypted. Not even a…” He ran out of steam as he realised who he was talking to. “Never mind.”
“And you said the planet was surrounded,” said Point-Two. “What makes you think that?”
“Oh, they told me.” Ubik pointed towards the six robots looking lovely in the sunshine. “Long-range sensors.”
Point-Two looked over at Synthia.
She nodded, but slowly. “It is possible. But I don’t detect anything, and I have the same systems installed.” She raised her head to examine the empty blue sky. “I don’t sense anything out there.”
“This isn’t good,” said Fig. “This isn’t going to end well.”
“Are you talking about the fact that some crazy ancient intelligence has us trapped in a simulated reality,” said Point-Two, “or are you referring to your mother being here?”
“Our current situation should obviously be our focus,” said Fig.
“But?” said Point-Two, knowing a deflection when he heard it.
“But, if she is here, and she’s lost her temper… it won’t be easy to get her to calm down.” Fig closed his eyes and calmed his breathing. When he opened his eyes again, they were filled with resignation. “She’s a wonderful person and a great mother who I love.”
“But?” said Point-Two.
“But she’s the only officer the Seneca Corps has ever reprimanded for using excessive force. And they’ve had to do it three times.”
“That’s great,” said Ubik, grinning. “We’ll just let her deal with all these inconveniences and then we can just disappear while the dust is still settling.”
“No, it isn’t great,” said Fig, a little vexation creeping into his voice. “They made me testify against her last time, because I was a material witness. She was her own defence counsel, of course, so she cross-examined me with the intention of proving my testimony was unreliable. She treated me as a hostile witness and forced me to admit to every embarrassing mistake I’d ever made— most of which I had no idea she knew about. I was eight.”
Fig had gotten quite worked up recalling this period of his life and stalked around the beach with a darkness shrouding him despite the brilliant sunshine.
He stopped in front of one of the six robots. She was blonde and lithe, taller than him, and with a face that held no imperfections.
Fig’s hand shot out, aiming for the perfect face.
The robot was not human and didn’t need to expect an attack to be able to avoid one. She moved her head a fraction backwards and to the side and Fig’s palm stopped a few centimetres away from her nose.
Not a difficult calculation to make for a robot, taking into account her attacker’s arm length and the speed of his strike. She didn’t even feel the need to retaliate, confident that she would be able to avoid any further attacks just as successfully, and counterattack when necessary.
Point-Two read the robot’s intentions quite easily. Even if it wasn’t human, her body configuration was, as were her moves.
Fig was also able to read her moves. But he was also able to predict them. His strike had never been intended to land — he was also fully aware of the limits of his reach — but his palm didn’t need to make contact.
Fig’s eyes turned white.
His hand shimmered.
The robot’s head was blown off its neck with a force that sent it flying high into the air until it was no longer visible.
Fig had just used his organic. Not the one he often employed to suppress Point-Two’s powers to stop him losing control. The other one. The one he never used because he was afraid he would lose control.
Point-Two wasn’t sure if Fig had restrained himself but judging by the head still being airborne, if he had it wasn’t by much.
“These robots are going to get in our way,” said Fig, moving towards the next one. “We should deal with them first.”
Synthia took a step forward. Point-Two put out his arm and stopped her.
“These are just simulations,” he said. “Whatever we do to them in here won’t affect them out there.”
She hesitated and then stepped back.
Point-Two lowered his arm. Fig was quickly dismantling the robots who weren’t trying to fight back. Instead, they tried to avoid Fig’s strikes.
But Fig was able to hit them from distance. He was able to predict where they would move and he was very accurate. He also appeared to be in quite a sombre mood.
There was no doubt the robots were no match for him, not when he was like this, but Point-Two was still a little concerned. The danger to Fig wasn’t from his opponents, it was from himself. If he lost control of the organic inside him, it would blow him apart just as easily as it was doing to the robots. And it wouldn’t only be him that suffered from the detonation.
At least, that would be the danger in the real world.
Here, it was just the simulation that would be destroyed and the only real worry would be if Fig suffered a mental collapse. Information could be transferred out of a simulation back into the mind of the person engaged with the sim-U, including scrambled brain patterns.
It was actually a chance for Fig to try out his powers in a relatively safe environment.
Another robot went soaring through the air as Fig increased the amount of power he was willing to release.
There were three robots left, and they had realised they had no hope of dodging the effects of Fig’s unbridled animosity towards his mother. They were trying to surround him in the hope that outnumbered he would reveal some weakness they could exploit.
Ubik decided to lend a hand and sprang into action. He landed in between two of the robots and ignored them both.
“Once we’ve dismantled the robots, what then?” he asked Fig. “We’re still stuck in here.”
Fig blasted a hole in the sand and the robot standing on top of the hole leapt to the side, which Fig had already predicted and blew her torso open without even looking in her direction.
“My organic isn’t something this simulation was designed to reproduce,” said Fig. “Not in this form. It’s causing the resolution of the image to deteriorate.” He held a sustained blast on the sand next to him, producing another hole, but the air above it began to distort and become unstable, like a picture going in and out of focus.
“That means it shouldn’t be able to handle my organics at all,” said Point-Two.
His combined organics were something that didn’t exist back when the simulation had been created. It could be copied, but for the effects to be replicated, this universe would have to accept him as its master.
Simulations relied on exactly reproducing the original.
Point-Two’s power allowed him to change anything and everything.
The two did not sit well together.
Fig was looking at him. “Be careful.”
Point-Two nodded. He was more susceptible to mental collapse from using his six organics than Fig was using his two.
But it was a risk worth taking.
Point-Two squatted down and dug his hands into the warm sand. His eyes turned gold and the sand turned into salt, first in a small area around him and then all the way up and down the beach.
The sky cracked.